§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he rose to ask, What steps, if any, Her Majesty's 1851 Government have taken, or intend to take, to carry out the recommendations of the Committee appointed last Session to inquire into the arrangement between the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade in reference to the Trade with Foreign Nations? If the House would allow him, he should very briefly give some explanation why the Committee came to the resolutions they did, for though the subject was a dull one it was not unimportant. When a Committee had been appointed to inquire into the relations which one Department of the Government bore to another, he was sure the House would feel that the labours of such a Committee were a matter which was deserving of their consideration. The House would remember that this Committee had been appointed unanimously after he had ventured to bring the subject before the House at the request of a large body of commercial men, including the representatives of most of the Chambers of Commerce in this country, who felt that there were great evils affecting their interests from the system of double action on the part of the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade on foreign commercial matters. He felt that it would have been desirable if the Chairmanship of the Committee had been intrusted to some one of more weight and ability than himself; but though he had had the conduct of the Committee's proceedings, he had been assisted by hon. Gentlemen of far greater weight and of the greatest experience and standing in the House in such matters—among whom he might specially mention his hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mr. Cobden), whose absence on the present occasion he much regretted. The complaints made by the Chamber of Commerce were fully stated in their Report of the Committee; and though the foundation for those statements had been disputed by his hon. Friend the Member for Southwark (Mr. Layard), and other officials, the evidence given before the Committee had not tended to remove from the minds of commercial men that these evils really existed—on the contrary, it had rather confirmed that belief. The evil effects of the delay arising from the double action of the two Departments was shown by the correspondence which had taken place between them in regard to the Belgian Treaty. Again, when it was understood by Her Majesty's Government that it was probable the Italian Government were going to remodel their 1852 tariff, the Foreign Office requested the Board of Trade to furnish them with a communication on the subject; but the paper drawn up by the Board of Trade on the 22nd of April, 1862, was put aside in some pigeon-hole of the Foreign Office, and did not again see the light till February, 1863, when our Minister at Turin having sent over his own draft a search was made for it. The practical result of this want of communication between the two Departments was that a duty was levied on an article which would not have been imposed but for that mishap, for when the Italian Government were remodelling their tariff, there being no Italian interests to be benefited by continuing the protection as regarded jute, there could be no doubt that, if there had been any one at Turin who knew anything of the requirements of English commerce in regard to that article, the Italian Government would have lowered the duty on jute; but, unfortunately, the matter was not suggested to them. It would be found by the evidence taken before the Committee that there was not any one in the Foreign Office whose special business it was to look after commercial matters. During the course of the investigations of the Committee the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs sent out inquiries to our different diplomatic representatives on the Continent, asking them for information as to the arrangements by which the action of foreign Governments was conducted with respect to their foreign trade. A series of very interesting answers were-obtained; but, unfortunately for their deliberations, the Committee did not receive those replies till the inquiry had nearly come to an end; and he did not know whether they should have obtained them even then, only they had been informed that there were one or two such documents in existence. It would be found from these replies that in foreign countries there was generally a Ministry of Commerce as well as a Foreign Office; and that there was a special department in their Foreign Office for commercial matters, and a special department in their Board of Trade for Foreign Office business. While he did not want England to imitate foreign countries in all matters, he thought the system to which he had referred acted better than ours. The Board of Trade in this country, on the whole, did its work very well. There were in that Department gentlemen well versed in the commerce of the country, and in 1853 the principles of political economy; and he had no fault to find with the knowledge possessed by the Board of Trade in commercial matters and in foreign commercial matters especially. But when they came to see how that commercial knowledge of the Board of Trade was brought to bear, and how far it was available for the Minister who had to conduct our relations with foreign countries, they found that in the Foreign Office there were no special persons appointed who gave their attention to commercial matters, and that the communication between the two Offices was made in writing. The relations between the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade in England were different from those connecting similar Departments abroad. There was another point of difference between England and foreign countries. Although this was essentially a commercial country, the Board of Trade did not hold a position equivalent to the office of Minister of Commerce on the Continent. The office was looked upon in the family of the Cabinet somewhat in the light of a poor relation, and there was no regulation that its President must necessarily be a member of the Cabinet, notwithstanding the office was now held by a very influential Member of the Cabinet. The Committee appointed to inquire into the matter had to consider three suggestions:—First, that the Board of Trade should do all the work by itself; secondly, that the Foreign Office should act entirely upon its own responsibility; and thirdly, that the two offices should do the work conjointly as at present, but with better arrangements for communication between them. The first proposition was not very seriously discussed by the Committee, in consequence of the difficulties which it was felt would arise if two Foreign Offices were in existence. It would not do to have two sets of negotiators with foreign countries. With regard to the second proposition, that the Foreign Office should do all the work unaided, the Committee found upon inquiry that although it was the practice of the Foreign Office to consult the Board of Trade upon commercial matters, yet it was entirely within their discretion whether they should do so or not, or even whether they should act upon such advice when given. There was a strong feeling in the Committee that such a state of things should be altered, but there was a great difference of opinion as to what remedy ought to be applied. He was glad to see the Secretary of State for the Colo- 1854 nies, who as an old President of the Board of Trade was examined before the Committee, and expressed his opinion with force that the Foreign Office should be left to do its own work, and that the Board of Trade should be mainly consultative. He had no great respect for Boards of any kind, and would not much regret to see them all abolished—except only the Cabinet. As to all Executive functions the principle ought to be to make the responsibility as strong as possible on individuals. The Board of Trade was curiously constituted. Originally he was under the impression that the Archbishop of Canterbury was a Member—this, however, was not the case; but the Lord Chancellor was on it, so was the Speaker, so were the Secretaries of State. Practically, however, the Board was the President, and the only objection which could be made to it as a Board was that the duties of the Vice President were not sufficiently defined, and that he had very little to do, except to take the place of the President when that gentleman was absent. He objected to the Board being consultative—it ought to be altogether Executive and attend to its own special business like other Departments of the Government. But even as a consultative Board, yet most of the Offices did not appear anxious for its assistance; for instance, the India Office never, and the Colonial Office and the Treasury rarely, consulted it. He believed the reason to be that those Offices were themselves compelled to obtain information on matters which concerned them, and when they had obtained that information they felt no necessity for applying to the Board of Trade for assistance. The Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, in support of his views, stated that the Foreign Office had such an immense amount of work to get through that it was impossible for it to acquire the amount of knowledge necessary for conducting its commercial business. This argument, however, did not have much weight with either the majority of the Committee or with himself, and he could not help having a lurking suspicion that the Foreign Office might find out that in future it would have less to do with foreign countries than hitherto, and might, therefore, be able to devote more time to matters of trade. But, however that might be, the real argument that weighed with the Committee was this—that the Board of Trade possessed much information on commercial subjects, and that 1855 the Foreign Office did not, and though he thought they ought to possess that information, still, while they were acquiring it, it would be desirable that they should have the advantage of the knowledge of the Board of Trade. He now came to the actual recommendations of the Committee. They were these—
The effect of the first recommendation was that the Board of Trade should have its full weight until there ceased to be any necessity for consulting it at all—and that would be when the Foreign Office felt itself able to do its own work. On this point he must ask the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ashton (Mr. Milner Gibson) to give a definite reply to a specific question—namely, whether he did not think it would be advantageous to establish a rule that all cases should be recorded in which the Foreign Office having consulted the Board of Trade did not think it necessary to adopt the advice of the Board. The two other recommendations of the Committee were more immediately practical than the first one, and if carried out their effect would be to bring to bear in the most valuable manner possible the assistance and the knowledge of the Board of Trade in the affairs of the Foreign Office abroad as well as at home. The Foreign Office might be regarded as being divided into two branches—the Home Department, in Downing Street, and the Foreign Department, represented by our Ambassadors and Consuls abroad; and what was required was that the knowledge of detail and of political economy possessed by the Board of Trade should be brought to bear upon both those branches. He desired to be informed by his hon. Friend whether any steps have been or were intended to be taken by the Foreign Office to carry out that second recommendation. He understood from the speech of his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, at Ashton, that something had been done towards 1856 the carrying out of the last recommendation, that an officer or officers should be appointed in the Foreign Office to conduct the correspondence with the Board of Trade; and he trusted that they should find that it was not merely that a clerk had been appointed to sort the letters and take care that they did not get lost in the pigeonholes—although that would be something—but that some gentleman had been selected to hold personal communication with the Board of Trade, who would have such authority and occupy such a position that he could inform the Foreign Minister what ought to be done in all matters of commerce. He might be asked, "Why do you men of business care so much about the internal working of official departments? What can they do for you? It may be very well that men in the Foreign Office, and also at the Board of Trade, should understand the principles of political economy and the various branches of commerce, but how can they help trade?" To this he replied, that there were many matters of detail in which commercial men would always require the assistance of the representatives of our Government abroad and of our officials at home—such as the operation of the laws with respect to trade marks and the interpretation of tariffs—which rendered it necessary that there should be persons connected with the Government to whom commercial men might go and make complaints, and who it was very desirable should be as well informed as possible. He would go further and admit that he and those at whose request he had moved in this matter, thought that something might still be done by this country to promote trade between this country and foreign nations, and especially to obtain the diminution of those prohibitory and protective duties which had done so much to restrict it. Let it not be supposed, however, that they desired to return to the practice of making bargains by treaties. He had never heard any Chamber of Commerce, or any commercial man regret the apparent generosity, but real prudence, with which when we made the treaty with France we extended its advantages to all other foreign nations, and thus deprived ourselves of the power of ever again buying a favourable tariff; and if, as the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs had asserted, any pressure had ever been put upon the Government by merchants trading to China or elsewhere, to induce them to take steps to force trade, it had not been done by any 1857 one with whom he had ever come in contact. He, and those with whom he was acting, revolted from the idea of either bullying or bribing other nations into trade with us, but they still believed that something could be done by the Government in the matter. Let the House see what an effect had been produced in Europe by the hon. Member for Rochdale having induced the Emperor of the French to act upon comparatively free trade principles. The example of France was now operating upon every country on the Continent. He hoped that his hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle (Mr. Somerset Beaumont) would be able to tell the House something of the effect which that example was producing in Austria. It had been felt in the Zollverein, and there were some symptoms that its influence had extended even to Russia. The continental nations were becoming convinced that protection was injurious alike to the consumer and the producer, and starved the revenue. He knew that the improvement of the relations between two Offices of our Government could have no influence upon the extension of commerce comparable to that which was now being exercised by the increase of freedom, which was being acquired by all the nations of Europe, by the effect of the increase of railway and telegraphic communication, which was daily bringing manufacturers into closer intercourse with each other, from which they learnt that they could do without protection, and even by the necessity which Governments were experiencing for raising, to provide for the expense of their enormous standing armies, revenues which they could never obtain under a protective system; but he believed that our representatives abroad and our officials at home, might do much either to hasten the progress of free trade or to retard it. Whenever foreign Governments set to work to amend laws or tariffs which interfered with trade, to the advantage of this country—and every such amendment must be to our advantage—they would expect to find in our Ministers both at home and abroad knowledge, zeal, and earnestness on the subject; and if they found them apathetic, ignorant, or careless, they would themselves naturally be disheartened. All that he asked was that there should be established between these two Offices such relations that our Ministers at home and our representatives abroad should be enabled by possessing a knowledge of the principles of political economy, and by being in com- 1858 munication with merchants and manufacturers, to seize every opportunity of extending our commerce; and he did not think that he was asking too much. He must acknowledge that the Government paid much more attention to this subject than it did two or three years ago, and that, in fact, there was practically very little fault to be found at present. He felt assured that, day by day, the Foreign Office would see more and more clearly that they would better promote the interests of this country abroad by attending to this matter, than by dynastic intermeddling or even by giving advice to other countries as to the management of their affairs.
- "1. That the Board of Trade be placed more nearly upon an equality with the Foreign Office than it is at present, in order that its opinion, when asked, may have due weight, and that its chief be always a Member of the Cabinet.
- "2. That the Board of Trade be put in direct communication with the members of the diplomatic and consular services, and that such communication be carried on through the Foreign Office, with such provisions as shall prevent collision. Lastly, that an officer or officers be appointed in the Foreign Office to conduct its correspondence with the Board of Trade."
§ MR. HORSFALL
said, that he had read the Report of the Committee with the greatest attention, and he bad also read a great portion of the evidence; but he did not altogether agree with the conclusions to which they had come. With the first recommendation of the Committee—that of placing the President of the Board of Trade on an equality with the other Ministers of the Crown, and making him at all times a Member of the Cabinet—he entirely agreed; but he had looked in vain for any evidence to support the second one, that the Board of Trade should be placed in direct communication with the members of the consular and diplomatic service through the Foreign Office. The President of the Bradford Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Ripley, absolutely and repeatedly declined to give any opinion upon the subject. Mr. Behrens, a merchant of the same town, said that the only office that could be responsible was the Foreign Office. Mr. Allhusen, a merchant of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, handed in a long memorial from the Chamber of Commerce of that place, but it contained not a word as to whether the responsibility should rest with the Board of Trade or with the Foreign Office. Mr. Akroyd, of Halifax, formerly a Member of that House, said that he should like to see a Minister of Commerce, but that he ought to be at the Foreign Office. One merchant, Mr. Ash-worth, the President of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, certainly appeared to lean towards the Board of Trade. His answer was a very peculiar one, but those who had experience of the conciliatory manner of the President of that Board, and knew how courteous a reception he gave to any gentleman who approached him, could easily account for its language, Mr. Ashworth said— 1859We have hitherto had very familiar intercourse with the Board of Trade; the directors whenever they come to London are always welcome there. If they go to the Board of Trade to ask for information they find every freedom of access and familiarity there; they are always well received. But I do not know a man who ever went to the Foreign Office except upon a deputation; I do not myself know any individual in the Foreign Office beyond the hon. Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs himself.If Mr. Ashworth had been so frequently at the Board of Trade, and had never been at the Foreign Office except on a deputation, he would not be considered a very competent witness in the present case. It had, however, been his (Mr. Horsfall's) duty, as the representative of a considerable seaport, to go to the Foreign Office so often that he must have been sometimes considered a nuisance, and his experience was that as much commercial information was to be obtained there as at the Board of Trade, and he must say that all his representations had met with prompt and immediate attention. The Secretary to the Dundee Chamber of Commerce thought it would be better if the Foreign Office managed affairs of trade with foreign countries entirely, and if the Board of Trade had nothing to do with the matter. Mr. Lindsay, the Member for Sunderland, was examined before the Committee. He was asked—Do you think that it would be more advantageous to keep the power of negotiation in the hands of the Foreign Office, and to give no Executive power to the Board of Trade? I think it would be much more desirable to keep the power of negotiating in all such matters as those to which the honourable Chairman has referred in the hands of the Foreign Office. Upon what do you base that opinion? My reason is, that I think the work would be done with more promptitude; and if those negotiations were entirely in the hands of the Foreign Office our diplomatists abroad would necessarily in their training be obliged to gain a knowledge of commercial affairs which would be very useful to this country, and they would, consequently, be much more competent to deal with those questions than they are now.The hon. Gentleman had cited the evidence given by Lord Malmesbury, who, seeing the feeling among certain Gentlemen, said that he saw no objection to communications from the Board of Trade going under cover from the Foreign Office to our Ministers and Consuls abroad. But Earl Russell, who had considerable experience at the Foreign Office, and Lord Clarendon, who had had still greater experience at the Foreign Office, and at the Board of Trade besides, were decidedly opposed to 1860 the view in question. The hon. Gentleman spoke of delays at the Foreign Office; but he (Mr. Horsfall) had no such delays to complain of, and no one had had more opportunities of judging. The Foreign Office were not the only body who were complained of for delay, for Mr. Hammond told the Committee that the Foreign Office were two months in getting an answer from the Bradford Chamber of Commerce. Another complaint was, that the Chambers of Commerce were not put in communication with the Italian Deputy who came over to this country on the subject of a commercial treaty. Now, in his opinion, nothing could be more fatal to the success of a commercial treaty than for it to be known that it was brought forward on the suggestions of the Chambers of Commerce in this country. He should like to refer to a letter written on this subject by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Cobden), dated July 16, 1863. The hon. Member said—As 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 benefit 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 to the patriotism of the people, 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.Nothing could more clearly show the impropriety of placing our Chambers of Commerce in communication with the Italian Deputy. The third recommendation seemed to point to an increase on the staff of the Foreign Office in order to conduct the correspondence between the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade. If the efficiency of the Foreign Office were thus increased, no one could object. He did not cavil either at the Report or the evidence of the Committee, and if the 1861 labours of the Committee resulted in the more efficient action of the Foreign Office in matters of trade and commerce no one would rejoice more than himself.
§ MR. LOWE
Before my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade replies to the question put to him, it may be convenient that I should urge the view that has strongly taken possession of my mind, and which has been shadowed forth in some degree by the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Horsfall). The Board of Trade—of which I speak with some knowledge, having been Vice President for two years and a half—may be said to possess two separate jurisdictions—its common-law and its statutory jurisdiction, The latter consists of a number of duties relating to merchant shipping, railways, and other matters, which have been thrown upon it by a succession of statutes. These are matters of detail, requiring, no doubt, knowledge, discretion, and ability, but they are not of the first rank in public business. Besides this, the Board of Trade has its common-law jurisdiction, which consists in being called upon to advise the Departments of the Government on matters relating to trade and commerce. There is besides the statistical department, which might nearly as well belong to any other civil branch of the public service. That is a rough account of the duties of the Board. As to the consultative department of the Board, it no doubt had its origin in an age that was barbarous in matters. It arose at a time described by Evelyn, when the Government of Charles II. were afraid that the American colonies would take the course adopted by them 100 years afterwards, and throw off their connection with the mother country. It was established at a time when it was a received axiom of political science that it was the duty of Government to regulate, protect, and promote the trade of its own country, and the Board of Trade was considered to be the depository of that kind of lore, such as it was, by which the action of the Government was regulated. Now, of course, we know that no task would be more difficult, if not impossible, than to advise the Government well on such subjects. It was, however, no wonder, when trade was considered to be a sort of political mystery, that it was considered necessary to set aside a master of that political science to advise the Government on those matters. When the Government condescended to regulate what a man was to 1862 pay for his bread and meat, and what pattern of buttons he should wear on his coat, and having led him by the hand all his life would not lay him in his coffin without regulating the woollen shroud with which he was to be covered—it was no wonder that a Government which surrounded its subjects with such paternal care should constitute a Department with such delicate and difficult jurisdictions. But I really thought we had got to the end of all these things. I read the evidence given by the Secretary for the Colonies with the greatest admiration, and gave it my cordial assent. I had laboured under the impression that the time had come when we had discovered that there are no mysteries to communicate on this subject, when the whole question has resolved itself into a single maxim, and when the entire business which the Government have with the trade of the country might be described by the pithy axiom of Lord Melbourne, "Why can't you let it alone?" That being the view I am disposed to take of the subject, I should have been better pleased if the Committee had recommended that this consultative department should be swept away and abolished altogether—the expense saved to the country, and the useless and unnecessary machinery removed. I can imagine no good purpose that it answers; and if I were disposed to concede that there is anything in the wants and necessities of the public service corresponding to the duties of the Board of Trade, I can imagine nothing worse than the principle of having a consultative department at all. For one department to advise and another to act is to fritter away responsibility altogether. Those who are responsible for the advice are not responsible for carrying it into action; those who are responsible for the acts are not responsible for the advice; and between the two no one is responsible. Besides, it is pretty clear that there is no one in these days, except, perhaps, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) who supposes that political economy is one of the dark sciences. No one is fit to be a Secretary of State, or even an Under Secretary, who is not master of every question in the science of political economy that may come before him. But then it will be urged, I dare say, though the hon. Member for Bradford does not lay stress upon it, that we ought to have a Board of Trade in order to help us to make commercial treaties. Now, 1863 Sir, I have been a free trader all my life, and I hope, therefore, the House will bear with me when I confess to a sort of scepticism with regard to this new-fangled plan of carrying into effect free trade principles. I am not going back now to the old system of proposing, for instance, to give Portugal a monopoly for her wines if she would give us a monopoly for our flannels—that is not what I now speak of; but it is the stipulation with a foreign country that it shall take off certain duties upon our exports, and that, mind, not with a view to its own revenues, but to our trade. If this really is our policy we have taken it up too late. We should have kept on our duties till we got an equivalent for taking them off. It is as if a person should go into a shop to purchase goods for ready money, but should first throw his purse into the Thames. There are considerations involved in this matter which are utterly and entirely independent of those questions of higgling and bartering; and, besides, we have already reduced ourselves to this point, that we have nothing to offer in exchange. Therefore, we enter into a course of negotiations which it is impossible to bring, from that narrow point of view, to an advantageous conclusion. Then, hitherto, we have been an example to other nations—the missionaries of a sound political economy, and, no doubt, from our great prosperity we have been most powerful missionaries in that behalf. But are we so now? Are these commercial treaties which we are negotiating teaching the nations around us the true principles of political economy? I learn from the evidence taken before this Committee that this Committee—Lord Palmerston and Lord Russell—looked with disfavour upon these commercial treaties. I say nothing now about the commercial treaty with the Emperor of the French, who by making the treaty acquired a legislative power, and could act for himself without the sanction of his Chambers, from whom the treaty might not have obtained so favourable a reception. But what is the true language of political economy on the subject of imports and exports? Political economy says, "Lower your duties in order that you may get the productions of other nations as cheaply as possible"—that is for the sake of the consumer—and it is sound doctrine. But what do we virtually say when we negotiate a commercial treaty? We say, "The end of commerce is not what politi- 1864 cal economy would teach you—the obtaining of imports—but the sending out of exports. The summum bonum is to send out as much as possible." We say to foreign countries, "Allow us to export to you, and we will allow you to export to us; not because it is a good thing for us to receive your exports, but because it is a profitable thing to send you ours." Thus we excite them to look to the means instead of the end, and we teach them to believe that the wealth of nations consists not in what we get, but in what we send away. Thus we are leading foreign countries to suppose that our advantage and their advantage are very different things, instead of being one and identical; we are teaching them to regard our exports as an injury to them, and theirs as an injury to us; we are helping to confuse the whole subject, and I am satisfied that the course which we have taken will ultimately end in mischief. But if we are to have treaties of commerce and proper persons to negotiate them, the Board of Trade are certainly not those persons. I regret, therefore, that the Committee should have taken the part they have. They recommend that the Board of Trade should be raised to a high point of dignity and importance. But that is impossible, unless the duties of the Department are of such a nature as to confer dignity and importance of themselves. Names are of no consequence unless the duties are equal to the titles. But from the history which I have given of the Board of Trade I think it will be seen that the duties which it discharges under Acts of Parliament are of a secondary class, and the duties of advising the Government are of an inferior class still, because the Government are not bound to follow that advice. Therefore, it is quite out of the question to suppose that you can raise this Department higher, particularly as a great part of the duties which it discharges had better be left out of the sphere of Government action altogether. If there is to be a Department kept up for such a purpose, I apprehend that the necessary correspondence would be better carried on by the Foreign Office itself. The objection taken to that proposal is that the Foreign Office is divided on geographical principles, so that the clerks of one Department are not acquainted with the duties of another. But it would be easy to find a person duly qualified to undertake the whole matter for the 1865 Foreign Office. But what does the Committee recommend? It recommends that the consultative department of the Board of Trade should continue, and that another Department should be created—the result of which would be to leave the country in a worse position than it was in before. Finding one useless department it makes two. I deem it my duty to urge these considerations upon the mind of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, and I shall be glad when he replies if he would be so good as to explain, as an old free trader, what is the advantage which the public derive from the Government interfering in matters of commerce.
said, he would be glad to hear that the recommendations of the Committee were not to be carried out by the Government. The recommendations of the Select Committee of last Session, presided over by the hon. Member for Bradford, were three—First, that the Board of Trade should be put more on an equality with the Foreign Office, so as to give its opinions greater weight, and that its chief should always be a Member of the Cabinet; secondly, that the Board of Trade should be put in direct communication with the diplomatic and consular services; thirdly, that an officer or officers should be appointed in the Foreign Office to conduct its correspondence with the Board of Trade.Now, he was strongly of opinion that anything which tended to diminish or to divide the responsibility of the Secretary of State in the conduct of foreign negotiations was highly objectionable; and, besides, was it not an anomaly to give to a second Department anything like a control over the servants of the first? Now, in his humble judgment, the Resolutions reported to the House were not justified by the evidence, and, what was more, they were only carried by the casting vote of the Chairman. There were six for and five against the Resolutions reported to the House, and from a careful perusal of the whole evidence he could not but believe that the sounder conclusion would have been to have adopted the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Stamford. That Amendment was not supported by the majority, but it had found favour with the hon. Member for Rochdale and the hon. Member for Totnes. It recommended the establishment of a Commercial Department in the Foreign Office for the conduct of commercial negotiations and the investigation of complaints, without the necessity 1866 of referring to the Board of Trade except upon very special occasions—a qualification which he humbly submitted was not necessary. After having waded through the dreary and dismal platitudes of noble Lords and right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who were examined, or rather paraded, before the Committee, it was refreshing to arrive at last at the only evidence really worth reading—that of the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary, almost the only disinterested witness examined, and who was best qualified to give an opinion, as he had himself been President of the Board of Trade, and was fully cognizant of all its details, and its special relations with the Foreign Office. The right hon. Gentleman said, that putting into the hands of two, what could be done effectually by one, was almost a certain way of rendering the transaction of business less rapid and effectual, and that the persons responsible to give effect to opinions were the persons who should form, mature, and express those opinions. It was much to be regretted that the Foreign Office did not make the simple addition which was required in that office; for, if that had been done, the official and departmental exigencies of the case would have been satisfied, and all causes of discontent on the part of the commercial community would have been removed. It was quite true that this improvement in the organization of the Foreign Office was vehemently opposed by the permanent Under Secretary, Mr. Hammond, and also by the Parliamentary Under Secretary, the hon. Member for Southwark, who did his work right well as the representative of the Foreign Office on the Committee, by putting bewildering—he would not say misleading—questions to the witnesses. He confessed to no surprise at the hostility of the permanent Under Secretary of the Foreign Office to the requisite change, because it was not reasonable to expect such a hierarch of the civil service, who had been forty years in that Department, to willingly assent to any improvement not initiated by his own office. His (Mr. Hammond's) reason for opposing the change was that it was impossible for the Secretary of State to do more than he did at present, and that it would swamp the office; but he (Mr. White) was glad to find that the evidence of the bureaucrats had produced no effect on the minds of practical men, or on the opinion of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, whose 1867 attention was specially directed to Mr. Hammond's evidence. Since his hon. Friend the Member for Bradford was so persistently and sedulously endeavouring to raise here and in the provinces a mere departmental into a national question, he (Mr. White) was compelled to inquire into the origin of this movement and the appointment of the Select Committee. The Committee was appointed on the 15th of April last year, and he (Mr. White) suggested that it should have been called, instead of the "Trade with Foreign Nations Committee," "The Foreign Office and Board of Trade Squabble Committee," or "The Board of Trade Revival or Resurrection Committee"—for that object seemed most to have been aimed at. Whatever might have been the ostensible object of the Committee, it appeared to him that it was a clumsy machinery to demonstrate the fussy feebleness and the industrious inaptitude of the Foreign Office. In his opinion the real value of the inquiry had been to demonstrate that in the interests of British trade and commerce the Board of Trade, as a consultative body, should be forthwith abolished as recommended by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne, who, be it remembered, had formerly been Vice President of the Board of Trade. He was surprised that the Committee should have arrived at such a conclusion as they did, and that the Foreign Office should still avail itself of the consultative functions of that Board. He could only attribute the adherence of the Foreign Office to this clumsy system to the fact that it did not like to disturb or break down so venerable an institution as the Board of Trade. The objections to the present system were concisely expressed last Session by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire, who said, "When A was obliged to go to B to get C to do something, the work was multiplied and was not done satisfactorily." Thus stands the case as between the British public, the Board of Trade, and the Foreign Office. And the right hon. the Secretary of State for the Colonies said that; "the principle of free trade is so simple and plain that we don't want the assistance of the Board of Trade." They ought to remember that at one time we levied customs duties on 1,500 articles, but that now they were levied only on some forty articles. The Foreign Office was now the only Department which consulted the Board of Trade, and he was at 1868 a loss to understand why that system, should be persisted in. Now he (Mr. White) thought the time had arrived for sweeping away this remnant of past absurd legislation. The evidence of the Secretary for the Colonies had given the death blow to the consultative functions of the Board of Trade. The cardinal principles of free trade were epitomised in these five words of a great Frenchman—laissez faire et laissez alter. He contended that after the evidence of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Colonies he was surprised that the Foreign Office should entertain the project suggested by this Committee. That right hon. Gentleman said that the present Foreign Secretary, as well, indeed, as all who filled that office, perfectly understood the true principles of the foreign commercial relations of this country without needing to consult anyone. The Board of Trade originally sprung from what was called "The Committee of Council for Trade and Foreign Plantations," established in the reign of William III., and now consisted of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord Chanceller, the Prime Minister, the Secretaries of State, and other persons of distinction. Mr. Booth, the Senior Secretary of the Board of Trade, frankly told the Committee that that Board is "entirely a fiction," and there was "no Committee of Council of Trade and Foreign Plantations, that it is never summoned, and therefore never meets." In former times all the various other public Departments used to refer to the Board of Trade upon all questions of commerce; but it appeared that the Foreign Office was the only Department which now consulted it. To judge from the evidence given by the Colonial Secretary, he was at a loss to imagine why the Foreign Office still persisted in that practice, unless it was either from an obstinate adherence to antiquated official routine, or from a sort of compassionate desire to preserve the lingering existence of a venerable institution which had, in times past, acted, and might yet act, as a kind of "buffer" to the Foreign Office against mercantile remonstrance and discontent. The evidence of the Colonial Secretary was quite decisive on this matter. It clearly went to show that the Foreign Secretary did not need to consult any other Department on commercial questions, and that the consultative functions of the Board of Trade ought to cease. "What," the right hon. Gentleman said, "what I object to is the 1869 existence of a Department which has no Executive functions, and has nothing to do but to write dissertations and to give opinions." He thought he had said enough to show that a saving ought to be effected in respect to that Department, and when the House came to consider the Civil Service Estimates that point should be borne in mind. Another witness, whose evidence he ought not wholly to pass over, was Mr. Mallet, a highly meritorious officer of the Board of Trade, and perhaps the most useful man in it. That gentleman, who had been associated with the hon. Member for Rochdale in negotiating the French Commercial Treaty, gave it as his opinion that unless the consultative functions of the Board were revived, and the office had generally a more distinctly consultative character than it now possessed, the continuance of those functions, in the very limited extent to which they now existed was not only useless but disadvantageous. With all the courage and daring which characterized him, the hon. Member for Bradford endeavoured to breathe new life into the dry bones of the Board of Trade. What was that but teaching the people to look to the Government to do for them that which they ought to do for themselves? That was one of the worst and most insidious forms of protection, although advocated by the Associated Chambers of Commerce, and it ought to be discountenanced by every true believer in the principles of free trade. Were the hon. Member for Bradford's recommendation adopted, and the President of the Board of Trade "transmogrified" into a French Minister of Commerce, a still stronger case might be made out for having a Secretary of State for Agriculture. It was a remarkable coincidence that Ministers of Commerce seemed to be confined to countries where the greatest commercial restrictions prevailed; and why a professed free trader like the hon. Member for Bradford should seek for his model in this matter among continental States he could not understand. If they were to proceed upon that hon. Member's principle they could not consistently refuse to create a Secretary of State for Agriculture likewise, who also would have to be put in direct communication with the diplomatic and consular services, because our farmers, being scattered all over the country, had not the same advantages for knowing the fluctuations of foreign markets as our merchants and manufacturers possessed. From 1870 £40,000,000 to £50,000,000 worth of corn, flour, butter, cheese, and various other articles of domestic consumption came into this country annually, entering into direct competition with native produce. Therefore, if the hon. Member for Bradford got the Foreign Office or the Board of Trade to collect information and provide outlets for our manufacturers, our agriculturalists would have a right to call for diplomatic and consular reports as to the probable prospects of the crops in America, South Russia, and other countries which sent us large quantities of the same commodities as they themselves produced. The hon. Member for Bradford lately told his constituents that he himself felt particularly honoured by being the organ of the Associated Chambers of Commerce in advocating an increased interference by Government in matters of trade. Now, what was a Chamber of Commerce? In France they knew very well what such a body was, for there it had specific and well-defined duties; but what it could do or what it could not do in England it was very difficult to discover. In that metropolis they had no Chamber of Commerce, and he did not know that they were much the worse off on that account. Sundry self-elected, well-meaning gentlemen met together in a town and called themselves a Chamber of Commerce. If the hon. Member for Leeds were present he should be tempted to ask him whether he had a £6 franchise as the electoral qualification for returning the Members of such bodies. But after talking matters over together in the provinces these gentlemen treated themselves to an "outing," and came up to London; and it might be that the dull and uninteresting debates of the House of Commons were supplemented by the more vivacious discussions at the Westminster Palace Hotel. Whatever object these Chamber of Commerce had in view, it could be much better attained by the direct action of Parliament. He felt bound to express his regret that any Chamber of Commerce essentially liberal should give in its adhesion to that revival of an old delusion that benefits could be conferred on commerce by the agency of Government—a delusion which he could only attribute to the working of the well-known law of the human mind, that if attention were directed exclusively to one subject it would be unable to form a proper estimate of any other. The clients of his hon. Friend had been gazing too in- 1871 tently at what they believed to be their own interests, and thereby forgot what was the interest of the whole community, being at the same time quite insensible to their own grievous backsliding from the true faith as laid down by Dr. Adam Smith. Judging from some of the discussions which had taken place, it really seemed as though some of those clients of his hon. Friend were urging their claims on the attention of the Government with all the mistaken zeal and all the fallacious hopes of the old Protectionists. Were he not afraid of wounding the feelings of his hon. Friend he should say that some of the views put forward in the Select Committee of last year would be ludicrously absurd if they were not so palpably preposterous. He had been most anxious to discuss this matter privately and in good temper with his hon. Friend, and had they done so many of the observations he had now felt it necessary to make might have been spared. His hon. Friend, however, did not seem very well disposed to accept the proposition, and so there remained no alternative but to put forward his views in public. He found these words in the memorial of the Associated Chambers of Commerce, upon which the Motion was made for the Select Committee last Session—It is undesirable that English manufacturers should be compelled to make in Parliament, or through the press, such public expression of their wishes as tends to their defeat by foreign manufacturers.There was a time when a declaration like that would have been characterized as a marvellous manifestion of ignorance, if, indeed, it were not styled selfish audacity. The British manufacturers, under the auspices of the hon. Member for Bradford, deliberately repudiated the action of a free Parliament, and shrunk from the discussion in a free press. There must be something like instinctive fear on their part if the plans they preferred, or the objects they had in view, would not bear the ordeal of discussion in that House or of examination by the public press; and despite the advocacy of such heretical doctrines by the hon. Member for Bradford, he was so old fashioned as to believe that no honest ends ever suffered by discussion in Parliament, and that no just claims were ever perilled by the fullest argument in the public press. The declaration of the Associated Chambers of Commerce, if it meant anything, went to this extent, that they hoped to obtain advantages by 1872 surreptitious means, and that, with this object, they were willing to resort to secret diplomacy, of which they had been the most uniform and consistent denouncers. He had no wish to take technical objections to the form of the memorial, but he defied any one to read it and say that it did not embody the essentials of the exploded doctrines of the old Protectionists. In the evidence given before the Select Committee it was urged as a ground of complaint against the Foreign Office that whereas France took our productions at the rate of five shillings per head per annum, Austria took but at the rate 5d. per head per annum, and Russia only at the rate of 6½d.per head per annum. The logical deduction from this complaint he held to be that there were certain northern manufacturers who would be willing that the British Government should guarantee the Venetian provinces to Austria, or the Kingdom of Poland to Russia, provided those great Powers consented to admit British manufactures at a reduced rate of duty. ["Oh, oh!"] He knew that such was not their meaning; but the inference was a fair one from the paragraph of the memorial which he had read. He was very sorry that his hon. Friend the Member for Bradford had stirred in this matter, for the effects of the agitation were visible in pending commercial treaties. At this moment the Vice President of the Board of Trade was at Vienna, attempting to negotiate some kind of commercial treaty with Austria. This revival of the passion for commercial treaties, in favour of which at one time so much popular prejudice was enlisted, was a retrograde step which ought to be sternly discountenanced by every sincere free trader. The advisers or leaders of the Associated Chambers of Commerce would seem not to know, or else to have forgotten, the ex ceptional circumstances which alone justified the late commercial treaty with France, productive, thanks to the hon. Member for Rochdale, of so much benefit to both nations. As regarded his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, he could not bring himself to conceive that he would offer any obstacle to the abolition of the consultative department; on the contrary, his undisguised zeal as a free trader would lead him gladly to offer himself up as a sacrifice. And in urging the abolition of the Board of Trade as a consultative department he would suggest that the residue remaining after 1873 that change should be called the railway, statistical, and miscellaneous department; or, better still, by the name which the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn had suggested, the "Heterogeneous Department." The co-operation of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade might, he thought, be counted upon, because, when the hon. Member for Bradford, in his Committee, endeavoured to coax him into an admission favourable to his peculiar views, and, putting it in the manner most agreeable to his feelings, asked the right hon. Gentleman whether, as protector of the trade interests—protector of the trade interests in the Government—his position ought not to be made one of more authority, like the Minister of Commerce abroad, the right hon. Gentleman, unseduced by the blandishments of the hon. Member for Bradford, candidly replied," I really have not a very strong opinion on it. "And, again, when he was asked whether he had any suggestion to make to the Committee with reference to the special object they were met to consider, the right hon. Gentleman, with characteristic ingenuousness, replied, "No, I cannot say that I have." In conclusion, thanking the House for the patience with which it had listened to him, he desired to say that he had been a free trader all his life; and as a foreign merchant, one who had passed many years in remote lands, he declined to accept his hon. Friend the Member far Bradford or the Associated Chambers of Commerce as infallible guides. And he would presume to tell both him and them that British merchants and manufacturers should want nothing and ask nothing from the Government but what they had a just right to claim—namely, that in carrying on unmolested all transactions of lawful business they should enjoy that security for life and property which the liberal votes of that House provided for every British subject at home and abroad.
§ MR. LAYARD
said, he should confine himself in the observations which he was about to make to replying to the questions which had been put to him by his hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), leaving it to his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade to vindicate his own Department. He should not attempt to reconcile the various conflicting opinions of the hon. Gentleman and his mercantile friends in the House. So far as he could see, scarcely any two 1874 Members representing the commercial community of this country were agreed in their views as to the relative positions which should be occupied by the Board of Trade and the Foreign Office, nor had he heard any definite opinion pronounced as to what course should be taken in reference to any reform to be made in the relations of those two Departments. As regarded the Committee which was appointed on the Motion of the hon. Member for Bradford, he was under the impression that that Committee was appointed under a misapprehension of the real state of things; and he was, he might add, inclined to concur with the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. White) in what he said with respect to the memorial on which the hon. Member for Bradford founded his Motion. The Chambers of Commerce, in drawing up that memorial, seemed, he thought, completely to have misunderstood the relations which existed between the two Departments in question. It should however be borne in mind that when the hon. Member for Bradford pretended to speak on the part of the Chambers of Commerce of this country, he, in truth, represented only a certain number of them, in which several large commercial countries, such as London, Liverpool, Manchester, and Glasgow, as well as others of great importance, were not included. He felt grateful to his hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool (Mr. Horsfall) for the testimony which he had that evening given as to his experience in his dealings with the Foreign Office; and he believed, speaking not as the representative in the House of the Department, but as a private individual, that no business could be better transacted than that which passed through the hands of its permanent staff. Indeed, the evidence of the hon. Member for Liverpool on the point was fully corroborated by the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Lindsay) whose absence from the House nobody regretted more sincerely than himself, and who stated before the Committee that he found official business more expeditiously and satisfactorily disposed of in the Foreign Office than in any of the other Departments with which he had had to deal. The hon. Member for Bradford, however, said that the fears and beliefs as to the inefficiency of the Foreign Office, which he had detailed to the House, had been more than confirmed by the evidence given before the Committee; but he (Mr. Layard) entirely concurred with the 1875 hon. Member for Brighton in thinking that the evidence before the Committee completely destroyed the case of his hon. Friend. He was perfectly astonished when he heard the evidence of Gentlemen representing large commercial communities before the Committee. The statements made in that House by his hon. Friend the Member for Bradford had been of a very vague description. He had charged the Foreign Office with all kinds of laches; but all these accusations had completely broken down. The story about the Italian Treaty was an instance in point. He said a draught treaty, prepared by the Board of Trade, had been left in a pigeon-hole in the office and was altogether forgotten; but it turned out that there was no foundation whatever for the statement. They were informed by the Italian Government that until the negotiations with the French Government were completed they would not enter into any commercial negotiations with this country, and the reason, as already stated by his right hon. Friend the Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe), was clear enough. They were negotiating with France on the principle of reciprocity—they were making a treaty bargain with France; we had nothing to offer; and until they knew what France gave they would make no reduction in our favour, because, if they did, the French Government might demand a similar reduction without any equivalent. The same might be said of many of our attempts to enter into negotiations with foreign Governments. But when the Foreign Office was accused of neglecting the commercial interests of the country, he was curious to ascertain some facts from these representatives of the Associated Chambers of Commerce. He would ask any Member to read the evidence with impartiality, and give his opinion as to the charges which had been made and the gentleman who had brought them forward. One gentleman, the chairman of one of the most important Commercial Associations in this country, stated that the Foreign Office did nothing; that they were ignorant of commerce; that they mismanaged everything they undertook; that every application to the Foreign Office was treated with neglect or contempt. He (Mr. Layard) asked that gentleman if he knew the difference between a Minister and a Consul? He confessed he did not. He asked him whether he knew anything of our treaties with Belgium, with Italy, and with Turkey? He replied that he never heard of 1876 them. There was a gentleman, the representative of one of the most important Chambers of Commerce in the kingdom, who actually admitted before the Committee, that he was not aware that we had during the last three or four years concluded three most important commercial treaties. He condemned all our consuls, and said they were good for nothing. He was asked had he ever read a consular Report. He said he never knew such a thing existed. He was asked whether copies of those Reports were not sent to the Chamber of Commerce which he represented? After being prompted he admitted that they might, and that they might be very able Reports, but he had never read one of them, and did not know of their existence. He actually admitted that the Chamber of Commerce with which he was connected did not take in the London Gazette, although every change affecting foreign trade was notified in it. This gentleman, who condemned the Foreign Office, had never seen the London Gazette in the Chamber of Commerce which he represented! He confessed when he found such stupendous ignorance on the part of one of the leading associations of the country, he thought little more of the vague assertions on which his hon. Friend founded the Motion which led to to the Committee. The Foreign Office did not shrink from the Committee. They were most desirous that everything that could be done for the promotion of the commercial interests of this country should be done; and, in fact, during the last four or five years every means had been taken to bring up those connected with the Foreign Office to the standard of the commercial knowledge of the day. The Secretaries of Embassy and Legation were ordered to furnish every year a full Report of the commerce and statistics of the country with which they were connected. More valuable or able collections of documents on such subjects could not be found. It was remarkable that for three or four years these documents, although regularly presented to Parliament, had been overlooked; it was only recently that the leading journal in this country had founded on these Reports a series of most interesting and important leading articles. and their value was now fully appreciated by the commercial interests of this country. It was almost incredible that gentlemen connected with Chambers of Commerce should be ignorant of the very existence of these Reports. There was another thing 1877 these gentlemen entirely overlooked. They thought the Government had nothing more to do, when a commercial treaty was wanted, but to go to the Foreign Government and say we wanted a treaty with them. He quite agreed with what had been stated by his right hon. Friend the Member for Calne on this point. Commercial treaties were not the best way of promoting our commercial interests. ["Hear, hear!"] His hon. Friend the Member for Bradford said, "hear, hear!" but those with whom he acted were constantly calling on the Government to enter into them. He complained that a draught treaty had not been sent to Turin—that it had been forgotten, and he said we had neglected to enter into treaties of commerce with foreign nations. These gentlemen entirely forgot that commercial questions were intimately connected with political questions. They could not separate the two. It was all very well to enter into communication with a liberal Minister in a foreign Government who might be disposed towards a liberal policy; but very frequently, however well disposed he might be, he found it impossible, from political considerations, to enter upon a course of liberal policy. Take the case of Spain, which had been fully discussed before the Committee. Under the recent Government the Prime Minister was exceedingly well disposed to a free trade policy, and to reduce the high tariff in favour of this country; but the difficulty was this—there was an adverse Chamber. The whole of the Catalonian Members were Protectionists. The very existence of his Government depended on their support, and if he attempted to introduce into the Spanish Cortes a law in favour of a liberal commercial policy he must inevitably have fallen. How, then, could Her Majesty's Government call on him to adopt a policy which would have; led at once to the fall of his Government. What political capital would have been made of the fact if foreign Governments had sent missions to this country to demand the reduction of our duties when the great battle of free trade was being fought; and what strong weapons would thus have been placed in the hands of the Protectionist party to defeat the Government! These were difficulties which commercial gentlemen, like his hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, entirely overlooked. They only looked to the commercial interests of the country; all other considerations were forgotten. Let any hon. Gentleman read the evidence of Mr. Ashworth, Mr. Ripley, and others be- 1878 fore the Committee, and say if this was not the case. He agreed with his right hon. Friend the Member for Calne that these questions of free trade and reduction of tariffs were rather questions for a people than for a Government to decide. What took place with regard to Austria? When Count Rechberg was Minister he stated that he was well disposed to enter into a liberal commercial policy; but he said, "This is a question not for the Government but for the people of Austria; do not make any representations to us, we do not need them, but let English merchants of knowledge and experience come to Austria, become propagandists, meet the Austrian manufacturers, put themselves in communication with Austrian Chambers of Commerce, and prove to them that it will be to the advantage of Austria to enter into a free commercial policy." What did the Foreign Office do? They sent a circular to all the Chambers of Commerce of the United Kingdom, and invited them to select intelligent persons to proceed to Vienna and enter into discussions with the various Austrian Chambers, communicate with the leading manufacturers, and endeavour to persuade them that it would be for the advantage not of England alone, but of their own country, to reduce their tariffs. The Chambers responded to that invitation of the Foreign Office. They sent several gentlemen to Vienna, who took with them a most able address drawn up by the Associated Chambers to the merchants and manufacturers of Austria, pointing out the enormous advantages free trade had conferred on this country. That document was circulated in Austria. It had an immense effect. We had been called on to supply a large number of copies of this address not only to Austria, where articles upon it appeared in the papers, but to Russia, Prussia, and other countries. An excellent Report drawn up by Mr. Prange on the subject of our commercial relations with Austria appeared in the Liverpool papers, and had been printed in the Austrian papers; it was read with the greatest attention by the Chambers of Commerce there, and he was assured it had produced the greatest effect throughout Austria. All these things led to a change of opinion in Austria, and would enable the Government to take advantage of it. A first step had been the sending of gentlemen, as members of a commission, not to conclude a treaty, but to enter into relations with gentlemen chosen by the Austrian Government, to inquire into the 1879 working of the Austrian tariff with a view to its reduction, not for the advantage of this country alone, but for Austria herself. These gentlemen were about to meet in Vienna. Here was an instance of what merchants in this country might do. Some gentlemen appeared to think everything should be done by the Foreign Office. Only the other day Earl Russell received a letter from a gentleman asking what was the price at that moment of Bohemian glass and Dresden china. People seemed to think that the Foreign Office was the place where they might obtain information as to details of that kind which they ought to be able to obtain for themselves or through proper agents. Certainly, it was not the duty of the Foreign Office to furnish them. It was perfectly true that a great free trade movement was springing up in Europe—even in Russia it was going on; and he hoped it would lead to important changes in the commercial tariffs and a more liberal commercial policy. But, as in Austria, we must wait till the people at large were prepared to enter into a liberal commercial policy. The question was different in France. There the Emperor had the power and the will to enter into commercial relations—he saw the advantage of a liberal policy and he carried it through. This was not the case in Austria and other countries, where the Government could not enter into a policy of this kind without the support of the Representative Assemblies or Chambers, and consequently they must wait until the people of the country were prepared for the change. Any action brought to bear by the Foreign Office would, as the hon. Member for Rochdale had said, very much retard instead of advance the principles of free trade in those countries. The gentlemen who came before the Committee and who drew up the memorial thought the British Government were to blame because foreign Governments were not induced to enter into a Free Trade policy years ago; but the fact was that it was only recently great changes had taken place in public opinion, which promised to lead to this result. Two events had prepared the way for the advance of the principles of Free Trade in Europe. The first was the immense success of the treaty with France and the advantages which had resulted from it not only to this country, but to France herself, who had derived as much benefit as England. The second event was the termination of the compact which held together the German States called the 1880 Zollverein. Until that was at end it was impossible either for England or any other country to enter into any treaty of commerce with those States. When Prussia and the other German States had agreed to sever the Zollverein they were ready to enter into a Treaty of Commerce with France; but they could not treat with us until they knew what tariff reductions they could obtain from France in return for their tariff reductions. It was also necessary to come to some understanding with Austria, who had hitherto enjoyed exceptional commercial privileges, which were not to be renewed. When these questions were settled, Prussia, on behalf of the Zollverein, was prepared to give us a most favoured nation treaty—that is to put us upon the same footing with the most favoured nation with which she had commercial relations. We have been condemned for endeavouring to negotiate commercial treaties. But this would not be a tariff treaty. We merely claimed what had been conceded to other countries, and supposing the Government of England had not endeavoured to place this country upon the same footing as France, there would have been a general outcry against the Government, and they would have been condemned, and justly, too, by those very persons who were now objecting to the principle of entering into commercial treaties with other countries. When Austria found that she was not be placed in exceptional circumstances as regarded Prussia and the Zollverein by a renewal of her former treaty, and that her hands were unfetterred, she was also prepared to enter into commercial relations with us and with France.
As regarded the recommendations of the Committee on the relations of the Board of Trade with the Foreign Office, it would be seen that the first had reference to the Board of Trade, and he would leave it to the President of that Department to inform the House whether any steps would be taken with reference to it. The two others had reference to the Foreign Office, and he would take the last first. It was this—That an officer or officers be appointed in the Foreign Office to conduct its correspondence with the Board of Trade.The Government had given effect to that recommendation, and he would read to the House the Minute drawn up by Earl Russell.His Lordship directs that a new division shall be created under the denomination of the com- 1881 mercial division,' to be composed, as other divisions of the office, of a senior clerk, an assistant clerk, and such a proportion of junior clerks as circumstances may require and admit of. The commercial division will carry on all the correspondence on commercial matters with Her Majesty's missions abroad and with the representatives of foreign Powers in England, with the Board of Trade, and other Departments of Her Majesty's Governments, and with commercial associations and private persons at home and abroad, with the exception of the correspondence on such matters with China, Japan, and Siam, which will continue, as at present, to be carried on by the political division under which those countries are placed. The commercial division will also, in conjunction with the treaty department, deal with all matters bearing on negotiations for treaties of commerce. The commercial division will likewise carry on the correspondence with Her Majesty's Consuls abroad on matters strictly commercial, and any other correspondence growing out of it.At the head of this department was placed a gentleman of great ability—Mr. Spring Rice. The department would be placed under the immediate supervision and control of the Parliamentary Under Secretary—the Office which he (Mr. Layard) had the honour to fill. He (Mr. Layard), or the head of the division, would always be ready to receive commercial gentlemen who came to the Foreign Office to consult on matters of business, the Secretary of State, of course, reserving to himself to see persons when he thought the nature of the business required it. He would not discuss the question whether the Board of Trade should exist as a substantive body, but as long as it did exist he did not think it would be advisable to have in the Foreign Office a Department which would really be little else than a duplicate of the Board of Trade. There would then be two Departments carrying on the same kind of work. If the suggestion of the hon. Member for Bradford were carried out as to such a Department, it would be placing a responsibility upon the Secretary of State—who would then become responsible for commercial questions as well as for our foreign policy—which very few Secretaries would undertake. The hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. White) did not give credit for much work being done in the Foreign Office; but he (Mr. Layard) believed there was no Department where there was more hard work to be done. There was scarcely a day in the year, with the exception of the time allowed for his holiday, that Mr. Hammond did not work from ten to fourteen hours, and the duties were very responsible. The Parliamentary Under Secretary, in addition to his duties as representing the Foreign 1882 Office in the House of Commons, was called upon to attend to other matters—such as claims upon foreign Governments put forward by merchants and others, questions relating to the blockade, to the imprisonment of British subjects and others connected with the civil war in America, and a thousand other questions which, although forming no part of our actual foreign policy, were of great importance, and which, if neglected, would be a subject of complaint in that House. With regard to the second recommendation of the Committee, that the Board of Trade should be put into direct communication with Her Majesty's Ministers abroad and the consular bodies, the Foreign Office had not acted on this recommendation. He thought, with the exception of the hon. Member for Bradford, no Gentleman who had spoken that night had really supported the recommendation of the Committee. Lord Clarendon had spoken strongly against it, before the Committee, and the Member for Sunderland (Mr. Lindsay), a practical man of business, had also given strong evidence against the recommendation. It was only carried in Committee by a casting vote. It was not, therefore, the intention of Her Majesty's Government to carry out the recommendation contained in the Report. He could not now answer all the accusations of his hon. Friend the Member for Brighton (Mr. White); but he could assure his hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. R. Forster) that the Foreign Office did all it could for the benefit of the public and with a view of carrying on the public service in the most efficient manner possible. With reference to the charges that the hon. Member for Brighton had brought against Mr. Hammond, he could undertake to assure the House with a clear conscience that Mr. Hammond was desirous of effecting any change which would tend to the greater efficiency of the Foreign Office. Mr. Hammond had been for forty years in the Foreign Office, and there was no man in the country who could be compared with him for experience and knowledge. The new commercial department would be eager to further those commercial interests which the Foreign Office had as much at heart as any other Department of the public service.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, that having listened to the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State, he was surprised that he did not support the Resolution which he (Sir Staf- 1883 ford Northcote) brought before the Committee, and everything which he heard led him to think that there could not be any difference in principle from him in the course which he proposed to adopt. It appeared to him that the question before the House was one which must be viewed in two aspects; first, in an administrative point of view, and next as it affected our commercial policy in general. With regard to that view of the question which bore upon our commercial policy generally, he could only say that he endorsed everything that fell from the right hon. Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe). He had put the matter on a basis which he believed to be sound and unassailable. The question was, whether our merchants and commercial public were to look to Government for support, or to look to themselves; and whether Great Britain was to carry out the principles of commercial policy which had been established for twenty or thirty years back—or even from the time of Huskisson—or to go back to the system of calling upon Government for assistance, and to encourage our merchants to go to some Office or other to get their work done for them. He had never heard a stronger argument in favour of allowing our merchants to manage their own affairs than that contained in the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs; because the hon. Gentleman had pointed out how greatly some of the Chambers of Commerce fell short of their duty in not availing themselves of the facilities which they already possessed, and how, as in the case of Austria, they were very well able to dispense with all Governmental assistance except such official countenance as that which any Government would willingly afford. He believed that an injurious effect would result to British commerce if the delusion were maintained that our commercial classes were in some mysterious manner to be assisted on all occasions by the Board of Trade. Then looking at the question in the administrative point of view, nothing could be more unsatisfactory. In the language of the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) who usually hit the nail on the head "If A has to go to B to get C to do something, you are going to work in a clumsy way." That was the case in respect to the Board of Trade and the Foreign Office, even if they took it in its most favourable aspect. But further than this, these Departments were put in 1884 a false position. Hon. Members ought to consider this. Taking it that the Board of Trade was composed, as had been said, of the most excellent and amiable people it was possible to deal with, ready to listen to everything and talk over anything, always au fait on the questions at issue, and ready to represent them to the Foreign Office, it always turned out that when anything got to the Foreign Office it was hung up, it was pigeon-holed, or by some repulsion or other the thing would be brought to an end; or even if anything more should happen to be heard of it, it took the form of a communication to the merchants, informing them that the necessary steps could not be taken on account of some political reasons with which the Board of Trade were unacquainted. These reasons might be and probably would be true ones, but what a position was the Board of Trade placed in? They were made to appear as if they had been making fools of the merchants and traders who had been encouraged to come to them. But if these applicants could have gone at first to the Foreign Office the nature of the difficulty would have been explained, and great disappointments and much ill feeling would have been prevented. There were many cases—very many cases—in which the Board of Trade had given opinions which had been afterwards set aside on political grounds. This was a state of things which could not be satisfactory to either of these Departments; and the clear intelligence which ought to exist between them, and did not exist between them, was really what the merchants wanted. Then there was another ground which he had for saying that this was a very clumsy and unsatisfactory part of our administrative system—a tendency to make work—a fault which he by no means attributed to our administrative system alone, but which appertained more or less to all systems of Government. This tendency would always be fully developed where two Departments were constructed for the purpose of performing the work of one. A staff of able and energetic men, in receipt of good salaries, would feel it incumbent on them to do something, and there would be a great temptation among other things to write letters from one department to another about matters which ought in reality to be managed without any such correspondence. If the department mentioned by the hon. Gentleman were made the sole department for commercial corres- 1885 pondence, and if that department, instead of corresponding with the Board of Trade, were to hold direct communication with the merchants who might hare subjects to bring before the Government, he believed that the work would soon be done, and that it would be found easy enough so to strengthen the department as to get through all the necessary labour without any difficulty. If, on the other hand, they merely kept this new department for the purpose of communicating with the Board of Trade, it would be doing nothing more than appointing Jack to help Tom to create a good deal of unnecessary work. He had observed with great pleasure that the Under Secretary of State (Mr. Layard) did not express any opinion of his own as to the maintenance of this consultative department of the Board of Trade, and be concluded from that that his hon. Friend did not approve of it. If that were so it was to be regretted that the hon. Member did not last year on the Committee support his (Sir Stafford Northcote's) Resolution. The hon. Member for Bradford suggested that the Board of Trade should do all this work; but everybody saw that would not do, and that the right persons to manage these affairs were those who had the management of foreign affairs. That, at least, was his own opinion, and he was glad to find from this debate that that opinion was gaining ground. There would, of course, be occasions when it would have to consult the Board of Trade in the same way as it would have to consult with other departments. There must be a department to manage all the matters of detail which were committed to the charge of the Board of Trade. The department which had to do with such matters must be consulted by the Foreign Office and by other Departments of the Government upon subjects on which they were respectively interested. What was required was to put the Board of Trade upon the best possible footing to be able to do its own work, and this consultative department was a heterogeneous establishment, which kept up a sore in the department for its own annoyance, and was of benefit to nobody at all. He did not wish to speak in any terms but those of respect and high appreciation for the gentlemen who belonged to the consultative department of the Board of Trade. Of one, Mr. Mallet, whom he had known for many years, he could only speak in the highest terms. All he intended to say was that this consultative department placed 1886 the Board of Trade in a false position, compelling them sometimes to go out of their way to look for work which it would be better for the public and for commerce if it were done by the merchants themselves. Some remarks bad been made as to the hon. Member for Bradford preferring the Report of the Committee to the plan he (Sir Stafford Northcote) had brought before the Committee. In justice to that hon. Gentleman he must say that they had consulted together before he brought in his plan, and the hon. Member agreed with its principle. He (Sir Stafford Northcote) had only three votes including his own, and therefore the hon. Member (who was the Chairman) did not vote on that Resolution, otherwise he had the hon. Member's authority for saying his vote would have been in its favour. He (Sir Stafford Northcote's) plan was rejected; and when they came to vote upon the Report he thought it better to do nothing than to recommend the plan detailed in the Report of the Committee. The hon. Member probably did not like to find himself in the position of having moved for a Committee, and that it should end in doing nothing, and so—in what he must be forgiven for saying was a moment of weakness—the hon. Member gave his casting vote in favour of the plan proposed in the Report. He must, however, claim his hon. Friend as a supporter of the principle of his (Sir Stafford Northcote's) plan; and after the discussion of that night and the admissions of the Under Secretary, it was clear the views he advocated had gained ground, and that the time would soon come when the system would be reduced to that more simple arrangement which it ought to be. The Board of Trade was very different to what it was when many years ago he had the honour of being connected with it. At that time the navigation laws were in full force, and the reforms in the tariff were only just commencing. They then had continually to consider matters connected with the navigation laws. Ingenious persons were always finding out ways of defeating those laws, and they had to investigate such cases. They used to bring from time to time what was called an "omnibus Bill" into the House, to cover the blots which had been hit in the navigation laws; and the work arising from this process was incessant. And, besides, in conducting those reciprocity treaties which so much occupied the Government of Sir Robert Peel, the Board of Trade had a 1887 great deal to do. All that had passed away, hut there was much yet which ought to be done to make it consistent with its proper duties. He fully agreed with the right hon. Member for Calne that it was best for the commercial interests of the country and for its moral effects that the trading classes should be taught to depend rather upon their own exertions and encouraged to feel self-dependence; and he trusted soon to see this sham of a consultative department done away with altogether.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, that he had listened attentively to the debate and he found that no less than four different remedies had been suggested for the evils which were supposed to exist. The hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) thought that the commercial business with foreign countries should be transacted by the Board of Trade. The hon. Baronet who spoke last (Sir S. Northcote) thought the Foreign Office should have to deal with such matters. The hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Layard) preferred the Foreign Office together with the Board of Trade; while the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe) thought that such business should not be managed by the Government at all. As to the last he understood the right hon. Gentleman to mean that the Government ought to have nothing to do in connection with such subjects; and the hon. Baronet who had just sat down appeared to hold in a modified degree the same opinion. The fact was those hon. Gentlemen had fixed their minds too exclusively upon the one question of commercial treaties; but there were many other questions connected with trade to which no allusions, or only cursory allusions, had been made. For instance, the navigation laws involved questions which the Board of Trade had to deal with in respect to treaties with other countries, quite irrespective of interests more properly belonging to the cognizance of the Foreign Office. Trademarks, too, fell more or less under the attention of the Board of Trade, and as indeed it would be impossible to make a department for every separate question of this kind it was well to have a heterogeneous department like the Board of Trade to gather up all these miscellaneous questions, and he did not see how such miscellaneous duties could be thrown upon the Foreign Office. Some reference had been made to Chambers of Commerce and to merchants in a spirit which he did not think was quite 1888 justified by facts. Merchants did not want to make treaties of commerce, but they did want to be present, as it were, when such treaties were made. In the case of the proposed treaty with Italy, for instance, the complaint was that the Foreign Office had not been watchful enough, and that the English public knew nothing of what was going on. In the case of Austria, on the other hand, the Foreign Office had been of great service, for, as had been shown, it was Count Rechberg who pointed out the mode in which the business should be undertaken, and all that was done was done through the Foreign Office. The Foreign Office had also most usefully interfered in the matter of the French treaty. That was said to be an exceptional case. But it was the duty of Government to look out for such exceptional cases. He believed that great good might be done, and had been done, by representations to the different Courts of Europe, pointing out the advantages derivable from free trade. These views were making great progress in Russia, where the Government were much more enlightened than a great portion of the people. All this showed that there was work for the Foreign Office to do, not so much in making treaties as in preaching, as it were, the doctrine of free trade. It had been asked, why then the Foreign Office should not take agricultural subjects, as well as commerce into consideration? The answer was, the thing was done; for our consular agents carefully compiled and sent home the fullest agricultural statistics. Then came the question, how the work was to be done? Some persons would intrust it to the Board of Trade, others to the Foreign Office. He contended that this was a question of administrative detail, which it was for our Ministers to decide, and that the commercial men of the country were not bound to point out exactly what machinery should be employed. They could say that a certain thing ought to be done, but they could not point out by what officers of State it ought to be done, particularly when there were such differences of opinion on the matter among Gentlemen who had been in Office. It was the business of those who had been in Office, and who knew the administrative details, to indicate by what means the required end might be obtained. That the inquiry suggested by the hon. Member for Bradford had been of service, was proved by the fact that Earl Russell had created a new Department in the Foreign Office for this purpose. What 1889 the commercial classes desired was that when a public Department was intrusted with the performance of certain duties care should be taken to select men who were aware of the importance of those duties and familiar with the principles on which they should be conducted.
SIR MINTO FARQUHAR
thought that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford deserved general thanks for having proposed this Committee, which had had the valuable effect of disabusing the public mind of the impression that sufficient attention was not paid to commercial interests by the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade. He had been a member of three Committees having reference to this subject—first, of one on the Consular Service; next on the Diplomatic Service; and of this Committee also. The commercial men of the country came before the last two Committees with a strong impression that their interests were not attended to by our Consuls and diplomatic agents; that Consuls were too busy looking after their fees, and that Ministers and Ambassadors were men who amused themselves at foreign Courts, and cared nothing for commercial matters. But the evidence showed that they were entirely mistaken; there was really no substantial accusation against the services, and he believed that the gentlemen who came up to give evidence left the Committee with the conviction that there was no foundation for the blame which had been cast on them. He had been an attaché for seven years, and any man who knew anything of the diplomatic service would agree with him that the gentlemen composing it took a deep interest in the commercial affairs of the country. He appealed to the noble Viscount opposite whether, if any Ambassador, or Minister, or Consul, were to show any dislike to take up commercial matters, he, or Lord Clarendon, or Lord Malmesbury, or Earl Russell, or any of the Foreign Secretaries, would not have told him directly that he was not fit for his place. One of the best innovations ever made in the Foreign Office was when the Secretaries of Legation were directed to make their annual commercial Reports to the Foreign Office; but one of the gentlemen who came before the Committee acknowledged that he had never known, nor did he think that his Chamber of Commerce knew of their existence. Some of the witnesses complained of delay in these matters, but it was evident that the Foreign Office must be responsible for choosing the 1890 mollia tempora fandi—there must be moments when a quiet word in season to a Foreign Minister would put things in a favourable light, and pave the way for obtaining advantages which would otherwise be lost. As regarded the Board of Trade, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies (Mr. Cardwell), and the right hon. Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe), and the hon. Baronet the Member for Stamford (Sir Stafford Northcote), had given distinct evidence against it. At a future time it might be considered whether it should continue to exist; but the ground on which he had given his vote on the Committee was this—he found the Board of Trade in existence, and he was anxious that the intercommunication between that Department and the Foreign Office should be as harmonious and useful to the interests of commerce as possible. If hon. Members were of opinion that the Board of Trade should cease to exist, and that the Foreign Office should be made twice as extensive a Department as it was at present, let that question be considered on another occasion; but above all things let them avoid giving to our diplomatic agents abroad two sets of masters, for such a system could only result in confusion and delay.
§ MR. BAINES
said, he would not enter into the general question, but confine himself to two points in the discussion. In the first place, he should regard it as a great calamity if it should go forth to the public that in the opinion of such high authorities as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe), and the hon. Baronet the Member for Stamford (Sir Stafford Northcote), and in the opinion of the House of Commons, or a considerable number of that Assembly, the Government of this country had no interests to attend to in respect of trade. He was afraid that the tendency of the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Baronet would be to convey an impression that there existed in the House of Commons a feeling that the Government ought not to concern itself in the bringing about of commercial treaties or in making efforts with foreign countries to give greater facilities for trade. As a thorough Free Trader he quite agreed with them in deprecating the old system of making commercial treaties by which there was a higgling for the balance of advantages. But the commercial treaties concluded of late years were very different from the old commercial treaties. Let 1891 the House look at the history of the last five years, during which time we had negotiated for commercial treaties, not only with France, but with Belgium, the Zollverein, Italy, and Austria. It was true that this country had now no advantages to offer in return for those which we asked of other countries, but we only asked them for a most favoured nation clause, to place us in the situation of other countries with which they had made treaties. We did not always ask for precisely similar terms. Inasmuch as France, for instance, went to another nation and asked for advantages in which French manufacturers were interested, we had to consider whether the same concessions as those made to France were suitable for England. If not, we asked for such advantages as, in respect of England, might correspond with those conceded to France. It was in consequence of negotiations that the tolls on the Scheldt and the Stade tolls had been done away with, and that the export duty on foreign rags had been reduced in France, Holland, and Belgium, and were likely to be abolished altogether in Belgium. Here were great practical advantages; but common sense told us that for the Government to adopt the laissez faire principle in these matters would be an abandonment of their duty. We were entitled to ask friendly nations for the same advantages as they granted to other countries; but it was tolerably certain that we should not get those advantages if we did not ask for them. As to the Chambers of Commerce of this country, he was surprised to hear the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. White) speak so disparagingly of them. The gentlemen who composed them were almost to a man advocates of free trade and enemies of all commercial protection. These Chambers were composed of the most eminent manufacturers, bankers, and traders of the towns in which they existed, and he could bear testimony to the great intelligence and great information of the members of those bodies. He contended that the Chambers of Commerce were anxious for free trade, and that all they required was that Government should obtain for them an extension of free trade with foreign countries. The hon. Member alleged that the Associated Chambers of Commerce were opposed to the freedom of the press. In reply, he could state that the meetings of the Associated Chambers in London were open to the press, who were invited to attend, and he knew of nothing that 1892 could be alleged in support of the hon. Member's statement. With regard to the Reports of the Consuls, he felt bound to say that they would be of far greater value to merchants if they were published sooner, as they were now nearly, if not quite, two years behindhand. In conclusion, he must express the gratitude the various Chambers of Commerce of the country felt towards the hon. Member for Bradford for bringing this matter forward.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
said, the reply of his right hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to the questions of the hon. Member for Bradford was so complete that he should not have thought it necessary to address the House, but that not to do so might be considered a want of respect, as he had been so frequently referred to in the course of the debate. If the discussion had been confined strictly to the question raised by the hon. Member for Bradford, and if right hon. and hon. Members had not travelled into a vast deal of irrelevant matter, the discussion would have been limited within much narrower bounds. What really was the question raised? The hon. Gentleman asked what had been done in consequence of the inquiry instituted by him last Session into the relations between the Board of Trade and the Foreign Office; and the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs told him, in reply, that the recommendations the Committee had made after a full inquiry had been exactly, or, at all events, very nearly carried out. The Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs also said—Having carried out the recommendations of the Committee, let us give the experiment a fair trial, so that we may see whether the new arrangement adopted for carrying on the relations between the Board of Trade and the Foreign Office is successful or not.The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne and the hon. Baronet the Member for Stamford both went out of their way to use a very good argument against a system that did not exist. He was not aware that the Board of Trade employed its time in writing long dissertations and dry essays upon free trade; neither was he aware that the Foreign Office consulted it upon abstract principles of political economy. On the contrary, the Foreign Office only consulted the Board of Trade upon matters of detail with which the latter office was fully acquainted. It had already been stated that upon commercial subjects the Board of Trade must have a vast amount of information, and 1893 therefore it appeared to him quite reasonable that the Foreign Office, when it required information upon such subjects, should apply to that office for it. There appeared to be a fallacious notion abroad that the time and talents of the gentlemen who were in the office of the Board of Trade were immovably fixed and devoted to some peculiar and unknown purpose; whereas, it was the duty of those who had the direction of the Department to employ those gentlemen in such a manner as would make their exertions of the greatest possible service to the public, to the Foreign Office, or to any other Department of the State. It appeared to be generally admitted that if the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs were engaged in commercial negotiations he must consult some one—that he must have officers at the Foreign Office who could give him any information he might require in the conduct of those negotiations. The peculiarity in the suggestion was that he might have any number of persons to consult with, provided they had no connection with the Board of Trade. It appeared to him that if a portion of the Board of Trade was to be transferred to the Foreign Office, the rest of it had better follow. The home trade, the colonial trade, and the foreign trade were to a great degree connected with each other, and it was certainly more useful and more consistent that they should be conducted by the same Department. But it appeared to him that simply to place this portion of the Board of Trade under the roof of the Foreign Office would be neither so useful nor so simple as the present arrangement. He agreed with the hon. Baronet and the right hon. Member for Calne, that to employ the time of the Board of Trade in writing long dissertations upon political economy would be a waste of the public time, yet circumstances might arise when it would be advantageous to break such a rule. There were many subjects which came before the Board of Trade which required to be elaborated with the greatest care, and required great intellectual labour. Such, for instance, was the question of international averages. It was very much desired by the commercial interests of this country that there should be, with regard to what were called "averages" as affecting shipping, one uniform rule pervading all the maritime countries of the world. If the Foreign Office were to attempt to bring France and other maritime countries into harmonious action with this country upon such a difficult question as international ave- 1894 rages, was there any reason why that office should not consult the Board of Trade? Surely it was not to be supposed that the Foreign Secretary was bound to make himself master of so difficult and so subtle a question. He therefore contended that the Board of Trade could not be employed more usefully or more profitably than by devoting some portion of the staff to the consideration of such a question, with the view of being able to furnish the Foreign Office with information upon the subject when it was required. It must first of all be considered what rules would be most acceptable to the shipping and to the commercial classes of this country; it must then be considered how far such regulations differed from the rules of foreign countries; and when all this had been done it would be necessary to form a plan which our Foreign Minister could bring under the notice of foreign Governments with the view of ascertaining whether a uniform system of law as regarded averages might not be adopted. That was a duty which the Board of Trade could well discharge, and he did not see what objection there could be to the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, who must have assistance, applying for it to the Department which could render it. The argument of the hon. Baronet the Member for Stamford, that you ought not to have two Departments to do the work which one could accomplish, was, in fact, an argument for uniting all the Departments of the State. Indeed, in a certain sense it might be said that they were all one. They were all public servants for giving advice and assistance to the executive Government, and one was as much at the service of that Government as another. He could see no great difference between the relations of the Foreign Office with the Board of Trade and those which existed between the same Office and the Home Office, the Admiralty, or other Departments of the State. There had recently occurred the case of Mary Ryan, in which the Foreign Office had had to communicate with the Home Office, and the Home Office with the Lunacy Commissioners; and in dealing with all these questions it was often found necessary to obtain the assistance of the knowledge and experience of Departments other than that which was acting in the matter. He was clearly of opinion that all communications with foreign Governments and with Ambassadors and Consuls abroad should be under the control of the Foreign Office; but he did not see any objection to the Foreign Mi- 1895 nister consulting the Board of Trade, or any other Department from which he could derive useful advice; and he knew that there many subjects upon which the Board of Trade could, in consequence of the ability of the gentlemen who composed it, and the stores of knowledge which existed in that Department, very usefully advise him. There were many matters, such as the grievances of merchants, upon which no consultation was necessary; but there were other questions—for instance, those arising out of the application of ad valorem duties—upon which the Board of Trade could supply the Foreign Office promptly with more useful information than they could obtain for themselves by other means. There was some ambiguity about the expression "foreign trade." Mr. Booth stated to the Committee that he included in that term all questions with foreign nations connected with shipping dues, merchant seamen, harbour dues, lighthouse dues, and many others which were subjects of discussion between the British and foreign Governments. Therefore, if the Foreign Office was to be made self-sufficing upon all matters of foreign trade, it would be necessary to transfer to the Foreign Office not only Mr. Mallett and a few others, but all the gentlemen who were connected with these different branches. In fact, to do the thing effectually, and make the Foreign Office really and entirely self-sufficing, it would be necessary to amalgamate the whole Board of Trade with that Department. He was sure that that could not be the intention of the hon. Baronet. He believed that the discussion of abstract principles had had now little place in the business transacted by the Board of Trade; but he must say that in former times during the discussion of the free trade questions that Department had by such means, by bringing prominently forward sound principles of political economy, rendered infinite service to the country in the promotion of commercial freedom. The evidence given by Mr. Porter and other gentlemen who were connected with the Board of Trade before the Committee upon Import Duties was the first and most important step which was taken in the direction of commercial freedom. He admitted that it would not be right to spend time upon such discussions now; but, at the same time, we must not suppose that we had arrived at perfection. Questions were arising every day, and he had no doubt that as time went on the Board of Trade would find other subjects to which 1896 to apply itself, and that in this country we should always need the services of a body of gentlemen, such as were now connected with that Department, who could bring to the discussion of such questions great intellectual power and a large experience. His hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Mr. Crawford), suggested very judiciously that there would always be a number of questions which did not exactly belong to any Department, and that it was necessary to have one which should gather them up. He believed that the Board of Trade was well fitted to discharge such a function, and that the miscellaneous character of its business enabled it to render very important service to the public. The very consultative department of that Board which it was proposed to abolish had to deal with treaties of commerce and navigation—that was, with questions arising out of those treaties upon which the Foreign Office might think fit to ask their advice—with questions of fisheries, art unions, copyright and trade marks, the registration of designs, companies' partnerships, charters, and many other subjects, and if it were abolished, gentlemen must be found to deal with these questions which occupied a vast deal of time and attention. It was true that charters were not now so numerous as they used to be; but still if an application was made for a charter by some commercial company that was a subject for consideration by the Commercial Department of the Board of Trade. So also with regard to art unions and fisheries. Many difficult questions arose under Acts of Parliament, referring to these two subjects, and they must be dealt with by some one or other. In fact, if any great change was to be made in the constitution of the Board of Trade, it would be necessary to repeal a great number of Acts of Parliament which had imposed onerous duties upon that Board, and to provide some other Department to carry their provisions into execution. As we must have gentlemen to see to the enforcement of these various enactments, it was an economical arrangement to take the opportunity of consulting them upon subjects akin to those in the consideration of which they were generally engaged, and upon which, therefore, they could give very useful advice. Some hon. Gentlemen were of opinion that each Department ought to be self-sufficing. He (Mr. Milner Gibson) said—"Make the best use of the staff of public officers that you are obliged to keep. Let the Board of Trade and every other 1897 Department perform all the service that it can to the country;" and he had no doubt, notwithstanding the theoretical objections which had been urged against the relations between the Board of Trade and the Foreign Office, that those who had the control of those Departments would, to the best of their ability, employ their staffs in the mode which would be most advantageous to the public.
§ MR. SEYMOUR FITZGERALD
said, he thought that the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) had scarcely contemplated that the question which he had raised would have opened up such complicated and difficult questions as those they were now discussing. Of the three recommendations which were made by the Committee which inquired into this subject two were of some importance and the third was of trifling consequence. It was with the third only that the Foreign Office had made any attempt to grapple; and he must say that the measure which they had adopted to meet the just complaint of the mercantile body was a mere delusion. That complaint of the merchants was that great delay and inconvenience arose out of the communications between the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade. What were these communications? Despatches relating to political matters were sent to the Under Secretary of State for the political department, and commercial matters were forwarded to the Board of Trade. Instead of these despatches going to the political department, it appeared that they were now to go to a special division in the Foreign Office, and to be by them forwarded to the Board of Trade. Instead of giving increased facility, this would very often he the cause of increased delay. It was the merest clerk's works to send these despatches from the political department to this commercial department of the Foreign Office, to be by them forwarded to the Board of Trade. If nothing but that had been done, it was the greatest sham in the world, and all the old evils would exist unchecked under such a system. A much larger question, however, had been opened up in the debate. A general feeling had been expressed that the consultative department of the Board of Trade ought to be done away with, and that a similar department in the Foreign Office ought to be substituted. He was sorry he could not agree with the views expressed by his hon. Friend the Member for Stamford (Sir Stafford Northcote) and other Members 1898 on this subject. In his opinion the real remedy lay in exactly the opposite direction. His belief was that the best remedy would be found in strengthening the Board of Trade, and making it that important Board of Trade that should be adequate for all purposes. There were questions of foreign trade which must necessarily be dealt with by the Foreign Office, and it was impossible to deal satisfactorily with questions of foreign trade legislation, unless the Department was acquainted with the necessities of the home trade. If they created a Department in the Foreign Office, and it was necessary for the Department to consult the Board of Trade in regard to the wants of the home trade, how had hon. Members advanced their cause? This was not a question of statistics. Very often questions arose in which a course which would benefit one class of our manufacturers would injure another. It was impossible for the Foreign Office to deal with such questions. The hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. White) talked about the Foreign Office being in a position to receive the remonstrances and complaints of the commercial body. But what caused those remonstrances and complaints? They had nothing to do with our commercial legislation. They were all free traders in that House now, with very few exceptions; but many years would elapse before all the other countries of the world would be free traders also; it would therefore happen that the regulations of foreign tariffs and foreign trade would sometimes press heavily on the merchants of this country. We must have somebody to deal with them, and that body must be well acquainted with all the requirements of trade and manufactures. The hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Baines) appeared to think that all that was wanted was the application of the most favoured nation clause. There was nothing that better exemplified the necessity of the interference of some Governmental Department than that very clause. A country in giving an advantage to some other, as in the case of the treaty between France and Belgium, stipulated most strictly for the exclusion of certain other Powers, and it was the manufacturing subjects of these very Powers who wanted to be put in the same favoured position. Until the day came when our free trade principles were adopted generally throughout the world, we must have some Department of the Government charged with the interests of our manufacturers, and able to protect them. As he had said 1899 before, the practical solution of the difficulty was to strengthen the Board of Trade, and this view he had taken during the whole of the sittings of the Committee. Many witnesses thought there should be no communication between our Foreign Ministers and the Board of Trade, except through the Foreign Office. It was said that no public servant abroad ought to owe allegiance to two masters. He could not, however, admit that if our Foreign Ministers communicated direct with the Board of Trade on matters strictly within its province they could be said to have a divided allegiance, nor was there any reason why there should be a conflict of jurisdiction. The best proof was to be found in the French Treaty. The Foreign Office decided that a fit and proper time for negotiating a commercial treaty with France had arrived. With such a decision the Board of Trade ought to have nothing to do. The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Cobden) was sent to negotiate the treaty; but did he communicate with the Foreign Office? No; all communications went to the Board of Trade, or else the hon. Member communicated direct with the commercial bodies interested. The result was most successful. He thought that all information required relative to trade, crops, &c, should come direct from the Consuls to the Board of Trade, instead of passing through several hands, and his opinion was that communications from the Consuls abroad to the Board of Trade might be conducted without mischief, and more satisfactorily to the commercial body at home. The real practical remedy for the evils complained of was to be found not by overburdening the Foreign Office with an amount of work which it could not accomplish with its present staff, but by strengthening the Board of Trade, and establishing direct communication between the Government and the commercial body throughout the country.
concurred with the hon. Member for Horsham in thinking that the step taken in this matter was in the wrong direction, and that the proper course would have been to strengthen the Board of Trade, instead of transferring the burden to the Foreign Office. Our Consuls abroad should be taught that their chief was not a political but a commercial chief. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe), and the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. White), seemed to think that the manufacturers of this country wished Her Majesty's Government to go 1900 over the face of the earth contracting commercial treaties. But they did not desire any such thing. What they expected was that where other countries, which were not free traders, were making commercial treaties with one another, our functionaries should be there to watch over the commercial interests of this country.
§ MR. BAZLEY
considered that the objections of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne, and also those of the hon. Member for Brighton, might be urged with greater effect against any other Department of the Government than the Board of Trade. As one of the Committee, he regretted that their conclusions were not in strict conformity with his own views upon the subject. He considered that they should strengthen the Board of Trade, so as to render that Department capable of taking cognizance of the whole commercial enterprise of the Empire, and become what it ought to be, the great organ of industry in this country. The Board of Trade should not confine its functions to railways merely or works of a similar kind; it should either change its name or become the great organ of the industry of the country. Why should they not have an Agricultural Department connected with the Departments of Trade and Commerce. The Board of Trade, as now constituted, was a very useful Department, and obtained a vast amount of very useful information, and it might be made much more useful if its constitution would admit of it.