§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he rose to call the attention of the House to the arrangement between the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade in reference to trade with foreign nations, and to move for a Select Committee thereon. The first point that would suggest itself to any hon. Member reading the terms of his Motion would probably be that it was rather a serious thing to ask the Government for a Select Committee to inquire into the manner in which two of their Departments transacted their business. There were two precedents for such a course, however, to which he might refer—the one was the Select Committee which had been granted to inquire into the constitution of the Board of Admiralty, and the other a Motion by the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Horsfall) two or three years ago, for inquiry into the constitution of the Board of Trade. That Motion was not, indeed, granted, but it was not opposed on the ground of being contrary to the practice of the House. He was quite aware that it 1084 would require strong arguments to induce the House to grant a Select Committee in accordance with his Motion. He hoped, however, to show that a grievance existed and was felt strongly by the best informed of the commercial community. The merchants and manufacturers of the large towns, having the means of associated action through their Chambers of Commerce, had held a meeting at which the subject was discussed, and a brief but pithy memorial was drawn up and presented to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. In that memorial nineteen principal towns were represented—including Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Coventry, Leeds, Nottingham, Newcastle, Sheffield, and most of the important commercial towns, except those in Lancashire. Although the Chambers of Commerce of Lancashire did not belong to this association, a deputation from the Manchester Chamber of Commerce which represented the whole of the cotton districts attended, and fully concurred in the representation. The memorial was to the following effect:That your memorialists understand that the arrangement between the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade is at present as follows:—That the Foreign Office takes action in commercial matters, solely in concert with the Board of Trade. That consequently communications from Her Majesty's Ministers and Consuls abroad on commercial matters are forwarded by the Foreign Office to the Board of Trade, in order that through such Board they may, if deemed desirable, be communicated to commercial men; and that, on the other hand, the suggestions of such commercial men for action by the Foreign Office in commercial matters are expected to be made to the Board of Trade. That while gratefully acknowledging the desire, both on the part of your Lordship, of the President of the Board of Trade, and of the staff of both offices, to promote the interests of commerce, your memorialists have found by experience that this double action tends to defeat the fulfilment of that desire. That the present movement throughout the Continent of Europe towards free trade, consequent on the reduction of its tariff by the French Government, makes it especially necessary that our Government should give constant and unremitting attention to all questions connected with foreign tariffs (especially to any changes that may be contemplated in them), and should be ready to take prompt action on information obtained, while at the same time it makes it especially undesirable that English manufacturers should find themselves compelled, by want of such prompt action, to make in Parliament or through the press such public expression of their wishes as tends to their defeat by alarming manufacturers abroad. That therefore your memorialists cannot but think that the interests of trade would be greatly promoted if commercial men in this country were put in im- 1085 mediate and direst communication with those who are responsible for the action of Government in commercial matters with foreign countries,What was asked was a Select Committee to inquire whether means could not be found to put the trading interest of the country into immediate communication with that Department of the Government which conducted negotiations relating to trade with foreign nations. He had no doubt the members of the Chambers of Commerce would be able to prove their case if the Committee were granted. If the House would allow him he would point out very briefly how the present mode of administration was very likely to lead to the evils practically felt by the merchants and manufacturers throughout the country. The first thing was, that it required, as stated in the memorial, that there should be a concerted action between the two offices—the Board of Trade and the Foreign Office—before any representation relating to trade and commerce could be made abroad, or any negotiations conducted. In other words, it required that the two offices should be of the same mind. That occasioned great difficulty and caused great delay. Feebleness of action was also the result; frequently there was no action at all, or it was not resolved upon till so late that it had little or no weight. Another disadvantage was that the trading interest was forced by the theory of the arrangement to work upon the Foreign Office through the Board of Trade, and consequently it was almost an impossibility to obtain decisive action. The Foreign Office did the work; it made the representations and conducted the negotiations abroad, and it was best qualified to do so, because it received information from Her Majesty's consuls abroad, but the theory was, that the other part of the information — namely, that concerning the interests, objects, and wishes of commercial men at home should be received through the Board of Trade, That was a very inconvenient arrangement, and it would be much better if one office received the information from both quarters. As the Foreign Office did the whole work it should obtain the whole information. The theory was that if any question should be asked in that House with regard to negotiations abroad, instead of asking it of the Under Secretary, or, if they had the good fortune to have him among them, of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, it was ad- 1086 dressed to his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, who could not state in reply what he had done, but only what Earl Russell had done, but it would surely be much more satisfactory to the Members of the House, as well as to the country, if a reply could be given by the Minister who had conducted the matter. Then, again, commercial representations must depend on political representations and political negotiations; therefore it was desirable that the office which conducted political negotiations should feel itself responsible for the commercial negotiations, otherwise commerce would be sacrificed, as he feared it had been, to other questions more urgently brought before the Foreign Office. Under the present arrangement, moreover, there was a want of responsibility and a relief from responsibility. The Board of Trade was of very little use to the trading community in matters appertaining to foreign commerce, although possessing the greatest desire to serve the interests of trade, but it was of very considerable use to the Foreign Office by acting as a shield or buffer between them and any pressure which might be brought to bear upon them. These were some reasons why the present relations between the two offices were likely to be disadvantageous to trade; but the chief reason why, at the request of the very influential bodies to which he had alluded, he had been induced to take up the subject, was that, in consequence of the French Treaty, there had been such a movement towards free trade throughout Europe as made prompt action by the Government at this time especially desirable. Some hon. Gentlemen, indeed, supposed that the French Treaty was a reason why there should be slowness and inaction in this matter; but the trading community, on the other hand, thought it should rather beget watchful supervision on the part of the Minister who had the control of Foreign Affairs, with the view to the development of our foreign trade. It was difficult to find any question which was less of a party question, and he must candidly acknowledge the earnest desire not only of the present but also of the late and possible future occupants of the Treasury bench to further the interests of trade in every manner. But while making this acknowledgment he must state that some remarks he had made on a former occasion had been misapprehended by the right hon. Gentleman opposite the Member for Buckinghamshire, who appeared to sup- 1087 pose that merchants and manufacturers wished to return to the old system of reciprocity. But they had no such wish. They felt and knew, and were glad to feel and know, that the French Treaty had put an end to the possibility of reciprocity treaties on the part of England. They were prepared to abide every consequence of free trade. That was the almost unanimous feeling. But they did not think they were unreasonable in calling upon the Government to do all in its power to develop the principle of free trade in foreign countries, and in desiring that our agents abroad and our Ministers at home, while fully imbued with the principles of free trade, should be also sufficiently acquainted with the details of British commerce, and the wants of commercial men, that when an opportunity presented itself, the utmost should be made of it. They thought that the interests of commerce were of sufficient importance to warrant the political power of the country being exerted in asking in a perfectly respectful and friendly manner, from foreign countries these two things. First, that when a treaty was made between two foreign countries, England should be put in the position of the most favoured nation—a request that was perfectly reasonable; and next, that when any treaty of commerce or change of tariff was in contemplation in any foreign country, our Ministers should ask to be informed of such intended changes in order that they might be enabled to offer suggestions. It might be possible even in the most protectionist country to make suggestions so manifestly advantageous alike to the foreign nation and to the British producer, that it might be almost impossible to refuse to adopt them. But if those suggestions were not made at the time, they would be useless afterwards. He would mention to the House two or three instances in which the interests of English commerce had not been so well looked after as they might have been. The French treaty offered a great opportunity for developing our trade with foreign countries, but he feared that, to some extent, this opportunity had been lost. If the efforts of the hon. Member for Rochdale had been followed up in the same spirit in which he made them, that treaty would have been of more advantage to England than it had been. There was the old question of the Belgian tariff. When the treaty between that country and France was being negotiated, the Chamber of Commerce at Brad- 1088 ford urged the Foreign Office to take some steps in the matter, and to make suggestions which might then have been successful, while the Belgian Government was uncommitted to its own manufacturers. The opportunity was, however, lost, and the consequence had been, he feared, that we had not so good a bargain as we might have had in respect to the Scheldt dues. Then in the case of Prussia, when the treaty between France and Prussia was under discussion, the Chambers of Commerce in this country made an earnest representation to the Foreign Office to send out some one to Berlin to watch the negotiation. After a delay, Mr. Mallet, of the Board of Trade, a highly qualified gentleman, who had cooperated with the hon. Member for Rochdale in making the French Treaty, was sent, but he was too late to do anything useful. He might as well not have gone at all, but if there had been but one office to consult, no doubt he would have been in time. The case was still stronger in regard to Italy. As soon as Italy became one nation it became necessary to establish one tariff for the whole country, and that tariff was decided upon after a treaty with France. He had frequently urged upon the Under Secretary of State the propriety of sending some one to Turin, who was well acquainted with English trade, that the unification of the tariff might be favourable to the interests of English manufacture. The answer always was that it would be of no use to send any one, as we must wait until France had made her bargain. But it was not necessary for us to be dragged after France. Although we had no reductions of tariff to offer, we might have been able to show to the Italian Government and to the men of commerce of that country, that there were many cases in which the tariff might be reduced without injury to any one. Mr. Mallet was at last sent out to Turin, but he was again too late. His presence was then more likely to do harm than good to the commerce of this country, and he (Mr. Forster), for one, was very anxious that he should come home again. In Russia the tariff was almost prohibitory. Upon his own goods, Orleans stuff, the present Russian duty was £26 per cwt. Hon. Members would appreciate the oppressive weight of that duty when they learnt that the 15 per cent ad valorem duty in France amounted to only £4 10s. per cwt. It was difficult to imagine a country where it was more the duty of the Government to care for the many con- 1089 sumers rather than the few manufacturers which Russia possessed. But even Russia was awakening to the impolicy of high tariffs, and last year it was stated that a reduction in the tariff had been made. Those reductions, however, did not assist English goods, and, according to the information he had obtained, the reason was obvious—they were adopted after being submitted to the French Ambassador. Our Ambassador ought to have been instructed to communicate with the Russian Government at the time, and he hoped the hon. Under Secretary would say whether any instructions had been given to the English Ambassador on the subject. His own opinion was that the departments were perfectly innocent of making any communication to him on that occasion. With respect to Austria, he would only say that it appeared to be the opinion both of the Board of Trade and of the Foreign Office that this was not a time to make any representations to Austria. The opinion of those engaged in the Austrian trade was quite different, especially as it was known that the Austrian Government had taken steps to obtain the opinion of the manufacturers of that kingdom. In reply to a memorial that had been presented, the Foreign Minister, after communication with the Board of Trade, said that this was not a right time to move in the matter. He would wish to know whether that reply was based upon political or upon commercial grounds. If it were based upon political reasons, he could only say that any political differences which existed would not be increased by appealing to the interest of both countries in the encouragement of mutual trade. It might be asked how it was that matters had got into their present condition. It was a general opinion among commercial men that our Ambassadors and our consuls abroad were in fault; but in that view he did not share. He believed that the fault really lay in the machinery of the two offices, rather than in any want of desire to do their duty on the part of our officers. Our Ministers abroad might have too little knowledge of commercial affairs, but he believed they were well disposed to assist commerce if they could. When representations upon commercial matters were sent by these gentlemen to the Foreign Office, that Office sent them to the Board of Trade, but those gentlemen looked to the Foreign Office for their promotion, and knew that they were not 1090 so likely to get it for exertions in matters which were considered by the Foreign Office to be not the business of that Office but Board of Trade business. It might be said that fault was attributable to commercial men for not bringing sufficient pressure upon the Government. Perhaps they did err in allowing the Government to lead too quiet a life; but for himself he must say he was weary of making representations to the Government. The difficulty that the commercial community experienced was in getting the two offices to work together. They had, first of all, to see that the Foreign Office was put in communication with the Board of Trade, and then to take care that the latter received the requisite information. This arrangement resulted in much delay and inaction, and when any failure occurred it was almost impossible to tell with whom lay the responsibility. It was the old story of Lord Chatham and Sir Richard Strachan over again. They all knew how in former days—The Earl of Chatham, with his sword drawn,Was waiting for Sir Richard Strachan;Sir Richard, longing to be at 'em,Was waiting for the Earl of Chatham.So it was now with the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade—The Earl Russell, with his pen made,Was waiting for the Board of Trade;The Board of Trade, in helpless bustle,Was waiting for the Earl Russell.What was complained of, in two words, was this, that while responsibility rested on one body, the power of action rested on another body. Their desire was that the office where the work was transacted should also bear the responsibility. The first objection to the alteration would in all probability come from the Board of Trade, and would, from its nature, carry with it some force. It would be said that the Board of Trade must not be made less powerful than it was, because it acted as the representative of the commercial interests; and that, if any change were made, it would be better to lodge the power as well as the responsibility in the hands of that body. That, of course, would be a question for the consideration of the Select Committee, if the Government would grant one. One thing, however, was certain. They could not have two sets of negotiations carried on at the same time. If his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade cared about the influence of his office, he would remind him that a 1091 powerless responsibility carried with it no influence. Then came the question — if the work could not be given to the Board of Trade, why could not the responsibility be laid upon the Foreign Office? There was, however, one objection to this, which would proceed from the Foreign Office, and one which was very natural and hardly blamable. The state of things by which an office became relieved of responsibility was undoubtedly a very pleasant one, and one that the office so relieved would be loth to see changed. He did not believe that that objection would be expressed, but he was none the less convinced that it would be felt, though perhaps unconsciously. It might also be urged that the work of the Foreign Office was already so great that it could not be increased without injuring its efficiency; but he considered that no work was more legitimately within the province of that office than the furthering of our commercial interests with foreign nations. If any other subject received prior attention its claims ought indeed to be very great. He believed both his hon. Friend and the noble Lord at the head of the Foreign Office to be greatly mistaken if they imagined that they could escape this work by maintaining the existing arrangement. At present the commercial interest invariably applied to the Foreign Office, upon which was consequently entailed the additional labour of applying to the Board of Trade. He had already said that he believed they had missed the opportunity which the French Treaty had offered them, but they had now another opportunity of which they could avail themselves in consequence of the success of that treaty. The success of the Commercial Treaty with France had been wonderful, and he could not but believe that other nations, seeing that success, would enter into similar reductions of their tariffs, whereby their trade with England would be greatly increased. The French imports had increased in 1863 11 per cent as compared with 1861. In exports the manufactures showed an increase during the same period of 38 per cent, and the Customs had brought a larger amount to the revenue by 33 per cent. There was no part of the kingdom which had benefited from the French Treaty in a greater degree than the town he represented, and yet the French exports in woollen goods, the manufactures of which were supposed to be imperilled by the treaty, had increased by 54 per cent. That was 1092 the result which all true free traders had anticipated, for it was one of their first principles that any loss experienced in one branch of manufacture would be compensated for by increased industry and energy in another. There was one reason for the alteration he proposed essentially English. The nation was, he believed, generally, but not universally, prosperous. They heard less about the Lancashire distress than they did some short time since, but the effects of that distress were still perceptible, and rendered necessary every exertion on the part of our Government to provide fresh markets for our manufactures, especially those connected with cotton. The inhabitants of Europe numbered 260,000,000, and our exports were above £50,000,000. Of that sum, France, with a population of 37,000,000, took a little above £9,000,000; Austria, with 35,000,000 inhabitants, about £780,000; and Russia, with a population of 74,000,000, little more than £2,000,000. Here then were countries civilized and interested in extending their trade with England, and every effort ought to be made to induce them to make alterations in their tariffs which would admit of such extension. He begged leave to move the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the arrangement between the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade in reference to our trade with Foreign nations.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the arrangement between the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade in reference to Trade with Foreign Nations,"—(Mr. W. E. Forster,)
§ —instead thereof.
§ MR. LAYARD
said, that he could not allow the subject touched upon by his hon. Friend to pass without observation, as it was one that was worthy of great attention. His hon. Friend had made it his study and possessed as much information upon it as any hon. Member of the House; in addition to which he believed that some resolutions passed by a deputation from a large number of Chambers of Commerce of the most considerable cities in the country, had a short time ago been confided to his care. Those resolutions, or rather memorials, had been somewhat largely circulated among the Members of the House. He had himself received one, 1093 and the value of the opinions expressed in it had been enhanced by the advocacy of his hon. Friend. The document had, however, been drawn up under an entire misapprehension as to facts, and the assertions which in it assumed the appearance of realities, were without any foundation: whatever. The same thing might be asserted of much which had fallen from his; hon. Friend. He did not for one moment mean to say that his hon. Friend had made any statements which he knew to he untrue, but he believed that his hon. Friend did not understand the relative positions of the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade. It was not unnatural that the Chambers of Commerce in this country should consider their interests as paramount to almost everything else in importance; but it should be remembered that the duty of the Government was not to watch over one interest to the exclusion of all others, but that its aim should be the promotion of the general welfare of the community. He was the last man in the world to doubt the importance of our commercial relations. Our greatness and prosperity were, in his opinion, greatly dependent upon our commercial relations with other countries, and he could assure his hon. Friend that the Foreign Office was fully alive to that fact. His right hon. Friend near him (Mr. Milner Gibson) was one of the leaders of the free trade movement in this country, and therefore it was hardly necessary to say that neither the Foreign Office nor the Board of Trade were insensible to the representation of the commercial interests of the country. The position of our country was different from that of almost every other country in Europe. Some years ago, after a long and arduous struggle, the principles of free trade were accepted by the House. After we had carried out the reform of our own fiscal system, our attention was turned to the possibility of introducing the principles of free trade into our commercial relations with foreign countries. The first country to which the attention of the Foreign Office was turned was naturally France, with which, looking at the situation of the two nations, England ought to maintain the largest commercial relations. Commercial relations on the basis of free trade were proposed to the French Government, and, fortunately, at the head of the French Empire was a Sovereign of great liberality and intelligence, with Ministers who equally understood the advantages of the free trade system. 1094 France itself was, however, by no means prepared for the introduction of anything like free trade; but, happily, the Commercial Treaty was carried through. He was not going to repeat the history of that treaty, but he would remind the House that the most eminent diplomatist in the employ of the Crown (Earl Cowley) represented the Foreign Office, and that the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Cobden), than whom there could be no higher authority on commercial questions, acted as joint negotiator with Earl Cowley. The articles of the tariff were discussed one by one; the hon. Member for Rochdale was able to make such amendments as, from his knowledge of the subject, he believed to be necessary, and the result was that a most satisfactory treaty was concluded. After the conclusion of the treaty a very different course was pursued by the two Governments. The wisest policy, in his opinion, was to do as the British Government had done, and give to all the world what they had given to France. But the French Government adopted another policy, reserving to themselves the right of negotiating with other countries upon the same terms as with ourselves, and they did not extend the provisions of the treaty to any other country. By following a different course England deprived herself of the means of making bargains with other countries, believing that those countries would in time be induced to follow her example, and that the increased prosperity of England and France, derived from that treaty, would have its effect in the course of time, would convince other nations of the vast advantages of free trade, and would lead them eventually to enter into more liberal commercial relations with us. He believed it was the opinion of the hon. Member for Rochdale, as it was the opinion of other men competent to judge, that after the conclusion of the Commercial Treaty with France it was not advisable to open negotiations for commercial treaties with other countries, that further tariff bargains were not advisable, and that it was better to leave free trade to carry its own conviction to the minds of foreign nations. It was impossible to make those nations understand as yet the importance and the advantage of free trade principles, and he believed that although many eminent statesmen did, there were very few countries in Europe, not even excepting France, which yet appreciated those advantages. It must be recollected that speeches were still made in 1095 this House by the hon. Member for West Norfolk among the rest, insisting that free trade had ruined some interests in England, and that the time must come for the re-imposition of protective duties. Whatever might be the value of those arguments they were repeated abroad; and the result was that when free trade arguments were used to foreign Governments, people were apt to say that, having lost our own tail, we wanted them now to cut off theirs; and the more our Chambers of Commerce urged these tariff reductions the more convinced were foreigners that we had some interested object in trying to induce them to adopt our system. The Foreign Office could only use diplomatic means in trying to bring about a better state of things. They could not go about to all the Prime Ministers in Europe with a blunderbuss, saying, "A commercial treaty, or your life!" All they could do was to lay before foreign nations the commercial prosperity of this country under free trade and the advantages which they would derive from a more liberal commercial policy. The Foreign Office must watch their opportunities, and the best moment for making representations must be a question for their consideration and for the consideration of those who represented us abroad. His hon. Friend complained of the British Government for following in the wake of France; but that instead of being a reproach, ought to be a cause of praise. It was the interest of England to get France to enter into commercial relations with other countries, because, until she did so, England had no locus standi. When a country made tariff reductions for the benefit of France, we could go to that country and say that the comity of nations entitled us to ask for similar reductions; that we had nothing to offer in return, but having given before all we had to give the same reductions ought to be made in our favour. This might be said, or there might be "a most favoured nation" clause, under which we could demand as a right what had been conceded to France; or if the treaty negotiated with France proved successful, we could point to the advantage gained by more liberal intercourse with her, and promise equal advantages from similar intercourse with ourselves. Thus, a treaty with France, or with any other nation, formed the strongest argument which could be urged in our own favour. The case of Belgium, which his hon. Friend had mentioned, was exactly in point. It 1096 was a mistake to say that the Foreign Office had not entered into negotiations with Belgium, for as soon as they knew that the Belgian Government were about to negotiate a treaty with France, they communicated with that Government on the subject. But what was the answer given to them? Why, that Belgium could not negotiate with this country until she had finished her negotiations with France. The reason was obvious. France had something to give in return for tariff concessions, and what was said to England by foreign countries was, "If we reduce duties in your favour without any equivalent, we then cut ourselves off from asking for anything from France, since France would say, 'Why should we give you an equivalent for that which you have given to England for nothing?'" That was a fair argument, and one with which the Foreign Office were met.
Then, again, commercial questions were often so intimately mixed up with political questions that they could not separate the two. The fate of a Ministry might depend upon such a question. But Chambers of Commerce did not consider that, and did not take into account, and were often ignorant of, the political condition of the country with which they desired more liberal commercial relations. As in this country, a strong opposition to the Government of the day might exist. The Government might be willing to enter into negotiations, but the Opposition might dissent from that policy. Why, what would have been the result if, when the great struggle between free trade and protection was going on in England, a strong Power in Europe had been constantly pressing us to reduce our tariff? Such an attempt would have furnished a strong argument to the Opposition, and might have endangered the adoption of free trade. Something like that happened constantly on the Continent. It would not be prudent to give instances, but there were many statesmen in Europe who were convinced of the advantages of free trade, and who were yet either fettered by the existence of a strong Protectionist party, or by political considerations, from adopting free trade. As to the propriety of these constant solicitations from our Chambers of Commerce, there was a paragraph in a letter written by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Cobden), which was so wise and true that he would beg permission to quote it. The hon. Gentleman said— 1097As a general rule, I should say that recommendations emanating publicly from our own commercial bodies must afford very disadvantageous grounds for the Foreign Office in attempting to move other Governments to reduce their tariffs, I can understand that our diplomatists abroad might, in a quiet way, by keeping Foreign Governments well informed of the benefits which a free trade policy has conferred not only on the prosperity of our people, but—what is still more precious to rulers—on the interests of the public revenue, induce them, from motives of self-interest, to follow our example. But from the moment that it is known that our diplomacy is set in motion by our Chambers of Commerce to urge a reduction in the tariffs of other countries, it places Foreign Governments, which are generally more enlightened and disinterested on economical questions than their people, in the disadvantageous position of appearing to move under foreign influence for the benefit of aliens, and thus the most seductive arguments are furnished to the Protectionists, who can appeal to the prejudices, and even the patriotism of the public, in defence of what they call the rights of native industry. I have, whenever an opportunity has offered, expressed these views to the members of our Chambers of Commerce.With the opinions expressed in that letter he entirely agreed, and they were precisely the opinions on which the Foreign Office had acted, and, he hoped, would act. He would then turn to some of the facts mentioned by his hon. Friend. With regard to the Italian tariff, it was quite at variance with the facts to adduce that as an instance of want of attention on the part of the Foreign Office. The hon. Member said that if they had sent Mr. Mallet to Turin in good time he would have been able to obtain a reduction of the tariff. The hon. Member was entirely in the wrong. As soon as Her Majesty's Government were aware that the Italian Government were about to enter into commercial relations with France, they lost no time in communicating with the Government of Turin on the subject of the tariff; and he also wrote to several official persons there, pointing out that it would be of great advantage to Italy and the Italian Government to conclude a liberal commercial treaty with this country. In consequence of these representations, Signor Marliani, a member of the Italian Senate and a man of great knowledge and experience, was sent to this country, who, however, was bound by his instructions not to open any negotiations whatever until the French Treaty was settled. The reason for that was, that the Italian Government were afraid that France would avail herself of any concessions made to us, without giving any corresponding concessions on her own part. When the treaty with 1098 France had been agreed to, then the Italian Government offered to make an arrangement with us, and Mr. Mallet was sent to Turin. Even then, however, the Italian Government refused to enter into the question of the tariff, or to do more than put us in the position of the most favoured nation. Her Majesty's Government in vain endeavoured to induce them to change their decision; but the Italian Government said—We will give you the same privileges as we have given France; but we will not make any further concession, because if we do the French Government would claim to have it extended to them, without giving us an equivalent.He could not help thinking that the Italian Ministers did not quite understand the true principles of free trade, for they said they would not make any sacrifices. The English Government did not want them to make any sacrifice or to agree to any reduction which would not be mutually advantageous. In regard, for instance, to the duties on iron and coal, they believed that a redaction would be as much for the benefit of Italy as of England. The same proceeding had taken place in regard to Sweden as to Italy. The Swedes declined to enter into negotiations with us, until they completed their treaty with France. His hon. Friend complained that Her Majesty's Government were not earlier in the field in these cases, and that they did not insist upon being admitted to the negotiations. But how could the Government enforce admission? If there was one subject more than another about which secresy was scrupulously observed, it was the adjustment of a tariff, and it was, therefore, impossible for the Government to obtain the information to which his hon. Friend had referred. Then, in regard to Austria, the Government were constantly in communication with that country on commercial matters, but had received the usual answer, that they could not negotiate until they had settled their arrangements with the Zollverein. He believed, however, that there was a disposition on the part of Austria to enter into a more liberal course of commercial policy. On the subject of cured herrings, a question in which Scotland was very much interested, Her Majesty's Government had made repeated applications to Austria, but the same answer which he had mentioned had always been returned. It was an error to suppose that the treaty between Prussia, the Zollverein, and France would, as a matter of course, come into 1099 operation in 1865. A treaty had been under negotiation for some time, and Prussia, as the mandatory of the Zollverein, had arranged certain terms with France; but in consequence of the Zollverein not having confirmed those terms, the agreement had not been ratified. Her Majesty's Government were in constant communication with Prussia, in reference to a commercial treaty, but the reply was, that nothing could be done till matters had been settled with France and the Zollverein. His hon. Friend had also spoken of Russia. There had been, he believed, some negotiations between Russia and Prussia—not between Russia and France; but he understood they were now at an end. Again, Her Majesty's Government had made repeated efforts, but without success, to enter into a commercial treaty with Spain. The policy of that country naturally depended very much on the Ministry and the Chambers, and they all knew how frequent were the changes which took place in that respect. There was an important question pending with Portugal in regard to a wine monopoly. Over and over again the Portuguese Government had promised to abolish the monopoly, and had once brought in a measure for that purpose; but when reminded that they had not fulfilled their engagement, the answer was, that it could not be carried out on account of the opposition of a large and influential party in the Chamber. It must be borne in mind that there were constitutional Governments in Europe, and the Chambers had to be consulted on these matters.
He then came to the subject of the Motion of his hon. Friend. The accusations of his hon. Friend with respect to the relations between the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade were not well founded. There was no divided responsibility at that time; but there would be if the proposal of his hon. Friend were carried out, and in that case it would be impossible to conduct the business. Complaint was made that our agents abroad bad no means of direct communication with the Board of Trade. [Mr. W. E. FORSTER said he did not make that complaint.] If not made by his hon. Friend the complaint was at least to be found in the memorial which he supported. It was impossible for agents abroad to have direct communication with the Board of Trade. If they had there would be a double machinery, and the agents would 1100 receive instructions both from the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade, which might sometimes happen to be contradictory. He believed the division of labour and responsibility between the two offices was then just what it ought to be. All our agents were instructed to report on all matters occurring in the countries where they resided which were connected with trade and commerce to the Foreign Office. These reports were at once transmitted to the Board of Trade, who advised upon them, and the Foreign Office acted on the opinions thus given. The same thing happened with regard to the Colonial, Indian, or any other office. It was the duty of the Board of Trade, which had special knowledge and experience, to give its opinion on the subjects brought before it by the Foreign Office, and it was the duty of the latter to give effect to the views thus elicited. He wished to draw the attention of his hon. Friend to what had already been done. The Foreign Office had directed all the consuls to make periodical reports on the trade and commerce of the places in which they resided, arid these Reports were first sent to the Board of Trade to be examined and digested, and were then printed and laid before Parliament. Moreover, the secretaries of embassies and legations were also required to make annual Reports of the commerce and finance of the countries to which they were accredited, taking, of course, more enlarged and comprehensive views; and these Reports were also laid before the House, and had been received with favour by the country as containing valuable and important information. Again, since he entered the Foreign Office, he had caused instructions to be sent by circular to all our representatives abroad to communicate to the Department all alterations or notices of alterations connected with tariffs, navigation, or any question of trade and commerce in the countries where they were stationed. The consequence was that nothing was published in the local papers abroad, or in official papers connected with trade and finance, that was not at once communicated to the Government. Again, two years ago, when the cotton famine began, the Foreign Office sent instructions to all our representatives abroad to send homo Reports as to the quantity of cotton raised or about to be cultivated in the countries where they resided. Those reports had been of great value, and many persons 1101 connected with the cotton associations in this country had told him that they had derived the greatest possible assistance from them. So also our policy in Japan and China was founded almost entirely upon our commercial interests. We had few political relations with either of those empires; we were there because we wished to protect and extend our commerce. During the last few years we had entered into commercial treaties with France, Italy, Turkey, and other States. The question of rags had recently excited some interest in this country. Some time ago the Foreign Office sent circulars to all their representatives abroad, calling upon them to obtain information as to the possibility of a reduction of the duty on rags. Satisfactory assurances had been received from some countries. He was not at liberty to say from which, as every thing depended on secrecy in negotiation, but there was every reason to believe that in many countries in Europe the duty on rags would shortly be reduced. The Foreign Office took every opportunity to promote the commercial interests of the country, and he really believed the existing system was as good a one as could be well adopted, though he was willing to make any improvements in it which might be thought desirable. When the representatives of the Chambers of Commerce were assembled in London, he invited the hon. Member for Manchester, the hon. Member for Leeds, and others to discuss the whole question at the Foreign Office, with the view of seeing whether any such improvements could be made. His hon. Friends did not think fit to accept his offer, but if they had visited the Foreign Office he should have placed the whole system before them, and have paid every attention to their suggestions. Perhaps some slight departmental changes might be adopted with advantage, though he was not prepared to go even that length; but he felt quite certain that any proposal to amalgamate the Board of Trade with the Foreign Office was altogether impracticable. It would be useless to attempt to introduce the machinery of the Board of Trade into the Foreign Office, and yet, if the Foreign Office was to be responsible for giving an opinion on commercial questions, it must be supplied with all the organization of the Board of Trade. At present the Board of Trade furnished the Foreign Office with the requisite information and 1102 advice, and thus enabled it to carry on negotiations with foreign Governments. The functions of the two Departments were perfectly distinct, and it would be simply preposterous to lay upon the Foreign Minister, whose Department was the hardest worked Department of the State, the responsibility which rested with the President of the Board of Trade. The former was willing to be responsible for carrying out the instructions he received from the Board of Trade, but the latter must be responsible for those instructions themselves. His only desire was that our commerce should be extended as much as possible. He was, consequently, quite ready to give the Committee asked for, though he was afraid they would not get much from it.
said, he inferred from the words uttered by the hon. Gentleman that the House would not be put to the trouble of dividing. In the event of a division, he was in favour of the Motion of the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), though, at the same time, he could not have supported it, had it involved any censure upon the conduct either of the Foreign Office or of the Board of Trade. Though the arrangement between the two Departments as to the conduct of business did not seem to be satisfactory, it was much easier to point out defects than to state the precise manner in which they ought to be remedied. But the hon. Member for Bradford asked only for an inquiry. He had made out a fair primâ facie case for investigation, and there could be no doubt that a strong feeling on the subject prevailed among the mercantile and manufacturing classes. Their complaint was, that although in the consular service we had an admirable agency for collecting facts connected with trade, yet when those facts were obtained no sufficient use was made of them, or else that the information did not arrive in time. If that statement were true—and its accuracy was a point upon which he did not wish to express any opinion—he should not be disposed to find fault with those who had the conduct of public affairs; for he did not think it could be said that either the Foreign Secretary or the President of the Board of Trade was indifferent in the discharge of his duties. But if the Foreign Office had, as at present, the whole diplomacy of Europe upon its hands—if it had to undertake the settlement of the affairs of all the countries in Europe—it must 1103 follow as a necessary consequence that questions of trade would receive comparatively little notice. He held the opinion that the Foreign Office should undertake much less than at present, and that if it were to leave many questions in which we had no direct concern alone, in all probability the diplomacy of Europe would be managed, not worse, but better. Still, no one would deny that the Foreign Office was overworked. It was no exaggeration to say that within the last fifteen years, since the general introduction of telegraphic communication throughout Europe, the business of that office had more than doubled. That was not a temporary state of things, but one likely to last; and as coincidently with it there had been an immense increase of trade and extension of commercial relations among the different countries of the world, so, if European peace were preserved, there would be a still increasing trade, a constant growth of industry, and still more complicated commercial relations between different countries. He thought, therefore, that the manner in which the Foreign Office was able to deal with commercial questions might properly be investigated. It appeared to him that there were only two courses open for adoption. One was to give to the Foreign Secretary greater assistance within his office, by placing there, for the management of this special business, an official holding a higher position than that of a mere clerk. The other was indicated in some of the memorials of the Chambers of Commerce—namely, to transfer the commercial business bodily to the Board of Trade. To the latter course he entertained the most decided objection. He did not think the business could be managed in that way. There would be a complete separation between political and commercial negotiations, which frequently ran into one another, and there would be all the confusion of a double correspondence between different Departments of the Government at home and the same set of officials abroad. Members of the diplomatic service would be placed in subordination to a department from which they did not receive their appointments, from which they did not expect promotion, with which they had in other respects nothing to do, and to the good or bad opinion of which they must be comparatively indifferent. He thought the House must make up its mind that the business should remain in the Foreign Office. If so, the 1104 responsibility must rest more completely than it did now upon the Foreign Minister. He was likewise of opinion that a great deal of good might be done by an inquiry into the organization of that heterogeneous Department the Board of Trade. The duties of that Department had been increased as new interests had arisen, and he was disposed to think that the President should hold a position of greater dignity in the official scale than he did at present. He had always thought that the Vice President, whose duties at present were not very obvious, should be placed more definitely in the position of an Under Secretary. If these things were to be done, the House must take the initiative. The reform of a department, bow-ever, would never originate in itself, because those who were most familiar with it had commonly been brought up under the system, and had come to regard it as necessary. But he would not dwell further upon that subject, because it was not included in the Motion before the House. The inquiry proposed by the hon. Member for Bradford would probably be attended with valuable results; at any rate, it would satisfy large and important interests that their claims and feelings had not been neglected.
§ MR. BAINES
said, it was true that the Under Secretary of State had most courteously offered to receive a deputation from the Chambers of Commerce at the Foreign Office, and to give them every assistance. The deputation, accompanied by himself and the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Cobden), did go to the Foreign Office a few days after the invitation was given, and waited upon the Chief Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and also upon the President of the Board of Trade, and stated the view of the Associated Chambers upon those matters. He could confirm what had been said by the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) as to the strong views entertained by the Chambers of Commerce on the subject, and their opinion was entitled to great weight, not only from the fact that they represented the mercantile communities of England, Scotland, and Ireland, but because they were frequently able to obtain from foreign merchants intelligence which was unknown to the Board of Trade. To give an illustration of how far the Department of the Board of Trade was behindhand in information, when the deputation waited upon the Board of Trade in February last, the President was asked whether 1105 he had seen a project which had been put forth by the Austrian Government for a new treaty with the Zollverein, and the right hon. Gentleman confessed that he had never seen or heard of it, though the schedule of the treaty had then been in the hands of the Chambers of Commerce for two months. He understood the hon. Member for Bradford did not intend to charge either the Board of Trade or the Foreign Office with neglect of duty, but simply to express an opinion that their duties were too heavy to enable them to give sufficient attention to an interest so vast as to be represented by a receipt of £450,000,000 per annum. Such an enormous interest might well; claim to have a department or sub-department specially assigned to it.
§ MR. BASS
said, he was glad that the Government had consented to grant a Committee. In the French and Prussian Governments there was now a department in the Foreign Office which had charge of affairs of commerce exclusively, and he believed that a similar arrangement prevailed; also in Russia. No one would question the ability with which the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Cobden) had conducted the negotiations for the French Treaty, but there had not been uniformity of advantage, and great dissatisfaction was felt by many of his constituents, that the opportunity of altering tariffs in certain cases during the negotiations was lost. English subjects were only allowed to introduce some goods into France a year after the treaty was concluded, although France entered immediately upon her exports; there was still a suspense account, and for some years to come England would not be able to enter into fair competition with the French silk manufacturers. Considering the advantage that France derived from the treaty, and the enormous increase in her trade which it had produced, he believed that the Foreign Office might be well employed in inducing France to do away altogether with the suspense arrangement. The Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs had told them that the Government had done what they could in the case of Spain, but that their efforts had been totally unsuccessful. It would, he thought, have been only reasonable on the part of Spain, with the advantages she had derived from the French Treaty, to make some little concession to this country. Her commerce in wine with this country had doubled since the treaty was concluded, and the price of her wines had been increased 50 per cent, so that in point of 1106 fact the Spaniards were putting into their pockets very nearly the whole amount of the duty we had taken off. The wine growers of Spain were at the present moment enjoying an increase in the returns derived from their produce of from £800,000 to £1,000,000. He thought if the subject were fairly brought under the notice of the intelligent men who had now the commercial affairs of Spain in their hands, they would take a reasonable view of the matter. He was quite persuaded that if the Foreign Office devoted a small proportion of their efforts to the cultivation of trade which they now employed in writing despatches which almost smothered hon. Members when they received them, the country would derive double the benefit. It could not be doubted that if proper representations were pressed upon the Spanish Government we should have a more satisfactory condition of commerce with them. Portugal had derived great advantages from the treaty, but its tariff was prohibitory.
said, that he too was glad to hear that the Government had agreed to the Committee. The importance of the subject could hardly be overrated, and he only regretted that the arguments of the Under Secretary of State seemed to him to be rather in opposition to the Committee which he had granted. The hon. Gentleman concluded his speech by telling the House that he had given the subject a great deal of consideration, and that, in his opinion, it was impossible that the business of the various Departments could be carried on in any other manner than it was at present. Having made that statement, the hon. Gentleman then said he agreed to the Motion. The principle of the matter was very simple and was one that applied to every transaction in this country. In every transaction of business in this country a man was never satisfied, when he wanted to get anything done, unless he could go direct to the persons who were to do it. When A was obliged to go to B to get C to do something, the work was multiplied, and was not done satisfactorily. He agreed with the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley), that it was not very clear how there was to be an amendment; but, in his opinion, the present system was so palpably unsatisfactory that it was desirable there should be an inquiry to see whether some improvement could not be devised. He was not prepared to say whether the 1107 system could or could not be amended, but he was quite sure that the subject was one that ought to be looked into, and if it turned out that no remedy could be devised, at all events those great mercantile interests who entertained very strong opinions on the matter would have had their views heard and considered, and would, in consequence, feel much more satisfied than at present. He did not understand that the present Motion was made with any desire to blame the Foreign Office or the Board of Trade, but that the hon. Member desired to express the opinion, that if parties interested in commercial matters could get their views more directly brought before the persons who ultimately had to decide the case, it was possible that the work might be better done. According to the Under Secretary, the person interested went to the Board of Trade, which formed an opinion upon the case, and the duty of the Foreign Office was then merely to carry out the judgment of the Board of Trade. But it was possible that, though the judgment of the Board of Trade might have been right, and the duty of the Foreign Office rightly performed, the parties might say that the measure had failed through remissness in carrying it out; and in that case, where would the responsibility rest? He was of opinion that there would be a divided responsibility, and he believed such a system could not possibly answer as satisfactorily as one in which the duty was done by a single set of persons. He could not help thinking, that when the matter was carefully looked into, some arrangement might be made which would be more satisfactory to the commercial interests than the system at present existing. Nothing could be more objectionable than the present double system, and he hoped there would be a Committee to inquire whether it could not be amended.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that some years ago he had taken great interest in the collection of commercial statistics, which he was happy to say were now submitted to the House. It was at that period necessary that he should collect that information for himself, because when he commenced that task of calculation of the balance of Trade, the real value of the exports and imports of the country was not given, and he had to seek the information through his own channels. He (Mr. Newdegate) had also commenced the system for the adoption of which the coun- 1108 try had to thank the noble Lord at the head of the Government—the system of requiring from our consuls information as to all changes, prospective and positive, in foreign tariffs—had not, when he commenced his labours, been carried out. Commercial men and Chambers of Commerce had derived great assistance from the system introduced by the noble Lord. It appeared to him that in the Board of Trade there was scarcely that distinct organization for information connected with the foreign commercial legislation which it was desirable to secure, and he thought the inquiries of the Government and of the proposed Committee might well be directed to the separation of the different functions of the Board of Trade and the allocation of distinct tasks to each sub-department when formed. He was afraid the commercial public would be in some degee disappointed with the results of the pending inquiry, for it could but indirectly facilitate negotiations with foreign countries as to commercial tariffs. One of the main objections he had taken to the Commercial Treaty with France in 1860 was, that under it the Emperor of the French was treated as the representative of all mankind, and the Under Secretary had explained to them to-night, when subsequently to that treaty the Government had approached foreign States, with a view to enter into commercial negotiations, England had been reminded that she was anything but mistress of the universe. It followed inevitably, from the conditions of the treaty, that England must come off second best. The energies of the Government ought to be directed towards liberating England from that position. The claims of England upon Spain and other countries ought not to rest on the reductions of duty which France might be inclined to make or refuse, but upon the commercial facilities and boons which the English nation had granted to those nations. Yet, under the treaty, there were stipulations on the importation into France of foreign including English goods. Thus if England obtained the most favoured nation clause, the most favoured nation being France, the clause contemplated the existence of many duties which England had abandoned, but which France retained, and the clause referred to some treaty in which these French import duties were considered as matters to be countervailed by equivalent duties, though these duties could not be imposed by England, owing 1109 to the terms of the French Treaty. He did not wish to say anything painful to the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Cobden), as he believed he did the best he could under the circumstances in which he was placed by his antecedents; but the ruin month to month wrought on his (Mr. Newdegate's) constituents was painful to contemplate. The population depending on the silk trade in Warwickshire, in the district especially adjoining his own residence, had much decreased under the action of the French Treaty, and the district had been generally in a very depressed state; that population had much decreased, and between 1,600 and 1,700 empty houses were to be found. This made him the more anxious that the Government should make every exertion to induce the Government of France to hasten the period of the removal of the import duties on the introduction of silk goods and mixed goods. The Government might well say to France that she, having derived such enormous advantages from the treaty should, accelerate the period for the reduction of these duties, in recognition of the sufferings inflicted on our silk manufacturers. It had never appeared to him that the nations of the world would follow exactly in their footsteps. His conviction was that while France was deriving a great revenue from import duties and great benefits by her export trade, England might just as well have equivalent import duties, and yet share in that increase of revenue and extension of trade. That was his conviction. He had always thought that the French tariff was more wisely regulated than the tariff adopted by this country in 1860. He might be wrong, but he thought the present commercial state of France sanctioned that opinion. He hoped that the opinion of the House and of the country would become accommodated to those facts; and that it was their duty to hasten the period when the French duty on silk goods should be reduced. They had a right, he thought, to claim that reduction from France, because, while she had benefited largely by the treaty, some of our own interests—silk interests especially—had suffered grievous injury. There was another subject to which he wished to call the attention of the House. In the instructions given to our consuls there appeared to be some confusion. In many cases the business of consuls ought to be strictly limited to commercial objects. His question had 1110 reference to a particular case. Six or seven years ago Mr. Plowden was sent out to Abyssinia as consul, and he should like to he informed as to what instructions that gentleman actually received. It was generally believed that the object of his mission was to open commercial relations with that country. It appeared that Mr. Plowden became mixed up with the internal politics of Abyssinia, and the result was that he was murdered. That was not an old story. He had a copy of the Jewish Intelligencer, a publication that was issued by some persons interested in the conversion of the Jews in Abyssinia, and he found that, at the present moment, our consul who succeeded Mr. Plowden had unfortunately mixed himself up with the politics of Abyssinia, and was a prisoner in the hands of the King. Those were two instances of the impolicy of allowing consuls commissioned for commercial purposes to mix themselves up with the politics of the countries in which they had to reside, and which were at best but in an imperfect state of civilization. A distinction ought to be drawn between the functions of a consul sent merely for commercial purposes and those of a chargé d'affaires, because the person who might be competent for commercial purposes might be totally unfit for political negotiations. The instructions given to those persons ought to be so drawn up as to advance the purposes of trade, and to make them feel that they should keep clear of politics in the countries to which they were sent. It was unbecoming the dignity of this country that we should employ agents so incompetent as that one should fall a victim, and the next a captive, of the Government to which he was sent. He hoped to be assured that Captain Cameron had been liberated, and that in future such a limit would be put to the functions of any person sent to Abyssinia as would secure his personal safety, otherwise the dignity of the country would be endangered abroad, and the operations of commerce disturbed if not destroyed.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
said, that as there was no objection on the part of the Government to grant the Committee, he did not know that it was necessary to prolong that debate, or to enter into a general discussion upon the mode in which commercial negotiations had been conducted between this country and foreign Governments. But he wished merely to notice some remarks made by the right 1111 hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) on the immediate question before them. That right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that a divided responsibility now existed, and that it was very inconvenient that a person having business of a commercial kind to be transacted with a foreign Government should first of all be compelled to go to the Board of Trade, that then the Board of Trade should have to submit its views to the Foreign Office, and that the Foreign Office should afterwards make a representation to a foreign Government; or, in other words, that A had to communicate with B, and B had to communicate with C, in order that D might be induced to do something. That, certainly, appeared inconvenient, but the argument, if carried to its full extent, would make it necessary that they should have only one department for the general government of the country. There was nothing peculiar in the relations between the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade. Precisely the same relations existed between the Foreign Office and every other Department of the State. Questions of international law were constantly arising, and recently those questions had been of a most important character. Merchants whose property was in jeopardy, or whose ships had been captured under questionable circumstances, went to the Foreign Office, but the Foreign Office did not possess any knowledge which enabled it to make the fitting representation to the foreign Government, and it was obliged to refer the subject to the Law Officers of the Crown, and frequently to the Committee of Privy Council, consisting of the most eminent authorities in this country on questions of international law. When it had acquired the requisite knowledge, and received instruction from those who were competent to give it, the Foreign Office made the required representation to the foreign Government. The right hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) to put the matter concisely—said that the knowledge was in the Board of Trade and the power in the Foreign Office, and thought the two things should be united in the same Department. If that were a sound principle, it applied to all the Departments in the State. When the House considered the matter calmly, it would be seen that there was really no divided responsibility. The Government, as a whole, was responsible for the conduct of foreign as of domestic affairs. The executive Government, as a whole, 1112 was responsible to Parliament; and upon all branches of public business it was entitled to obtain the knowledge and advice necessary for carrying on that business with wisdom and safety. It would be inconsistent with the first principles of our system of Government to place a special responsibility for particular acts or a particular policy upon this or that department. The particular relation between the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade— namely, that the latter was a consulting department, and that the former made such representations to foreign Governments as after consultation might seem desirable, was in theory, he was inclined to think, a very good arrangement. From what he had observed, he believed that if they were to merge the Board of Trade in the Foreign Office, the commercial classes would be less likely to have an independent representation made to the Foreign Office of the merits of any commercial question when communications were going on between this country and foreign Governments. He believed it was of advantage that there should be an independent department, making representations on the purely commercial merits of the question, without reference to, and unbiassed by, the political or diplomatic negotiations that were proceeding. When the Foreign Office and the other Departments of the State were at least in entire possession of the impartial and strictly commercial aspect of the question, they could estimate it at its full value; and in the course of negotiation it was for them to consider whether the objects they had in view of a political nature conflicted materially with the commercial merits of the proposal, as explained after consultation with the Board of Trade. He thought the proposed Committee would be useful, because nobody for a moment contended that the internal arrangements of any of our offices were not susceptible of improvement. He could quite conceive that the mechanical part of the relations between the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade might, without interfering with principles, be made to work more smoothly and with greater advantage to commercial interests. Consequently, on that ground, and without admitting that there was divided responsibility, he saw no objection to the appointment of the proposed Committee. He thought that some hon. Gentlemen had over-estimated the power of this country to induce foreign nations 1113 which were hampered by protected interests to adopt more liberal tariffs. It was objected that this country went in the wake of France. Now, what had France been able to effect, though France was in a more advantageous position than this country to influence foreign Governments, to induce them to reduce their tariffs? Why, France went to foreign nations with a great bribe, being able to offer them those great reductions in her duties which she had already given to England; yet, after all, she had only been able to accomplish commercial treaties between two countries—Belgium and Italy. No doubt there were engagements between Prussia and France, but as the States of the Zollverein had not ratified them, they were not carried into effect as a treaty between France and the Zollverein, though they probably might be in 1865. France, then, had only concluded two treaties — one with Belgium and the other with Italy. But after France had concluded the treaty with Belgium, making those reductions in her tariff which Belgium now enjoyed, this country made a treaty with Belgium by which England obtained the "favoured nations clause" and thus came in for all the advantages which Belgium had granted to France. He did not believe that the English Government would have obtained that result if they had attempted to negotiate a treaty with Belgium single-handed; and it was with great difficulty it was obtained after all, on account of the fear felt by the protected interests of English competition. Not that the Belgian Government was not a most enlightened one; the difficulty was, that the Belgian manufacturers feared English competition. The Belgian manufacturers were not nearly so much afraid of French competition as of English competition; and he was convinced that the prestige enjoyed by England on the Continent, on account of her great manufacturing power and skill in producing articles at a cheap rate for the consumption of the masses, was the very thing which alarmed those foreign manufacturers, and made it more difficult for England than for France to induce foreign countries to reduce their tariffs. In fact, France, as matters now stood, was a better pioneer in the path of commercial freedom than England, and approached Belgium with offers which it was not within the power of this country to make. However, "the favoured nations clause," which the English Government 1114 obtained from Belgium, was very advantageous, for the effect had been that the import duties on British manufactures into Belgium had been reduced from 40 and 30 per cent to 20 and 10 per cent. That, then, was the result of the policy pursued, however much criticised it might be; and any impartial man, considering the power of the protected interests, and the state of parties in Belgium, must admit that the effect accomplished was a great success. With respect to Italy, it had been said that the English Government were too late in the field, and allowed France to negotiate a successful treaty; whereas if they had been there in time they could have got the Italian Government to make their tariff more conformable with British interests and less exclusively in accordance with French interests. That was a mistaken view of the question. The basis of negotiation between France and Italy would not have allowed of England obtaining any advantage which she has not already obtained by the "favoured nations clause." The fact was that at the time of the negotiation all the duties in the Italian tariff, with some few exceptions, were lower than in the reformed French tariff, and therefore it was only in some few cases—in silks, he believed, and in one or two other articles—that Italy was asked to make any reduction in favour of France. The Italian tariff was already more liberal than the reformed French tariff; and France not making further reductions, the basis of negotiations did not admit at that time of those reductions in favour of England, which it was supposed would have been accomplished; and though Mr. Mallet, from the Board of Trade, went to Turin to do all he could, that gentleman observed that the Italian Government were little disposed to do more in the direction of commercial freedom than could possibly be helped. The Italian tariff had not heretofore been a high tariff; and, though there had been no change as affecting English productions, still the activity given to industry by other changes in Italy had occasioned a great increase of trade between England and that country. With regard to the Motion before the House, the Government regarded the proposal as manifesting a sincere desire on the part of his hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) to effect something practically useful, and they wished cordially to co-operate in such an object.
§ MR. COBDEN
Sir, as the Motion of my hon. Friend has been agreed to, there is little ground for prolonged discussion at the present moment, but I am anxious to say a few words to prevent any misapprehension here, and especially abroad, as to the scope of the proposed inquiry. It must be remembered that our manufacturers do not present themselves to this House at the present moment in the position of complainants as to the operation of the free trade policy carried out as we have carried it out in this country, irrespective of the action of other countries. The manufacturers do not come here asking the Government to forward their interests by promoting commercial treaties. The French Treaty arose from an accidental conjuncture of circumstances, and nothing of the kind can happen again. It so happened — opportunely happened — that we had considerable reforms of our tariff still to accomplish, which it would have been our interest to have effected, whether or not the French Government had simultaneously taken a large step in the same direction. But it so happened, fortunately, that the French Government was just in the disposition to make the first great step in the path of commercial freedom in that country. The two Governments were enabled with much more ease and advantage to perform these two operations together than they could have done separately. But it would have been equally their interest to have done it separately as by commercial treaty. Now, with regard to the argument that has been urged from time to time, that we have lost advantages by having carried out the principle of free trade so largely ourselves, without having first gone to other countries to induce them to go step by step with us, I venture to say there are not two opinions in the country amongst the mercantile and manufacturing population as to the gain we have made during the last twenty or twenty-two years by advancing without waiting for other countries to take any step with us in this policy. The immense increase in our commerce, as shown by the financial statement of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has been the reward we have received for having anticipated other countries in the policy we have adopted. Now, having entered this caveat against any possible misrepresentation of the object of this Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), I would ask whether, 1116 without commercial treaties, or without any attempt publicly to agitate the question, it would not be possible for the Government of this free trade nation to diffuse those principles which have been so beneficial to us amongst other countries. I will give you an analogous case. I think in 1806 we abolished the slave trade. We did that by a municipal law as an act of humanity and justice. That was the result of a long and intense agitation, which deeply stirred the religious feeling and the national conscience in this country. We carried free trade after nearly as long, as anxious, and as intense an agitation. Did the Government remain passive with other countries after we had abolished the slave trade? On the contrary, they made it the constant object of their diplomacy abroad to induce other countries to follow in the same enlightened and humane course. Almost the only ground on which I can look back to the Treaty of Vienna with satisfaction is, that it contains engagements, entered into at our instance by other countries, to abolish the slave trade. Our merchants and manufacturers think it would be a legitimate occupation of the Government of this free trade and commercial country if they would try to diffuse these principles in other countries. And how is that to be done? This brings us to the question which my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) has so very usefully raised. We have two Departments concerned in this matter; one is the Board of Trade, the other is the Foreign Office, situated on the two sides of Downing Street. Well, one of these Departments, during the last fifty years, has taken the most enlightened views upon questions of commerce, and has always been in advance of the community in its appreciation of our true interests with regard to commercial policy. I am speaking from my own knowledge when I say that that Department has constantly had within its walls gentlemen of the most enlightened views on that subject. But if we go to the other Office, it is no reproach to the Foreign Department to say that neither its Foreign Minister, nor its diplomatists, take charge of, or inform themselves on, commercial questions, because hitherto it has been considered that that Department has had no commercial objects in view in its negotiations. Well, now, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford asks whether you cannot import into the Foreign Office some of the intelligence which rules in 1117 the Board of Trade. How that may be done, and how that spirit may be made to diffuse itself abroad, is a question that may faily be considered in the Committee which is now to be appointed. I will not enlarge upon that subject further than by saving that there ought to be greater intelligence on the part of those who are engaged in the diplomatic service of this country upon these commercial questions; and in order to insure that, there must be a provision made henceforth (for it is too late to adopt it with reference to our present diplomatists) which will require a knowledge and appreciation of these commercial questions on the part of those engaged in our diplomatic service. We are a commercial and manufacturing people, and are so only considered abroad. We should be a third-rate people if we depended merely upon our agriculture. I desire that our interests, and that the spirit which rules in this country, should animate our diplomacy abroad. I think, for instance, that our diplomatists should be required not only to understand Adam Smith, the classic of free trade, but to be acquainted with the commercial policy of this country for the last twenty years. Let them read, for instance, the volume of speeches of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, lately published, and let them undergo an examination on the course of our commercial policy during the last twenty years. Let them know what has been done, not merely in the history of the past, but down to the present moment. Now, without publicly professing to be propagandists, without saying one word about it in public or in our despatches, if our diplomatic representatives knew that by exerting themselves in the cause of free trade abroad they would be as likely to get the decoration and rank of G.C.B. as if they had been successful in assisting at the ceremony of a dynastic treaty or some Court marriage, I think you would very soon find these young gentlemen begin to take an interest in commercial questions. Now, let us suppose a Minister living at St. Petersburg, where he has little to do, and where, of course, he has his secretaries and attaches, what might be not effect with a Government like that of Russia, if he were imbued with a free trade feeling, and were fully acquainted with free trade subjects. He would have every opportunity of converting the Government to his own views of free trade, by merely presenting clearly before them the facts of the case as 1118 we have exhibited it for the last twenty years. Russia, like most other Governments, is in want of money, and the reform of their tariff in the direction in which we have been going for the last twenty years would be like the discovery of a gold mine at St. Petersburg. If we could only show other Governments that the reform of our tariff had increased the prosperity of the people, and the amount of our revenue, and that simultaneously we had progressed in skill and civilization, we need not ask them to reform their tariff in our interest; they would do so in their own interests. There is much ignorance about these subjects even in this House. An hon. Protectionist on an opposite bench, to whom I have listened for the last twenty years, has spoken to-day in the very terms which he used when I first entered this House. In order to present the facts of this case before foreign Governments I would suggest to the Board of Trade that as one means of instructing our diplomatists in commercial matters the Board of Trade should prepare a manual of our free trade policy, showing the progress of our legislation and its results, and should place that manual in the hands of those who represent us at foreign Courts. Let it be translated into the languages of those Courts, in order that it may be used as one of the means of converting them to our free trade principles, and let not those who belonged to the past generation of diplomatists imagine that it was a proposal to be treated with levity. This course is just what the commercial and manufacturing people of this country have a right to expect at the hands of any Government. And if the present Administration do not adopt a policy of this kind it will be adopted by a Government formed from the other side of the House. I do not ask for any discussions in this House, nor for any reports or blue-books. We have done more harm than good by discussing this question in this House in reference to our own interests. We have a vast and expensive machinery engaged in our diplomacy, and our manufacturing and trading community expect that our diplomatists shall devote some attention to our commercial interests abroad. Will anybody say that the employment of that machinery during the last few years has been satisfactory to this House or to the country? We have little mountains of blue-books on Schleswig-Holstein and does not everybody agree that they are unsatisfactory? Diplomacy has broken down in its own vocation, and 1119 the dynastic arrangements of Europe and the balance of power are questions which have ceased to engage the sympathies of the British public. In the interests of the Foreign Office, I exhort it to take a hint from my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford. By promoting the triumph of free trade principles, which can only be completely effected when they are adopted by other countries, our diplomatists will be laying the foundation for peaceful relations between the nations of the earth of a far more enduring nature than by anything they can achieve through the recognized arts of diplomacy.
§ MR. BAZLEY
observed, that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Milner Gibson) had said that France must take the lead upon the Continent in reference to commercial treaties.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
begged to explain that what he had said was that France, not having given to other countries those advantages which she has given to us, it was inevitable that the negotiations should be commenced by France and other foreign nations.
§ MR. BAZLEY
But the circumstances of our country were very different, and the manufacturers of England could not be fairly dealt with upon the basis of a treaty between France and other continental countries. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that our consuls should not be employed in negotiating commercial treaties; but for what better purpose did they keep up their consular and diplomatic establishments, at an expense of half-a-million sterling? Why should those gentlemen be kept in particular positions if they were not to perform duties which would be useful to the country? If foreign Governments were reminded of the advantages of free trade without there being any treaties, a great deal might be done. The vast amount of exports from the country required that more attention should be paid to the interests of commerce. During the last twenty years our imports and exports had quadrupled in amount, while our consular representation remained the same. He did not attribute any blame to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, nor to the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, whom he had always found most courteous and attentive to any representations; but until our consular arrangements were amended, our com- 1120 mercial interests must suffer, and had, he contended, a perfect right to complain of the system by which they were bound.
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and negatived.
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the arrangement between the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade in reference to Trade with Foreign Nations.—(Mr. W. E. Forster.)
§ SUPPLY—Order of the Day again read.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That this House will immediately resolve itself into a Committee of Supply," put, and agreed to.
§ Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."