I beg to move:
That this House censures His Majesty's Government of the United Kingdom for its failure to formulate any effective proposals for the extension of Empire Trade and for its refusal to consider the offers made by the Dominions.
Before I proceed to deal with the Motion which stands in my name, and in the names of certain of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I would like to say that on this side of the House we recognise the necessity for the absence of the Leader of the House. I think it would be most ungenerous at a moment like this, when he is immersed in most responsible work in connection with the Indian Conference, to demand his presence in the House.
I regret, for more than one reason, having to move a Motion of this kind. I regret it because my wish is that on these matters of Imperial unity, or what we believe makes for Imperial unity, we have not a united front in this country. I regret further—and this, really, is the subject of our Vote of Censure—that the Government have had neither the vision nor the courage to carry forward the proposals which were put before the Imperial Conference, and to bring before this country a definite policy of economic unity. The policy of Imperial Preference, which, of course, is wrapped up in it, is not a new one. It is more than 40 years since it was first proposed at an Imperial Conference, and it is now 27 years since Mr. Chamberlain, in 1903, embarked on his great campaign of Tariff Reform. To many of us—possibly many of us in this House—that year dates our first active participation in politics.
I remember very well the enthusiasm with which I, as a young man, agreed with those proposals, because they seemed to me at that time, in my ignorance—[Interruption]—to cut right across all the party predilections of the day, and I hoped we might have seen some new enthusiastic Imperial party. I remember the first time that my hopes were dashed. I was walking in the morning with my father, who was coming down to the House. We were in Rotten Bow. [Hon. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Hon Members opposite are always in such a hurry. There will be a little more point in this story when I get to the end. We met an old Member of the House of Commons, an old Member of the Tory party, who was a great friend of ours. He had not embraced the propaganda of Mr. Chamberlain, and he said to me, "What do you think of it?" I, with the enthusiasm of youth, said, "It is the party of the future," and he said, "A very distant future." It was in Rotten Row that he was riding. That by way of a little historical preface. The House in general, I think, has a fair knowledge of the ups and downs of the history of that policy until recent times.
Before I proceed further, I must call attention for a moment to what happened during the War, when there was a great stirring of Imperial feeling, and in 1917 the War Cabinet, to which at that time belonged the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and the head of which Cabinet was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), approved unanimously of a Resolution which had been passed by the Imperial Conference that each part of the Empire should give especially favourable treatment to produce and manufactures of other parts of the Empire. Of course, that embodied, in a very formidable way, a very great principle, and had that principle ever been carried out, it would have cut right across the fiscal views of the Members of some of the parties. My right hon. Friend beside me gave effect in a small way, as only a small way was possible at the time, to that Resolution in the Budget of 1919, since which date similar effect has been given in successive Budgets, and exists to-day. But during the years since the War, if you come to think for a moment, you will see how it is that the cause of Imperial economic unity has remained more or less static. In our own country, we have been engrossed in matters of intimate domestic concern, such as our own industrial troubles, in the number of our unemployed, beginning with the getting back of men to their avocations after demobilisation, and the difficult and strenuous times through which we have passed, and from which we have hardly yet emerged. In the Dominions, it has been rather different.
I suppose that never was a phrase launched in this world more charged with dynamite at the time than that phrase of President Wilson which we all know so well, and which has been taken to heart by every country in the world, namely, "Self-determination." It is in the expression of that phrase, I think, largely that you will find the progress of that instinct of nationality in nearly all the countries, that has been interpreted in terms of commerce by a stricter form of Protection, and has been interpreted in our Dominions in a double sense, first of all in making them more than ever determined to embark on an industrial career and to cultivate their own manufactures, and, secondly, in making them anxious to get rid, once and for all, in a formal way, of the old idea that the Empire was held together by the over-lordship of the mother country. It has been a question of status. That, undoubtedly, was the uppermost thought in their minds when they came to the Conference of 1926, and I think it was quite evident that, until those matters could be cleared out of the way, no progress would be attempted in the direction in which progress has been attempted at the recent Imperial Conference.
We may have mingled feelings about all that has been done with regard to the status, but, at all events, one or two very remarkable things have come out of it. You have had South Africa, where you have had a feeling of resentment of Imperial associations, changed to a feeling of desire for co-operation—commercial co-operation—with this country and with the rest of the Empire. That, in itself, is little lees than a miracle, and was mentioned in one of the speeches of Mr. Havenga which I read with very great interest. Similarly, it was the removal of the old formal ties, if I may so call them, which made it imperative on our part to find some means of drawing together the Dominions, and on that I shall propose to say a word or two at a later stage in my speech. But that question of status once out of the way, the Dominions have been concentrating recently on the question of economic unity, their own economic development and the economic development of the Empire as a whole.
We shall not, I think, waste time if we devote two or three minutes in considering what the need is for this kind of closer economic union and economic unity in the Empire. It is a matter which concerns each unit of the Empire. It is a matter which concerns the Empire as a whole, and the view-point is a little different in either case. With regard to our own country, we must have regard to the circumstances of the times. I say that as one who has always regarded these economic matters as matters much less of principle than of expediency, as one who believes that at one period of our economic history one fiscal system may be the best, and at another period another form may be the best; that there is no one form of a fiscal system, whether a wholly protective or a wholly Free Trade one, which is at all times and in all places one authoritative system which we should have. We ought to remember the enormous difference in the world when Cobden's proposals were carried from the conditions which exist to-day, when we have to consider proposals no less grave, no less charged with difficulty for the present and for the future than circumstances and events were in Cobden's day.
There are one or two things which are quite sufficient to bear in mind. When the Free Trade agitation was at its height, when we finally abandoned the last remnants of Protection, we still were the supreme industrial nation in the world. There was no industrial Germany, there was no industrial United States of America and there were none of the new prairies under wheat. Cobden himself spoke with perfect truth at that time of what seems to-day so extraordinary to us, the vast continent of America open to the manufacturers of this country. That vast continent is now shut more tightly than any prison-house to the manufactures of this country, and, on account of that very fact, it is infinitely more difficult for them to collect their dues. But with regard to countries even where trade could be done and where there was Protection, I think we have to-day a great deal to learn from Cobden, and I am going to apply it to the Economic Conference. Cobden, in spite of the efforts of the ultra-Free Traders, negotiated and carried what he looked upon as one of his chief works, and that was the treaty with France, at that time one of the most important commercial countries on the Continent. He went to work, not by a Tariff Truce, but by a treaty with France.
Our commerce with Europe, he said, can only be extended by treaties. There is a lot of profound common sense in Cobden, although at times I disagree very strongly from him. But it is interesting to notice the opinion of that stern Free Trader and philosopher, John Morley, on this very theme, and I think we might apply his words to the present Government. He said:
It is the business of economic statesmen to watch for opportunities of inducing other nations to modify duties on imports.
If I may say so, you cannot do that by a tariff truce. It is very interesting to find that among Cobden's supporters at that time were Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Disraeli, and Mr. Disraeli's speech, for its wit and comprehension, has been very much praised by John Morley. It is interesting to find that Cobden was very much struck during the negotiations by one of the French delegates whom he described as a "cannon-ball Protectionist." I do not call myself a cannon-ball Protectionist, but I would rather be a cannon-ball Protectionist than an acid-drop Free Trader. To-day, just as in Cobden's day, the right method of getting tariffs lowered in this world is by treaty, and it may well be that before you can embark on that, you have got to have tariffs yourself.
No, because he was speaking in entirely different circumstances. The Empire to-day is the only part of the world where expansion of our trade is possible by negotiation and by treaty unless under another system we have success with foreign countries, which I think is quite possible with some foreign countries, whom I will refrain from naming at this moment. But the Empire is the one part of the world where we know we can do business. We do not know exactly on what terms, but we know we can, and the Empire is the only part of the world where there is room for such an expansion of trade as will help us to do two things—to increase the mutual trade and to find in the Dominions an outlet for what we want more than anything, and that is for our skilled labour.
I have always visualised our Empire—and I believe it will come—as being one unit, separated by waterways, or I would rather say joined by waterways, instead of by railways, where it will be possible for goods to be manufactured for consumption in the Empire, or outside of it, in just whatever part of the Empire it may be best and most convenient to manufacture those goods. After all, I think that that is a finer conception than Mr. Cobden's. What was Mr. Cobden's remedy for people who could not get work in this country? Mr. Cobden, as we all know, was a great opponent of the trade unions. He did not like the idea of the working man looking to a trade union to protect him. He said, "The proper way to protect yourself is to save £20, and when you have done that, get out and go away to the United States of America, and build up a foreign country instead of your own Empire." The words are mine, not Mr. Cobden's.
Is it a good thing that the Empire should be a united Empire? I do not think that that wants much argument, but if it be a good thing, then it is surely worth taking some trouble to attain that end. But Empires do not keep together without thought. The strands that bind the Empire together are very slight. Practically, apart from sentiment, the only thing that binds it is allegiance to a, common Crown, but many of us—I think we are to be found in all parties, and I have heard General Smuts express the same view—feel that there would be a real risk of the Empire drifting apart if economic bonds could not be forged to keep it together. There again, I would remind the House—for it has come to pass—it was stated openly, and stated by Cobden himself, that it is a difficult thing to maintain the Empire under Free Trade. His words are so well known that I hardly like to quote them, but it will not take a moment. It is probably his best known utterance:
A colonial system, with all its dazzling appeals to the passions of the people, can never be got rid of except by the indirect process of Free Trade, which will gradually and imperceptibly loose the bonds which unite our Colonies to us by a mistaken notion of self-interest.
I believe profoundly that if we do not take steps to begin to get a sense of economic unity inside the Empire, the danger to that unity is great, because we have it, quite clear in Mr. Bennett's
speeches. He said, in effect, that time was of the essence of the contract. I read no threat into those words at all. What he meant was this, as I read his meaning, that they felt the necessity of doing something with regard to their economic system and that if they found that the Mother Country was not prepared to make arrangements with them; they would then make arrangements with one another, without considering the Mother Country, and would feel perfectly free to make, as has been done by one Dominion in one instance, economic agreements with foreign countries. It is for that reason that I do believe that time is short.
The opportunity that came to the Government, the opportunity that came to the country, has been a great one. We have all read the speeches which were delivered at the Economic Conference. I might notice, however, that in this Blue Book there is a very curious omission, and that is the omission of a speech made at the second plenary session by the Secretary of State for the Dominions. I do not know whether that has been expurgated, or what the reason is. At any rate, we have not got it, but we are fortunate enough to have a version of it, which I assume to be correct, published in the "Times" newspaper. I wish to make one or two observations about Mr. Bennett's speech. I may say that I interpret the offer that Mr. Bennett made as meaning this: We are prepared to do business. I do not regard it as something that has been thrown at us, and that we can take it or leave it. I think it embodies the spirit of a willingness to do business, always remembering, as he said himself, that he is a Canadian first. He said:
If this Conference is to meet these problems and provide an effective solution of them, it seems to me that my attitude towards my own country will be the attitude of you all towards yours. On no other basis can we hope to effect an enduring agreement of benefit to each one of us. I will determine what my country needs, and, if you do likewise, then we may come together and search out the means by which we can be of mutual assistance in satisfying those needs.
I agree entirely with those words. Mr. Bennett is a Canadian first, and I am an Englishman first, but I am perfectly clear that if men start with those things in their mind, there is nothing in this
world to prevent them making arrangements and agreements which will be mutually beneficial to both countries and to the Empire as a whole. Then there comes what I think we may call a pious hope:
I am satisfied that whatever modifications in the general plan Canada may have to suggest will be ready for submission within a period of six months. I assume that you are all capable of a like measure of expedition.
I am not going to ask anyone to be ready in six months.
When the Imperial Conference was going to be held, a good many of us in this country, from speeches that had been made, had high hopes of it. We hoped that the Government would show courage—and I say frankly that they would have needed courage—but I hoped that they would have shown it, and my hopes were raised by some speeches which were made, with perfect good faith, by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs. I have no doubt that he believed everything that he said, and that he meant to carry it out, and I am sure that if he had been able he would have done so, but he said in June in this House:
Speaking for myself and the Government.… we will enter this Imperial Conference and exclude nothing from our consideration. We will object to nothing. We will discuss everything on its merits and with a single-minded desire to do all that is possible, not only in the interests of our country, but in the interests of the Empire as a whole."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th June, 1930; col. 1397, Vol. 240.]
Reading those words as they occur in print, I have not the slightest doubt that he meant, so far as he was able, to do more than consider, but to draw conclusions and to act. In "The Times" report, on the 9th October, of the plenary session—this is the speech that is omitted from the Blue Book—he said:
It is very fitting that we should at this gathering not only stress but frankly realise that it is in the economic field that our constituents are looking for guidance to this Conference.
Then he said:
The world outside, and especially our people, Sir, are looking to this Conference for guidance, for help, and for a lead.
Then he spoke about the Dominions:
… who are suffering to-day and who are building up hopes that something will emerge from this Conference. They expect it. We must not let them down.
I notice on my notes that I have a P.S. I think that must mean the Chancellor of the Exchequer. "P.S." not only stands for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but for postcript, and the postcript is the most important part of a woman's letter, always. It is the most important part of this letter, and I will read the postscript. The first postcript, or we will call it an antescript, dates back to the 9th July of last year, when the Chancellor expressed a pious hope that he might sweep away—we know the quotation so well that I need not read it—all existing preferences. That, of course, was not a good start for an Imperial Conference, but we have two very interesting speeches of his to which I will allude, after reminding the House again that he made it quite clear that there could be no change in fiscal policy to meet any request from the Dominions; and we all know that without any change in fiscal policy it is perfectly impossible to advance any distance on the road towards economic Imperial unity.
This came out in his speeches, because, speaking at Manchester, he was enabled to put the Imperial offer of Mr. Bennett in such a light that he drew laughter, and at Accrington he made the important announcement that if the Chinese wore their shirts two inches longer, there would not be looms enough in Lancashire to provide them. That is perfectly true, and the Chinese may wear their shirts two inches longer, but we have to get them to buy them, and the way, and probably the only way, as this world goes on, in which you will be able to get people to buy your products will be by means of treaties and bargains of that nature. What was actually done? What was the outcome of these discussions at the Conference? We know what Mr. Bennett's offer was; we know that that was immediately side-tracked; and we cannot find that anything definite has emerged as the result of the month's discussions. That is the more remarkable, because we used to hear talk from Members of the Government of alternative plans which they had, and the Conference was switched on to alternative plans. They were mentioned in "Labour and the Nation"; bulk purchase was one of them, and it loomed very big. The question of bulk purchase might never have been mentioned, because the Government had nothing definite to submit to the Conference when the Economic Committees were started. They simply went off into vague discussions that led nowhere, and they parted with mutual protestations of esteem and agreement that those who were still in office would meet at Ottawa next year, when the results must be as negative as the results have been in London.
Although, as our guests, they could not express their feelings strongly as to the failure of the Conference—some things you do not say in public—it is interesting to note what was said in the last speeches that were made by the Prime Ministers. There is a note of distinct disappointment in General Hertzog, who said that he had not expected a great deal owing to the circumstances in this country—he did not specify what those circumstances were—therefore, he was not so disappointed. The most interesting speech was that of Mr. Scullin. I am interested in him, partly because he represents a great country like Australia, and partly because he belongs to the same school of thought in many ways as hon. Members opposite—though not economic thought. The one thing that he simply could not understand was the views of the Labour party in England on Protection. This is what he said, and I agree entirely with the reference to the Prime Minister:
Mr. MacDonald is peculiarly fitted as one who can reconcile those who at times may appear to be irreconcilable.
That is very true. Then he says:
My first personal impression on landing in London was the cheery reception of Mr. Thomas. Many of our hours have been brightened by looking at his smiling face, and remembering some of the good stories he told us at dinner parties.
I want the House to note particularly that he refers to the Secretary of State for the Dominions, and not to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
We indict the Government as having failed in vision and in courage—vision to foresee and courage to act. It would have taken a great deal of courage to act and to throw aside old prejudices and old convictions. I have no doubt that, if the Government had had the courage to act, they might have split their party as Peel split his, but they would have gained a far higher reputation in this country than they are every likely to have in the lifetime of any of us. I noticed that the Chancellor of the Exchequer only the
other day, speaking of Protection, said in effect—he did not use this phrase—that it was a form of atavism, and that it had been the mercantile economic policy of our great grandparents. Great grandparents' policies have a curious way of coming round in this world after many years. I am going to give another quotation from Mr. Cobden. He used a similar argument to that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the subject of the hours of work. He was strongly apposed to any interference with the hours of labour. He said:
I believe it is now nearly 300 years since laws were last in force which regulated or interfered with hours of labour. They were the relics of the feudal age.
They may have been, but they came back again. This doctrine, which you laugh at now, has been the doctrine of your grandparents. It is coming back again, and nothing in this world can stop it. It is quite true that a prophet is not without honour except in his own country. The Government may not be honoured in our own country to-day, but, when they let the Safeguarding Duties go, they will be honoured on the Continent. When they let the Dyestuffs Act go, they will be honoured in Germany. When they fail to make any successful negotiations with the Dominions, they will be honoured in every country in the world, except the Empire. And what of home? The judgment of the House to-night may be, and probably will be against us, but we shall appeal from this House to the high court of the country at large. Before that tribunal, the highest in the land, the judgment of this House will be reversed, and the cause for which we fight to-day will be endorsed by the majority of enlightened people.
For 50 minutes we have been listening to a speech which was intended to convert this House in support of a Vote of Censure on the Government. I rise wondering whether I am not interpreting the feelings of the House in all parts if I ask whether it is a Vote of Censure on the Government, or a Vote of Censure on Mr. Cobden, or, if it is neither of these, whether it is a vote of thanks to Lord Beaverbrook. We have heard something about the cannon-ball mind and the acid-drop Chancellor. All I can say is that this is the cough-drop Vote of Censure. In ordinary circumstances, I would have been called upon to-day to give a report of the Imperial Conference. The usual channels would have been communicated with, and the Government would have been asked to give a report of the deliberations of the Conference. Instead of that, however, and before even the full report is published, before the right hon. Gentleman or his friends know anything about it, they table a Vote of Censure, and the enthusiasm that was shown during the right hon. Gentleman's speech is the best evidence of how much interest they have in it.
The Vote of Censure is put down in the names of a number of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen, but there is not only a significant omission from the names, but a significant absence from the Front Opposition Bench. Do I understand that the right hon. Gentleman the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer has no interest in Empire problems? Do I understand that he is excluded at his own wish, or am I not justified in seeking for the real explanation in the speech which he made after he had heard Mr. Bennett's proposal, and after he had heard his own leader's comment on it? Speaking at Chingford he said:
I am not going to make any declaration on staple food taxes to-night. Our policy changes so quickly, almost from day to day, that it is difficult to keep pace with all the things one has to believe in and which one has to be loyal to. I for my part intend to wait before expressing any opinion until I know exactly where and on what we are finally going to stake our fortunes.
How wise is the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, and how wise that his name should be omitted from this Vote of Censure.
We are censured because we refused to consider the offer made by the Dominions. What was the offer? I say clearly and definitely that if any offer were made that would help the trade of this country, would give employment to our people and not injure them, not only would we have considered it, but it would have been our duty to accept it. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why did you not do it?"] For the simple reason, I assure you, that there never was such humbug as this proposal. Yes, I did say that, but, if after I have shown the House what the proposals really were, you think I ought to withdraw it, I will; but I am going to show the House first. We were asked first, clearly and definitely, to agree to put a tax on foodstuffs. That was the first proposal made. There can be no mistake about it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who did?"] Mr. Bennett and the representatives of other Dominions, and when I am asked by whom, it rather suggests that the Vote of Censure was put down before hon. Members opposite knew what it was about. I repeat that the first proposal made to us was that we, the British Government, should agree to a tax on foodstuffs, and in return for it the Canadian Government were prepared to put on an additional tax of 10 per cent. on the duties then in operation on foreign goods. They did not, say to us—let me make it quite clear—" We will remove any tax at all where you compete with us." On the contrary let me say, in fairness to them—I do not complain, I am only stating the facts—they said, "No, so far as we are concerned we will give no reduced duty that is going to increase competition with the things that we ourselves can make." That was made perfectly clear. In other words, they said "We want you to change your fiscal principles, but we will only change certain details of ours."
What did the right hon. Gentleman say? Mr. Bennett made his speech. The Conference was held in camera, but the speeches were made public. The right hon. Gentleman did not avail himself of an opportunity of delivering a public speech—there might have been some excuse for even that—but no, immediately that speech was made the right hon. Gentleman wrote a letter—it was the next day—and said, "We accept it." [Interruption.] Then do not let us talk about exploiting the Imperial Conference! The significant thing is—and I challenge the right hon. Gentleman on it—that when he accepted that offer he did not know what it meant. He thought it meant, as did many other people, 10 per cent. additional preference. The next morning, when we asked Mr. Bennett what it meant, he said, "Oh no; it is 10 per cent. of the existing duties, not a 10 per cent, additional rate of duty." The first point I make is this: The right hon. Gentleman immediately writes to the Press and says, "We accept Mr. Bennett's proposal." [Interruption.] Oh, then it was not intended as that.
I will read the letter. This is a letter from the right hon. Gentleman to you. I have already observed that it was a communication from one to the other, made public:
The striking offer made by the Prime Minister of Canada cannot fail to create a profound impression throughout the country, and speaking on behalf of the Conservative party I say without hesitation the great principle of Imperial Preference embodied in that offer"—
embodied in that offer—
is one to which we must and do subscribe, and I heartily endorse Mr. Scullin's statement that it is a duty to affirm not only the maintenance of that principle but also the extension of its operation.
I am entitled to ask this question, What was the object in conveying to the country that you were accepting the principle if the principle did not mean, as Mr. Bennett said, a tax on foodstuffs? [Interruption.] If that is not the interpretation, then let us see further. Six days afterwards the right hon. Gentleman again dealt with the subject. I have already said, and no one knows better than the right hon. Gentleman himself, that so far as the Dominion Premiers were concerned no one resented more than they any party capital being made out of their presence here. Six days after, again, mark you, when the Imperial Conference were considering the offer, the right hon. Gentleman again deals with the situation. He then reverses the previous declaration. If the previous declaration did not mean food taxes, as the Dominion Premiers intended, how is it that on the 16th of October you announced—[HON. MEMBERS: "Not 'you'!"]—how is it the Leader of the Opposition announced that they as a party had adopted the quota system, and in explaining it, said:
We have adopted this method in preference to a tariff on foreign wheat.
[Interruption.] Am I putting it either too high or unfairly? [HON. MEMBERS:
"Yes!"] On one day you adopt the principle of a tax on food, and six days after, While the Conference is sitting, say, "We have a better method than the taxing of food." The real facts are these. We are being censured because we did not examine and consider the Dominions offer, and we are being condemned by the right hon. Gentleman although he knows perfectly well that he himself could not have accepted it. As the right hon. Gentleman has asked me a question, I will ask him this question. When he submitted his General Election speech to the country in 1929 he pledged himself against any tax on food. There is no doubt about that. When he made that solemn pledge he knew that the Imperial Conference was to be held the next year. Therefore, had he been returned to office he would have met the Imperial Conference with his pledge, "No tax on food." Then if the Dominions had made to him the same offer that they made to us, his choice would have been either to break his pledge or, as he said yesterday, have discussed the offer and immediately appealed to the country. [Interruption.] So we are going to unite the British Commonwealth by doing this! In 1923 that was done, and what happened? That is exactly what you did on the last Conference, with the result that the electorate said, "No, you are not going back."
I submit, therefore, that we ought not to be censured. We are entitled to say, as I now say, that if the right hon. Gentleman had kept his pledge he would have been in precisely the same position as us and would have had to give the same answer.
On a point of Order. A moment ago the right hon. Gentleman said he would explain to the House who it was he called a humbug, and I think we are entitled to know. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman has made a very serious allegation against a Prime Minister and I think we are entitled to know against whom he makes that allegation and whether he is going to substantiate it.
If for a moment there is any such interpretation on what I said I withdraw it. Obviously! I never said, never intended to say, that of any individual. I said distinctly the proposals were humbug.
Any appeal made by Mr. Speaker I must accept, and I shall proceed at once to examine the proposals and let the House draw their own conclusions. In exchange for a tax on foodstuffs, British soft coal, which is now taxed ls. 7½d. per ton into Canada, would get a benefit of 5 cents per ton. Germany, the Argentine, the United States and Netherlands all admit our coal free now. Railway rails—and I am only choosing the big industries where there is unemployment—have a duty in Australia of 2s. 4d. per cwt.; the Netherlands and Argentine admit them free. The rate on foreign imports into these Dominions is, of course, much higher. Let us see what that means. Suppose that a tariff rate is fixed that precludes the possibility of our competing, of what value is any preference? The whole thing becomes absurd. I could go through a long list, cotton goods, woollen goods.
I could show that sewing machines, not an unimportant manufacture in this country, have a preferential rate into Australia, of 15 per cent. against us, while Germany only imposes 9 against us. Cranes and hoists: 55 per cent, in Australia, Canada 15 per cent., Germany 6, France 10, Netherlands and Argentine free. Cotton piece goods—an important industry: Canada 21 per cent., Netherlands 8 per cent., Argentine 15 per cent. Woollen goods: Canada 37 per cent., Australia 66 per cent., Germany 22 per cent., France 12 per cent. Now we are censured for not considering it. What we had to consider was that, in return for the tax we were asked to impose, these benefits that I have set out were to be accorded to us. Is there any ex-Minister on the other side of the House, or any Member who will go to the Lancashire cotton trade or the Yorkshire woollen trade, the coal industry, the electrical industry, and talk to business men, apart from their politics, leaving politics entirely aside, and say to them: "Here is the offer, this is what it amounts to. In return, this is what you have to pay"? Is there any business man who would dare to take the risk of saying that would be a good business proposition? We decided to examine it, and we did examine it, and these figures I have given are the best evidence of our having done so. It was only after we had examined it closely, gone into every detail, and seen exactly how it would work, that we said: "No, it is not a good business proposition, and it is one that cannot be accepted by us."
Does not all this show the danger? I was surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin) say that, in his view—it must be very recently that he has come to the conclusion—you can cement the British Empire by this kind of bargaining. Suppose that there had been any such bargaining in operation two years ago. Suppose that there had been a bargaining arrangement about wheat or wool or maize or New Zealand butter. I take these as typical from different Dominions. When the abnormal slump in Canada, the abnormal situation in Australia, the difficulties in New Zealand or South Africa occurred, what would have been the position at this Imperial Conference? Would it not have been, as indeed it has been in some cases, that we should have been held responsible for the trouble? In Canada, would not the complaint have been made that we were responsible because we did not buy wheat at 1½ dollars whereas it is now 70 cents? I have no hesitation in saying that I can conceive of nothing that would have been more disastrous. Do not let us forget the history of the preferences in this country as well as in the Dominions. There is no exception to the rule that they were given because they felt they had an obligation, they felt they wanted to help us, that it was due to us. That is the spirit in which all the preferences were given, and, when you reduce these preferences to a mere bargain, I am quite certain that it will have nothing but disastrous results.
I am entitled to ask the right hon. Gentleman this: Was there no Empire problem in 1926? Are we to understand that it is only in 1930 that Imperial trade is of value? Are we to understand that it is only in 1930 that all these blessings can come? In 1926, so far as the economic side is concerned, it did not receive sufficient attention for the right hon. Gentleman the ex-Dominion Secretary to mention it at all. Yet this Government is to be censured because suddenly, in 1930, we did not re-constitute the Empire on an entirely new basis. The right hon. Gentleman was right in declaring quite definitely that 1920 was occupied with many constitutional difficulties, but he knows perfectly well that it is one thing to make a declaration about the British Commonwealth of Nations, creating a new status, declaring them co-equal partners, and it is another thing to be faced, as we were in 1930, with drawing up the necessary legislation that is going to embody these principles. Eighteen days out of the Imperial Conference were taken up by the heads of delegations alone, apart entirely from any sub-committees, exclusively in dealing with this new status.
What does it mean? Passing a declaration in 1926 is one thing, but what we had to do was to get a common agreement that in every one of the Dominions they would by joint resolutions of their Houses of Parliament submit to us their requests and that we should in this House introduce a Bill called the Statute of Westminster. What is it to do? It is to give legal effect to this new status. Then we had to deal with the vexed question of nationality, not an easy thing. Some of us were content to believe that the phrase "a British subject" was good enough for us all, but the Dominions took a different view. They say, "No, that very word itself savours too much of British domination," and a long time was occupied in trying to straighten that out. There was the question of an Empire tribunal so that we could at least present to the world a united front, and any difference between one Dominion and another, instead of being tried in a foreign court, at The Hague or anywhere else, should be determined and settled by ourselves. That was not only a very important, but a very significant admission of value to the Empire as a whole. Merchant shipping, the position of governors-general, a matter which has created delicate situations, these and all the things I have talked about had to be dealt with and occupied much of our time.
Therefore, I ask the House to believe that the right hon. Gentleman was not correct in assuming that we occupied the whole of our long sittings in merely considering the economic side of the business. On the economic side, I have already intimated to the House that we were unable to accept the offers made, but, if the new interpretation of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley of Mr. Bennett's proposal is correct that he only affirmed the principle that Imperial preferences were of value and a help to all, I want to make it clear to the House, as the Dominions already know, that we affirmed that principle as well. We put it on record, but we said quite clearly that it did not necessary follow that the only preferences were to be tariff preferences. There are many other ways of dealing with that problem. Over and above that we met the legitimate doubts which they expressed.
What was their first great anxiety? It was that so far as the existing preferences now enjoyed by them were concerned some guarantees for their continuity should be given. [An HON. MEMBER: "Safeguarding !"] No, that is not what they asked for. On Safeguarding, they said: "It is your business to look after your own country in your own way, and we do not want to interfere." But they did say that so far as existing preferences now given to them are concerned they should continue. We gave that assurance. It was readily given and given without any bargain of any kind. We did not say to them: "We will give you this, what will you give us in return?" [Interruption.] I thought the purpose of the debate was to show the value of reciprocity. I am rather showing that the Government did this without any bargaining, but the response justifies my previous statement. South Africa replied: "So far as we are concerned, we tell you right away that we will do precisely the same." That proves what I have contended throughout, that, if you are going to give a real solid advantage, give it because you believe it is right, and not in the huckstering spirit of bargaining.
But we gave something else. We not only enlarged the present scope of the Imperial Economic Committee, but we endeavoured to bring about a new secretariat for the Empire. I believe, and the Government believe, that nothing would be more valuable, instead of waiting for three or four years for the Imperial Conference to meet, than to have a permanent secretariat set up whose job it would be to examine and investigate weekly and daily. We endeavoured to bring that about, but unfortunately we failed because the Dominions themselves did not like the principle. There is still a sentiment—we have not heard much about it this afternoon in this debate—but the Dominions are still very suspicious of what they think means merely domination from London. We want to make it perfectly clear that, so far as the secretariat is concerned, we did not care where it sat or who were its officers as long as everyone was included. I still hope that that policy will mature at some future time.
We made alterations giving a guaranteed minimum, which is to be determined later, to the Empire Marketing Board, and the policy of the change is that, instead of the Empire Marketing Board merely advertising all the advantages of Dominion products, British products will be advertised as well. That is the second change. In addition to that, we gave close examination to the quota, the quota which I gather is now adopted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley. We not only examined it in relation to our own agricultural position, but also in relation to the possibility of its development in regard to the Dominions. We were unable, because of the difficulty of the 101 important and vital factors that are to be considered, to find a solution. There was an examination of bulk purchase and import boards. All these matters could not be settled in six weeks, but at this moment they are being further explored and examined with a single-minded desire to see if something practical can emerge from them.
There is nothing I have deplored more than to be compelled, because of the Press campaign outside and because of the Vote of Censure moved inside, to show the House exactly what the proposals were. If my task this afternoon had been merely to give a résumé of the whole of the Conference, it would have been much easier and much pleasanter. But the responsibility rests upon those who, before they knew the facts, proposed a Vote of Censure upon the Government. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley did not devote one-fiftieth part of the speech to the subject-matter. We are not doing a dis-service by speaking plainly, because the Dominions speak plainly. They never disguised from us that their policy was Canada first, Australia first, and South Africa first. Are we to be condemned because we say "Our policy is Great Britain first?" [HON. MEMBERS: "Russia first"] One would assume, so far as the Dominions were concerned, that they themselves were the only people that contributed, and we contributed nothing. What are the facts? Notwithstanding our defence, notwithstanding the value of our trustee securities, notwithstanding the contribution of the Empire Marketing Board, notwithstanding the value of British nationality, last year we bought from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the Irish Free State £30,000,000 worth more than they bought from us. You do not render them a service by running away from the facts. They are prepared, as we are prepared, to face them. They value these things and say so, but they much prefer to face the facts.
We did not discuss these matters with them as partisans. Mr. Bennett did not come here as a Tory leader, Mr. Forbes did not come as a Liberal leader, Mr. Scullin did not come as a Labour leader. They all came as representatives of the Dominions prepared to subordinate their particular party advantage, and examine the whole thing in the light of what is best for all. The idea that they went away bitterly disappointed only exists in the minds of those who know nothing about the matter. It is not true, and I still say that whoever attends the Ottawa Conference will have the benefit of the examination of 101 matters which will be to the advantage of all concerned. We have said that we will go there free to examine every proposal on its merits, and not blindly say, "We accept it," before we know what it is. That is not the way to run a Government.
I therefore sum up by saying that our work on the constitutional side, while giving the Dominions a new charter which will be known as the Statute of Westminster, preserves intact a common allegiance, and in the future will be looked upon as a measure which frees the self-governing Dominions from any tinge of domination by us. It is a difficult, laborious and delicate task, and one that we are not ashamed of. On the economic side, we have made it perfectly clear that the British Government must consider their people equally as much as the Dominions protect their own. We have consolidated the existing position. We have opened the way to a consideration and investigation of all the economic problems which will tend to consolidate the Empire, but we have definitely refused to subscribe to the view that it is only materialistic considerations which will bind us together. But we have not excluded any path which will tend to the happiness and comfort of our people. The strengthening of those ties of kinship and friendship is the great and most lasting of all. Before the night is out this Vote will be taken, a Vote of Censure on the Government for not doing what the right hon. Gentleman dared not have done if he had occupied this office. There is only one Member of this House who will go into the Lobby conscientiously on this Motion, and that is the hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor).
I ask for, and I am sure I shall obtain, that universal courtesy which is extended by this House to every Member making his maiden speech. I can assure the House that there is no one who desires it and needs it more than I do.
The failure of the Government to achieve any positive results in the economic sphere, or to come to an agreement on any common ground as a basis for the further development of inter-Imperial trade, is, in my opinion, notwithstanding what the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Dominions has said, a matter of profound disappointment to this country and to the Dominions. The failure of the Government has at any rate shown to the Empire their inability to lift themselves out of the rut of a strict adherence to a fiscal policy which has outstayed its welcome—which has served its purpose, no doubt, but which to-day is out of touch with realities and, so far as this Imperial Conference and the offer which was made are concerned, is an impenetrable barrier to any furtherance of inter-Imperial trade.
Admittedly the country is in a very serious position, overburdened as it is with taxation and with the certainty of that taxation being increased in the immediate future, with over 2,000,000 unemployed, with a greater and greater difficulty in obtaining a market at home for our own goods owing to the influx of foreign manufactured articles which we could make ourselves, and of foreign food, and also a steadily decreasing export trade, because, although the world export trade has increased by one-fifth since the War, ours is not yet more than four-fifths of what it was. The country is indeed in a very serious position, and, therefore, anything that can be done to obtain markets for our goods should commend itself to this Government or any other Government that might happen to be in office.
Markets, after all, are at the bottom of our trouble. If we could obtain more markets at home, if we could obtain greater markets outside our shores for the sale of our products, we should begin to see the end of the difficulty of the unemployment problem. There are many causes for the difficulty of selling our goods and for our unemployment. We have heard a good deal—the Prime Minister has mentioned it several times—on the subject of world causes, which no doubt are a factor; affecting all nations they will pass and a change will come about, and the question is whether, when these world causes have passed, we shall be in a position to take the fullest possible advantage of that change, and obtain a greater market for our goods both at home and outside our shores. Person- ally, I do not think so, because apart from these world causes, there are national causes which will still be operating. I will only mention two. One is the complete lack of confidence in the country at the present time, due to the action of the Government; the other is the continuance of a fiscal policy which will operate with greater and greater intensity against, us as time goes on. There is absolute proof that that will be so.
The Dominions have, of course, given us preferences for some time, but at this Economic Conference a definite proposal was made by Mr. Bennett, which has been disparaged to an extraordinary extent. I was amazed, although I am an extremely young Member of this House, at the speech of the Secretary of State for the Dominions, who poured contempt upon this proposal, who said that these proposals were humbug, who gave this House to understand that there was nothing really genuine about these proposals at all. That is a point of view with which I can have nothing whatever to do. They made this definite proposal—
The hon. and gallant Member will pardon my interrupting him, but this is important to the Dominions. If he says for one moment that I inferred that Mr. Bennett did not mean them as genuine, I must make that clear. I never said anything of the kind. [Interruption.]
I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that it was humbug. This proposal was made as a first step to improve and to increase inter-Imperial trade; there is no question about that. It was, of course, based upon reciprocal Imperial preferences. How did the Government receive this proposal? With a blank refusal to treat on the basis put forward by the Dominions, namely, Imperial preferences. I can understand that, because, apparently, in no circumstances whatever, however great the present or the future advantages might be to this country, have they any intention of deviating one iota from the fiscal policy of free imports which exists at the present time, so that the Dominions who send us food and raw materials in order that we may give them real preferences in our markets must be prepared to tax the foreign product wherever, that may be necessary. In my opinion—it may be entirely wrong—the basis of preferences in this country for the Dominions is identically the same as the basis for preferences for our goods in the Dominions, that is to say, taxation of the foreign product and either a reduction in taxation or a free import for our goods into their country. The Government would have nothing whatever to do with that.
For 30 years the Dominions have been giving us preferences. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of bargains; but they have never asked for a bargain; they have willingly given us preferences which have been of the greatest advantage to the manufacturing industries of this country. At every Imperial Conference which has taken place the Dominions have unanimously stressed the importance of Imperial preferences, and I would like, if the House will allow me, to read the Imperial War Conference resolution of 1917, which has already been referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. At that time, during the War, we were face to face with realities. It had then been borne in upon us how dependent we were upon the foreigner for the vital things which were necessary for this country, and, in order that that might never occur again, this resolution was agreed to:
The time has arrived when all possibly encouragement should be given to the developments of Imperial resources, and especially to making the Empire independent of other countries in respect of food, raw materials and essential industries. With these objects in view, the Conference expresses itself in favour of (1), the principle that each part of the Empire, having due regard to the interests of our Allies, should give specially favourable treatment and facilities to the produce and manufactures of other parts of the Empire.
That was passed in May, 1917, but little has been done to implement that pious and at that time very necessary Resolution. The late Conservative Government did give certain preferences to the Dominions, which were very favourably and thankfully received by them; but the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as I understand, is going to take the first possible opportunity to do away with them. That is not much encouragement to inter-Imperial trade.
I think that too much stress is being laid, not only throughout the country but in this House this afternoon, on the question of bargains. The Dominions during the last 30 years have never asked us for bargains, but they have willingly given us preferences during all that time, and are doing so to-day. As a matter of fact, at that time no bargains were possible on account of our fiscal policy. Today the time has come when they do not wish to continue this one-sided arrangement; they wish to alter it, and to take the first step towards greater inter-Imperial trade and the development of the Empire in the interests of the Empire. It is not, if I may say so, a question of markets, but of the development of the whole of the Empire, and the consolidation of that Empire so that finally the whole of its interests shall be primarily within itself rather than externally with the foreigner. That, I maintain, is carrying out this Resolution of 1917.
I deprecate very much the introduction of this question of bargains. That was not the spirit which animated the Dominions in giving us preferences originally; it was not the spirit which animated the Empire in sending its hundreds of thousands of men to the help of the Mother Country during the War. They did not then ask for any bargain; they did not ask for any quid pro quo; they did not say, "What are you going to give us?" but they came willingly, and they are bearing a tremendous load to-day owing to the part which they played in the Great War. During that time we were a united Empire in the cause of war, for the security of that Empire. Is it too much to ask to-day that we shall be a united Empire in the cause of the prosperity and the development of the Empire in time of peace?
One would have hoped that the Government would have received this offer that had been made by the Dominion Premiers, not in a niggardly fashion of bargaining— "What are we going to get out of it? We must be certain of our pound of flesh before anything is done" —one would have hoped that they would have accepted the spirit of the offer, not the details, but the spirit. The details could have been worked out afterwards. They had the opportunity of saying to the Dominions: "We propose now to jettison the old policy of treating you no better than we treat the foreigner. We will reverse our fiscal policy, and we will treat you as part and parcel of our own people." It was a magnificent opportunity, but the Government have rejected it. It would have brought about a very much greater freedom of trade for one quarter of the habitable world, a magnificent ideal which was possible and practicable. It has been put forward before, and there has always been this opposition to it. "There must be certain restrictions, because we are building up behind our tariffs nascent industries of our own, and, if we pull the tariffs down, those industries will be ruined." That occurred in the Dominions, in the United States, and in Germany, but ultimately the whole of that opposition was converted into wholehearted co-operation and the ideal was achieved. I do not see why it should not be possible so far as the Empire is concerned. Every year the Empire buys £600,000,000 worth of manufactured articles, of which less than a half comes from Great Britain. There at once is an immense field for the extension of inter-Imperial trade without interfering in any way Whatever with these nascent industries in our Dominions.
I do not think we can possible visualise a really expanding market either on the Continent or in any foreign country. After all, they are year by year manufacturing more and more for themselves. They are raising tariff walls against us; they are making it more and more difficult for us to get into those markets, and they are sending us each year in addition some £300,000,000 worth of their manufactured goods. We cannot visualise, if we take the long view—and we must take the long view—that there is any real expansion for our export trade to the foreigner. If we turn our eyes to the Dominions, with their vast, undeveloped, unpopulated areas, their immense potential wealth in minerals and raw materials, then indeed it is possible to visualise an enormous expansion of export trade for our industries and prosperity for our country. It only requires a start to be made. Unless we make a start, nothing whatever can be achieved, and it is because this Government has not been prepared to make a start and to accept the principle which the Dominions offer that I consider they deserve this Vote of Censure.
After all, with the closest co-operation which we should ultimately receive from every single Dominion, the Empire would become so strong economically that it would be able to force down the tariff barriers of the remainder of the world and achieve what we all have as our ideal, the greatest possible freedom of trade throughout the whole world. Owing to the rejection of the offer by the Government, that is not possible. They have no intention of reversing their policy. They have nothing really to offer the Dominions. The country has nothing whatever to expect from this Government in greater inter-Imperial trade. All that the country can look forward to is increased taxation in order to provide temporary and palliative work for the unemployed, paid for by increased taxation, still further crippling our industry and making it more and more difficult for us to maintain our markets either at home or outside our shores. With the rejection of this offer, the Dominions will be forced to make more and more trade agreements between themselves. They will be forced more and more into the hands of the foreigner, and such a process must inevitably loosen the ties of Empire and it is only a matter of time, if it goes on, until we are an Empire merely in name and become finally disintegrated altogether.
I should like to make a very brave suggestion. Is it not possible for this fiscal question, which is the ruin of the country to-day, because we have no continuity of policy as long as it exists, to be lifted out of the sphere of party politics? I expected hon. Members to laugh, but nothing is impossible, and I am certain there are Members in the House who are perfectly prepared for the change, who wish it to come about, and behind them there is a great mass of opinion in the country. If it is possible to do that, then and then only will it be possible to set up outside the House a permanent, Imperially constituted body whose business it will be to go into all the measures necessary for the economic development of the Empire in the interest of all its units. Then we should have continuity of policy and continuity of purpose, and we should finally achieve what we all so much desire, a strongly developed and strongly consolidated British Empire. We all desire peace. Peace is vital to the Empire, more perhaps than to any country in the world. We must have peace in order that we may develop the Empire. We have more to lose by war and more to gain by peace than anyone else. A strongly united Empire, united not only by the ties of trade but of sentiment and every other possible tie, is the surest guarantee for peace in the world now or at any time in the future. Any step taken by any Government which will loosen those ties, which will make that guarantee less secure, will carry a very heavy responsibility and its action will be both retrograde and reactionary.
I am particularly glad that it falls to my lot to follow the hon. and gallant Gentleman, for I have the privilege of being one of his constituents. I cannot say I feel any assurance that he will always represent in this House my opinions, but, at all events, I can feel that we in South Paddington are represented by a Member who is a very able and cogent exponent of the views that he holds. I am sure also that I am expressing the opinions of the whole House, without distinction of political creed, when I congratulate him on the favourable impression he has made upon his older colleagues by the sincerity, the lucidity, and the ability of his speech. But many of us were hoping that he would seize this opportunity to express, with the forcefulness of which he is capable, his opinion of the views of fiscal policy which were expressed from the Front Opposition Bench. He is the sole representative in the House of the Empire Crusade party, and, as such, is the member of the only party that can be sure of being unanimous on all occasions. I am convinced that it must have been very gratifying to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin) to find that the hon. and gallant Gentleman, having defeated his official candidate at the poll, is at all events ready to support his Motion of Censure.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman ended with a loftly appeal for a greater degree of unanimity, free from party prepossessions, in dealing with this large question of Empire policy. I am obliged to assure him that, so long as there is any section of opinion in this country that persists in asking Parliament deliberately by Statute to impose taxation upon the food and raw materials of the people, such unanimity is wholly impossible. The first step he should take to obtain unanimity is to cease his crusade. He said, after all, that the policy we should adopt here is the same as that which has been adopted in the Dominions, namely, to tax the foreign article. But there is all the difference in the world between the economic position of this country and of the Dominions. To them taxing the foreign article means taxing manufactured goods. That is open to objection in our view from many standpoints, and I cannot be taken as acceding to it. Here taxing the foreign article in order to give a preference to the Dominions must mean taxing the food of the people and the raw materials of manufacture, and the question before the House is really in effect whether they approve of a policy of that character.
The House would have been glad to have the question elucidated as to what hon. Members above the Gangway really mean by their Vote of Censure, and. what their alternative is. The whole country is interested in it. Every housewife is interested, when she goes marketing on a Friday or a Saturday, to know whether the policy proposed by the hon. and gallant Gentleman is to be officially adopted by the Front Opposition Bench, and whether it is to be carried by the Members of Parliament who sit on these benches. But we are left in a state of confusion. As for Lord Beaverbrook's views, there is no doubt about them. He has been frank and outspoken. He wrote to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley not long ago:
What we can obtain now is a tariff wall round the Empire with duties on foreign foodstuffs, which is an essential part of the programme.
That is, of his programme. On another occasion he said that if anyone declared in connection with his policy that it might not be necessary to tax food, they might just dismiss him; he was either a fool or a liar. That is clearly the policy of Lord Beaverbrook. Then we had only the other day a declaration by the Chairman of the Conservative party that he saw nothing in the shape of any difference between them, that is between himself and Lord Beaverbrook, that was worth fighting about. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook
(Mr. Amery) in the more flamboyant that tones that we sometimes expect from him said:
Who boggles at the idea of food taxes? At any rate, Mr. Baldwin does not. Mr. Baldwin has taken that fence in his stride.
But then we come to another colleague of theirs, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, speaking with the engaging frankness which characterises him in these days, said a little while ago, in his own constituency:
What they (the farmers) seek—whether it be our farmers here or their fellow citizens in Canada and Australia—is higher prices for the food they have to sell. This makes the question of food taxes very difficult and very dangerous for our party. The food tax issue might be so mishandled as to produce great distress. There are scores of constituencies in the North and Midlands of England and in Scotland whence they have been advised that a policy of taxing the staple foods of the people will destroy, or at least imperil, our chances of Victory, and will render the task of many of our candidates who are fighting the hardest seats in the darkest districts practically impossible.
Where do hon. Members above the Gangway stand in that connection? The prescience of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping was immediately displayed in a recent by-election in the Shipley Division, where the official Conservative candidate sent the hole constituency a leaflet containing these words:
I pledge myself to every elector in the Shipley Division that if you elect me to Parliament I will not vote for any tax on the people's food.
There seems to be a little boggling there. We have just had a maiden speech from another Member returned to Parliament as a supporter of food taxes, and possibly the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Lockwood) might be induced to favour the House with a maiden speech to express his view as to what is the nature of the "free hand."
The House is invited to censure the Government for not accepting the offer of the Dominions. The only definite offer that was made on behalf of the Dominions was that made by Mr. Bennett. It has necessarily been commented on in the House to-day. He said in a speech very familiar to all of us that the main economic necessity of
Canada at this moment was to secure a larger market for her wheat in this country, and he used these words:
This market we want,
and declared that if they were successful in obtaining the British market for Canadian wheat, he was prepared to pay for it by giving an increase in the existing duties on certain foreign manufactures imported into Canada of one-tenth, not a flat rate increase of 10 per cent. As the Canadian tariff is mostly 20 or 30 per cent., he would increase that to 22 or 33 per cent. as against foreign goods. That is the offer. They would add taxes of 2 or 3 per cent. to certain manufactured goods coming into Canada. Is there any Member above the Gangway who would have accepted that offer in those terms? Is there anyone?
I am quite convinced that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spark-brook, who will speak later in the debate, could not conceivably have accepted it. He has declared his views of what would be likely to be a reasonable bargain. He is an active member of an organisation called the Empire Economic Union, which has a number of distinguished men connected with it. Lord Melchett is its president, Lord Lloyd is its chairman, and the right hon. Gentleman himself is a leading member of its executive committee, together with a number of hon. Members above the Gangway and a Number of Noble Lords from another place. The right hon. Gentleman is himself the chairman of the Research Committee of the Empire Economic Union which has just published a most interesting report. He has been good enough, in this report, to draft a series of treaties between Great Britain on the one hand and India and each of the Dominions on the other. He proposes, and states quite candidly, what are the articles of consumption in this country he desires to see taxed—almost all of the foodstuffs, and, in addition, feeding-stuffs like maize and oilseed cake, vegetable oils, hides and skins. And all these, together with all the ordinary articles of foodstuffs, are to be subject to new tariffs, and a quota is to be applied to wheat. The right hon. Gentleman has also drawn up schedules stating what should be the corresponding advantages to be afforded to us in the Dominions. He says in this report that articles are to receive a preference of not less than 20 per cent, ad valorem or half of the duty, whichever may be the greater. He does not specify the articled. Unhappily, it is left blank. It is, as the newspapers say, "to be continued in our next," just when one comes to the most interesting part. But his view of what is a fair preference to the Dominions in return for advantages given to us is 20 per cent. or half of the actual duty. Mr. Bennett's offer is an increase of 2 or 3 per cent. on the existing duties. I invite the right hon. Gentleman, therefore to say, when he speaks this evening, whether he himself, if he had been in office, would for a moment have accepted the offer of Mr. Bennett as an adequate bargain for this country?
Let us see how this proposal would work out in relation to some of our great industries. I will take one in which I as a Lancashire member am greatly interested, as are other hon. Members of this House. The cotton industry is one to which Mr. Bennett referred in one of his speeches. This is what he said:
If we have imposed duties against your textiles, it is because we pay nearly twice the wages that are paid to the Lancashire people.
He went on:
If there are cotton goods that you make here in England that we do not make, then it might be possible for you to compete, but to the extent to which we manufacture the same kind of cotton as you manufacture in Lancashire we cannot allow you to bankrupt our industry. I am putting it brutally, but as frankly as I can; and that is the position.
That is perfectly plain, and beyond the possibility of misunderstanding. In the first place, Lancashire does not for a moment admit that Canadian wages are twice the wages paid in this country. As far as the spinning section is concerned, the hours of work in Canada are longer than they are here. They are 50 to 55½ hours a week, and here 47½ to 48, and the wages are not very much higher. As far as weaving is concerned, the wages are considerably higher, but, on the other hand, the weaver in Canada works six or eight looms, sometimes 10, in the place of the four looms here. As a matter of fact, it is estimated that the labour cost in Canada is about 30 per cent. higher than it is in this country. As a further deduction, there must be taken into
account the fact that in Canada it is customary to work two shifts in the day, which greatly reduces the overhead charges and correspondingly reduces the cost of manufacture. The effect of it all is, that the labour costs may be, as
say, perhaps 30 per cent, higher.
The duty upon a typical Lancashire cotton cloth of 100 square yards was, before Mr. Bennett came into office, 27 pence, and it was possible to do a trade in Canada with that typical kind of cotton cloth. He and his own Government in the last few months have raised it to 58 pence, and 58 pence is snore than the whole of the labour cost of manufacture in Lancashire. The new duty is more than all the wages that are obtained by the Lancashire worker for the manufacture of these articles. And those duties, as part of the proposal which he has made, Mr. Bennett does not propose in any degree to reduce. They are to stand exactly as they are. All that is to be done is to increase by an additional 10 per cent. a duty, already prohibitive for us, in order that it may be still more prohibitive against America. What difference does it make to us, if we cannot climb a 10-foot wall, if the American is called upon to climb an 11-foot wall? No wonder the Manchester Chamber of Commerce declared that Mr. Bennett's offer involved sacrifices out of all proportion to the benefits he offered. If the Government have to be censured for not accepting this offer, is there a Member who would have voted for the acceptance of the offer?
The Government emphasized in their declaration before the Conference the great importance of the development of inter-Imperial trade and they said that they were prepared to promote it subject to two conditions. They said—and it is quoted in the official report:
The interests of the United Kingdom should preclude an economic policy which would injure its foreign trade or add to the burdens of the people.
Is that wrong? Is that a case for censure? Do you say that our foreign trade ought to be injured or that the burdens of the people ought to be increased? Let none of us commit the folly of supposing that our foreign trade is of no importance to the employment of our people. It is true that Empire
trade has greatly developed in the last generation and, vast in its volume and great in its value, gives immense employment to hundreds of thousands of our fellow-countrymen. Empire countries bought last year no less than £324,000,000 worth of our goods—a splendid trade, which we wish to see developed in every possible direction. But the foreigner, who is supposed to refuse to buy from us at all because of his tariffs, bought from us not £324,000,000 worth but £405,000,000 worth, and if the one is of value to the employment of our people, the other is of much greater value. Canada buys from us a great volume of goods, but Germany bought from us last year more than Canada. Holland bought from us more than New Zealand. South America bought from us more than Australia, and France as much, practically, as South Africa. Let it not be thought for a moment that I depreciate the value of Empire trade, but let us regard this matter in a common-sense fashion, which we are bound to do in the interests of our constituencies, and realise that if we were to reject the larger half or hamper the larger part of our trade, we should be injuring the real interests of our people.
No doubt the Dominions import from us very much more per head of their population than any other part of the world, and it is, therefore, greatly to our interest to encourage that trade. But, unfortunately, the number of heads of the population is still comparatively small if we take into account the whole of the world outside. In the Dominions, including the Irish Free State, the whole of the white population, is only 22,000,000 persons, while the population of all foreign countries outside the Empire is 1,400,000,000 persons. It will surely be the height of folly to hamper or to restrict the trade with 1,400,000,000 in order to develop and to maintain in some degree our trade with the 22,000,000.
This controversy turns wholly on the question of wheat. That was the issue mainly before the Conference. The Canadians desire to secure a larger hold upon the British market in competition very greatly with the Argentine, and Australia and New Zealand wish to obtain a hold upon this market in competition with Argentine meat. And to a great extent we have to consider whether it would be economically advantageous to restrict our trade with the Argentine in the interests of the Dominions.
Let me come back for one moment to cotton. The Argentine buys from us three times as much cotton goods as Canada, so that when Lancashire has to consider the problem as to whether she wishes to restrict trade with the Argentine in favour of Canada, she has to remember that the one is three times as large a customer as the other. If we cut off these imports from the Argentine, which are the only things she can send to us, wheat and meat, how can the Argentine pay for the £29,000,000 worth of exports that we send to her, and how can she pay the interest of £25,000,000 a year which she has to pay upon the vast British capital invested in the Argentine? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook, in the report which I have already quoted, recognises this fact, because he says, in the introduction to the report:
There are other countries entirely outside our political orbit, such as the Argentine, where the importance of our commercial interests and the extent of our capital investments warrant special consideration.
What, then, becomes of the self-contained Empire? What becomes of the whole campaign of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor)? Does he agree that special consideration should he shown to the Argentine? If so, the whole basis of the Empire Crusade disappears. But if he thinks that special consideration should be given, to what extent should it he given, and by what means? Are we to pick out one country, the Argentine, and say: "You shall have special treatment" and refuse it to, say, Brazil What would be our position in negotiating commercial treaties with the whole world if we were to try to pick and choose in that way? If we deny most-favoured-nation treatment to certain countries in the interests of others, what will happen when we endeavour to negotiate for ourselves most-favoured-nation treatment in those other lands? Undoubtedly, one of the conditions laid down by the Government, that no measures taken should injure our foreign trade, would not be fulfilled if we were to impose a new tariff on the imports that we receive in such large volume
from foreign countries, in exchange for which we send out large masses of manufactured goods.
The other condition is, that it should not add to the burdens of our people. Will it not add to the burdens of our people? Right hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway are very much afraid of the cry of food taxes. They are anxious to tell the people that that is merely a bogy, and that they will not impose any taxes that will raise the cost of living to the masses of the people. What are they going to do? They have promised the farmers that there shall be a guaranteed price for millable wheat and that there shall be a quota for British wheat and for Dominion wheat, a minimum percentage which must be used in all flour mills in this country. Will that not impose burdens upon the people? It depends, of course, upon what the price is to be. We are not told anything about that. We should not know why we have not been toll! anything about it if we had not the frank candour of the right hon. Member for Epping who, a few days ago, told the country the reason. He said:
In addition, we propose to guarantee prices. We have not said what the price is to be, for obvious reasons"—
I should not have known what the reasons were, but they were obvious to him,
for the moment the figure was mentioned the National Farmers' Union would say, 'What's the good of that?' and immediately would press for a higher figure.
Therefore, hon. Members from agricultural constituencies are to be invited to hold back the figure from the farmers, because they know that the farmers would be discontented with it, until after the General Election, when their discontent would not matter so much. They are not to be told what the figure is, because the National Farmers' Union would say: "What's the good of that?" We know that if the figure is to be such as to fulfil the conditions laid down by the right hon. Member for Bewdley, that arable farming is to be made to pay upon ordinary land, it must be in the neighbourhood of 20s. a quarter higher than the present price. Who is to provide that 20s. a quarter? We are never told. Hon. Members speak of guaran-
teed prices, stabilised prices and making farming pay, but where is the money to come from that is to enable the farmers to gain higher prices? How much is it going to cost the country, directly or indirectly, through taxes or through higher prices, to effect this for the benefit not only of British farmers but also of Canadian farmers? What will be the cost? You will have to defray not only the extra cost of wheat now grown, but the enormous increase in the production of wheat which must follow from any measure of this character. If the Government of the day go to the farmers and say: "We guarantee a remunerative price for the wheat you produce," every farmer will have an inducement to grow that crop on any of his land where it can be grown. Whatever may be the chances of the markets in other commodities, he will know that so long as he grows wheat he will be sure of a profit. Therefore, the area of the wheat crop must very largely increase, at the expense of other crops that may be less certain in their financial yield.
Let me remind the House of a fact which was mentioned in a slightly different form in yesterday's debate upon the imports of foreign wheat. At the end of the last cereal year, 21st July, the countries which exported wheat had a surplus ready for export of 153,000,000 quarters, and the countries that import wheat had a prospective demand of 94,000,000 quarters—153,000,000 quarters of supply and 94,000,000 quarters of demand. In these circumstances, it is obvious that more wheat has been produced in the world than the world really requires, and yet we have agrarians in this country and in other countries adopting all kinds of fiscal expedients in order to tempt and bribe farmers to grow more wheat. And, this, we are told, is a businesslike proposition. We are to pay, either out of taxes or from the consumers' prices, higher prices for wheat in order that our farmers may grow more of a commodity which is already produced in too large a measure in the countries of the world. Let it be remembered—this has been mentioned before—that millable wheat represents only 3 per cent. of the whole produce of British agriculture, while other commodities represent 97 per cent. For the sake of this 3 per cent, of produce we are to upset our fiscal system and run grave risks in regard to the prices of the food of the people.
Will the right hon. Member for Spark-brook, who is to speak later, tell us if his schemes are to be limited to wheat? What about oats? Hon. Members from Scotland are not in the least interested in wheat, but they are very greatly interested in oats, and so are representatives from many other parts of Great Britain. When Parliament, 10 years ago, sought to give a subsidy to promote the growing of corn, the whole scheme broke down, not on account of wheat, but on account of oats, because the expenditure was found to be so vast that the public purse could not endure it. That is the main point on which we require an answer. You cannot go to the farmers in this country and in Canada and say, "You are not going to have a higher price, although we have developed an elaborate scheme of quotas and preferences." Are they seriously to be expected to believe that at the end of it all they are to get not 6d more for their wheat in Canada or in Great Britain than they are getting to-day? Obviously, the purpose of the whole scheme is to raise the price obtained in the market. Who is to pay the increase? Is it to be the British consumer or the British taxpayer?
The Conservative party in recent years have emphasised three principles with which I do not quarrel. One of them is that it is of great importance to keep the interference of politicians away from business. The right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) is continually saying how important it is that political interference should be kept away from business. The second point is, that we are to avoid the appointment of fresh hordes of Government officials, and the third point is that we are to practise the utmost economy. In the words of the Leader of the Opposition:
The Conservative party will devote all its energies, from the moment that it comes into office, to securing reductions both in expenditure and taxation.
Three very admirable propositions! But so far as the quota is concerned, so far as taxing the importation of foreign wheat and foreign flour is concerned, will not that be interference by poli-
ticians in business, in the grain trade and in the milling trade, introducing continual uncertainty, fresh quotas having to be fixed, possibly every few months, as hi Germany, no one knowing what step may be taken next by the boards or other authorities which will have to deal with these vast and important matters of commercial business? So far as hordes of officials are concerned, all the millers will have to be officially supervised, licences will have to be given for the wheat and flour importations, and we shall have a new bureaucracy established for the purpose. Will not such expenditure come as a heavy burden? There is to be restriction of expenditure and reduction of taxation, and the very first step taken by a Conservative Government will be to ask the Exchequer to provide millions of pounds for a State subsidy for agricultural produce. The whole scheme has been most inadequately considered. It is not a well-thought-out, carefully built-up economic proposal, based purely upon economic grounds. It is a hurriedly-devised scheme, merely intended to provide the Conservative party with an agricultural policy. If the quota loaf proves to be as half-baked as the quota scheme, it will be indigestible, indeed.
Let it not ho thought that these are the only things that can be done in order to promote Empire development and Imperial unity. The Imperial Conference accomplished a great deal of excellent work in various directions, to which too little attention has been drawn because the attention of the nation is continually devoted to the proposals of hon. and right hon. Members above the Gangway, who persist in mumbling the shibboleths of an outworn pre-Cobdenism. The Imperial Conference made a number of useful proposals in regard to the constitutional situation. On the economic side there is a long list of measures—practical measures—which they have proposed to promote Empire production and Empire trade. In the debate which we initiated from these benches on the Dominions Vote, a few months ago, before the Imperial Conference was held, we made a number of practical suggestions, and we are glad to find that several of them have been carried into effect, with universal approval. We do not claim any patent in those suggestions; they have been advanced from other quarters as well. In particular, the Marketing Board is to have its valuable activities extended and to be used in the Empire countries to promote the sale of British goods, and not only the sale of Empire goods in this country. We suggested that these matters should not be left only to the discussion of a conference held once every four years, but that there should be some continuous authority always at work upon them, preparing schemes and providing initiative. We suggested that there should be something in the nature of a Standing Committee on Imperial development. That is to be done, and the Imperial Economic Committee is to have its status raised and its scope expanded. These are all most valuable measures.
I beg hon. Members above the Gangway not to think that those who oppose schemes of Imperial preference do so because they are opposed to the idea of Imperial unity and Imperial development. It is not so. We do not question for a moment the sincerity and zeal, the patriotic motives, which animate their efforts, but the means which may be adopted for a good end may be unsound. King George III was a great patriot, many saw in him Bolingbroke's "Patriot King." His American policy was dictated and pursued by him and his Ministers solely on the grounds of Imperial patriotism and unity, yet it resulted in the greatest blow the Empire has ever suffered. We believe that all these measures to form binding agreements between the various parts of the British Empire would not, in the long run, conduce to Imperial unity. Closer contact might mean greater friction.
Hon. Members say that no real sacrifice is involved to the people of this country, and that if it were it would be worth while for the sake of the cause of Empire. We say that a real sacrifice will be involved, and that because of that sacrifice the measures proposed will not promote Imperial unity. As long as these preferences are unilateral, freely given by each Dominion without interference and in their own interests, they may be useful, but the moment you make them bilateral, in the form of a contract from which neither party can escape without the consent
of the other, you introduce a grave peril into the relations of the different parts of the Empire. Sir Robert Peel once said that he was
Wearied by the…long and unavailing attempts to enter into satisfactory commercial treaties with other nations.
It was largely that fact which converted him to Free Trade. And it will be found as the years go by, if this policy is adopted, that this country also will find it exceedingly hard to enter into satisfactory commercial treaties. The bitter controversies which would be likely to take place year after year when the quotas and the treaties came to be reviewed would not conduce to imperial unity, but would gravely imperil it. If Mr. Chamberlain, when he advocated his policy 25 years ago, had succeeded, and if at that time treaties had been made with the Dominions as they then were, and on the basis of their production at that time, telling India perhaps that she should freely admit Lancashire cotton goods into her territories and similarly requiring the Dominions to admit many British manufactures into their country which are now excluded, it would have been very convenient for Lancashire and for us, but what would have been the position 25 years afterwards with the Nationalist movement in India and similar movements in the Dominions demanding greater freedom to create their own manufactures in their own way? It could not have been done without, revising the treaties and we should have had to say to the Dominions: "This is a bargain. If you refuse to allow our goods in according to the Treaty of 1905 then, of course, we shall cease to give you preference for your wheat, your tea, your hides and all your other products." Would that have conduced to Imperial unity? You are inviting the Empire again and again to engage in a controversy which cannot fail to be serious, and may frequently become hitter. That is not the way to promote Imperial unity.
It is worst of all with regard to the Native Territories. The Dominions can speak on their own behalf through their own Governments. The other colonies, with tens of millions of inhabitants, East and West Africa, Ceylon and the rest, are governed directly from Whitehall, and if they come to think that their economic interests are being managed here not by trustees in their own interests, but on behalf of British manufactures for the development of their territories as markets for our goods, you will have struck a great blow at the very foundations of Imperial loyalty and unity. We suggest that this policy is not to be accepted for the sake of the objects it seeks to promote.
Our position is fully understood by the Dominions. The Prime Minister of New Zealand said:
In the preferences which New Zealand has consistently accorded to British goods we have never at any time looked for a quid pro quo, and we do not do so now?
General Hertzog, the Prime Minister of South Africa, at the end of the Imperial Conference said:
If our proposals are not accepted on account of British interests, South Africa will have no reason to complain. We in the dominions will have no reason to quarrel with anybody.
We think that the Government in the Imperial Conference has taken the right course, and, so far from being censured, deserve the commendation of this House.
I have listened to the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) with the pleasure with which I always hear his speeches, but I must say at the outset that his mellifluous eloquence has been directed to destroying a ease which only he has set up and replying to arguments which only he has stated. We are not seeking to censure the Government because it wishes to preserve our foreign trade or because it does not desire to add to the burdens on our people. We are censuring the Government because they have neglected a golden opportunity for increasing our foreign trade and stabilising the standard of life which we have reached, on a plane which will still give our people that amount of comfort which they have got and prevent them losing in the future what they already possess.
I ask the House to consider the circumstances in which the Imperial Conference was called. We are in great straits, and we assembled the Dominions at a moment which was very critical in the fate and fortunes of us all. The Dominions have nothing to lose. Exhypothesi, a Free Trade Government is never going to make it more difficult for their goods to enter our country than it is at the present time, and the preferences which we give them are not enough to constitute a very heavy factor in the matter. On the other hand, we have a great deal to lose. Would the Secretary of State for the Dominions be very happy if our Dominions to-morrow were to say that as a result of this Conference there is no good going any further and were to abrogate all the preferences they give to our trade. What would be the effect on British trade if they were to take that attitude? I say that the depression in this country would be aggravated twice over. We have every interest, in spite of what the right hon. Member for Darwen has said, in keeping all the preferences we have in these markets and doing all we can to see that they are retained.
What do we do; how do the Government act in these circumstances? They assemble a conference, and they tell the Dominions that the preferential duties for which all of them are asking will not be granted. They say that there are other methods which ought to be investigated and they send the Dominions into a conference or investigating chamber, having put before them suggestions for import boards and quotas and other such means for promoting Empire trade. These matters are discussed for the space of six weeks, and at the end the suggestions which the Government have made with regard to quotas having been carefully considered the Dominions give every indication that as far as they are concerned, whilst they think the quota system is not as good as a system of preferential duties, they are prepared to take it.
What is the position of the Government which has invited the Dominions to consider the quota system? It is to say: "We have not made up our minds on this matter. The proposal which we put before you we have not sufficiently considered, although we ourselves suggested it. Therefore, you must go away with nothing done." I cannot imagine anything that could be worse for the good feeling which the right hon. Member for Darwen is so anxious to preserve between the Dominions and the Mother country than treatment of that kind. What inducement is it to them to come back here again in a time of great difficulty? The Prime Minister of Australia, Mr. Scullin, travels 10,000 miles, at a time when his country requires all his help and guidance, to find that not only are his proposals with regard to preferences turned down but also that the scheme which the Government put before him is no longer to be considered; when they are just about to accept it they are told that decision must be deferred. That is one of the reasons why I think the House should strongly censure the conduct of the Government.
Our position in this matter is one which requires the most serious consideration. If you look at our trade you will find that half our export of manufactured goods were sent last year to our Dominions and, after all, it is the manufacture of goods which gives employment. For the first nine months of this year we sent £148,000,000 worth of manufactures to the five leading Dominions and £142,000,000 worth to foreign countries, in spite of the fact that these foreign countries have 16 times the population of the five Dominions. The United States of America, which has four times the population of these five Dominions, take only a quarter of the amount which they buy. And it is all very well to speak with derision about their numbers. We hope their numbers are going to increase, and the more they increase the greater the market for us. We ought to assist that increase by giving them advantages in our markets which will enable them to develop their own territories. If we want to help these markets for our awn benefit in the future it should be by giving them preferences.
I have always listened with amazement to the kind of argument which is put forward by the right hon. Member for Darwen, when he suggests that these preferences are of no advantage to us because they are made so high that even when the concession is granted there is still no hope of our being able to climb the tariff wall. He gave us the case of cotton in Canada. The fact is that Canada is attempting to build up her own cotton manufacture, but there are many other industries on which they are prepared to give us concessions. Take the case of Australia. I remember, when I was there, being asked to advocate on behalf of the iron and steel trade in this country to the people of Australia, that they ought to give us better preferences than they did in the matter of iron and steel. They said to me, "We observe that there are 2,000,000 tons of foreign steel in the year going into your own country, and do you not think that you should look after your own market before begging favours in ours"? After much reflection I see no answer to that suggestion.
When the argument is put forward that the tariffs against us are so high that we gain no benefit from the preferences, let me remind hon. Members that last year £28,000,000 worth of our manufactures entered Australia absolutely free of duty, whereas if those manufactures had come from foreign countries they would have had to pay an average duty of 15 per cent. Is that no benefit to our country? Is any hon. Member prepared to go up to Lancashire and say that he is entirely agreeable to the preference in favour of Lancashire cotton being taken off in Australia? How long would any hon. Member who did so hold his seat? How long would the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen hold his seat if he went to his own constituency and said that he was prepared to see the preferential duty in favour of Lancashire cotton abrogated in Australia?
There is a very prominent case with which, I am sure, the Secretary of State for the Dominions is familiar. I, too, happen to know something about it because I investigated it very carefully and I think I had a little influence in what was done in that case. Australia, to-day, is the greatest external market for our motor cars, and our preference there at the present time is 25 per cent. to 30 per cent. In the case of an unassembled chassis the preference is 20 per cent. and in the case of an assembled chassis it is 25 per cent. When I was in Australia I think the preference was 20 per cent. Requests were made to me and I urged certain individuals of prominence in Australia to increase that preference if they could do so, and last year they increased it by 10 per cent. I venture to say that but for that preference in Australia we could not hold for six months the market for motor cars which we hold at present. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State knows that the competition from America is so severe, as a result of their mass production, that we should be wiped out of the Australian market if we did not retain that preference. Are we going to do nothing in return for that kind of favourable action on the part of a Dominion? Do we expect to enjoy this preference for ever if we do nothing in return? I submit that we are jeopardising our future in the Dominion markets unless we take advantage of this opportunity of making terms with the Dominions. Mr. Bennett said, in language which was perfectly explicit, that we had now come to the time when we must take every step, and that we dare not fail. The Government have let us fail.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"]—indulged in another argument. He set up the argument, which I confess I have never been able to understand that if we do a bigger trade with the Dominions we shall lose our foreign trade. For the life of me I have never been able to appreciate that argument. Why should we lose foreign trade? I know a little about business and I know that the more secure you are in one market, the easier it is to enter another. The more you are able to sell in one place, the more effectively can you put your goods before any other markets into which you wish to enter. Naturally, the larger the amount which you can sell, the less your cost, and, accordingly, the cheaper the price at which you are able to offer your goods.
I think it is unquestionable that the bigger the assured market which we have in the Dominions the cheaper shall we be able to sell in the other markets of the world. What other reason is there for America so greatly increasing its export of goods? Having a very large internal market, the Americans are able to send their goods all over the world at prices which, even though they are paying the biggest wages in the world, have enabled them to compete against some of the cheapest wages in the world. So far from that following, which the right hon. Gentleman says must follow from tariffs; so far from it being true that tariffs reduce export trade, we have before us the most significant examples to the contrary in recent times. Whereas Before the War we were the greatest exporting country in the world, America to-day exceeds by £300,000,000 a year the amount of our exports. They even surpass our manufactured exports in spite of the fact that it is of very little consequence to America to have this trade as compared with us. It is vital to us, but it is a side-line with America. If anybody is going to give me the answer that because America is so wealthy you cannot draw any deduction from that experience, one has only to look at the case of Germany. Germany last year exported more manufactured goods than we did. Any man who understands the operations of business must realise that Germany has been able to increase its exports more than we have been able to do, because it has an assured market of its own and can manufacture in far greater quantity.
What is the kind of argument which we are going to put against the plea of the Dominions? They come here and say: "Give us preferential duties in order that we may be an assured market for your country," and we say, "Oh, no, we cannot do it." I ask the House to consider how this appears to the Dominions. They are all children of this mother country. They have all started imbued with our traditions and ideals. They have been brought up in a Free Trade land, and, without exception, under whatever sky they now live, they have Protection. They look round the rest of the world; they find that every other country of any importance in the world is Protectionist, and they simply do not understand us when we say that Protection is a system which we shall never adopt. They say, "Can it be that Great Britain is the only wise country in the world, and that all the rest of us are fools?" I wonder what Mr. Scullin thought when he read the speeches of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) in which they said that a tariff was a sinister device for reducing wages. Was Mr. Scullin, when he raised his tariff wall, engaged in a sinister device for reducing wages? One of his friends and comrades in the Australian Parliament said to me that the difficulty about having Empire Free Trade with us was that our wages were so much lower than theirs that they could not afford to let our goods come in to compete with their labour, otherwise they would have to bring their wages down.
What other argument are we to have? What is the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen? [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] When I was listening to him this afternoon my thoughts went back to an afternoon in this House not many months ago when the Coal Mines Act was under discussion. We know what that Act does. Free Traders enunciate the theory of free competition in order that prices may reach the lowest possible level. The right hon. Gentleman voted for the Coal Mines Act, which is a much more extreme form of Protection than has ever been applied in any country of the world. It gives the people who produce the coal the right, in each district, to fix the price, and their price is a minimum, and if anybody sells below it he is guilty of an offence against the Statute. Does anybody know of any Protectionist country with any more Protectionist measure than that?
More than that, when some form of defence to the consumer is being set up, what is the principle by which the inquisitors are to be guided? It is that the coal master will not be asking too much, so long as he does not fix his minimum price above a figure which will represent his cost plus a fair profit. What industry in. this country would not be delighted to have that principle applied to it? Would it be possible by any tariff to raise prices higher than by providing that every trade should be able to sell at prices defended by a Statute which has the effect of giving the producer the cost of the article plus a fair profit. Anybody who voted for that Bill can no longer describe himself as a Free Trader. I admire the right hon. Gentleman so much that there is a document which I always carry about with me and study in my moments of leisure, as being one of the best pieces of advocacy I have ever heard in this House. It is the right hon. Gentleman's speech on the Coal Mines Act. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] He has been talking to us this afternoon about raising prices against the consumer, but here is what he said on the Coal Mines Act:
It is to my mind certain that the effect of this Bill must be a considerable rise in the price of coal. That is, indeed, as we all know, its very purpose, and I do not envy the President of the Board of Trade in his conversations with other industries— the much depressed cotton industry for example— when he has to persuade them to acquiesce in this deliberate increase of prices; also the iron and steel industry and perhaps the gas industry.
But the right hon. Gentleman helped that Bill through Parliament. He went on to say:
I do not envy the Minister of Agriculture when he meets the farmers who say, to him 'We are a depressed industry and we are compelled by Act of Parliament to pay statutory rates of wages. You will not protect us; you will not agree to raise the prices of foodstuffs because you say it is oppressive to the poor; and yet, by Act of Parliament you are raising the price of coal. You are giving to this other industry an advantage which you deny to us.'
We have had it all again this afternoon but the right hon. Gentleman supported that Measure. His eloquence did not cease there. He proceeded:
I do not envy hon. Members opposite and in all parts of the House who are keenly interested in the welfare of the poorer districts of this country, and who honestly and sincerely spend their lives trying to raise the conditions of the poorer classes of our community. The cost of their living is a vital matter to them and yet, again, by Act of Parliament you are likely to raise—you Will raise—the price of coal and also of gas to the poorest of the population."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th December, 1929; col. 1308, Vol. 233.]
Why do we hear this hypocritical denunciation about the raising of prices? With his eyes wide open and having shown the House of Commons that he knew precisely what the Coal Mines Act was going to do, the right hon. Gentleman helped to put it through Parliament. As I say, I have the greatest admiration for the right hon. Gentleman's persuasive and clever way of stating things. But my admiration becomes severely mitigated when I find that his persuasion takes the form of deception. The Liberal party cannot come here to defend the position of Free Trade when you consider what their attitude is. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) puts forward as one of his devices for helping employment that we should renew the Trade Facilities Act, and that is supported by the Liberal party. But the fundamental stipulation of that Act is that everything paid for with the moneys guaranteed by it shall be produced in this country. There is no free trade about that. It is unnecessary to argue this question any longer.
The whole country is revolting against the Free Trade theory. The Trade Union Congress, for the first time in its history, has taken up this matter in an entirely new spirit. The Chambers of Commerce of this country are almost unanimously in favour of a change in our fiscal system. The Federation of British Industries, by 96½ per cent. of its members, has voted in favour of a system of tariffs. One of the arguments which has always been put forward is that if you put a tariff on one form of goods you make it difficult for other industries to carry on, and yet all the industries of the country are in consonance with this resolution of the Federation of British Industries, which has declared that every single industry has voted by a majority in favour of tariffs. It used to be said that the shipbuilding industry could not survive unless it got cheap foreign steel; but the ship-building industry voted for this resolution. The chairman of the Federation of British Industries, who was one of the main authors of this resolution, is himself one of the most enterprising shipbuilders in this country. How is it any longer to be said that the engineering and shipbuilding and other trades are opposed to tariffs when you find people whose whole fortunes are invested in these trades saying that the interests of the country demand a change in our fiscal system?
I believe that with the institution of tariffs you will find such a stimulation of trade as will surprise you. I am sure you will find that your employment has greatly bettered in a very short space of time, but I do not think, when we are looking towards the future, that that is enough. We have to remember that foreign countries are increasingly putting up tariffs against us. We have to look to markets which are favourable to our goods, and those we find in the Dominions, whose representatives have so recently been here. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen asked the question: "Would you have accepted Mr. Bennett's offer?" There is a very easy answer. He is rather misrepresent- ing Mr. Bennett, as I understand it. It is perfectly true that the 10 per cent. which Mr. Bennett offered is upon the amount of the duty that at present exists, but it is an addition to the duty and, accordingly, when he talks about an economic union demanding 20 per cent., it is already granted in most cases in which we would be most interested. But Mr. Bennett only put forward 10 per cent. as a basis of discussion, and our complaint against the Government is that they have never discussed it. They never said: "Suppose that we do this for you, will you give us something more?" [An HON. MEMBER: "How do you know?"] The records of the Conference are there.
No. The full records of the Conference are not yet published and will not be out for at least another month. The appendices have been published. That is my complaint. The Vote of Censure was put down before the records were out. It is not true that we did not ask other questions.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that assurance. I have only the public records to go upon. There was an opportunity of discussion and of arrangement and negotiation and arriving at conclusions, and that is what we censure the Government for not proceeding with. We have to look for our markets in future to the Dominions. I am perfectly certain that we are not to get anything out of foreign countries. Let us recall the experiences of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade who, with his heart full of the milk of human kindness and generosity to all men, expected that he was to get the great nations of the Continent to agree to a tariff truce. The first thing most of them did when that was mooted was to put up their tariffs, and they came to the Conference and said: "We will talk about it on the condition that you remain where you are." The great nations have stood out of it, and now he is going forward with an arrangement with the Northern nations of Europe with which we do only about 10 per cent. of our European trade. The tariff truce will mean that we are entering into an arrangement with those nations, but we are to tie our hands, so far as the other 90 per cent. of our trade is concerned, with people who are giving us no favours but will be entitled to enter our markets free for all time to come? We shall have to look to our interests in future. We have to look to our friends overseas who are, politically and spiritually, our own people. The time has arrived when from a commercial point of view we ought to pool our interests and unite our forces.
In the debate this afternoon and in previous debates on analogous subjects, we have been invited by hon. Members on the other side to consider the question of tariffs, preference and Imperial trade without prejudice and without regard to ancient shibboleths. That plea in itself is not very impressive, for we have heard it whenever there has been what was in the past called "a good bad winter." Nor is the argument by which it is supported very impressive. It is that foreign countries have now begun to build up great tariffs against us, that they have Industrialised themselves, that they are aiming at self sufficiency, that they are restricting their international trade, that the East is being closed to us by the development of industry in Eastern countries, that America is no longer open to us but has shut its doors fast against us, and that in consequence all the nineteenth century conditions have passed away and nineteenth century policies ought to be abandoned. I am one of those who believe that politics are intolerable unless you face the facts, and I am willing to face the facts and to abandon any prejudice, if I am subject to prejudice. And I agree that conditions have changed since the nineteenth century. But I think the changes that have taken place are not those which have been described by the other side. The changes are, first, that the international trade of the world has enormously increased and not diminished; and this is true of every country in the world, ourselves and all the Dominions included; second, that these changes are being forced forward by very powerful economic tendencies, the development of large-scale production, and the need for larger markets than a single nation can afford; and, third, and perhaps the most important and significant change of all, that we have to-day an instrument for economic co-operation between nations, by which it is possible and by which we have already succeeded in taking action for the checking and reduction of tariffs, by which it may be possible for us to get that conscious control of the economic life of the world for which hon. Members opposite sometimes ask.
May I give a few figures in support of this contention? In spite of such tariff increases as have occurred, and they are far less than are generally believed, the international trade of the world has not diminished. Surely, indeed, it has become a platitude to say that the world is a single economic unit, that the economic interdependence of nations, as a result of a process which have gone on for a century and more, increases year by year. Surely it is a platitude to say, too, that that economic interdependence has led to an increase in the wealth of every single nation, that the gain of one nation has not been the loss of others, and that as the wealth of Asia, Africa and America have been brought into the world pool, whether it be through the development of minerals, of agriculture, of raw materials or even of industry, the increase has been shared out among the nations by the processes of international trade. We are not living in an economic stone-age; we know what is happening.
If you look at the recorded statistics of world trade, you can prove that contention up to the hilt. I am not going to weary the House with a great array of figures. If right hon. and hon. Members will take the trouble to study the Memoranda on Trade and Production and Balances of Trade published by the Economic Section of the League of Nations, they will see that that proposition is amptly proved. Since 1913, in spite of the War and the economic dislocation which the War brought about, in spite of the aftermath of the War, such as Reparations, the Russian famine, the Chinese civil war, Indian unrest, and so on, which tended to check the wealth of the world and international trade, there has nevertheless been a growth of world population of only 10 per cent. and a growth of international trade of 24 per cent.
The same is true of every Continent. The population of North America has increased by 26 per cent. and its international trade has increased by 62 per cent.; in Africa, the population has increased by 10 per cent. and the international trade by 33 per cent. Look at individual countries. I will only give a few, taken at random—and these are real increases in the volume of trade calculated at 1913 prices, not apparent increases which represent nothing be cause of the change in price levels. In Denmark the imports are up by 42 per cent. and the exports by 73 per cent.; in China, which is one of the countries from which we are supposed to have been cut off by its industrialisation, the imports are up by 29 per cent, and the exports, in spite of the chaos which has been reigning there, by 37 per cent Look even at the United States of America, which, according to the Leader of the Opposition is closed more tightly than a prison. Since 1913 there have indeed been great increases in its tariff levels, but nevertheless United States trade has increased in imports by 81 per cent. and in exports by nearly 70 per cent.
With these figures before us, surely the conclusion is absolutely irresistible that even if there have been increases of tariffs, they have not affected the fundamental fact that international trade has also enormously increased. And the truth is that even those countries which, by tariffs, have done their utmost to make themselves self-sufficient and, as they believe, to keep out the "pernicious" exports—Germany and the United States—have not decreased their international trade or their trade with us. Their external trade has very greatly increased, and our trade with each of them has equally increased.
The same is true of the Far East. What happens, in fact, when a Far Eastern country begins to industrialise itself? It manufactures, perhaps, some cotton goods. That may, for a start, hit Lancashire hard because there is what economists call a "dislocation," one of the dislocations of which we shall never get rid until, through Socialism, we have taken conscious control of the economic life of the world. But what is the other side of the picture? What are the essential facts about countries like India and China? Surely hon. Members opposite should consider this question without prejudice. The facts are that India and China have begun to Westernize themselves, that they have begun to develop an international trade, that they are taking every kind of Western goods, whereas previously they took none—railway material, locomotives, rails, motor cars, bicycles, radios, gramophones, sewing machines, electrical equipment, and so on. The fact is that if you look at those countries and if you will examine their international trade, you will find that it has continually increased.
In view of those facts, I suggest that this argument of the increasing self-sufficiency of foreign countries is one which will not bear examination. There is a great, expanding world market. The world is becoming more and more one economic unit, with a single world economy. That is not only shown in the fact of the exchange of goods, imports and exports; it is true also, and it is very important, that it has increased by the development of world-wide businesses, by international trusts or combines, by international investment, by the operations of international finance, and by the gold standard, of which a great economist has said recently:
The gold standard has bound together the civilised world for good or evil in the greatest international partnership ever known to history.
If that is true of the world at large, it is true of this country, of the British Commonwealth, and of every country within the British Commonwealth. Take the British Commonwealth as a whole. Nearly three-quarters of its entire external trade is not with itself, but with the outside world—73.6 per cent. is the exact figure. Take Canada. Nearly 80 per cent. of her entire external trade is with foreign countries. Australia has a very large and continually increasing trade with foreign countries. And if you take Great Britain, one-third of all our population lives by his or her share in the processes of international trade. We import nearly £1,200,000,000 worth of goods which are vital to our life, because more than three-quarters of them are raw materials and foodstuffs, and a great part of the other quarter are partly manufactured goods, which are equally raw materials and vital to our industries. We have, also, greater international businesses than any other country in the world, we are still the greatest investors abroad, and in London, as a result of the world-wide gold standard, we have the greatest money market in
the world. I suggest that our rice in prosperity over the last 100 or 150 years has been due to the development of the world economy and that it is a wholly false conception, from our point of view, to think of an import as a pernicious thing, as hon. Members opposite sometimes do, or to think that a man is less patriotic if he does business with a foreigner than if he does business with a man who lives under the Union Jack. I suggest to hon. Members opposite that the true prosperity of the world can only be promoted by the joint action of all the nations together.
These facts become vitally important when you consider the fundamental question of our present distresses and how we are to meet them. We have had expert Commissions in recent years on that point, and we have had this question of the recovery of our exports examined by the greatest authorities in the country. In particular, I would like to recall to the House very briefly what was said on that point by the delegation which we sent to the Economic Conference in 1927—a Conference summoned partly at the instance of the late Conservative Government and a delegation appointed by them. They prepared a statement of our national position. It was prepared by their Board of Trade, in collaboration with the delegation itself, which included the President of the Federation of British Industries, a representative of the General Council of the Trade Union Congress, and leaders of industry of every kind. That statement, which was vetted and approved by the Federation of British Industries and by their own Board of Trade, under the right hon. Member for Hendon (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister)—
The hon. and gallant Member is correct, of course, and I should not have used that phrase. I mean the Board of Trade, under the political direction of a Conservative Minister. They agreed to a report which stated their whole thesis in this phrase:
For a century the prosperity of Great Britain has been intimately bound up with the progress of the world's international commerce"—
Not the Empire's commerce, but the world's commerce; and time and again they repeated throughout their report that the only hope of our recovery was the development of our exports and that that development would be enormously in the interest, not only of our country, but of the world at large.
Then we had the Balfour Commission, again very highly expert, and representative of all sections of the community. It only reported in January of last year, and in that report it was stated repeatedly that the problem of our present distress and the recovery of what in their terms of reference were called
sufficient and continuous employment and a satisfactory standard of living in this country,
was "absolutely insoluble apart from the maintenance and development of exports of goods and services." I am not going to quote again, but I could give page after page from the report of the Balfour Commission showing that it is only by that recovery of exports that we can recover from our present position. There have been hon. Members in this House who have said that there is not much hope in that direction and that, as far as exports are concerned, we are already lost. An hon. Member this afternoon said that our exports were continually decreasing. Fortunately, the opposite is the truth; they are continually increasing, and if you look at the figures of the 1913 prices and the percentage of export trade that we now do relatively to our 1913 trade, you will see that the figure has increased from 49.9 in 1921, to 69 in 1922, to 82.7 in 1927, and to 84.4 in 1928—a very remarkable and a very important recovery. If you take the test of manufactured goods per head, we are, of course, very easily the greatest exporters in the world. We export more than 2½ times per head as much as the United States; and if you weigh the natural advantages which we have as an exporting country, the reason for that figure is plain. I remember Mr. Henry Ford, not many weeks ago, saying that he was establishing his enormous plant at Dagenham, not on account of the tariff on motors—he expressly repudiated that—
but because of the great natural advantages of England as a manufacturing centre.
What is the conclusion to be drawn from those facts? Surely it is this: that it is certain that if we will adopt the right policy, we can recover our position in the world and we can recover our share in the world's export trade. What method and what policy must be adopt? Certainly not that of looking for our increased markets in the Dominions, and in the Dominions alone—I think the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), who is not here now, finished off that contention in the argument which he used. Nor can it be by adopting tariffs at home. If one thing can be more certain than another, it is that tariffs would be absolutely disastrous to our export trade. In the first place, they must inevitably raise our cost of production; they are a direct tax upon industry when industry is concerned with the export market. In the second place, they would diminish the elasticity and the adaptability of our manufacturers to the world market; and if you want an example of that, you can see it in the figures of the export of motors, in which, as shown by the Balfour Report, we have only captured 9 per cent. of the world trade in an industry in which we used to lead the world before the War, whereas in electrical manufactures, in which we are not protected, we have captured 31 per cent. of the increased world trade. In the third place, tariffs would be disastrous to our export trade because, if they were combined with Preferences, it would be inevitable that they would lead to the cancellation of important privileges which we receive from foreign Powers.
Perhaps the hon. and learned Member opposite will be satisfied if I say that all the members of my family have had an engineering business for the last 60 years, which they have built up by their own labour and which has an international trade in every quarter of the globe, and that that is an industry of which I have an intimate knowledge. When I was interrupted, I was arguing that the combination of Pro- tection and Preferences would mean the cancellation of important privileges which we obtain abroad, and I ask hon. Members opposite to consider this point: At present we have most-favoured-nation treatment in practically every market in the world, and the foreign nations which have granted us that treatment have not cancelled it on account of our existing Preferences to the Dominions, partly because these Preferences are very small in extent, and partly because our general policy is so liberal. But if we were to go in for a large-scale tariff with preferences for the Dominions, we should not be able to keep the most-favoured-nation treatment.
The position is serious, because under the strain of the world crisis, the most-favoured-nation system is liable at any moment to crack; and I think it almost certain that if we were to go in for such a policy, the most-favoured-nation system would be abandoned. If so, it would bring the utmost disaster to our foreign trade in our foreign export market, where, after all, we send two-thirds of our manufactured goods. There remains another policy which we could adopt—the policy of economic co-operation through the machinery of the League of Nations. It is a policy which hon. Members opposite are inclined to treat as of small account, but it is rather widely misunderstood. It has been spoken of as having been up to the present completely barren of result. The right hon. Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) said the other day, that when we speak of greater co-operation among the nations, all we mean is a tariff truce, and that that must fail.
But international co-operation has meant, and may mean, a great deal more than that. The things that matter to us in our international trade are the trading conditions in other countries, fluctuations of currencies, the transportation systems of the world, labour conditions, prices and tariffs; and in respect of these things, economic cooperation through the League of Nations has secured remarkable results. If you take only the economic reconstruction of Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria and Greece, which led to the settlement under the Dawes Plan, these reconstructions have been enormously important to our trade, and they could not have been achieved without economic co-operation through the League. The policy of economic co-operation is seen in the reconstruction work of the League of Nations, which enabled Europe to recover from the post-War chaos, which was an appalling obstacle to international trade; in the currency stabilisation which followed from the Brussels Conference; and in the present inquiry into gold and prices, which is leading already to important results, and which may lead to active negotiations in the early future.
If you take, lastly, the tariff question, about which hon. Members opposite are inclined to scoff, it is the fact that the tariff policy has already produced great results. When the Economic Conference met in 1927, there was a strong tendency for all tariffs to rise. That tendency was checked and stopped, and a large number of reductions were brought about. In addition, in very many ways, the policy of Governments has been liberalised in that regard, short-term tariffs and bounties have been got rid of, prohibitions have been stopped and a great many taken off, and not a single new prohibition has been put on since the Economic Conference in 1927. In a paper written not long ago, Mr. Love-day, of the League of Nations, who was quoted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston as a very high authority, said:
If we examine commercial policy as a whole, and not tariff policy alone, we shall find that there has been a steady and indeed rapid progress towards greater freedom through concerted action.
That is a very important body of results; it deserves reasoned and impartial consideration by hon. Members opposite, and they ought to think twice before they smash it. If, however, we plunge back into Protection, we shall be certain to smash it. What is the issue before us? We have the world becoming more and more one economic unit. We have a continuous increase in international trade. Every nation has gained by that increase and as experience has proved, we have gained first of all. We have still most to gain by the continuance of that process. Experts of every shade of opinion have told us that we can only recover if we can increase our exports. We have this great new mechanism of economic co-operation
among the nations of the world. Shall we smash it for the Protection which hon. Gentlemen opposite desire? I hope that we shall not. The path which the Government have to pursue is difficult and long. It is strewn with the obstructions which have been left by earlier generations. But it is the path of peace and progress and prosperity, and I hope that they will pursue it with patience and perseverance to the end.
We have had a characteristic speech from the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs. We were all glad to see him return to that exuberance after his temporary deflation while he was dealing with unemployment. He obviously enjoyed making his speech, but I wonder whether he will think, when he reads his speech tomorrow, that those few minutes of enjoyment will make up for the long hours of discomfort which he will then experience. It is amazing to Members on this side of the House to hear speeches of the kind made by the right hon. Gentleman and by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel). Their complacency and their obvious delight at the failure of the economic part of the Conference would have carried greater conviction if this country had not been burdened with an unemployment problem involving ever 2,000,000 people, and with an export trade which is in a very parlous state. We always bear in these debates from Members of the Socialist and Liberal parties that, while they approve of Empire trade, and say that they will do everything they can to help Empire development, the value of our foreign trade is three times as great as that of our Empire trade, and that we must be careful to do nothing to antagonise those in foreign countries who are trading with us. In other words, they are unwilling to help their friends for fear of antagonising their rivals and competitors.
That is a policy that will fail in any walk of life. Nor do I believe that direct action on our part would have this effect. I am certain that if we had the power to impose tariffs, it would have a far greater moral effect on the Continent than the pleadings of the President of the Board of Trade. The same people who tell us of all the difficulties which we may meet if we assist Imperial trade by preferences and tariffs, do not tell us of the obstacles which are put in our way by foreign countries. They do not stress the difficulties that are made for our traders by the high tariffs and trade agreements, and by the interferences to our own trade by dumping. Whatever hon. Members opposite and on the Liberal benches may say, we believe that our future development must lie with the Empire, and that, unless within the next few years we achieve much greater economic unity than we have at present, we shall gradually drift further apart. While the general position of Empire trade is extremely satisfactory, and while it is a growing percentage of the whole of the world's trade, the position of the United Kingdom in this Empire trade is anything but satisfactory. We can see from the figures that Empire trade with foreign countries is increasing far more rapidly than inter-Imperial trade, and that our proportion of the export trade of the Empire has actually decreased. If the 1924 level could have been maintained, our exports in 1928 would have been actually higher by £70,000,000.
During this debate we have had no figures to show the value or the volume of the trade which is in question, and how much export trade we can get from the Dominions if we can dame to agreement by means of reciprocal arrangements. In 1928 the oversea Empire bought £350,000,000 worth of merchandise from the United Kingdom. At the same time, they bought £544,000,000 from foreign sources. The competitive total was about £200,000,000—that is the amount which we have a chance of obtaining if we could only extend our export trade to the Empire. I do not pretend that we are likely to get the whole of that amount, but I would like to emphasise the warning given by the right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne), when he implored us not to think in static terms, not to think that the volume of Empire trade is going to stay at the proportion at which it stands now, but rather to look with increasing confidence to the future with the realisation that, if we can only help the Dominions to find a market for their raw materials, they will be able to develop their country, and by that development make ever-increasing markets for the export of our own manufactured goods. Unless some step is taken, our position with regard to Empire trade is not likely to improve. If you study the figures, you will find that our main share of the Empire market is composed of those classes of goods which the Dominions are now making for themselves, while our percentage of the newer and more specialised types of goods is lamentably small. Our trade is decreasing. At the same time, world competition is becoming more and more intensified, and we must do something to consolidate our position if we are not to lose it once and for all.
The problem with which the Government were faced at the recent Imperial Conference was not only how to stop the decline of our export trade to the Dominions, but how to increase the volume. There are two ways of looking at, this problem. There is the bold conception which undoubtedly means the reversal of the present fiscal system of this country, and which needs legislation which would be unpopular in many circles: and the more limited conception which the Government could put into force without treading on anybody's toes. With regard to this limited conception, a certain amount of progress was made at the Conference. We have been promised increased research and increased publicity by the Empire Marketing Board. We have promises of trade missions. We have now a Government Department to assist in the education of manufacturers as to the possibilities and requirements of foreign markets. We hope that in time we shall have a permanent secretariat to keep abreast with the preparations for future Imperial Conferences. In these directions progress has been made, but it is insufficient to stop the downward trend of our export trade. It is obvious that, if we are either to stop the rot or increase our exports, we must have preferences to enable us to recapture the trade which is at present held in the Dominions by foreign countries. We cannot get those preferences unless we give something in return. In my view, the Government at the Imperial Conference have made the same fatal mistake with regard to Imperial trade as they are making with regard to agriculture, that is, they are treating as alternatives schemes which are really only useful as complements of each other.
It is when we come to the bold conception of what might have been done at the Imperial Conference that we frame our main indictment against the Government. It is not so much that they have not achieved any result. We know their difficulty. We know perfectly well that the Front Bench on the Government side is not moving as fast towards Protection as are some of the back benchers, or as some of the Labour organisations in the country. We know only too well the hypnotising power which the Chancellor of the Exchequer seems to wield over his colleagues. What we do censure them for is their treatment of these proposals, for the way in which they carried on the economic discussions throughout the Conference. It was perfectly obvious that when the Dominion Premiers came over here they would want to discuss tariffs, food taxes, preferences, quotas, or whatever else there was. The quotation from the Secretary of State's speech which was made by the leader of the Opposition proved that conclusively. The right hon. Gentleman tried to counter it by saying, "What would you have done if you had been in our place? You would have been precluded from coming to any definite conclusions." I dare say we should have been; but we should not have been precluded from a free and frank discussion of the whole problem; and that is the reason why we are so bitterly disappointed with what His Majesty's Government have done.
It is ridiculous to say that you were not prepared to discuss things because Mr. Bennett put forward proposals which you did not think were good enough. I do not suppose for one moment that they represented Mr. Bennett's last word, he only put them forward as a basis of negotiation, but they were turned down with contempt by His Majesty's Government. After all, we know now, more or less, the order of the main events. We know when the Canadian proposals were put forward, and we know also that in a day or so afterwards, and before there could possibly have been proper consultation, they were turned down, not politely, but in the most contemptuous manner, in two speeches made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer during an electioneering campaign. After that they were shelved
entirely for four weeks. They could not even be discussed by the Economic Sub-Committee, who were supposed to consider all these problems. Nominally, they were not allowed to discuss it, because it was a matter of high policy, which only the heads, the Prime Ministers, were entitled to discuss; but in actual fact I think it was due to the influence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who feared that the fiscal morals of some of the Members of the Committee might have been contaminated. That was the response given to proposals which had been welcomed by the Secretary of State in these words in a speech in June:
There never was a time when a more thorough and impartial consideration should be given to all our problems than at this moment.
I ask hon. Members opposite whether they think the proposals really had a fair trial, when all the great officers of the trial, the prosecuting counsel, the jury, the judge and the hangman, were combined in the one person of the Chancellor of the Exchequer? The Secretary of State said they should have thorough and impartial consideration. We freely admit that the Chancellor is always thorough, but on not one single occasion within my limited knowledge of Parliament have I ever found him to be impartial. From what happened at this Conference it is obvious that no proper preparations had been made for it. The Secretary of State must have known that although he himself was probably quite willing to discuss the question of tariffs there would be difficulties to contend with from other Members of the Cabinet, and he ought to have been prepared with other alternatives. What had the Government done? Suggestions for import boards, bulk purchases, quotas were made without any real preparation; and if they had been accepted by the Dominions we do not know whether His Majesty's Government would have taken responsibility for them. They were thrown out in a careless, haphazard way, like bones thrown to a dog just to keep him occupied. The Secretary of State, in one of those after dinner speeches for which he is so rightly admired, said it was time that this country achieved Dominion status for itself. He stands condemned out of his own mouth. What greater vote of censure could there be than that he should have felt it incum-
bent upon him to say something of that kind in public? The mere fact that he should think we were not getting our fair share of the attention of the Conference, and that our status, more than the status of the other Dominions, ought to be improved, shows a loss of prestige, and that loss of prestige was mainly due to the appalling lack of leadership shown by His Majesty's Government during the Conference.
Can we wonder that the Dominion Premiers went away disappointed? They had travelled thousands of miles to attend, all of them at great inconvenience, and one, Mr. Scullin, at a very grave risk of being defeated during his absence, for he was leaving Australia at a time when that country was passing through the greatest difficulties. They came over here to talk business. They did not expect an immediate acceptance of their proposals, but they did expect them to be discussed and gone through in a businesslike spirit and in a spirit of accommodation. They came over here to talk business, but found themselves in the atmosphere of a debating society. It is obvious from the speeches of Members of the Liberal party that this Vote of Censure will be very heavily defeated, but I believe that if it were not a Vote of Censure and the Whips were off a great majority of Members in this House who are thoroughly displeased and dissatisfied because these proposals have not been treated on their economic merits, but on their theoretical disadvantages, would support it.
We can be grateful to the Government for only one thing, and that is that they have not slammed the door, but have left it open for a future Conference in Ottawa. I can only think it was a last minute conversion on the part of the Secretary of State; that he realised that he had failed, and, with the magnanimity which we can expect from him, thought that where he had failed, on account of his colleagues, he might leave an open door for success to be achieved by another Government. Whether it be through the faults of the Socialist Government, through the help of providence, or with the illusory assistance of the Liberal party, we feel that by the time the Conference at Ottawa comes on we shall have another Government in power which is better qualified to achieve success and to discuss these economic problems in the right atmosphere and the right spirit. We must not be too much carried away by the excitement of a Vote of Censure. When we go to our beds to-night, I feel that those on the Government side will say, "Anyhow, we are safe, so we need not consider this proposal again until the next Vote of Censure comes along," while we on this side may think, "Oh, it is impossible to carry our views when both the other parties in the State are against us."
We must realise that this problem is a really vital one, and that it is imperative that some solution should be come to in the very near future. If the Dominions are unable to make arrangements with us they wilt inevitably, against their will, be forced to make agreements with foreign countries, and then our opportunity will have gone for ever. We have all seen at home one of the great tragedies of modern industrial development. We know villages, placed on the main roads between two great towns, which have been dependent for the major part of their prosperity on the traffic and trade passing along the roads between those towns. They have felt themselves perfectly secure, believing that only an earthquake could divert their good fortune. But the unlikely has happened. In the march of events great arterial roads have been built, and these villages are now left in a backwater, dependent solely on the resources of their own community. Let us take care, before it is too late, that the same fate does not overtake this country, and that we do not find ourselves in a backwater of our own making, living entirely on our own resources, while the great volume of world trade is rolling by, within our hearing but out of our reach. This gloomy forecast is likely to become a tragic fact unless the great problems of the day are dealt with with greater foresight and greater energy than we can expect from His Majesty's present Government.
I rise in what the last speaker so beautifully called "the excitement of a Vote of Censure" to congratulate him on having been the first speaker from his party really to address himself to the terms of this Motion. He, and he alone, has endeavoured to make out some kind of case against the Government for what they have done and what they have left undone. Most of the other speakers have only indulged in a general tirade on tariff matters in general, which, I suggest, was really rather out of place, because one might be the keenest Tariff Reformer or Protectionist in the world and yet regard the Dominions' present offer and the way in which they approach this problem as quite unsatisfactory. It is always pleasant to meet an optimist anwhere, and I think the right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) was about the biggest optimist I have ever heard when he said that the Government had missed a great opportunity of stabilising the standard of life of our people at the height we have succeeded in reaching. He said they had missed a great opportunity when they refused to consider the offer made by the Dominions. Does he really believe that we could achieve the great result of stabilising the standard of life of our people at the height we have succeeded in reaching by taxing the food of our people and by getting from the Dominions an increase of about 3 or 4 per cent., on the average, on their present preferences? It is a great pity that we have not realised earlier that the problem was as easy to solve as all that. Just a little rise in a few Dominion preferences and it would make all the difference to our efforts to stabilise the life of our people.
He also asked a question which, as he put it, was not an unreasonable one to put in general, and that was, "Why should we assume that if we gain further trade from our Dominions we are necessarily going to lose trade with foreign countries?" On the face of it, there is no reason why we should, but if the method by which we are to increase trade with the Dominions is that of deliberately putting obstacles in the way of our trade with foreign countries that result will follow, because the method suggested is to discourage trade with those other countries. [Interruption.] I am very sorry that I cannot answer the imperial noises which are coming from behind me. It is very difficult to deal with what is said behind one's back, and therefore I will continue with my argument, namely, that if it is intended, by means of special trade advantages given to the Dominions, to get more trade with them, presumably, if we create special disadvantages with other countries—let us say with the Argentine—we must discourage trade in that direction. For that reason I think the right hon. Gentleman's question really answers itself.
We on these benches have every reason to be proud of the Imperial Conference. We can reflect that it is largely owing to Liberal effort that the Dominions have been put in the position of great self-governing Dominions, which can come here with power to say: "We will do this or that in fiscal affairs." We are certainly not going to criticise any decision they take as to these matters, and I for one should be sorry indeed if the Dominion Premiers had gone away, as has been suggested, in any spirit of disappointment or disillusion. If they have done so, it is largely the fault of hon. Members above the Gangway who told them in season and out of season that they were being badly treated. If you tell people that long enough, they are likely to begin to believe it. There was much I appreciated in the speech of the Noble Lord the Member for Fylde (Lord Stanley), but he made a mistake in bringing in this flimsy question of impartiality. He talked of the partiality of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but if the hon. Member had been in the place of the Chancellor, nobody can say that he would have been more impartial. He would have been partial the other way and have kicked the proposals of the Dominions on in the same way as the Chancellor of the Exchequer is said to have tried to kick them back. Let us try to state our views one way or the other, but, while I do not want to make any aspersions, it savours of hypocrisy to say that people, if they take a non-party view must take our view. There is one word I wish had been left out of the speech of the Minister for the Dominions. I wish he had not used the word "humbug," because these things have effects which extend beyond here. Mr. Bennett has had harsher things said about him in his own country. It has been said that his offer was nothing but a horse trading deal. Probably, however, he takes that as part of the day's politics. It is different when it comes from another country.
I take this offer as being perfectly genuinely made, in which I disagree apparently from Members above the Gangway who insist that it was a basis for discussion and that they were going on to something different later. Why suggest anything of the sort? I take Mr. Bennett seriously. Why assume that he was a sort of second-rate pedlar who must make a bad offer for fear of being forced up too high? I believe Mr. Bennett stated as far as his country was prepared to go, and, very unfortunately, it was not good enough for us. I will give him the credit of sincerity in offering us 10 per cent. applied to the duty we are now paying. I saw the other day in the "Yorkshire Post" a letter from Mr. Theobald Taylor, a well-known manufacturer, who says that for 16 years his firm have done trade with Canada. The duty was 25 per cent. ad valorem, and it is now 100 per cent. ad valorem and may go higher. If you take a more average tariff such as that of steel girders there you have a valuable preference, and I have not tried to under-estimate it, but it does seem to me that this offer, this very sincere offer, is only a small frill on the existing tariff system of our Dominions. It is something they can afford, because it is only a slight difference on which they are doing already.
We are asked to do something very large indeed. They have given us what I would say, frankly, is a friendly gesture, and, if there were a gesture which we could make as cheaply, I would be very glad to make it and break through any mere convictions or rules of fiscal orthodoxy in order that they might be satisfied. That is not the position. They make a friendly gesture, but we are asked to begin, not with the thin end of the wedge, but with the thick end. I suppose if anyone went down to a village and spoke in favour of safeguarding the industry in which they are employed he would get support. It is natural that he should. It would be a much more difficult part of his case when he came to talk of taxing the food of the people there. That is the most difficult thing in the Protectionist case to get over and nobody knows it better than the hon. Member who recently won the seat at Shipley (Mr. Lockwood) and therefore some allowance should have been made, even from the Protectionist point of view, for the position of the Government. They were asked, not merely to violate fiscal orthodoxy in some essential particular, but to give away the whole citadel, and that is a thing which not only the Chancellor of the Exchequer could not do, but which the late Government if they had been in office, would not have been able to do either.
That is the essential weakness of their case in this Vote of Censure. We were all in the same box in relation to such an offer as that made by Mr. Bennett; none of us were in a position to accept. The real charge against the Government is not that they did not accept it, but that they did not give it sufficient discussion and consideration. That is all pure guess-work. Nobody knows, apart from what we have been told by the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs how much consideration was given to it. As has been pointed out, there will be a further opportunity at Ottawa. The door is not closed. Further matters will be considered, and I hope, when the time comes for discussion at Ottawa, that we shall have something put forward which is more worthy of serious consideration. Really, the last offer was not good enough. When one has crystallised what we were to get one realises how far we have moved from the prospect of the original missionaries of Empire Free Trade. People say that this Conference has been barren. This is not true. There is the absolute laying of the ghost of Empire Free Trade. No longer can that pallid spectre haunt the right hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin). He can say to it
Never shake thy gory locks at me Thon canst not say I did it.
It was Mr. Bennett. One learned when young not to say anything but good of the dead, so I will not say anything uncomplimentary of Empire Free Trade. I would rather say something good of it. There was something spacious about it and something worthy of a man of wide vision and generous mind in the ideal presented. It may have been attractive to say: Better than a one-sided Free Trade with the world we will have a reciprocal Free Trade with a great part of the world. That has gone by the board after the Imperial Conference, and all we are left
with is this miserable relic of that once gorgeous prospect.
There is nothing there to attract us, so what is the essence of the case against the present Government? They are said to have missed a glorious opportunity for achieving unity. I want economic unity as soon as I can get it, and not only with the Empire but with the whole world. What was the opportunity of economic unity that was missed at that Imperial Conference? Reading the first speeches, there was much brilliant oratory and patriotic sentiments, but the last thing that you will find is economic unity. The spirit in all is economic nationalism of the strongest kind, and we have been infected by it ourselves. One after another, we say: "They stand for Canada first; we stand for Great Britain first." I would rather say the Empire first, indeed I would go further and say, the whole of civilisation first. I am one with Lord Beaverbrook and hon. Members above the Gangway in saying that Imperial trade is better than insular trade, but I think world trade is the best of all, and for these reasons do not think the Government have missed any opportunity.
Quite apart from the self-evident fact of their failure at the Conference, it would be easy to sustain against the Government an indictment of unpreparedness, of divided counsels, of procrastination. And it is important that the country should realize how Ministers have served its interests. But mere recriminations about this particular disservice are not going practically to serve the cause of Empire unity and cooperation. We should rather try to free great Commonwealth questions from party bias and domestic bitternesses. In an atmosphere which should be purely scientific, they seem ludicrous. It is easy to say "No" to a political opponent here. It is a far graver and more invidious matter to say a very deliberate "No"—as Ministers found themselves able to say—to the Dominions in council. Here again, reproofe across the Floor of this House are obviously not going to shake the settled economic convictions of such Ministers as possess them. I submit that, so far as concerns a regrettable chapter of Imperial history, having registered our opinion, we can afford to leave the battered and sinking policy of the Government to the tide of future events. Meanwhile, I would rather turn front the immediate past and, looking to the future, ask: Do the Government, mean business? Do they intend to regain the initiative which naturally attaches to the standing of Great Britain in the counsels of the Empire? In concert with the Dominions, they have declared that the development of our Imperial markets is of the utmost importance to the various parts of the Empire. That is certainly an unexceptionable sentiment. May we take it for granted that they will implement it as far as their economic prepossessions permit? The Government have already so far compromised the pure principles of Free Trade as to promise to continue existing Preferences. In this they have shown an unusual combination of courage, commonsense, and inconsistency. In view of their obduracy in other directions, one wonders why. Possibly it is because it is becoming more and more difficult to pay for the unnecessary luxury of Free Trade.
Perhaps it is because forces of overwhelming strength have been gathering against them. Fortunately it is possible to claim that the Conference of 1930 did not fail completely on the economic side. But if any real advance is to be made certain definite steps must be taken. The Government entered the Conference fortified by the report of the Preparatory Committee. That was a clear constructive document which informed them of the views of British industry, commerce, and shipping. Those views were in great measure endorsed by the General Council of the Trade Union Congress. They were told that the existing methods of economic consultation within the Empire were inadequate, and that machinery for constant and adequate investigation and consultation should be devised. The creation of an economic Imperial Secretariat was strongly recommended if continuity and uniformity in such matters as statistics were to be attained. It is quite true that fresh references were given to the Imperial Economic Committee, but so far as one can see that committee still remains an entirely advisory and consultative body, and because of this limitation the Asso- ciation of British Chambers of Commerce held that it could not be regarded as an effective means of promoting Imperial economic unity. Are any practical steps being taken to remedy this?
The Conference decided that such questions as tariff preferences, import boards and quota systems were questions for the Governments concerned, but it would be interesting to know how far this decision was due to the initiative of Great Britain. The Government can hardly be satisfied with the new references made to the Economic Committee as being adequate to the demand for constant consultation. We should all welcome an assurance that the Government would put forward proposals for an inter-Imperial body, with such powers of initiation as would enable them to prepare plans which would provide practical bases for discussion and with sufficient power, generally, to stimulate and help forward the economic coming together of the Empire. I think we are all agreed that, in economic matters, the Empire should be at least as well served as the League of Nations. How else is it proposed to bring about the development of our Imperial markets which we know to be of supreme importance? No one will contend that this can be satisfactorily done by triennial meetings even will the most liberal supplies of suggestions and statistics.
Again the Preparatory Committee laid stress on the necessity for consultation by the Empire's Governments with representatives of commerce and industry in their respective jurisdictions, and urged that such representatives should come into the closest touch with each other. They recognised that any substantial development and rationalisation of our resources can only be attained through such co-operation. Since the Conference the Prime Minister of Australia has emphasised the importance of this suggestion. I should like to ask the Government whether any definite steps are being considered for the inauguration of trade conferences such as have been suggested. The sub-committee on the Imperial Economic Committee recommended a central body in touch with the various Governments, which could be used for "making and facilitating the necessary arrangements" for such conferences, but further on in their report they only proposed to facilitate such arrangements.
Is there any significance in the fact that the power to make arrangements for those Conferences has not been conferred? We should, of course, like to know to what extent the Government believe in, and desire such Conferences. I understand that they showed no great desire to consult and confer with the industries and commerce of this country during the Conference. Surely they are not afraid of any demands that may be made upon them. It cannot be that their anxiety to protect and safeguard Free Trade would make them hesitate about adopting measures which are essential for Imperial development and unity in other directions than Tariff Preferences. Many of us feel that the Government have failed to realise the possibilities that exist for such co-operation. To have accepted boldly the general policy of preference would, apart from the economic gain, have exercised an immense psychological effect upon every country in the Empire; it would have demonstrated that the Government had the will to co-operate; it would have stimulated a desire among industrialists in the Dominions to get together, it would have liberated thought and inspired initiative. There is no need to emphasise how vast is the importance of this asset of Imperial good will to our export trade. If this good will were purchasable, what would not Germany bid against the United States to secure it, and what greater encouragement could have been given to this good will than to accept the Dominions offer, and join in working with them along a path well understood by their people and entirely appreciated by them? The day for all this has been postponed. The Dominions, it is true, accepted the economic idiosyncracies of Ministers with admirable good temper, but the fact remains that, supported only by a diminishing section of British opinion, the Government were out of step with the remainder of the Empire. That may not have injured, but it certainly did not increase, our trade good will in the Dominions. I think that most of those who, from all parts of the Empire, attended last summer another Imperial Conference, that of the Press of the Empire, would regard the failure of the Government to take advantage of the unlimited capacities which exist for concerted action as wholly and entirely lamentable.
I was about to say that the situation is, surely, unparalleled. The policy of the Government is no longer that of commerce and industry in this country; it is not even that of the trade unions; and, apparently, the Government propose to withstand the practical demands of practical men in the factories and business houses of the country. If we are to attain the development and rationalisation of the Empire, surely the views of those who are producing for and selling in our markets deserve to he consulted. After all, they are the people who will have to make agreements and carry them out. If Ministers opposite go to the Conference at Ottawa, they will have another opportunity of retrieving something. Of course, we should not expect them to compromise their economic faith; that is almost a matter of religion with them; but we do hope that this faith will not handicap them in their pursuit of Imperial development and unity along other lines. After all, why should they fear investigation? If their beliefs are well founded, the more investigation there is of tariff preferences, of taxes on foreign food, the more clearly vindicated will their own beliefs be. I hope that the Government will be able to give us assurances on the few points that I have ventured to put to them. Otherwise, one is bound to ask oneself by what conceivable right they deny a scientific investigation, free from political bias, to the industries of this country who in their dire distress have asked for it.
There have been two speeches from right hon. Gentlemen opposite in support of this Motion of Censure upon the Government. The first has been very aptly described as a speech of censure upon Mr. Cobden. The second might, I think, be described equally aptly as a censure upon the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel). If I may say so with respect, that censure seemed rather pointless, because the House was quick to observe that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen was no more here to listen to the second speech than was Mr. Cobden here to listen to the first. One began to wonder where the Government came in. The last two speakers on the other side did offer some criticism of the Government's conduct of their side of the Imperial Conference, but, unfortunately, a great deal of the last speech turned itself into a speech of censure, not against the Government for resisting the proposals of the Dominions, but against the Dominions for resisting the proposals of the United kingdom Government.
The hon. and gallant Member pleaded for the establishment of an Imperial economic secretariat. So did the United Kingdom Government plead for the establishment of such a, secretariat throughout the sittings of the Conference in London. The Secretary of State for the Dominions has already spoken on that matter this afternoon, and has made it quite clear to the House that, when that proposal was put forward by the Government, it was turned down, at any rate by some of the Dominion representatives at the Conference. Therefore, if that be the reason why a Motion of Censure is being moved to-day, it is not a Motion of Censure on our Government at all, but a Motion of Censure upon the Dominion delegations at the Conference.
Apparently, the Motion is moved because the results of the economic section of the Conference appear to be somewhat small. Those results are somewhat small because all beginnings are small. What the Conference has done in regard to economic matters has been to make a beginning, to start an examination, to start a movement which will be pushed further, until the time comes for decision, and for action on decisions, at the Conference at Ottawa next year. The only people who have any right to move a Motion of Censure this evening are those who expected that this Conference, in the short period of six weeks, could produce a complete and watertight scheme for increasing inter-Imperial trade upon a large scale. No Dominion Prime Minister ever expected that from this short Conference; no Dominion delegate expected that the Conference would produce such a result.
We have heard a great deal about Mr. Bennett's proposals this evening. Mr. Bennett, in his very first speech at the plenary session of the Conference, made it quite plain that he knew just how much and how little a Conference of six weeks could accomplish, and he laid down a programme for this Conference. He defined what he thought the Conference could accomplish within its period of a few weeks of meeting, and he said three things. He said that the Conference could accept or reject a principle—the principle of preference; and that, if the Conference accepted that principle, then it could start an examination into the practical application of that principle to our affairs. But Mr. Bennett made it quite clear that the Conference could only make a beginning—in his own words:
We here neither have the time nor the machinery necessary to reach a final conclusion, and it is apparent that we must employ the technicians of our respective countries to complete the inquiry.
The third point in the programme that he sketched was that the Conference, after the technicians had completed the inquiry, should meet again six months from now at Ottawa in order to receive reports and reach decisions and take action. So even Mr. Bennett, whose great sense of the urgency of this problem has been emphasised to-day, did not expect the Conference to reach great decisions and follow them out in their practical application, but he recognised that if the Conference took its work seriously in this economic sphere it would have to be continued for a period of months before the delegates could possibly reach decisions and formulate policies upon them. A Motion of censure on the Government for not having done what every Dominion Prime Minister agreed this Conference could not do is thoroughly unjustified.
As a matter of fact, every one of the proposals put forward by Mr. Bennett in this respect has been accepted. He said in the first place that the Conference should subscribe to the principle of an Empire preference. First he said we must approve or reject the principle. The Conference accepted the principle of preference. Mr. Bennett was not talking about the principle of tariff preference, but a principle of preference of some kind or another, and that principle both this Government and the Conference as a whole were very ready to accept. The United Kingdom Government have shown their good faith in expressing that belief by giving an undertaking that the preference margins existing to-day on Dominion imports shall continue unreduced for a period of at least three years. The Government also has shown its good faith in accepting the principle of Preference by establishing its own committees in this country to continue the examination of other kinds of preference besides the tariff preference. The Government, therefore, has done all that any reasonable man could expect it to have, done during those weeks of conference. The real quarrel between the other side and ourselves is not that we have not accepted the principle of Preference, not that we have not gone about exploring the application of that principle in as businesslike a way as we possibly could in the time at our disposal, and making plans for a further exploration in another conference at Ottawa. The quarrel simply is that this Government does not believe in the particular kind of preference that hon. Members opposite believe in, and they are criticising the Government for rejecting Mr. Bennett's particular proposal and the other Dominion Prime Ministers' general proposals, which would have meant the imposition of new taxation on foodstuffs.
We have heard that the United Kingdom Government did not consider that offer made by the Dominion Prime Ministers. That is absolutely inaccurate. The United Kingdom Government delegates spent six weeks considering and examining that offer, and the House has to-day had some of the results of that consideration and examination. The Secretary of State for the Dominions gave facts and figures which showed how minute has been the examination of the offer, and it is unnecessary for any of us now to continue the argument that it represented a very one-sided bargain, because the figures he has quoted have established that fact very securely and very unshakably indeed. What I am concerned with is the other side of the offer that the Dominions made, not what we were going to gain in our imports going into their markets, but what they expected us to do in order to allow more of their imports into our market. The United Kingdom Government gave the most careful consideration to that side of their offer as well.
It said, "It is no use our discussing in this Conference the principle of tariff preference in general. We ask you, the Dominion delegates, to tell us what you want that to mean for you in practice. On what kind of imports do you wish us to put up a tariff and to give you a preference through that tariff?" As a matter of fact, during the Conference, as was published in the Press at the time, a list was made out of the actual Dominion products which the Dominion Prime Ministers asked that we should give a tariff preference upon. It included wheat, canned fruit, canned fish, fresh fish, butter, cheese, eggs, poultry and bacon. Those were the things that our Government was asked to put a tax upon and, if they had accepted the Dominions' offer—and they are being censured for not accepting the offer—they would have had to put a tax upon every single one of those articles. Because you cannot pick out one or two and say, "We will put a tax upon wheat or on canned fish and we will leave the other things as they are now, untaxed." Wheat is only the concern of Canada and Australia, and in taxing that particular commodity you are only accepting the offer so far as it concerns Canada and Australia and you are doing absolutely nothing to accept the offer that was made by South Africa New Zealand, the Irish Free State and the other delegations concerned. The whole idea of this Imperial economic policy is that the benefit of it shall be spread over the seven different units of this Commonwealth and, therefore, if the United Kingdom Government had been ready to do something immediately to help Canada and Australia, they would have been in duty bound to do their utmost to help South Africa, New Zealand and the Irish Free State as well. Therefore, they could not pick out wheat alone. They would have had to impose a tax on the whole of the articles which the Conference had under its consideration.
It is true that the party opposite have said they are not going to impose a tax on wheat. They have a better method. They are going to give the Dominions a preference in wheat by a quota system. But again the Conference report states clearly that, even though the quota is practical polities, perhaps, for wheat, it is absolutely useless in the case of any of the other articles I have been speaking about and you could not apply it to eggs, bacon, poultry, canned fish or fruit or the other commodities in which the Conference was interested. Because in the case of wheat you have a kind of bottle neck at the mills through which the wheat passes, and there you can impose your quota and make the scheme of preference effective, but there is no similar bottle neck in the case of the other articles. Therefore, the Government, if it had been ready to accept the Dominions' offer, even if it had been ready to accept the quota for wheat, was faced with the prospect of having to put a tax on other articles of the people's foodstuffs coming into the country.
I think that we ought to have an answer to-night as to whether the Opposition would have been ready to put a tax upon those commodities in order to accept the offer which the Dominions have made to us. Would right hon. Gentlemen opposite have put a tax upon eggs, upon the bacon coming on to the breakfast table and upon poultry and all those other things? Because if they are censuring us for not accepting that offer they have to tell the House and the country plainly whether they would have accepted the offer had they been in power. The Government resisted the offer, and, in resisting the offer to impose taxation upon these things, they were carrying out the mandate given to them by 8,500,000 people in this country who voted for this party and the mandate given by 5,000,000 people who voted with the party below the Gangway on the opposite side. The Government were also fulfilling the mandate which was given by 8,500,000 people who voted for the party opposite, because that party was pledged at the last election not to put taxation upon foodstuffs coming into this country.
At any rate, they have a very good spokesman in my hon. Friend. The United Kingdom Government did not even leave the question there. They said: "Because we cannot put taxation upon these things which you want to import into our market, it does not mean to say that preferences cannot exist for these things." The United Kingdom Government also said: "There are various ether ways by which a preference might be granted." There is the quota system, the system of import boards, and the possible system of bulk purchase either by syndicates of private merchants and importers or else by the Government themselves taking action and importing these things in bulk. The United Kingdom Government put those possible alternative methods upon the table of the Conference and persuaded the Conference to establish committees to examine in detail all the implications of those possible methods. It has been pointed out already this afternoon how right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Members opposite have been ready to rush in before they received the reports of these committees and knew what these committees had done. When these reports are published—the reports of the Graham Committee and the sub-committees—it will be found that an extremely useful examination into these commodities was started during those six weeks and that the Graham Committee recommend that it is worth while continuing the examination. The examination could not be finished in six weeks, and it must go on for months to come before the subject can really be seriously exhausted and the matter made ready for remittance to the heads of the delegations round the Conference table. Therefore, I submit that this Conference, under the guidance of the United Kingdom Government, achieved all that could possibly be expected of it in six weeks in the direction of laying down a policy for increasing inter-Imperial trade.
The Conference has not been barren. The work goes on; the examination and exploration go on. Our own Government have established committees of technicians, and I have no doubt that the work is being pursued in the Departments of the Board of Trade and the Dominions
Office. The delegations of the other Governments have gone back to establish their committees, as was suggested by Mr. Bennett at the very outset. When the work of these committees has really been completed and the time has come for the consideration of the report coming from that examination by the various Governments, then it will be for the Ottawa Conference to meet and push the work to a conclusion. Hon. Members opposite have been very ready to say that the Conference has failed, but I prefer the verdict of the leader of one of the Dominion delegations, who they have been saying have gone home completely disappointed with the result of the Conference. Mr. Scullin, who has been quoted here to-night, at the last meeting of the Conference said:
I do not for one moment believe that the Conference has failed. On the contrary, I consider that this Conference has made a wonderful step forward…. With regard to the economic side … we have laid the foundation for closer economic co-operation and the foundations of greater inter-Imperial trade.
I submit that the speech of Mr. Scullin is the greatest argument against this Motion of Censure that can possibly be used in this House this evening and that we ought to congratulate the Government upon their conduct of the Conference and the success which it achieved.
I am very glad to have the opportunity of saying a few words in this debate this evening, more particularly as I happen to come from one of the Dominions, and endeavour, to the best of my ability, to keep abreast of current opinion upon Empire affairs in the Dominions. It is unquestionable that the people in the Dominions looked forward to the Imperial Conference with high hopes that it would inaugurate a great advance in economic co-operation between themselves and the Mother Country, and that it would signal the dawn of a new and prosperous era in Empire trade. Those hopes were entertained and expressed in all parts of the Empire, including this country. It was primarily to effect the practical realisation of those hopes that the Prime Ministers of the Dominions came, at great inconvenience to themselves and their Governments, to this country. They regarded the economic side of the Conference by far the more important side, and they frankly said so. The Dominions, like ourselves, are faced with economic depression and with unemployment difficulties. Their chief problem and our chief problem is fundamentally one of markets. When we solve that problem, our unemployment and our financial and many other of our difficulties will tend rapidly to disappear. On the one hand, their markets are our most friendly markets to-day, and they offer us by far the best opportunity we have in the world for a substantial expansion of our trade in the future. On the other hand, it is within our power, in this country, without endangering a single industry or even a single individual, to give them a much larger share of our markets which they so badly need. That was the position when the Conference met at the beginning of October. Never before had it been so vital and so urgent, both to the Dominions and to ourselves, that an agreement should be reached for the mutual improvement of our trade. Never before have the Prime Ministers of the Dominions come to this country so anxious, so determined, or so well prepared to do business. They came, not as suppliants or mendicants, but as business men prepared to do big business, and upon generous terms, which would have given immediate or almost immediate employment in our industries to scores of thousands of our unemployed and security of employment to many others who are in work to-day but who never know from one week to another whether they are going to lose their jobs or not.
It was common knowledge that the Dominion Prime Ministers would probably bring forward at the Conference a policy based on mutual tariff preferences. We must naturally assume that the Government, in common with the rest of the world, were aware of that fact. Before the Prime Ministers even left their own shores, the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs made several speeches in which he said, in effect, that the Government of this country were going into the Conference with an absolutely free hand, that they would be prepared to discuss any subject that was put before them—any economic proposals—without bias and without prejudice, and that the Government would do all in their power to press for the conclusion of a satisfactory agreement. No doubt, in those speeches the right hon. Gentleman was expressing what was in his own mind and in his own heart, but were those speeches representative of the official point of view? Were they made on the authority of the Cabinet Were they made with the permission of the Chancellor of the Exchequer? As a result of those speeches the Dominion Prime Ministers were led to believe that when they came here the Government of this country would be prepared to consider a proposal of mutual tariff preferences with an open mind, and without prejudice or bias, just as they would consider any other question before the Conference.
What happened when they arrived here? They found nothing of the kind. They found that the economic questions of the Conference were referred to a separate committee, which was not even permitted—nay, it was expressly forbidden—to discuss the one proposal which had the backing of all the Prime Ministers of the Dominions. They found that the utterances of the Secretary of State for the Dominions—I am sorry that he is not here at the moment—had been a sham, that they had been misled, and that they had been got here under false pretences. The Prime Ministers of the Dominions could not be expected to know, as we in all quarters of the House know, that statements that are made, and undertakings that are given, by the Socialist Government of Great Britain are made, and are given, only to be broken.
They found that the Government were not ready to do business. After having 15 months in which to prepare for this all-important Conference the Government went into it totally unprepared. They drifted into the Conference without having given it a fraction of the preparation that it deserved. They had no plan. They had no considered policy. They had not even prepared the necessary statistical data for the proper examination of proposals involving the operation of tariff preferences, import boards, the quota system, or any other system. The Dominion Prime Ministers were kept hanging about here in London while experts, on the admission of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. M. MacDonald) were being put to do work which should have been done months before. It was a lamentable performance. It was an insult to the Dominions and to their Prime Ministers. The gravamen of my indictment against the Government is not so much that they had failed to make preparations to do business, but that they were not willing to do business. They were not prepared to give, a lead. They were not willing to follow a lead when it was given to them. Throughout the whole Conference they persisted in an attitude of ca'canny, and "nothing doing." Their one aim and object, from start to finish, was to avoid taking a decision at all costs.
Take the case of Mr. Bennett, the Prime Minister of Canada, and his proposal, which the Secretary of State for the Dominions called "humbug", this afternoon. I should like to say, in passing, that I have never listened to such a lot of drivelling humbug in my life as that contained in the speech this afternoon of the right hon. Gentleman himself. Mr. Bennett, at the second plenary conference, on the 8th October, put forward a definite concrete proposal, which was supported by all the other Dominion Prime Ministers. When he put forward that proposal he pressed that a reply should be given by the United Kingdom delegation as soon as possible, as to whether the British Government accepted or not the general principle of his proposal involving a change in our fiscal system. He went on pressing, and kept on pressing, for a reply for five weeks. The time ran from the 8th October until the 12th November before he was told by the United Kingdom delegation that his proposal, in the eyes of the British Government, was unacceptable. Yet, two days after he tabled the proposal, that is on the 10th October, the official organ of the Socialist party, the "Daily Herald," made it clear to its readers that there was no doubt at all that the Government would not agree to Mr. Bennett's proposal.
Again, four days after the proposal had been tabled, the President of the Board of Trade, in a speech made at Central Edinburgh, said that it was
impossible to expect the United Kingdom to impose duties on foodstuffs.
In other words, that the answer which Mr. Bennett and his colleagues were to expect, when it suited the United Kingdom delegation to convey it to them, was a negative answer. Then, twelve days after the proposal had been made by Mr. Bennett, that is on the 20th October, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, referred to Mr. Bennett's proposal. At that time, Mr. Bennett was still waiting for an answer to his proposal. He had been told that it was a matter of high policy, that the question was sub judice, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not regard is as sub judice when he was addressing a great popular meeting at Manchester. He referred to the proposal and poured ridicule upon it. He referred to it in terms which were calculated to evoke laughter. All the reports next day printed "Laughter," in brackets, after the Chancellor of the Exchequer had poured ridicule upon the proposal, which showed that not only were his remarks calculated to produce laughter, but that they did so. At the conclusion of his speech he said:
We would not support any proposal which involved taxation of food, raw material, or a general Protectionist policy, and that still remains the policy of His Majesty's Government.
That was on the 20th October, three weeks before Mr. Bennett got an answer from the Government. Mr. Bennett and his colleagues had a right to be informed by the United Kingdom, delegation immediately the Government bad come to a decision on the matter. They should have been informed as a matter of common courtesy, apart from their right to be informed as fellow-members of the Conference. I have said that the speeches made by the President of the Board of Trade and the Chancellor of the Exchequer were made weeks before Mr. Bennett was informed of the Government's decision. Therefore, I would ask the Government a few questions. I am glad that the Under-Secretary of State for the Dominions is here, and I hope that he will take note of the questions. My questions are (1) When was the Government's decision first taken that Mr. Bennett's proposal was unacceptable? (2) Was it before or after the speeches made by the President of the Board of Trade, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the 12th and 20th October respectively? (3) Were those speeches
made with the full authority of the Cabinet? and (4) Why was Mr. Bennett kept waiting for some weeks for an answer after those speeches had been made by these two members of the Cabinet? I hope the Government will be good enough to reply to those questions during the debate this evening. Certainly, I hope that they will not keep the House waiting as long for an answer to those questions as they kept Mr. Bennett waiting for an answer to his question.
We have been told that it is the primary concern of the British Government to protect and develop the interests of the people of this country. I quite agree. What are the interests of the people of this country? We must have overseas markets, they are vital to our very existence. The Secretary of State for the Dominions has said so repeatedly both in this House and outside. Every year since the War our export trade has declined. There is over-production in the United States of America and competition is daily becoming more and more severe from that quarter. There is the projected economic union of the Western and Central States of Europe. Is that calculated to improve our export trade, either in Europe or the world's markets outside Europe? There is the five years' plan in Soviet Russia, which is deliberately designed to destroy us as an industrial exporting country. If you take anything but an extremely shortsighted view—if you have any regard to the conditions and tendencies of world trade—you cannot avoid the conclusion that our only hope of salvation is as a partner in a great Empire economic union. For a partnership of men or a partnership of nations to be successful, a spirit of give and take among the partners is essential. It is admittedly the duty of each partner to state his own point of view and to state it quite frankly; but there must be a readiness to compromise one's own view in order to achieve a common policy for the common benefit. In that way you are really serving your own best interests.
In the face of present-day world conditions, and probable future world conditions, the establishment and maintenance of an economic partnership with the Dominions is so vital to our continued existence as to make such a compromise, not merely worth while but imperative. Without such a partnership, which necessarily involves a spirit of compromise—so lacking on the part of the Government in the last Conference—we might well wake up and find we had been squeezed out of the world's markets altogether.
We are told that the Conference achieved much on its constitutional side and that the door is not barred and bolted on the economic side; that it has, in fact, been left open for the Conference at Ottawa. The progress that has been made on the constitutional side—which, after all, is nothing to write home about—is largely due to the fact that the ground was well prepared beforehand by the 1929 Conference on the Operation of Dominion Legislation. If the Conference at Ottawa is to get down to business from its first meeting it is essential that a common secretariat should be set up at once. I am sure that I have the majority of the people of this country, if not a majority of hon. Members in this House, with me when I say that an essential prerequisite of the success of the Ottawa Conference is that there should he a change of Government in this country before it takes place.
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Boyce) in his excited digressions into the regions of phantasy; very interesting, but not very relevant to this immediate discussion. I have been interested during the debate in listening to the difference in tone and temper between the Front Benches and the back benches. We were treated to an admirable display of dialectics from the first two speakers. The right hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin), in his usual charming way, gave us a delightful dissertation on Cobden, but left to the very last sentences of his peroration any reference at all to his own proposals for dealing with the situation. He talked about the things for which hon. Members opposite fight, but he was very careful not to give any indication on which of the various fronts he expected them to fight. No doubt in due course he will make up his mind.
The Secretary of State for the Dominions treated us to one of his best efforts in the art of shadow boxing. I do not think it was altogether his fault. He spent most of his time trying to hit where he thought the Tories were. As it is somewhat difficult to know where they are it is not surprising that he was in some difficulty. I have the utmost admiration for his skill in the Parliamentary art to which, as I say, he gave us one of his best exhibitions this afternoon, and I should have been more completely enslaved by his exhibition if he had told us a little more about what the Government proposed to do and what they actually put forward in the Conference. The whole debate has been very much hampered by the undue haste of hon. Members opposite in pressing for a. discussion before papers were published, for we are all more or less in ignorance. With regard to the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) he gave us again another admirable exhibition of the art of proving that nothing can be done, an art which is highly developed in these days on the Liberal benches.
The truth of the matter is that we all know that the situation of this country is very difficult and very dangerous, and excites the gravest anxiety. At this stage what we all naturally desire is not these admirable displays of dialectics but some more cogent and direct plans for dealing with the situation. I sympathise with the right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Home) in his impatience, which I suspect is not only with the Government but, with his own Front, Bench as well, and, although I find myself completely in disagreement with most of the proposals he seemed to be advocating, I did feel with him that it is a great misfortune, whatever the reason may be, whether we are responsible or whether the Dominions are responsible, or whether circumstances are responsible, that this opportunity does not seem to have been completely utilised for some scheme or other for increasing and developing trade between ourselves and the Dominions. I am quite aware of the answer, that a great deal of progress has been made and that various committees have been appointed, which, in due course, will report and something will be done, but I do not think that will give us much satisfaction when we endeavour to explain to the electors the results in increased trade of the Imperial Conference. With regard to the preference proposals put forward by hon. Members opposite, I wish the papers of the Conference had provided us with a much closer analysis of the working of existing preferences. It may be, when the papers are produced, that we shall find that analysis, but there is no reference to it in any of the documents available. It is customary on the other side of the House to assume that existing preferences have been of immense value to this country, but when you examine the figures that proposition does not seem to be fully established. For example, if you compare the increase of trade in exports of manufactured goods to the chief Dominions in 1928 with 1914, you will find that whilst British exports to the Dominions, despite the operation of preferences and the administration of preference arrangements by Governments entirely favourable to the policy, have remained practically stationary, during that time the exports of competing industrial countries, despite the operations of the preferences, have very much increased.
Take Australia, for example. Allowing for differences in value our exports to Australia in 1928, before this last big slump in prices came, were practically the same as in 1914 though the United States and Japanese exports—which, I admit, started from a lower level increased during the last three or four years of that period until they are now about three times as large as they were in 1914. In the case of Canada the actual increase of the United States exports to Canada in 1928, compared with 1914, is four times that of the exports of British goods into Canada in the same period. It is pretty evident that the existing preferences have produced no very substantial results in increasing British trade. In the case of the three Southern Dominions, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, British exports, two years ago, were practically where they were in 1914—they are less now—although during the same time the purchase of manufactured goods by those Dominions increased by 40 or 50 per cent.
The truth of the matter is that our natural desire to improve and increase trade with the Dominions is apt to obscure the facts of our world trade situation. It is very important to in- crease the trade with the Dominions, but the Dominions have a population of between 20,000,000 and 30,000,000, whereas in the rest of the world, with which we do 60 per cent. of our export trade, there is a population of something like 1,400,000,000—an enormous difference. Our trade with the Continent of Europe has suffered less since the War than our trade with regard to any other Continent, and Europe, with its 175 persons to the square mile, on the average, and its population of 400,000,000, obviously offers much bigger chances of expansion than countries like Canada and Australia with two or three people to the square mile and a total population of somewhere a little over 20,000,000.
In the years 1927 to 1929—it is not safe to take European figures before 1927 because of the disturbances of the Ruhr occupation and reparations—our trade with Europe increased by 7 or 8 per cent. and during practically the same period our trade with the Dominions decreased by about the same amount. In other words, during that period our trade with Europe was growing and our trade with the Dominions was diminishing. Then there are the possibilities of trade with Asia. There is no reasonable doubt that the next few years are going to see a great development of Asiatic trade. Asia, with its 1,000,000,000 people or more than one-half the population of the world, offers advantages from which we should be cut off if we were to adopt the plan proposed by hon. Members opposite of erecting tariff barriers around the Empire. Those barriers would cut us off from most of these possibilities of expansion.
At the same time, I am bound to say that I find little comfort in some of the speeches made in various quarters of the House, which seemed to assume that if we only stick to our old Free Trade dogmas, trade will improve of itself. I do not share that belief with any confidence. It is quite true that there is plenty of scope for expansion in world trade. Those who say that the days of export trade are dead and gone, simply ignore the facts of the situation. There are immense possibilities in Asia, in Europe in America, but to suppose, as my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry did, with all his enthusiasm for the League of Nations and in a speech remarkably well documented with very cogent figures, that by leaving it to the slow, tardy, cumbersome machinery of Geneva we shall achieve any great success I think shows too much belief in the possibilities of that method.
When we come back to the actual decisions of the Conference so far as they have been published I am bound to admit a certain disappointment. It is a good thing, as an hon. Member opposite said, to have laid the ghost of Empire Free Trade but that does not carry us very far. It is true that most of the criticisms made of the proposals of Mr. Bennett are justified, but, after all, the responsibility for initiative in Imperial trade matters rests with the United Kingdom and we ought not to have left the initiative in these matters to the Dominions. It does appear—and I shall be glad to be corrected if the assumption is wrong—that most of the time, the Secretary of State for the Dominions was waiting for something to tarn up, and making admirable after-dinner speeches, and that most of the time the Chancellor of the Exchequer was waiting for something to turn down—and generally finding it.
What are the proposals on which some progress seems to have been made? I am not going into the details of the admirable committees set up deal with matters of interest and importance but not of first rate importance. The only committee, the proceedings of which have been given in detail, is that which examined the question of wheat and dealt with the quota. It has always seemed to me that the quota is a very cumbersome, indirect and clumsy method of dealing with the problem, and I am not surprised that the Dominions seem to have little enthusiasm for it. As the proposal stands in the report, I cannot see what the Dominions—or anybody else—are likely to get out of it. It is said that the Dominions are to be given a certain percentage of our supplies but that the moment they succeed, by any means in pushing prices up, the scheme is going to be abandoned. It is a truism in the wheat trade that wheat can always be sold at a price. It makes no real difference to Canada whether they sell to us or to the Continent at the world price at a particular moment. Already Canada sells two-thirds of her wheat elsewhere than in this country, and if we took no foreign wheat at all, not a ton of it, the Dominions would have to sell very nearly that percentage of their total supply outside this island.
What would be valuable to the Dominions, would be to secure definite contracts at a guaranteed price which they would know of beforehand and could rely upon, or to be able to use the quota to wrest higher prices out of the consumers in this country. The report of the committee seems to have recognised that danger, because they say that higher prices will not be obtained out of this country provided that there is free competition. In Canada at, this moment proposals are very far forward for forming a 100 per cent. wheat pool with a monopoly of exports. In Australia legislation exists for that purpose, and already at various times there have been relations between the two Dominion sets of farmers. I have not any doubt that, if they did get a quota, the first thing they would naturally do as competent business men would be to get together in order to try and get the best business advantage they could out of the fact that they had got a fixed share of a closed market. The moment you restrict competition in selling, you give a natural opportunity for increased prices for those sellers who are able to get into the market. Despite the rather doubtful precautions that are inserted in the scheme—precautions which it is quite obvious were beyond the power of the committee to carry out satisfactorily because, apparently, they abandoned the task—I have not any doubt that, if the quota scheme worked to the satisfaction of the Dominions—and if it did not work to their satisfaction it would be useless—it would only be if they were able to extract a higher price out of the consumers in this country than they are getting elsewhere. That is the only purpose and attraction that will bring them into it.
There are quota schemes in various countries. There was an excellent report on the quota scheme in Germany in "The Times" three weeks ago from its correspondent in Berlin, and what "The Times" correspondent said of Germany is also the experience of other countries in Europe that have tried the quota. The quota only works if you have such a high protective tariff as to make it much more difficult for the foreigner to sell his grain, and if you are able, so far as the home quota is concerned, to exercise a very elaborate control over the whole of the milling industry of the country. In the Scandinavian countries and in Middle Europe where they have tried the quota, they are coming to the conclusion that, even with a high protective tariff, it is not a very efficient instrument, and several of them are examining or adopting schemes for centralising their imports so as to get a real control over the supplies, imported and home produced, that go into their mills. The quota is a roundabout and clumsy device for avoiding the real, direct handling of the problem. Hon. Members opposite would prefer a tariff, but they know the country will not have it. We on this side would prefer a much more direct method of dealing with the problem by socialised import boards, but, for some reason, the Government do not seem to have pushed that proposal forward with any very great force or vigour. As for the quota, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin) was right when he said a few days ago, commending it to his own people, that it was not a Socialist device. It certainly is not, and I cannot make out why the Government have been wasting time over it.
I recognise the difficulties of the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs in trying to bargain with the Dominions when, in fact, his hands were so hampered and tied, and he had nothing to bargain with. He had been to Canada a few months before, and found himself more or less in the same position. He has no real control over the wheat trade or over the trades in imported sugar or fruits or any other commodities, and he would be unable, if he made a bargain, to be sure of delivering the goods when it came to legislation. While he was negotiating with important trades in this country and the Dominions, other parties very much more powerful than he were taking steps to stop the purchases in this and other countries of one of the great Dominions.
I was very much interested to see the effect on the import of British goods into Australia of the action which the City of London took to prevent Australia buying goods from abroad. The actual reduction of imports in the first six months of the operation of these schemes amounted very nearly to £30,000,000 of imports, and at least half that reduction was from this country—the loss of British export trade on account of the grip which the City of London is exercising over the purchasing power of the Commonwealth. Australia has lost much more than four or five times the advantages that the Export Credits Act has brought to export trade. The truth of the matter is that the majority of this House agree, and the majority of opinion in the country agree, that the methods of tariffs, hampering as it would our trade with the rest of the world, would not be of advantage as a scheme for developing trade with the Dominions. Not until the Government are able to get effective control over the import trade, and perhaps also over some portion of the export trade, will it be in a fair position to drive a bargain with the Dominions or other countries on satisfactory lines or on any lines at all.
I regret that it was not possible for the Government to face this Conference with a power conferred upon them by an Import Board Bill passed last Session, not only to deal with the problem of the prices of agricultural produce inside this country, but also to have been able to offer to the Dominions that definite and steady market for their produce which is what they really want and which it would pay us to give them if by that means we could secure a share in their increasing export trade which would be so valuable to us. At the same time, proceeding on those lines, the Government would be in a position, in dealing with the Dominions, to be able to make proposals to the Dominions which would be advantageous to the Dominions, giving them a prior right, but at the same time not cutting us off from the rest of the world, but leaving open the door for arrangements with South America and various European countries whose trade is necessary to us. I hope the Government will proceed as rapidly as possible with plans for this purpose, so that, if they happen to be in power when the Ottawa Conference meets, there will be no need for the disappointment which many people on this side of the House as well as in the country feel at the poor results of the Conference.
The hon. Member for East Leicester (Mr. Wise) has delivered a speech which, as is usual with him, has been interesting and instructive. I think it contributed a great deal more to the debate than we had from the Secretary of State to the Dominions. I cannot tell which way the hon. Member is going to vote, but at any rate I can say that the whole substance and tenor of his speech was an endorsement at any rate of the first part of our Motion of Censure, the censure which we placed against the Government for their failure to formulate any effective proposals for the extension of Empire trade.
During a great part of this debate the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs and the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) seem to have assumed that we are censuring the Government for not accepting at once and without full discussion the particular proposal that Mr. Bennett laid before the Conference on the 8th October. I must remind the House that our censure is not concerned at all with the particular form of that offer, but with the complete failure of the Government to utilise a great opportunity. Here was an opportunity for extending our favoured position in Dominion markets that are capable of almost infinite expansion. Here was an opportunity for endeavouring to link up our standard of Lying in this country with the high and progressive standard of living of our fellow-citizens in the great Dominions. Here was an opportunity of confirming and making secure that greatest of all political experiments which has ever been entered upon in the world—the experiment of endeavouring to see whether a world-wide Empire could be held together on the basis of free co-operation. Last of all, it was, after all, an opportunity also of contributing something to the progressive co-ordination of mankind.
I would ask, Is there an, other great country in the world which would not have given anything to have had the opportunity, even for 24 hours, of accepting or rejecting the proposals that were made to this country by the Dominions? The right hon. Members opposite have rejected them, and they have rejected them not in favour of any alternative, because they have had no alternative to propose; they have rejected them through sheer incapacity to come to any decision. Yet was there ever a time when we could less afford to throw away an opportunity or to reject any hand that might be held out to us? The facts of our present economic situation are perfectly well known—I need not labour them—and they were stated in the most emphatic terms by the Dominions Secretary at that opening debate on the 8th October, the first, and I may incidentally add, the last, business meeting which took place at the Imperial Conference as such.
It is quite true that the Dominions Secretary put forward no proposals, but he did speak with a realisation of the gravity of our present situation and of the immense opportunities which the Imperial Conference might open up to us and to every community within the Empire. His speech clearly and obviously was intended, by him at any rate, to be a prelude to action. It implied that results would come from the Imperial Conference. But no results have followed. His appeal that the hopes of the Dominions should not be let down were disregarded, and so his speech has been suppressed. That suppression is typical of the whole conduct of the economic discussions during the recent Conference. In these matters we have not been dealing with constitutional intricacies or with delicate international issues; we have been dealing with a business matter of direct and immediate interest to every citizen of this country and of the Dominions, a business matter on which every person in the Empire is anxious to be informed and on which the great majority of our citizens are perfectly capable of coming to a conclusion. About those discussions we have so far heard nothing.
We had the opening speeches of Mr. Bennett and the other Dominion Prime Ministers on the 8th October. But we are told nothing about the answer of the Government. This House and this country are entitled to know what were the arguments put forward by this Government in answer to the Dominions. What opportunity was given to the Dominions to make a rejoinder, to explain their case more fully? Do I understand—and I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will answer clearly on this point—that the proceedings at the meetings of the heads of delegations, so far as they concerned economic issues, will be made public, or is the further Blue Book only to give us the reports of the committees and sub-committees? That is a very important material issue; but, whatever the reply, it does nut affect the justification of this Vote of Censure, because what we do know is quite enough to convince us that the representatives of the Dominions were treated in this matter in a fashion in which they should not have been treated. We do know that immediately upon Mr. Bennett's speech the Conference as such was suspended and was never reassembled, except to pass cut-and-dried resolutions and to pay the ordinary farewell compliments five weeks later. As far as the public was concerned, the Conference was silenced and suppressed. Of course, there were meetings of the heads of delegations, but the information about them is of the most meagre description.
I should like to say a word about Mr. Bennett's proposal itself. In the felicitous language of the Dominions Secretary, there never was such a piece of humbug as this proposal. I can only conclude from that language that the last thng that the right hon. Gentleman expects is that he or his colleagues will ever have to go to Ottawa for the continuation of the Conference. As for the description which the right hon. Gentleman gave of that proposal, it was the sheerest travesty of that proposal, and if ever there was a piece of humbug, it was his description of it. Shall I turn to the right hon. Member for Darwen?
The right hon. Gentleman asked me if I would have accepted Mr. Bennett's offer if I had been in a position to do so, and he then quoted from a document for which I have been responsible, the report of the Research Committee of the Empire Economic Union, pointing out that the preference which I had hoped to get from the Dominions was something like a 20 per cent. preference. That is quite true, but, as he also pointed out, for the sake of a preference as great as that, there was a great deal that I was prepared to give. I admit that Mr. Bennett's offer did not go as far as that. It was in fact an offer of an additional 2½ or 3 per cent., bringing up the preference which Canada would give to something like 13 per cent. Well, I should not be prepared to give as much for a 13 per cent. preference as I would for a 20 per cent. preference, but I would give something. At any rate, I should, consider a, 13 per cent. preference well worth discussing, and let me remind the House that that was all that Mr. Bennett asked of the Conference. He never asked for a definite acceptance of his proposal. What he did ask for was a definite acceptance of the principle of which his proposal was an illustration, and then he asked for a period of study for the Governments concerned to see whether, out of this proposal, something might come that might be acceptable to all.
It was in that sense exactly that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition accepted the proposal. He accepted it in these words:
I say without hesitation that the great principle of Imperial preference embodied in that offer is one to which we must subscribe,
and he went on to welcome Mr. Bennett's suggestion that a committee should be set up and that the question should be fully studied. I should like to ask whether the Government accepted the principle or gave adequate consideration in any shape or form to the proposal which Mr. Bennett put forward. The Secretary of State for the Dominions spoke as if the Government had accepted the principle of fiscal preference, and were only boggling as to the details. If that be so, what is the meaning of the rider at the end of the resolution adjourning the Conference? The rider was:
That this reference is not to be construed as modifying the policy expressed on behalf of any of the Governments represented at this conference,
What it means is that that aspect of Mr. Bennett's proposal is definitely turned down in advance of the Ottawa Conference if this Government is to be represented there.
If that be so, will the Chancellor of the Exchequer assure me that the Government, if it goes to Ottawa, will have modified their point of view, and will go with a more open mind than they showed at the Conference? What I say about the offer made by Mr. Bennett and about the proposals made by all the other Dominion Governments, about which the Secretary of State for the Dominions said nothing, is that they were offers that no serious person, who was not concerned to defend a bad case, would suggest were anything but worthy of consideration, and of the fullest and most serious consideration. No one would suggest that they were not inspired by a genuine desire to help this country in its difficulties, as well as to promote Dominion trade. Let me remind the House how these proposals were treated. If they were utterly unacceptable in principle, the Government should have said so there and then. If there were any possibility of accepting them in any modified or attenuated form at this Conference, they should have been fully discussed at meeting after meeting until some solution had beep arrived at. What happened? Neither course was pursued. The matter was discussed, after 8th October, on the following day at a meeting of the heads of delegations. At the very next meeting of the heads of delegations, on 13th October, after some general objections had been raised, as I understand it, and when no final or definite answer had been given to the Dominions, they were invited to consider alternative proposals.
There were meagre short summaries published of the meetings of the heads of delegations, and the paper with which the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends are in the closest touch, and, indeed, all the Press, gave substantially in the same terms day by day a minimum of information as to the main topics that were discussed. When the fuller papers are published, it will be clear that on the 13th, after at most two meetings to discuss the proposals made on the 8th, the subject was turned to one side and side-tracked on to a discussion on so-called alternatives. The main issue from that date onwards was withdrawn from the heads of delegations, and certainly withdrawn from the Graham Committee, as being a matter of high policy, as sub judice, and out of their purview. So, having successfully muzzled the Conference, the Government kept back their definite answer to the Dominion proposals from day to day for a whole month. If the information we have received is not correct, I shall be glad to have it definitely contradicted by the right hon. Gentleman. Not until 12th October, when the Conference was on the eve of breaking up, when there was no possible time for any discussion, the Dominion Prime Ministers were for the first time definitely and explicitly informed of the decision that was embodied in the formal statement which was read out at the Conference at the meeting of the heads of delegations on 13th November.
For this treatment of the Conference, the Government have only one excuse—their inability to make up their minds. We all know perfectly well that the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs hoped and believed that he could persuade his colleagues to agree to some advance in the direction of Imperial Preference. He, at least, does realise the gravity of the present situation, both Imperial and domestic, and he, at any rate, is not hampered by any excess of doctrinaire prejudices. Even the Prime Minister hoped to secure some practical outcome of the Conference. I believe that if he had made some sacrifice of theory, he would have had the overwhelming support of his own party and of every section in the House of Commons. I am afraid that these two Members of the Government have not counted in this question, because there is not any real strength of purpose be hind them. The Secretary of State for the Dominions ran round the Conference oozing good intentions and geniality, but utterly unable to make good the hopes which he was so ready to raise in the minds of the Dominion representatives. As to the Prime Minister, he no doubt presided with his usual dignity and urbanity, but he only; he neither directed nor decided.
The real decision was the decision of the Chancellor of the Exchequer who was determined that nothing should come out of this Conference. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is the high priest of a Cobdenism such as even Mr. Cobden never knew. In that faith he lives serene, unshakable, indifferent to facts, indifferent to every human consideration. Not the slightest breath of self-questioning humour even can ruffle his sublime complacency. Our business men, he tells us, live too much upon tradition; our manufacturers are not alive to changed conditions. Of his own up-to-dateness, of his own freedom from all pre-conceptions, no shadow of doubt has ever crossed his mind. The Conference might be muzzled and prevented from discussing the fiscal question, while the Government were supposed to be making up their minds and coming to a decision. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer imposed no muzzle upon himself. His decision had been come to long ago. There was no sub judice about the question so far as he was concerned. At Manchester and at Accrington he fairly let himself go in describing the sink of corruption to which Parliament would he reduced, if we dared to depart from the sacrosanct tenets of Free Trade, and the valueless-ness of the Dominion market. What tact, what consummate tact! How the Dominion Premiers must have enjoyed the reminder that the help which they offer to this country is worthless! How they must have been flattered by being told that the Parliaments which they represent are sinks of corruption! How they must have appreciated the privilege of being allowed, even for a few weeks, to breathe the austere purity of an atmosphere in which no votes are ever solicited by the wholesale bribery of the electorate! It was of just such another doctrinaire, Robespierre, the "most consistent, incorruptible of thin acrid men" that Carlyle once wrote:
Stricter man according to his formula, to his credo and his cant, lived not in that age. May God ho merciful to him and to us.
I think I might add "and merciful to the Prime Minister and to his party" Like Sinbad in the Arabian Nights, the Prime Minister has had to carry this Old
Man of the Sea round his shoulder, though unlike Sinbad, he has never shown either the determination or the resource to rid himself of an incubus which has wrecked this Conference and bids fair to wreck his party. In any case the Dominion proposals were turned down, and turned down practically undiscussed, with no full opportunities for discussion. What reason, were given? We have been given no reasons except those which figure in the question-begging formal reply of the British Government, that the "interests of the United Kingdom precluded an economic policy which would injure its foreign trade and add to the burdens of the people."
In what way is foreign trade likely to be injured? Is it by retaliation, to punish us for the crime of daring to look after our own interests? If so, what retaliation has any country exercised against the United States when it raised its tariffs? Or is it one of the automatic inexorable laws of trade that a reduction in our imports from any one country tends to reduce our exports to that country? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) quoted the case of the Argentine. He suggested that if we began reducing our imports from the Argentine it would be impossible for the people of the Argentine to buy our cotton goods, which, he said, were larger than in the case of Canada, though he forgot to mention that they were a far smaller import than those of Australia,. I confess that I find it difficult to follow his reasoning. The facts are that the Argentine, which has an absolutely free market in this country and sells us twice as much—even more—as it sells to the United States—which shuts out almost every article the Argentine produces—buys far more from the United States than from us. I should say the conclusion rather was that if we begin to teach a country like the Argentine that we have the power of withholding as well as the power of giving they would be prepared to give twice as much for a good deal less of our market than they give us to-day. [Interruption.]
The last thing we are concerned with is to put an end to the foreign trade of this country. We believe in making the home market, the Empire market, secure and we shall be in a position then to do a much more effective trade with foreign countries. Our policy is not one of exclusion. If I may use the phrase of an hon. Member opposite, it is a policy not of isolation but of insulation, a policy to protect the standard of life of this country against fluctuations of world trade. Again, what evidence will the right hon. Gentleman bring forward to say that this policy is going to add to the burden of taxation? I would say, in all seriousness, that if the effect of any of the duties suggested at the Imperial Conference were to add to the cost of any of the foodstuffs concerned, even that might be well worth facing if the resulting increased trade and employment by far exceeded it.
Let me remind the House of two facts which have occurred in the last week. In this last week 24,000 more persons have been added to the list of the unemployed, and in this last week the price of the loaf has come down by½d. Is there one man of those 24,000, or, for the matter of that, any of the 2,250,000 other unemployed, who would not gladly go back to a 7½d. loaf if he could go back to his job? As a matter of fact, our circumstances in the Empire are such that we have no reason to believe that any of the import duties upon foreign foodstuffs which might be the outcome of discussions with the Dominions would seriously affect the cost of living. The right hon. Member for Darwen, in another connection, supplied an adequate answer. He reminded us that at this moment the wheat growing countries of the world are holding up a surplus of 153,000,000 bushels when the total demand is only 94,000,000. Under those conditions neither an import duty nor a quota could have any substantial effect upon prices. The most it could do would be to give that assurance to markets which is what the Empire is really asking for.
That is only part of the answer that I would give. I say there is no policy which lays such burdens on the backs of the humblest of our people as the policy which this country is pursuing at the present moment, the policy which makes us the most heavily-taxed nation under the sun, the policy under which the right hon. Gentleman raises—or has raised under his auspices—£1,000,000,000 in taxes. That immense burden of taxation diffused from one person to another, enters into the cost of production of every article in this country and constitutes a veiled Excise which hampers us in our sales abroad, and, because it is uncompensated by any corresponding customs duties, creates a deadly unfair addition to our trade difficulties even in our own country. More than that, that taxation is added to the cost of every article for which the consumer has to pay in this country. It enters into the cost of his house, his clothes, his bread and everything he consumes. I spoke of the price of bread. The last time that wheat was at its present price, the loaf cost 4½d. or 5d. I venture to say that a very substantial portion of the difference is due to the fact that before the baker can sell a single loaf, he has to get back some part of his rates and taxes, and the rates and taxes of those who work for him or supply any of the instruments or articles which he uses. There [pointing at the Chancellor of the Exchequer] sits the arch food-taxer. Until we get rid of him and the policy for which he stands, and enter on a policy which, by increasing production, will enable revenue to increase, there is no hope for the future. We do not ask the Government to lay burdens on the people. Our charge is that they have thrown away the best opportunity ever offered them for creating a state of affairs which would really reduce the burdens on our people.
I turn to the other part of our charge —that the Government have failed entirely to bring forward any alternative proposal. There were no alternative proposals. Let me take the case of the quota. It is a very interesting story. On page 44 of the Blue Book we read that it "became apparent that the Governments of Canada and Australia attached importance to the increase of the sale of their wheat." Truly, this is an age of discovery! Discoveries never cease! We turn to another page, and it "becomes apparent" again that a quota scheme for United Kingdom wheat has been under examination for some months. Accordingly a scheme was worked out. That did not mean that it was a British proposal—not at all. It is interesting to note in an obviously inspired newspaper passage in the "Daily Herald" of 15th October that the quota was "not a proposal at all, but a subject which the British Government thought the Conference should consider." On 21st October, to avoid false hopes, the "Daily Herald" again said that the "examination in no way implied that the quota had been approved in principle." The suggestions were "hypothetical and contingent. The "Daily Herald" was perfectly right. The Government were not prepared to accept the quota at all. Here was a great chance for them. They might have accepted it in principle. There was no acceptance, even in principle, not even a suggestion of sympathy, but merely that the report of the committee would receive careful consideration.
The substance of our complaint and our Vote of, Censure is that it should have received careful examination for months before the Conference met. I think what the Dominions resented most in connection with this quota and in connection with all the other so-called alternatives, which were no alternatives —for no proposals were put forward, and there was no suggestion that even if they were they would be accepted by the Government—what they resented was that nothing was prepared, nothing was ready. They were refused the right to discuss the things they came over most anxious to discuss, and they were turned on to so-called alternatives for which no previous preparation had been made, and on which no decision, even in principle, had been arrived at by the Government. They came over, after all, for an Imperial Conference, and they were not over-pleased when they found they were invited to amuse themselves by attending Professor Graham's study circle.
If these things prove anything at all, they prove the necessity for an economic secretariat to prepare business for the Conference. We are told by the Secretary of State for the Dominions that the British Government put forward a proposal for such a secretariat but that the Dominions were not in favour. I am not surprised. In such an atmosphere, with no assurance that the secretariat would be any less muzzled than the committees were, what inducement was there to take up such a proposal? What have we left? We have a slight enlargement of the functions of the Imperial Economic Committee. I can only hope that something may possibly come out of that. There is a certain statement about the Empire Marketing Board. Obviously, the Conference Committee severely rebuked the Chancellor of the Exchequer for his raids on the Empire Marketing Board, and it was suggested that it should be put, with a fixed revenue, outside his clutches. We are not told what that revenue should be.
Last of all, we have the pledge about the existing preferences. Let me remind the House that the Government declared that "the existing preferential margins granted to all parts of the Empire would not be varied for three years, or pending the outcome of the Conference, subject to the right of the United Kingdom Parliament to fix the Budget from year to year." If that means anything, it is an active obligation on the Government. If at any time some existing preference should lapse, it is clearly the duty of the Government to take measures necessary to preserve it. In the next few weeks two Preferences of considerable importance to the Dominions are concerned—the Preference on gloves, which amounted to £17,000 last year, and on cutlery, which was £6,000, and much more in some years. These lapse automatically in accordance with the decision of Parliament taken many years before this pledge was contemplated. To say that that decision over-rides the clear obligation of the pledge, is a piece of casuistry of which only the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be capable.
What does the Chancellor of the Exchequer mean by this curious proviso about the right of Parliament to fix the Budget? Of course, Parliament has the power to violate any obligation, but is there any precedent for a Government giving a pledge and then deliberately preserving a loophole for violation afterwards? Only four days after this pledge was given, there was another pledge, also tying down our tariff policy, the formal ratification at Geneva of the Tariff Truce. I have taken the trouble to read every Clause of that document, and there is no suggestion there of the Government's pledge being subject to the right of Parliament to fix the Budget. I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer straight out: Does he or does he not contemplate the possibility of introducing into a Budget provisions contrary to this pledge, or has he any intention of accepting an Amendment which will violate that pledge? If he does not, what is the use of the qualification which he has made? If he does, what is the value of his pledge?
I do not feel that I ought to detain the House more than a minute or two longer, but I wish to say that I cannot believe that the attitude of the Government in this matter expresses either the conviction of a unanimous Cabinet or of a unanimous party on the Labour Benches. We know quite well that if the Government had had the courage to agree to anything, if it had only been the acceptance in principle of the wheat quota, not only should we on this side of the House had been delighted to support the Government, but I am sure that every one of the followers of the Government would have been ready to do the same. We know perfectly well that some of the Government supporters, like the hon. Member for East Leicester (Mr. Wise), would have seen in this Conference a wonderful opportunity of showing Socialism as being something that can be applied in the Imperial sphere as well as the domestic sphere. I am sure that hon. Members opposite would only have been too happy if some great project of Imperial Socialism could have been carried out.
On this side of the House we might have had some misgivings as to the detailed application of the Socialist policy in this respect, but at any rate we should have respected their spirit. No one can respect the spirit of mere negation, the abnegation of all initiation in affairs of Empire, which this Government has shown in connection with this Conference. Our charge against the Government is that it has failed. We blame the Government for lack of preparation, for inability to arrive at any positive decision on any one of the alternatives before the Conference, for incapacity to realise the gravity of the situation, or to appreciate the golden opportunity which presented itself. At the opening of the Conference, Mr. Bennett reminded the Conference:
For to you, as to us, it must be plain that we dare not fail.
The Conference has failed and failed because those responsible for it have lacked the capacity, the vision and the courage to make it succeed. In meanness of spirit they have made the great refusal.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) has appeared this evening in a new role. I do not remember any previous occasion on which the right hon. Gentleman has contributed humour and amusement. I have always admired the solidity of the right hon. Gentleman's contributions to our debates, but it would be very difficult for me to extract from his speech anything which could be regarded as a substantial contribution to this Motion. It is quite appropriate that, when the comedian has left the stage, the villain should appear. I am painfully conscious of my many sins, but never till this evening did I know that they were so terribly onerous. The right hon. Gentleman has attributed to me the entire responsibility for what he describes as the failure of the Conference, but I doubt if he really believes that, because in his peroration he indicted the Government under a number of heads—the lack of preparation and other heads. The right hon. Gentleman exaggerates my influence at the Imperial Conference. I was a very humble and very obscure member of that Conference, and I can scarcely believe that the occasional views that I might have ventured to utter had any effect at all upon the decisions there.
The attitude of the Government with regard to the problems that came before the Conference was the attitude of a united Government—[Interruption]— and it was the attitude of a united party. [Interruption.] Our policy is a policy that does not change with every change of the moon. [Interruption.] It is a policy upon which we fought the last General Election, and it is a policy upon which we shall fight the next General Election. The right hon. Gentleman said, repeating a remark made by his Leader, that we have missed a great opportunity. What was that opportunity? We have missed the opportunity of taxing the food of the people. We have missed the opportunity of adding to our economic burdens. We have missed the opportunity of injuring a very large part of our foreign trade.
The right hon. Gentleman appears to be very familiar with what took place inside the Conference. I will not say what the sources of his information may be, but I do not think that those sources are obscure. He gave very precisely certain dates, and told us what was discussed by the heads of Delegations. There has been no published statement about the proceedings of those meetings yet. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Why not? We have issued a summary of the proceedings. It was not until January, 1927, nearly three months after the close of the right hon. Gentleman's Imperial Conference, that the late Government published a report of the proceedings. If the Opposition had not been in such a hurry with this Motion of Censure, if they had waited until they knew something about the proceedings of the Imperial Conference, they would have been in possession of the information necessary to conduct such a debate as this.
Parliament will receive precisely the same information of the proceedings of this Conference as was given in connection with the Conference of 1926. The right hon. Gentleman said, out of the fund of his information of what took place behind closed doors, that we never gave the Dominion delegates any statement of our position or any reply to Mr. Bennett's proposal until near the end of the Conference. His words were that we had kept it back for a month, and it was only a day or two before the close of the Conference that we gave them a statement of our attitude and position. That statement is incorrect. The proposal of Mr. Bennett was discussed at the first meeting of the heads of delegations. It was discussed again two or three days later. It did not take the Government long to make up their minds and to come to a conclusion as to what their attitude must be in regard to Mr. Bennett's proposal, because what was Mr. Bennett's proposal? My right hon. Friend to-day used a description of it to which exception appears to be taken by hon. Members opposite. I
had the curiosity to see what was the real meaning of the word that my right hon. Friend used, so I took the trouble to turn up Murray's Dictionary, and this is what it says about that word:
This is a word very much in vogue with people of taste and fashion. It is indeed a blackguard sound, made use of by most people of distinction. It is a fine makeweight in conversation, and some great men deceive themselves so egregiously as to think they mean something by it.
The only proposal that was put before the Conference from the Dominions was Mr. Bennett's proposal. My right hon. Friend has dealt with that very fully, and I do not propose to add more than a very few words. There was no ambiguity about Mr. Bennett's proposal except as to what he exactly meant by 10 per cent., and it is clear from what the right hon. Gentleman said just now that in that respect he does not yet understand Mr. Bennett's proposal. He said it was that you should raise the foreign tariff from 10 to 13⅓ per cent. That was not Mr. Bennett's proposal. Mr. Bennett's proposal was this: "I am not going to reduce the tariff against the United Kingdom, but I will raise the tariff against the foreigner by 10 ten per cent, of the present rate." That means that if there were a duty of 30 per cent. against the foreigner now, the duty would be raised to 33 per cent.
The right hon. Gentleman has had his opportunity, and the time left at my disposal is far too short. It cannot be denied that Mr. Bennett came to this country—[Interruption.] I can quite understand that hon. Members opposite do not wish to hear me; they never want to hear me. Mr. Bennett made preparations for this Conference. He had been returned to power a few weeks before it was necessary to come to the Conference, and for a fortnight before he left Canada he was engaged in preparing for the Imperial Conference by making large additions to the duties upon British imports into Canada. I will just give you one example, in addition to the facts given by my right hon. Friend. My constituency is interested in woollen goods. It has had a large trade with Canada. The Canadians raised the duty upon 32 ounce woollen cloth from 7½d to 2s. 3½d. Scores of other instances can be given of similar action by Canada and Australia. And then Mr. Bennett comes here and says, "If you will tax Canadian wheat—[Interruption.] It. is quite right. Mr. Bennett said that scores of times. [HON. MEMBERS: "Tax Canadian wheat?"] "If you tax foreign wheat." I am very much obliged to hon. Members for allowing me to correct that slip. Mr. Bennett said, "If you will put a tax upon foreign wheat, I am going to give you no reciprocity, I am going to keep the tariffs against the United Kingdom as they are"—and, mark you, in many cases prohibitive tariffs.
Both he and Mr. Scullin were perfectly honest. They said that their policy was to give a preference to British imports where they must import those goods, but where British goods came into competition with Canadian or Australian goods, then they put up a protective duty for the protection of their goods. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Why not? The Leader of the Opposition said that his objection to the policy which we had adopted at this Conference was that we were destroying Imperial economic unity, and now hon. Members opposite are approving a Dominion, policy which frankly, honestly and deliberately says that the purpose is to keep out British manufactures. [Interruption.] They said it, and they made no secret of it—[Interruption]
One of the Australian Ministers who was recently in this country, but who was not a delegate to the Imperial Conference, said: "Our purpose is to bring your factories to Australia." That is the purpose of Canada, too. Therefore, they put up these tariffs to try to compel us to dismantle our mills here. [Interruption.] Yes. It is only a few weeks since a mill in the West Riding of Yorkshire was dismantled and its machinery sent to Canada. [Interruption.] If hon. Members do not wish to hear me, it shows the weakness of their case.
Mr. Bennett's was the only definite proposal put forward by the Dominion representatives. What did it amount to? It meant what I have said, that they will keep on their prohibitive tariffs against the goods of this country, and they will put a slight increase upon the rates applied to foreign imports. I am not going to say anything more about that, beyond this, that I am going to give the reply to it by one whose name I am sure will be received with respect upon the opposite benches. The man who uttered these words at an Imperial Conference was the man who was rather flippantly described the other day by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) as "the famous Joe Chamberlain." Mr. Joseph Chamberlain said:
The very valuable experience which we have derived from the history of the Canadian tariff shows that while we may most readily and gratefully accept from you any preference which you may be willing voluntarily to accord us we cannot bargain with you for it, we cannot pay for it., unless you go much further and enable us to enter your home market on terms of greater equality. So long as a preferential tariff, even a munificent preference, is still sufficiently protective to exclude us altogether or nearly so from your markets it is no satisfaction to us that you have imposed even greater disability on the same goods if they come from foreign markets.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has said that time is the essence of the matter, that the sands are running out, and that the offer that is being made to the Mother Country may never be repeated. I want to put this question to the right hon. Gentleman—I do not expect to get an answer. If the right hon. Gentleman had been the head of the British Delegation at the Conference would he have accepted Mr. Bennett's proposal? Would the Tory party have accepted it and gone to the country? [Interruption.] They have told us that they are going to the country on some such policy as this. I fervently hope they will. What will be their pro-
gramme? It will be an appeal to the British people for Imperial unity to enable the Dominions to keep out our goods and increase the number of unemployed in this country. [Interruption.] Another item in the programme will be this, "we ask you to tax yourselves for the benefit of the Dominions; we want the British people to pay the Dominions for raising tariffs which keep out our goods." That is the Tory way of securing Imperial unity.
The right hon. Gentleman has said this afternoon that the Empire could only be kept together by a system of economic fetters. Are we to place ourselves in economic fetters to the Dominions as the only means by which the Imperial tie can be kept? That is not our policy. It is the most sure and certain way of disrupting the Empire. The Tory party monopolises the Empire. They are always mouthing, to use the expression of the right hon. Member for Epping, Imperial sentiment by the Imperial pint. Their policy is one which will inevitably lead to the breakup of the Empire. [Interruption.] The Tories lost us what would have been the greatest of our Dominions to-day, the United States of America. The Tories lost us those colonies by taxing them for our benefit, and the Tory party to-day, having learnt nothing, are going to break up the Empire by taxing our people for the benefit of the Dominions. I do not say that they want to do so deliberately, but that will be the certain result.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition made an appeal to us for Imperial unity. It is the easiest thing in the world to get unity upon anything provided that one side will wholly abandon its principles and the appeal which the right hon. Gentleman made to us, means this: "Accept Tory policy." I doubt very much whether there would be unity even then, because there does not appear to be much unity in the party opposite in regard to these questions now. But that was precisely the appeal that the Dominions made to us. "Let us have economic unity." Yes, but upon what conditions? On the condition that the United Kingdom abandoned its present fiscal policy, there was to be unity. There was to be unity on their terms. The whole of the sacrifice was to be made by us. They told us, repeatedly, that their policy was a policy of tariffs. They said, as I have already stated, that they are not going to change. Therefore, in their belief, if there is to be such economic unity as the right hon. Gentleman adumbrated this afternoon, it can only be by a change in the fiscal policy of this country—and we are not having that. The right hon. Gentleman's speech, if I may digress for a moment, gave very great gratification to Members on this side of the House. I was under the impression that Cobden was dead. He appears to be a very lively ghost, and seems to haunt the right hon. Gentleman. All through his speeches in this House he has never been able to get away from Mr. Cobden, and, this afternoon, in a speech of 40 minutes he devoted half-an-hour to Mr. Cobden with never a word of the Motion which he was supposed to be moving. I think, judging from the reception that was given to that speech by the Members sitting behind him, we may expect very soon to see another Whip signed by a still larger number of Tory Members, calling for a conference to decide the question of whether "Baldwin Must Go." [Interruption.] I appear to have touched a very sore spot. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) made a very interesting statement this afternoon—[Interruption.]
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead in the course of his speech, claimed that 96½ per cent. of the members of the Federation of British Industries favour a Protectionist policy. I am not in the least surprised if that statement be accurate. I should expect the Federation of British Industries to be in favour of Protection. The Federation of British Industries has addressed a number of communications to me and there are two points that they always make; one is that the cost of production must come down, the other is that taxation must be reduced. When they say that the cost of production must come down they mean that wages must come down.
When they say that taxation must come down they mean that the Income Tax must be reduced. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook made a statement that a 10 per cent, tariff would do no good. Nothing he said would do any good less than 30 per cent. The right hon. Gentleman would impose an import duty of 30 per cent., and he said that that would give an increasing revenue. I thought that one of the purposes of an import duty was to protect the home market, but now the right hon. Gentleman tells us that his 30 per cent. tariff would have the effect of constantly increasing the dumping into this country of foreign goods, which are going to produce an increasing revenue. This is the real inwardness of this Protectionist policy. It is an attempt, in an indirect way, because employers have not the courage to make a frontal attack, upon wages. It is not a 10 per cent. reduction of wages, but, according to the right hon. Gentleman, it will be a 30 per cent. tariff, and therefore the cost of living will be increased by over 30 per cent.
We are censured because we would not accept the proposals that were put forward for imposing tariffs in this country. At the beginning of this discussion we were supposed to be in the dock. Now the party opposite are in the dock, and there they are going to be kept. They cannot ride off about this question of food taxation. [An HON. MEMBER: "Tell the truth!"] We had an election recently, and the Tory candidate placarded the constituency, "Vote for me and no food taxes"; and the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), speaking about a fortnight ago, said that the reason why, if I may use the names that he did, Mr. Baldwin, Mr. Neville Chamberlain, and others were very shaky about food taxes, very backward about food taxes, was because they had been informed that if they went to the country on food taxes, they would not win a single industrial constituency.
The right hon. Gentleman this afternoon charged us with-lack of vision. We have the vision to see through these proposals. If a policy of this sort were adopted, it would qualify us for the inside of a lunatic asylum. [Interruption.] Let the party opposite have the courage to declare their policy. Let them go to the country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Resign!"] We shall be prepared to take the field against them, and I have sufficient faith in the still surviving common sense of the people of this country to know that when such an issue is put before them, they will, as they have always done, reject it by an overwhelming majority.
That this House censures His Majesty's Government of the United Kingdom for its failure to formulate any effective proposals for the extension of Empire Trade and for
|Division No. 38.]||AYES||[11.1 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Chamberlain, Rt.Hn.Sir J.A.(Birm., W.)||Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)|
|Ainsworth, Lieut.-Col. Charles||Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Edgbaston)||Grattan-Doyle, Sir N.|
|Albery, Irving James||Chapman, Sir S.||Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter|
|Allen, Sir J. Sandeman (Liverp'l., W.)||Christie, J. A.||Greene, W. P. Crawford|
|Allen, W. E. D. (Belfast, W.)||Cobb, Sir Cyril||Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London)|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Cockerill, Brig. General Sir George||Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon.|
|Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W.||Cohen, Major J. Brunel||Gritten, W. G. Howard|
|Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover)||Colfox, Major William Philip||Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Colman, N. C. D.||Gunston, Captain D. W.|
|Atkinson, G.||Courtauld, Major J. S.||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.|
|Baillie-Hamilton, Hon. Charles W.||Courthope, Colonel Sir G L.||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley (Bewdley)||Cranborne, Viscount||Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford)|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Crichton-Stuart, Lord C.||Hammersley, S. S.|
|Balfour, Captain H. H. (I.of Thanet)||Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Hanbury, C.|
|Balniel, Lord||Crookshank, Capt. H. C.||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Hartington, Marquess of|
|Beaumont, M. W.||Culverwell, C. T. (Bristol, West)||Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon||Cunliffe-Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip||Haslam, Henry C.|
|Berry, Sir George||Dalkelth, Earl of||Henderson, Capt. R.R.(Oxf'd, Henley)|
|Betterton, Sir Henry B.||Dalrymple-White, Lt.-Col. Sir Godfrey||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.|
|Bevan, S. J. (Holborn)||Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H.||Herbert, Sir Dennis (Hertford)|
|Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman||Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset. Yeovll)||Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller|
|Bird, Ernest Roy||Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Dawson, Sir Philip||Hope, Sir Harry (Forfar)|
|Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart||Dixey, A. C.||Horne, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert S.|
|Bowyer, Captain Sir George E. W.||Duckworth, G. A. V.||Howard-Bury, Colonel C. K.|
|Boyce, H. L.||Dugdale, Capt. T. L.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney,N.)|
|Bracken, B.||Eden, Captain Anthony||Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer|
|Braithwaite, Major A. N.||Edmondson, Major A. J.||Hurd, Percy A.|
|Brass, Captain Sir William||Elliot, Major Walter E.||Hurst, Sir Gerald B.|
|Briscoe, Richard George||Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s M.)||Iveagh, Countess of|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham)||Everard, W. Lindsay||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton)|
|Buckingham, Sir H.||Falle, Sir Bertram G.||Kindersley, Major G. M.|
|Bullock, Captain Malcolm||Ferguson, Sir John||Knox, Sir Alfred|
|Burton, Colonel H. W||Fermoy, Lord||Lamb, Sir J. Q.|
|Butler, R. A.||Fielden E. B.||Lane Fox, Col. Rt. Hon. George R.|
|Butt, Sir Alfred||Fison, F. G. Clavering||Law, Sir Alfred (Derby, High Peak)|
|Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Ford, Sir P. J.||Leigh, Sir John (Clapham)|
|Campbell, E. T.||Forestier-Walker, Sir L.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Fremantie, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Lewis, Oswald (Colchester)|
|Castle Stewart, Earl of||Galbraith. J. F. W.||Little, Dr. E. Graham|
|Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Ganzonl, Sir John||Llewellin, Major J. J.|
|Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Gault, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton||Locker-Lampson, Rt. Hon. Godfrey|
|Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt. R. (Prtsmth,S.)||Gibson, C. G. (Pudsey & Otley)||Lockwood, Captain J. H.|
|Cazalet, Captain Victor A.||Glyn, Major R. G. C.||Long, Major Hon. Eric|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Ox. Univ.)||Gower, Sir Robert||Lymington, Viscount|
|Chadwick, Capt. Sir Robert Burton||Grace, John||McConnell, Sir Joseph|
|Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Ramsbotham, H.||Steel-Maitland. Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur|
|Macquisten, F. A.||Rawson, Sir Cooper||Stewart, W. J. (Belfast South)|
|Maitland, A. (Kent, Faversham)||Reid, David D. (County Dawn)||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Makins, Brigadier-General E.||Remer, John R.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral M. F.|
|Margesson, Captain H. D.||Rentoul, Sir Gervals S.||Taylor, Vice-Admiral E. A.|
|Marjoribanks, Edward||Reynolds, Col. Sir James||Thomas, Major L. B. (King's Norton)|
|Mason, Colonel Glyn K.||Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)||Thomson, Sir F.|
|Merriman, Sir F. Boyd||Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall)||Tinne, J. A.|
|Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)||Rodd, Rt. Hon. Sir James Rennell||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Mitchell-Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W.||Ross, Major Ronald D.||Todd, Capt. A. J.|
|Mond, Hon. Henry||Ruggles-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A.||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Moore, Sir Newton J. (Richmond)||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)||Turton, Robert Hugh|
|Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr)||Salmon, Major I.||Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Kenyon|
|Morrison, W. S. (Glos., Cirencester)||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)||Wallace, Capt. D. E. (Hornsey)|
|Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur Clive||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. Lambert|
|Muirhead, A. J.||Sandeman, Sir N. Stewart||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. D.||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Nicholson, O. (Westminster)||Savery, S. S.||Wayland, Sir William A.|
|Nicholson, Col. Rt. H n. W.G.(Ptrstf'ld)||Shepperson, Sir Ernest Whittome||Wells, Sydney R.|
|Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert||Simms, Major-General J.||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|
|O'Connor, T. J.||Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's U., Belfst)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Oman, Sir Charles William C.||Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)||Winterton. Rt. Hon. Earl|
|O'Neill, Sir H.||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)||Withers, Sir John James|
|Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William||Smith-Carington, Neville W.||Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount|
|Peake, Captain Osbert||Smithers, Waldron||Womersley, W. J.|
|Penny, Sir George||Somerset, Thomas||Wood. Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley|
|Percy, Lord Eustac (Hastings)||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)||Worthington-Evans, Hon. Sir L.|
|Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)||Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East)||Wright, Brig.-Gen. W. D. (Tavlst'k)|
|Pilditch, Sir Philip||Southby, Commander A. R. J.||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton|
|Power, Sir John Cecil||Spender-Clay, Colonel H.|
|Pownall, Sir Assheton||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Preston, Sir Walter Rueben||Stanley, Mal. Hon. O. (W'morland)||Commander Sir B. Eyres Monsell|
|and Major Sir George Hennessy.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)||Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Hastings, Dr. Somerville|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Collins, Sir Godfrey (Greenock)||Haycock, A. W.|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Compton, Joseph||Hayday, Arthur|
|Altchison. Rt. Hon. Craigle M.||Cove, William G.||Hayes, John Henry|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (Hillsbro')||Daggar, George||Henderson, Right Hon. A. (Burnley)|
|Alpass, J. H.||Dallas, George||Henderson, Arthur, Junr. (Cardiff, S.)|
|Ammon, Charles George||Dalton, Hugh||Henderson, W. W. (Middx., Enfield)|
|Angell, Norman||Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Herriotts, J.|
|Arnott, John||Day, Harry||Hirst, G. H. (York W. R. Wentworth)|
|Aske, Sir Robert||Denman, Hon. R. D.||Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Dukes, C.||Hoffman, P. C.|
|Ayles, Walter||Duncan, Charles||Hollins, A.|
|Baker, John (Wolverhampton, Bilston)||Ede, James Chuter||Hopkin, Daniel|
|Baldwin, Oliver (Dudley)||Edge, Sir William||Hore-Belisha, Leslie|
|Barnes, Alfred John||Edmunds, J. E.||Horrabin, J. F.|
|Barr, James||Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Hudson, James H. (Huddersfield)|
|Batey, Joseph||Egan, W. H.||Isaacs, George|
|Bellamy, Albert||Elmley, Viscount||Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)|
|Benn, Rt, Hon. Wedgwood||Foot, Isaac||John, William (Rhondda, West)|
|Bennett, Sir E. N. (Cardiff, Central)||Freeman, Peter||Johnston, Thomas|
|Bennett, William (Battersea, South)||Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton)||Jones, F. Llewellyn- (Flint)|
|Benson, G.||George, Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd (Car'vn)||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)|
|Bentham, Dr. Ethel||George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Jones, Rt. Hon. Leif (Camborne)|
|Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesea)||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)|
|Blindell James.||Gibbins, Joseph||Jones. T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)|
|Bondfield, Rt. Hon. Margaret||Gibson, H. M. (Lancs, Mossley)||Jowett, Rt. Hon. F. W.|
|Bowen, J. W.||Gill, T. H.||Jowitt, Sir W. A. (Preston)|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Gillett, George M.||Kedward, R. M. (Kent, Ashford)|
|Broad, Francis Alfred||Glassey, A. E.||Kelly, W. T.|
|Brockway, A. Fenner||Gossling, A. G.||Kennedy, Thomas|
|Bromfield, William||Gould, F.||Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.|
|Bromley, J.||Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Knight, Holford|
|Brooke, W.||Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm, (Edln., Cent.)||Lang, Gordon|
|Brothers, M.||Gray, Milner||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts. Mansfield)||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Colne)||Lathan, G.|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Law, Albert (Bolton)|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (South Ayrshire)||Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro' W.)||Law, A. (Rossendale)|
|Brown, W. J. (Wolverhampton, West)||Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Lawrence, Susan|
|Burgess, F. G.||Groves, Thomas E.||Lawrie, Hugh Hartley (Stalybridge)|
|Buxton, C. R. (Yorks, W. R. Elland)||Grundy, Thomas W.||Lawson, John James|
|Caine, Derwent Hall||Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||Lawther, W. (Barnard Castle)|
|Cameron, A. G.||Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Leach, W.|
|Cape, Thomas||Hall, Capt. W. G. (Portsmouth, C.)||Lee, Frank (Derby, N.E.)|
|Carter, W. (St. Pancras, S.W.)||Hamilton, Mary Agnes (Blackburn)||Lees, J.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Zetland)||Lewis, T. (Southampton)|
|Chater, Daniel||Harbord, A.||Lindley, Fred W.|
|Clarke, J. S.||Hardle, George D.||Lloyd, C. Ellis|
|Cluse, W. S.||Harris, Percy A.||Logan, David Gilbert|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.||Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon||Longbottom, A. W.|
|Longden, F.||Palmer, E. T.||Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip|
|Lowth, Thomas||Perry, S. F.||Snowden, Thomas (Accrington)|
|Lunn, William||Peters, Dr. Sidney John||Sorensen, R.|
|Macdonald, Gordon (lnce)||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||Stamford, Thomas W.|
|MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Seaham)||Phillips, Dr. Marion||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)|
|MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)||Picton-Tubervill, Edith||Strachey, E. J. St. Loe|
|McElwee, A.||Pole, Major D. G.||Strauss, G. R.|
|McEntee, V. L.||Potts, John S.||Sullivan, J.|
|McKinlay, A.||Price, M. P.||Sutton, J. E.|
|Maclean, Sir Donald (Cornwall, N.)||Pybus, Percy John||Taylor, R. A. (Lincoln)|
|Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)||Quibell, D. J. k.||Taylor, W. B. (Norfolk, S.W.)|
|MacNeill-Weir, L.||Ramsay, T. B. Wilson||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)|
|McShane, John James||Rathbone, Eleanor||Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plalstow)|
|Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton)||Raynes, W. R.||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Mander, Geoffrey le M.||Richards, R.||Tillett, Ben|
|Mansfield, W.||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Tinker, John Joseph|
|March, S.||Riley, Ben (Dewsbury)||Toole, Joseph|
|Marcus, M.||Riley, F. F. (Stockton-on-Tees)||Tout, W. J.|
|Markham, S. F.||Ritson, J.||Townend, A. E.|
|Marley, J.||Romeril, H. G.||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles|
|Marshall, Fred||Rosbothom, D. S. T.||Vaughan, D. J.|
|Mathers, George||Rowson, Guy||Viant, S. P.|
|Matters, L. W.||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter||Walkden, A. G.|
|Messer, Fred||Salter, Dr. Alfred||Walker, J.|
|Middleton, G.||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwan)||Wallace, H. W.|
|Millar, J. D.||Samuel, H. W. (Swansea, West)||Wallhead, Richard C.|
|Mills, J. E.||Sanders, W. S.||Walters, Rt. Hon. Sir J. Tudor|
|Milner, Major J.||Sawyer, G. F.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Montague, Frederick||Scott, James||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)|
|Morgan, Dr. H. B.||Scrymgeour, E.||Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)|
|Morley, Ralph||Scurr, John||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Morris, Rhys Hopkins||Sexton, James||Welsh, James (Palsley)|
|Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.||Welsh, James C. (Coatbridge)|
|Morrison, Herbert (Hackney, South)||Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)||West, F. R.|
|Morrison, Robert C. (Tottenham, N.||Sherwood, G. H.||Westwood, Joseph|
|Mort, D. L.||Shield, George William||Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood|
|Moses, J. J. H.||Shiels, Dr. Drummond||Whiteley, William (Blaydon)|
|Mosley, Lady C. (Stoke-on-Trent)||Shillaker, J. F.||Wilkinson, Ellen C.|
|Muff, G.||Shinwell, E.||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Muggerldge, H. T.||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)||Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)|
|Nathan, Major H. L.||Simmons, C. J.||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)|
|Naylor, T. E.||Simon, E. D. (Manch'ter, Withington)||Wilson C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Sinclair, Sir A. (Calthness)||Wilson, J. (Oldham)|
|Noel Baker, P. J.||Sinkinson, George||Wilson R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Noel-Buxton, Baroness (Norfolk, N.)||Sitch, Charles H.||Winterton, G. E.(Leicester, Loughb'gh)|
|Oldfield, J. R.||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)||Wise, E. F.|
|Oliver, George Harold (likeston)||Smith, Frank (Nuneaton)||Wood, Major Mckenzie (Banff)|
|Oliver, P. M. (Man., Blackley)||Smith, H. B. Lees- (Keighley)||Wright, W. (Rutherglen)|
|Owen, Major G. (Carnarvon)||Smith, Rennle (Penistone)|
|Owen, H. F. (Hereford)||Smith. Tom (Pontefract)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Palin, John Henry||Smith, W. R. (Norwich)||Mr. Allen Parkinson and Mr. T. Henderson|
|Paling, Wilfrid||Snell, Harry|
Bill read a Second time.
Mr. Speaker, in the process of the Division an hon. Member sitting on this side put a point of Order to you, and reported that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) had been struck by the hon. Member for Erdington (Mr. Simmons) as he passed by him, and the House will be glad to know if you have any observations to make to the House.
It was brought to my notice when the House was proceeding to a Division that one hon. Member had struck another hon. Member, and I was asked what I proposed to do. I told the House then that I had not seen the incident myself and therefore could not very well judge of it. If the incident was as stated, it was a most improper proceeding, and insulting not only to the right hon. Member but to the House and to myself. No doubt, the opportunity having arisen, the hon. Member implicated, the hon. Member for Erdington (Mr. Simmons) will tell us what he thinks about it, and perhaps offer an explanation, and possibly an apology.
I regret to say that I walked across before the Division and spoke to the Noble Earl on the other bench, in consequence of what he said to one of my hon. Friends during the debate, and flicked him in the face with my Order Paper. If this action, while a Division was being taken, is regarded as an insult to you and the House, I should like to take the opportunity of expressing my sincere apology.
I have had no altercation myself with the hon. Member. I was simply speaking to a right hon. Friend when the hon. Member flicked me with an Order Paper. I fully accept his apology, and I should like to say that, unless someone had called my attention to it, I should not have taken any notice of it.