HC Deb 17 February 1860 vol 156 cc1244-58

said, he rose to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will mate a statement to the House explaining why it is necessary or expedient that the fiscal arrangements between Great Britain and France, proposed in the Budget, should be made the subject of a Treaty, seeing that there exists no apparent constitutional obstacles to the adoption of those arrangements by the ordinary legislation of the two countries respectively; and whether any Correspondence bearing on this point exists between Her Majesty's Foreign Secretary and Earl Cowley and Mr. Cob-den, or between any other official personages who took part in the late negotiations; and if such Correspondence can be laid upon the Table of the House? Until within the last few weeks it seemed to be generally admitted in that House that treaties of commerce formed part of an exploded system, which ought not to be revived. It was not expedient for this country, be had understood, to enter into such treaties, because it was almost hopeless to arrange our traffic in such a way that foreign States should not suppose we were bent only on some special advantage for ourselves, and because in the case of France the powerful Protectionist party in that country would say that their Government was bartering away the fruits of their toil and industry to give it to England. Such, at least, were the views expressed no later than last July by the noble Lord at the head of the Government (Viscount Palmerston) and the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs (Lord John Russell). The words in which the noble Lords expressed themselves so strongly against commercial treaties were listened to with assent and approbation. They were called forth by a speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Mr. Bright, who seemed to advocate a commercial treaty with France. After the noble Lords had spoken, the hon. Member for Birmingham rose and explained that he was not an advocate of commercial treaties generally, that he had not advocated a commercial treaty on that occasion, that he had merely advised an independent repeal of the wine duties as likely to lead to good results, and that his opinions were strictly in accordance with those of his noble Friends. When they saw a Government, composed of and supported by statesmen who had done so much to disseminate the principle that commercial treaties were not desirable, acting in direct violation of the opinions they had expressed, he thought it right to ask why that which appeared to them to be wrong in July should appear to be right in De- cember. He had endeavoured to make himself master of the question by listening to speeches and reading despatches which had been presented to the House. But neither in the Treaty itself nor in the very meagre correspondence between the noble Lord and the negotiators of the Treaty, nor in the elaborate and admirable speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, could he find the slightest allusion to this point. The only allusion, and it was a very passing one, was in the speech of the noble Lord at the head of the Government upon the Address. In that speech the noble Lord said that, in order to obtain such guarantees for the future as were essential (though in July the noble Lord thought that such guarantees ought never to be asked), owing to the peculiarity of the constitution of France, some form of convention was necessary. Having no other light to guide him, he went to the published constitution of France, but he confessed his researches had been wholly fruitless. He found by the constitution that all public measures proposed by the Emperor passed through a small Council of State nominated by himself, and then went down to the two Chambers. The Upper Chamber, or Senate, consisted of 150 members, all, except the cardinals, directly nominated by the Emperor himself, and, although they gave their services gratuitously, the Emperor had reserved power to endow any of them with a salary not exceeding 30,000 francs a year. Their sanction was required for every measure. The Second Chamber, or Corps Législatif, was elected by universal suffrage from a list of names supplied by the French Emperor. The most important function of that body was to discuss and vote on all measures laid before it, which were described as projects of law and questions of taxation. It was impossible, therefore, to see in the constitution of that country any reason why a reduction of duties might not have been made in France, as here, by the ordinary operation of legislation. The inferences to be drawn from that course not having being followed, and from recourse having been had to the extraordinary power which the Emperor undoubtedly possessed of making commercial treaties with the full force of law, were so obvious that he would not trouble the House by attempting to draw them, more especially as they were admirably drawn by the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on the 21st of July last. As great interest was taken in the subject, he ventured to put the question to the noble Lord of which he had given notice, believing that if the noble Lord had a satisfactory explanation he would be happy to give it.


With respect to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck), I have to state that considerable pains have been taken in order to ascertain what can be done with respect to foreign trade marks. On reference to the Law Officers, it was found that the state of the law at present is very imperfect, and that no penalties attach for the forgery of trade marks in this country. It would therefore be obviously useless to ask foreign Powers to give our manufacturers protection in their country which we do not afford to their manufacturers in this. For this reason it has been thought necessary to frame a Bill, which will shortly be brought in by some member of the Government, to enact such punishment for forging trade marks as may be thought sufficient to prevent that offence. When that Bill has become law the Foreign Office will be able to negotiate with foreign Governments for the object which my hon. Friend has in view. With respect to the question of the hon. Gentleman who spoke last, I think he must see that it is a question of so large a nature that he can hardly expect me to answer him this evening. If he desired to put forward his remarks as arguments against a commercial treaty, it was in his option to do so. But I should be ill consulting the wishes of the House and the time which the House has to consider the Army Estimates if I allowed myself to be led into this discussion. I despair of convincing the hon. Gentleman, as he was not convinced by the arguments of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I promise him I will take a part in the discussion on Monday, when it appears the whole question of Protection and Free Trade is to be brought before us; and my argument with regard to treaties of commerce will be that when they delay Free Trade I shall be against them, but when they tend to promote and hasten the establishment of the principles of Free Trade I shall be in their favour. In fact, a treaty of commerce is but a means to an end. I was asked yesterday several questions relating to another important subject, to which attention has been very much directed—namely, the annexation of Savoy. I satisfied the questions which were put to me, but I think it right to add, for the information of the House, to the statement which I then made. Her Majesty's Ambassador in France, having addressed the Emperor on this subject, was assured that the Emperor of the French would not proceed to a final decision on this matter of Savoy without consulting the great Powers of Europe. The Emperor stated, moreover, that he should never think of annexing any part of Savoy unless the people of Savoy were desirous of that annexation. Our Ambassador afterwards was desired by the Emperor of the French to make this communication to Her Majesty's Government, and the same communication was subsequently repeated by M. Thouvenel, the Minister for Foreign Affairs in France. I do not know that I can state anything further on this subject, but it will appear from what I have stated that there must be further negotiations before any final decision be come to.


Sir, I am sorry to prolong a discussion of this kind, but the point on which I have to inquire is one of general and pressing interest, and cannot be postponed. It relates to the question to which the noble Lord has just adverted—the Treaty of Commerce. I believe I am only expressing the general feeling of the House when I say we want to know how the consideration of the Treaty with France will really be brought before the House. The House will recollect that in a former instance—in the case of the treaty of 1787—the minister, by command, brought down the treaty as the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) did the other day, and immediately after gave notice that he would, on a certain day, move that it be taken into consideration. When that day arrived there was an exposition of the character of the treaty, and then the minister proceeded to move Resolutions which generally speaking embodied the articles. The House of Commons passed those Resolutions and addressed the Crown. The Resolutions were then sent to the House of Lords, which also passed them, and in a similar manner addressed the Crown. Both Houses having addressed the Crown, a gracious answer was received, and then the House of Commons proceeded, I think, to pass a Bill to carry the treaty into effect. I do not see, however, that the Government are now pursuing a similar course. It appears to me that if a similar course is not pursued the House of Commons will be de- prived of its just privilege in a most important matter. The noble Lord, the Foreign Minister, has not given notice of his intention of calling on the House to consider the Treaty of Commerce, or to legislate for the purpose of carrying that treaty into effect. But on the contrary we hear that on Monday Resolutions in a Committee on the Customs' duties are to be moved by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It may be said—and I beg that the House will observe this, for it is very important—that when you go into Committee on the Customs Acts you will he called upon to reduce duties the reduction of which is provided for in the Treaty, and that, therefore, the Resolutions for this reduction is a preliminary step in order to give the sanction of this House to that Treaty; but if the House consider they will find that the means of observation and of criticism by the line chalked out by the Government are very partial and limited. The House can only give an opinion on points in which the Customs' duties are involved. There are most important Articles in the Treaty which by this means will never come under the consideration of the House except in a form and at a time which will render it very inconvenient for the House to discuss them. Take, for instance, the I3th Article of the Treaty, which has excited so much attention in reference to the duty on coal. That will not come before us when we go into Committee on the Customs' duties, because there is no duty on coal, either on its export or its import. Sir, I think that the House of Commons ought not in the year 1860 to be put in a worse position than it was in the year 1787. Again, take the third Article of the Treaty. That is an Article of an important character, referring to the differential duties on shipping; but the House will have no opportunity of giving an opinion on that important Article by merely going into Committee on the Customs. What I would wish to know from the Government is,—what is the mode contemplated by the Government of enabling the House of Commons to give a full and constitutional consideration to this Commercial Treaty with France which is now placed on the table for our opinion—whether the noble Lord intends to pursue the same course in this instance as was pursued by Mr. Pitt in 1787?


said, he was afraid that the House was being led into a most irregular course, which would before long involve it in great difficulty. There were certain preliminaries to going into Committee which ought not to be passed over. The noble Lord the Foreign Secretary seemed to have misapprehended the purport of the question of the hon. Member for Perthshire (Mr. Stirling.) The hon. Gentleman did not enter into the merits of the Treaty, but, after pointing out that we were about to make certain changes in our tariff which we could make without a treaty, and that the French Government were also about to make certain changes which their Legislative Chamber could make without a treaty, he went on to ask. "Why does the Government resort to a treaty to do that which they can do without a treaty?" Reciprocity treaties were an obsolete, antiquated, condemned mode of doing business, and by no Gentleman in the House had they been more strongly condemned than very recently by the two noble Lords the principal members of the Cabinet. The noble Lord said it was too much to expect from him to go into the question to-night, but it was not too much to expect from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he should have gone into it the other night. The first thing the Government ought to have said was,—"Before we go to consider the details of the treaty we think it our duty to inform the House why we take such an exceptionable and objectional course as to proceed by a treaty at all." This treaty gave the foreigner the power of intruding himself into our internal legislation. By it we surrendered our legislative independence; we abandoned our commercial policy. [Murmurs of dissent.] Certainly he had always understood that the system of reciprocity and bartering for equivalents was what we gave up when free trade was adopted. At any rate, by the Treaty we abandoned the exclusive right of administering our own internal financial affairs, and what the Government ought to have said to the House was, "We ask you to take an exceptional and reactionary course, and it is our duty in the first instance to point out to you the overwhelming motive and necessity for it." That ought to have been done before going to the consideration of the Budget. The point raised in addition by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Disraeli) was still more important. By the 20th Article this Treaty was not to be valid unless the 11th Article received the assent of Parliament. It was not that the withholding the sanction of Parliament from the 11th Article was to make the 11th Article invalid, but the whole Treaty. Another objection also had struck him. He should much like to hear the opinion of the law officers of the Crown as to whether in the course pursued Her Majesty had not been advised by Her Ministers to exceed the power of Her prerogative. By this clause she fettered the future action of Parliament in a matter of taxation. She assumed legislative powers, and She declared that in time to come no duty should be levied on a particular article of export. That he believed to be a stretch of the prerogative of the Crown, and an unconstitutional usurpation of the powers of the Legislature. He hoped the Government would say first in what mode they proposed to ask the consent of Parliament to the Treaty; and next, whether, in this Article, by inadvertence, no doubt, Her Majesty had not been advised by Her Ministers to assume a power which by the constitution does not belong to Her. He did not press for an answer at that moment, but he should do so on the following Monday.


said, he thought the right hon. Gentleman opposite had done the House some service by the point which he had raised, because there was another important view of this Question which had not yet been noticed. By the suggested mode of proceeding what might be called the omissions in the Treaty could not be taken into consideration. How was the House to discuss such an important point as the liberty reserved to the French to keep on the duty on the export of raw silk to this country, while we engaged to levy no duty whatever on the manufactured goods exported from France to this country? There were other questions of omission which ought to be considered in connection with the Treaty, and some mode ought to be devised by which the whole policy of the Treaty might be brought before the House. An hon. Gentleman had given notice of a Motion with regard to the shipping interest; but the manner in which that notice had been framed was most inconvenient. The Question ought to be considered in connection with the whole policy of the Treaty. In looking at the Treaty the point to be considered was whether justice had been done to all the great interests of the country, and not whether it would redound to the benefit of one or two special interests. He hoped, therefore, that the Government would de- vise some means by which the opinion of the House could be distinctly pronounced on the policy of the Treaty as a whole. Before sitting down he wished to ask the Secretary to the Treasury a question in reference to the Budget. It was stated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the wine licenses would be granted to all keepers of eating-houses at certain rates. Now, as there was a large number of persons who had been licensed, and not eating-houses, he was anxious to know whether the keepers of those houses would be able to take out licences to sell wine, or whether it was intended to confine them to certain houses?


said, he had early called attention to the very anomalous course pursued by the Government in this matter. He felt that it was a stretch of Her Majesty's prerogative to undertake that that House should be pledged for years to come in respect to taxation. However, he thought a more serious question would arise when the House went into Committee on the Customs' duties. It was impossible not to see that the free discussion of the subject was very much impeded by the language held by the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary, who told the House that he really could not say whether, if these duties were not repealed, that circumstance would be considered offensive by the Emperor of the French, or not— the position of the House was certainly most embarrassing. For if the House were not to accept the system of free imports in England and the system of protection in France dictated by the Treaty, we should be perpetually reminded that we were likely to do something disagreeable to the Power over the way. The most anomalous thing of all was, that Parliament was asked to legislate for both countries, and that if it sanctioned this Treaty it would sanction a system of protection in France for ten years. He was old-fashioned enough to agree with the majority of the people of France and of America that raising revenue by Customs' duties was a very good form of taxation; he never would condemn Customs' duties, merely because they incidentally encourage native industry; but whether France chooses to adhere to that system or not was her own affair—not, he ventured to think, that of the House of Commons. His duty was to represent English constituency, and on that ground he thanked the light hon. Gentleman (the Member for Bucks) for having pointed out the fact that this matter could not be fully and freely discussed by the proposed mode of procedure.


explained that if the Resolutions proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer were carried it would be competent for the occupier of any beershop by taking out a licence as an eating-house to obtain in addition a licence for selling wine. But it was right that he should state that a large number of representations on the subject of the Resolutions as to licences had been received, which would require a great deal of consideration and probably some modification would he introduced into those Resolutions, more especially as regarded police regulations and the hours of opening. He could only state at present that those modifications would be submitted to the House in a complete form, and that time would be given for their consideration before the House was asked to come to any decision whatever.


said, he wished to remind the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs that he had omitted to answer one question which had been addressed to him by the hon. Member for Perthshire (Mr. Stirling)—namely, whether any correspondence bearing upon the foreign Treaty existed between Her Majesty's Foreign Secretary and Earl Cowley and Mr. Cobden, or between any other official personages who took part in the late negotiations, and whether such correspondence would be laid on the table of the House?


said, he was anxious to express his hope that Her Majesty's Government would take into consideration the recommendation which had been made to them, and would take such a course as would enable the whole subject of the Treaty to be submitted to the deliberation of the House. According to the method originally proposed such unquestionably would not have been the case; and he hoped that the evening would not close without some distinct intimation of the course which the Government were prepared to adopt. Allusion had been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire to the course which had been pursued in 1786, and on a question of such importance he thought it would be inexpedient to depart from the precedent which had thus been established. He differed in opinion from the right hon. Member for Stroud, for he held that all taxation must proceed from, or at least, be suggested by, the Crown, and that the House had no right to go into Committee of Supply or to vote taxes without such a recommendation. The Government were correct in advising her Majesty to enter into a treaty, but it required the subsequent sanction of both Houses of Parliament. He did not think the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Horsman) would be able to sustain the position which he assumed. He would not detain them further than to state again that the Government ought to place before the House some definite course of proceeding.


said, he was most unwilling to address the House, but he thought it worthy of consideration whether the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire was sound or not. No one could for a moment doubt that it would be necessary for the House of Commons to pronounce their opinion, aye or no, upon the French Treaty; for it was expressly stated in the Treaty itself that its validity was conditional on its acceptance by the British Houses of Parliament. But the question really was as to the order in which they should proceed —whether they would consider the Treaty as a whole, and pronounce upon it either the approbation or disapprobation of the House, and subsequently pass to the consideration of domestic legislation with reference to it; or whether they would in the first instance enter upon domestic legislation, deciding the points which arose not with reference to France, but solely with regard to the interests of the people of this country; and having achieved this object; they would then proceed to consider whether the Treaty was sound or not. He apprehended that the fair and proper method for the House of Commons to pursue was to deliberate in the first instance on the changes which it was proposed to effect in certain duties in contemplation of the Treaty, and having decided, purely in accordance with British interests, whether the Government were right or wrong in having recommended these, they could then proceed to the consideration of the Treaty itself.


said, that while agreeing with the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bouverie), that it was of the utmost importance that the two questions to which he had referred should be discussed separately and distinctly he could not believe that the mode which the right hon. Gentleman had proposed was the convenient or even the constitutional course. Certainly, if he were right, Mr. Pitt was wrong; and with all respect, he must say that on such a point he would prefer the authority of the elder statesman. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to have misapprehended the answer given by the noble Lord to the question so well put by the hon. Member for Perthshire, and which was, in fact, a reply to some question which had occurred to his own mind, and which had never been put. The noble Lord (Lord John Russell) stated distinctly that it was his intention on Monday next, upon the question that Mr. Speaker do leave the Chair, to go into the whole question of the French Treaty, and to vindicate the whole of its contents. Surely, then, it was necessary for those who dissented from such a course of proceeding to make their remonstrances at once, and to say—as he was happy to have heard it said on both sides of the House—that such was not the proper and constitutional method of proceeding. He now understood from the cheers which the noble Lord had given to two or three hon. Gentlemen that he was not prepared to vindicate the Treaty on Monday next, but proposed that a separate occasion should be afforded to the House, in order that, in the proper and legitimate discharge of its duties, it should be able to express a deliberate opinion, aye or no, on the provisions of that Treaty. He must again thank his hon. Friend the Member for Perthshire for bringing forward this important question; and he begged to say that to that question Her Majesty's Government had not attempted to give the shadow of an answer.


said, that the noble Lord opposite (Lord J. Manners) had no doubt unintentionally misrepresented him altogether. He had understood the hon. Member for Perthshire (Mr. Stirling) to ask why it was that when both countries by their legislative bodies, could have instituted changes in the duties which they relatively imposed, the Government had chosen to proceed by way of Commercial Treaty; and he replied, that when the debate was raised on Monday upon this whole question he would give the reasons why in this instance Her Majesty's Ministers had thought it advisable to enter into a Commercial Treaty. He did not say, as had been represented by the noble Lord opposite, that on that occasion he would be prepared to enter into the details of that commercial treaty. He would now give to one part of the general question an answer, which possibly he had before omitted to do—namely, that no such correspondence as had been referred to existed at the Foreign Office.


said, with a view of showing how completely and inseparably the Government had mixed up the Budget and the Commercial Treaty, he would with permission read a passage from a letter written by the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs (Lord J. Russell) to Earl Cowley and Mr. Cobden. It was as follows:— The effect of your instructions will be to place at your disposal a large sum belonging to the revenue from Customs, to be employed in removing, in most case3, wholly, and in all cases to a considerable extent, the charge of Customs' duty from very important productions of France. These productions are not in general articles of primary necessity, or of such universal use among the people of the United Kingdom as to entitle them on those grounds to the first attention of the Government. They are selected, then, for relief, in part indeed upon commercial grounds, but in part also because of the collateral effects which we anticipate from the conclusion of the Treaty. If the House were to act in the manner that the Government now called on them to do—in an independent way and for the interests of England alone—they ought in the first instance to enter on the consideration of the Treaty, and afterwards to take up the discussion on the Budget.

Motion agreed to.

House at rising to adjourn till Monday next.

On Motion that Mr. Speaker do leave the Chair, for the House to go into Committee of Supply,


Sir, I take advantage of this Motion to answer the inquiry of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Disraeli). It must be obvious to anybody who has read the Treaty, or to any one who reflects on the constitutional principle, that it is essential that the opinion of Parliament should be taken on the Treaty as a compact between the two countries. The only question is as to the order by which our proceedings should be governed. Now, I humbly think—considering that the Treaty involves a considerable number of changes in our Customs' regulations,—that if we had come down to the House, and at once and before any other proceeding had proposed a general Vote sanctioning the whole Treaty as it stands, we should have been met with the natural objection—"You call on us by one vote to give an opinion on a matter involving a great number of details; you are not dealing fairly with Parliament. Let us go through the whole matter point by point and step by step, and when we have arrived at a conclusion on all the separate parts, then give us an opportunity of expressing an opinion on the national engagement as a whole between the two countries." That, Sir, I apprehend, was the coure pursued by Mr. Pitt; that is the course we mean to pursue. We intend to take the sense of Parliament on the different matters dependent on that Treaty, in combination also with changes made on separate grounds in our other Customs and fiscal regulations. But undoubtedly it will be our duty—a duty from which we have no intention of shrinking—to give to the two Houses of Parliament an opportunity of stating their opinions plainly and directly —aye or no—in approbation or disapprobation of the Treaty. It will be our duty to give notice of the time most expedient for the public interest to take the discussion, and the House may be assured we have no intention of shrinking from that duty. My noble Friend has deprecated the premature discussion of the Treaty, and with all submission I must say, when the House is assembled to discuss the Army Estimates it is inconvenient to employ the time of the House in discussing a treaty which will probably be a subject of debate in the ensuing week. My noble Friend has been interrogated by several hon. Gentlemen after the time when the forms of the House permit him to be catechized; and I believe I myself am now in some degree departing from those forms in giving the information asked by the right hon. Gentleman.


The House will permit me to say that I have not yet received any answer from the noble Lord to the question I put to him. No Member of the House will suppose for a moment that this Treaty is to be carried into effect without the House having an opportunity of giving its sanction to it; but the question to which I wish to call the attention of the House is the mode and manner in which it shall receive that sanction. I understand from the noble Lord that the question whether the Treaty will be approved of by the House will be brought before us; but what I maintain is that it ought to he brought before us in the mode in which the Treaty of 1787 was brought before it by Mr. Pitt, so that upon each Article of the Treaty the House should have an opportunity of expressing its opinion. I do not agree to the conclusion at which the noble Lord has arrived as to the propriety of the course settled by the Government, because the House will have the opportunity of parting with a considerable portion of the revenue of the country, and afterwards have the opportunity of rejecting that Treaty on the hypothesis of passing which the destruction of the revenue was founded. I quite agree that nothing can be more proper than that we should have the subject, prefaced by a financial statement embracing the project of the Government with respect to the Commercial Treaty with France the financial prospects of the present year, and the policy of the Government so far as that policy is acted on by internal and external necessity; but it does not follow that because we have had such a statement we should immediately go into Committee upon the Customs Act. The House will remember that in 1787 the Prime Minister was also Chancellor of the Exchequer. When he moved that the Treaty should be taken into consideration he first of all gave a full exposition of the financial policy of the Government. The next step taken was to call upon the House to take the Treaty into consideration, thus giving the House an opportunity of expressing its opinion upon every Article of the Treaty. That, in my mind, was the proper and constitutional course; nor do I believe that any other course will be satisfactory to the country.