§ Again considered in Committee.
§ [Sir ROBERT YOUNG in the Chair.]
Postponed Proceeding resumed on Question,
That a sum, not exceeding £280,507, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1932, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of Overseas Trade, including Grants in Aid of the Imperial Institute and the Travel Association of Great Britain.
§ Question again proposed.
§ Mr. BROCKWAY
I only want to make a passing reference to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) which was followed by a speech from the Liberal Benches. The speech delivered from the Liberal Benches was a complete reply to the speech from the Conservative Benches. The hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone urged that the Department of Overseas Trade so far from encouraging trade with Russia should dis- 901 courage it. He even said that he would welcome a stoppage of all trade with Russia. The hon. and gallant Member for Banff (Major Wood), who followed, pointed out that the herring industry of his constituency requires the utmost encouragement in its trade with Russia. What the hon. Member for Banff said about the herring industry is true probably of other industries.
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; Committee counted, and 40 Members being present—
§ Mr. BROCKWAY
I am glad to see that the hon. and gallant Member for Banff is now in his place. I had been pointing out that the speech of the hon. and gallant Member was a complete reply to the speech from the Conservative Benches. What the hon. and gallant Member said about the herring trade requiring encouragement in its trade with Russia is equally true with regard to machine tools, the boiler making industry, electric equipment in Russia and many other things. In these respects we ought to be asking the Department of Overseas Trade to encourage our trade with Russia rather than to accept the advice of the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone and to discourage it.
I rose mainly to add a dissentient minute to the speeches which have been delivered from all parts of the Committee. I recognise that there are very great opportunities for the export trade of this country. I agree entirely with the statement made by the Minister that the millions of the East, of China and of India, and of Africa, if their standard of living were raised, could make very large demands upon the trade of this country. I recognise also that it is desirable that the peoples of other parts of the world should have a knowledge of the goods which we could send to them, and that our manufacturers should have a knowledge of the needs of other parts of the world. I recognise fully the necessity for encouraging the reorganisation of our industry, particularly so far as selling is concerned. But when recognition has been given to all those facts I would like to sound the warning that, behind the whole of this Debate there has been a philosophy that is of very great danger to the future of the world. 902 That philosophy is the philosophy of competitive capitalism. It has been the philosophy of our country seeking to obtain trade here or there, but the obtaining of that trade must be at the expense of some other country which is also seeking that trade.
The hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone referred to Russia waging economic war. Under the present conditions of international trade every country is waging economic war. The whole Debate to-day has been to urge upon the Government greater efficiency in that economic war in the world. This situation is the more dangerous to-day because in every country, owing to the under-consumption by its own people, there is a surplus of goods, and that surplus is being dumped from one country to another. I suggest that it is the duty of a Socialist administration not so much to assist this policy of competitive capitalism, of encouraging our country against other countries to secure a larger slice of the international trade of the world, as it is to encourage international agreements, international co-ordination and international cooperation in the distribution of the trade of the world.
I may be told that I am an idealist in urging that course. My reply is that the condition of international trade to-day is compelling international agreements and compelling international cooperation. I urge upon the Overseas Trade Department that instead of concentrating upon sending a commission here and a commission there to grab a little more of the world's trade, it should concentrate upon the task of seeking to obtain international agreements for the distribution of the world's trade in a juster way to the peoples of the world. So far as the mining industry is concerned, some preliminary steps have been taken in that direction, and it is recognised that further steps must be taken. In steel, cotton, wheat, indeed in almost every trade, that is the great essential at this moment. In Europe steps are already being taken in arrangements for international trade with these conceptions. There is a great opportunity for a Socialist Government, if it will understand what is happening to international trade, to give a lead in a Socialist direction for international co-operation, to begin to turn the mind of the world away 903 from this policy of competition between nations, which may begin with an economic war but which, unless modified and controlled, is likely to lead to a war of armaments. It was to sound that note that I entered the Debate. I hope that the Government will begin to turn its mind in that direction and fulfil the Socialist policy for the furtherance of which the Government was returned.
§ Mr. KINGSLEY GRIFFITH
Although I am not a Socialist I find myself in complete agreement with the last speaker in emphasising the enormous importance of international agreements, but at the same time I think the hon. Member is bound to recognise that the Government, whether it be Socialist or capitalist, is bound to pay some attention to the world in which we live, and in the world in which we live the Overseas Trade Department obviously has a task to perform on behalf of the nation in competing for the trade of the world. In the midst of so much criticism that has been justly levelled against the efforts of the present Government to deal with unemployment, we are discussing to-day the affairs of a Department which, I think, deserves a very great deal of praise. I am interested in a particular trade, the iron and steel trade, which is suffering from enormous difficulties, but whatever Department they may seek to lay their burdens on, I believe that those connected with that trade would say that from the Overseas Trade Department they have always received the only thing that that Department could give them, and that is information of the most up-to-date kind that they want.
On the whole the contribution of this Department to the unemployment problem, although it is necessarily limited, is a very notable one. We have heard about various missions that have been sent out. Some of them have reported publicly, and some of them have not, because they have been partly private inquiries. I think that the Minister was, perhaps, less than just to the Scottish Woollen Delegation when he said that its cost to the country was very little, because I am informed that it cost nothing whatever, and that the delegation was the only one which paid out of its own funds the whole cost of its work. I am rather surprised to find that any Scottish delegation could have missed the 904 opportunity of getting something out of the public purse. But still that happened, and I hope that other industries will be equally eager to find out the latest facts for their own interests and that whatever may have been lost by the Scottish Woollen Delegation from the public purse, may be made up subsequently out of the American purse, because I gather that it was in that direction that they were making inquiries.
From the Conservative Benches there were two observations to which I wish to reply. One was from the right hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hacking), who pointed out, and very justly, that whatever might be done in the way of finding opportunities for our trade, the question of prices very largely ruled the situation, that if one could not get the appropriate prices any kind of inquiry or information would fail to obtain trade for us. I would agree with that, and without trespassing on any of the subjects which have been ruled out of order I would point out that our export trades, with all the disadvantages which have come upon them, at least have one advantage left—that they can still get their machinery and still buy their raw materials in the first and best market that they can find, and can do so without restriction. I hope that that liberty will not be altered, because the one thing which would alter the export market more than anything else to our disadvantage, and would lose us the one advantage that we still have over foreign nations, would be the placing of any obstacle in the way of our manufacturing industries getting their machinery and their materials in the cheapest and readiest market.
The hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) went off to the question of Russia—there is a certain tendency on the Conservative Benches whenever anything is brought forward to divert it at once to Russia—and suggested that although a certain amount of protection had been given to other trades, agriculture was defenceless in this House. I was surprised at any such suggestion. After all, Conservative Members to a very large extent represent agricultural constituencies, and, whatever may be said of this House, there is another place in which agriculture is represented, unless indeed it is suggested that the landlords who are represented in 905 another place do not represent the agricultural interests. If that is put forward I shall heartily agree with it. But to suggest that the landed interest is defenceless in a House which represents all the other industries, is an absolutely farcial suggestion to make to anyone who has been only a few years in the House. I hope that the Committee will not be led away too much in this Debate to the side road of Russia.
To-day we are discussing the affairs of a Department which, on the whole, has contributed very largely in these difficult times to the success of our trade. We have heard about at least six different missions which have been sent abroad and have contributed to the success of our export trade. I notice that several of them have reported. The Minister appeared to quote the Egyptian report as if it had been already published. I do not know whether that is the case. I have not seen the report, and if it-is not published I should be glad to know when it is likely to be published, because it deals with a subject of great interest to many. With regard to the other missions, of course the first category of these reports—the Kirkley report, the Thompson report and the Balfour report—deal with matters that the Government themselves have taken in hand. But there are also the Sheffield report and several others, including the Scottish Woollen report, which have been undertaken on the responsibility of the industries themselves.
Of course, everyone realises, with regard to the second category of these reports, that the Government do not undertake a direct responsibility, and that in the main everything depends upon the industries themselves. I would like to know whether the Minister has any information as to any action which is being taken upon that latter class of report which depends upon the industries themselves, With regard to iron and steel, I know that those in the industry are extremely grateful to the Department for the accurate and ready information which has at all times been supplied to that industry. I shall be glad to know if there is in the contemplation of the Department any more far-reaching inquiry, either by itself or in conjunction with the industry, as to the opportunities 906 before the iron and steel trade. This is an industry which, through no fault of its own, is most depressed. It is an industry which has been free from industrial trouble for longer, I believe, than any other in this country. It has consented to every condition which would enable it to progress and it is very largely dependent upon the export trade. Therefore any information which the hon. Gentleman can give as to the prospects which that industry may have through Ids Department would be gladly received. I conclude by again congratulating the hon. Gentleman on the valuable support which his Department has given not only to the trade which I have mentioned but in regard to the industrial situation generally.
§ Mr. STRAUSS
I hope the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Griffith) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his argument. He referred to certain statements made by the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) and the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. O. Lewis) about Russia. As he suggested, when any subject whatsoever comes up in this House there is a tendency on the part of some hon. Members to divert the discussion to Russia. On this occasion, two statements were made which appear to me so misleading as to call for an answer. The hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone said that the trade agreement which this Government arrived at with Russia, had been of no benefit to this country, and he conveyed the impression that trade with Russia had actually declined as a result of that agreement. Of course that is not the case. The figures are these. In 1927 our exports to Russia were £11,250,000; in 1928, when the effects of the Arcos raid had been seen, the figure was £4,800,000, but in 1929 it had risen to £6,500,000 and, in 1930, to £9,346,000. There has been a steady increase, and not a decrease as suggested by the hon. and gallant Member.
Then the hon. Member for Colchester put a point which is so often repeated from the benches opposite that an early answer to it is desirable. He said that our trade balance with Russia was "bad" for England. He said that Russia's exports to us were very much more than our exports to Russia and that something ought to be done about it because 907 England was suffering as a result. That is surely a strange statement. Canada, during the last 10 years, has sent to England almost twice as much as we have sent to Canada, but no one suggests that we should make some reciprocal trade bargain with Canada; it would be quite impracticable to do so. The United States, during the last 10 years, have sent to England more than three and a-half times the value of the commodities which we have sent to the United States, and I have never heard the suggestion that we should protest to the United States about it, and seek to restrict her imports here, or to come to some reciprocal arrangement.
The situation as I see it in regard to our trade with Russia is this. Through forces beyond our control—discontent in India, civil war in China, tariffs in other countries—we are having the greatest difficulty in maintaining our markets and are in serious danger of losing some of them. Russia is the one country where a new market is being presented to the world. With its population four times that of the United Kingdom, there is growing up rapidly in Russia a big demand for goods. For the first time Russia is becoming a great consuming market. Who is to get the advantage of that market? I do not suggest that we should enter into economic warfare with other countries, but I do suggest that we should co-operate with Russia, as much as other countries do, and get our fair share of the trade that is going.
America is ahead of us in that respect. She exported to Russia last year £23,000,000 worth of goods or more than double what we exported to Russia. Italy has recently entered into an agreement with Russia, not on a very large scale it is true, but it may grow. Germany has recently made a very important agreement with Russia under which, I understand, Russia undertakes to buy before August at least £15,000,000 worth of goods in addition to the orders which are now running, and the total will probably reach £25,000,000. According to our usual methods of reckoning these things, this means work for 100,000 men for a year. All I suggest is that we ought to make every possible effort to get our share of that trade. We 908 are as well equipped as any other country, and we are Russia's natural complement, in regard to trade development. The matter of Export Credits may not be discussed on this Vote, but I submit that every possible opportunity ought to be taken to encourage trade between this country and Russia. I firmly believe that on the extent to which Anglo-Russian trade can be fostered, will depend the fate of a very large; section of British industry.
§ Mr. PRICE
It seems to me that our trade relations with Russia are tending to bring about a development which is all to the good in connection with our foreign trade generally. The fact that our traders have to deal with a single united Government organisation is forcing them to concentrate and to bring about a more rational method of commercial dealing than that which formerly existed. I need only mention the case which was quoted—quoted adversely it is true—by the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs). He referred to the Central Softwood Buying Corporation, a body formed over here for the purpose of handling the whole Russian output of timber. The hon. and gallant Member referred to that case as an example of how Russian trading organisations broke away from their agreements and he suggested that Russia was now exporting timber via the Baltic States into this country, thereby breaking their contract with this corporation. Of course it is the fact that Russia always exports a certain amount of timber to the Baltic States and Finland, but to suggest that that export can be anything appreciable or of such kind as to break down or seriously impair the agreement between the Russian Government and this corporation is fantastic.
The hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. O. Lewis) gave figures concerning the trade balance between this country and Russia for 1930 and according to those figures, he made out that there was an adverse balance on that year's trading of £28,000,000. I have not the figures for 1930 but having regard to the figures of the previous years I have grave doubts as to the accuracy of those quoted by the hon. Member. I have the figures from 1920 to 1929 and taking the aggre- 909 gate in those years I find that the imports into this country from Russia came to £192,000,000 sterling, while the exports to Russia came to £103,000,000 sterling. There are however re-exports which are a very important factor in the trade balance—that is to say, goods imported from Russia which merely pass through this country to other countries. These amounted to £31,000,000 during those years. In addition, it has been estimated that invisible exports—credits, insurance, banking and freights—came to £36,000,000 during the same period bringing the total on the credit side of this country up to £170,000,000 which represents an adverse balance over a period of 10 years of £22,000,000, or in other words, an adverse balance of about £2,000,000 a year—a very different story from that indicated by the figures which the hon. Member gave us for last year. I can hardly believe that the very small adverse balance which appears over the last 10 years should suddenly have grown to £28,000,000 but, if there is even a small adverse balance in our trade with Russia, that is surely an argument for pushing forward with the various recommendations which many of us believe ought to be carried out, but which we cannot discuss on this occasion, in regard to export credits. The fact that other countries, particularly Germany and the United States, have been very active in pushing their export trade by these methods seems to point the right direction for us.
In reference to the general export trade of this country, the hon. and gallant Member for North-East Bethnal Green (Major Nathan) quoted figures which tended to show that this country has no reason to be despondent in regard to the position. We ought to approach this problem first from the international and then from the nation point of view. If we regard it internationally, I think it will be seen that the position is nothing like so serious as might appear at first sight. The fact is that the export trades of all countries have gone down seriously in the last year. The latest figures which I have seen covering from the end of the War up to 1929 show that there was a steady rise during that period in the export trades of all countries—United States, Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom. The only later figures 910 which I have seen for all those countries together, deal with the periods of the first six months of 1930, compared with the first six months of 1929, and if we look at that comparison we find that there has been a big decrease in the export trade not only of this country but of Germany, France, Italy and the United States. There you have three highly industrialised countries and one which is less highly industrialised. There has been a decrease in the first six months of 1930 compared with the first six months of 1929 in this country of £60,000,000; in Germany of £26,000,000; in France of £18,000,000; in Italy of £20,000,000, and in the United States of £110,000,000. That would go to show that there is a general world fall in trade due to causes which we cannot here discuss in detail. It is interesting to note that a report issued by a prominent firm of bankers in the City the other day stated:The practical suspension of loans abroad, the insistence on the maintenance of the status quo regarding War debts, the raising of tariff barriers have undoubtedly played a great part in the falling-off of America's export trade. More important than all, on account of its psychological effect, has been the continued decline in commodity prices.I suggest that the fall in commodity prices is a very important factor in the general fall in the export trade of the world from which this country is suffering along with others. This collapse in commodity prices began in the autumn of 1929, and was due to a number of causes, partly to over-production, partly to mal-distribution of gold, partly to tariff barriers, and partly also to war debts, all of which, I think, are matters which can only be dealt with by international action. This country is in a position to play a leading role in that respect, because conditions in many other countries are far worse than they are here.
There is another factor at work in regard to our export trade, which I think is less satisfactory and more unfavourable to this country. I have been saying that the fall in the export trade from 1929 onwards shows that this country is not suffering more than other countries, but if we look at a longer period, from the beginning of the War until the big slump of the autumn of 1929, we see that this country has lost ground in relation to other countries, although we are suffering now in the international slump not 911 worse than those other countries. At a time when the rest of the world was doing relatively well, we were not doing as well as we should have been doing. If we take the share of this country in the export trade of the world, and measure it in quantities rather than in values, we find that our share has gone down, if we take the year 1930, with 100 as the mean, to 84; France has gone up from 100 to 148; Italy has risen to 132; and Germany has gone down, much in the same way as we have, from 100 to 85.7.
This cannot be due to currency questions, maldistribution of gold, War debts, and so forth, because all these other countries, whose share of the export trade has gone up, have suffered in the same way from these causes. The reason must be found in the industrial structure of this country, and it has been made plain already in speeches to-day that we have not kept pace, either in our industrial organisation or in our commercial organisation, with other countries. There was a communication in the "Times" to-day from their Calcutta correspondent, in which it is pointed out that it was not merely a question of the boycott of Lancashire cotton goods that is said to be going on in India, but that the really important question there was that Lancashire cotton goods are too dear. True, there is an agitation against all foreign cloth in India, but the real difficulty is that this country is being undersold. I know that arguments are used to the effect that it is due to trade union action or lack of action, trade union rules, high wages, and so on.
I do not wish to introduce a controversial note, but I feel that it is time that the leaders and captains of industry in this country put their own house in order, with a view to seeing what elimination of waste and inefficiency can be carried through, in order to make this country's exports capable of competing on equal terms with those of the rest of the world. Particularly in a country like this, which is the most important banking and commercial centre, where we get a great advantage in our invisible trade through our Free Trade system, it is all-important that that part of our trade balance which is concerned with the exporting industry should be up to the very highest level. We have, 912 unfortunately, only too much reason to believe that in our great staple trades, in the cotton industry, and particularly in iron and steel, we are far behind the times. I can remember, years ago before the War, when I was out in Russia, in the Eastern part of that country, meeting leaders of Russian commerce and hearing from them the same story that we hear now, the same sort of thing that we hear from every trade delegation that goes out, whether to South America or to the Far East, namely, that British goods are excellent and high priced, but that we do not take the necessary care to please the market as we should, and that we do not run after the buyers in the way that other countries do. I remember very well on that occasion, in 1911, some 20 years ago, finding that the Germans had their trade representatives all over Russia, and that at that time they were getting trade a large proportion of which this country should have had, and could have now.
The same story is going on to-day. It did not matter in those days, because our position was relatively strong. We were going ahead year after year, our foreign investments were increasing, we had no war debts payable to America, and competition was not so severe in our export trade. But now things are very different. We have now to face the after-war situation, and we cannot afford to lose even in one little direction what we formerly were able to sniff at and throw away. Therefore, I feel that if this Debate has done anything at all, it will do something to raise the feeling that we cannot allow this to go on indefinitely. We cannot carry on in the old way that we did before the War. I think the Department of Overseas Trade is to be congratulated on the efforts which it has made in the last 12 months by pushing forward exhibitions of British trade and industry, both in this country and abroad, and we hope that those efforts will lead to the ultimate advantage of the trade and industry of this country.
§ Mr. DUNCAN MILLAR
I should like to associate myself with the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Banff (Major McKenzie Wood) in connection with the herring fishing industry. That industry holds a special 913 position in regard to our export trade. It is largely dependent on that trade, and it is an industry which supports a large number of small fishing communities round the shores of Scotland. It has had in past years a very considerable measure of prosperity, but since the War and the closing in recent years of the Russian market, the industry has been exceedingly hard hit. My hon. and gallant Friend made reference especially to the efforts which have been made to reopen this market, and I hope we shall hear from the hon. Gentleman who represents the Department of Overseas Trade some reply to the observations which have been made on this subject. We feel that there is still scope for action by the Department to facilitate export trade with Russia being renewed on something like the old lines, and steps require to be taken immediately if any advantage is to be reaped. I wish to stress the uncertainty that the present situation is creating, and the great anxiety and loss to all concerned. They ought to know what the position is quite clearly at the beginning of the season so that they may make their arrangements. I believe that we have by no means exhausted the efforts that we have made to secure a considerably larger share of the trade with Russia and to bring it back to something like the old proportions.
Another point which I should like to mention in connection with this industry is that we have reason to believe there are other markets available in other parts of Europe and the world. If the difficulty with which we are faced in Russia continues, it will be essential that some effort should be made to secure openings in other directions. Efforts have been made to ascertain what can be done in southern Europe, Asia and Africa to secure the development of trade in pickled herring or other forms of cure which might be adopted. The Fishery Board for Scotland sent out a questionnaire some years ago through the medium of the hon. Gentleman's Department, and I should like to know whether steps have been taken within recent years to ascertain again what possible openings there are in these particular countries. At that time international exchanges and high 914 transport charges made it difficult to take advantage of the opportunities that had been indicated, but I suggest that if a further comprehensive inquiry were instituted to-day, it might reveal a number of important markets which would be available to our fishermen, and to which they could send their cured herring. At the same time, efforts should be made to ascertain other forms of cure which would be more acceptable to the needs of other communities with which we might be able to open up our trade. I hope that we may get from the hon. Gentleman some indication that this industry is being especially considered by the Government in relation to overseas trade. There is no doubt that it is more directly affected than almost any other industry, and it is one that would benefit largely by some action which the Government might take in the direction which I have indicated. Those concerned have made their effort, and it is for the Government to support them.
§ Mr. MATTERS
While it is true that the problem of our overseas trade was never more acute in our history than it is at this moment, I would like to give it as my opinion, based upon some direct association with the Overseas Trade Department, that never have a Government of this country done more than the present Government to bring that problem to a satisfactory solution. The problem is by no means new. It goes back centuries, and it was one of the first undertakings of King Charles II in the first year of his reign to appoint a council of trade. I have a copy of its ancient charter, and I will read some sections of it to indicate that the problems then were precisely what they are to-day. The Charter of Instructions says:You shall take into your consideration ye inconveniences which the English Trade hath suffered in any Partes beyond the Seas. And are to inquire into such Articles of former Treaties as have been made with any Princes or States in relacion to Trade. And to draw out such observacions or Resolucions from thence, as may be necessary for us to advise or insist upon in any forreigne Leagues or Allyances. That such evills as have befallen those our Kingdomes through ye want of good informacion in those great and publique concernements may be provided against in time to come…You are to consider of the severall Manufactures of these our Kingdomes how and by what occasions they are corrupted, debased and disparaged. And by what 915 probable meanes they may be restored and maintained in their auncyent goodnesse and reputacion. And how they may be farther improved to their utmost advantage by a just Regulacion and Standard of Weight Length and Breadth, that so the private profitt of the Tradesmen or Marchants may not destroy ye Creditt of the Commodity and thereby render it neglected and un-vended abroad, to ye great loss and scandall of these our Kingdomes.The date of that charter is 1660. I imagine that the council of trade so created by Charles II was actually the forerunner of the existing Board of Trade, and it would seem that the problem which was then tackled was relatively well solved, for we know that our foreign trade throughout the next two centuries flourished indeed. We were, in fact, in a dominant position right up to the beginning of the present century, and, when I read the remarks of economists and hear speeches in this House stating that we have lost our competitive power, I am bound to disagree. There was no competition with this country anterior to 30 or 40 years ago. It may be true that there was some degree of rivalry from the new industrial and exporting nations, but the problem before this country up to the beginning of the present century was not one of finding and holding markets, but of expanding production in order to cope with the demand from those markets which we alone dominated. This Department is a creation to deal with what is exclusively a post-war problem. It is interesting, when we bear comments and some implied criticism of the Department, to sec the vacant benches opposite, and to recall that the party above the Gangway opposite proposed to abolish the Department. That is the party of the supposedly shrewd-headed business men always mindful of our overseas trade position, who, had it not been for several trade organisations in the country and few intelligent manufacturers, would have put this Department into the category of the calamities for which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) has such an unenviable reputation.
The hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) spoke of an interesting episode within his knowledge in connection with the sale of spades in Peru. I know South America intimately, and I was 916 interested in that story. I could tell another story. It reflects no credit upon the supposed eagerness of British manufacturers for guidance in foreign trade. The incident relates to a man in Buenos Aires. For 25 years he has given valuable service to British trade. Eighteen months ago he was asked by two Argentine motor-truck drivers if he could help them in understanding two very excellent British trucks which had been sent out. They produced for his inspection a handbook of driver's instructions printed in English. When they complained that these two very excellent trucks were what I may call, in a translation of their picturesque language, "English muck," he wrote to the truck manufacturing concern in the United Kingdom asking why they did not print their catalogues and instruction books in Spanish. His reward for that was that he got the sack—after 25 years service. He was told that he was impudent, impertinent, and interfering with what was not his concern.
The principal function of the Department into which my hon. Friend has imported his own energy, enterprise and enthusiasm has been to endeavour to make good the lamentable lack of commercial information on the part of British manufacturers. Were British industrialists and manufacturers imbued with that degree of enterprise and acumen which they so glibly claim for themselves, it surely would not have been necessary for this nation to send out commercial missions. I am not aware that the United States has ever sent one economic mission abroad under the auspices of the State itself. On the other hand, American manufacturers and industrialists, have on their own initiative, and at their own expense, made investigations such as those for which the Department of Overseas Trade in this country has made itself responsible.
Anybody who will investigate the reports of those several economic missions and make himself acquainted with the great obstacles that have had to be overcome before those commissions could be arranged must know that all the information essential is already in this country. Some of that information is of a startling character. There is the case of the ex-Master Cutler of Sheffield. While all credit is due to the ex-Master 917 Cutler and his colleagues, and, indeed, to all those business men who have gone abroad on long journeys to undertake these difficult investigations, the fact remains that the Department itself has always had a great mass of prejudices and obstacles to overcome. On the first page of the report of the ex-Master Cutler of Sheffield on the situation in South America there is a statement that in 16 years no responsible representative of the Sheffield cutlery trades or the lighter steel industries has been in South America. In such circumstances, who can be said to be responsible for the present condition of our trade?
Take the case of the economic mission to South Africa. Lord Kirkley reported—I believe it is in the official report, but at least I heard him make the statement—that though there are 10,000,000 of the negroid peoples under the British flag in the Union of South Africa and in the two Rhodesias, British textiles manufacturers do not appear yet to have discovered their existence, nor the fact that they have collectively a great potential purchasing power. On the other hand, the textile manufacturers of the United States, Germany, Italy, Belgium, and even Japan, have been doing a substantial trade with those natives under the British flag for the past five or six years.
We have had some references to-night to the question of trade with Russia. The hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) was challenged by the hon. and gallant Member for Banffshire (Major Wood) to state whether it was the policy of the Conservative party to break off trading relations with Russia. That is a question to which this committee and the country are entitled to have a plain and straight answer. Figures have been quoted, and I have taken out some figures from the only source available, the returns of the Board of Trade. There can be only two or three arguments put forward by those who have this anti-Russian bias, which is in essence a political bias. If they say that because the trade returns show that there is a balance of trade against this country we ought not to trade with Russia, I want to ask what they will do in the case of these other countries. The Argentine Republic has a balance of trade in her favour and against us of £31,000,000. 918 Is it therefore proposed to cease trading operations with that great country, where we have £600,000,000 of capital invested? Is it proposed that we should cease trade with Belgium, which has a trade balance favourable to her of £16,398,000; with Cuba, which has a trade balance favourable to her of £5,555,000; or with Holland, which has a favourable trade balance of £6,637,000? A good many of the Dutch products come from countries where forced labour is accepted as the normal condition of things and has been officially notified to the League of Nations by the Dutch Government itself. Lastly, I would quote the case of Denmark, which has a trade balance favourable to her and against us of £43,228,000. Is it proposed, on the question of trade balance, to cease trade with Denmark? If the trade balance argument is regarded as so effective, is it suggested that countries like Brazil, Venezuela and others are entitled to use it against this country because we export to them goods of a far greater value than we import from them?
When they come down to economics, the Conservative party have to learn one rule, that "You cannot have it both ways" or, as the gentlemen on the racecourse would say, "A bob each way." If a trade balance against this country be a reason for ceasing trading operations with Russia, then hon. Members opposite wall not object if Brazil, Venezuela and other countries use the same argument in favour of ceasing to import goods from this country. If the Conservative party base their argument against trading with Russia on the ground of morality, I must say that I have yet to learn, from my study of the overseas trade of this country, that considerations of morality, religion, politics or civilisation have ever dictated to what country or to what people we should sell our goods. I think the history of the Indian frontier wars will show quite clearly that the majority of British officers and men killed or wounded on that frontier have been so killed or wounded by British bullets fired from British rifles made in Birmingham. Under those conditions we are trading with almost every country under the sun. At one time the whole of the Siberian mining industry was conducted by exile labour, and this country very gladly bought gold and silver and 919 other products which they produced, and no argument was raised at that time about the morality of trade. [An HON. MEMBER: "There is no morality in trade!"]
We have traded with the South Pacific Islands, and we have sold cooking-pots to the cannibals, and with part of the profits we have financed missionaries who in many cases have ended their careers in the pots. I have not heard any question about the morality of the trade we do with savages and cannibals. When the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone talks about the morality of trade, if he wishes to take this high moral standpoint, he had better look at those instances where all the facts he mentions are beyond dispute in such places as the Dutch East Indies and the Belgian Congo. One of the complaints of the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone was that the Minister was not in a position to question the state of things in Russia, but the hon. and gallant Member can secure all the enlightenment he requires from certain documents in the Library containing particulars published by the International Labour Office. There he will find a documented statement in a report issued by the Netherlands Government in 1926 showing that there were no fewer than 801,000 natives working under compulsory labour conditions, and that statement applies to those countries from which we were importing £23,000,000 worth of produce.
This country has got in its possession, through the enterprise and whole-hearted zeal of the Department of Overseas Trade, all the vital information necessary for the development of our trading interests, and we know all the factors which have been responsible for the falling off of our foreign trade. The problem remains, how are we to get action and reaction from the manufacturers and industrialists in this country? Up to the present moment there seems to have been no practical result from the expenditure of State money, from all the energy which the Overseas Department has put forward, and all the self-sacrifice which business men have themselves given. What is to be done now I fail to see, and I should be out of order if I gave the one remedy 920 which occurs to me. I would like to say, if I may, that if it is incumbent upon the State to spend money to organise investigations though those investigations should be conducted by industrialists themselves; if the obligation be upon us to get them together in order to organise and conduct trade, then, in my humble judgment, the State might go the whole hog and introduce State trading.
§ Mr. GILLETT
As there is another Vote to be taken this evening, I think it would be as well if I briefly replied to a few of the points which have been raised in the discussion. The hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. H. Gibson) referred to the question of the costs of production. I regret very much that in certain quarters the recommendations which have been made in regard to dealing with the question of price have at once been taken as an argument in favour of the reduction of wages. I do not want it to be thought that that is the view necessarily taken by a number of those connected with the Committees of Investigation. I was rather surprised the other day when talking to a gentleman who is very well qualified to express an opinion on one of our leading industries, to hear him say that the industry, although suffering very heavily at the present time, could easily be placed on a sound footing without, any reduction in wages taking place.
A year ago when we were considering the overseas trade position, one of the matters which struck me forcibly in the figures showing where we had been losing ground was that we have lost ground to the United States of America, a country where they pay a very high standard of wages. That is a fact which we have always to bear in mind when we are considering this problem. Reference was made by the hon. and gallant Member for North-East Rethnal Green (Major Nathan) to the posts in Colombia and Denmark. I understand the fact is that in Denmark we have a consul-general, and that he is carrying out the work of a commercial councillor. His salary appears on the Vote for the Foreign Office, and the only item in this Estimate is for his assistant. The sum paid in the case of Colombia does not mean that it is entirely the salary of one official, because he has to provide clerks to assist him.
921 With regard to the staff of the Overseas Trade Department as compared with the commercial department of the United States, the hon. Member for North-East Bethnal Green does not appear to have clearly understood my figures. The figures I gave were compared with 164 in the United States, and when we take the bases at which these representatives are stationed, we have 48 and the United States 58. There was one matter on which I entirely disagreed with him, and that was in regard to his suggestion that possibly the Overseas Trade Department might be amalgamated with the Empire Marketing Board. I should like to point out to him that the Empire Marketing Board has been constituted to promote the trade of the Empire, and that the other countries in the Empire, Canada certainly, have their own organisations for promoting their own trade; and, however friendly our relations with the Dominions may be, we have to recognise that each country has after all to consider its own outlook. It seems to me to be essential that, while we should all unite in certain general movements, each country should have its own Department, interested alone in its own special industries.
The hon. Member asked, with regard to the Buenos Ayres Exhibition, what we were proposing to do with regard to following up the results of that exhibition. The head of the section in the Overseas Trade Department especially connected with South America was sent out to the exhibition, and he is still at the present time visiting one or two other countries in South America. When he comes back to this country, we propose to use the information which he has obtained there and the information which we shall receive when our other representatives come back to London, to follow up the different problems that have been raised in connection with the exhibition. I was also interested to hear the hon. Member's suggestion of regional councils, and I will gladly consider the matter in conjunction with him.
I turn now to the speech of the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. A. M. Samuel), a predecessor of mine at the Overseas Trade Department. He asked me first of all whether any representatives of the trade union movement had been connected with the Development 922 Council, and I should like to let him know that three such members at least have been closely connected with it. The hon. Member then made reference to the question of freights, and referred to the matter of the Suez Canal rates, which, however, was ruled out of order. I referred in my speech to the general question of freights because the matter had been brought out in two or three reports, and we hope to follow it up in connection with the shipping industry. The hon. Member then transferred his remarks to the Anglo-French Treaty, and, seeing that he has occupied the position which I now occupy, I was somewhat amused that he was not aware that in making those remarks he was entirely out of order, because he was talking about certain duties that fall to my lot as an Under-Secretary of the Board of Trade. Having made that statement, I hasten to pass on before I am called to order. If the hon. Member were here, I would assure him that when as an Under-Secretary of the Board of Trade I take this matter up I shall certainly bear in mind the suggestions that he has made.
Then we had an interesting speech from the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs), who so constantly brings before us the problem of Russia. He asked when the House was going to have a report on Russia. I expect that by now he is well aware how varied and different are the reports that we receive on this subject. It was with some interest that I looked at the report, which I expect other Members of the House received to-day, on Russian timber—a statement on Russian timber issued by the Special Committee of the Timber Trade Federation of the United Kingdom. There I found that, as always happens, what is stated by one person is absolutely contradicted by another. It seems that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir H. Young) pointed out that the figure of 60,000 prisoners referred to two small camps, but it is now pointed out that there could not possibly be camps of that size. Another interesting remark made by the same right hon. Gentleman was that ships were being loaded at Archangel, and about 500 prisoners were employed for loading each ship. This association, which I presume is one of 923 business men connected with the timber trade, goes on to state that at the outside not more than about 60 or 70 men would be required to load each ship. I can only refer the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone to this interesting document as showing how difficult it is to arrive at any true facts and statements about this very difficult problem. I have been reading and receiving information from all quarters during the last 18 months, and I confess that to-day I still find it very difficult to know exactly what is the true position in Russia, but I am hoping that we shall be able shortly to present some report which at any rate may satisfy the hon. and gallant Member.
With regard to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Banff (Major Wood), I would remark—and this will account for the fact that my observations here also will be very few—that it was one of the most skilful speeches that I have ever heard in this House for ventilating a subject which was practically entirely out of order, because the whole solution of this problem, as the hon. Member knows perfectly well, and as I know perfectly well, lies in what can be done by the Export Credits Department, which, however, does not form part of our discussion to-day. The hon. and learned Member for East Fife (Mr. Duncan Millar) who backed him up—I am not sure whether or not he was aware how entirely his colleague was out of order—referred to the fishing question, and hoped that I would give a long and detailed account of our action in that regard. I can only assure him that I could not venture to do so, as I should be out of order—
§ Mr. MILLAR
I raised a separate point altogether. I asked what steps the Department had taken to secure information with regard to other markets for cured herrings, and reminded the hon. Gentleman that a questionnaire had been sent out by the Fishery Board through his Department.
§ Mr. GILLETT
I rather believe that the hon. and learned Member is now wandering away into the sphere of the Ministry of Agriculture, but I will certainly look into the matter, as my Department would be concerned with the export of herrings.
Is the hon. Gentleman sure that this matter is entirely a question of export credits? Is there no other question involved?
§ Mr. GILLETT
I think that the question raised by the hon. and gallant Member is. Certainly the action that I have been taking in regard to it has been entirely on those lines, and I understood that that was his point.
§ Mr. GILLETT
Certainly, and that is being dealt with on the lines I have suggested. The hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Griffith) asked a question in regard to the Egyptian report. I think I mentioned, however, that that report is not yet published; I am hoping that it will appear within the next week or 10 days. The hon. Member also asked what is being done in regard to smaller investigations in the way of following up. Of course, we usually consider that the trades concerned will themselves follow up the proposals that have been brought to their notice, but I can assure the hon. Member that the officials of my Department are in constant touch with the different trades, and that we keep ourselves informed as far as possible as to what action is being taken, and see that things are done on the lines suggested by those who have visited the countries concerned.
The hon. Member also asked me a question with regard to the iron and steel trade, but I think that what he had in mind is really more the concern of the Board of Trade, which has that matter under consideration. If, however, the hon. Member should require any further information on that matter, I shall be very glad to see whether it can be procured for him. In conclusion, I should like to thank hon. Members in all quarters of the Committee for the kind references they have made to the work of the Department. As I have said, I believe that the work of the Department 925 can be of very great assistance to industry, and one of the things which the business men who are connected with the Overseas Development Council have urged upon me is the extreme importance of making the Department more widely known. They said, "You have the information, but people do not know that the information is there." That is one reason why I have been in different parts of the country attending meetings, in the hope that the work of the Department might be more widely known. I can only say that, if any hon. Members who have spoken so kindly of the Department can help in that direction, it will be a valuable contribution and their help will be fully appreciated by members of the Overseas Trade Department, who give such excellent service to the cause of British industry.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.