Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £138,264, 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, 1925, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Committee of Privy Council for Trait; and Subordinate Departments, including certain Services arising out of the War and Grants-in-Aid."—[Note: £400,000 has been voted on account.]
I do not propose to trouble the Committee with many observations, because I realise that the Committee of Supply is really an opportunity given to other Members of bringing matters to the notice of the Committee. Perhaps, however, it would be convenient if I said a few words, first of all, on some of the figures in the Estimate, and then, secondly, on what is possibly the more important subject, namely, the position of British trade. The gross expenses covered by this Vote are large. They amount to £3,369,000, but I am glad to say that the net expenditure is only £538,000, a much more reasonable sum. The Board of Trade, in addition to its ancient functions, is now engaged, and has been for the last few years, very largely as a liquidator or debt collector, and during the year it will in this way receive very nearly £3,000,000. The net expenditure of a little over £500,000 compares with the expenditure last year of a little over £1,000,000, or a reduction of very nearly half. I am not taking any credit for that, because I want to take the opportunity of reminding the Committee that these are the Estimates which were prepared six months ago under the direction of an Administration for which I accept no responsibility. I would like to say that that very considerable reduction in net expenditure from over £1,000,000 to just over £500,000 is almost entirely on what may be called war services—these remnants of greater services which the Board of Trade has had to administer and wind up.
If you come down to the ordinary services of the Board of Trade, there is a, small increase as compared with last year. I have said that the gross expenditure is £3,369,000, but the increase this year is really only about £20,000. That is accounted for mainly by two items. The census of production, which is a matter for which this Government is responsible, will cost £14,000 during the current financial year. The second item is the salary for the Chairman of the Imperial Shipping Committee. A former very distinguished Member of this House, Sir Halford Mackinder, has been working as Chairman of the Committee without any remuneration, and he has, I think, rendered very admirable service, but the work has become far too onerous for him to continue it on a non-remunerative basis, and it has been arranged that a salary of £2,000 a year should be paid to him while he is Chairman of that Committee. The balance of the increase, a matter of £3,521, is entirety accounted for by annual increments of salary and slight variations of staff. As I have said, these are not our items. Nevertheless, I have thought it right to do what I could in the way of close examination of the services and of the establishments with a view to effecting any possible saving. I cannot at this moment say what possibilities there may be of savings on the year, but I would assure the Committee that I am not definitely granting that all that money must be spent. At the same time, it must be thoroughly understood that some of the efficient and extra work which Members demand does involve a slightly increased expenditure.
I want to give the Committee one example, not by way of reproach because I am in entire accord with what has been done, but just to illustrate how this expenditure is apt to be incurred. We are dealing with an enormous number of what are called reparation claims. The total number, from first to last, amounts to something between 70,000 and 80,000, and we still have 30,000 to deal with. Under the rigid economy which is exercised by the very sharp administrators at the Treasury, it was decided that it was not possible to write to every one of those claimants a definite letter explaining what had been done with his claim, and the communication was cut down to a small piece of print which was sent to those tens of thousands of claimants. Members will know that they have received a good many complaints of the short supply of information communicated to claimants, and, under the influence of those complaints, it has been decided, with the consent of the Treasury, to send to every one who writes and asks for information, and also to every claimant who has to he paid, a letter giving briefly and reasonably courteously an explanation of what has happened to his claim. I do not object to that, but I want hon. Members to understand that that mere sending of a letter instead of a printed form will mean an additional expenditure of between £1,000 and £2,000. I do not think that we ought to grudge it—it is necessary—but we cannot have that kind of thing done, having regard to the large numbers involved, without an increased expenditure of that kind.
I do not propose to say anything more at this stage in explanation of these rather voluminous Estimates. I propose to yield the floor to hon. Members who wish to criticise or to make suggestions, but before I sit down perhaps the Committee will not think it improper if I say a few words on the general position of trade. I am not going to prophesy. When I joined the Department I did not find anyone on the staff who had been engaged as a prophet.
Some prophets do not express their views in the form of prophecies. They sometimes get others to express them. With regard to the present position of British trade I am not going to attempt any general survey. It is very difficult to draw any new valid inference unless one is careful to take a long period of statistics and to look at them as a whole. I do not want to take up the time of the Committee with that kind of thing, but I should like to point out that to-day the figures are considerably more promising than they were at this time last year. I will only take, as an example of that, the very remarkable figures of the import and export trade during the month of May. I do not want to base too much on the figures for that month. Still, they are very remarkable. They show a somewhat gradual improvement on the figures for the preceding three months, and therefore they are not quite so exceptional or perhaps so misleading as one might imagine. The average monthly total of imports during the year 1923 was, in round figures, £91,000,000. During May the total rose to £122,000,000, a perfectly wonderful increase on the average of last year. The exports show an average of £64,000,000 for the same year. During May they went up to £70,000,000. Thus the import and export trade during the last month was very much greater than in any previous month right back to 1920, the year of the boom. Roughly speaking, apparently, in volume the imports for May were greater than those for any month since 1920.
What warrants me in quoting these remarkable figures is that this increase of imports is largely an increase of imports of raw material—of raw cotton, raw wool, oil seeds, hides and skins. I know some people have suspicions whether rises in the imports of raw material are to the good. I think it is very significant, and so far as we can draw any inference it is quite a hopeful sign that we should have such a large increase of imports as has taken place in the principal raw materials on which our commerce depends. The exports also show a large increase as compared with right back to 1920. The only months in which there was a larger aggregate of British exports were the months of May and October last year, and, although prices have gone down, the exports are considerably greater than at any time in the last two years. I do not want to draw too much optimism from that. Indeed, if I had to say what the general condition of trade is I should state that it is quiet; all over the world the policy is to buy only from hand to mouth. This may prevent the accumulation of stocks; it may constitute a sound basis for future trade; but it does tend to make trade dull while it lasts. Our trade is in the same situation as the trade of the rest of the world. The exports in May represent mainly the fulfilment of orders for manufactured goods placed earlier in the year. I am not going to predict what the June figures will show and whether they will produce a corresponding increase, but the unusually large imports of raw materials for May and the corresponding large imports of food supplies do seem to suggest that we are at the beginning of an upward tendency. I do not want to exaggerate it, but I feel that there is reasonable ground of hope for the future.
That is rather too large a question to be dealt with right away. All I can say is that trade is going on with Russia and that there are some special enterprises which are indicative of general progress. There is more trade actually being done with Russia than the public usually suppose, and I am hopeful that, irrespective of the general settlement with Russia, these special enterprises, both in and out, will steadily increase in volume. I will not say any more beyond asking the Committee to put any questions on which information is sought, and to assure them that the Parliamentary Secretary and myself will give such information as we may be able to.
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
I am sure hon. Members in every part of the Committee must have been surprised at the unexampled modesty of the President of the Board of Trade, and also at the meagreness of his statement. One world have expected that the right hon. Gentleman, in following his predecessor's example in opening the discussion to-day with a general statement, would have been enabled to give the Committee something more helpful and more complete than we have had so far. We have also to notice a change in the role of the right hon. Gentleman. Until he arrived on the Treasury Bench we always regarded him as a prophet. Judging from his publications they usually conveyed the impression to this country that he was a prophet, and I think this is the first occasion on which he has made any public appearance either by speech or in writing in which he has disclaimed the role of a prophet. I suggest that that should cause some suspicion to hon. Members. I am very glad the right hon. Gentleman gave some account of the increase in the Vote for the Board of Trade. He claimed that on the complete Vote, the Vote for all the services, there is a reduction, but that reduction I would point out is entirely accounted for by the decrease in the staff engaged upon war services. If we take the normal peace services of the Board of Trade there is an increase to the extent of £20,000. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that he is not responsible for these Estimates, and apparently he has made no effort to secure a reduction. He certainly has told us that £14,000 of the increase is due to the preparations for the Census of Production.
I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, or the Parliamentary Secretary, to indicate where this £14,000 is to be found in the Votes. In the Memorandum accompanying the Civil Service Estimates the sum of £14,000 is mentioned, but a careful examination of the Vote does not indicate where this increase is to be accounted for. I think we are entitled to put questions in regard to that increase in view of the fact that the, of Trade is now costing us very much more than it did in pre-War days. It is almost impossible to give a comparative figure, because in pre-War days the Board of Trade was responsible not only for the work that it does at the present time but it was doing the work of the Overseas Trade Department, of the Ministry of Mines, of the. Ministry of Transport, and of the Ministry of Labour. At that time the total cost of these services, according to the Estimates of 1913–14 was £359,863, whereas to-day, notwithstanding that the Department has been relieved of the services I have mentioned, the ordinary peace services of the Board of Trade are costing us £551,998, and there is evidence of an expansion of the amount. The pre-War staff of all the Departments number 1,500; at the present moment I find it is 2,131, excluding the War services. I think that under these circumstances the right hon. Gentleman might well have appealed for further retrenchment and, at any rate, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer might fruitfully devote his attention to the conditions obtaining in this particular Department.
There are one or two matters in relation to the still outstanding War services on which the right hon. Gentleman might give us some information. There still appears on the Estimates an interesting item with regard to contracts made during the War with Australia for supplies of zinc—a very interesting experiment in Imperial Preference, and a very valuable preference in itself. That contract does rot expire, I understand, until 1930. It was divided into three periods. During the first period the British Government made itself responsible for taking from the producers in Australia 250,000 tons, and for the second and third periods—we are now in the second—they were responsible for taking 300,000 tons. During the first two periods there was a fixed price, and I believe that for a considerable part of that time a very heavy loss has been sustained.
They were made certainly about the end of 1916 because they began to run in 1918. The first period was from 1918 to 1921, the second from 1921 to 1925, and the third from 1925 to 1930. I know the Geddes Committee made some remarks as to the business nature of the contract. That is a matter on which I have not made sufficient research to enable me to offer any pronouncement. The question we have now to ask the Board of Trade is as to what the prospects are for the future in regard to these contracts. Last year there was a slight loss according to the Estimates, but the year before there was a very heavy loss amounting to, I think, £1,700,000. For the present year the Estimates indicate that the Government expect to get, on the sale of this zinc, practically the same as they gave the producers. It will be interesting to discover on what basis this Estimate is made and, secondly, whether the Board of Trade has any statement to make regarding the effects of that contract upon industry in this country. I remember on the occasion of the last Debate a year ago great complaint was made as to the effect of this contract upon a British industry. It was alleged that it was practically ruined as the result of the contract, that there had been large unemployment and that there was little or no prospect of the recovery of the industry. In these circumstances it would be well if the Board of Trade could say whether conditions in the industry in this country have since improved and whether there is a likelihood of employment being revived. It is true the contract continues till 1930, but the Prime Minister made a statement in one Debate which indicated that he had the intention of bringing it to an end. I do not know on what basis he intended to bring it to an end, but he is such a cautious man that I am sure he would not make it unless he saw measures whereby he could attain that object. Are we to understand that the Government take the view that the contract must run its course and that whatever the loss it inflicts on the British trader, or whatever reactions it may have on important British industries, it must go on until 1930?
There is another special War service that still continues, and that is the question of the dye industry. There are three respects in which we are interested in regard to dyes. There is, first of all, the payment of reparations in the form of dyes. We get, to the extent of 1,300 tons, dyes from Germany in payment of reparation, and I observe that the remuneration of the agents has been very much reduced in the present year as compared with last year. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether that is due to any new arrangement which has been made. We have also two other aspects of the dye question. Not only are we taking reparations from Germany, but we have in various ways endeavoured to establish a dye industry. There is the Dyes Importation Act, which prevents the importation of dyes except under licence, and there is the subsidising of the British Dyestuffs Corporation. I am not going to enter into the administration of the Dyestuffs Importation Act. I think complaints are still made regarding the system of licensing, but I believe, in regard to any system of licensing, you are bound to have individual grievances. Such things are inherent, in the system of licensing, and it is possible, on the whole, that the Board of Trade are carrying it out as fairly as any such system can be carried out. But a much more interesting point has arisen. We are informed that negotiations are now going on between the British Dyestuffs Corporation and the German dye industry, and that an arrangement is in contemplation the details of which up to the present have not been disclosed. I think the negotiations in this matter began while the late Government was in power. I do not know to what stage they had reached before the change of Government, but undoubtedly negotiations had been entered upon for a working agreement between the British Dyestuffs Corporation and those who control the German industry. There are two or three questions there which ought to be answered in a matter of this importance. The first is as to what attitude the present Government takes to these negotiations. The Government is represented by a director on the board of the British Dyestuffs Corporation. What instructions have they given to their director in relation to the terms of any agreement which is under contemplation? In the second place, we have to consider what effect such an arrangement would have upon other producers of dyes in this country. The British Dyestuffs Corporation, though it is a subsidised undertaking, is not the only firm or company which has entered upon the production of dyes in this country. There are a number of firms who have entered upon this industry without any subsidy from the State. Many of them, I believe, have obtained very important results.
They are protected, but they have no subsidy. My point is that the Dyestuffs Corporation is both protected and subsidised. The other companies are competing against a subsi-dised industry, though with the advantage of the Dyestuffs Regulation Act. The unsubsidised companies are now, on the information I have received, selling a larger proportion of the dyes which are consumed in this country than the British Dyestuffs Corporation. The information I get is that formerly the British Dyestuffs Corporation supplied between 75 and SO per cent. of the home-produced dyes which are used in this country. Now the proportion which the British Dyestuffs Corporation provide is reduced to between 40 and 50 per cent. Then we heard that there is an arrangement in contemplation, a selling agreement, or whatever it may be, combined with some arrangement between this favoured and subsidised company and the German combine. We are entitled to ask what effect such an arrangement will have on independent firms. The right bon. Gentleman is very anxious to prevent anything in the nature of combines and trusts. That was a great feature of the speech the Parliamentary Secretary made on the Board of Trade Vote last year. He made a very long speech regarding the iniquity of combines and trusts, and he then said the Board of Trade could deal with them administratively. It did not require legislation. Now that the Parliamentary Secretary is at the Board of Trade we shall be glad to know what administrative action he has taken during the months he has been in office. [Interruption.] I understand there is another Bill, something much more effective, representing the combined wisdom and political philosophy of the President of the Board of Trade and the co-operative experience of the Parliamentary Secretary, which is going to do far better. But the Parliamentary Secretary said it could be done to a large extent administratively a year ago, and we have not heard anything about administrative action. I am not sure about the President of the Board of Trade, but certainly, officially, the Board of Trade, as represented by the Under-Secretary, is against combines and trusts and has announced a Bill to deal with combines and trusts—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—under their supervision and with their encouragment and connivance. The British Dyestuffs Corporation, over whose policy they can exercise control, is now making a working agreement with a great German combine, an agreement which will almost inevitably have an adverse influence on independent producers of dyes in this country. We are entitled to know from one or other of the representatives of the Department what the attitude of the Government is, what instructions they have given to their, representative, what is the present position of the negotiations, and what steps are being taken to safeguard the interests of the independent producers.
There is another question in regard to reparations claims on which the right hon. Gentleman will be pressed by other Members whose constituents have a more direct interest in this matter. There is also an interesting Appropriation-in-Aid. There are to be payments in respect of restitution claims under B (4) to the extent of £40,000. On what basis does the President estimate that this money is going to be received from Germany this year? It seems to me there is rather a shadowy basis for that particular Appropriation-in-Aid. Having dealt with these particular issues, which mainly concern the still continuing war services, I think we should press the President of the Board of Trade not only for some further information regarding the present position and prospects of British trade, but I suggest that a somewhat more detailed review might have been given by the President when he opened the Debate. I do not think he gave the Committee anything like the amount of information the right hon. Gentleman opposite did a year ago. It is true then he was not a very good prophet. Before the Debate on the Estimates he had been making speeches at various functions in different parts of the country, but when he spoke on the Vote he took a very gloomy view. He said trade at that moment was not very bad, but the prospects were such as to fill him with apprehension. It seems to me we had the first glimmerings of that gloom which produced the General Election in November. He told us orders were not coming in and that, while work was fairly plentiful for the summer months, he was in despair as to the position in the early months of the present year. I think those who have followed the actual course of events will see that these depressing views were not justified and it may be that the experience of the right hon. Gentleman opposite has served as a warning for the present President.
I was very glad that the right hon. Gentleman gave us the result of the latest returns which have come from the Board of Trade, and which indicate, not only that the present position is good, but that, so far as we can see, the immediate prospect is one of improvement. There are some aspects, however, of the situation in regard to the future upon which he might well have spoken. It was only as a result of an interruption of my hon. Friend that he made any reference to Russia, and his reply was not very complete. He did not take the Committee into his confidence. I remember a year ago that Russia was the leading feature in the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman. We were told that it was to Russia that we were to look for salvation, and that if we recognised the Bolshevist Government there would he a complete change. Orders would pour into all our engineering factories, and the present people who were unemployed would be speedily put to work. Indeed, some hon. Gentlemen knew actually of contracts that were ready to be given, and one hon. Member had some in his pocket at the moment. The Soviet Government has been recognised, and certain gentlemen have been here sitting round a table at the Foreign Office holding conferences, interesting accounts of which have been published, but nothing has happened. The last official account seemed to me a very interesting document. I read it through very carefully, and it struck me when I came to the last line—it accounted for a column and a half—that the Russian representative was exactly at the same point at which he was in the first paragraph. I think the President of the Board of Trade might indicate whether the high expectations he entertained when he was a private Member in Opposition had been realised now he is a realist on the Treasury Bench.
There is another country about which he has said nothing at all, and that is Germany. I remember Germany bulked a great deal at the General Election. The right hon. Gentleman the ex-President of the Board of Trade was greatly worried as to what was to happen in regard to imports from Germany. I do not think his anticipations were quite so gloomy as those of the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir W. Joynson-Hicks). His oratory is not so highly coloured. The right hon. Member for Twickenham drew a picture that was calculated to drive all the electors of the country—certainly all those in the iron and steel industry—into the polling booths to vote for Unionist candidates. He said that during the Ruhr occupation vast accumulations of stocks were being hoarded up and that the moment Passive resistance came to an end and there was a settlement, all this accumulated hoard of stee was going to be dumped into this country, and thousands of British working men would be thrown out of employment.
That is not quite the same turn. My right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs was more on tinned salmon at that moment I am dealing with the real position which was put by right hon. Gentlemen opposite who were at that time in office, who had at their disposal the official information, and who ought to have had some responsibility in respect of the statements they were making before the country. There is no indication that there have been any such accumulations. There are two reports, in a recent issue of the "Board of Trade Journal," from our consuls in Germany, one from a. consul in occupied territory and the other from a consul in an unoccupied area, and in neither the one nor the other is there any reference to this vast accumulation of stock. We get a very interesting picture in both documents as to the conditions in both areas in Germany, and as to the effects of the occupation upon the trade of this country. It is quite, true that, while in some respects we have been injured by the occupation of the Ruhr, there are other respects in which the trade of this country has benefited on account of the occupation. The unoccupied territory being cut off from ordinary sources of supply of coal and products of iron and steel, has had to come to this country, to a large extent, for supplies, and the exports of this country to Northern Germany have undoubtedly been increased, both in respect of coal and in respect of iron and steel, although I think the last reports of the Board of Trade in regard to the exports to Northern Europe show there is now a falling off in the export of coal, but that the export of manufactured articles is still maintained.
We are entitled to ask of the President of the Board of Trade what view he takes of this matter, and what view he takes of the settlement upon the trade of this country. This matter was referred to yesterday by the Leader of the Opposition. He takes the view that the settlement of Germany is going to have an adverse effect upon the trade and industry of this country. I am not quite sure ho is accurate in that respect. Under certain conditions, it may be so; under other conditions, it may not be so. But we are entitled to know what view the Board of Trade take. Further, we are entitled to know what advice the Board of Trade have given as to the kind of settlement which should be made. I think the settlement of Germany is not only a financial question. It is also a question which affects the trade and industry of this country. Indeed, its effect upon us, from the industrial point of view, is far more important than its effect upon us from the financial point of view. We are told that the Dawes Report is the policy of the Government. We know what was the attitude of the Members of the Labour party in Opposition as to receiving reparation. When in Opposition they said that if we received reparation from Germany, it was going to cause unemployment in this country. We had, in the last Parliament, speech after speech from Members of the Labour party, which indicated that all of them held the view that, first of all, one of the most critical causes of unemployment in this country had been the deliveries which had been made from Germany under the Treaty of Versailles, namely, the coal deliveries, the delivery of ships and other competitive articles.
If we accept the Dawes Report, deliveries will recommence. We are going to start financing competition against ourselves. Do the Board of Trade take the view that this ought to be done? The right hon. Gentleman opposite was questioned about this last year. I think the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Shinwell), who was then raising the question on behalf of the Labour party, put specific questions to the right hon. Gentleman opposite as to the attitude of the Board of Trade in regard to reparation payments when they were resumed. I think the present President of the Board of Trade ought to tell us what is the view of the Board of Trade. There is another suggestion put forward that, while former Governments have blundered in handling this matter, while the Government of my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs were foolish in taking the deliveries they did, and the late Government were not any wiser, nevertheless there has been a revelation to the new Government, and these payments can be received without any reaction in this country. I want to find out if it is true. I cannot conceive that right hon. Gentlemen now on the Treasury Bench would accept deliveries from Germany if they were going to cause unemployment in this country, and the only assumption I can arrive at is that they have found a more excellent way, and that where the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs failed, and where the right hon. Member for Hendon equally failed, they have had a special revelation from on high. which enables the indemnity to be paid without arty adverse effect upon the industries of the receiving country.
These are points upon which, I think, the Committee are entitled to enlightenment from the Government. I remember last year there was a great deal of apprehension expressed regarding Germany. We were told then that Germany had enormously increased its productive capacity, and that, therefore, we must be in great apprehension as to the results of German trade activities if a settlement came about. The reports of our Consuls to which I have referred do not give any ground for these alarms. At the present moment, Germany is really out of the picture in the matter of industrial competition. I think the answer which was given in regard to German imports to-day shows that Germany is not in a good position for competitive purposes. As a matter of fact, Germany is now suffering the penalty for its orgy of inflation. So long as the inflation went en, everything went swimmingly. There were high profits for the producers, and full employment for the workers. Now all that is at an end, and that is independent of the occupation of the Ruhr, because it applies to both the occupied and unoccupied areas. The credit conditions are alike in both cases, and it shows clearly, that although inflation may pay for the day, ultimately the reckoning will come. Germany is paying the reckoning now. Other countries that have indulged in inflation will pay the reckoning. The bills are coining in now, and I think this experience on the part of the countries which indulge in inflation should confirm us in the wisdom of the policy that has been pursued in this country, which, on the whole, although creating temporary difficulty, is going to make for stability and prosperity in the long run.
There are one or two other aspects of our trade. We used to be told a year ago about the incredible prosperity of the United States of America and the risks we ran there. It is not true. The picture is not quite the same to-day as regards the United States. There is a depression in the United States. Instead of the feverish activity that you had more than a year ago, all the leading industries are now suffering from depression. Some people suggested that when the depression came they would dump their stocks in this country, but the reports which come from the United States indicate that there are no stocks to dump, and that, in fact, you are seeing, first of all, an increase of the amount of unemployment, and a fall in wages as well. Reference was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley (Mr. Baldwin) to the effects of tariffs abroad, and to the fact that the increases of foreign tariffs were shutting out our goods from many foreign markets. I think we might get some statement from the Board of Trade as to the facts. Undoubtedly we receive complaints from manufacturers of articles in this country that the increase in the French tariffs is reducing our exports to France. I believe that certainly for a time that was the case. There were certain textiles brought to my attention the other day, in which it was shown that the increase of the French tariffs was preventing the export to the same extent, of the articles which we produce for the French market, and it was in consequence of these statements that I thought I would make some investigation into the most recent reports of the Board of Trade as to the distribution of our trade.
I remember a year ago that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hendon (Sir P. Lloyd-Greame) made a point regarding the change of the distribution of our trade. He made speeches in the autumn of last year in which he showed that the proportion in our trade, in respect of what we sent and received from foreign countries and the Colonies, had altered since the War. It was due largely to war conditions, but now these conditions have passed away, and if you take the most recent Returns made by the Board of Trade on this matter, it is disclosed in the Board of Trade Journal for the 22nd May, 1924, that, taking the 12 months ending the 31st, March, 1924, the distribution is practically the same as it was in pre-War days. In other words, although the total volume is less and the volume of our trade to and from the Continent has gone down, yet the percentage has now become practically the same as it was in 1914, so that one of the bases of the controversy in which we were engaged for a time yesterday and the day before has been lost. To quote figures in imports, in our imports from British Dominions, the proportion has increased as compared with pre-War days. In 1913 we imported 75.09 per cent. of our imports from foreign countries. In the 12 months ended 31st March, we imported 73.09 per cent. In 1913 our imports from the British Empire were 24.91 per cent., and in 1923–24, 26.91 per cent. If you take the exports of British goods, one would naturally expect foreign tariffs to have the most effect on exports, and it was on exports that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition laid emphasis. You find in regard to exports of British goods to foreign countries 62.82 per cent. in 1913. They are now taking 63.74 per cent., and the British Empire are now taking 36.26 per cent., as against 3718 per cent. in 1913. So that so far as exports are concerned, foreign countries are taking a slightly larger proportion than they did in 1913.
I do not think it is necessary to deal with any further questions, but there is one other point frequently raised in regard to our trade, that is as to the comparative value of the encouragement to undertakings in other countries, compared with the encouragement of undertakings in this country. The President of the Board of Trade made a speech in an Unemployment Debate in August in which he spoke contemptuously of foreign undertakings, and indicated that it was his policy that money spent for the purpose of dealing with unemployment in this country should be spent on capital undertakings in this country. I think it is a doubtful policy, although many do not, share that view. In a discussion on this very matter there are some interesting opinions and facts in the financial article of the "Times" to-day, pointing out, from the experience of the last century, that expenditure on public works in this country may very easily lead to difficult financial and industrial conditions here. [An HON. MEMBER: "inflation!"] Yes, inflation. The writer illustrates the point with reference to the large railway expenditure in the 'forties of the last century, and points out that that was very largely the fault of the credit crisis of 1847. Investments abroad at the present time are having good effects on our general commercial and financial position. Those investments mean that we are exporting, and are able to pay for imports of food and raw materials required in this country, and that, therefore, instead of having our trade improved by artificial means, there is a gradual natural improvement which is bound to be of a sound and of a safe kind.
The President of the Board of Trade did not forecast in his speech the trade prospects of the country. I was attending another Committee upstairs, but I think I was in this Committee during the whole of the time he was giving, or refraining from giving, any forecast of trade. The amount of information given to the Committee was the smallest possible. I agree that it is always difficult to give with accuracy a perfect forecast, but this is the one occasion in the year when we have an opportunity—a particular opportunity—of considering what are the general trade prospects of the country, and of reviewing them, and of reviewing the right hon. Gentlemen's policy of administration in relation to trade. I understand that to-day he has gone back somewhat from the point of view he once expressed in answer to a question. He said on that occasion that it was no business of his to find trade for manufacturers. On the contrary, he now regards it, as I hoped he would, as his business to try and find trade for manufacturers.
I said it was no part of the business of the Board of Trade to secure orders for particular manufacturers. On the other hand, it was part of the work of the Board of Trade to do all that it could to promote the aggregate trade of the country, and thus help all the manufacturers.
I should have thought that the way to promote the aggregate was to secure as many individual orders for individual manufacturers as possible. I hope I shall learn from the right hon. Gentleman's second speech how else it can be done, because I certainly did not learn it from his first. The difficulties he finds in making a forecast are the same difficulties which confront every practical man in business. We look forward with particular interest, if I may say so, to obtaining his forecast, because I understand that he holds the view that the positive remedy for unemployment, which we know the Government possess, is by means of the restoring of general trade conditions. According to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, the remedy is the restoration of sound conditions. We must hear from him what he is going to do, and what he intends to do to bring about better conditions in trade.
I think the right hon. Gentleman rather underrated, if I may say so, the material which lies to his hand, in order to frame an appreciation and give us a forecast. In the first place, he has a most admirable staff who are in very close and constant touch with the trade and industry of this country. I know my right hon. Friend will bear that out. Whenever he wanted information he never applied to them in vain, and I think anyone who has been at the Board of Trade, if they made a reputation, made it largely on the expert knowledge of these men. In addition, the right hon. Gentleman has another source of information, a source which I hope he has used and will use, that is the Advisory Council which used to meet, and I trust still does meet, monthly. It consists of leading representatives of practically every trade and industry in this country—all the great manufacturing industries, distributing trades, banking, shipping, and distinguished members of trade unions. I always found that one cannot con ceivably get from any body of men a more comprehensive or accurate picture, and if he has got that month by month he really would be giving most valuable information to the House, information which I think it is his duty to give. This is the particular occasion on which he should let us have the fore- cast of the men in these industries as to what the future of British trade is going to be in the coming months.
There is one particular thing which I should like him to enter upon. It is true that there is sonic increase in the volume of trade which is being done. But ever: supposing the last mouth's trade is going to be maintained, the prospect is none too bright. If we take the last four months we are, at least, 25 per cent. short in our export trade But the particular point I want to ask is whether the trade is being done profitably. It makes all the difference whether the trade that is being carried on is being carried on for profit, or whether it is business which is being taken actually at a loss in order to try to get more work for the factory, and so reduce the overhead charges. The right hon. Gentleman has a chance of telling us about these industries. I should be interested to learn from him what proportion of trade which is being done now is being done at a profit or at so narrow a margin as to show no profit, but positively to be exhausting reserves. According as that is so, it must surely affect the view which we take as to our capacity to meet the competition which we have to face.
That leads me to the second question which I wish to put to the right hon. Gentleman, as to which he said nothing, namely, what does he conceive is going to be the position after the reparations settlement which we all hope to see carried through There is some anxiety as to what the position will be immediately after settlement. My right hon. Friend the Member fur Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) put it to very forcibly. and I entirely agree with him. Of course, when you take the long view you must work for settlement. But the immediate effect of settlement is going to be a tremendous increase in the productive capacity of the countries affected by the settlement. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman would deny that. You have in all these countries an enormously increased productive capacity. You have new factories in France, and a tremendous development of new factories in Germany, and great new power systems in order to work them. You have new factories which have been set up in Belgium and in Italy, with great motive power in order to work them. In all the countries of Europe the productive capacity has been increased. What does the right hon. Gentleman think is going to be the position?
Is not the position going to be, at the outset, a very much keener competition than any that we have had to meet hitherto? Are we not going to have a greater productive capacity in these factories than the world at the present time, which is much poorer than it was before, can abosrb. If that be so, it means that we are either going to have tremendous undercutting, which leads to further diminution of profits or to further increased loss and further reductions of wages, or it means that we must have arrangements for limiting production to what the world can absorb, or only a reasonable amount over that. There have been constant negotiations going on between French and German industrialists for arrangements in the Ruhr and in Lorraine. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs has pressed me on more than one occasion to make sure that I was not losing sight of this side of the question, and it was one of the things I was watching most closely.
It is of vital necessity that we in this country and our industrialists should have the fullest knowledge in advance of any arrangements which are even contemplated between French industrialists and German industrialists, and that there should be a plain understanding between the respective Governments and between industrialists in our respective countries that these arrangements are arrangements to which we ought to be a party if we so desire. Otherwise, if touch is not kept with these kinds of negotiations we shall find arrangements made to which we are not a party, which cover a field of production probably sufficient in itself almost to meet the world demand, and we may then have to come into the arrangement which has been made, not on our own terms, or on terms which we might have got if we had been in the negotiations from the start, but on terms which are much less advantageous to us.
I should like to know our position in regard to these negotiations, and whether the effort to obtain information has been continued and developed, and whether the right hon. Gentleman can assure us that as far as lies in his power no effort will be spared to safeguard our interests. There is a great deal that the British Government can do in this matter to ensure that they are keeping touch with any such negotiations and safeguarding our interests in any arrangements which affect, not merely the profits or the capital value of our industrial concerns as capitalistic undertakings, but which affect directly the work of every workman engaged in them.
That leads me to one further point. We obtained from the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday the information that he had again extended the remission of reparation payment to 5 per cent. under the German Reparation (Recovery) Act for an indefinite period until the whole of the Dawes Commission Report was put into force. I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer a question then, and I am going to put it again to the President of the Board of Trade, because these reparation questions are just as much trade questions as Treasury questions. Indeed, I think they are even more so. I am much more anxious as to the effect of reparations upon British industry than as to the effect of reparations upon the British Treasury. I am not saying anything against the Treasury, but I think we shall do far more harm to British industry by letting the Treasury settle reparations, and by taking the pure Treasury point of view, than we are likely to do good to the British taxpayer.
Therefore I want to put this question to the right hon. Gentleman. Has he been in the negotiations as to whether the remission under the German Reparation (Recovery) Act should he continued, ant if so, what is the justification for continuing this remission? When the matter was discussed before, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs and myself criticised the proposal most strongly, and we both put the point as to why this remission was being made, and why much more favourable arrangements were being concluded for the delivery of reparations in kind to France and Belgium. I put that question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he said that he did not admit that the arrangements were more favourable. If they are the same arrangements in which he concurred before, of course, they are more favourable. We are getting merely 5 per cent., while the French and Belgians are getting the whole deliveries of repara- tions in kind. The German Government is making arrangements to reimburse its nationals, partly, I think, by certificates to be used in the payment of taxes, and partly by deferred payments and partly in cash; whereas we have only the 5 per cent. instead of the normal 26 per cent. Is that arrangement still going on? Are our French and Belgian Allies getting that advantage while we are only getting 5 per cent? If that be so, then can it be argued that we are being less favourably treated than the French and the Belgians. What is the justification for it?
On the last occasion that I mentioned this matter, I was told, if I pressed it, I was hampering a settlement of reparations in some way, and I was also told that the Germans could not pay. I cannot, for the life of me, understand what that means. Since then, we have had the Dawes Report. The whole of that Report is based not upon the assumption but upon the clear proof that the Germans can pay a great deal more than anything that they would ever be called upon to pay if they had continued to pay the 26 per cent. in perpetuity. The Dawes Report is based upon fair taxation of German industry. If you are going to meet German industry on equal terms, you must get a taxation of German industry which is equal to the taxation which our industry has to bear, and heavier, because the Germans have wiped out part. of their capital charges. It is by that taxation of German industry that you are going to balance the German Budget and to get reparations on such a plan as the Dawes Committee has worked out. If that he so, why relieve German industry of three-fourths or four-fifths of the small measure of taxation which was coming to us in reparations? I should like to know from the right hon. Gentleman whether he has concurred in that, and whether he does not think that, so far from prejudicing a reparations settlement, you will get much nearer to the carrying out of the Dawes Report by insisting on getting, during the intervening period, at least the same terms that our Allies are getting.
In the Debate which we had on the 2lst May on export trade, which was initiated by the hon. Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Sir A. Shirley Benn), the President of the Board of Trade undertook to set up a Com- mittee, and he said he would confer with the Mover and Seconder of the Motion, and others, as to the personnel of the Committee, and, what is equally important, as to the reference to the Committee. This inquiry is of enormous importance, provided it is directed into the right channels. I want an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that that inquiry will take place, and that it will be directed not merely to a roving inquiry into our export trade, which is not necessary, but that it will be directed into a comparison of the charges which rest upon the sheltered trades and upon the unsheltered competitive trades in this country, and the corresponding charges in both sheltered and unsheltered trades in foreign countries. That is the kind of information which we want at the present time.
We depend for our very life upon the successful conduct of our competitive industries, and we want to know what they have to meet, and what are the conditions they have to meet in corresponding industries in foreign countries. It is idle to ask us to take this or that step in the regulation of industry here unless we know what the effect is going to be upon the competitive trades. Therefore, we want to know the facts as to corresponding industries abroad, and also what is the real effect of the charges which the sheltered trades throw upon the competitive trades in this country. I hope that if this inquiry is set up the right hon. Gentleman will see that the inquiry covers these points.
There are other matters of detail with which I would ask him to deal when he replies. There is the question of compensation for enemy damage. The Minister stated in his opening speech that he was conducting an extensive correspondence, for which he would require additional clerical assistance, but what we want to know is how he arrived at the £300,000, and how far it will go? This is an occasion on which we ought to try to clear that up and satisfy ourselves as to whether the right hon. Gentleman has secured the right amount of money, and if not, why no further grant is forthcoming. I would also ask him for an assurance as to the procedure before the Mixed Arbitral Tribunal, and the extent to which arrears have been caught up so that we may be in a position to judge—it is a very serious commercial matter—as to whether we are progressing satisfactorily, or whether we ought to press for further facilities. But I come back to the thing which in this Debate essentially matters. That is in regard both to the conditions here at home, and the conditions obtaining at this time abroad, and still more, the conditions likely to obtain abroad if the settlement in contemplation is carried out as we all hope it will be. The right hon. Gentleman is much more right than some of his colleagues in believing that only by the restoration of trade shall we get a restoration of employment, and he ought to give us a clear account of what he believes our prospects are.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE:
I rise to support the appeal of my right hon. Friend who has just sat down, and of other speakers in this Debate, to the President of the Board of Trade to give us a more elaborate account of the prospect of British trade. Last year my right hon. Friend set a very good example by his statement, evidently very carefully prepared, and based upon a most careful investigation, as to what he considered to be the prospect of British trade during the corning year. It was not a very optimistic one, but I am sorry to say that the estimate which he formed then hasp been generally justified by events. We look to the Board of Trade to advise us as to what the outlook is. It is vital to the traders of this country that they should know, and I agree with my right hon. Friend that the President of the Board of Trade has the material in his Department—I am speaking from two year's experience of that Department—and he has also the personnel, that will enable him to arrive at some conclusions upon which it would be valuable not merely to the House of Commons but to the whole community to be informed.
The right hon. Gentleman's observations with regard to trade were very summary and cursory. He took a very optimistic view. He did not give his reasons. I wonder upon what he bases his optimism. Last year our export trade was 74.5 per cent. of the pre-War trade. That is a much more serious factor for this country than for any other country in the world. There is no country in the world so dependent upon extraneous trade as Great Britain, not merely in what we sell but in the services which we render with our shipping, and the fact that the trade on which we are so dependent is only three-fourths of what it was before the War, when the population was 2,000,000 less than now, is a very serious-fact indeed. I know that it is said that the export trade is, after all, only one third of the total. I think that it is more, but take it at one-third and the home trade at two-thirds, the home trade means, after all, the supply of commodities to people who live on the foreign trade; and if the people who live on the foreign trade were deprived of that business the home trade would fall very considerably. Therefore these figures do not represent the importance of the export trade of this country.
I cannot see in the figures for the last two or three years the progress which one would like. Between 1921 and 1922 there was a substantial improvement. In 1921 we touched the lowest point in our export trade. That was 49.8 per cent., or half what it was before the War. In 1922 it became 68.9 per cent. That was an increase of 40 per cent. on the figure for 1921. But take the difference between 1922 and 1923. There was an increase only from 08.9 to 74.5 per cent. of the pre-War figure, and, though the right. hon. Gentleman seems to be very optimistic as to the figures of the last five months, I have gone through them carefully, and I do not think that the percentage of increase is a very satisfactory or a substantial one If anyone had said four years ago that in the year 1924 the depression which was then started would still be so bad, that our foreign trade would be only three-fourths of what it was before the War, and that there would be a million people out of employment, I think that he would have been regarded as a croaker and a pessimist.
The trading community, I believe, it is only right to say, did not quite foresee what would happen. My right hon. Friends know that. When we consulted them they were under the impression that it was not exactly a shallow depression but that it was a sharp depression which would pass in the course of a few months, and everybody said that, by the spring, we should see a substantial revival, and that by the end of the year there would be something like the old condition. That seemed to be the general impression. One of the few men who took a different view was the late Lord Pirrie, who, I think, was one of the two or three men of genius in British industry who had imagination and foresight, and he took a very serious view at that period of the possibility. I believe that Mr. Bonar Law consulted him at that time, and he was consulted at the beginning of last year, and his advice was that the prospects were still bad. He was the last man to be a pessimist. He was of a cheerful optimistic nature. In fact, a great deal of his success in trade was due to that confident nature of his and to that courageous optimistic view which he took of things. Therefore, when he came to that conclusion he came to it on the basis of a remarkable instinct which he had. I must say that everything which he said seems to be justified by what has happened.
I cannot see myself tile prospect of anything like a boom in British trade coming immediately. The Government have given us indirectly their estimate of the situation. We have had the view expressed by the Minister of Labour, upon the basis of what he had been advised by the very competent men in his Department, when he submitted his actuarial statement to the House with regard to unemployment, and that view indicated an unemployed register of a million for, I think, a couple of years. Then there was the opinion expressed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer with regard to his revenue. Both of those indicate that the advisers of the Government in those two very well-equipped Departments took rather a gloomy view of the immediate prospects, and one would like to know what is the view of the officials of the Board of Trade. The position is one which I think ought to be considered very carefully.
The President of the Board of Trade naturally builds great hopes on a European settlement, and I think that the prospect of settlement is a good one. The Dawes Report has been a real blessing. I think that the suggestion came in the first instance from hon. Members sitting on these benches some time last year for the appointment of the Commission. It was accepted by the late Government and acted upon by them, and that Report has now come in, and I am very glad that the present Government will act upon it. There are factors which indicate that it will be acceptable. Every European Government concerned is committed to it Italy is committed to it, I think, wholeheartedly. Belgium is committed to it, and it is a distinct advantage for Belgium to accept it, because she has the first cut off the joint. When the money comes in I think Belgium has priority. Therefore, Belgium very naturally is anxious to support the Dawes Report.
Another factor is that France has tried her Ruhr experiment and it has failed. That is an enormous advantage in any European settlement. My right hon. Friend, who was at many of these Conferences, knows very well that the difficulty of M. Millerand and M. Briand always was that whenever they attempted a settlement there were men in France who said, "Germany can pay, she is only shamming bankruptcy. All you have to do is to occupy the Ruhr and the money will be forthcoming." There was M. Poincaré, who always said, "I have got a plan ready"—like another Government "You have only got to give me the opportunity and I will put it into operation at once and the thing will be done." He made a mistake which the present Government did not make. He tried his plan. They have shown very much greater discretion and judgment-. They know their own plan and therefore they do not seek to put it into operation, but M. Poincaré had the disadvantage of believing in his plan and he put it into operation. The result has been that it has been completely exploded. The new French Government know perfectly well that there is no other man to come up and say, "I can draw blood out of coal by simply occupying the Ruhr." The thing is done.
Now that is a great advantage, and the other advantage—and this is an enormous advantage—is that for the first time you have brought America in She has never been in before, and the present Government is more or less committed to support the Dawes Report. The fact that General Dawes is their candidate for the Vice-Presidency is, I will not say an essential, but a contributory element, in the Republican support for putting this plan into operation. All these factors make it, I think, almost a certainty that nothing but the most extraordinary fumbling can make it possible for that proposal not to be carried into operation. That is undoubtedly a factor which is in favour of a restoration of trade in Europe.
But I want to come back again —and I am sorry to have to repeat it—to the warning that the House of Commons and the country must not assume that the moment you settle the reparation question, or get some sort of settlement which is acceptable, we are at the end of our trade trouble. In the first place, I want to emphasise what has been said by the last speaker as to the importance, when we go into that Conference, of not abandoning British interests. There is a real danger that, in order to get a temporary success, we shall be giving away things that belong to the British taxpayer to secure the adhesion of one Power or another. If we go into that Conference, we go on equal terms. We do not want to secure advantages for ourselves, but we want to secure fair and equal treatment, and I again repeat my regret that, whereas France and Belgium are getting the full benefit of the reimbursements by the German Treasury, we have agreed to cut them down by 20 per cent. Coming to the Dawes Report and its effect upon trade—and this is what I want most specifically to call attention to—the first thing I should like to say is that, although the Dawes settlement looks like a settlement of the whole problem, yet from my experience, I should like to warn the Government not to expect it to be a final settlement.
It will be all very well while we advance most of the payments out of our own pockets. The same thing will possibly apply to the second year and may be to the third year, out when you come to the big figures, I have a suspicion that the Dawes settlement is not going to be the final one. It will have the effect at any rate of producing an atmosphere of settlement which will be good for European trade, but its immediate effect will not be good upon ours. I want to give my reasons and I want to ask the Government what is the view taken by their advisers on this matter. Just see exactly what it means. We at the present moment have 74.5 per cent. of our pre-War exports. Probably by now the figure will be 75 or 76 per cent., but not very much more. That is not due to the fact that anybody else has taken away our trade. That is a very important element to be considered in connection with this outlook. Germany was our most formidable rival in the world before the War. Germany has not sold since the War more than 40 per cent. of her pre-War exports. The late Mr. Rathenau put the German exports at 25 per cent. of the pre-War figure but the view of our advisers was that it was 40 per cent.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE:
It must be volume. Prices were fairly high, but that is really what matters. Since then, German exports have gone down, and I should say that last year German exports were not very much more than 20 to 25 per cent. of the pre-War exports. What does that mean? If our trade is only 75 per cent. of what it was, that is not, for the moment, at any rate, due to the fact that the Germans are competing with us in the neutral markets of the world. Why is that? The first reason is that the Germans, owing to the fact that their credit is down, could not purchase raw materials at prices which would enable them to compete with us in foreign markets. There were a good many of us who thought that the fact that Germany had this inflation, that wages were low, and that they were able to turn out goods cheaply, would enable them to dump goods in the markets of the world in such a way as to cut us out. I do not mind saying I was one of those who had that apprehension. I frankly admit it. That has not turned out to be the fact, for the reason that Germany had to pay so much for the raw material of her manufactures, that although wages were low she could not compete in the neutral markets of the world with us. She is paying at the present moment 35 to 40 per cent. for loans for her business. If you pay that sort of interest for your money, you cannot compete.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE:
She is paying something like 100 per cent. and even more in some cases, but I am referring to advances to first-rate business firms at 35 to 40 per cent. Therefore she cannot compete. The moment you restore German credit that handicap goes. What was the other reason why Germany did not export in the last few years? The home market suited the manufacturers better than the foreign market. One result of inflation was that money became perishable goods. It was like fruit or fish in very sultry weather. You had to consume it immediately, otherwise its quality deteriorated. A mark, which was quite fresh to-day, was not fit for the table to-morrow, and the result was, that as soon as men had money they did riot hoard it; they neither stockinged it nor deposited it in the bank, because you might have a thousand marks to-day and they would not be worth 10 marks within a very short time. Therefore, nobody saved money, but everybody bought something which, at any rate, they could handle—clothes, articles of furniture, any thing so long as the money was converted into something tangible. That had an effect in artificially stimulating the trade of Germany. It stimulated it in another way. There was no competition with the German manufacturers, or prictically none. The goods which used to go to Germany, in spite of tariffs, were no longer going in. Germans could act buy abroad; they had not the credits. Nobody would sell to them for their debased currency, and they had no other currency except that which Germans would not part with—that which they had invested abroad—and the result was, that the German had to buy his own goods, the goods manufactured in his own country. The next result was, that the German manufacturer, practically, put on any price he liked; in fact, it was a Protectionist paradise for a few years. They made enormous profits, and I will come in a moment to what they have done with those profits, because that is the most serious item.
I want to point out what is the effect of the Dawes Report in altering that situation. The whole success of the Dawes Report depends upon the degree to which it can restore German credit. To do that you have to stabilise the German currency, it does not matter at-what figure. You can stabilise it in millions, but it must be stabilised. Once it is stabilised German credit is restored and the lending of money to Germany begins. My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Pringle) has called attention to that fact. I do not think the people of this country have taken the trouble to master what the Dawes Report means from that point of view. In 1922 Germany paid from £72,000,000 to £73,000,000–I am talking in sterling—to the Allies, in gold, in kind, in coal, in potash, in dyes and in supplies for the Armies of Occupation. She paid the whole of that £73,000,000 out of her own pocket. The gold came from her Treasury and she reimbursed the coal owners, the dye owners and those who supplied the armies. What is the proposal of the Dawes Report? The £73,000,000 is to be cut down to £50,000,000. My recollection is that £40,000,000 is to be advanced from outside—£40,000,000 in gold. To whom is that money going to be paid? Not to France, or Belgium, or Great Britain, or Italy. It is to be paid to the German coalowner, the German dyestuff manufacturer, and the person who supplies goods to the Armies of Occupation. That £40,000,000 is a credit to Germany; it is gold which goes to Germany. It is the beginning of the re-establishment of credit.
Follow it down, and we find a series of credits arranged upon the security of the railways and other admirable securities. Next year it is £60,000,000, and when you come to the whole flotation it comes to a prodigious figure—I think £130,000,000, or some figure of that kind. A good deal of that goes into Germany it is not distributed in gold among the Allies. It pays for the commodities which are raised in Germany. Germany, for the first time, will be paid gold, for which she passes over goods to France, Great Britain and the rest. Still more, once investors get into the habit of investing in German securities and of regarding them as securities into which they can put their gold and get a fair return for it—investors are very gregarious, and if America begins to pour her great gold reserve into the establishment of Germany, there are many securities there which are thirsting for investment and which ell are prepared to pay a higher rate of interest than anything in this country or America can possibly give—once that begins, the Germans will be infinitely better off than they are at the present moment, when they are paying 35 to 40 per cent. on the best securities. I want to know what the effect on British industry is going to be, when German credit is restored and German industries are re-energised? What have German industries been doing in the last few years? Have they been doing nothing? During the period when they were unable to trade with the world they put the whole of their energies into re-equipping Germany. I should point cut that France has done the same thing; Italy has done the same thing; Belgium has done the same thing, and, to a very large extent, the United States of America have done the same thing, We have done less than any other country in the world.
Just see what happened. Germany during the War had probably a greater drain on her man-power than any other country, with the possible exception of France. She was fighting on all the fronts, and her losses were heavier than those of any other country, with the possible exception of Russia. She was cut off from the world, and things for the supply of which she depended on other countries she had somehow or other to supply herself. That stimulated German ingenuity, and it stimulated her to devise laboursaving appliances. Then came the period of inflation, when the manufacturers made huge profits and had no place to invest them in which was a safe one, except in the extension, the development, the improvement, and the re-equipment of their own factories. One of the results is that, if anything, Germany is over equipped, but the capital which has been advanced for that purpose is no longer a burden to them. It has been wiped out by inflation. I wonder whether the Committee have taken the trouble to look up what has been done in regard to power in Germany, in France, in the United States of America, and in other countries. I have not the figures for Italy, but I know it has happened there. [An HON. MEMBER: "And in this country!"] In our own country it is not comparable to the rest, but I will give the figures.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE:
Well, that depends on what we do. If hon. Members would like to see the British sterling in trillions, then I have no doubt at all they would regard that as a victory, but I do not think the Germans regard it as a victory when it comes to their marks. I am just pointing out what the Germans have done. As I shall point out late on, they have gone through a period of very great suffering, very low wages, and semi-starvation, but at the end of it they have re-equipped their industries, and whether or not that is going to damage this country depends entirely on whether or not this country wakes up in time. [Interruption.] I have taken a good deal of trouble to get these figures, and I think they are a valuable contribution to a discussion of the trade outlook of the country. An hon. Friend behind me says that this country has made progress, and so it has. I am taking electrical energy in kilowatt hours, and perhaps hon. Members who are acquainted with the subject will correct me if I have given a wrong designation. Great Britain had 2,500,000,000 kilowatt hours in 1913, and that has gone up to 5,739,000,000, which is an increase of 130 per cent.; France has increased from 750,000,000 to 2,700,000,000, an increase of 247 per cent.; Germany has increased from 2,238,000,000, which was below ours in 1913, to 7,234,000,000, an increase of 223 per cent.; and the United States of America has increased from 13,140,000,000 to 47,717,000,000.
Let the Committee see what this means. We made less progress than any other great trading country in that respect. Germany before the War had less power at its command than we had. Since the War she has increased that, in spite of the fact that a third of her coal has been taken away, by 40 per cent. That is the re-equipment which has taken place in Germany, and in other countries as well. Again, the Germans had a debt which was the equivalent of about £10,000,000,000, roughly. That is wiped out the municipal debt, wiped out; the debentures upon industry, wiped out. There has been a great inflationist jubilee. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone that that injured her credit, and I will come to that in a minute. We have a debt of over £7,000,000,000, and we have some debts, debentures and otherwise, as we had before the War, which have been written clown because of the fact that the purchasing power of the sovereign is less than it was, but only to that extent. If anyone tells me that it makes no difference whether you have a debt of £7,000,000,000 or no debt at all, provided it is an internal one, I cannot believe it. It is bound to enter as a computation into every account which a business man has to take of his overhead charges and the payments which he has to make in respect of those debts. It is bound to have its effect. It has injured German credit, and the proof of it is that the German electrical power would have increased even more had it not been for the fact that the gigantic scheme of development of water power in Bavaria, which was going to electrify the whole of that great district, which was going to carry electrical power as far as Nuremburg, had to be arrested because of the great collapse of the mark some months ago, and Germany had not the credit to develop it.
There is no doubt at all that it has injured German credit, but, if German credit is restored, there is the power, there are the schemes. They produce lignite, which, I believe, in thermal or calorific qualification, or whatever they like to call it, is inferior to some of our coal dust, and inferior I am told—but there are hon. Members who know more about it. than I do—even to some of our rubbish heaps that you would not sell for domestic purposes or for putting into boilers. I am told by those engaged in electrical development in this country that they never buy good coal, that they buy coal that they could not sell in the market, for the purpose of conversion into power, and that they put their great electricity stations within easy access of the coal pits—not within a mile or two, but, say, within ten miles—where it can be carried cheaply, because they can use it for that purpose when they could not use it for any other purpose. The Germans have used their lignite, great deposits of it, for this purpose. That is the position with which we are confronted, and I would like to ask the Government this: If the credit comes there—I do not know what is the action of a carburettor—I am here getting beyond my depth again—but, at any rate, it is the thing which, I think, starts the machine. [Laughter.] Well, you cannot get it going, at any rate, without it. The credit will have the same effect. There is the machine, and there, in the place of petrol, is the energy of the people, and they are a highly educated, a highly trained people, from an industrial point of view a very formidable people, and all they want is just that amount of credit which will enable the thing to start. They are going to get it.
I should like to ask the Government what their view is in regard to the prospect. We had an Inquiry through the Board of Trade in 1922, when the present. Leader of the Opposition was President of the Board of Trade. An Inquiry was ordered then throughout the whole of the trading areas of this country, and the Report was a very gloomy one, and we were considering it when there was an explosion, in the neighbourhood of Piccadilly, which blew up the Government of the day, and there was no possible means of proceeding with that particular machine. That was left on the roadside, and another motor started; but there was not much petrol in that. There was no "go" in it. I am going to ask the President of the Board of Trade a question. I would not like to ask the right hon. Gentleman for his considered view upon something which I am putting to him now, and which he would have to answer in a few moments, but I am going to ask whether he could not have the same kind of investigation, not merely as we had in 1922, hut, say, the investigation of 1903, when there was a great problem before the country, and where the whole of the officials of the Government were turned on to collate all the information there was with regard to trade. It was the basis of a good deal of controversy, no doubt, but it was accepted, in the main, as a very fair statement of the facts of the case, and I think, when it is a matter which is so vital to the life of this country as the outlook in trade, we ought not to neglect any precaution. The right hon. Gentleman is very optimistic, but there are others who are very doubtful, and I think there are sufficiently disquieting elements to make it necessary for us to have a real, careful examination, and, if possible, an impartial one, into the whole position.
I know how difficult it is now. It would have been easier a year or two ago, before certain controversies were raised. Everybody has in his mind now, I am perfectly certain: "There is an argument for Tariff Reform," or "There is an argument for Free Trade." Could not we get the facts? If we get the facts we can draw our own inferences. We are quite capable of doing so. Some may say: These prove that Free Trade is good. Some will say that they favour Tariff Reform. Others will say that they favour Nationalisation. But it is just possible that the trading community may say: "Let us have something else." At any rate this is a nation which is capable, and has always shown itself capable, of saving itself in an emergency—providing it knows the truth. What is vital is that, without any regard to the effect upon any of our controversies, or upon any point of view, this great trading country should know what is the situation, what is the view of those officials who advise it, what are the facts? If we do that feel convinced that we shall be able, at any rate, to formulate something that will prepare us against any emergency, and enable us to face it.
I mentioned power just now. I should like to know whether the Board of Trade, if it is in their Department, think that something more could not be done there. I am not now suggesting legislation, but I suggest, in a sentence, the restoration of the compulsory powers of the Bill of 1919, and ask whether it is not possible to do something. I have no doubt that in the end—and here I agree with my right hon. Friend behind me—it will work out all right. If you increase the wealth of Europe everybody will ultimately benefit by it. My right hon. and gallant Friend said something about Germany being a customer. So she was. She was a great customer. I am thinking, however, rather of the interval between the time when she begins to prosper and the time she begins to buy. Germany will no doubt become a great customer. She will not begin immediately to be a great customer, even when she prospers. Her first business will be to develop her export trade. One of the effects, undoubtedly, of the restoration of credit will be to restrict her home market. Why? If you stabilise the mark there will not be the same inducement to buy things at home. There is no temptation for Germany now to develop her export trade. She will be driven to develop it afterwards. There will be a surplus of energy which she has to absorb, and she can only do that by promoting her export trade. She will do that at first without buying. She has restrictions at the present time on imports. Those will continue for some time. That is a policy of Dr. Schact, one of the most powerful men in Germany. The policy of the leaders of Germany at the moment is to restrict imports so as to increase the value of her currency abroad, and to make the most of such credits as she can create. Germany will require twice as much credits to buy the same quantity of goods as she did before the War, because there will be a suspicion, a taint; and, therefore, she will have to build up credits abroad. To do that she will have to restrict her imports for a short time.
Then one must always reckon upon the force of habit. if you get a habit created in Germany not to buy those goods, it will take some time before the people get back to the habit of buying them, so there is going to be an interval, even with Germany prosperous, before she buys the kind of goods we supply. It may be two, three or four years. I should like to know what is the view of the Board of Trade? There will be an interval, and that will be a bad interval for us. It will be an interval where Germany, re-energized, will be able to compete with us in neutral markets, and where the profits of that energy will not be expended to the same extent as before the war in purchasing goods from us. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, first of all, he will not consent to have a careful, impartial investigation, not by men who are committed to theories, fiscal or otherwise, but by the very able officials he has and the Treasury and the other Departments have, into the whole position, with a view to advising the House of Commons and the country as to what the whole situation is. Let us have that. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the possibility that, if there is an interval of that kind, the capital of this country, its energies, should be devoted to the provision of work which will give employment to those who are thrown out of work by that interval: the provision of employment of a kind which will make this country more effective for competing later on when the moment comes.
There is another suggestion I am going to make. I am afraid I am a little heterodox here, but I should like to have a little inquiry into the effect of the free money market. I have been very much struck by a very able article by Mr. Keynes on this subject. In the old days we parted with our money freely, but in the main to undeveloped countries who supplied us with food and raw materials, and who were not in the least competitors with us for manufactures. The result was that it was a great stimulus to our manufactures. There is going to he a temptation—I have no hesitation in saying that, from certain symptoms I have seen, and from inquiries made at the present moment—there is a danger that the capital of this country will flow into channels where it will he used rather to re-equip our competitors than to develop countries which will he purchasers in our markets. What I want to put is this: I do not want to go into an argument at the present moment, for I should be out of order, as to whether it is desirable that we should have a free money market, or whether you should do what every other country in the world does—with the possible exception of America—and I believe to a certain extent America does it—have a certain amount of Governmental control or direction which will prevent the surplus money of this country from going into quarters of that kind But, at any rate, I think it is desirable that we should know the facts of the situation, that we should know what the situation is in regard to the expenditure of money, 'and then we should be in a better position to review what ought to be done. There are optimists. There are pessimists. But the whole country, with its 46,000,000 of people, depends upon our taking the right view in regard to what ought to be done in the coming two or three years. We cannot take that view unless we get the whole of the facts impartially stated. I appeal to the President of the Board of Trade to do this.
I apologise to the Committee for getting up again, but it seems to me that certain matters have been mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman and one in particular which I think demands that I should say something at once. [HON. MEMBERS: "Speak up!"] What the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has said was not quite what I expected him to say, but none the less I desire to answer his appeal.
The right hon. Gentleman emphasised the importance of an inquiry, and quite rightly assumed that though I should not be prepared to declare for the moment what ought to be done, that I should have no objection to the inquiry if it could be set on foot. I am afraid I do not know what is going to happen during the next few years, but as a matter of fact the Prime Minister has already announced an inquiry of a comprehensive nature, the most effective inquiry that can be made with particular reference to our export trade and several other things that he mentioned. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman however that a mere compilation of statistics undertaken by officials is not all that we want. We want something more. We want an inquiry on a scale as great as can be managed, and so far as possible impartial. To start an inquiry of that kind takes time, and it is not possible to give the names at once. L may say, however, that the process is very nearly completed. I have consulted a number of people, but I have others still to consult. I cannot give the date, but an announcement will be made at the earliest possible moment in regard to the personnel of the body which will make the inquiry. We have taken a great deal of trouble with a view to securing the best men we can for this purpose, and I think the House will feel that the course we have taken is one which ought to bring about the best results. At any rate I hope we shall be given credit for having done our best to provide such a body.
On that my answer ought to be more satisfactory, because the new Census of Production was put into hand immediately we came into office, and it is now in an advanced stage, in order that the census may be taken for the current year. I know that my predecessor took the necessary step in this direction before he left office. It is just one of the things that the outgoing Government does take care to do in order to see that nothing is allowed to go wrong between the change of administration.
The statistics are extremely slow in coming in, but we shall make the greatest possible haste to get out provisional results, leaving the final figures to be worked out at greater length. The main burden of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs was to say that this country needed to wake up in view of the fact that on the Continent, and especially in Germany, there had been greater re-equipment and improvement in their technical capacity than we had shown in this country, and that they would become keener competitors with us in the world's trade. I am not prepared at this moment to enter into a controversy about that, but I am not dismayed, and I would like to ask whether we really wish to see other countries prosperous or not. I may be pessimistic, but it seems to me that we are bound to suffer if Germany and other countries continue to suffer because our prosperity is bound up with theirs. Therefore I am not afraid of Germany becoming more prosperous, better equipped and doing more trade, because that cannot fail incidentally to be to our advantage. We ought to cast from our mind any sort of doubt as to whether we wish to see Germany restored to prosperity or not. The right hon. Gentleman does not mean that he does not wish to see Germany prosperous, but I think he was drawing attention to the possible injury which might accrue to our trade by Germany becoming prosperous.
I cannot help thinking, if Germany is going to develop its trade and its export trade in particular, it must at the same time increase practically in the same degree its import trade. I do not want to be too paradoxical, and say that imports must always equal exports, but I do say that it is impossible for Germany to develop her great woollen industry and become one of our leading exporters without increasing her imports of raw material. I think the right hon. Gentleman was quite right in urging that we ought to put our house in order. We have put ourselves in the hands of private enterprise, and I am not suggesting there is any possibility of altering that system quickly or simultaneously, and if our factories are to be more fully equipped it is to our entrepreneurs and our captains of industry to whom that warning should be addressed. On this question the Board of Trade will give all the information which it can give.
May I now say a word about the Dawes Report? I did not think that that was a proper subject to form the main topic of discussion on the Board of Trade Vote. I admit that the whole course of reparations in Germany very much more concerns British industry than British credit. I can quite take the view that the Dawes Report, if carried out, is going to be a matter of very considerable importance to British industry. There has been an almost universal concurrence that the Dawes Report was a good step onwards. I have no hesitation in saying, from the point of view of the Board of Trade, that on that ground alone it seems to me that it marks an important stage onwards, but the actual cash that will come out of the Dawes Report proposals immediately is not going to be very considerable. With regard to the great increase of exports which it is said the payments that Germany has to make in future will actually cause, I am inclined to wait until I see what actually happens before I can forecast what will be the result on British trade.
There are certain directions in which the Government can do more in the direction of equipping industry. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs alluded to the great development of electrical power. It is well known that the Government has been turning its attention to that subject during the last few months, and I think we can see our way to give a new push onwards to electrical development, not necessarily by getting compulsory powers; but there are other directions in which it seems to us the electrical development of this country can take place which will have the effect of bringing cheaper power to the door of every manufacturer. I think that can be more fully developed by the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Transport. By making that suggestion the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs is pushing an open door. With regard to electrical development, I am told that in certain big departments, technically, we are still ahead of the world. I know our progress has been slow, and we have not got on any faster because of the conservatism of the English people, who are very slow to adopt electrical power instead of steam power. We are coming near doing something with regard to electrical power.
With regard to a freer money market, I have nothing satisfactory to report. I myself have often felt that the absolute attitude of laissez faire with regard to the direction of capital and letting an investor use his capital in the direction he chooses and where he can get the largest amount of interest was not quite wise, because it may mean money going into such things as distilleries, cinemas, and hotels, when we want it for building working-class houses. It may also mean money going to Central American Republics when it might be better used at home. Whether, somehow or another, we can take any steps in that direction I do not know. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman suggests Government control over the direction in which capital should be allowed to go. I am not sure whether something of that sort will not have to be done, but I would warn the Committee that I do not think we ought to be led astray by the notion that we are doing harm to ourselves by helping our competitors. It is now many years ago since the prohibition of the export of machinery was given up and it used to be a penal offence to export machinery, just as it was for skilled workmen to emigrate to foreign countries. I would deprecate any reversal of our policy in order to prevent the export of machinery to other countries or the making of loans to other countries merely on the ground that it was feared it would enable machinery to be set up which might compete with our own cotton mills. While I welcome the suggestion that there should be a certain control over the money market as to the direction in which capital should go, I hope the right hon. Gentleman did not mean to suggest that there was any reason why we should try to prevent capital from going to help other nations which might become competitors with ourselves.
I should like now, if I may, to take just a few more minutes to say a little about the present position of British industry, which I rather felt was unnecessary when I opened the discussion. It would be undesirable and improper, on an occasion of this sort, to go into elaborate details, but I want to say a few words about some of the big industries. With regard to coal, in which it happens that I am interested, though not financially, I think the Committee ought to take note of the fact, and it is a basic fact, that the aggregate production of coal in this country has practically got back to pre-War figures. In 1913, the production of coal in this country was at a record figure—I think it was 287,000,000 tons, if I remember rightly; and I think it will be found that the production for the last 12 months has not fallen very much short of that. It is a wonderful thing to have got back our coal production to our record figure, and, of course, we have got back the sales at the same time, since the coal that is produced has to be sold.
Again, with regard to iron and steel, I do not want to trouble the Committee with figures, but it is a rather remarkable fact that we made substantially as much steel in the last 12 months as we made before the War, and since no stocks of steel, I suppose, exist in the world at present, that has gone to a great extent into consumption somewhere. It is perfectly true that. we have not anything like the number of steelworks or blast furnaces at work that we had before, but it must be noted, and it is a significant thing to remember, that that is in consequence of two things. Firstly, there was a great hypertrophy of iron and steel production during the War. Every country increased its production of steel, and the world is now left with a capacity for producing steel which is much greater than the demand.
In every country—in England, France, Germany and the United States—there are blast furnaces and steelworks that are not in use. There is too much productive capacity for steel in the world, or rather, there is more than can be used, Therefore, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is very important to get to know what the French and Germans are doing in this matter, and I am glad to inform him that, so far as the Board of Trade can make representations in this matter through the Foreign Office, that point of view was put to the Foreign Office very emphatically, and. I have every reason to suppose that whatever can be done will be done. There is not only this large excess of productive capacity for steel in the world which cannot be used—an excess of productive capacity which we are not likely to overtake for a long time—but there is an enormous improvement in the technical capacity of the plant, and, therefore, although we made substantially as much steel last year as in pre-War times, we have an enormous proportion of our iron and steel workers out of employment. That is a very serious thing, but, so far as trade is concerned, we cannot say that it has been doing so badly as regards volume, or that the prospects are bad.
It is very serious when we come to consider the case of cotton. Cotton is suffering in several ways. The fine counts are not so bad as to account for the pessimism, or shall I say modesty, with which all capitalists and manufacturers report upon their own trade. The fine counts in cotton are not doing so badly, but, of course, a large part of Lancashire depends on coarse counts remember being told, a quarter of a century ago, that Lancashire was going to lose that trade. It has not lost it all, but it is doing very badly now, and why? Because it is paying 17d. a pound for its cotton, whereas it only paid 4d. before the War, while the people to whom it sells, like the Indians and the Chinese, are the poorest people in the world, and they cannot buy the same quantity at the necessarily high price.
Perhaps the Committee will allow me to say what the policy of the present Government is with regard to Empire cotton production. That has been continuously pressed on in every possible way. We have fought for it on the Floor of this House, in regard to the Kassala Railway and so on, and we are pressing on Empire production of cotton to the utmost extent of our power. But why was it not done before? It ought to have been begun in the last generation, because, do what you will, you cannot increase the production at a very great rate. We have made a small beginning, and are going on steadily, but before we reach anything like the magnitude of the supply that we have to get from the United States, it will be at least a whole generation. We cannot do more than is possible, but I think we are not doing so badly.
Again, there is every sign that the woollen trade is doing well. The unemployed in the Bradford district, for instance—and Bradford is not entirely wool—who were 12,000 last August had gone down to 5,000 last April. I give the figures for August and April for the credit of my predecessor. We do not claim that it is all due to the present Government. The situation is not so bad in the case of wool, but there is a little kink even there, because wool comes nowadays mainly from Australia. Australia has had a good clip of wool, and it is doing very well, and, consequently, the whole of our trade with Australia is doing well. It may be that that is due to the excellence of the wool clip, as well as to the effect of Preference. Nevertheless, the Board of Trade is glad that it should be doing so well.
Our machine, however, has creaked in another place, where, perhaps, it would not be expected to creak. In the remittance market our trade with Australia has been very seriously hampered, because the Australian producer could not get his money through the banks. The banks do the business extraordinarily well as a rule, but three times in my lifetime I remember that it was not possible to get remittances on Australia when they were wanted. Three times the banking system has, I will not say broken down, but has failed to work with its usual perfection. It has failed to work with its usual perfection with regard to the Australian wool clip. I will not trouble the Committee with the details, but I will go on to say that the Board of Trade have, naturally, had this matter under consideration, and we believe that the banks now, in response to the representations that have been made, have made arrangements, in conjunction with the Government of Australia, which will enable remittances to go through for next season, and that is a very valuable thing.
I am afraid the Committee may think that cheerfulness will keep breaking in upon me, but now I am coming to a gloomy side, and that is the great machinery and engineering trade. There, undoubtedly, we have failed to get back our pre-War trade up to the present, and the whole machinery industry is in a very gloomy condition. I hope we can do something, in stimulating electrical development, that will help the machinery trade, but there again I think we must take note of the enormous development of what I would include under machinery during the War, and of the fact that our factories are probably of an unnecessarily large productive capacity as regards machinery The right hon. Gentleman drove the machine, quite rightly, very hard during the War, and got a tremendous development for making shells and other things that were wanted in the War; and when the peace came—when the calamity of peace fell on the world—this great industrial machine was left with comparatively little to do, and it has not been able to adjust itself even in the course of five years.
I must not go on any more, but I will just add two pieces of news which the Committee ought to know. I have been pressed a good deal about the Trade Treaty with Poland. Its ratification lagged, and, with our amiable suspicion of other nations, people began to imagine that Poland had not ratified this Treaty because of some reason which they could not fathom. I do not know what the reason was, but, at any rate, the Treaty is now ratified. The other matter is an interesting development which I do not quite know how to characterise, namely, the coming in of a protective tariff in India. I hope hon. Gentlemen on one side of the House, at any rate, will view that with favour, because in their view a protective tariff is, I suppose, a good thing for India. I think, however, the Board of Trade take the view that it is a bad thing. Whatever may be the views of the Board of Trade on Protection, at any rate the Board of Trade does not like Protection in India, and there is going to be a tariff on steel and steel goods there which His Majesty's Government has not felt it right to interfere to prevent. We have carried on the policy of what is called fiscal autonomy in regard to India, and we have said that, if the Indian Legislature and the Indian Government pressed for this tariff, the British Government ought not to stand in the way to prevent it. I hope that that is a matter on which the policy of the Government will have the unanimous support of the House. There are those who think that a protective tariff is a good thing, and they will not object to His Majesty's Government allowing a protective tariff in India, and I suppose that those who think that India ought to have its own way in many things will not object either. I do not like it myself—
It is complained, I think, on behalf of British trade, that these protective tariffs in India may injure British trade, and we should have something to bargin with if we had a fiscal system here which might allow us to give something in return.
The hon. Member is putting a very thin dilemma to me. After all, if putting on one duty is an impediment to trade between India and England, putting on another duty at the other side of the sea must he a further impediment.
I only desired to say, in rendering an account of my stewardship, that the Board of Trade has not intervened to prevent India from putting this tariff on steel and steel goods. It is, unfortunately, possible that it may diminish for some time to come the British exports of steel to India. I do not myself think that it is going to be so very serious, but I report it to the Committee, and I own up, and say that the Board of Trade has not pressed the Secretary of State for India to intervene to prevent the Indian Legislature from adopting this tariff. I am afraid that now I have made the mistake of talking too much, after having committed the mistake of talking too little. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will feel that I have endeavoured to follow his points, and that I have been able to show what the Government is doing and what it is presently going to do.
I have listened with intense interest to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). He took us by the hand as if we were Mélisande and asked us, British traders, to look at our face in the pool and see what was there reflected. He held the mirror to a truth which I think the country will also have to look at. He has told us that Germany has its industrial machine untouched. I agree. He says that it has its motive power untouched. I agree. It has its spark not yet lit, and that it will be lit by the Dawes Report. I agree. Said he: "We need not talk about Free Trade or Tariff Reform, but when the spark is lit by the credit that the Dawes Report will bring to Germany, the wheels of German production will go round and a large amount of manufactured material will come out which will do to us much harm." I agree. He took us to see the reflection and invited us to think where we were. It is not clear to many—whither we are going. He asks us to look at this matter and it amounts to this, that the Dawes Report, beneficial though it may be for restoring trade and credit in Germany, may be the downfall of prosperity of the British workmen. How can it be otherwise? He says, we must not talk about tariffs or Free Trade but by implication tells us that if the credit of Germany is set going by putting the Dawes Report into operation, we shall find ourselves at the mercy of this increased German output in the export markets of the world, set up by the working of the Dawes Report.
Where can these German goods go if not to our foreign and colonial customers? The Dawes Report does not fix an amount of reparations. It says the least amount Germany must have of surplus of production over consumption for reparations must be £125,000,000 sterling a year. Think for a moment. During the last year, according to Board of Trade reports, our credit on our foreign trade was £97,000,000, after allowing for invisible exports. Great Britain, with her huge in-and-out trade amounting to £2,000,000,000 last year, is only able to get a credit balance on her overseas trade of £97,000,000. Yet you would expect Germany to so build up a trade as to bring a foreign trade credit for herself for reparation payments of not less than £125,000,000 sterling a year. That means to say the import and export trade of Germany must be greater than ours. The moral which we draw from the right hon. Gentleman's speech, and I agree with him, is, if you put the Dawes Report into operation, you will create so large an export and import worldwide trade for Germany as to produce £125,000,000 of surplus credit foreign trade for Germany that you will smash every working man's prosperity in this country. The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) nearly hit the spot when he said that by the Dawes Report giving this restored credit to Germany, Germany might have won the War by capturing our export customers.
We have to see whether this Dawes Report, if put into operation, will not do us a great deal more harm than good. My impression is that it will do more harm than good. I am not criticising in a hostile way the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. I know he has always said that Britain has always been made to pay and other people have the benefit. He is just as anxious as I am to get for Britain what she is entitled to get. This Dawes Report will not get it; she will probably be injured by it. I am much obliged to him for taking us along to the pool to see our faces there. We see no more than a mirage in Reparations.
He said, "You must set up hydro-electric plant and other works to find employment for the men who will be thrown out of work by this stimulation of export German trade set up by the credit to be given to Germany under the Dawes Report." What is the good of putting up extra works here—although I admire his motive—when you have not got the export orders to absorb the goods made? Railways, although we do not realise it, and electro-water systems are parasitic; they are not basic industries. The prosperity of railways, steamships, electro-water systems, and everything in this country depends upon our having to supply goods for export. First, let your foreign trade demand things to be made. It is no good making things at home here and awaiting orders that do not come. If you do put down extensions of home industries and spend your money like that, for home production, not for export, you will come very near the point lightly touched upon by the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Pringle). If you spend £50,000,000 a year in paying for putting up new installations in Britain, the products of which are not exported, you will find that the wages paid to the persons who put up these installations will be disbursed for the great part for consumable articles coming from abroad. You will have depreciation of the foreign exchange, because you will not have the extra exports with which to pay for the consumable imports called for by the wages. You will create a grave economic danger of a very deep and fundamental kind in stimulating home industries without doing first all you can to stimulate the sale of goods for export abroad, so that their payment may come in here to pay wages, in kind, for the goods that are produced and sent abroad. Thus you would have an import coming in which, instead of making a drain upon your exchange, balances what you may have to send out for food imports.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to restriction of what he called the free money market. When he talked about the free money market I suppose he meant restricting the loan issue market. You cannot have a restriction. I hope the President of the Board of Trade will not think there is any hope in having a restriction of the money market. The money market should be as free as possible. I think the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs was mishandling technicalities. What he meant was restricting the loan issue market. That is another thing. I am not sure that he was not on the right track in a minor degree. I ventured to say a few months ago in the Trade Facilities Debate that I thought some loans by us to foreign countries did not always go out in the direct form of British goods. I think now it would not be a bad thing if we did look into that theory that not all the loans which are granted in the issue market in Britain to foreign and colonial countries do go out in the direct form of goods. In the majority of cases they do. Let our great banking and issuing houses discriminate a little when great demands are made upon us for loans. Let them lend, not to countries where we can get nothing in return in increased orders, but rather to countries who are likely to take our goods and increase our prosperity by their development.
I am sorry to hear the President of the Board of Trade tell us that he himself fears that the protective duties put on by India may injure our exports. I think that if we had some means of saying to India, "If you are going to put very heavy duties on our goods we can play the same game. We, at any rate, have the power of bargaining with you so that you may give us fair play in your markets as we give you fair play in our markets." I think it is a weakness in our fiscal system that we have not that.
Before the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs opened his speech, I had intended only to say something about administration. wanted to draw attention to Item (I) in the Vote we are dealing with. If the right hon. Gentleman will look at page 71 he will see, "Expenses under Patents and Designs and Trade Marks Act." I want to deal with a point there. He was talking about the prospects of trade. Our Chinese trade has been in a very grave condition of late. I think the Board of Trade is doing its best with the Foreign Office to get this grievance put right. We send steel and cotton to China. We have our recognised form of trade marks and our patents, but some of the Chinese concerns—I take one, I think the Hankow Iron Works—have a habit of making steel and placing upon it the registered trade marks of our own trade people in England registering the marks as the marks of the Hankow Company. The net result is that our Sheffield people are suffering very severely from what is nothing less than dishonest substitution. We who are manufacturers and merchants have looked upon the Chinese traders as exemplary in their conduct and honesty, and I do not understand why they have all of a sudden taken into their heads to purloin our patents, forge our trade marks and falsify our trade designs. A very curious thing has arisen out of it. It is well known that the Chinese do everything the reverse way from what we do. They shake hands with themselves. They now prosecute us and say we imitate the trade marks they have on their forged goods, although these marks are ours, stolen from us. They will attack us for using our own trade marks.
All I can say in reply to that is that the complaint comes from British firms in Sheffield. Moreover, if the Hankow firm was a British company, it would be subject to treaty rights, and we should get the grievance put right. We cannot in this case. I was speaking yesterday to the chairman of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, and he said he would send me a letter to read to the House confirming my statement, but it has not arrived. But be said Manchester is suffering severely by the falsification in China of the trade marks on Manchester goods. It is doing another thing. When these trade marks are put on Chinese goods, not only does it deprive us of employment here and of our profits, but if they are put on inferior Chinese or non-British goods, inasmuch as those goods are bought up country by the Chinese on the marks, if the goods are inferior, Manchester is disadvantaged by the facts that the goods give Manchester trade a very bad reputation. Besides, it is a scandal, it is unjust and wrong on every ground, moral as well as commercial. I may, therefore, ask the President of the Board of Trade what is being done to get this matter put right with the Chinese authorities. We have been told we ought to register our marks and patents in China. But if we do that we put ourselves outside the limits of our Treaty rights, and we do not feel so satisfied if our cases and complaints are to be dealt with by the native Courts as we would be if dealt with by a Court at which a British representative was present, in accord with our Treaty rights.
There is one other point in connection with Treaty matters and it is this. What are the Government doing to forward the Treaty with Brazil? Brazil is a good market for us. The Brazilian people are well disposed towards us and we towards them, and if we get matters regularised it will be of great advantage to employment here. Certain fiscal advantages not allowed us are already extended by Brazil to Belgium and the United States. All we ask Brazil to give us by Treaty is the same advantages in duties as they give to those two countries.
I should like to thank the President of the Board of Trade for the way in which he dealt with our proposals to amend the Bankruptcy Act. We are much obliged to him for having taken the Bill which I recently introduced, off my hands, and set tip a Committee to endeavour to put right the defects of the Bankruptcy Laws. We should like him to take powers to extend the authority of the Board of Trade with regard to limited companies.
If I may not suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should take powers, may I ask this question? What is the Board of Trade doing to protect the shareholders of great companies from being treated in a manner which is not in accord with the traditions of British commercial practice? When I see great companies, good companies, not rotten companies with wild-cat schemes, going to the public for new capital after having been reorganised or amalgamated, and then, after a few years, announcing that they are going to write off some £5,000,000 or £10,000,000 of capital lost to investors, I want to know what is the Board of Trade doing to prevent this sort of thing and what are its powers—I will not say to vet prospectuses or company flotation—for that is impossible —but what are its powers in putting greater responsibilities upon directors and upon auditors. I think I can say on behalf of the body with which I have the privilege of being associated, the Council of the Association of British Chambers of Commerce, that if the Board of Trade will tell us the limit or extent of its powers, and suggest improvements and remedies, we will get together and try and see if we cannot forge a better instrument to enable the Board of Trade to look after such companies. Formerly the task was to protect creditors of limited companies, now the need is to protect their shareholders.
There are one or two small points to which I should like to draw attention. One is to be found on page 61—and is in connection with the Clearing Office for Enemy Debts. I think the President of the Board of Trade has seen the Report of the Select Committee on Estimates. The Committee suggested an early further distribution of not less than 5s. in the £ to creditors. This should be done. I find no fault with the administration of this Department. It does its work honestly and well, but I do not think it is very helpful to commerce for it to hold up large sums of money as it is doing on actually adjudicated claims. I believe there is a sum of £19,000,000 being held for distribution, and I suggest that there is no reason why these distributions on account should not be made more frequently. The Anglo-Hungarian Clearing Office in London is not being treated expeditiously or well by the Hungarian Government, which, I believe, is about to float a loan in this country. I think the President of the Board of Trade might well say to Hungary, "If you introduce a loan here, you must devote a certain part of it to meeting your suspended obligations under the Trianon Treaty."
I should like to say one word on the item referring to the Shipping Liquidation Department. I think the work of that Department should be speeded up. A sum of £9,000,000 has to be collected and £3,000,000 has to be paid out, but there are still something like 8,000 accounts of various kinds still to be wound up. This liquidation has been hanging fire now for some years. Some economies might be effected if the President of the Board of Trade acted on the recommendation of the Select Committee on Estimates. I think it would be well if some small Committee of Treasury accountants were sent in to help the officials of the Department. I should he very much obliged if the right hon. Gentleman will deal with the commercial points I have raised, and will give us some light particularly on the question of the abuse by the Chinese of our trade marks and patents.
The hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. A. M. Samuel) always makes extremely interesting speeches, and on the particular subject with which he has been dealing he has shown himself more than usually practical. Apart from the question of Free Trade doctrines, he brings his intellect rather than his sentiment to bear on the subjects with which he deals. I regret very much that my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has left the Chamber. I told him I was going to refer to some point in his speech, and now I shall be much more moderate in my observations than I would have been if he had been present. He and the hon. Member for Farnham seemed to agree in making a kind of flank attack on the Dawes Report. A frontal attack not being considered politic, they seem to be trying to work round one of the flanks in order to sow doubts in the minds of people who read the headlines in the newspapers as to whether this Report will do what it is suggested it will.
I am glad I have drawn that statement from the hon. Gentleman, and I will now proceed to show why I disagree with him. My hon. Friend will, I hope, forgive me if I particularly address myself to the speech of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, who initiated the effort to sow suspicion in the public mind with regard to the Dawes Report.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the restoration of German credit was good for European trade, but that it would not be good for our trade. That is an extraordinary fallacy. I cannot really understand it, and I am going to remind the Committee that Germany cannot possibly increase her export trade, as we are told she will, without having essential raw materials which are not to be found in Germany. Tale, the materials which Germany must have—wool, rubber, jute and cotton, and I think that as she is going to increase her manufacturing activities she will also have to import coal, What does that mean? It means wool from Australia, rubber largely from British possessions, jute from India, cotton largely from America, hut, nevertheless, some grown within the British Empire, and coal from this country. If we improve the trading position in the countries supplying these raw material3 owing to the greater demand from Germany, it means that they will buy more goods from this country, and it will be an indirect exchange from which we shall benefit.
Take the question of coffee. The great coffee consuming countries are in Central Europe, Germany, Austria, and so on. During the period of the War, when there was semi-starvation, the peoples in Central Europe did not drink coffee; in Germany, at any rate, they drank synthetic substances. In Germany to-day if you want to have real coffee you do not ask for café, but you ask for mocha, and you pay about ten times the price for that as compared with what you pay for alleged coffee. The coffee consumed in Eastern Europe comes largely from Brazil. At the present moment there are certain firms in the West Riding of Yorkshire which have long been making woollen goods for the Brazilian market. A tremendous quantity of red blankets were formerly sent to that market, but at the present moment the firms which manufactured them are meeting with no demand, and the result, is that skilled workmen who have never before been out of work are now unemployed for the first time, simply because Brazil cannot sell coffee to Germany and Austria and use the proceeds to buy red blankets from Bradford and other centres in Yorkshire.
These are facts which have come to my notice in my travels in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and it is only one example of many that could be cited. The fact of the matter is that you cannot improve the prosperity of a nation like Germany without helping our own prosperity, and the fact that she must buy a great deal of the raw material she requires from the British Empire improves the market for our own goods.
I was not going to deal with that, but I will. I will be quite frank. I do not believe Germany will ever pay that £125,000,000 surplus. We, with all our shipping, our insurance business and our Colonies are having some difficulty in paying to America the money which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Worcester (Mr. Baldwin) arranged for. I think he made the best arrangement he could at that time. He has been much criticised since, which I do not agree with at all. Nevertheless, we are having some difficulty in meeting that in our comparatively prosperous position, and we are asking Germany to pay £125,000,000 in what we call a normal year. I do not believe she will be able to pay it.
The Dawes Report unfortunately had to be produced in a world largely peopled by economic lunatics. I am not referring to my hon. Friend. He has been as courageous as anyone in condemning the fantastic stories which have been put before the democracy here and in France as to what Germany can pay.
I never have. From the moment I addressed myself to the voters, just after the War, I have always said I thought the extraordinary sums dangled before the democracy were ridiculous, but unfortunately the statesmen who have had the public ear for the last few years in various countries, in Britain and in France, have made themselves responsible for certain statements, and the Dawes Committee, being practical men, had to do something to enable these people to save their faces. That is my explanation. But that does not mean to say that the Dawes Report, in its more practical suggestions, should not be accepted as it is the one practical and immediate means we have of setting Germany on her feet. I regret very much that this flank attack has been made upon it.
I want to touch on quite a different matter. May I suggest that the time has come when the export credits scheme and the conditions of the Trade Facilities Act should be extended to Russia. I put this forward, strange as it may appear, in the interest of British merchants and British working men. It might be done by administrative action. No legislation is required. It is allowed for in the Overseas Trade Insurance Scheme that the schedule may be extended. It has been extended to ex-enemy countries like Bulgaria, Austria, Hungary, and so on, and I really see no reason why it should not be extended to Russia. Furthermore, I beg of hon. Members opposite not to rise in their places following me and say, "Why should we extend this to bankrupt customers who cannot pay us?" Each case is considered on its merits by a Committee of business men. Every case where credit is extended, whether to Poland or Rumania or any other country whose credit is concerned, is considered on its merits, and, if a particular scheme is brought forward to enable a British merchant to sell goods in Russia, that case must be considered by the same Committee, and, if his credit is too bad or the chance of repayment too remote—[An HON. MEMBER: "That is the crux of the whole problem!"] But why not give an opportunity where the credit is good? It may bring a little trade to the country, and it may reduce a little unemployment.
The President of the Board of Trade referred to the engineering industry as one of the blackest spots. It might be helped if what I suggest could be carried out. The Government might say, "We are holding this up as a bargaining point in our present negotiations." I believe that is a fallacy. The Conservative Government offered an extension of the export credits scheme and Trade Facilities Act to Russia at the Hague Conference following on the Genoa Conference. It is of no great advantage or assistance to Russia, but it is of assistance to our people, and that is why I regret very much that the Government still preserve apparently the same political prejudice which their last two predecessors in office used as a justification for not extending these two Acts to Russia. I think I can say that the great majority of those sitting round me with whom I have been able to get in touch would not oppose this matter in principle, and I am certain hon. Members above the Gangway would not oppose it. Therefore, I believe the Government need not be afraid of a Vote of Censure being put down by the Opposition if they extend these two Acts to Russia. I do not think it will make a bit of difference one way or the other to the present negotiations except that it may possibly help them by creating a better atmosphere and creating more vested interests in this country for the continuation of relations between the Russian and British nations. I mean by vested interests more merchants who find they can trade with that country and wish to continue to do it. I recognise that what I have said also concerns the Foreign Office, and my hon. Friend will not think I am making any attack on him or on the head of his Department in the remarks I have made.
There are one or two purely Board of Trade questions that I should like to touch on for a moment. I hope this extraordinary suggestion which has come from the hon. Member for Farnham and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs about interfering with the money market in London is not going to be taken seriously by the Government. I hope the loan market is not going to be interfered with. I may be old-fashioned in these things, but I think a loan made in the City of London is actually made in goods, and in British goods at that. No gold passes and no money, as money, passes. I should be very sorry to see any control being introduced as during the War, or for that matter on capital issues, as long as the Company Laws are complied with. Once you begin interfering with that, sort of thing you might just as well nationalise the banking system and apply Government credit. Where you cannot do that you should do the other thing and allow absolute freedom to the money market to find its market where it best can. There is no halfway house, and if you try to find one you do immense harm. There are now only two money markets in the world, London and New York, and that, is an advantage to this country.
Might I make a serious complaint against the Government which I feel very strongly about indeed—my previous complaints have been against the speakers I have referred to—on the question of the manning of British ships. Year after year at Trade Union Congresses resolutions have been passed unanimously, or by immense majorities, urging that British ships should be manned by British seamen. In my own constituency there are British seamen who did good service in the War, some who were torpedoed, and there are ships sailing out of Hull that come back after every voyage manned by Asiatics, some of whom are British subjects and some are not. Some are British subjects in an extremely sketchy way—Arabs from Aden who are nominally British subjects, but may have come from the Hinterland.
I wish to urge on the Board of Trade to look into the question of the ratifying of the economic conventions reached at Brussels in October, 1922. A number of matters were to be ratified by different Powers following on agreements reached by the economic experts. One of these very much affects the Board of Trade, and that is the question of the international regularisation of what is known as the Maritime Lien. A case recently occurred in which two Greek steamers were seized by the Admiralty Marshal in the Bristol Channel for debt. A claim was made for pilotage, and there is some doubt whether this lien claimed is legal until these international conventions have been ratified. I should like to know how many countries have yet ratified, and how long it is expected this matter will be held up. The agents of these two steamers cannot be proceeded against. They are men without any substance at all, without even furniture which can be distrained on. The ships owe some £69 to the pilotage authorities, which has been increased by costs allowed by the Court to £169, and we are advised that it is doubtful if we have, this lien. It is a very serious question which may arise again and again. I am told the whole matter will be remedied when this 1922 agreement is ratified. I shall be very much obliged if the right hon. Gentleman will look into it and press the matter, and help in every way to get it regularised.
The unexpected turn given to the Debate by the incursion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) I should like to make the subject of my few comments. He began his speech by envisaging a very terrible situation, and his suggestion to meet that situation was that a Commission of Inquiry should be constituted by the Government. He did not suggest very specifically what solution he would like to see emerging from that inquiry. He said the outcome may be a Free Trade system or it may be a Protectionist, system. I waited with breathless interest to hear the cheers of the Liberal party. The right lion. Gentleman's whole speech was directed to a defence of his vote last night in favour of Protectionist principles. What was the subject that so excited him? The appalling prospect of Germany recovering. Germany on her feet again was to be a menace to British trade. That was the whole purport of his argument. In the light of his speech this evening, for the first time I understand the right hon. Gentleman's policy when he was in power—a policy evidently designed to maintain Germany in a prostrate condition. May we not ask, in answer to that argument, Has British trade in such circumstances been in a position of peculiar prosperity? During that period we have had one and a half million people unemployed upon the streets of this country. Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that with Germany recovered, with conditions restored more or less to the pre-War situation, we are to get more unemployment and worse conditions than those prevailing at the present time?
The right hon. Gentleman admitted that, in one respect, he was a false prophet. He pointed out, very truly, that some time ago in this House, on more than one occasion, he said that actually while Germany was in this depressed and hopeless condition, we might expect terrible onslaughts of her competition upon our industry, and he admitted that those expectations had not been realised. It was, in fact, discovered that a man could not swim very well with a millstone round his neck, and the right hon. Gentleman, who tied the millstone, is, apparently, pleased to note that result. The whole of his argument is based upon the old Protectionist fallacy that a nation can be a competitor without being a customer, that a nation can send out goods to the markets of the world without receiving any in return. That is the whole thesis of his speech, that Germany is to be a philanthropist sending out goods to the world, without receiving any goods in payment. That is the old Protectionist fallacy, but the right hon. Gentleman put forward the argument in a rather more specious form. He said, in effect, that during the early stages of recovery, you will have a world market equally restricted as the present world market, but you will have an intensified competition from those countries struggling to extend their industries, driven further in their exertions by the necessity of making reparation payment, and he pointed out that in those early stages Germany and the recovered countries will not be demanding the manufactured goods which this country would supply, but will rather be demanding raw materials with which to supply its own renascent industry. That entirely ignores the old, immutable principle of triangular exchange. Germany demanding raw materials creates prosperity in the countries which supply those raw materials. Prosperity in those countries means an ever-increasing demand for the goods of this country.
It is not a matter merely of buying and selling between England and Germany. It is a matter of the whole great process of trade circulating round the world. But, according to the right hon. Gentleman's argument, we are merely to be faced, at any rate in the early stages, with increased competition, without any increased demand from a richer and more prosperous Germany. We are to understand that that country, although the whole standard of life is raised, and it is restored to prosperity, will make no larger demand on the goods of the world, yet, as a result of their transaction since the War, they have put themselves in a far more prosperous condition than we are. The right hon. Gentleman says that, by the process of inflation, they have put themselves in an omnipotent position in the markets of the world. In that case, why did this Government initiate and consistently pursue the policy of the Cunliffe Committee, which was a policy of acute deflation? The right hon. Gentleman argued that, Germany's National Debt being wiped off, the whole cost of production in the country would be lowered—a fundamental fallacy. The charge of the Debt is paid by direct taxation. Direct taxation is not a factor in the cost of production, but is a factor in the standard of life of people who pay taxation, and, for this reason, direct taxation is not taken into account prior to, but after the distribution of profits. If direct taxation be taken into account prior to the distribution of profits, then you are saying that no manufacturer in any country pays taxation out of his own pocket, but hands on the whole thing in higher prices to the consumer. To a large extent that is true. Direct taxation is a far lesser factor in the cost of production than any measure of indirect taxation, which affects those who serve industry, but the right hon. Gentleman claimed that, by their measures of inflation, the German Government had effected an enormous benefit to their industry. It is quite evident that the National Debt can only be met in three ways—either by a steady Sinking Fund, and direct taxation gradually wiping it out, or by inflation, which the Germans have pursued, or by a Capital Levy.
The right hon. Gentleman says our method of direct taxation is crushing and ruining the industries of this country as compared with those of Germany. Which of the alternatives is he going to accept—inflation or the Capital Levy? That eminent Liberal authority, Mr. Keynes, whom the right hon. Gentleman quoted this afternoon, decided in favour of the Capital Levy. It was to each an expedient that every argument in the right hon. Gentleman's speech led irresistibly this afternoon. But, while I am speaking of Mr. Keynes' argument, I should like to refer to something said by the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr Pringle) this afternoon. I was very sorry to see that he turned with such determination towards the restoration of the gold standard in this country, at the moment when so many leading economic authorities—including some in his own party—are turning towards a more scientific, a more—if I may say so, without offence—Socialistic solution of our monetary problems. Surely it is now beginning to be recognised that if only a restricted amount of credit is available, then you cannot relieve unemployment by any constructional relief work without diverting some of that restricted amount of credit from other productive sources. It is impossible—at least, some leading economic authorities are laying down that it is impossible—to deal with unemployment on a large scale without more scientific and conscious control of credit facilities, and if necessary a slight expansion of credit to meet an expended demand. If you have not that possibility of expansion, then you have for ever a drag upon the wheel of progress, always operating just as you are beginning to get ahead and struggle uphill.
May I ask why the hon. Gentleman thinks that inflation is necessary before he can embark on these constructional works? Has he examined the question of a constructional loan without inflation?
Quite. As a matter of fact, what I am suggesting is euphemistically described as stabilisation rather than inflation; but with regard to a point brought forward, it is this, that if you raise a large sum for a constructional loan upon a money market where credit is restricted, and where all credit is required for existing enterprises, you are merely transferring that credit from one enterprise to another, and not employing thereby a single extra man. The credit system of this country, and the credit system of the world, was an artificial system with little relation to reality, built up to suit the convenience of the time. It does not pass the wit and ingenuity of man to devise a more conscious system to meet the exigencies of the post-War situation, but I do not think that I should be led at any great length into this great subject. I merely wanted to point out the vital bearing of this great problem of monetary reform upon the prospect of any great relief work.
If I may say another word upon a topic raised by the hon. Member for Penistone more in connection with the Dawes Report, the hon. Member put to us this dilemma. He said it has often been stated on the Labour benches that reparations of any kind cannot be raised without some dislocation. I am one who would be prepared to admit that almost under any scheme of large payments between countries a certain amount of dislocation must ensue, and in these great international transactions you have got to Neigh the whole balance of things in the scale, and see where the maximum benefit can be derived. You have in the Dawes Report, for the first time, the idea of the scientific control of a reparation payment, that is, the possible development of payment by specified commodities which are not produced in this country but which Germany produces—commodities which may be raw materials to our industries, and which we do not produce here. It may be said by the economic purists, that even in that event raw materials are coming into your country with out corresponding exports, and, to that extent, your trade is dislocated; but against that you have to set the fact that you are getting your raw materials for nothing, and, consequently, the cost of production in your great export trade is greatly lowered, and it stands a better chance of successful competition in the markets of the world.
But all these economic arguments to show that a country's trade, so far from benefiting, may be damaged by tribute from another nation, in my view fall to the ground immediately in face of the immense boon of European peace. That is, after all, the thing that chiefly matters—a restoration of normality to Europe. A return to that condition is worth a possibility of some dislocation to trade. Under the system set up by the Dawes Committee, you would reduce that dislocation to a minimum, for you have, at any rate, here a scheme thrashed out by expert authorities, accepted by all the parties concerned, and in the return of the prospect of security, the removal of suspicion, a new understanding in Europe, lies the best hope of the world. I must say, although, perhaps, I speak from a partisan standpoint, that in this new atmosphere of Europe, in the acceptance of these conditions, in the return to normality of the nations in Europe, and in the new mind we see reflected all around, I must pay some tribute to the foreign policy of this country during the last few months.
I desire to draw the attention of the Committee to certain facts in connection with the enemy debts problem, or what is called the Clearing Office problem. May I say at the outset that I do not desire to criticise any person; in fact, my experience of the Department is that it is very capable and has done its best under very difficult circumstances. There is a good deal of confusion of mind even among Members of this House, and particularly outside, as to what the Department is, and what it does. I would ask leave to quote the Board of Trade's own definition of this particular Department. The Board of Trade Memorandum says that the functions of the Clearing Office, that is the Enemy Debts Office, are "the settlement in accordance with the provisions of Articles 296 and 297 of the Treaty of Peace between the Allied and the Associated Powers and Germany, and of the corresponding Articles in the Treaty of Peace with Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria, of certain classes of debts between British and ex-enemy nationals, and the claims by British nationals for the restitution of and/or compensation for damage to British property, rights and interests in ex-enemy territory." I do not propose to go into many details in regard to this matter, but I will confine myself to the broad facts which have been established by the Select Committee on Estimates in the course of their very long and very painstaking examination of the Government witnesses On perusal of the report of the Select Committee on the Board of Trade (Enemy Debts Department), I see the concluding words state that, "alike, in the direct interests of the taxpayer and the much larger financial interests involved for the nationals, the Committee cannot refrain from drawing the attention of the House of Commons to the existing unsatisfactory position." That is the verdict after very careful examination—that it is unsatisfactory.
I propose to confine myself to the large facts selected by the Estimates Committee after investigation, and the first of these facts is that the Clearing Office of the Board of Trade has not, up to now, been a charge on the taxpayer. The Clearing Office has to maintain itself, and has collected, or will collect, something over £2,000,000, I believe, by charging fees to British traders. Last March the Clearing Office, according to the evidence given to us, had in hand or in sight something like £1,000,000. During the current year the Clearing Office expenditure is estimated at £639,000, leaving at the end of the current year —361,000 in hand. In other words, if the Clearing Office could be wound up entirely, at the end of the financial year, there would be —361,000 which would go to the relief of taxation in other directions, but if the Clearing Office continues for another seven months or so, at the, same rate of expenditure, after the end of the current financial year, it will have expended all the money it had in hand, and at the end of that seven months it would be a charge on the taxpayer. That has been established by facts and figures, by questions put to Government witnesses and by their replies. There is no doubt about it, because that is on the Minutes of the evidence. I submit That even if, by economies and reduction of staff, the Clearing Office could carry on for a longer period without being a charge upon the taxpayer, in any case, the period is bound to arise sooner or later, when the money collected by the Clearing House will have been exhausted, and when it would become a charge upon the taxpayer. That, as I say, is admitted in evidence.
It is agreed, therefore, I think on all hands, and there is no dispute about it, that the sooner the Clearing Office can be closed, the better for everybody. Those, I think, were the exact words used by the Government witness in reply to a question—
The sooner the Clearing Office can be closed down, the better.
The next main fact is that, although the Clearing Office had been in existence for some four years, at the middle of last March there still remained over 360,00T British claims unsettled. I am not going to trouble you about any other claims. I merely refer to British claims, and. according to the statement which has beer printed in the Report of the Select Committee, on the 15th March last, there were 360,000 British claims still unsettled representing a total value of over £53,000,000. That is after the Clearing Office has been in operation for foul years. There is no dispute as to the reason. The Mixed Arbitral Tribunals with which the Clearing Office is linked up, have been insufficient, and have not been sufficiently rapid in operation. However anxious the official[...]
of the Clearing Office may be to
effect a speedy settlement of a large number of claims, they are unable to move faster than the Mixed Arbitral Tribunals. The pace of a Mixed Arbitral Tribunal can be judged from the following facts: The First Division, which consists of a neutral chairman, a British representative and a German representative, during the months of January, February and March sat 15 times. Even in April, the President of the Board of Trade, in reply to a question which I put to him, gave this information: "The First Division of the Anglo-German Mixed Arbitral Tribunal, during the period referred to (month of April), sat on five days."
If the hon. Member will look at the Order Paper, he will see that my name is down to move a reduction of Vote 9. This is an answer given across the Floor of the House by the right hon. Gentleman opposite—
It has been admitted in evidence that the easier cases were settled first. That. means that the more difficult cases are left to the end. That probably means that the difficult cases will take longer to settle than the easy ones, and that will prolong the process further than the period I have suggested, unless the speed is greatly accelerated. I think the Committee will agree that that is a most unfortunate position, because it means that unless some great acceleration takes place there will be a charge upon the taxpayers, and it also means that many people in this country are suffering in many ways through non-settlement of their claims. I believe they will all get paid in time, and I think it is possible that the money, or goods, or property of some kind representing the money, is already under the control of the British Government. I should be willing to admit that a large amount of the money is very likely earning 5 per cent. to-day in some form in a Government Department, but I submit that that is not the place where the money ought to be. The money ought to be in the businesses of this country as capital to enable people to develop their businesses, because that would be good for trade all round.
The business people of this country have been extraordinarily patient. They have year after year seen their cases put off. In many cases at the beginning, rather than wait these weary years for their cases to come before the tribunal, they made unofficial settlements with Germany which were really very unfavourable and very unfair. Before these people there is all the time the fact that years are going by, and they are getting older. Many claimants are dying before their cases are brought before the tribunal. It is time not only that something should be done, but that something very drastic should be done promptly. We know that in setting up one of these mixed arbitral tribunals we cannot do it by ourselves. We have to get the consent, let us say, of Germany to the setting up of a third division. I should like to point out that under Clause 304c of the Peace Treaty we have the right to claim the setting up of an additional mixed arbitral tribunal if the number of cases justifies it. I submit that after four years, when there are still 36,000 cases to be settled, we are justified in insisting as far as we can upon the German Government setting up a third tribunal.
From the evidence given, I gather that the Board of Trade up to the middle of April last had not approached the Foreign Office with a request that the Foreign Office should take prompt and strong measures to get the third tribunal set up. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman has since done that. I hope that, as a result of the questions which have been asked in this House, the protest meetings which have been held in the City, the letters which have appeared in the Press, and, possibly, some private deputations to the right hon. Gentleman, that a very great improvement has set in. I hope that to-night the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us that that is the case, and that at the rate of progress which we are now making we may hope that the last case will be settled before the last claimant is dead.
I urge the right hon. Gentleman to take this matter very seriously, not only as a matter which concerns the claimants who want to get their claims paid, not only as a matter which concerns the taxpayer, who is in danger within a limited period of having to pay the heavy cost of the maintenance of this department, but because this money ought to be paid to the claimants and profitably employed in industry in such a manner as to increase prosperity generally, and to add to the amount of employment which we can offer to those who are now out of work.
The President of the Board of Trade invited the Committee in various quarters to shoot at him. If they have not shot many poisoned darts, at any rate the darts have been very varied in character. I have listened to the question of maritime liens, the gold standard, and the last speaker raised the question of the clearing house. Perhaps he will forgive me if I do not follow him into that subject, with which he has dealt so exhaustively, beyond saying that I know of my own knowledge that the delay of which he is speaking is a very serious matter, and I hope that his words will not be wasted, because this is a business evening, and we are discussing business matters.
I want to raise another question, and that is in regard to the compensation which is payable to persons in this country as a result of injuries sustained by enemy action. Although the last speaker raised an important question which concerns the traders of this country, the question which I am now raising is a more important question because it concerns a humbler class who need the money much more than those for whom he was speaking. The late Government, or their predecessors, allocated a sum of, I think, £5,000,000, and appointed a Committee to distribute' the money amongst the various claimants. The Committee presided over by Lord Sumner said that claims should be in before a certain date, and they have distributed that money among the persons who claimed it before that date. I am voicing what I think is the general opinion on all sides of the House when I say that there is, and has been, very grave dissatisfaction with the result of the awards of that Committee.
I am not making the slightest reflection on the good faith or ability of those who adjudicated, but such a result was inevitable from the way in which those proceedings were conducted. The claimant had no chance of appearing. He did not know what points were being made against him. If there were difficulties he was not communicated with and was not told what those difficulties were, and we were back again to the old days of the Star Chamber and secret trial, when a man had no right to put his case forward. Not only that, but the delays which took place in connection with the matter were very serious indeed. In my own constituency, the Hartlepools, we had the famous bombardment of December, 1914. Claims were lodged shortly afterwards, and payment of those claims was made, generally speaking, not until 1922, eight years afterwards. Some small payments I agree had been made on account beforehand, but no substantial payments were made until eight years afterwards. Meantime those people were kept in doubt as to whether they were going to get anything or were not. They were not told how their cases were getting on. In the end they became incredulous that anybody had their interests at heart.
There is no use in crying over spilt milk. That is over and done with. The President of the Board of Trade will understand that I am not making the slightest attack on his administration. This is not a party question. The present Government, I think, have allocated a sum of £300,000. It would be out of order if I said that I should have liked to see the £300,000 much larger. There is a very large number of claimants who did not know about this. They include some of the most deserving cases. Perhaps they were illiterate or did not realise that their claims were coming on. Hon. Members on both sides will know that for one reason or another those claims were not made, and it was not until those people found their neighbours, whose cases were not half so good as theirs, getting substantial sums, that they thought of taking action. Consequently, as this Government has allocated a further £300,000, let us profit by the mistakes of the past. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman, if he cannot increase this amount, to give these people some chance, if they desire it, of having their cases heard, and let them know beforehand what is being said against them, and why it is going to be decided, if it is going to be decided, that they have no claim. Then, whatever else you do, do not keep these people in suspense any longer. If you are going to turn down a claim, the sooner you turn it down the better. Some of these people to my knowledge—dealing with the £5,000,000—after waiting eight years and building all sorts of castles in the air, after making up their minds as to what they were going to do with the money, have been told that there is no money. That was inevitably—though certainly it was not intended—absolutely cruel.
I know, with regard to this £300,000, that a large number of people are building all sorts of castles in the air. I warned them that they are wrong to do so, and that probably the amounts which they will get awarded, if any, would be small, but I wish that the President of the Board of Trade would make some announcement as to the period of time within which it is reasonable to expect the £300,000 to be divided and, if he can, the sort of dividend which one may hope to get, and whether there is any way in which persona, if they so desire, may come before the Commission or before examiners in order to explain difficult points in their case. I do not want any man to have his case ruled out without having a chance of bringing forward his views. Though this is a comparatively small matter, it is a matter upon which there is very deep feeling. It does not apply to one constituency only, but to many constituencies. I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will be able to do what I know he would like to do, that is to give speedy and a full satisfaction, to give full satisfaction to these people who were grievously injured by enemy action during the War.
Like other members of the Committee, I was much interested in the remarks of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) dealing with the restoration of Germany and its possible evil effects upon ourselves. I think it probable that the right hon. Gentleman is rather pessimistic at present with regard to what will happen in that respect, and under-estimates the effect of the general recovery which some of us, at any rate, think likely to come about during the next few years. But in any case, I think it is a danger against which we ought to arm ourselves, and the most obvious way of dealing with the danger of competition from Germany being much more severe than in. past years is by ourselves discovering new markets and new ways of co-operation with our Dominions in order to create for ourselves necessary outlets for our own trade. I would like to know what the Board of Trade are doing to explore these new outlets and search for methods of co-operating more closely with the Dominions, and therefore creating industrial occupations in this country.
India has been referred to in this Debate as putting on a. tariff on steel against us. I understand that India is hostile to Preference at the present time, but would be willing to consider the question as soon as her status is more in accordance with her political views. I have no doubt that this interests the Government, who, while willing to accept Preference from others, are not willing to give it, and it might have a very useful effect upon our own trade. The question of India is very much exaggerated, as the Indian steel industry at the present time comprises only one works in one place, with not a very extensive capitalisation, but the question of exploring direct methods of co-operation is one on which I think the President of the Board of Trade might give us some more information, and I would ask him whether he would be willing to explore the possibility of direct relations with the corn producers of Canada in a form which has been nut forward to some Members of the Labour party who have been meeting and considering these questions by Mr. Hoadley, the Minister of Agriculture in Alberta.
Mr. Hoadley speaks in this matter, I understand, as a representative of the Government over there, and in no sense as a representative of the interests concerned, and the proposal does concern this matter very closely. A wheat pool in Alberta controls 70 per cent. of the acreage of the country, and has a contract which means that for five years it will so control the production of wheat in that country. Last year there were 6,000,000 acres producing 168,000,000 bushels, a very high average yield, and the crop conditions this year are equally good, so, that a large crop may be expected. A very large proportion—in fact, practically all—of the total export of this grain comes to this country. The wheat pool in Alberta wish to enter into direct relations with this country and to export that grain direct to this country through Vancouver, as far as possible in British ships, and not going through the United States in the ordinary way. The proposal is that on coming to this country the grain should be stored in elevators put up at the large ports in this country, where it could be kept until required for use.
That would have several advantages: it would mean that a number of elevators would be put up at such ports as London, Manchester and Bristol and, the wheat being stored here., all charges payable with regard to it would be payable in this country. It would create a very large store of wheat in this country which would be available as a reserve in time of war or disturbance and it would have this further advantage, that if we came to that arrangement in regard to that part of Canada we could presumably make arrangements to finance the grain pool in Alberta from this country instead of from the United States. The interest on the money would be less—the interest which they are now paying is very high—and therefore the cost would be less while the cost of transport wood be less and the cost of distribution would be leas, so we might get a very considerable reduction in the cost of grain in this country or at any rate a certain reduction. There are certain very obvious criticisms which can be made with regard to this scheme, the chief of which is that storage so far from the point of origin is against the present commercial practice. As against that objection there are strategical and other advantages which might make it worth our-while to adopt this plan, especially at the present time when it is so urgently necessary to co-operate more closely with the Dominions and when it is also urgently necessary to do something to provide work in this country. The Board of Trade might explore methods of initiating work in this country through co-operation with the Dominions.
This scheme is one which might apply equally to the products of South Africa. New Zealand, Australia and even of India and by it we should gain many advantages desired by Members on all sides of the House. Chiefly we should drive a wedge into that enormous toll which is taken between the producer and the consumer, a toll not taken by the distributor as such, but taken by the man who, acting partly as a distributor, skims off an unduly large proportion of profit for himself and so adds to the cost. I know that kind of suggestion can be exaggerated, but undoubtedly a large part of the cost to the consumer is represented by unjustifiable charges levied by people between the producer and the consumer. I should like to know if the Board of Trade are applying themselves to suggestions of this character, and if they would be willing to consider in detailed form this particular scheme to improve the method of bringing wheat from Canada to this country and to cheapen it. The Minister of Agriculture is not present at the moment, but I may add that if the wheat were brought here direct and stored here for use in mills here, there would be the offal for use which would provide a means of helping the English agricultural industry. It is a suggestion which is, at any rate, worth consideration, and I hope the Board of Trade will regard it sympathetically.
I wish to direct, the attention of the Committee to a matter quite separate from those which have been discussed, namely, the question of dyestuffs. Those who are interested in this question expected the President of the Board of Trade to make some statement this afternoon as to the action which the Government propose to take in connection with the agreement between the British Dyestuffs Corporation and the Interessen Gemeinsehaft. This agreement has been subject to great discussion throughout the country and all classes connected with the trade, whether colour-users, dye-makers, agents or textile people are very much interested in the, question. It is not a new question. It has been hanging on for so many months and there have been so many deputations with regard to it that one would imagine its importance would have by now reached the right hon. Gentleman and that he would have felt it incumbent upon himself to explain the position in connection with dyestuffs and the present situation with regard to this agreement. I am in touch with the colour-users and I know some of the suggestions which are made as to what has happened. Question after question has been put in this House to find out the attitude of the Government, but we have had the stereotyped reply that the Government were not in possession of the agreement and that until the agreement was completed they could come to no decision.
In the centres of dye making and colour using it is understood that, at any rate, the heads of this agreement hav3 been in possession of the Government for some time—certainly for several weeks— and that the agreement cannot be proceeded with until the right hon. Gentleman and his Cabinet Committee have arrived at a decision and reported that decision to the parties concerned. That is either true or false, and I should like the right hon. Gentleman to tell us what-is the exact position. What are the terms of this agreement so far as they have been suggested in outline to the public? It is suggested that the agreement is to be for 50 years and that the British Dyestuffs Corporation are to take a profit of £200,000 or £250,000 a year before the German interests come in for any consideration. If the Germans are to conic in for a 50–50 profit after £250,000 is made by the corporation, and if the textile users of colour this country are going to be penalised to that extent, I think it is an agreement which will be scrutinised with very great care by this House, if the President of the Board of Trade will allow the House the opportunity.
I should like the right hon. Gentleman to say whether he intends to let the House have the opportunity of discussing this agreement before it is finally decided upon. I know that this is just a question between companies, between the great German Combine and the British Dyestuffs Corporation. That is quite true, but the power of veto rests with the President of the Board of Trade, and there are two Directors appointed by the Government on the Dyestuffs Corporation. As was asked by the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Pringle) earlier in the Debate, what are the requests which the Government have made to their Directors in regard to their attitude towards this agreement? Either they are friendly to it or they are not. If they are friendly, surely they could have said they were. It is not any use shirking and trying to shield themselves behind the position that they are not directly responsible. I hope that we may have a pledge from the President of the Board of Trade that before anything decisive is done in connection with the agreement, it will be brought before this House.
Some of us know of the difficulties which were created in the textile trade a good many years ago. When the synthetic dyes were found out in this country, an attempt was made to establish the industry here, and it was rather a successful attempt until the Germans came along and crushed the little dyestuffs industry here out of existence by reducing prices lower and lower until they had forced the British companies into bankruptcy. That was in 1880. In 1882, the Germans had effectually controlled the British trade, and they lifted the price, and took in that particular year £2,000,000 more out of the British textile users than the value of the commodity justified. The textile users then determined that, so far as the Alizarine dyes were concerned, they would establish an industry for their own purposes in this country, and that they would subsidise it. The calico printers and others, therefore, formed a, company, and subsidised it year after year, because they said they might just as well pay to establish the industry in this country as pay the huge profits to Germany if Germany had the monopoly. When the War broke out, the company had previously made a convention with the German dye makers, in order to keep the trade in Britain free from German competition. The Germans had allowed them to use the market in Great Britain and a small portion of our Colonies, but, subject to this, that the Germans would not allow them to increase or develop their business in any part of the world. That was not a good thing for a British industry, and it is with the knowledge of that fact that we are anxious that, in any proposal which is now made, proper regard should be had to the conditions under which the British industry may be supported.
Another point which I should like the President of the Board of Trade to note is the composition of the directorate of the British Dyestuffs Corporation. It is considered amongst the users that the British Dyestuffs Corporation is the least efficient of any of the dye makers, and it is largely considered that that is due to the lack of knowledge on the part of the directors. The directors may be very eminent business men, but they have not had the actual knowledge of dye-making which is essential for the success of a young industry. While the dye users of this country are very anxious that the industry should be established here, and while they are willing to pay a certain amount to establish that industry, they feel, on the other hand, that the dye-makers, and in particular the British Dyestuffs Corporation, should be run on efficient and sound business lines. What has been the policy? We have had two directors appointed by the Government, neither of whom has any knowledge of dye-making, neither of whom is connected with the consumption of dyes, and can it-be supposed that you are going to establish a great industry when, instead of putting upon the board men who can be of service, you put on these figureheads. who are hopeless in the particular position in which they are placed? Nothing would give greater satisfaction to the colour users of this country than that the Government directors should voluntarily resign their position, and that in their place there should be two directors appointed who would command the confidence of the users of the country.
Another point on which we should like information is in regard to the attitude of the Government to the Dyestuffs Act. There have been suggestions made that that Act may be repealed. If it could be done, it would be doing a service to the industry for the President of the Board of Trade to say there was no intention to repeal that Act, because, while it has many imperfections and while in its administration it causes difficulties, yet it is fulfilling the purpose for which it was established. When war broke out this country was making only 20 per cent of the dyestuffs which its users required, and the rest came from Germany. Now, the position is reversed, and 82 per cent. of the dyestuffs used by the great users of this country are British dyes, and they are giving very great satisfaction, and the quality of the dyes is eminently suitable for the purposes of the trade. I sometimes hear it said that we are losing our trade in consequence of inefficient dyes, and that goods are going out of the country in the grey to be finished abroad. I thought, in view of this Debate, that it might interest hon. Members to know the figures for the last year or two in connection with the cotton trade, which is the trade in which I am interested.
In 1922 the exports of grey and bleached cloths were 2,835,000,000 yards, and in 1923 the exports of the same cloths were 2,578,000,000 yards a decrease of 256 million yards of cloths which were not touched with dye, which were either in the grey state, as from the loom, or bleached only. What happened to the goods which were exported, and which had been dyed? The exports of printed and dyed goods in 1922 were 1,348,588,000 yards, whilst in 1923 the exports were 1,562,000,000 yards, an increase in dyed and printed goods of 214,000,000 yards. Whatever, therefore, may be the condition of the trade of this country in the matter of efficient production, certainly in textiles it is not due to the dyes, because you have the evidence of the Board of Trade Returns in the goods exported that there was an increase in those dyed or printed, and in the goods exported grey or unbleached there was a decrease.
I do not think that affects the argument, because whilst there was no doubt a reduction in exports to India in grey and unbleached, there was also a reduction in the particular trade of printed and dyed goods. I should just like, in conclusion, again to ask the right hon. Gentleman or the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us whether the agreement will be brought before the House before it is finally ratified.
I should like to call the attention of the. House to one or two matters in connection with Board of Trade administration, because it might be that in one or two directions the Department could take steps to make alterations in their practice which would lead to the relief of unemployment. I am quite sure that anything that can be suggested that would tend to relieve unemployment would have the sympathetic consideration of the Board of Trade, the Government and Members of this House generally. I desire in the first instance to call attention to the administration of the Patents Office Department of the Board of Trade. It will be universally agreed, I think, that it is desirable by every possible means to encourage the inventive genius of those who can devote themselves to this branch, in order that fresh machinery, fresh designs and improved methods of working may be brought about in our factories and workshops.
It will be, I think, agreed too, that if by the simplification of Patent Office methods you can put inducements before those who are engaged in industry to devote themselves more to the bringing out of improved methods and of the taking out of patents that it would be a desirable thing. It is the pride of Britain that in very many fields we are supreme in regard to inventions which they have brought into operation in industry. Anyone who has been to Wembley and seen the Engineering Department will agree with what I say on that point. I believe that by the practice of the Board of Trade in this matter we stultify the energy and genius of those who might devote themselves to invention.
I looked at the accounts of the work of the Board of Trade. I then asked the President of the Board of Trade a week or two ago a question in regard to the profits that were made in the Patents Office Department. He gave me a reply to the effect that in 1922 the profits of the Patents Office were £74,074, while in 1923 the figure was £81,800. I should like to put this point to the right hon. Gentleman. On page 74 of the accounts we find that the total cost of the Patents Department is £260,595. If we turn to page 78 we find what is expected to be received from the Patent Office is £450,000. The differences between £260,000 and £450,000 is £190,000, and, besides, there is the £23,000, which will be received by the Stationery Office for the sale of Patent Office publications. I should like to know from the President of the Board of Trade whether or not my figures are correct, because the arguments which I wish to bring before the President, and the House, is that if this Patent Department is making a profit of over £240,000, as shown by these figures, it appears to me that there is ample scope and opportunity for reducing the fees charged. The fees are very heavy, and the difficulties which are put in the way of patentees taking up patents are very great. I have come across this in my own experience in the manufacturing business which I was in for 30 years. There are difficulties in the factory in the way of the man who has a good idea, and would like to patent it, but owing to the trouble, difficulty and expense he considers that it is not worth while going for ward with it. I believe that in thousands of cases men who could benefit industry by the introduction of ideas and inventive genius are stultified and their ideas are kept to themselves, so that the country never gets the benefit of them.
I do not blame the workman. I am quite sure hon. Members above the Gangway do not blame the workmen in any factory who, seeing how he could improve a process, say, in connection with the machinery, does not do it, and says nothing about it because he himself knows that he is not likely to benefit. That is a legitimate position for workmen to take up; but my contention just now is, that if the fees were very substantially reduced, and the way was made more easy for the workmen to profit by his ideas, that the employer was encouraged to help the workmen's aspirations in this matter, and his inventive genius, that in the course of a very few years you would find that the number of patents taken out in this country would be so large that, though with a reduced fee, the Patent Office would be in receipt of a larger amount of money. I can conceive of nothing that would tend more to help men in industry than the development of ideas, which nearly always, or most frequently, lead to the introduction of fresh machinery, and so provide fresh markets, both at home and abroad. I suggest this for the consideration of the President of the Board of Trade. Also, I would suggest this—because it seems to me to have a potent hearing upon the question—that he should establish at the Patent Office a consultative committee or board, so that men who are in industry could apply, and receive, good advice without having to pay too much for it. At present they have to consult pat[...]t agents all over the country, who, to a large extent, are tied up and employed by the larger engineering firms. I believe in both these directions these suggestions, if followed, would tend to increase employment in this country.
I want to say a word with regard to the administration of another Department of the Board of Trade with reference to reparation dyes. In regard to the hosiery and leather trade and the boot and shoe industry, in which the dyes are largely employed, I am not satisfied with the way that the Board of Trade conduct the reparation dyestuffs business. Let us consider the position in regard to the British Dyestuffs Corporation. They have had an advance of £1,700,000 of British capital. I put a question a few weeks ago asking the President of the Board of Trade what the present value of that capital was, and he replied that its value at the present time was only £765,000. That is to say, that during the few years that the Dyestuffs Corporation has been in existence there has been a net loss of £935,000 in their operations. I am not complaining of the loss of this money, because I conceive it was caused largely through the desire to provide the gases that were necessary during the War, and so forth The money was advanced for War purposes, and it is no use crying over spilt milk, and we must make the best of it. At the same time, I wish to point out that while in the pre-War days the dyestuffs were estimated at £2,000,000 for a year's turnover, the value of the goods dyed were, calculated to be worth £200,000,000, although they would be worth something like £300,000,000 to-day.
The numbers engaged in the dye industry comprise a mere fraction of those engaged in all the textile trades and the hosiery and leather trades who use those dyes. It appears to me essential that for productive purposes the very best dyes should be provided, and that the cheapest dyes should be put into the hands of our manufacturers. How can our manufacturers expect to do a huge export trade in dyed goods and the customers at home to be satisfied, unless the producers are supplied with dyes at the best price and of the best quality? My view of the reduction, or at any rate of part of the reduction in our trade with India—which was £20,000,000 less last year than the year before—is because the prices of cotton goods have so much advanced that the people of India cannot pay those prices, and consequently they are bestirring themselves to promote the development of their own production in India in the lower grades of cotton goods. If to that extent the dyes were reduced in price, and were letter in quality, would it not he easy to suppose that a larger trade would be done with India, and that there would not be the same inducement for the people in India to produce these goods themselves instead of purchasing them in our market?
With regard to this matter I put a question to the President of the Board of Trade on the 29th April last with respect to these reparation dyes, and the right hon. Gentleman replied that no reparation dyes had been sold except samples for experimental work. I do not know whether the President of the Board of Trade still maintains that that is true, but I wish to point out that with regard to synthetic indigo, the whole of that which is imported is sold direct to the British Dyestuffs Corporation, and: they sell it out again to the trade. The figures given by the Board of Trade show that last year 8,274 cwts. of synthetic indigo came here at a cost of 3½d. per lb. The British Dyestuffs Corporation have been selling it at 1s. 5d. per 1b, in this country. I wish to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman and the 'Committee generally to this fact, and I want to know whether the right hon. Gentleman can confirm or deny that statement. The British Dyestuffs Corporation are the only source of supply for these dyes. The price of this synthetic indigo in 1914 was 7½d. per lb. The American price, now is 10½d. to 11d. per lb., while the price on the Continent, in Italy, Germany and Holland, is between 8d. and 9d. per lb. Therefore synthetic indigo purchasers have to pay 1s. 5d. a lb. for this article while their competitors on the Continent only pay 8d. or 9d. per lb. If free importation were permitted, this synthetic indigo would be sold at a much lower price, and it certainly ought to be sold at the same price as prevails on the Continent. I should like to have an answer from the President of the Board of Trade to these questions.
With regard to the agreement which is proposed, I should like to reinforce on behalf of my constituents who are interested, the words spoken by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, when be said that the President of the Board of Trade should give us an undertaking that, before any fresh arrangement is entered into between the British Dyestuffs Corporation and any German syndicate for the monopoly control of German dyes in this country through the British Dyestuffs Corporation, it should first be submitted to this House for approval. When we have a large amount of capital invested in this Corporation, the President of the Board of Trade has a right to step in and demand that the conditions shall be such that our traders shall be protected, and that there shall not be a monopoly handed over to the British Dyestuffs Corporation against the interests of the general community and the traders in this country. I think it is a very doubtful policy indeed, having established this Corporation here in order that they may make themselves efficient in the production of dyes and hold themselves available for national purposes, that into the hands of that very Corporation you should put the handling of dyes which come from Germany, and which ought to be rival dyes. Those dyes ought to be in competition with the dyes which are produced by the British Dyestuffs Corporation.
I should like to ask whether in this agreement there will be any provision that if it answers the interests of the British Dyestuffs Corporation to become largely selling agents instead of producers the Government will have the authority to step in and prevent any such thing. This British Dyestuffs Corporation was established essentially in order to be able to produce gases and other necessary warlike equipment, and it does appear reasonable to demand that, having received national money for this especial purpose, they shall not enter into a private agreement with a syndicate of German producers of dyes which would enable them to go away from their undertaking with regard to this country and at the same time get large profits by becoming agents for the, German producers. In connection with this, I want to say one word about the merchants. I have been approached by a syndicate of these dye merchants, who have made a claim to me, and I want to put it on their behalf to the President of the Board of Trade, who knows the company very well, namely, the Agents' Association. They represent, I believe, 134 selling agents for dyes in this country, and they are demanding that it is reasonable that, as there are 11 representatives on the committee which deals with the disposal of these dyes, there should be at least one representative of the merchants on that committee. It seems to me that that is a very reasonable suggestion. I am informed, and the President of the Board of Trade will be able to confirm it, that 75 per cent, of the demand for licences comes through the merchants, and here we have in this Committee a kind, of little Star Chamber, meeting behind closed doors, deciding what licences shall or shall not be granted, and no account being given afterwards with respect to their decision except with regard to numbers, without any details regarding the decisions. It appears to me reasonable that the merchants should have one representative on this Committee, so that justice may be done to them. I thank the Committee for having listened to me so patiently, and I hope I shall have satisfactory replies on the points I have raised.
I should like to reinforce the remarks that were made by the hon Member for Rossendale (Mr. Waddington) on the subject of the. Interessen Gemeinschaft. I myself am a chemist, and I speak for the research chemists, who, I am afraid, will find that they are not so fully employed as one would wish if this agreement, as far as one knows what the agreement is, he carried out. The agreement appears to be that a large amount of the research work will be done by the Interessen Gemeinschaft, and will not be done in this country. It is most essential that our research work in this country should be done in this country. The difficulty with regard to research in a matter like dyestuffs is that the research is exceedingly costly, and, unless a large market can be ensured for the products, no company can afford to spend a large amount of money on research work. What appears to me to be dangerous in this agreement is the limitation of the markets. We want an inducement to the companies making dyes to spend a good deal of money on research, and they cannot do that unless, if they find a new dye, they have a free market for the use of that dye.
I should also like to call the attention of the President of the Board of Trade to the large number of other industries that are wrapped up in the dye industry. It is not only the actual taking of the dyes that is important; it is all the chemicals and dye intermediates that are required for the production of those dyes. If the dyes are made in Germany, all those chemicals and intermediates are made in Germany. We want them to be made in this country, and they can be made in this country. At present practically all these intermediates are made here, but under this agreement, as we have seen it, it will be possible for the dye intermediates, on which all the heavy chemicals have already been utilised, to be brought from Germany and converted in this country into the finished dyes, resulting in a great reduction of employment in this country. I am most anxious that the agreement, before it is ratified by the President of the Board of Trade, should be brought to this House and that we should have ample apportunity of scrutinising it.
The Committee has accumulated a large number of separate questions, to which hon. Members must be rather expectant that I should be able to reply, and, in order that I may not disappoint them, I will try to deal with all the points, as it is my duty to do; but I must, in order to be brief, try and merge them a little together, so as to deal with the substance rather than with persons. I will, however, try to answer all the questions. A great many questions have turned about the point which was dealt with by the hon. Member who spoke last, namely, the outlook in regard to dyestuffs. I am in the difficulty that I cannot give the Committee satisfaction or knowledge with regard to the proposed agreement between the British Dyestuffs Corporation and the German combination. It is an old story. This Government is not responsible for the British Dyestuffs Corporation, or for the adjustment of capital, or even for the appointment of the Government directors, or for the negotiations about this agreement. It began before we came into office, but there must be continuity in these things, and we are dealing with it. I want, as far as I can, to disabuse the minds of the Committee of suspicion in this matter. I can say quite definitely that the Government will not come to any decision on this important matter of the agreement of the British Dyestuffs Corporation, or in dealing with the British Dyestuffs Corporation in any way, without the fullest possible consultation with the representatives concerned—the representatives of the colour users, of the textile industry, and even the representatives of the chemical industry, because we quite realise how much they also are concerned.
We shall consult with everyone concerned in the trade, and, after all, we shall have to deal with representatives. As to the agreement, I cannot say anything, because no agreement has been completed; but, if an agreement is completed, it will be completed, not with the Government, but with the British Dyestuffs Corporation and the Interessen Gemeinschaft in Germany. That agreement has not been made, and, consequently, I cannot give the terms of it. I have not seen it. Of course, I have been consulted about it with regard to this or that proposed subject of agreement, but the subject-matter changes constantly, and it is not possible, until some definite action has been taken, to communicate anything to the Committee.
If the hon. Member will allow me to proceed, I think I can satisfy him. The only power the Government has in the matter is that it has the right to veto any act of the corporation which violates the fundamental purpose for which the corporation was brought into being, and, therefore, we have to look very carefully at all the points which have been mentioned. One hon. Member drew attention to the importance of building up an effective manufacture of dyestuffs in this country, and that is one of the fundamental objects.
Will the right hon. Gentleman definitely state to the Committee whether the agreement cannot be completed until the Government have given a decision on the heads of the agreement which are in front of them?
The position is that the Government have no power to prevent the Corporation making an agreement with anybody. In fact, if the Government veto any such agreement, the agreement would not be made. The hon. Member asks me categorically whether we can prevent the agreement being made. No, but we can veto it as soon as it is made.
I am sorry to interrupt again, but it is rather an important point. Has the President of the Board of Trade given the heads of this agreement to any Committee in this country, the Development Committee or the Colour Users' Committee, for them to consider and report to him as to whether they approve of all the heads of the agreement, and will it be handed over to the British Dyestuffs Corporation to complete the agreement?
I am sorry the hon. Member presses me on that point. It is a new point. That is not what he said before. I was endeavouring to satisfy him on the point he was raising before. He now asks what steps the Board of Trade have been taking on this point. I am not prepared to state all the steps that the Government have taken in this matter. What. I can explain to the Committee is that the Government are taking every precaution to see that nothing shall be done which is inconsistent with the fundamental purpose for which the Corporation was established, that purpose being to have a dyestuffs' industry in this country that would be able to make dyes as well as anybody else, and, incidentally, that we should provide for chemical research. We hold research to be one of the fundamental purposes.
The hon. Member will realise, if he will endeavour to follow what I am saying, that the agreement has first to be made. It is then open to the Government to veto it. After the agreement is made it will be published and the House will have an opportunity of seeing it before the Government have precluded themselves from vetoing it. The Government can always veto it afterwards.
Will the Government undertake that, before they make their decision whether they will veto the agreement or not, this House will have an opportunity of debating the question with full knowledge of what the agreement is?
Let me be quite clear. Before the Government either confirm or veto the agreement, will this House have the opportunity of debating the subject, with the full knowledge of what the terms of the agreement are before the Government act?
I am not prepared to quibble with the hon. Member. It must be a matter for the responsible Government of the day. I have pointed out that the Government can do it at any time, and consequently the House will have an opportunity. If the agreement is made, the House will have the terms and will be able to call on the Government to veto the agreement.
I am sorry, I am not going to say anything more. The Government will have the opportunity of vetoing the agreement, consequently the opportunity will always be there. I cannot put it clearer than that. We have got, not only to maintain the dye industry in this country, but we have somehow or other got to bring down the price of dyes to something like the level they were at before the War. That is the difficulty. The problem is how to get prices down as well as the work carried on in this country. Reparation dyes are not allowed to be exported outside the British Empire, and they are not sold to the British Dyestuffs Corporation. The British Dyestuffs Corporation is an agent in selling them under the direction of the Board of Trade. If a dye comes in as a reparation dye, the full value belongs to the British Government.
I am sorry, I must not be interrupted every few minutes. An hon. Member raised the question of patents. The British Patent Office is one of the cheapest in the world. You can get a provisional patent, when you do not know whether the patent will be valuable or not, at a very low fee indeed. The larger fee is only charged on the renewal of the patent, when it is proved to be of some value. That is a more favourable way than charging a fee straight away. It may be that the British fee first and last is more than some others, but to make it as easy as possible for the poor patentee, we let him have protection for four years at a very low price. Those provisional fees do not pay working expenses. I am afraid I do not see any way of holding out any hopes.
The hon. Member for the Kirkdale, Division of Liverpool (Sir J. Penncfather) and other hon. Members put questions with regard to the Mixed Arbitral Tribunal. There is a good deal to be said in favour of what has happened in regard to this tribunal. Nearly £70,000,000 has been realised in all, by the Clearing Office (Enemy Debts), and paid over in cash. It is quite true that the Mixed Tribunal is working rather slowly, but it is not working so slowly as might be imagined from the figures which have been given. A great deal of work is done by the tribunal on days on which the public are not admitted to the Courts, and a good many important test cases have been decided. Still we are as anxious as anyone could be that something more should be done. A suggestion has been made that a Third Division should be appointed, but that cannot be done at once. These things take time. I could say a good deal more about it, but I hope hon. Members will be content to accept my assurance that we are trying to make this machine work faster and more satisfactorily. I think hon. Members can rely on it that there is no chance that the Clearing House will become a charge on the British taxpayer. They have got a good deal of money in hand, sufficient, it is hoped, to cover all possible liabilities.
I do not say that, but possibly they do not present the whole case. 'The hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. A. M. Samuel) asked, in regard to the question of enemy debts, why more money was not paid over to the creditors. The money cannot be paid over as each claim is considered. There are a good many considerations to be borne in mind, and if claimants are dissatisfied, they can approach the Board of Trade. With regard to the reparation claims, I have been asked a considerable number of questions. It is a mistake to suppose that claimants were not allowed to get a hearing. I am assured that every claimant who sought to be heard was heard. I am not going to apologise for the sins of omission of the late Government, but I would point out that this Government has set apart a further sum of £300,000 to meet these cases. I have been asked when the inquiries will be completed and the money paid over, but I must point out that at the beginning of April there were still 30,000 claims to be dealt with. More and more staff is being put on to deal with them as it is released from dealing with the £5,000,000 grant, and since the 1st June practically the entire staff of the Department has been dealing with these 30,000 claims. It is asked if the work will be completed by the end of October. Naturally the assessment of all these claims takes a considerable time, and it is impossible to divide the money among the claimants until some general idea of the total assessment has been arrived at. I do not think anybody ought to be told they are likely to get a settlement much before the end of the year. The claims have to be very carefully investigated. Some of them are of most ridiculous character. All I can say is that the matter is being proceeded with with the utmost possible despatch and we cannot promise anything more.
The hon. Member for Farnham made a very important point about trade mark law in China. I do not say that all is well in China, but the powers of the Board of Trade in clearing up this difficulty are not very great. The Foreign Office has been at work. Apparently our merchants do not trust the Chinese Courts of Law, but that is a thing we can hardly say with diplomatic courtesy. I cannot hold out any hope that we can get satisfaction for those people who are dissatisfied with the decisions of the Chinese Courts. With regard to the Anglo-Brazilian Treaty, we have got that in hand. Certain preferential rates have been given to the United States who occupy a special position and it is hoped that we may be able to induce the Brazilian Government to extend them to us, but we have no means of compelling them to do so.
Well, all I can say is that the matter is being looked after and all is being done that can be done. The hon. Member for North Southwark (Dr. H. Guest) asked what we were doing in regard to the Hoadley scheme; I shall be pleased to go into the details if my hon. Friend will submit them to me I would remind the Committee of the statement made last night with regard to the offer to Australia, that we would provide half the interest for five years and one-third of the interest for another five years on £20,000,000 for work which is to be done in the promotion of overseas settlement in Australia. That is a substantial offer. It amounts to £5,000,000 or £7,000,000, and that proposal has now been submitted to Australia. We are not giving Preference to the Colonies, but we are doing things of that kind, and that is one big thing we can do far a start.
I think the proposal is made to the Commonwealth Government, which has an equal responsibility for all parts of the Commonwealth, and we may rely on Queensland to see that it keeps its end up. The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Pringle) wanted to know where the Census of Production is. I think he will find it under the Statistical Department. He asked about the dye industry. I am assured that the licensing now is extremely promptly done—generally within three days. The great majority of the cases are immediately disposed of and we have certainly ceased to hear many complaints of delays. No system of licensing can avoid some delay. The hon. Member also wanted to know about zinc concentrates. That is an old' story. I decline to take any responsibility for the policy of dealing with zinc concentrates. All I know is that we have managed to get the new company to take over the liability which the Government has incurred, and we are now assured that the accounts balance. Whether we are going to destroy the atmosphere by discharging sulphuric acid into it I do not know. That is a separate story. Then I am asked, why should not the contract be brought to an end? That would be altogether such a subversive act that this Government could not consider doing it. We cannot quite cut our liabilities in that drastic way. It is satisfactory that whatever may have been the policy of dealing with the matter, at any rate, now it looks as if we had seen the end of our annual liabilities in the matter.
That really comes under the Department of Overseas Trade. As a matter of fact, negotiations are going on and I do not want to say too much or too little. When you are entering into negotiations on a great many difficult points, you cannot deal with one or two separately. They must be kept going together. I only hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman's desire will be satisfied. I share his hope, but I cannot tell the Committee anything more.
I am very glad. I am quite willing to go on all night, but there are two Votes down for this evening, and unless we can dispose of this first, lion. Members will he shutting out all those questions which they want to raise on the Mercantile Marine Vote. Therefore, I would ask the Committee to let this Vote he taken now.
I should be the last to wish to shut out discussion on the mercantile marine, but there is one question I should like to put before we pass to another Vote. We have had a good deal of talk on the subject of British claims with regard to Germany. I should like to ask what has actually been done in the matter of the work of the Russian Claims Department. It is a matter of increasing urgency clay by day, and there is a great deal of anxiety on the part of the many unfortunate creditors of Russia who are concerned at this moment to know how far their claims have been properly dealt with and classified, and examined and verified by the Russian Claims Department. It was stated in answer to a question yesterday that a registry had been opened in 1918. That is perfectly true, and under the circumstances up to the end of last year there was a great deal to be said for the fact that the simple opening of a registry was adequate for the purpose. But I think there is a case for argument at this moment that something much more is needed if sufficient justice is to be done to the case of those who have claims which may have been put forward, for all we know, but which are not settled. May I put forward, as the reason why I say more ought to be done than simply to have a registry opened under rough classification, the words which were used by the President of the Board of Trade about five minutes ago with regard to German claims? He said, "You cannot make any payment until you have some sort of idea what the total is." If we put ourselves in the position of those who are considering what the British claims amount to, is it really reasonable to expect that they can be asked to make any payment until they have some sort of an idea what the proper total is? The sooner some rough examination, as well as classification, of British claims is taken in hand the greater chance there will be of getting some satisfaction in respect of them. We are being pressed on every hand to know what exactly is being done with regard to the calculation and the examination and the verification of claims against Russia on the part of British subjects.
There is one other circumstance which has been brought to the notice of a number of us and about which I should like to ask a question. Has the right hon. Gentleman any information to give us with regard to the present condition of British companies acting in Russia? Many of us have been shocked by what has occurred, according to newspaper reports, with regard to the Russo-Caucasian Company. As far as we know it was engaged in business, I will not say whether legitimate or not according to Russian law, because I do not profess to have means of deciding, but which at any rate was acknowledged in Russia, as far as I know at this moment. It is not so much a case of what was or was not Russian law, but if the operations of the company were de facto recognised why has there been this sudden change, and again, why has there been a sudden change which, if the reports are correct, has resulted in the treatment of 13 or more companies as reported in to-day's papers?
May I put it to you, Sir, that this question of what is happening in the interior of Russia is one which should be taken not on this but on the Foreign Office Vote.
May I assure the President of the Board of Trade that whether as regards claims or whether as regards the situation of these companies, whatever the ruling may be, the very last thing I would wish to do is to try to put any block in the way of a successful issue of the negotiations. Perhaps it is just for old association, that I have a. number of people come to me and ask, "Under what circumstances do you think that business operations could he organised in Russia at this moment?" And when they come to me personally, perhaps, as I say, the old instincts of the Government Department have been upon me and I have done my best to suggest to them ways which, in harmony with the present conditions in Russia, business relations could be reinstituted and carried on. But I think we are entitled to know that the claims are being properly classified, and get assurance that if people who are anxious to re-open business with Russia at the present moment do enter into ventures of that kind, they can rely on fair treatment being accorded to them, about which apprehension has been raised in their minds during the past few days.
I would like to reply to the right hon. Gentleman's question at once, but I must really ask him to be good enough to separate the case of the company to which he has referred or any other company in a similar position from what is called the Russian claims. With regard to that company, I can only say, so far as I can make out, I have seen two contradictory accounts. I saw the original statement, and I have seen an express contradiction in terms, and I do not know what the truth is. I can only say we must receive any statement of that kind with the utmost reserve. The divergence between the two accounts of what happened in Russia is very great. With regard to the Russian claims, it is perfectly true in 1918 notice was sent broadcast to innumerable newspapers calling on people who had any claims against the Soviet Government to send them in, and a very large number was received. That brought in immediately about 20,000 claims. A further notice was issued in 1922, and, up to the present, claims have been received from about 35,000 British subjects, and claims are still coming in in small numbers. Those claims have all been classified. They have all been inspected and to some extentverified, in so far as they show a prima facie case. For instance, a large number are in respect of Government debt or railway debt. Then there are a small number of claims in respect of property, traders' goods and private property destroyed or confiscated, and claims in respect of death, imprisonment or personal injury in Russia. Information as to these claims in various categories, and as to their nature, has been furnished to the Soviet Delegation, but no names have yet been supplied to the Russian Government, pending some decision as to the line of action to be taken. The question, of course, has several times been raised as to whether the claims ought not to be investigated by the British Government. It is a very large order to investigate 35,000 claims, many of them requiring investigation in Russia itself, which would be a very difficult thing to do, and that step has not been taken. We are discussing with the present Delegation as to the claims, but until some more definite line has been agreed to, I do not think the Government could go to the expense or trouble of actually investigating 35,000 claims—an investigation which, very likely, would have to be done all over again, and which might not be required. Consequently, I cannot say that these claims have been investigated. They have been classified and otherwise dealt with, but the claims themselves have not been. investigated I can only say that the Government in this matter are putting these claims forward as one of the real objects of discussion with the present Delegation, and we cannot do any more.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will stop me and refuse to answer if I am asking anything he does not wish to disclose in the negotiations, but it is understood from the official report that the question has been put forward as to what are the amounts of the British claims, whether rouble or sterling claims, or private debts, and one of the obstacles to a possible agreement being reached is that the British Government have no answer to give as to the actual amount involved. It is from that point of view, in order to try to reach an agreement, that those, interested in the subject are particularly anxious that some answer should he forthcoming and placed at the disposal of the Russian Delegation, and that seems a most reasonable request.
It is perfectly clear there are four or five main categories of debts. There are, first, the Government debts; secondly, what are called sterling and rouble obligations; thirdly, the question as regards private property; and, fourthly, questions of personal loss and injury. There may be sub-divisions of those, but I think no one pretended that there could be one lump s[...]m asked for. The question is whether the Government could supply rough totals of the different main categories, without which it seems difficult in any case to, arrive at a conclusion.
I was going to explain that some sort of approximate estimate has been given with regard to some of the categories, and some indication with regard to others. I do not think I had better say anything more than that. As much help as is possible is being given towards the negotiations on these points.
May I appeal to the hon. Member that this is the only day of the year in which we can discuss the mercantile marine? Last year 25 minutes were devoted to the discussion, and if the discussion on the Dawes Report is to go on to-day, I am afraid the Marine Vote will be cut out altogether.
Not one of these Gentlemen has been able to reply to a question put up by every layman who has studied the Dawes Report., and that is, how you can bring goods from Germany into this country without doing some harm to the trade of this country. That has never been approached. No one has seriously sought to discuss the question from that point of view. You cannot bring goods into this country without doing harm to some trade. The only way you could bring in goods from Germany without doing harm is this. Say you brought in coal, if it were a million tons of coal, give the equivalent of that to the miner, and give him a holiday, so as to keep the balance. If you do not do that, you take the value of the coal, re-export it, and add the number of men required to produce a million tons of coal. I noticed the President of the Board of Trade sought to escape the question. When the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs spoke, he told us about £73,000,000 in Germany—coal, potash, and dyes—but he drew away from the track. The arguments amount to this, that because we as a nation, have failed to take advantage of the science of chemistry, we are angry, and would like to destroy another country that has had the foresight to develop the chemical industry. That has been the sum total value to-night from the eminent men with regard to the research chemists. A man with a patent in this country has no opening at all. In the country we were speaking about to-night, they had a system whereby a man with a patent is looked after. Here a man is afraid; the capitalist will shelve him till the man has no money.
There is the case of electrica power stations. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs did not know whether it was "kil[...] power" or "kilowatts." That did not matter. Then there is the verbal diarrhoea—the talk going on about the super-power station. You have the power station being talked about to-day everywhere except where it is required. Take the case of London, with something like 25 companies. If a man wants to move across the street he has got to get a change of his motor and other fittings, because the voltage is different. Why have not the past Governments, and why has not this present Government, seen to it in a city where there are 8,000,000 of people, where you have a concentrated industry—manufacturing industries who require power? But they are building the great super-stations and here are extensive mains, carrying, say, 6,000 potential, and we are travelling miles without a unit being taken off from two of your superpower stations. Not only would you reduce the price to the electrical community, but you would destroy (lice and for all, by the increased number of users, the power of the private company to-day, that by its differential make a man frightened to go across the street to a cheaper rent. If the President of the Board of Trade was considering seriously these things, which lie beneath the reorganisation of industry, and which mean the goal of British trade, he would have been giving attention to the facts.
The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs was talking in an envious way about how Germany, with her skill, was able to produce electric power cheaper than Britain, with something he called "lignite." He said "lignite" was inferior to coal, and that, indeed, the Germans, from coal-dust, could produce an electrical unit cheaper than we could. Can you wonder why Britain to-day is so far behind in the industrial position when you get men who have occupied the high position that the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs has occupied as ignorant as that? Here you have this talk about the "power from coal-dust." He did not know that the highest possible heat efficiency he could get is from coal-dust, and that the latest process is to grind up coal and blew it into your furnace to get your value from the coal. He talked about "lignite," but he might have been talking about ice-cream for all he knew. Not only am I talking about the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, for he led the tradition of the Front Bench of the House of Commons to sack everything that was a man, and they were left with the husk. That should be a warning to everybody else who comes to the Front Bench. The potential of a party ought to be tapped, and if we are to reorganise our industry, if we are to have a Board of Trade that is going to be of service to the nation, we have got to get down to these basic facts, and [...] able every time to put them into the needs of the nation.
The hon. Member need not be very worried about this country getting indemnities from Germany, because even at the most favourable point of view anything that we get in indemnities from Germany will go straight to America. It may be some comfort to him that we are not the only country that is paying indemnities. Is he pleased that we have to pay £35,000,000 a year to America? Does it do us good or arm [An HON. MEMBER: "It does harm!"] If Germany has to buy the sterling credit which we now have to find in order to buy dollars we shall be able to reduce our taxation by £35,000,000. That is the way in which Germany will pay our indemnity. It will go straight to America. If it is a bad thing for us, according to hon. Members, that we have to find goods to send to America for nothing, it will be a good thing for us that somebody else has to do it. If we can reduce our taxation on sugar, beer, tobacco and tea to the full extent of what we save by not paying indemnities or interest, I think it is going to be a good thing for us.
There was one further remark in the hon. Member's speech, where he referred to the courage and business wisdom of the German chemical manufacturers. They gave their chemists a share of profits. A man who could make a good invention in chemical processes had a very large share of the profits. The good old individualist profit-sharing system was the basis of successful German chemical manufacture. What I want particularly to point out is that we are intensely uneasy in the textile districts at the action of the Board of Trade in regard to the proposed agreement with the great German dye-making syndicate. Let me recall to the attention of the Committee what happened a few years ago. The British Dyestuffs Corporation was founded, not for the pur- pose of making dyes, but for the purpose of our being able to turn it quickly to the making of explosives for national defence. A huge burden was put upon the colour-users of this country, a burden infinitely greater than the ordinary man in the street knows. Even to-day the colour-users of this country are paying very much higher prices for colour than our French and Italian competitors. That is one of the prices which we are paying for this national insurance against the next war.
I want to impress upon the President of the Board of Trade that, after spending £9,000,000 in setting up this industry on capital account, and putting a burden of many millions upon our textile and other colour-using trades in higher prices, and in the early clays of the industry in inferior goods, we are now going to surrender in a most mysterious fashion our freedom of action in an interlocking combine with a great German dye trust. It does not make us any happier to know that one of the Government Directors is the head of the transport trust of London. What he does not know about interlocking trusts is not worth knowing. It makes us very uneasy that this agreement should be under discussion, and that the Government should obstinately refuse to promise this House that directly the heads of the agreement are settled, the agreement shall be brought to the Table of this House for us to see.
I cannot adequately express, on behalf of the colour-users and on behalf of the textile trade in the great industrial North, the anxiety, uneasiness and distress which this mystery policy of the Board of Trade is causing, and I would ask at the last moment that the President of the Board of Trade should allay that anxiety by telling us that, before the Government either vetoes or approves of this agreement, it shall be brought before the Members of this House for consideration. It is a case of sufficient importance, and I beg the President of the Board of Trade to give that assurance.
I intend to ask a. question, but I cannot ask the question if I am interrupted. I had prepared a great deal of material on the subject of Russia, which interests a great many friends of mine and is a subject of very great importance. The President of the Board of Trade seemed to refer to it as a matter of small importance. Therefore, I want to point out that it involves £180,000,000, and that it affects not merely 35,000 claims, but claims covering something like 300,000 persons. Will the President of the Board of Trade make it clear that negotiations are proceeding in view of the importance of the issues at stake? I s[...] that whereas last year the Claims Department employed eight persons, the estimate for the next year shows that four persons will be employed. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to assure the Committee whether four persons are adequate to examine this very great number of claims.
The Committee should be assured that a matter of this importance will be dealt with as it should be dealt with, and that the examination of claims is not going to be continued by an insufficient staff until such time as those who have put forward claims will no longer be in a position to take any interest in them. I should like to ask a great many more questions, but, in view of the desire of hon. Members to proceed to the next measure, I will not detain the Committee any longer.