§ 2.15 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ELIBANK rose to call attention to the anomalous and unsatisfactory position created by the existing system of dual control over the Overseas Trade Department by the Board of Trade and the Foreign Office; to ask His Majesty's Government whether they will appoint a committee to examine the question of Government machinery for dealing with our post-war trade and commerce; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I once more venture to approach your Lordships and the Government upon the question of the form of Government machinery which will concern itself with our post-war foreign policy, and not only that, but with the Government machinery which will give guidance and assistance to our traders, manufacturers, and industrialists, to obtain results commensurate with the individual efforts they will make to increase our post-war trade. A debate initiated by the noble Earl, Lord Perth, just before the Recess, was concerned principally with the form of Government machinery required in order to formulate in the future our foreign 664 policy in contradistinction to our foreign economic policy. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, did indicate, and I agree with him, that those two subjects are largely interdependent, but what I wish to point out here to-day is that whilst one set of Government machinery seems to be necessary to consider and formulate our foreign policy, a different set of Government machinery is required in order to administer and arrange our foreign economic policy, and to give assistance and guidance to our traders, our manufacturers and our industrialists to recover and to expand our export trade.
§ After reading the former debates on this subject in both Houses very carefully, I have come to the conclusion that the Government are not very clear-minded on the point. What they apparently are trying to do is to create machinery to regulate both issues at one and the same time and to solve both problems by the same set of Government machinery. I am supported in this view by the fact that although the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, in the course of his reply to Lord Perth's Motion on 13th December, acknowledged that there was a Cabinet Committee already sitting to consider this broad, general problem—presumably the problem of foreign policy—he seemed to indicate in other parts of his speech that the same Cabinet Committee had under consideration also the Government machinery for dealing with our foreign economic policy, including the issues arising out of the Foreign Office reforms as affecting our trade and commerce. If my assumption is correct—and I shall be glad to hear what the noble Earl, Lord Munster, who I understand is replying for the Government, will have to say on that point—then, my Lords, this is where I join issue with the Government.
§ I see no reason to differ from the view of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, that the two subjects in their final shape are interdependent and that after this war it will not be possible to formulate a comprehensive foreign policy without taking very closely into regard our foreign economic policy as well. But I wish to emphasize again that from the point of view of framing Government machinery, they are two different subjects, which require different treatment and therefore different sets of Government machinery to deal with them. If one set of Government 665 machinery is to be used for the two purposes, then I foresee our foreign economic policy being submerged in the realm of the higher departmental spheres without the full light of publicity being brought to bear upon it, and I submit that it is most necessary to have this light of publicity if a really satisfactory foreign economic policy is to be produced.
§ It is quite obvious that, according to our constitutional usage, our foreign policy must be determined by the Foreign Secretary in agreement with the Cabinet, and in general I welcome and support the recommendations that were made in that connexion by my noble friend Lord Perth in his speech of 13th December. But so far as foreign economic policy is concerned, that is essentially a matter in which the public, as I have just said, must and should have full participation and in framing which the trading and manufacturing communities especially can give, by their individual endeavours, and by their advice and their assistance, very valuable help.
§ Towards the end of the Great War in 1917–18 there were very considerable anxiety and criticism on the part of the business community regarding the Government machinery established for assisting traders and manufacturers in their efforts to recover and expand our export trade. As a result of that and of differences within the Departments themselves the Government created the Department of Overseas Trade and made that Department a balancing Department responsible both to the Board of Trade and the Foreign Office. Very soon there arose an outcry in those two Departments—namely, in the Board of Trade and in the Foreign Office—and also on the part of the business community, against this form of dual control which had been set up under the new system. It was generally agreed that that form of control was unsatisfactory and the Board of Trade itself put forward a strong plea that the Overseas Trade Department should be absorbed in their Department. On the other hand, the Foreign, Office put forward a similar plea for absorption by that Department. The Government could riot find a solution and therefore they appointed a Committee called the Cave Committee, under the Lord Chancellor of the day, to examine the question of Government machinery for dealing with trade and commerce. The terms of reference to that Committee 666 were rather limited. The principal term was "to have special reference to the absorption of the Overseas Trade Department by the Board of Trade." That Committee was unable to obtain agreement between these two principal Departments and recommended that the dual control system should be continued. It was continued, it has been continued and it is in existence at the present time.
§ Although twenty-five years have elapsed since then, the same issue is at stake—namely, the unsatisfactory results of the system of dual control. Again there is a demand from Parliament and from the business, manufacturing and industrial communities that a change in the system is absolutely essential if our foreign trade is to receive that assistance and guidance which will be required in face of the extremely active post-war competition in trade that will confront us. I do not for a moment suggest that, though this issue of dual control is still alive, the present Government have done nothing to try to alleviate its difficulties. It is evident that for some time the Government have been actively engaged on trying to find some form of machinery which will better be able to assist our export trade than that which was in existence before the war and I wish to give the Government that credit. It is not my intention to-day to attack the Government. I am indeed speaking from the point of view of trying to urge the Government to take further and even greater steps in order to do what apparently they are trying to accomplish.
§ The Government have, for instance, realized that economics must largely enter into the question of foreign policy and they have approved a scheme for the reform of the Foreign Office, which in part has relation to trade and commerce and which has been adopted by Parliament. They have also agreed to the creation on an advisory basis of an Economic and Intelligence branch of the Foreign office and the establishment of a Foreign Service including official trade representatives with equal opportunity for promotion in that Service according to merit. They have even arranged that representatives of the Overseas Trade Department shall be upon the two staffs and that the Ministers of Legations shall be responsible to the Foreign Office and not to the Overseas Trade Department which, employs them. This seems to me a somewhat Gilbertian procedure. It may work 667 out in practice or it may not but obviously it is a clumsy offspring of this system of dual control which I am attacking to-day. The point which the Government have apparently left severely alone is the thorny one of the system of dual control exercised over the Overseas Trade Department by the Board of Trade and the Foreign Office. It is, however, fair to say that in a reply to me in a recent debate Lord Listowel did attempt to show how, through a series of intricate Departmental activities, which was extremely difficult to follow, this system of dual control was satisfactory. So intricate were the arrangements described to your Lordships by Lord Listowel that it reminded me of the works of a watch in which if the tiniest piece of the machinery goes wrong the whole watch will stop. This is the complicated kind of official machinery which the Government ask the country and the trading and manufacturing community to accept to-day at a moment when our whole economic life is dependent upon the revival and the expansion of our export trade.
§ Recently there have been important debates not only in your Lordships' House but in the House of Commons on the subject of our export trade. Many and varied points were discussed during those debates. There were specially strong expressions of opinion in both Houses that the Government machinery to regulate our export trade and to advise and assist our traders, manufacturers and industrialists was far from perfect, that it required considerable adjustments, and that as a first step the system of dual control over the Overseas Trade Department should be abolished. Unfortunately during those debates considerable differences of opinion were expressed as to the steps to be taken to improve the existing machinery. That is the main reason for my Motion to-day. There is a strong feeling in Parliament, among the business community and in the country generally about this system of dual control. In the debate in another place it was recommended by several members that the Board of Trade should be reorganized into a Ministry of Industry and Commerce. It was suggested by practically all the members who took part in the debate that the dual control system of overseas trade by the Board of Trade and the Foreign Office should be abolished and that the 668 Overseas Trade Department should be made wholly responsible to the reorganized Board of Trade. In your Lordships' House one recommendation was that the Overseas Trade Department should be strengthened and made into an entirely independent Department with a Minister in charge. Another recommendation was that an Exports Office should be created. A further suggestion put forward by myself was that the Foreign Office should absorb the Overseas Trade Department and for that purpose form a new executive branch in the Foreign Office which should deal with overseas foreign trade leaving the Board of Trade to handle domestic and Imperial trade, the two Departments co-operating closely.
§ Obviously all the speakers in both Houses of Parliament were dissatisfied with the system of dual control and wished to see it abolished. There was no confusion of ideas at all on that point. I agree that there was confusion of ideas as to alternative methods, but all wished to see dual control abolished. In neither House did the speaker who replied on behalf of the Government come to grips with the issue of dual control. It was evident that the Government were uncertain how to cope with the issue and were unable to lay down a satisfactory policy. In those circumstances it seems to me that the same situation has arisen as in 1917 and that the appointment of a Committee similar to the Cave Committee of 1919 but with even wider terms of reference, to inquire into the question of Government machinery to deal with trade and commerce, would be the most appropriate step to take. The War Cabinet which appointed the Cave Committee was composed of distinguished and very experienced statesmen who had a great deal of work of many kinds to do. The present War Cabinet also includes distinguished statesmen who have as much or even more work to do, but if the War Cabinet in 1917–18 were prepared to delegate this question to an independent Committee of inquiry, I submit with all respect that the War Cabinet of 1945 might be prepared to do the same. Such a Committee, unlike a Cabinet Committee, would be in a position to take public evidence and to consult the business community, the Departments concerned and all those who have practical knowledge of the subject. It would be able to recommend to the Government 669 machinery which would help to formulate foreign economic policy as well as to give real assistance to our export trade.
§ It has been suggested by one noble friend of mine that a Departmental Committee might be able to accomplish all that is necessary. I do not think that that would Le possible, however, principally because differences of opinion and outlook between the Departments themselves must necessarily form part of that inquiry and it would be rather invidious to ask Departmental officials to adjudicate on their on their own differences. Moreover, a Departmental Committee would not be able to take public evidence in the same way as a public Committee of inquiry. I believe that Parliament will only be satisfied with a Committee on an independent basis and will only believe that every possible step has been taken by the Government to establish the most perfect form of Government machinery for the purpose if such a Committee is appointed.
§ The trading and manufacturing and industrial communities are constantly being urged by Government speakers to greater effort and efficiency after the war and I admit that the Government are perfectly entitled to make such a demand. On the other hand, I venture to suggest that the trading and manufacturing and industrial communities are just as much entitled on their part to demand from the Government the best Government machinery to assist them and to guide them in their work. Traders, manufacturers and industrialists are waiting for a lead to-day, but there is no evidence at all—certainly none in the speeches that we have heard in the past in your Lordships' House and in another place—that the Government are anywhere near reaching the formation of that perfect machinery which we shall require after the war if we are to meet the serious trade competition of which I spoke. So I have put down this Motion to-day with the object of once more asking the Government to go forward with an inquiry that will really lead to a form of machinery which the Government can use and which the business community can trust. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 2.39 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF CARLISLE
My Lords, I shall detain your Lordships for a very brief time. The subject of this Motion has been extensively debated before, and 670 I do not propose to cover any old ground. I should like to say that while I am entirely in sympathy with the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, in his desire for more information, I do not agree that there is any necessity to appoint a Government Committee at this moment because I believe the machinery is already in existence which with very small alterations is perfectly able to function efficiently in the time of peace. I am one of those who rather regret the decision to close down the Ministry of Economic Warfare. I think it might be retained under its present initials, possibly called the Ministry of Economic Welfare. But I do not think it much matters under what Department the work is done so long as it is done, and so long as there is really close collaboration between the various Departments concerned.
I should like this collaboration not only to be oil a Ministerial level but to permeate the whole of the Departments, and I am going to ask my noble friend the Earl of Munster if he can give us some assurance that a Standing Committee may be formed, consisting of representatives of the Foreign Office, the Treasury, the Board of Trade, and the Department of Overseas Trade, with powers to co-opt business men and merchants with experience of overseas markets into its counsels. I believe that is what is wanted, and that that is all we really require. I hope that the noble Earl in his reply will be able to give us some assurance that when a final decision is made as to exactly what this machinery is going to be, your Lordships may be informed, and then, with the knowledge that we shall have obtained, I would like to have a debate on the subject. Any criticism that may be necessary will probably be then forthcoming.
§ 2.42 p.m.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (THE EARL OF MUNSTER)
My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Elibank pointed out at the beginning of his remarks, this is not the first occasion upon which your Lordships have discussed the very important question of our post-war foreign trade and commerce. His Majesty's Government are, of course, fully alive to the need for ensuring that everything possible is done to increase our export trade, and also to obtain new and fresh markets overseas for British trade and British enterprise. Therefore, I do 671 not, myself, nor do His Majesty's Government, complain in any way that Lord Elibank has seen fit to raise this question once again and to call further attention to the problem. My noble friend behind me, Lord Listowel, who replied for the Government on the 30th November last to the Motion made by Lord Elibank, was, I thought, severely brought to trial by my noble friend, who complained that his speech was extremely difficult to follow due to the fact that he explained—I thought myself with considerable success—the series of inter-departmental activities of the Board of Trade, the Foreign Office and the Overseas Trade Department, quite apart from the other Departments which, of course, are concerned. In fact, Lord Elibank reproached my noble friend for avoiding what he described as "the principal issue." This, he went on to tell your Lordships, was the question of dual control and he suggested that the reason for the maintenance of the existing and present machinery arose from the differences of opinion between the two Departments primarily concerned, that is to say the Board of Trade and the Foreign Office.
Now if my noble friend and your Lordships will be good enough to bear with me, I want to take you, and chiefly the noble Lord, through the stages which led to the setting up of the Department of Overseas Trade in the year 1917, and further to explain to the House its position and place in the Government machinery since that date. My noble friend has attempted to show that because various alternative suggestions have been put forward from time to time, all of which involve some change in the present position, that alone indicates general agreement that the present arrangement is wrong, out of date and defunct. The Department of Overseas Trade was set up in the year 1917, and began to function as a full-blooded Government Department in 1918. It was presided over by a Minister of a status between that of a Cabinet Minister and a Parliamentary Secretary. This Minister was, at the same time, to be an additional Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade and an additional Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Foreign Office. And that set-up is still operating to-day. The new Department was not to concern itself with policy, but was to provide a machine for serving British export trade 672 and for providing the Government with the information upon which its overseas commercial policy could be based. I think the noble Lord will probably agree with me that that is a very important point, and one which we should not lose sight of in the course of our discussion.
Furthermore, it had to deal not only with the Commercial Diplomatic Service which works in foreign countries but also with the Trade Commissioner Service which performs similar duties and functions in the British Dominions, in India and in some of the Colonies. Up to that time, this Commercial Diplomatic Service, which had started as a part of the Foreign Service, serving in Embassies and Legations overseas, was working primarily for the Board of Trade and not for the Foreign Office. Therefore, it stands to reason that if it remained under the Foreign Office the Board of Trade would, automatically, be without responsibility for a Service on which it depended for its basic information about foreign countries. Alternatively, if it were transferred to the Board of Trade, then the Foreign Office would be without control over those persons who serve under their representatives in foreign lands.
My noble friend will see quite clearly, as I am sure your Lordships will as well, that the Government at that time were placed in a dilemma, an awkward dilemma, and it was to avoid that dilemma that the Government of the day saw fit to set up the Department of Overseas Trade. In fact, there was a further point, which perhaps I should have mentioned before, that the Trade Commissioner Service, since it served within the Empire, could, obviously, not come under the control of the Foreign Office, although a very large part of its work was of exactly the same kind, and for precisely similar purposes, as that performed by the Commercial Diplomatic Service. To make the position abundantly clear to the noble Viscount, I should like, even at the risk of wearying the House, to read a few lines from a memorandum which was drawn up by the Board of Trade and by the Foreign Office with regard to the future organization of commercial intelligence.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
It is Cd. 8715, of the year 1917. This is what that document says:It is believed that these proposals"—those I have just outlined—afford a satisfactory solution of a problem which, for some years past, has been urged on the attention of His Majesty's Government by the commercial and industrial community. Their criticisms have been especially directed against the duality of the existing system, under which, while the direction of the Commercial Attachés and Consular Services rests with the Foreign Office, the utilization of the fruits of their commercial work lies with the Board of Trade. Under the new system the direction of the commercial work of the Foreign Services and the distribution of the intelligence collected by them will be dealt with by a single Department, and as the same Department will also direct the Trade Commissioner Service within the Empire, unity of policy will be secured in respect of overseas trade as a whole.I should like, if I may, to try to construe even further the position of dual control to which the noble Viscount objects. In the pre-1917 era, various items of work, all directed to assisting our overseas trade, were managed by different Departments, each one of which had a legitimate interest. The Government came to the conclusion that it would make for efficiency to have these various items of work directed entirely by one organization. This organization had itself to be controlled by the two Departments who were mainly interested, but in the view of the Government it is more efficient to have similar work directed by a single organization, even though that single organization must have an element of dual control.
My noble friend went on to explain to your Lordships that shortly after the setting up of the Department of Overseas Trade there arose an outcry amongst the business community that the system of dual control was unsatisfactory and therefore unworkable, and that the Board of Trade had put forward a suggestion that the Department of Overseas Trade should be absorbed. Moreover, he went on to state that the Foreign Offer resisted the claim and finally that the Government of the day appointed a Committee, under the Chairmanship of the late Lord Cave, to go into the whole position. This Committee, as he pointed out, recommended that the existing arrangements should continue. My noble friend went on to add that the main reason which led the Committee to that con- 674 clusion was that they were unable to obtain any agreement whatever between the Board of Trade and the Foreign Office as to which of those two Departments should take over the smaller body; what I may even perhaps describe as the illegitimate child.
At this stage I might perhaps quote to your Lordships some rather longer remarks which appear in the Report of Lord Cave's Committee. I do so because they put the matter in such clear, simple and concise terms, and will explain it far better than I could possibly explain it to your Lordships. This is what that Committee wrote:There are strong reasons, apart from the view of business men to whom we have referred, which tell against the proposal to abolish the Department of Overseas Trade or to allow it to be merged into the Board of Trade…. If the Department of Overseas Trade is to 'drop its Foreign Office functions' and become wholly a Department of the Board of Trade, the effect will be to revive evils which so recently as 1917 led to the formation of that Department. The link between the Board of Trade, on the one hand, and the Foreign Office and the Consular and Diplomatic Service on the other hand, which was then set up by agreement between the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and the President of the Board of Trade and received the sanction of Parliament, would be at an end. The Board of Trade would lose touch with the British representatives abroad and would be compelled to act in all instances through the Foreign Office. Delay would be caused and the old complaints would recur. Obviously there must be a point of contact, and of close contact, between the Board of Trade and the Foreign Office. We endeavoured to obtain an agreement between the permanent officials of these two Departments whereby this contact should be secured without the interposition of the subsidiary Department of Overseas Trade, but without success ….Apart from the above considerations, there is much to be said for retaining …. a Department which has no duties other than that of fostering British trade overseas. The Department has covered a field previously unoccupied …. The only practical conclusion which emerges from these considerations is that the Department of Overseas Trade should continue as at present constituted and should receive the full support of both the parent Departments, and so we recommend. It will, of course, be for the Board of Trade to formulate the commercial policy of the country, and it will be the duty of the Department of Overseas Trade to carry it out so far as it relates to overseas trade.That is the view which was expressed, as I have said, by Lord Cave's Committee.
My Lords, if the noble Earl will forgive me for interrupting, I should like to point out that there 675 was a Minority Report of that Committee. The Minority Report was written by Mr. Dudley Docker, the only business man on the Committee. I think it would be only fair if the noble Earl would state quite shortly what Mr. Dudley Docker said with regard to all this, because it would show that he disagreed with the contentions set forth by the majority of the Committee.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
I am sorry I have not got the Report with me, but no doubt the noble Viscount in his reply could say what Mr. Dudley Docker said. But my noble friend will surely see that while the Committee were aware that, at the date they reported, Departmental jealousies were prevalent, it was not that reason solely which drove the Committee to conclude that the system of dual control should continue. As they said, there was much to be said for maintaining a Department which had no other duties than that of fostering British trade overseas. To me, speaking as a layman, it seems that the Committee were probably right in their appreciation.
Whatever those jealousies may have been in 1919, let me pass over the intermediate twenty-five years and come down to the system which is in operation today. There are, so far as I am aware, no jealousies whatever existing between the three Departments; and if the main reason for setting up the Department of Overseas Trade in 1917 had been interdepartmental jealousies, then surely my noble friend might have had a case to-day to argue that the disappearance of the Department of Overseas Trade was the natural consequence of the disappearance of the jealousies, but he has not done so. As the Government pointed out in their White Paper of 1917, and as Lord Cave pointed out in 1919, there were far more cogent reasons why the Department should remain in existence than merely inter-departmental jealousies, and in the Government's opinion those reasons are just as strong to-day. Therefore we are definitely inclined to the view that the Department should be maintained substantially in its present form.
The noble Viscount went on to tell the House that a scheme for the reorganization of the Foreign Service, which provided among other things for improvement in the status of commercial diplomatic officers, had recently been approved by 676 Parliament. It is quite true to say that the commercial diplomatic officers are now interchangeable with other members of the Foreign Service, and they can of course on their own merits reach the highest position in their own particular service. But my noble friend was entirely wrong in saying that the officers serving in commercial diplomatic positions will be responsible to the Foreign Office and not to the Department of Overseas Trade. They have, it is quite true—and obviously it is quite true—an allegiance to the Ambassador or to the Minister, as the case may be, but they will continue to be supervised by the Department of Overseas Trade, as they have been in the past. Thus, my noble friend will see that he has imagined a further piece of mechanism and put it into the watch to make it go, which in point of fact is not there and should not be there at all.
May I say there is no imagination on my part? It is the result of a reply given by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, to the noble Earl, Lord Perth, in the debate which I initiated in November, in which he stated that these officials of the Overseas Trade Department would be upon the staffs of the Ministers and Ambassadors, and would be eligible for promotion in the Diplomatic Service, and yet they were to be appointed and employed by the Department of Overseas Trade. That was my statement to-day. It was not my imagination, it was in the reply given to Lord Perth.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
I would not for one moment say it was the noble Viscount's imagination; all I would say is that if the noble Lord did say to-day that these officials would be responsible to the Foreign Office, as he did, he was wrong. It is not so. As to what was said in reply to the noble Earl, Lord Perth, in the discussion in November, I was not here then and I have not had an opportunity of seeing the Hansard report of the debate.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
I was referring to the reply to the debate initiated by the noble Viscount, but I will study the report of the debate in November, and see whether my noble friend made the statement which has been referred to.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
No, not at all. Perhaps I may be allowed to go on without these interruptions; it really is very difficult to speak in these conditions. I should point out that the Department has moved from the position of twenty-five years ago. At that time the conception was that the Department of Overseas Trade should have no concern with policy but should act as a collector and distributor of information. We have now learnt fiat such collection and distribution cannot be done without intimate and close knowledge and association with policy. I think it must follow that those who collect this information are in a position to advise the Minister upon the formulation of policy, and the Government accordingly expect that the senior officials of the Department will be clearly associated with the formulation of overseas trade policy in the Board of Trade, and that they should therefore maintain close and ever continuous contact for that purpose.
The House will notice, and so will my noble friend, that I have just referred to the formulation of overseas trade policy in the Board of Trade and not in the Foreign Office. As Lord Elibank so well pointed out, overseas trade policy and foreign policy are two separate things and, as far as I can see, it would not be to the liking of the commercial community that when they wish to deal with a matter of home trade or one concerning our trade within the Empire, they should have to approach the President of the Board of Trade, whilst, when they wish to deal with a matter affecting interest in a foreign trade, they would go cap in hand to the Foreign Secretary. It seems to me abundantly clear that there must be one Department responsible for trade policy as a whole and the Department of the Government which is charged with this duty is the Board of Trade. The President of the Board of Trade is in just the same position as any other Minister. He acts in consultation and in agreement with those of his colleagues who are most intimately concerned.
Let me turn to the last part of the Motion of my noble friend, as to whether the Government will appoint a Committee 678 to examine the question of Government machinery for dealing with our post-war trade and commerce. Naturally, His Majesty's Government have devoted a good deal of time and thought to the examination of this very highly important question, and they have considered with the utmost care all the alternative methods that have been put forward from time to time. It seems to me redundant to say, but nevertheless I say it, that every man and woman in this country depends to an enormous extent, and know they depend, upon our future trade, and no Government, of whatever Party, could disregard the building up of our export trade which must follow the complete destruction of world trade occasioned by the present war. No final decision has yet been taken, and we shall have an opportunity of considering the views expressed by my noble friend and others in the course of the debate. I venture, however, to think that the formation of a Committee of inquiry at this stage would not be a useful step.
The international conditions under which our export trade will have to work and flourish after the war are certainly becoming clearer as one development follows another and gives a greater insight into the things to come; but, my Lords, whilst trade is in the state of flux that it is in to-day, it is, I submit, not possible for His Majesty's Government to invite an outside body to pronounce upon what machinery will work best in circumstances of which we are not yet fully aware. It must be the responsibility of Government in the first instance, and His Majesty's Government are prepared to shoulder that responsibility, but naturally we are assisted by the suggestions which we have heard from the noble Viscount and from the noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, this afternoon. In fact there will be ample opportunity in the future, as was pointed out by the noble Earl, for Lord Elibank to say whether he considers the Government's policy is correct or incorrect when the day should arrive.
I would only say this in conclusion. The noble Viscount, the Government and your Lordships' House have, I think, only one object in view: to see that the machinery for considering external trade and economic policy works smoothly and well, and that that machinery should be designed to expand, enlarge and enhance the export trade of this land upon which 679 the livelihood of the noble Viscount and everybody else must ultimately depend. I hope that after the remarks I have made this afternoon my noble friend will see fit to withdraw his Motion for reasons which I have stated. I was grateful for the words which fell from Lord Carlisle. There is, of course, constant consultation with business men, and I will certainly convey to my right honourable friend the views which the noble Earl expressed to your Lordships in the course of the discussion.
§ 3.13 p.m.
My Lords, I congratulate the Government upon attempting to make their Front Bench economically minded. We have had three debates in this House on this subject and each debate has been answered by a different member of the Government, and so each one of those three has had to learn his case. No doubt in the next debate that is initiated on the same subject we shill have another member of the Government replying, in order that they may all gradually obtain knowledge of this very important subject. I was rather concerned with Lord Munster's suggestion that I have been drawing upon my imagination. I also felt that in the circumstances of the case, in which he admitted he had not read the former debate and did not know what was said in it, he at least might have withdrawn that suggestion until he had had the opportunity of looking at it.
Well, Hansard will decide about that to-morrow. With regard to the Report of which he read a large extract to your Lordships—namely, the Report of Lord Cave's Committee of 1917–18–I should just like to point out that there was a Minority Report of that Committee which was signed by the only business man on the Committee, Mr. Dudley Docker, who unfortunately has passed away now but who was one of our biggest industrialists and one of the best business men in the whole country. I should like to read out, in defence of my own position and the fact that the business community is not as happy with the new arrangements as the Departments 680 seem to be, this short letter in which he prefaced his recommendations:I regret that I do not feel able to subscribe to the Report of the Majority Committee. While I am in agreement with a number of their recommendations, I am of opinion that they have left unhealed the malady for which we were asked to suggest a cure. I consider that the system of dual control of the Department of Overseas Trade is at the root of the trouble. Any such system of dual control must be eradicated. From my own personal knowledge, and after hearing the strong evidence put before us by the representatives of the Consular Service and the commercial world, I have come to the conclusion the only remedy I can recommend is the adoption of the principle that the Foreign Office must be responsible for establishing the lines upon which our foreign commercial policy should be framed.Now this is important:A similar conclusion was arrived at by the majority of the Committee presided over recently by Lord Faringdon—another business committee upon which I had the honour to serve.It is therefore quite obvious that whereas the lay members of this Committee came to one conclusion, the business member of the Committee came to quite another conclusion.
But listening to the noble Earl, I did see a slight sign of yielding in his remarks. He did not rule a Committee of the nature for which I have ventured to ask to-day out of court altogether. He said that this was not the time, in any case, for such a Committee; that the Cabinet Committee which was at work should be allowed to continue and exercise its functions for the present and until it was better known what the conditions were going to be overseas after the war. That is the argument which appeals to me more than any other. I agree that the conditions under which we shall conduct trade after the war are very nebulous and uncertain to-day, and therefore I am prepared to accept the Government's ruling that at the present time there shall be no Committee of inquiry as suggested by me. I still stick to the belief, however, that ultimately a Committee of inquiry will be necessary and that this form of dual control under which we are suffering to-day, and will suffer again in the future if it is allowed to continue, will have to be adjusted and amended some day. I beg to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.