§ MR. SEYMOUR FITZGERALD
said, he rose to call the attention of the House to the question of some late commercial treaties, and especially to the commercial treaty pending between this country and the Kingdom of Italy. He was aware that the opportunity which he had taken of bringing forward the subject of which he had given notice was somewhat unusual, but his sense of the importance and urgency of the question, induced him to avail himself of that method. He was afraid that the terms of his notice might disappoint, in some measure, those who thought he was about to address himself to a much larger question than that which he wished to bring under the attention of the House. But he had no desire to enter into the general question of the late commercial treaties. He had not the slightest intention to refer to the operation of the late French Treaty. On that matter he thought there were Members of the House who had something to unlearn; but he sincerely trusted that in the result the anticipations of the Government with respect to that treaty would be realized. The question he desired to raise was, however, one of importance. No one could deny the important part which commercial treaties had taken 416 in the last few years, nor the great attention they had attracted from all concerned with our trade and manufactures. And, he would add, no body of men had shown themselves more sensible to the value of such treaties than Her Majesty's Government. At the time a commercial treaty was being negotiated between France and the Zollverein, Her Majesty's Government were most anxious to conclude a similar treaty. The treaty between France and the Zollverein, however, was broken off in consequence of opposition on the part of some of the minor German States, and thereupon Her Majesty's Government took no further steps in negotiating the treaty which they were before so anxious to conclude. Last year they entered into a commercial treaty with Belgium, and the tariff had since been more favourable to English interests. The noble Lord at the head of the Government had himself, during the recess, expressed at Southampton his conviction of the importance of negotiating a treaty of commerce between this country and Austria; and if he (Mr. Seymour Fitzgerald) was not mistaken, the noble Earl the Minister for Foreign Affairs, when in that House, had expressed a hope that from circumstances then occurring between this country and Spain considerable alterations might be made in the Spanish tariff in a sense favourable to British commerce and manufactures. There was, then, no question which more certainly occupied the attention of commercial men or attracted the anxiety of those concerned in the manufactures of the country than that of the conclusion of well-considered commercial treaties with other countries of Europe. But exactly in proportion as these commercial treaties were important and the desire existed for their extension, exactly in that proportion it became important to consider the principle on which Her Majesty's Government had acted in concluding these treaties. Her Majesty's Government had, in his opinion, proceeded upon a principle radically wrong; for their principle was to allow the French Government to take the initiative; and if they succeeded, then Her Majesty's Government bestirred themselves, but thought themselves very fortunate if they secured for the British merchant and manufacturer the same tariff which had been just established by France. Any principle more unfortunate could hardly be adopted, because it was clear that the tariff which might be highly advantageous 417 to the French merchant and manufacturer might be quite unsuitable to the circumstances of this country. For instance, France might say that she did not care what duty was levied upon half-manufactured products, provided a light duty was imposed upon her wines and silks; but, on the other hand, it would make a great difference to ns whether our half-manufactured goods were heavily taxed or not, even though the foreign Government were willing to admit duty-free British wines and British silks. The matter had been illustrated in the case of the Belgian treaty. The tariff in that treaty was fixed between the French and the Belgian Governments. It had been found by the manufacturers of this country not only to be disadvantageous to them, but, if he was not mistaken, the adoption of this treaty, instead of placing the British merchant and manufacturer in a more favourable position than before, actually made it worse, inasmuch as increased duties were now charged upon some of their productions. The first complaint he had, then, to make was that Her Majesty's Government had not been sufficiently active in taking the initiative in the negotiation of these commercial treaties with foreign Powers. At the present moment the French Government were doing all they could to negotiate a commercial treaty with Austria. Austria was most anxious to reform her tariff, and nothing could be easier than for Her Majesty's Government to form a treaty with that Power to the great advantage of our manufacturers. The initiative, however, was left with France. A more forcible instance of the imperfect manner in which the Foreign Department performed its duties in this respect could not be adduced than what was passing at that time, when a treaty was pending between this country and Italy. In the course of the last year Signer Marliani, a distinguished member of the Italian Government, and Minister of Commerce, came over here with the intention of negotiating a commercial treaty between Italy and this country, and although he was here for a considerable length of time, it did not appear to have struck the Foreign Office as of the least importance to put the Italian Minister of Commerce into communication with the Board of Trade. The result, he had heard, was that the gentleman returned home without having had any communication with his right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Milner Gibson). Such was the 418 information he had received. But some time afterwards the Foreign Office put itself into communication with the Board of Trade upon the subject, and the Board of Trade sent to the various chambers of commerce throughout the country, stating that a treaty with Italy was pending, and requesting information as to the various productions of the districts to which they belonged, and as to the principles upon which they might think it advisable that the tariff to be adopted should be framed. The result was, a vast amount of information was obtained, and the greatest pains were taken to furnish the Board of Trade with all the necessary details. He was bound to say that the Board of Trade availed themselves of the information, and the chambers of commerce were soon after apprised that the details which they had furnished had been so far considered that the tariff to be appended to the treaty had been draughted. That draught was submitted to the noble Lord at the head of the Foreign Office, and in consequence of the exertions of the President of the Board of Trade a perfect commercial treaty with Italy became the subject of consideration. So the matter stood for some time; but at length certain chambers of commerce heard that a commercial treaty with the Kingdom of Italy was on the point of being signed, that it was in no respect founded upon the information which had been obtained by the Board of Trade, and that the treaty, which, however, was not signed, contained a tariff identical with that which had been adopted in the treaty between France and Italy. That circumstance, as might easily be conceived, created great astonishment and regret among those who had an interest in the question and had been consulted, and the consequence was that many of them had thought it their duty to make representations upon the subject to the President of the Board of Trade. This question also was asked, "If we are to have the French tariff, pray inform us what that tariff is." Let the House understand whether or not Her Majesty's Government had finally assented to a treaty embodying the French treaty, the tariff of which they had never seen, and of the provisions of which they were ignorant, having only reason to believe that they were similar to those adopted in the Franco-Belgian treaty. This appeared an exemplification of the objection which he took in the first instance to the course followed by the 419 Government—namely, that of allowing the French Government to precede them, and afterwards being content to take the various stipulations of the French treaty, and make them applicable, as far as they could, to England. He knew he should be met with the answer that the reason that was clone was because England was I not in a position to offer any concessions to other Powers, as she had already given up everything; but it appeared to him that that answer came with a bad grace from those who had given up everything; and, moreover, he did not think it a well-founded answer. They were told that the moral influence of this country swayed the councils of Europe; but if that moral influence were of such great weight in political matters, he was sure, if those who represented the British Government were in their communications with foreign Powers to cultivate the most friendly relations, and were not to write in epigrammatic style, conveying great offence, though the words used might of themselves seem innocent enough, and if they were to prove themselves earnest and eager for the promotion of close commercial intercourse with all foreign nations—he was sure, he repeated, that the, moral influence which was of such advantage in political matters would in commercial matters also secure great advantages to the manufacturing and trading classes of this country. He believed that there was no more important function which the Ambassadors of this country or the diplomatic service generally could perform than by making use of the great ability which had always distinguished that service in negotiating commercial treaties; and it would be of fur more importance to the country that they should devote themselves to that object rather than to writing such despatches ns he had glanced at, so irritating to official persons abroad, and so disappointing to those who read them at home. In confirmation of these observations he would refer to two most important countries with which it was their interest to maintain the most friendly relations. Russia, for example. Why, it was only within the last few weeks the British public were made aware of a correspondence which had taken place between the head of the Foreign Office and one of the chief ministers of Russia, and of the despatches of the noble Earl—despatches conveying, under cover of the most insinuating language, the most insulting and pointed sarcasms 420 against the policy adopted by Russia. Take again their position in regard to Brazil. They might have effected arrangements by which an extensive and advantageous commerce could be carried on with Brazil. How had the Government acted lately in regard to that power? If it were considered important at that moment to effect a treaty with that country, how could they have the face to make the application, or in what way would their overtures be met? He put those questions before the Government because he was confident that the people were alive to the importance of commercial treaties, and would never be content to follow subserviently the footsteps of France in regard to commercial policy. Whilst respecting the rights of France and of all other Powers, towards whom they wished to preserve a friendly spirit, they expected the Government to maintain a bold and an independent policy—to uphold their own tariff while seeking to extend the policy involved as widely as possible. He believed that if that line of conduct were pursued, then the present Government, or any future Government, in obtaining commercial treaties, would confer lasting and enormous benefits on this country.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, the subject brought forward by the hon. Gentleman was one of great importance and interest to the manufacturing classes of this country; and he was sure he was expressing the feelings of the community which he represented when he thanked the hon. Gentleman for the sentiments to which he had given utterance, especially in connection with the treaty said to be pending between Italy and this country. It was utterly impossible for people interested in manufactures to know their exact position at the present moment in reference to that matter. The statement made by the hon. Gentleman was substantially correct, and the House would not be surprised at the ignorance to which he had referred when he mentioned to them a few facts. In the early part of last year the different chambers of commerce in the north of England and the midland counties, warned by experience of the difficulty of obtaining a treaty of Belgium, waited upon the authorities of the Foreign Office and stated their wish that an intercourse should be kept up between the Government offices and the chambers of commerce in order the better to serve the interests of England in the framing of 421 treaties. Well, the deputations were received in the most frank and agreeable manner by the Foreign Office. They were delighted to find that negotiations were then going on for a treaty with Italy. A circular announcing that fact was issued by the Government authorities last February. The Bradford Chamber of Commerce, among others, replied to that circular, commenting upon that treaty, and showed how it could be improved. A copy of that reply was sent to the Foreign Office and to the Board of Trade; but for a considerable period subsequently they heard not one syllable on the subject of the projected treaty with Italy. Haying heard that Signor Marliani had been sent from Turin to England for the purpose of getting as well as giving information as to how the trade between the two countries could be increased, he (Mr. Forster) went to the Foreign Office with the view of putting him into communication with the gentlemen representing the commercial interests of the north of England. By the Foreign Office, however, he was referred to the Board of Trade; and when he went to the Board of Trade, he was referred back to the Foreign Office. He did not know if Signor Marliani was treated in the same way; but if he was, he could say with confidence that the Italian minister must have left this country just as ignorant as he was when he entered into it, as far as the information he had sought for was concerned. Believing, from the long silence maintained by the Government Departments on the subject of this treaty, that the negotiations had fallen to the ground, it was not surprising his constituents were thunderstruck with the information conveyed to them by the newspapers that a commercial treaty with Italy was now on the point of being signed, and they concluded that one of two things must have happened—either that the Government during the present or the last year had been conducting their negotiations with Italy without obtaining information from those most able to give it, or that they had thought it enough simply to get for this country the treaty which France had obtained for herself. That, however, would not be enough. True, the Italian Government would not be dealing fairly towards us if it put France in a better position than England; and, on the other hand, we could scarcely expect to obtain advantages which had been denied to France. But it was quite possible that 422 a treaty framed by French Ministers would not serve English interests, and that the concessions which suited France might not be of much value to England. He hoped, therefore, to learn from his hon. Friend that Her Majesty's Government had not been remiss in this respect, and that our negotiations had been keeping pace with those conducted by our ally. Before sitting down he felt bound to say that the commercial interests of this country were injured by the want of proper arrangements between the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade. The theory, he understood, was that when the Foreign Office required commercial information, it was to apply to the Board of Trade; but then the former might be so ignorant as not to know when it ought to ask for information. There was a popular notion on the Continent that the end and aim of British policy was to promote trade; but, in reality, that was one of those things which they managed better in France. There the Foreign Office contained a department of trade, and the Ministry of Commerce had a department for foreign affairs. In our own case some arrangement should be made by which the information collected by the Board of Trade in regard to our commercial relations with other nations should be systematically submitted to the Foreign Office. As far as his hon. Friend the Under Secretary was personally concerned, he had done all in his power to meet the wishes of the manufacturers; but unfortunately free trade was not one of the traditions of the Foreign Office. The French treaty did not originate there, and the Department did not seem to be aware of the effect which it was producing on the Continent. Some of the people in this country were presumptuous enough to think that the experience of the noble Earl at the head of the Foreign Office, although it was advantageous in many other respects, was disadvantageous on this subject. That experience was gained when the idea of free trade had not taken possession of this country, and when the notion that free trade principles would in time regulate the commercial dealings between this country and Continental States was regarded as a utopian dream. The noble Lord the Foreign Secretary might rest assured that by upholding the principles of commercial freedom he was furthering the cause of political freedom more effectually than by offering to other Powers gratuitous advice, 423 on matter how appropriate or vigorously expressed. The noble Lord at the head of the Government also ought to be aware that it did not become him, as the protector of British interests, to hand over to France the direction of that free-trade movement which was originated by England, or to follow with faltering footsteps the movements of France or of any foreign Government whatever.
§ MR. LAYARD
said, he was rather surprised to hear the complaints which had fallen from the hon. Gentleman opposite, but he was disposed to consider the course taken by the hon. Gentleman as being due to his being so recent a convert to the cause of free trade, and, like all new converts, to his exhibiting greater zeal than discretion. He believed he should be able to remove the grounds of the hon. Gentleman's objections. But first he wished to correct an error into which the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) had fallen in asserting that the Foreign Office had nothing to do with the French treaty. The Foreign Office took up the matter warmly, doing all that depended upon it to promote the conclusion of the treaty, and the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Cobden) had himself acknowledged the hearty and valuable cooperation he received from Earl Cowley, who was joined with him in the negotiations on the subject. When the hon. Member for Rochdale was sent to Paris on that mission, he naturally asked the British Government before going what he was authorized to offer the French Government. If he had gone to Paris with his hands empty, it was not probable that he would have succeeded in obtaining the concessions which the French Government ultimately made to us. Fortunately, however, the hon. Gentleman had much to offer. There were heavy duties on wine and other articles of French produce and on articles of luxury, and even to a certain extent of necessity. In consideration of a reduction in those duties the French Government consented to the various changes in their tariff which had proved very beneficial not only to this country but to France herself. It was necessary to bear in mind that in our domestic legislation we differed from France. We at once gave the whole world the benefit of the concessions which had been made to our ally. France, on the other hand, withheld from others the privileges she had conceded to us, and thus retained in her hands the means of 424 bargaining with other Powers for mutual commercial concessions. When one nation sought any concession from another nation, there were various grounds on which the request might be based. An appeal might be made to the generosity of the other Power, but it was doubtful whether that would have much effect, as Governments are influenced by motives of interest rather than generosity; or an appeal might be made to a treaty which gave the applicant the privileges of the most favoured nation; or, as a friendly State, claims might be put forward to privileges which had been granted to another State. If we had only the latter ground to rely upon, it was above all things desirable, that as we had no concessions to offer in return for the advantages sought, some other Power, which possessed the means of bargaining, should commence the negotiations. That was the reason why France had been allowed to precede us in the instance of the Italian and other treaties. Every concession which was made to her gave us a certain right to claim the same from Powers with which we were in friendly relations. On the other hand, other Governments naturally replied, when we asked them to change their tariff, "If we concede this reduction to you for no equivalent, we shall be expected to treat France and other nations in the same way, and be unable to obtain concessions in return. Although you may have nothing to give us in exchange, France has." If we had taken the initiative, the Italian Government would very naturally have said, "You have nothing to give us in exchange for what we give you; and if we freely concede your demands, we shall be placed in a bad position in making terms with France, with whom we are on the most friendly terms." So far from Her Majesty's Government not having endeavoured to make treaties of commerce with other nations, the fact was that there was scarcely a Power in Europe with whom negotiations had not been opened during the last year or two. Treaties had been concluded with Turkey and Belgium. The treaty with the former was a very important one. The Turkish Government, always adopting a very liberal policy in its commercial relations with other nations, has reduced its export duties to the very lowest scale, and has placed the import duties on a much more favourable footing than they had ever been before. The remarks he had just made applied with peculiar force 425 to the case of the Belgian Trenty. The Belgian Government were asked to make a treaty of commerce with us, as they had done with France, and it was pointed out to them that it would be an unfriendly act, having entered into a treaty with France, to refuse to negotiate one with England. They replied by asking what we could give to them in return, and they suggested that if they gave to us what they had given to France, we should consent to capitalize the Scheldt dues. Now, the capitalization of the Scheldt dues had nothing whatever to do with a treaty of commerce, and our Government at once refused to admit the principle of purchasing a treaty. Again and again we insisted upon the unfriendliness of refusing to us what had been given to France. Eventually that argument, and none other, prevailed, and in the end the Belgian Government made a treaty of commerce with us, abandoning their demand for the capitalization of the Scheldt dues, which formed the subject of a separate negotiation. The hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Seymour Fitzgerald) had been entirely misinformed with respect to the Italian Treaty. Last year the French Government, desiring to place their commercial relations with Italy upon a better footing, proposed a treaty of commerce with that country. The British and Italian Governments were equally desirous that a treaty should be negotiated between Italy and this country. The Italian Government accordingly sent an agent to England, Signor Marliani, who, though a distinguished Senator, was not a member of the Government, to negotiate such a treaty. It was not true, as had been stated, that Signor Marliani had no communication with the Board of Trade or the Foreign Office. On the contrary, he had interviews with his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, while he (Mr. Layard) introduced him to some of our leading commercial men, and furnished him with all the information he required. What, however, was his invariable language when he was requested to discuss the terms of the treaty? He always said that he could not negotiate a treaty with England until he knew what had been dune in Paris, because, he argued, if Italy gave us concessions for which we could give her nothing in return, France, as a friendly Power, would insist upon the same advantages without Italy obtaining the equivalent which she was then trying to procure from the French Government. 426 The negotiations in Paris were not brought to a conclusion last year; and when the recent Ministerial crisis took place in Turin, Signor Marliani was recalled to Italy. The hon. Member for Bradford had stated that the Government had appealed to the chambers of commerce, but had not acted upon their reports or advice. That was true; and the chambers gave them valuable information; but then that information was of no avail under the circumstances, because the Government could do nothing with it till the completion of the treaty between Italy and France, which had just taken place. His hon. Friend opposite expressed surprise at the Government not being yet in possession of the Franco-Italian treaty and tariff; but the treaty had not yet been ratified, and until its ratification it could not be published. His hon. Friend the Member for Bradford might depend on this—that before any treaty should be made with the Italian Government the tariff would be referred to the various chambers of commerce throughout the country, and that the Government would be well pleased to receive reports from them on the subject. While on the subject of Italy, he could assure the House that the Government were fully alive to the great importance of increasing our trade with Italy. Italian trade was growing every day, promoted by liberty and unity, and encouraged by the spirit of enterprise which had recently sprung up in Italy—a proof of which he had just presented to the House in the shape of a report from our Consul General of Naples. During the recess the hon. and learned Member for the King's County (Mr. Hennessy) made, through the newspapers, certain assertions relative to Neapolitan trade which filled him with amazement, and induced the Foreign Office to write to the Consul General at Naples for an explanation. The explanation thus obtained was so important, and so completely refuted the statements of the hon. and learned Member, that he hoped the House would permit him to give a few facts from it. The number of British steamers to Naples had increased between 1859, the last year of the Bourbons, and the end of 1862, from 66 to 119; and the tonnage from 41,675 to 95,292. In regard to sailing vessels, the increase in the same period was from 23,905 tons to 39.678, so that there had been a total increase in tonnage from 65,580 in 1859—the last year of the Bourbons—to 134,970 in 1862. These 427 were authentic documents. [Mr. HENNESSY: Up to what time?] Up to the end of last year. In foreign vessels there was the same enormous increase. The steamers at Naples, from 1859 to 1862, had increased in number from 656 to 1,303, and in tonnage from 192,378 to 442,832. At Gallipoli—the next port in importance to that of Naples—there was an increase during the same period in British ships from 43 to 84, and from 235 to 324 in the ships of other nations, and the increase was equally observable in the estimated value of the cargoes shipped from Gallipoli, the total amount in 1859 being £272,591, and in 1862 £762,432. The number of ships at that port belonging to Great Britain in 1859 represented 4,373 tons, and in 1862 10,504 tons; the estimated value being in 1859 £192,184, and in 1862 £441,472. The increase of the actual trade from Naples during the same period was from £476,821 to £850,708. With regard to Tuscany, the returns of the Board of Trade showed an equally satisfactory result. The trade from Tuscany to Great Britain had increased during the same period from £807,000 to£l,062,081; the colonial trade from £903,061 in 1859 to £1,265,000 in 1862. These figures would, he thought, be regarded as a most complete answer to the assertions of the hon. and learned Member for the King's County (Mr. Hennessy) as to the falling-off in the trade of Italy since the union. But, to return to the subject of our negotiations with foreign countries with respect to commercial treaties, the House was aware that last year the French Government were negotiating a treaty with Prussia and the Zollverein. As soon as that fact became known, the British Government applied to Prussia and the Zollverein to make with them a similar treaty of commerce. The reply, as might have been expected, was precisely the same we had received from Belgium—that negotiations could not be entered into with us until those in progress with France were concluded. "Franco," it was said in effect, "can give us an equivalent. You can give us none. When we have ascertained what France will give us, we shall be ready to give to you, as a friendly nation, what we have given to Franco." Our Government told them that though their tariff might be acceptable to France, it might not be so to us. It had been said that a reference should have been made to the Board of Trade. What our Government really did 428 was this—they accepted the offer of Prussia an the part of the Zollverein to make with us a treaty as favourable as that made with France; but they said that the question was a question of tariff, and that the question of tariff should be discussed before the treaty was negotiated. Prussia consented, and our Government sent to Berlin Mr. Mallett, who had accompanied the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Cobden) to Paris, a most distinguished officer of the Board of Trade, to communicate with the Prussian Government as to the modifications of the French tariff which England would require. Unfortunately, for various reasons, political and others, up to that moment the treaty between the Zollverein and France had not been concluded. The Prussian Government had consented to the treaty, but four of the Southern States of the Zollverein, for political reasons, had refused to do so. Unanimity in the Zollverein was required to enable them to negotiate a treaty, and until that unanimity had been secured, and the treaty with France had been ratified, Prussia could not negotiate with this country. The Zollverein would cease in 1866, and it would then be seen whether it would be renewed on its former basis. That was a matter on which he (Mr. Layard) could not venture to offer an opinion. As regards Austria, it was quite true that at the beginning of last year we beard that the Austrian Government were disposed to make liberal commercial concessions to this country; and we at once proposed a basis. But we were told, however well-disposed the Ministers of the Emperor of Austria were to a liberal commercial policy with this country, it was impossible for the present to negotiate a treaty. There were political as well as social difficulties in the way; the Zollverein, in which she wished to enter, might be broken up, and until this question was settled she could conclude no treaty with us. It was from no want of zeal or willingness on the part of the British Government that no treaty of commerce with Austria had been concluded. It had been asked why had not England insisted on the privileges of what was called the "Intermediate Treaty" being given to England. Now, what was the nature of that Intermediate Treaty? By special arrangement between Austria and the Zollverein States goods which crossed the conterminous frontier of Austria and the Zollverein were subject to a different tariff to those which were imported into Austria or the Zollverein by 429 any other route. Supposing, for instance, Prussia sent goods into Austria across the frontier line which divides Austria from Bavaria, she paid one tariff; but if she sent them round by Gibraltar to Trieste, she paid another and a much higher tariff. That, however, was the result of mutual arrangement founded upon political and other motives, and there was no chance of any other Power obtaining the same privileges. The principles of free trade had not penetrated sufficiently into Europe to produce such a result. It was to be hoped that the time would come when States would recognise the advantage of doing away with such differential tariffs. Then as to Denmark, the British Government had every reason to believe that there was a party in Denmark, political as well as commercial, disposed to enter into a liberal treaty of commerce with this country. The Government lost no time in proposing to the Danish Government to enter into such treaty. But what was the first question with which they were greeted? "What can you give us in return?" The reply of the English Government was that Danish manufactures were admitted into England without duty, and her ships treated as our own ships. So nothing was done. But suppose the Danish Government were to enter into a negotiation with another Power on a liberal basis, we should have a right to come forward and say, "You have treated that Government in a liberal spirit, and we, as a friendly Power, have a right to ask for the same treatment." That argument, no doubt, would have its due weight. The same thing occurred with regard to Spain and Portugal. What they wished for from us was a reduction of the duty on thin wines, and that they had obtained without a treaty of commerce with us—the French treaty gave them that. When the British Government offered them a treaty of commerce, the reply was, as in other eases, "What are you going to give us in return?" At the present moment it was hopeless to expect from either Spain or Portugal any treaty of commerce on a liberal basis. His hon. Friend the Member for Bradford had made some remarks with regard to the advantage which would be derived from a more immediate connection between the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade, and suggested that a commercial department should be instituted at the Foreign Office, and that it should be placed in direct communication with the Board of Trade. His hon. Friend, 430 he was sure, would say this, that the Foreign Office, whilst he (Mr. Layard) had been in it, had ever afforded him all the information in commercial matters that he could reasonably have expected from it. The proposition of a special department of trade at the Foreign Office had been fully considered by him, and he had arrived at the conclusion that the adoption of that plan would not work well, and would besides interfere to some extent with the proper functions of the Board of Trade, and a double set of officers would have to be employed, and an additional expense would be cast upon the country.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
What I suggested was, that the officers at the Foreign Office should be placed in direct and constant communication with the Board of Trade.
§ MR. LAYARD
said, the Foreign Office was in constant communication with the Board of Trade, and acted on the opinion of the Board of Trade on commercial matters, just as the Home Office was referred to in matters coming within its immediate cognizance. He believed he had said enough to show that the complaints of the hon. Member opposite were not well founded, and he could assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government were anxious, and had been anxious, to do all in their power to enter into commercial treaties with other Powers upon a liberal footing, and he thought the last charge that could be brought against the Government was that they were not fully alive to the great importance to this country of its vast commercial interests.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that some time ago he had ventured to make some remarks in that House which he thought he might with propriety repeat on that occasion; they conveyed a question and a request. The question was, whether the terms of the French treaty were not such as to abolish the duties upon the articles enumerated — upon the commodities enumerated—under Article 5 of that treaty, in favour of all nations, not in favour of the produce of France and Algeria only? That question he raised in 1860; and although the Lord Chancellor, who was then Attorney General, slated that the operation of that article was in favour only of the produce of France and Algeria, he (Mr. Newdegate) stated that such opinions were controverted; and he now asked the Government to inform the House, whether 431 the interpretation of the treaty then given by the Attorney General was found to be correct, when tested by the negotiations which had been carried on with other countries subsequent to the conclusion of the treaty with France. Now, all that the hon. Gentleman who represented the Foreign Office had stated tended directly to the conclusion that the duties abolished on the commodities enumerated under the 5th article of the treaty with France, were abolished by the operation of that treaty on commodities imported from all the other countries of the world. He would ask the Government to bring the question to a practical test. Let them lay before the House the text of the Belgian treaty, so that hon. Members could compare the provisions of that treaty with the provisions of the French treaty, and see whether the danger which he anticipated in 1860 was, or was not, brought upon this country by the operation of the French treaty. He ventured in 1860 to say that those who negotiated that treaty had placed the Emperor of the French in the position of being the representative of all mankind; and he asked whether the repeated answers received by the British Government, when they attempted to negotiate with other countries, did not show this, that the operation of the French treaty had placed France in this position, that her action governed the action of all other foreign countries with respect to the commerce of England? He was a very humble Member of that House; but if any hon. Member would turn to Hansard, he would see, that supported as he was by the legal opinions of learned Members who sat near him, over and over again in 1860 he urged upon that House, "You are making over to the Government of France the decision of other foreign countries, when you apply to them, or shall apply to them hereafter, for any commercial treaty." It was a grave subject; and he trusted that the Government would, by laying on the table of the House the text of the Belgian treaty, and, by the information at their command, enable the House to judge whether this country was not placed in the position of being bound to follow in the footsteps of France when France was negotiating foreign treaties, owing to this country having nothing to give in exchange, and having rendered herself a suppliant for the same favours as were given to France, who had retained the power of giving something in exchange. 432 Look at what had been stated by the last speaker. We went to Belgium, and they said, "What can you give us in exchange?" Our answer was, "We have nothing to give." And in a commercial sense that was true; then followed a demand for a political concession. Why we could not negotiate at all, except by making some political concession in return for commercial stipulations. The hon. Member for Bradford was inclined to blame the Foreign Office; but, according lo papers laid before them in 1860, Earl Cowley represented to the Government at home that such was the rapidity of the operations of the hon. Member for Rochdale, then at Paris, that the noble Earl was totally unable to follow them, and he could not therefore be responsible for them. Therefore, it was unjust to blame the Foreign Office for the acts of an independent negotiator, who completely outstripped our ambassador. If any one deserved credit for the French treaty, it was the hon. Member for Rochdale; and, on the other hand, if they were bound hand and foot by that treaty, and were therefore incapable of negotiating other treaties, it was the hon. Member for Rochdale who ought to be held responsible.
§ MR. HENNESSY
said, his hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State had referred to a subject upon which he had employed himself a little during the recess; but he must appeal from his hon. Friend to the Cabinet Minister who sat close beside him. His hon. Friend stated that the Consul General at Naples had given a return of the trade between England and Naples, from which it appeared that our trade with the Neapolitan provinces since their annexation had been most flourishing. What, however, if the Board of Trade told a totally opposite story? He had in his hand the last Return presented by the Board of Trade, that for the eleven months ending December, 1862, containing the most complete information which it was possible to obtain on the subject; and in every page in which the words "Naples and Sicily" occurred the House would observe a decline in the trade. Page 9, embracing the eleven months ending November, 1862, gave an account of the imports of wine into this country from Naples and Sicily. The figures showed that the value of those imports was £197,000 in 1861, and £183,000 in 1862. Page 13 also indicated a similar falling-off in the wine trade—namely, from 433 £66,000 in 1861 to £38,000 in 1862. Page 25 referred to our linen trade with Naples and Sicily, and it showed that the amount in money value of our linen which they took in 1861 was £66,000, and in 1862 it was only £51,000. The quantity of linen yarn had also fallen off. It should be observed that he was now quoting from every single page in which Naples and Sicily were mentioned. Coming to the iron trade with those provinces, it amounted in 1861 to £88,000, and in 1862 to but £79,000. In the woollen trade a falling-off was likewise exhibited, from £207,000 in 1861 to £161,000 in 1862. Those figures exhausted all the articles specified in the Board of Trade Returns, and pointed out that in all of them there was a decrease. In opposition to the authority of those Returns his hon. Friend had asserted that there was a general increase in our trade, although he had not entered into any details, or told them what was the increase in each particular article. His hon. Friend had also alluded to our maritime intercourse with Naples and Sicily. It was a matter of little importance how many British ships sailed into or out of Naples and Sicily, or how many Neapolitan vessels came to this country; but even in reference to the statistics of shipping there was a difference between the Under Secretary and the Board of Trade. At page 36 of the Returns four tables were given with respect to shipping. From the first of them it appeared that the number of foreign vessels which had entered the ports of the United Kingdom coining from Sicily had declined since 1860 from 141 to 139. The vessels that had cleared had, of course, also declined, the number in 1861 being 187, and 140 in 1862. But the table to which he called particular attention appeared at page 37, where again he found a decline. It gave an account of the number and tonnage of the vessels entered inwards and cleared outwards from various countries during the ten months ending the 31st of October, 1862. Unfortunately, they did not include the whole year, but there was a fulling-off in each case, except in the fourth table, where alone there was a slight increase. What was the moral to be drawn from these facts? The Board of Trade Returns contradicted the Foreign Office, and might be fairly taken as correct. Indeed, where the officials of the Foreign Office were in error, or in want of informa- 434 tion on matters of trade and commerce, they were bound to be guided by the statistics of the Board of Trade. But that was not all. His hon. Friend had not adverted to an important report on the trade and commerce of Italy and the state of Italian finance received by Earl Russell from Mr. West, the Secretary of the Legation at Turin. Our Consul General at Naples was contradicted, not only by our own Board of Trade, but also by the Secretary of our Legation at Turin. That gentleman informed Her Majesty's Government that there was a steady decline in most branches of British commerce with Italy, and that that decline was owing, as might naturally be expected, to this fact, that the taxes of Piedmont were so heavy, her customs duties so cumbrous, for the purpose of keeping up a large army, as to discourage trade. As an illustration of this, Mr. West stated that the occupation of Southern Italy by Piedmontese troops was so expensive that, to use his own words, "it will swallow up the total revenues from all the rest of the annexed provinces put together." Yet they found an organ of the Foreign Office not quoting that report, but quoting a statement not before Parliament from our Consul General at Naples, who was not appointed to his present office without the express sanction and approval of the Piedmontese Government. And that marked the distinction. The Secretary of our Legation at Turin was perfectly independent of the Piedmontese Government, and his statements, like those of the Board of Trade, might be regarded as reliable. Again, what was notoriously the present financial condition of Sardinia? Why, she was now demanding a loan of, he thought, 700,000,000f. Last year the Piedmontese Finance Minister found that he had a deficit of £17,000,000; and how, he should like to know, could it be expected that the Government of which he was a Member would, under these circumstances, lower the customs duties and meet this country in the free-trade spirit of which so much had that evening been said? The hon. Member for Bradford, addressing his constituents on the subject during the recess, had, if he was not mistaken, told them that our trade with Tuscany, or at all events that port on of it with which they were most intimately concerned, had declined since her annexation to Piedmont had taken place.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
I said the tariff had become higher since the anuexa- 435 tion, but I did not state that the trade had diminished. To do so would be to state that which I do not believe.
§ MR. HENNESSY
said, be could show the hon. Member that our trade with Tuscany had also declined, as was natural should be the case if the tariff had bean largely increased. He found that in 1861, for instance—he quoted from the second last Returns, because the last did not give the required class of facts—while our trade with Tuscany had fur three-quarters of the year amounted to £844,000, it had in the corresponding three-quarters of 1862 fallen off to £771,000. Yet, notwithstanding those figures, the hon. Member for Bradford seemed still to be under the impression that that trade had not undergone a decrease. It was not, however, by the Board of Trade alone that evidence of the error under which the hon. Member laboured on the subject was furnished. Earl Russell had sent two gentlemen to institute inquiries on the very question through Sir James Hudson, and there had been a despatch to the noble Lord from our Consul in Tuscany, written early last Session, which went to confirm the view which he (Mr. Hennessy) was endeavouring to lay before the House. He might add that he had been at Leghorn at the close of 1860, when a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce, attended by a great number of British merchants, was held; and upon that occasion a memorial had been forwarded to the Piedmontese Government to the effect that the trade of Leghorn would be destroyed if the Piedmontese tariff were applied to Tuscany. But not only were the duties now higher than those which existed before the annexation, but the Piedmontese system of taxation was antiquated and cumbrous in the extreme. In Tuscany, previous to the annexation, an ad valorem scale of duty prevailed, whereas now it was specific. Last year, with some difficulty, he obtained from Earl Russell a despatch from our Consul at Tuscany on this subject, and it explained the operation of the new tariff on the Bradford trade. It would appear that the trade of Bradford with Tuscany consisted for the most part of a kind of woollen mixed with silk, which commodity, under the old tariff, paid a very slight duty, but which, under the present, being placed in the category of silk, was subjected to so high a charge that he believed the trade in it was extinct. The reason, therefore, was clear why the policy which the hon. Member supported had 436 caused his constituents to suffer. He would simply say, in conclusion, that it was disgraceful to see such a difference prevail between two public Departments as that which seemed to exist between the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade in the case under discussion, the representative of the one Department denying that decline of trade the reality of which his Colleague, a Cabinet Minister, sitting by him, had supplied the means of establishing.
MR. SOMERSET BEAUMONT
said, it was by no means to be wondered at that after the occurrence of great political changes the financial and commercial results were not precisely the same as those which previously obtained; nor did the statistics quoted by the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down at all convince him of the fact he was so anxious to prove—that the present condition of Italy was worse than it had been before the annexation took place. He could not at all concur with the hon. Gentleman by whom the subject under discussion had been introduced in the various criticisms which he had made on the conduct of the Government in reference to commercial treaties. He found, for instance, that since they came into office they had negotiated treaties with France, Turkey, and Belgium, while the Prime Minister himself had spontaneously, at a meeting in a large commercial town which he had visited during the recess, urged the immense advantage which it would be to this country to have a commercial treaty with Austria. The community, however, to whom the speech was addressed, instead of sending a Member to support the noble Lord, elected one on the question of the narrow or the broad gauge. He might observe that he had not long ago taken part in the proceedings of a chamber of commerce in which the treaty with Belgium was discussed, and that he had not heard a single fault found with its provisions; while, so far as the objection that our Government had never begun negotiations for treaties until France had set the example was concerned, he could only say that it was refuted by the fact that we had made a treaty with Turkey without waiting for any such incentive to action. It must also be borne in mind, in dealing with this question, that foreign countries were not so much frightened at entering into competition with the manufacturers of France as they were with those of England. He should be more 437 disposed to agree with the hon. Gentleman opposite if it could be shown that the Government had been remiss in the promotion of commercial relations between this country and Austria. That was a subject of very great importance, and one which he had brought before his constituents recently. The hon. Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs had, however, stated, what he believed to be perfectly accurate, that Austria was not at present free to consider a commercial treaty with this country. The answer given by the noble Lord at the head of the Government last Session, when he (Mr. S. Beaumont) put a question on the subject, was that till the relations between Austria and the Zollverein were settled we could not expect to get a treaty with Austria. He did not believe that her Majesty's Government could be blamed for not having succeeded in bringing about commercial relations with Austria. That country presented an excellent field for commercial intercourse. There was growing up there, under the exercise of free discussion and liberal institutions, a desire for free trade. They had the assurance of the noble Lord at the head of the Government that the Austrian Ministry were alive to the value of free trade, and he felt confident that at the proper time the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary would show that the Government was not open to the imputation of being dilatory in these matters, and would be able to add another commercial treaty to those which had recently been contracted.
§ MR. LIDDELL
said, he thought that the commercial community were greatly indebted to his hon. Friend for calling attention to that important subject. He felt that there could be nothing more unsatisfactory than what had fallen from the lips of the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs. He always believed that free trade never could be conducted by one man or by one nation—it required two or more as parties to the arrangement; and it appeared that in consequence of having given up what the Chancellor of the Exchequer had once called the rags and tatters of protection, of which he at the time thought a better use might have been made, we were now in a position of having no inducements to offer to other States, for greater commercial freedom, and our prospects as to treating with them were absolutely hopeless. He understood that such was the case with regard to Spain and Portugal, 438 for which countries we had made unexampled sacrifices, but the tariffs of which in respect to our ships and to some classes of goods were more restrictive and oppressive than those of any other countries. Austria, we were told, could not, on account of its peculiar position in reference to other German Powers, enter into a commercial treaty with this country; and yet, as had been shown by the hon. Member who had just sat down, in a most able and valuable pamphlet, there existed in that empire a most extensive and most valuable field for our commerce. All that was now left for us to do was to lose no opportunity of laying before those States, our commercial relations with which we wished to extend, the successful results which had attended our own adoption of free-trade principles and practice. He was afraid that our Foreign Office was not sufficiently active in that respect, but he hoped that in future no such opportunities would be neglected.
MR. LEVESON GOWER
said, he felt bound to protest against any language which would imply that by the reduction of customs duties this country had sacrificed anything whatever. It had been stated by the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs that there were only two ways of approaching foreign Governments on the subject of treaties of commerce, one of which consisted in having something to offer, the other method being to leave matters to their generosity. But both these plans were perfectly useless in our case, because we had nothing more to offer, and in the tone of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down he fancied he detected something like a tone of regret that we had not something like a rag of protection left for the purpose. In any such feeling he could not participate, because he believed that our national prosperity was in a great measure due to our commerce being free and uncrippled by any such restrictions. It was useless to appeal to the generosity of other nations, because he did not believe that our own legislation was ever guided by considerations other than those which at the time were thought best for the interests of England. What this country ought to do was to appeal to the self-interest of other nations, and to point out to them the advantages derivable from free trade. The very fact that we were in possession of those advantages at the same time that we had no means of driving a bargain, was in itself a recommendation of any suggestions which we might offer.
§ MR. DISRAELI
—Sir, it is, I think, very much to the credit of the Liberal party that we have at last heard from an hon. Gentleman a free-trade speech. I shall not offer any observations in vindication of those rags and shreds of protection of which the House has just been reminded. I think our opinion upon that subject has been expressed in a manner which cannot be mistaken. Our sincerity as to the course of policy which it has been the wisdom of the country to pursue has been proved by as great sacrifices as can be made by public men. But upon the other side of the House—where hon. Members are, or are supposed to be, the advocates of free trade and Parliamentary Reform—I did not expect to have heard this discussion commenced by the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs making a personal and violent attack upon my hon. Friend near me, on the ground that because he advocates the policy of commercial treaties he is showing himself to be a new convert to the principles of free trade. Sir, I never heard that commercial treaties were connected with the abstract principle of a free exchange of commodities between nations. There is nothing very modern, I believe, in the invention of commercial treaties; nor am I aware that the Tory party have ever shown a disrelish to support commercial treaties, if commercial treaties are to be accepted, as we are told by a Member of the Government, as a test of sincerity of belief in the principle of free trade. Why, Sir, commercial treaties, even with France, have been negotiated successfully by Tory Ministers many years before the present commercial treaty with France. There was the commercial treaty of Mr. Pitt, which was only a reproduction of the treaty which Lord Bolingbroke, a Tory Minister, negotiated successfully more than 150 years ago for the interchange of products between England and France on terms much easier than those that at present exist. And why was that treaty negotiated, but not ratified? Why was it defeated? It was defeated through the opposition of the Whig party in this House. Mr. Addison, one of the most distinguished Members that ever sat in this House, and who afterwards was Secretary of State, exerted all his wit and unrivalled powers of humour and composition in ridiculing the arrival of a distinguished foreigner in this country — one Count Tariffe, whose mission was to introduce 440 the habit of free exchange of commodities between two great nations. Those powers of ridicule and humour, supported by the unfortunate prejudices of the country, defeated that treaty. Therefore nothing can be more unfounded than to suppose that because we on this side of the House are in favour of commercial treaties we are in fact at all deserting those principles which have been habitually supported, I may almost say for centuries, by the Tory party. But the hon. Under Secretary of State attacks my hon. Friend, and says, "Because you are a supporter of a commercial treaty I hold you up to public reprobation as only a recent convert to the principles of free trade." Now, Sir, if there can be anything opposed to the abstract principles of free exchange upon which unrestricted competition depends, it is, it must be, those regulations or conventions by which reciprocal advantages are sought in the commercial exchange of nations. You are departing from those principles which you take every opportunity of claiming as your own; you are departing from the ground of pure science and inexorable logic the moment you attempt to negotiate the terms upon which commercial exchange shall take place. Now, in the case of the French treaty we came forward with certain advantages which we proposed to exchange for others. That I thought myself at the time, generally speaking, to be a most wise policy. I thought, and always have thought, that anything which favoured commercial exchange between England and France was a policy which each country ought to favour, but the scheme was entirely contrary to those abstract principles of free exchange which you have always upheld. Nothing, then, can be more inconsistent than to reproach any Gentleman on this side because he supports commercial treaties. I remember, Sir, many years ago, introducing the subject of commercial treaties to this House. It was before the hon. Member for Rochdale, a gentleman who on all subjects shows great capacity, was one of its Members. But having supported in that Motion the system of commercial treaties, as one which I thought would, upon the whole, most promote the increase of the commerce of this country, I remember being attacked out of this House by the hon. Member on that subject. I do not know whether the words were uttered aloud, so that we can find them in the authentic record; but I 441 can say from my own personal experience, that no less a personage than Sir Robert Peel said upon that occasion, "Don't you think we have heard the last of commercial treaties?" Well, Sir, we had not heard the last of commercial treaties. A very considerable commercial treaty was destined to be negotiated years after. So shrewd, so sagacious a statesman as Sir Robert Peel, so cautious in expressing his opinion, in 1844 probably was, then, of the belief that we had heard the last of commercial treaties. Yet we had not heard the last of commercial treaties. A most important commercial treaty was afterwards negotiated, and by whom? By the hon. Gentleman the Member for Rochdale (Mr. Cobden). Now, that is a lesson to all of us. It teaches us this — that whatever the value or the truth of abstract principles, it is in their application—in the wise and necessary application of those principles, that is involved the prosperity of nations. Now, Sir, I think we are very much indebted to my hon. Friend for bringing this subject before us; not that I think the observations he has made to-night, or the interesting debate which has followed, will at all advance in this country the question of commercial treaties. I think we have got into a position in which that is impracticable; but the discussion will at least teach the country the position which upon that subject it really occupies. We have no means of negotiation, and it is most unwise, in my opinion, to hold out generally to the country that the Government have the power of negotiating treaties of commercial advantage. The country has accepted the policy of unrestricted competition. If it be dissatisfied with that policy, let it frankly announce its dissatisfaction. But we cannot have the advantage of a policy of unrestricted competition and at the same time, as regards commerce, enjoy the advantages of exchange under diplomatic arrangement—it is impossible at once to enjoy both. The country now wants to have the double advantage, but warning enough has been given. You have been told often and often by Members of this House that whether it regards commerce, or whether it respects navigation, you were too liberal in parting with the advantages and privileges you possessed; but the principles of unrestricted competition were adopted, and it is now too late to inquire whether you are right or wrong. The policy 442 which you then supported was accepted, and by that policy you must, in my opinion, stand. Why, in navigation alone, I remember how constantly you were told that you were needlessly giving up a thousand points. The constant answer was, "Only make the surrender, only endure the sacrifice, and you will see that your example will inspire others." I am not aware myself of the satisfactory returns to which those sacrifices have tended. They appear to me, as far as I can recall them at this moment, to be very slight and mean. But the policy was adopted after great discussion—after frequent appeals to the country—after great debate in this House, and great political consequences; and that you should now endeavour to combine the commercial advantages which accrue from unrestricted competition with the benefits which can only attend upon diplomatic arrangements, is a monstrous effort, which, depend upon it, must end in failure. It is not now for you to come forward, you who favour free trade and commercial treaties, and find fault with the Government because they cannot accomplish such results. You have yourselves resolved that the means which only can bring about these arrangements should be surrendered at discretion. You gave them up without condition, and it is impossible now to resume the position you have lost. But that is no reason whatever why the Government should attempt to carry on negotiations in this matter in the manner that the present Government does. The Government know very well the position they occupy, and we are painfully conscious of it and; the Government, who are always better instructed than the House of Commons, must be doubly conscious of the difficulty of attempts to negotiate commercial treaties. The fault I find with the Government in pretending to negotiate commercial treaties is that they hold out an idea to the country that by an Italian or Austrian treaty they would create a great interchange. They know that it is impossible they can do it. It would be more dignified, to my mind, to hold aloof. Having adopted a commercial system the principle of which is unrestricted competition, it would be more dignified, and I believe, in the end, more successful, if you held aloof, rather than pretend that you can negotiate these treaties. Every day we hear, "We have had a successful commercial treaty with France: why not with Italy, why not with Austria?" You 443 know very well that you cannot have the same results as with France. You had something to give to France. You had that principle of reciprocity to act with, the principle which you have always despised and always condemned. That led to your success—that led to the results which have been obtained, and you claimed that as a discovery which was accomplished more than a century ago by some of the greatest Statesmen that have ever existed in this country. It is past. The age of commercial treaties is past, because you have no means and no materials for negotiation. All you can do is to exercise that moral influence, of which we hear so much, with foreign countries with which you are placed in communication, to lead them by your own example and your own prosperity. Never mind whether it arose from your present or your old system of commerce—for the old as well as the present system of commerce has equally brought prosperity to this country—from the contemplation of that prosperity the conviction will grow in those countries that with immense resources they are producing small revenues; that they are not raising revenues that bear a due relation to their resources, and you may trust to that to lead to reciprocal exchanges and mutual benefits in commercial transactions. But you will gain that as completely, and perhaps sooner, without the embarrassment of commercial treaties than you would with these conventions. I regret that, through the conduct of the Government and through the extraordinary behaviour of the free trade party in patronizing artificial agreements of exchange, there has arisen in this country the impression that the best and most politic mode of stimulating commerce is to have recourse to that method. That was a good theory twenty years ago, and not only a good theory but a good theory which could be put in beneficial practice. I will not enter into a discussion now—at all times a barren controversy—whether if, twenty years ago, you had followed the principle of commercial exchange you would have derived more advantage than by suddenly adopting the principle of unrestricted competition. You have adopted unresticted competition as the principle of your commercial code. By accident certain articles were excepted, and two years ago you used them as the means of negotiating a treaty of commerce with a great country, with a large population, and with very rich and 444 very valuable resources. You have played all your cards, and to attempt at the present moment—to pretend that you can assist and support the commerce of this country by commercial treaties is a mere delusion. No doubt the Government of this country may make use of its legitimate influence to obtain commercial advantages, but to obtain treaties on commercial and political principles are two different subjects; and my hon. Friend is perfectly right in pointing out how important it is that the Government, when holding out the principle of commercial treaties as one highly advantageous to our allies, should not follow at the same time a general policy which irritates the feelings and offends the pride of foreign Governments. In taking that line my hon. Friend is highly to be commended, and no doubt what he has said will lead to suggestions in the public mind which will be advantageous. At the same time I regret very much that hon. Gentlemen opposite, after so many years, during which they have held with so much tenacity abstract opinions on commercial exchange, should now come forward and be agitating the country with the absolute necessity of making artificial arrangements for stimulating the commerce of the country. The plan which they seem now to foster is one not founded on right principles, and practically cannot be carried into effect; and any commercial treaties which England may now negotiate, and which when they are negotiated must be beneficial to the different countries concerned, no man can deny must be negotiated by political influence, and not by the influence of commercial considerations.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
Sir, I have been appealed to during this debate, and therefore I rise to reply to the questions that have been put to me. Otherwise I should have been very little disposed, after the able speech of my hon. Friend the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, to take part in this discussion. We have had a narrative of the proceedings of the Goernment since the conclusion of the French treaty in reference to making commercial agreements with foreign countries. The debate has been called interesting, and probably is so. But I have been unable to follow many of the speakers, and throughout the discussion I have observed a certain confusion, as if the speakers were thinking of different subjects, and not discussing a particular Motion. There 445 is a remarkable difference between the hon. Gentleman who submitted the Motion, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire. The former reproved the Government for not seizing every opportunity to make commercial bargains with foreign nations. The latter tells us that the age of commercial treaties is past, and that all we can do is to use political influence or pressure, I suppose, to make foreign countries alter their tariffs. We have had an account of the opposition to the French treaty in the time of Mr. Pitt. The French treaty two years ago met a similar opposition at the hands of the right hon. Gentleman, and be appears in those days to have taken up what I understood him to call the former error of the Whigs. But the hon. Gentleman who submitted the Motion entirely approved the last French treaty, and his whole speech was a comment upon the conduct of the Government since that period. With regard to the Belgian treaty, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) asks why the text is not given. I have simply to say that the treaty has been laid on the table, and is to be found in the library, and the hon. Gentleman will there see what it has accomplished. I contend that it has accomplished great benefits for this country. The Belgian treaty contains, first of all, the favoured nation clause, which had no existence before in our relations with Belgium—a most important stipulation, because before the treaty France enjoyed a preference in the Belgian market, and since its conclusion France and England are treated with perfect equality. The second advantage is that we have assimilated the British and Belgian flags. Produce, whether carried by a British or a Belgian ship, is to be admitted for the future upon equal terms, and that is acknowledged by the salt trade of this country to be a great benefit, because heretofore salt imported in English ships was subjected to a differential duty. But the most important result of all is the favoured nation clause, because by putting an end to the system of preference which was given to France in the Belgian market we have reduced the Belgian tariff as against English productions 50 per cent. There were many duties which ranged up to 40 per cent—but, taking an average, the duties upon English textile fabrics imported into Belgium ranged as high as 30 per cent, and they have been reduced to a rate not exceeding 446 15. I think, therefore, we have accomplished through that Belgian treaty important results for the benefit of England. It has been said by the hon. Member for the King's County (Mr. Hennessy) that our trade with Italy has not increased, and that the Board of Trade Returns contradict those which have been supplied by Her Majesty's Consul General at Naples. I have not seen the returns which my hon. Friend quoted as coming from Naples; but I have no doubt that the figures which be quoted are correct, and they show in the particular articles referred to a probable diminution in the trade with Italy, comparing a certain number of months of 1862 with the same months in 1861. But from what I heard fall from my hon. Friend the Under Secretary (Mr. Layard) I think the Consul General's returns were made in the gross, and it may be quite true that particular articles have fallen off in 1862. I laid on the table only this evening the annual Returns made up to the 31st December, 1862, and they are not as yet printed. I dare say it may turn out that the export trade to Italy in 1862 may be less than in 1861. There are many reasons why that should be the case. The high price of cotton and its diminished production must have had a tendency materially to affect the whole export trade of England. But I think it would be only fair to compare 1860 and 1861 with 1857 and 1858, omitting 1859, which was a year of war, and therefore not to be taken into the comparison for the amonnt of trade. Now, the whole value of the British exports to Italy in 1857 was £3,246,261. and in 1858 £3,677.663; but in 1860 it was £4,220,112, and in 1861 £5,333,261. Such is the declared value in those years of British exports to Italy—that is to say, to Sardinia, Tuscany, and the Two Sicilies. I think, therefore, when the hon. Member for the King's County (Mr. Hennessy) looks into the facts of the case, he will find that although the Board of Trade Returns do not quite tally with the statement of my hon. Friend, it is substantially true that the trade with Italy, for the last two years, has shown a tendency to increase and has in fact materially increased. Now, with regard to the Italian treaty, to which my hon. Friend (Mr. S. Fitzgerald) has alluded, as a case in which the Government were not showing the vigilance which they ought in watching our commercial interests, all I can 447 say is, that—as far as my knowledge goes, there having been constant communications between the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade in reference to that treaty—that charge is unfounded. As soon as we found that Italy was about to revise her tariff, and that France was almost forcing from the necessities of the country such a tariff as would be favourable to her interests, Her Majesty's Government set themselves to work, and represented to Italy those reductions which might be made in our interest, and which might well be considered while the tariff was under revision. But there is no doubt that whatever Italy gave to France she would give to England under the operation of the favoured nation clause. It is quite true we have it not in our power to go to different countries and say, "If you make this reduction in your duties, we will make that in ours." We have weeded out of our tariff so many duties that it is not possible for us to make offers of that kind, but I am rather inclined to agree in some observations which fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) as to commercial treaties. I, for one, never held the doctrine that we should wait before making reductions of duties in this country favourable to ourselves, because other countries would not co-operate. I have always held we ought to make those reductions which we consider beneficial. I look upon the French treaty as an exception to the general rule, though I would rather not lay down any general rule or abstract principle, because in this matter, as in all other political questions, exceptions are sure to arise. I do not think tariff treaties in themselves desirable, speaking abstractly, or that any country should shackle itself by engagements with other countries as to the particular mode in which it would raise its own revenue. I think in these matters it must obviously he the interest of this country to act for herself. But because the French treaty has been concluded, and there has been a stipulation for the reduction of duties on the part of France, and concessions of duty on the part of England, it does not follow that England is to run about endeavouring everywhere to make tariff treaties. That policy has never been recommended, nor has it been encouraged by the recent proceedings of the Foreign Office. All that has been done is to ask, where we have not had the 448 favoured nation clause, to get it, and we have never ceased to urge upon other countries the necessity of considering the duties which affect our interests. I do not think the experience we have had since the French treaty is at all discouraging. We cannot expect that foreign countries should change their opinions upon protection all at once. We, in this country, were a long time before we were convinced that protection was a bad thing, and I am not certain that all the Members of this House are as yet convinced that it is. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) is, but I do not know that the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), for example, is convinced. But, be that as it may, we ought to be indulgent, seeing that strong habits and prejudices are not to be got rid of in a day, and that the course which France has taken in negotiating commercial treaties with other nations is having a great effect in spreading free trade throughout Europe. Whatever reductions are made to France we must strive to get, either in virtue of our moral claims or by the favoured nation clause. I think, then, we have every reason to be satisfied with that commercial policy which has been pursued by this country, and which will gradually bring about in Europe not only the conviction of the soundness of the principle, but the adoption of the practice of free trade.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ House at its rising to adjourn till To-morrow at Two of the clock.