§ MR. BIRLEY
rose to move—That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the operation of the Commercial Treaty with France in nil branches of trade which it affects.He asked for the indulgence of the House as one unpractised in debate, and regretted that the Motion had not been undertaken by one more competent than himself. He had confidence in the justice of the cause which he advocated. It was not a very complicated case; but before he entered upon it he wished to disclaim any intention of attacking the French Treaty, and he made that disclaimer because, since he put his Motion on the Paper at the close of last Session, it had been repeatedly stated that his intention was to attack and denounce the Commercial Treaty with France. His 111 object to-day was precisely what it was 10 years ago, when he was summoned to Paris to give evidence before the Imperial Commissioners. That object was to obtain the best possible terms for the admission of the manufactures of this country into France. He was convinced that if the Committee were appointed, it would be shown that the general rate of tariff charges was too high to carry out the spirit and the intention of the Treaty; that the mode of levying the duties was objectionable in several instances; and that there were many blots and difficulties upon, the general tariff itself, which ought to be remedied and removed. In support of this assertion he would read a few extracts from the resolutions of various Chambers of Commerce. The Bradford Chamber of Commerce, at a special meeting last January, adopted memorials to the Foreign Office and to the Board of Trade, showing that in their worsted trade the Treaty had been more favourable to France than to England, and pointing out the necessity for a thorough revision of the tariff and a reduction of the duties charged in France. At a meeting of the Associated Chambers of Commerce in Birmingham it was moved by a Member of this House and carried unanimously—That the Government be asked to favour an inquiry into the working and results of the French Treaty of Commerce, with a view to a further reduction on various articles at present paying a high rate of duty. The French Treaty, while it had operated advantageously to many branches of manufacture, had been most prejudicial to others. The tariff in many cases had operated most injuriously. The subject was one calling for a Government inquiry.It was probably known that the Associated Chambers of Commerce formed an influential body, representing the trade of almost all the important towns in the country. The Manchester Chamber of Commerce, too, in their annual report in January last, with reference to what they styled the Anglo-French Treaty, said—The directors have recently had under consideration several communications which have been addressed to the Chamber on the French Treaty. This subject came under discussion in connection with a communication received on the action of the French Government, and impending opposition to the French Treaty under the Committee of Inquiry appointed in France by the State Government. The opinion of the directors on the operation of the Treaty was expressed in the following resolution:—'That this Chamber 112 confirms its resolution passed on the 6th of January, 1869, in reference to the French Treaty, and believes that any inquiry into the working of the Treaty will confirm the proof of its beneficial operation, and lead to a further extension of Free Trade principles, to the greater benefit of both nations.'This might lead to the presumption that the Chamber was indifferent on the subject; but a sub-committee of the Chamber appointed to consider the matter had recently spoken in a very different tone. The committee reported that—The high tariff fixed by the Treaty appears uncalled for, seeing that the cost of production of a large proportion of the cotton fabrics is about the same in France as in England. Even at the high prices which ruled during the American War the duty imposed on English goods amounted to from 8 to 10 per cent, but with a fall in prices the rate rose from 20 to 30 percent, and the trade was consequently very much restricted, and is now insignificant … It is a matter of question whether the abolition of all duties would afford opportunity for the export of any but the heavier and cheaper fabrics; but we assuredly cannot hope to export them to any considerable extent, with more than a merely nominal duty. The complicated application of the tariff is highly objectionable, and, in our opinion, if the tariff is to be beneficial to French commerce, it should not in any case exceed a merely nominal rate, and should be applied on the ad valorem principle.The Committee ended by stating that—The general result of the French Treaty has doubtless been, as we are convinced all Free Trade measures must be, beneficial to the interests of both nations; but we are equally assured that its present provisions neither have afforded, nor are likely to afford, opportunity for the favourable export of our cotton manufactures to France.Possibly, he would be expected to quote figures in support of these conclusions; but much discredit had been thrown upon our import and export Returns of late, and it was certain that unless such Returns were carefully analyzed they would tend rather to mislead than inform. The point was touched upon by the Report of the Committee from which he had quoted, to the effect that the figures in the Board of Trade Returns showing an increase in the export of cotton goods since 1860 included goods and raw cotton in transitu. No Return was made of goods sent to France for home consumption. From the debates in the French Chamber there seemed almost as much reason to doubt the accuracy of the French Returns. He did not blame the Board of Trade for the inaccuracy; the system was bad, and until corrected would continue to produce inaccurate 113 Returns. He would not trouble the House with repetitions of statements made to him by private manufacturers actively engaged in the trade with France; but he observed that he found no difference of opinion on the subject among those in the trade who had given attention to the subject; and that it was evident we were not doing the trade in manufactured goods with Prance which was contemplated under the Treaty, a result which had naturally been followed by disappointment. Another reason of less magnitude for an inquiry was the fact that the Treaty had lasted its 10 years, and that traders with Franco were now mere tenants-at-will. The Manchester Chamber of Commerce had long since regarded this period as the proper time for the revision of the Treaty. Another reason for demanding a Committee of Inquiry was the fact that a very strong and wide-spread feeling existed among the operative classes that the Treaty was working injuriously to their interests. However beneficial it might be to the moneyed circle, to the trading class as distinct from the manufacturing class, and to the commercial and shipping interests, it had not given any additional employment to the workpeople of this country, but had had rather the opposite effect. He certainly thought it important that the facts relating to this branch of the question should be investigated, and if upon inquiry it were found that the complaints so generally made had any foundation some mitigation should be found for the evil. It had often been urged, and might be urged again, that though the Treaty might not, perhaps, effect all that we desired, and that though it might not have resulted in so great a reduction of duty as we might wish, still it was for the Government and the people of France to decide what duties they would impose within the limits by which they had bound themselves. Well, if that were the case, he would ask what was the meaning of the Treaty? What was the negotiation of the Treaty for? Was it not because we might by argument satisfy the nations with whom we were dealing that we had a good cause—that although the duties imposed might be within the letter, they were not within the spirit of the Treaty? And if they could show that, and thus have good grounds to appeal to France, he could not suppose for one moment that 114 it was the intention of the French Government to keep the word of promise to the ear and break it to the hope. Moreover, he would remind the House that one clause in the Treaty afforded a very fair opportunity for opening the question. It said—The high contracting parties reserve to themselves the right of introducing into the Treaty any modifications not opposed to its spirit and principle, and the utility of which shall have been shown by experience.Having, too, now arrived at the end of the term, and France having instituted an inquiry into the operation of the Treaty, and a French statesman of eminence having recognized in the Chambers the probability of a modification being introduced, it appeared to him that the time was come when a careful and public inquiry should be made, with a view to ascertain what was our real position, and to obtain, if possible, better terms from the French Government. In common with every Member of that House, he deeply deplored the absence of the President of the Board of Trade, because no man was more competent to throw light upon the discussion. To the Motion with which he should conclude he believed that the right hon. Gentleman would not have been unfavourable; because in June of last year, when this question, though in a different form, was under discussion, the right hon. Gentleman used the following words:—Although, at this period of the Session, it would not be desirable to have an inquiry at all, still, if any advantage were expected from it, I would recommend that it be not confined to the silk trade, but should be on some broader basis. I think, however, it would be better to postpone it until the beginning of next Session, when there would be time to consider the question properly as affecting the whole of the interests touched by the Treaty. … I sympathize with the condition of the silk weavers; and if, next year, sufficient cause for inquiry shall be shown, the Government will readily grant it.—[3 Hansard, excvii. 345–6.]Last Session he (Mr. Birley) had the honour of accompanying a deputation from the plate-glass manufacturers to the President of the Board of Trade, and the members who formed that deputation showed that, while their productions were entirely excluded by the operation of the tariff from the markets of France, they had also to encounter a formidable competition in England by the importation of similar plate glass from France. The President of the Board of Trade on 115 that occasion did not appear to controvert those assertions, and expressed not only his sympathy with those manufacturers, but his desire also to obtain for them, if possible, more favourable terms from the Trench Government. In fact, he urged the deputation to persevere, a word which those who were interested in this subject would do well to take as their motto. He held in his hand a memorial from the Chamber of Commerce at Huddersfield, addressed last year to the First Lord of the Treasury, not directly upon the question of the French Treaty, but upon the question of the Treaty with China. In that memorial, however, they said—That during late years the export also of some descriptions of British goods to the Continent of Europe has perceptibly diminished, owing to the increase of manufactories in different parts thereof, fitted up in many instances with the most improved English machinery, directed in its working by skilled hands from England, and assisted by the free export also of British coal. From all which it has resulted, that instead of being purchasers of English woollen goods in any quantities, different countries of Europe have become large buyers of wool in the English markets for the manufacture of similar goods on the Continent, with some of which, owing to the cheaper labour of the Continent, those foreign manufacturers can undersell English producers, not only on the Continent, but also in the United Kingdom.Should we go back to the times—the good old times, as they were occasionally called—when we exported our wool to Flanders and received it back in the shape of broadcloth? But it would be difficult to convince the men of Yorkshire or Lancashire that it was the same thing in a politico-economical point of view to pay for the goods obtained from the Continent in the wool of Australia or America, or in the broadcloth of Yorkshire or the calicoes of Lancashire. He had now to thank the House for the attention which they had given to him. He simply asked for a public, fair, and full inquiry, leaving with entire confidence to the wisdom of the Government and the Legislature the question of what should be done when the results had been ascertained. The interests of the country were very much involved in its manufactures. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving his Motion.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the operation of the Commercial Treaty with France in all branches of trade which it affects."—(Mr. Birley.)
MR. STAVELEY HILL
moved, as an Amendment, that the Select Committee do inquire—As to the effect upon our Commerce and Manufactures of our present Treaty arrangements with Foreign Countries.He said that his Amendment was simply an extension of the Motion, and if the House granted the Committee, as he hoped it would, he should be able to show that the area of their labours must be extended to the limits specified in his Amendment. The French Treaty must be taken as the basis or exemplar of our Commercial Treaties with Belgium, with Prussia, with Greece, with the Hanse Towns, Mexico, Portugal, and Austria; and if they found upon investigation that that one was defective, any arguments which applied to the one would also apply to the others. They were all based upon the model of the French Treaty, and ought to be all included within the scope of the inquiry. The first thing, of course, was to show that the effect of these Treaties had been not only to cause dissatisfaction, but actual injury to the commerce and the manufactures of this country. When, last year, he had asked for an inquiry upon this subject he had limited that demand to an inquiry into the results of the Treaty upon the silk trade; but from what he had since learnt he believed that there was no trade existing in England which could be said to have benefited at present by the Treaty. No such benefit could be discovered from the present condition of the labouring classes of this country, while from 1859, with the exception of a single year, pauperism had been steadily on the increase, and between £7,000,000 and £8,000,000 were now annually raised for the relief of the poor. The President of the Board of Trade—whose absence he also deplored—himself had taken notice of this great increase of pauperism since the conclusion of the French Treaty, for in a communication which he addressed to the electors of Sutherlandshire in 1865 he said—It may be remembered that when emigration is rapidly on the increase there is some extraordinary pressure on the population at home.The Emigration Returns showed that the number of persons forsaking their native land increased rapidly as the pressure of distress became more severe. In proof of that he would remark that, while from 1838 to 1843 there was an annual 117 emigration of 80,842, any hon. Gentleman who looked at the Returns of this year would find that the very bone and sinew of our labouring population were leaving our shores, and from that he might learn the state of the labouring classes at the present time. But if any doubt should be raised as to the want of employment, the answer might be found in the Petitions which he and others had laid upon the Table, one from Halifax having over 2,000 signatures, another to day from Manchester with over 5,000, and one from Leicestershire signed by very nearly 2,000 persons, all complaining, in the words of one of the Petitions he had presented to-day, "of the grievous scarcity of employment." The second question that arose was, to what was this failure in the demand for labour due? In the discussions and correspondence that had been carried on upon the matter, the prevailing distress had been attributed to different causes by different persons. It had been stated by one very prominently, that in the cotton trade, it was owing to the deficiency of the raw material. But, if it wore owing to a deficiency of the raw material, we must first of all have used all the raw material that came to our shores. But in 1869 there was re-exported from England one-third of the whole of the raw material, or some 322,500,0001b. of raw cotton, thus clearly showing that the distress in the trade was not owing to any deficiency in the raw material. Then it was alleged that the distress was owing to the dissipated habits of the labouring classes. It was something new to learn that, though dissipated habits were causes of poverty, they were the result of want of employment. It was pretty clear that where drunkenness, dissipation, and great prodigality existed, they were the result rather of prosperous times than of times of distress. Then the distress was said to be the effect of trades unions, which raised wages, and thus added to the cost of production. But it was scarcely fair to trades unions to say that they were the cause. Trades unions had faults of their own; but when the question of trades unions was before the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the subject, a large majority, some of whom were not very favourably disposed to those bodies, found that the badness of trade was not at all to be attributed to them. They found that the two things 118 co-existed, but they could not put both together as cause and effect. Was it not the truth that trades unions were rather the result of a decline of trade than the cause of it? To what, then, was the failure in the demand for labour to be attributed? After a close and careful examination to which he had devoted almost all his time since he had been elected for the city which he had the honour to represent, he could not but attribute it to two things, both the result of this Treaty system. One of them was the impossibility of securing for our goods entry and sale at foreign ports under the present hostile tariffs, and the other was the great abundance and sale of foreign manufactured goods in this country. He would ask the House to consider these two questions, and first as to the exclusion of English goods from foreign ports. And here he would remark that neither when he last made a Motion on this subject within the House nor out of it, had he said one word about protective duties, or sought to place those duties, in the sense in which the phrase was properly used, on any goods coming to our shores, and least of all upon the raw material, which he would have free as the air or the light of the sun of heaven. But there wore other points upon which this question might be discussed. Were the duties levied in foreign ports sufficient to exclude our goods? It would be in the recollection of the House that the effect of the French Treaty was that, whereas we were bound to admit all manufactured goods practically free of duty, France might charge a duty on our goods entering her ports of from 3 to 30 per cent. Now, when the Treaty of 1860 was first made matters stood in this way—The French were ready with a great quantity of silks and goods of Paris, as they were called, to throw into the English ports; and England, on the other hand, was very far advanced in machinery and in the manufacture of cotton goods, so that we could produce these goods far more cheaply than France and France could produce silk goods more cheaply than we. When the Treaty was passed in 1860 our silk trade tumbled to pieces, and then, in spite of the 15 or 20 per cent duty, there began a great export of cotton, woollen, and linen goods into France. That export mounted up in 1863 and 1864, un- 119 til in 1866 it reached its maximum. But the ships which took out these cotton, linen, and woollen goods took out machinery also, which in time superseded our trade. In 1866 the exportation of cotton goods to France amounted to some 56,343,000 yards, and in 1867 it dropped down to 41,000,000, in 1868 to 38,000,000. He had not the figures for 1869 sufficiently accurate, but they were considerably less than in 1868. So with our linen goods. The decrease between 1866 and 1868 was about 30 per cent, while that of woollen goods in the same time was 75 per cent. He thought it would be clear, from those figures, that the branches of manufacture in which we had excelled the French at the time of the passing of the Treaty had, by means of our own machinery, entirely passed away from us; and if the present Treaty was to be continued in its present terms our cotton, woollen, and linen goods would be practically excluded from France, from Prussia, and other countries with which we had these treaties. The glass trade had been already alluded to by his hon. Friend. He had received the other day a letter from Mr. Swinburne, manager of the Tyne Plate-glass Works, in South Shields, and he said the duty enjoined by the Treaty had totally precluded the sale of English plate glass in France, and although some errors in the Treaty had been rectified, they could never obtain any alteration in their case, although the present import duty was clearly decided, upon in the absence of adequate information. With this firm there was no question of hostility whatever to the French Treaty. One-third of the plate glass used in England was supplied by France and Belgium, whilst none of the plate glass manufactured by this country was exported to these countries. He would only give another illustration of this kind by referring to the paper trade. It so happened that there was not sufficient allusion to it in the Treaty. It had been wished to keep rags, of which paper was made, in France, and to raise the price of the manufactured article in England, and an export duty was put upon rags, which amounted to ¾d. per lb. on paper; while against that the French sent us their own manufactured paper, on which there was no duty at all. So that while we were obliged to import their rags subject to a tax equal to ¾d. 120 per lb. on paper, we had to import their; paper free from any such charge whatever. In regard to the five trades he had mentioned, then, there was a tariff virtually prohibitory of our carrying on business with France and sending those articles into France. He would not trouble the House with any argument in reference to the balance of exports and imports. [A laugh.] In saying that, he was not at all shirking any point bearing on his views; but he might state that during the last 12 years the balance of imports over exports had been, as between England and foreign countries, £700,000,000. Taking it that there was 50 per cent of wages in the cost of every work, it would be for the House to judge how far there was not a pretty clear proof, in the magnitude of the figures itself, that there must be a considerable amount which went into the wage of the foreign labourer and was deducted from the wage of the English labourer. In regard to the question of Commercial Treaties generally, Mr. Cobden himself looked upon that particular Treaty only as a lesser evil, and as a limited advance in the direction of free trade; and on the 28th of February last the Prime Minister also spoke as if he regarded Commercial Treaties with no great favour. Another most eminent authority, Mr. Huskisson, referring to that magnum opus of all such treaties—the Commercial Treaty with Portugal—said, he was of opinion that in all Treaties of Commerce the great object should be to establish complete reciprocity between the two nations who were parties to it; and after describing them as a confused and complicated machinery, he went on to add that—If the time has arrived when we are receiving no equivalent consideration for what we are giving, it is time that the Treaty was put an end to.That, he maintained, was a strong authority in favour of the course he was now asking the House to adopt. Mr. M'Culloch also held that it was an abuse and perversion to make Commercial Treaties instruments for regulating duties or prescribing Custom House regulations; that in such matters one nation ought not to be shackled by engagements with others; and, further, that "all really beneficial Commercial Treaties are bottomed on a fair principle of reciprocity," He asked whether that 121 last remark would apply to the present French Treaty. When the whole of our Chambers of Commerce met last autumn at Birmingham they came to an unanimous resolution that it was the duty of that House to have an inquiry into the present operation of the French Treaty. That also was the view taken by the Vice President of the Education Board when he spoke in answer to a question put to him on the subject; and it was, in effect, likewise the view expressed by the President of the Board of Trade himself last June, who then told him to place his Motion on a broad basis and bring it on early in the Session, when the House might grant a Committee. Well, he had now complied, as far as he was able, with that advice, and he asked the Government, in the absence of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bright) to accede to the appointment of a Committee. It might be asked, supposing that inquiry was gone into and the Treaty swept away, did he think foreign countries would admit our goods; and, if they refused to admit them, what course ought we to take? He answered boldly that if other countries would not admit our goods except under certain duties—if we found that our trade could not go on as it was—if that were the finding of the Committee, then retaliation against such countries would be neither against precedent nor against common sense. When the Government of the Netherlands, in 1821, proposed that in 1823 there should be a premium of 10 per cent on all Dutch vessels bringing goods, and Prussia followed that example, what course did Mr. Huskisson pursue? He moved that this House resolve itself into a Committee to consider the expediency of authorizing His Majesty, by Order in Council, to regulate the duties on the importation of foreign merchandise according to the duties on British merchandise imported into foreign countries; to continue restriction where another Power declined to act on a system of reciprocity; and to impose a duty on vessels belonging to another Power in retaliation for a similar duty imposed by that other Power. Mr. Ricardo, Mr. Ellice, and other authorities supported that view; and one eminent speaker said the country was indebted to the then President of the Board of Trade for his enlightened opinions. In his 122 Principles of Political Economy, Mr. John Stuart Mill said that—A country must not be expected to renounce its taxing power unless foreigners will, in return, practise the same forbearance. The only way in which a country can save itself from being a loser by the revenue duties imposed by other countries on its goods is to impose corresponding revenue duties upon theirs.These high authorities all favoured the suggestions to which he had referred. Whether the French Treaty continued to exist or was swept away, they could scarcely have more prohibitory duties than they had at present. If the labouring classes were wrong on this subject, why not convince them by inquiry? They believed their labour was superseded by the quantity of cheap goods imported into this country. He did not wish to say anything against free trade; he was merely opposing what had been described as "a one-eyed free trade," and urging that this Treaty was a restriction. What was the position of the English as compared with the French labourer? The former was placed under a heavy system of taxation. The Imperial and local taxation of this country amounted to £3 6s. 8d. a head; while, according to M. Thiers, the taxation on French workmen was only 50f. or 60f.—from £2 10s. to £2 18s.—and that on the Swiss workmen was only 15f. Again, certain of our sanitary laws and the Factories Act imposed additional burdens on the productive power of this country, so that the English labourer entered into the competition heavily handicapped. The fact was that, by admitting foreign goods without any revenue duty, we practically admitted them in contraband of the English tax-gatherer, and to some extent in defiance of English sanitary laws. The English labourer must feel this heavily, because the cost of the country fell eventually on the labourer. That cost was exceptionally heavy, and he could not see the justice of allowing the consumer to buy foreign goods here in contraband of the taxes which were levied on the English working classes. If the Treaty to which he had been alluding were swept away, circumstances might arise in which fiscal duties could be levied on imported manufactures. The words he had just used were as nearly as possible a repetition of what had been said by the Prime Minister on a recent occasion. [Mr. 123 GLADSTONE: Oh, no; nothing of the kind.] He had understood the right hon. Gentleman to make such a statement. The objection might be urged that to tax goods imported from abroad and not to tax agricultural produce so imported would be to protect one trade against another. The importation of agricultural products had not had the effect of damaging the agricultural interest at home, and he thought that the amenities of agricultural life would prevent any objection being made on that ground to a revenue duty on foreign manufactures. Foreign manufactures sent their surplus goods to the English market. If 80 per cent of a particular class of goods were sold in Paris during the winter season the remaining 20 per cent was, perhaps, sent over here. Our home trade might be made bankrupt by a system of that kind, if no revenue duty were imposed to equalize the competition. The House would remember that when a duty of 4d. a pair was taken off foreign gloves the effect was to increase the price of kid gloves in this country by 6d. or 8d. a pair. The amount remitted in duty all went into the pockets of foreigners. At present we imported one-third of our plate glass from Belgium and France. It was said that English plate glass was sold abroad 10 or 12 per cent cheaper than in this country. If this were so, the cause was a matter well worthy of inquiry. It would be argued, as an objection to a revenue duty on foreign goods, that it would fall on the consumer in this country; but, generally speaking, the consumers and the producers were the same persons. It was well said by a French authority that when we spoke of the consumers and the producers we were putting forward two persons who hardly had a separate existence. He contended that a duty upon the importation of foreign goods was not a breach of free trade. M. Bastiat advocated a duty of 5 per cent on objects of necessity, of 10 per cent on articles of utility, and of 15 per cent on luxuries. According to the Board of Trade Returns, the value of the manufactured goods imported into this country in 1868 was £26,000,000; but there was good reason for believing that it was nearer £100,000,000; and, if so, it was evident that a duty upon the same, by restoring the balance between the English labourer and his foreign com- 124 petitor, would enable the former to enjoy not merely the removal of half the sugar duty, but even a "free breakfast table." He would, in conclusion, refer to a passage in The New York Times, in order to show what was thought of the crisis in this country on the other side of the Atlantic. That journal, commenting upon a letter of the President of the Board of Trade, said—Mr. Bright is not of the despairing sort, and consequently he deals with the crisis in a white heat of rage. He has ordered the Protectionists to stand aside, and he has labelled them knaves, with a mental reservation, we trust, in favour of the Republican party here. There is evidently work in store for the Liberal party in England, of which they little dream. The working classes hold the balance of power. Suppose they elect a Protectionist Parliament a few years hence. They could do it, and if their condition does not improve, there is no guarantee that they will not.He trusted that in asking for this Committee, he had not said anything that was distasteful to the House. He had not endeavoured to force upon the House any views of his own, nor had he retaliated for the strong language used to himself when M. Bastiat had reflected on him by saying that he (Mr. S. Hill) had travelled up and down the country for the purpose of agitating the minds of the people on this question. In conclusion, he would entreat the House to grant the inquiry that was asked for. He asked for this on account of the state of poverty which existed and because our best labourers had emigrated. Taxation pressed very heavily upon the poorer classes, and if this Committee were refused the belief in the inequality of taxation would be confirmed. He entreated the Government to consider this state of circumstances. He had witnessed an amount of poverty among the lower classes which made his heart bleed, and he believed that much of this misery was owing to the unjust system of taxation. If a Committee were appointed it might set this question at rest; whereas if the inquiry were refused a belief would prevail that the claims and wants of the few had not been properly attended to, and that Parliament had neglected an opportunity to promote the benefit of those who had been plunged in a state of severe suffering.
To leave out from the word "inquire" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "as to the effect upon our Commerce and Manu-
factures of our present Treaty arrangements with Foreign Countries,"—(Mr. Staveley Hill,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ SIR THOMAS BAZLEY
said, that the opinions which had been stated by his hon. Colleague and the lion, and learned Member for Coventry (Mr. Staveley Hill) did not sustain the object which they had in view. He saw no adequate reason whatever for carrying their views into effect, and he had looked in vain for some authoritative statement as to the general depression of trade which was alleged to exist at the present time. As regarded the cotton trade, in proportion as the supply of cotton was increased labour was better employed; and he was glad to know that there had been such a degree of revival in the trade. Nor was the improvement confined to the cotton trade. A recent number of The Coventry Times, referring to the state of trade, gave an encouraging account of the revival of several branches of trade carried on there. It said—The ribbon weaving is pretty good. The watch trade is also good. The Machinists' Company are busy, especially in the velocipede department. The embossing trade is about the same. At the Leigh Mills business is slack, it being between the seasons. The rug trade is good. Trimmings are in demand. Matters are pretty well in the elastic trade.Trade throughout the whole country was at present in a very much improved condition, and he thought that the Budget of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was calculated to foster and develop the improvement which was observable. He thought the plans then developed were likely to increase the enjoyment of the country at large. He was glad that the two hon. Members who had addressed the House had not assailed the great principles of free trade, for the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Birley) had said that there was no "substantial" difference between them on this head, and he (Sir Thomas Bazley) was therefore at a loss to know for what particular reason the hon. Member was urging the appointment of a Committee. Reference was constantly made to the difference of amount between the exports and imports, and when there was an excess apparently against us it was used as an argument that this country was impoverished. But 126 that was a fallacious mode of argument. Instead of confining their attention to the trade with France, they might have extended their view to the United States, and they would then have found that in 1868 this country exported £24,000,000 value of manufactures to America, and received in return imports to the value of £43,000,000, being an excess, in favour of America, of £19,000,000. The British Colonies took from us £54,000,000, and sent us £67,000,000, being an excess of £13,000,000. Egypt took from us only £6,000,000, and sent us £17,500,000, being a difference of £11,500,000. France took £23,000,000, and sent back £33,000,000, being an excess of £10,000,000. In point of fact, France stood sixth on the list, although it was the first selected for attack. The people at home were enriched not by what they sent away, but by what they brought back; and the imports aided in spreading comfort and enjoyment among the population. The merchants who sent their goods from this country took care that they got a satisfactory equivalent for them. Surely these figures showed that the labour of the country was not being displaced to any alarming extent; while, on the other hand, if there was any offender it must be Great Britain, who was inundating the world with her manufactures, while she was not receiving in return such quantities of manufactured goods as threatened to deprive the labouring classes of the country of the means of employment and subsistence. They had the means of competing with every other country on the face of the earth, because they possessed a combination of elements for the production of comforts to their population which were unequalled by any other country. They had, also, a well-disposed and an industrious people who were unsurpassed; and it was only just to the manufacturing interest to say that the rate of wages in this country was in excess of that of all other manufacturing countries in the world, all things taken into account, America not excepted. The rate of wages here at this moment practically exceeded the nominally high rate of wages in America. They had nothing to do but to continue this career of prosperity. From 1860 to the present time England had encountered fearful difficulties—first, in the cotton trade being deprived of its supply of 127 the raw material; and, next, in the prevalence of the mania to speculate in joint-stock companies, which had together involved this country in a loss of £200,000,000, including the losses on winding up bankrupt concerns. There were now no great engagements pressing upon the nation, nor any financial difficulties which could not be overcome—and if only sufficient raw material of every kind could be secured to afford employment to the working classes, and this country had free trade with the rest of the world, Great Britain would enjoy greater prosperity than she had ever done in the past. It must, however, be recollected that foreign competition was making its way, and to meet it there would be required considerable efforts on the part of manufacturers and great skill on the part of artizans. He hoped that the House would not feel alarmed at the state of our trade either with France or with any other country, for at the present time food was at a reasonable price, taxation was being reduced, and the means of employment were increasing. The hon. and learned Member for Coventry (Mr. Staveley Hill) was mistaken in supposing that the labouring classes were more highly taxed in Great Britain than in any other country; on the contrary, they were essentially less taxed than many Continental nations, and very much less than the people of the United States. He thought they had nothing to fear but the phantoms which they conjured up to themselves. Let them open the gates freely to importation, and let trade be fully developed, and then, as Sir Robert Peel said, the consumers of this country will derive an advantage which the consumers of no other country can possess. They had legislated for the consumer. Let them continue that policy, and then they might maintain the superiority which they still had. He hoped there was a great future in store, as well for those who were now unfortunately under the special jurisdiction of the President of the Poor Law Board, as for those who, though more fortunate, were not enjoying that amount of comfort which all would desire to be generally spread throughout the labouring classes. There was nothing to cause alarm in the present state of the country. Happily, Government intended to afford the means of national education for the people, 128 and with increased intelligence he looked for the social amelioration which would be produced by those means of extended education which all desired to promote, as the people would thereby be taught that it was their interest to be faithful servants and good co-operators with their employers who wished to maintain the prosperity of the country. Let them produce their manufactures at rates as reasonable as possible; let them produce articles as good as possible in all respects; and, above all, let them attach the working people to us by the conviction that the advantage of one class was the advantage of the other, and then they might look for lasting good to accrue to the trading interests of the country.
§ MR. LIDDELL
said, he had heard with regret, and, indeed, with alarm, some of the observations which had been made by the hon. and learned Member for Coventry (Mr. Staveley Hill.) He (Mr. Liddell) could not travel with the hon. and learned Gentleman to the other side of the Atlantic, but would confine his attention to the other side of the Channel, and to the possible effect of this debate upon the French mind, because that was a matter which ought to be within the consideration of the House. He would not enter into any defence of the French Treaty on commercial grounds further than to say that it was hardly fair to make the condition of the labouring classes of this country an element in the argument, because they had just emerged from a period of commercial depression which had been unprecedented in extent and duration. The House had been assured that this state of things was passed, and that the country was now entering upon a period of renewed prosperity, and he could confirm that statement, for there had been called before the Committee of which he had quite recently been a member many representatives of the large Lancashire towns, all of whom entertained those sanguine expectations which had been expressed by the hon. Member for Manchester (Sir Thomas Bazley.) But unless the House was careful, this debate might produce an impression on the French mind that would be undesirable, recollecting the difficulties which the negotiators of the Treaty experienced owing to the hostility of the French Protectionists. He thought very much credit was due to M. Chevallier— 129 whose friendship he (Mr. Liddell) had the honour to enjoy—for the successful manner in which he had promoted increased intercourse between the two nations, and nothing ought to be done to weaken the hands of such men as M. Chevallier, M. Dufour, and others. It was very curious and instructive to watch the progress of opinion in Prance upon this subject. The Treaty began in hostility on the part of the Trench manufacturing interest; but had that hostility undergone no change? The producing districts in the South of France were in favour of maintaining the Treaty; and this year a similar feeling had been exhibited in the great manufacturing districts of the North, which was a surprise to France itself. Now ought we to strengthen or to weaken that feeling? He was afraid that if this Committee were granted, it would give great encouragement to those in France who were hostile to free trade, and proportionately weaken the hands of those who were advocates of the great cause of free trade. There could be no doubt that this was an attack upon the French Treaty, disguise it as they might, because the Motion had the effect of throwing doubts upon its success; and the only grounds that were urged in favour of granting inquiry were based upon what he did not like to call the ignorance of some of the working classes as to the effect of the Treaty. It might be wise to grant the inquiry, if only to convince the working classes of the very erroneous ideas they entertained. He had read with some regret the speeches occasionally addressed to them, based as they were on very fallacious arguments, not likely to instruct their minds or remove the errors which prevailed among them. No good could result from the appointment of the Committee. He regretted to hear the word "retaliation" used by his hon. and learned Friend, while the Government were engaged in trying to induce France not to go back but to go forward in the direction of free trade; it was a word which he thought would be received with some degree of apprehension in that country. It was used with reference to those countries who refused to admit our goods into their ports. He had not always been a Free Trader, but had become so by conviction; and he believed that such a policy was a loss to the country that adopted it, and 130 that it was really little concern of ours. His hon. and learned Friend had said, with reference to the agricultural class in this country, that corn would always command a sufficient price. Now, he did not think that his hon. and learned Friend had mixed very largely with the agricultural class, or that he had been moving among the best instructed commercial classes. If his hon. and learned Friend consulted the agricultural class, he would find that they were by no means satisfied with the present prices; but they had no desire to go back in the commercial policy which had lately been adopted. His hon. and learned Friend had placed considerable reliance on the complaints of the manufacturers of plate glass on the River Tyne—that their plate glass was kept out by the high duties of Belgium and France. He (Mr. Liddell) was not in a position to answer this; but if his hon. and learned Friend went to the banks of the Tyne, he would find very little sympathy in favour of this inquiry. He would find that the French Treaty had produced great benefits in that part of the country; and, as representing their interests, he would be no party to throw either doubt or difficulty in the way of that Treaty. He apologized to the House for having intruded on a commercial discussion of this kind; but he must say that, in his opinion, the French Commercial Treaty was important in its political bearing, and perhaps even more so than in its commercial bearing, important as this was, and he should deeply regret if the smallest doubt were thrown by the House of Commons upon the success of that Treaty. He believed no step which this country ever took had been attended with larger and more advantageous political results than this Treaty with France. It had formed, ever since it was framed, a bond of union between the two nations. The feeling of sympathy between them was growing stronger every day; and they might depend upon it that two great nations, which had been rivals up to a recent period, could be bound by no stronger ties than those of mutual interest.
§ MR. SHAW-LEFEVRE
said, no one s could regret the absence of his right hon. Friend the President of the Board s of Trade more than he did on the present occasion. He would have spoken on this subject in a manner to carry 131 weight and conviction to the minds of hon. Members of those whom they represented. He would venture, in his absence, to make a few observations. He had great difficulty in following the hon. and learned Member for Coventry (Mr. Staveley Hill), who attacked the policy of Commercial Treaties in general, and asserted doctrines which were totally inconsistent with the ordinary notions of political economy. The hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Birley) had dealt with the subject in terms of great moderation. He said that he did not attack the French Treaty, and he studiously avoided making statements like those that the hon. and learned Member for Coventry had indulged in. He said, indeed, that in many instances the French tariff was too high. In reference to the Motion, he (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) could only say that any inquiry was unnecessary, as there was nothing that they were not already sufficiently informed upon in the matter. Anyone who took the trouble to look into the French tariff and the Treaty between the two countries would see at once where the duties levied in France were too high. He quite admitted that in many cases the duties were too high; but, in other respects, no doubt the Treaty had been a great success. If any representations could be made by the Government which would induce the French Government to reduce them they would undoubtedly be made. But there had grown up in France an agitation against the Treaty, and at that moment there was an inquiry into the matter being carried on before the Legislature. A Committee of Inquiry had been appointed to receive evidence, and it had been arranged that representatives from the cotton trade should go over to France with the view of giving evidence before it. Under these circumstances, he did not think that the House would consider that the present moment was a favourable one for instituting an inquiry on our part. It would certainly indicate a want of confidence in the merits of the French Treaty which would be exceedingly unfortunate at the present moment. This was not the proper occasion for the Government to make representations to the French Government; but if a proper occasion did occur, he had not the least doubt that the Government would avail themselves of it. The speech of the hon. and learned Member for 132 Coventry was replete with extravagant doctrines about trade in general, and it was exceedingly difficult to argue with one having so little in common. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that last year the President of the Board of Trade promised to grant this inquiry; but that was only in the event of sufficient cause being shown. It seemed, however, that there was less cause shown this year than last for inquiry. The hon. and learned Member had alluded to the general distress which he said existed, and attributed it to the French Treaty. He (Mr. Shaw-Lefevre) was not prepared to deny that during last year there was considerable distress in the manufacturing districts, and the year was a very disastrous one to manufacturers—to masters rather than workmen, yet this could not now be said to be the case. His hon. Friend the Member for Manchester (Sir Thomas Bazley) had stated what was the present condition of trade, and the Board of Trade had received accounts from all quarters to the same effect. The disasters of the last few years were not in any way traceable to the French Treaty, or any of those subsidiary treaties which had followed it. The Board of Trade had received no complaints during the last few years from any branch of industry, except one complaining of the competition of French manufactures; for although the plate-glass trade and paper trade had made complaints that the duties were still too high, even they had not complained that there was suffering in this country in consequence of competition with France. He believed that there had been considerable importations from France of these articles; but no trade but the silk thought that they suffered from this competition. It must be admitted that this trade has suffered greatly during the last few years. But the hon. and learned Member for Coventry would no doubt admit that even before 1860, when there was a protective duty of from 18 to 20 per cent, the trade was always in a precarious condition. Mr. Huskisson, in 1824, pointed out that this trade was an exceptional one. Unfortunately, this trade had not been able to stand competition with France; but there were other causes, besides the abolition of protective duties, to account for the present state of things. There was no doubt that the American War had produced great hardship in this 133 trade. French goods, which would otherwise have found their way to the American market, came to this country during the blockade and the period of distress following the war, and flooded the market. This fact, together with changes in fashions, would account for much of the distress in the silk trade. How was it proposed to remedy this? Did the hon. and learned Member think that the House would again put on a protective duty? He said that something should be done in the interest of other trades; but did the woollen or cotton manufacturers wish that there should be a duty on French silks? He had no reason to believe that any such demand had ever been made. They knew how perfectly foolish it would be again to commence a war of tariffs. The hon. and learned Member who had addressed the House referred to the old fallacy of balance of trade. To have to refute an argument based on that fallacy was like having to prove the Pons Asinorum of Euclid. He had always understood that the very essence of trade was the exchange of equivalents, and that there could not be an import trade without an equivalent export, though the two operations need not necessarily be with the same persons or the same countries. Although the trade Returns might show an excess of imports differently, it should be borne in mind that on one side the returns included freight, &c, whilst on the other they did not. This would account for their showing great difference in value between exports and imports. This, however, did not show that the French Treaty had been a bad bargain for us. The Treaty had never been intended as a bargain in the ordinary sense of the term, and the two countries never balanced equivalents one against the other. Upon this subject he quoted the First Lord of the Treasury, who, in 1860, said—We have been told that this Treaty is a bargain; that we have asked for equivalents, and that we have not got them. Sir, I deny that this Treaty has ever been a bargain; for it is of the essence of a bargain that you give away something which it would be of value to you to retain, and that you receive something which it is important to the other party to keep. This is a reciprocal instrument, if you like, but a bargain it is not, for you are giving nothing to France that is not a gift to yourself, and you are receiving nothing from France except measures by which France confers a benefit upon herself. … … We have never attempted the impos- 134 sible task of constructing such a system of equivalents. … … We knew quite well that, if there were any means of obstructing the progress of free trade, it was by entering upon these negotiations in the spirit of bargain."—[3 Hansard, clvii. 314–15.]He had been unable to find any speech of Mr. Cobden upon this point. He believed he had never addressed this House on the subject of the French Treaty; but he was surprised to hear the hon. and learned Member assert that Mr. Cobden was opposed to Commercial Treaties. What he was opposed to was Commercial Treaties in the old sense of the term—treaties based on reciprocity, such as the Methuen Treaty with Portugal or the Treaty with France, which Mr. Pitt concluded in 1787; but to say that he was opposed to treaties like that of 1860 was a monstrous proposition. Mr. Cobden wrote upon this point, on the 20th of March, 1861, to the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce, as follows:—The arrangement lately entered into is not, in its old and exclusive sense, a Commercial Treaty, but a simultaneous movement on the part of the two countries in the direction of the general freedom of trade.The hon. and learned Member for Coventry had very properly included in his Motion the treaties affecting other countries besides France. To properly estimate the result of the French Treaty, it was necessary to consider the effects of other treaties made by this country after 1860. He need hardly point out that France, immediately on the conclusion of the Treaty of 1860, went to the other principal States of Europe and offered to conclude treaties with them on the same terms as had been granted to England; she succeeded in the case of Belgium, Holland, Prussia, Switzerland, and Italy, and we also concluded treaties with most of those Powers, but upon somewhat less favourable terms, because we had at once given to all the world what we gave to France, and were ready to offer the most Favoured Nation Clause to any who choose to treat with us. Previous to 1860 it seemed as if a wall had been built round all European States with a view to exclude trade; where most trade would have been looked for there was found the least; the exports to France amounted to £4,500,000, and to the other principal European Powers £23,000,000, which was not more than our trade with the United States and India. The effect 135 of the Treaty tad been to double our trade with the principal European Powers, for it was now £46,000,000 instead of £23,000,000, whilst our trade with the United States had not increased, and with India had increased but little. Our imports from the same States had increased from £37,000,000 to £77,000,000, and, to his mind, imports were as valuable in the way of trade as exports. If the imports exceeded the exports with one particular country, there must be an equivalent with other countries. Reference had been made to the inaccuracy of the Board of Trade Returns. There was no doubt much that could be improved in them; they did not show as well as could be desired the trade for the month; but when year was compared with year, or period with period, they could very fairly be relied on. He had compared the year 1868 with the year 1859, and found a considerable increase in the latter year. During the last 10 years the main increase in our trade had been with those countries with which we had made treaties. In 1859, of our exports manufactured articles formed 82 per cent, whilst, in 1868, it was 83 per cent; and, as to our imports in 1858, manufactured articles formed 6 per cent of the whole, whilst, in 1868, they were 9 per cent, an increase mainly due to the silk manufactures of France. Now, there was nothing alarming in this, even in the sense in which the hon. and learned Member for Coventry looked at such matters. In estimating the effect of the Treaty it was necessary to consider also the result to our shipping. Our entrances and clearances between this country and the Treaty Powers had increased, within the last 10 years, from 7,000,000 tons to 12,000,000, and of the 5,000,000 increase no less than 4,000,000 was credited to British shipping. He contended, therefore, that the Treaty of 1860 was, in reality, the key to the modern commercial policy of this country. It might not have produced the effect which hon. Members might desire; our exports might not in some cases be as great as was expected; but, on the other hand, trade had been created where no trade previously existed. In cotton and linen the increase in our exports had been very considerable, while our woollen exports to France, which, in 1859, amounted to £4,494, had, in 1868, 136 increased to £1,742,000. With such increases as this in our exports, it was impossible to say with justice that the Treaty had not benefited a single trade. The influence, too, of this Treaty on the general good feeling of the peoples of both countries was very great. That was a matter which was of the greatest importance, and ought not to be forgotten. It would be recollected that many hon. Members of this House, and noble Lords of the other House, had opposed the negotiations of the French Treaty, on the ground that it would be likely to create great prejudice and ill-will instead of good feeling amongst the inhabitants of both countries. On looking back to the time when the Treaty was first proposed, many of the speeches then made would appear, judging by what had subsequently occurred, to be perfectly incredible. Experience had proved the groundlessness of the fears then expressed, for nothing had contributed more to benefit the relations of the two countries than the Treaty of 1860; and, in conclusion, he could only say that, in his opinion, the man who took any step to repeal the Treaty would be an enemy to his country. He could only, therefore, hope that no attempt would be made to abrogate it; but that it would be allowed to remain as an imperishable monument to the wisdom and foresight of those by whom it was framed.
§ MR. STEPHEN CAVE
could see no reason why the proposed inquiry should not be made, though he could not anticipate any great increase in our store of information as the result. Still something might be gained by giving those who thought themselves aggrieved in these matters an opportunity of laying their case before the country, and expressing their opinion on the details of our commercial policy. He did not agree with the fear expressed by some speakers that such an inquiry would have a bad effect in France—indeed, he thought the contrary would be the result. In fact, a precedent for such an inquiry might be found in the course pursued by our neighbours, though, no doubt, the cases were not entirely parallel. In France the free trade principle was on its trial. Opinions were almost evenly balanced in that country on that subject; but he presumed it was not going too far to say that in England free trade 137 was almost universally accepted. But it must not be forgotten, as had been frequently remarked, that a Commercial Treaty was not free trade; that it was, indeed, in some instances an obstacle and hindrance to the freedom of trade; notwithstanding what had been said of the intention of the promoters, it could only be regarded as a bargain; and as the only perfect bargain was one which was based upon perfect reciprocity, the complaints which were raised by those whose interests had been more or less overlooked or sacrificed were perfectly justifiable; and it was no answer to them to say that they had, with all other classes, shared in the general benefit, nor was it sufficient to repeat the time-honoured axiom that the consumer paid the duty; because, though that was as a general proposition undoubtedly true, yet there could be no doubt that he became thereby a more sparing consumer, or possibly ceased to be a consumer altogether. Now in the negotiation with France in 1860 he had always believed, and believed still, that we were too eager, and that pressure of time and exigencies of party politics obliged our negotiators in some cases to give way more than they would otherwise have done. He had great doubts about the advantage of Commercial Treaties in general. Like the old Fisheries Convention, and the recent Convention or the subject of sugar duties and drawbacks, they were sometimes founded on principles and ideas which turned out to be erroneous; and the party upon which they pressed most hardly—as in the case of France, as to the latter, and England as to the former—postponed or evaded a loyal compliance with them, and much recrimination and discontent were the result. It was true that such treaties were justifiable when made with countries where commercial policy was imperfectly understood, because they gave trade that stability which was so essential to it, and preserved it from those violent fluctuations in duties and regulations which were often the work of corrupt or incapable Governments With regard to the French Treaty o 1860, there were provisions, such a that with reference to coal, which he never liked, and, as he had already said as a bargain he thought we got the worst of it; but as a political measure, as an engine placed in the hands of the 138 Emperor to insert the thin end of the wedge of free trade into the Protectionist policy of the trading classes of France, he would not be fair, or just, or reasonable, if he did not admit that it was a great and wise measure, productive of enormous benefit to the commercial and social relations of both countries. Therefore, when he submitted that it might be worth while trying to induce France now to correct some of the inequalities of the arrangement of 1860, he wished to guard himself, before all things, from the risk of being regarded as an advocate of Protection in any shape. And he marvelled at those agriculturists who, having been denuded of the last rag of Protection, and having smarted year after year under the taunts of the Free Traders, were now found among the supporters of those manufacturers, who, after a lapse of 25 years, were crying out for Protection for themselves and free trade with everyone else. Free trade was the normal condition of mankind. If duties were not required for purposes of Revenue—if all States were in the happy condition of Lippe Detmold, where the revenue of the Crown lands defrayed, or did defray—for he supposed it was now absorbed by all-devouring Prussia—the whole expenses of the Government—if all States were so fortunately situated, no one would, he imagined, in these days dream of imposing Customs duties at all. If, therefore, these were only defensible for Revenue purposes, all Customs duties I which were not balanced by a countervailing Excise duty were manifestly unsound, and for this reason, that the Exchequer only received the import duty on the foreign article, whereas the difference between the true price and protected price of the home-made article, which was equally a duty paid by the consumer, went, not to the Government, but to the producer. Did not agriculturists see that they ought not to be called upon to pay that tax, and that they could not afford to pay it? They were entirely unprotected, and were exposed to increasing competition from every quarter. They had to compete with the meat and wool of Australia, with the live stock of Europe, and even of South America; with the corn of America, the Danube, and Russia—though the latter was, indeed, crippled, and would probably be so to a greater degree 139 in future by the emancipation of her serfs, who, like the negroes, appeared to be using their freedom by abstaining from working for hire. In the recent debate in the French Legislative Chamber, one speaker objected to free trade because it gave, he said, a premium to those who worked too many hours in the day—who overworked themselves. This was a somewhat curious objection, but it contained a great truth. To put it in another way, it amounted to this—that in the markets of the world, which under a system of free trade would be open to all and regulate all, industry and frugality would carry the day; and so they ought. Why should he, for instance, pay ten guineas for a coat to enable his tailor to keep his brougham and his moor, when another man who did not aspire to these luxuries would make one for five? When, in former days, the refugee Flemings and Huguenots came over here and made us a nation of shopkeepers, before a complete amalgamation took place, there were often heard the same cries of protection to native industry, because the superior industry and greater frugality of the immigrants forced down the prices of commodities. During the long Continental wars, and before the development of transoceanic countries, the English carried everything before them; but now that the industrial energies of the Continent had been diverted to the arts of peace, and metals and minerals had been generally discovered, the high wages and expensive habits of English artizans were beginning to weight us heavily in the race. That English manufacturers enjoyed a period of great prosperity was proved by their purchase of large estates in every county in England. Their work-people, by means of trades unions, endeavoured to obtain a larger share of their prosperity. He was not going into this much vexed question further than to say that he was by no means one who saw unmixed evil in trades unions, or even strikes; but he thought there was little doubt that many of the regulations of trades unions had had the effect of increasing the price of our manufactures, and, therefore, not only of excluding them in some instances from foreign markets, but of inviting the importation to this country of manufactured articles instead of the raw material. He remembered hearing it made 140 a reproach to the builders of, he believed., St. Thomas's Hospital, that the woodwork was imported from Switzerland. But why not import woodwork as well as corn, hay, leather, boots, and shoes? The trades unions felt that this must be the result, and had endeavoured to extend their operations to foreign countries, and to bring about a general rise of wages. This was a perfectly legitimate attempt, but he doubted its wisdom or success. He could not help thinking that a far more advantageous result would be brought about by a proportional cheapening of all articles of consumption. A self-contained country, like the Highland proprietor who boasted he made everything on his estate, would get most things dear and bad. When free trade was universally adopted all exotic productions, and all manufactures which could only be carried on waste-fully and extravagantly, at the expense of the consumer, would cease. Everything would be made or grown where it could be made or grown in the best and cheapest manner. There would then be no need of Commercial Treaties; but trade would be left to find its natural channels and most congenial soils.
§ MR. PLATT
said, the real object of the hon. Member's Motion was evidently to revive Protection—retaliation being another name for reciprocity. But how would the hon. Member carry out his principle? This country drew large supplies from America, which imposed taxes upon our manufactured articles; to carry out a system of retaliation towards America it would be necessary to weight heavily the produce which was obtained from that country, and so to destroy the manufactures of Lancashire. There was, unhappily, much poverty in the country at present; but in the days before free trade there had been an amount of distress and pauperism much greater in proportion to the population than that which now existed. During the last 50 years peace had generally prevailed; and, as a natural consequence, arts and commerce had greatly progressed, not alone in this country, but in very many of the Continental nations as well. And the question which we had now to ask ourselves was, whether we could prevent foreign countries from manufacturing? He maintained, unhesitatingly, that the position of this country was not a disadvantageous one. 141 After all the calculations capable of being made as to foreign countries, the manufactures of this country enjoyed an advantage of fully 15 per cent over the manufactures of those of the most favoured country in Europe. It might be asked how it was that, with all these advantages, woollen fabrics were imported from Belgium? The truth was, that every country enjoyed some little advantage, arising from better knowledge or better manipulation; and in woollen manufactures Belgium undoubtedly was very much in advance of this country. Then as to wages. These were undoubtedly higher in England than in any other country; but, on the other hand, the work produced was more valuable. So that, measuring the amount of work produced with the amount of wages earned, England was absolutely the cheapest country as regarded the cost of production. In illustration of what he had just said, as to the advantages enjoyed by one country over another in some special knowledge or skill in manipulation, he might mention that in Rochdale a woollen manufacturer was absolutely bringing over persons from Belgium to instruct our people in the manipulation of wool. As to machinery, there was some special excellence in the products of nearly every country. We were indebted to France for one of the most beautiful machines in the cotton manufacture, and to Belgium and America for other machines: with regard to some things we might learn from them, as to others they might learn from us; and the question which arose was, which country ultimately would be in the best position to command the neutral markets of the world? Our exports had increased largely of late, which showed conclusively that the English race was capable of competing with the rest of the world; and the figures which had been quoted by the senior hon. Member! for Manchester (Sir Thomas Bazley), and by the Secretary of the Board of Trade, proved that we were advancing rapidly in all branches of manufacture. The observation of the English factory worker,; quoted by the hon. and learned Member; for Coventry (Mr. Staveley Hill), that he could make everything that was imported, and that, therefore, he was being robbed by the importation that was going on, might be retorted by the foreigner with twenty-fold force. The 142 present state of things in America showed that it was impossible to adopt Protectionist principles without increasing the cost of the article produced, and thereby confining the consumption of such manufactures to the country producing them. To adopt such a line of policy, therefore, would be suicidal on the part of a small country like England, whose prosperity was entirely dependent upon freedom of trade, and upon the cheapness of raw materials. The same arguments would apply to trades unions, because the cheaper the manufacturers could get their work done the better for them, and, therefore, the better for the country. He had no doubt that on the present occasion the French Treaty was merely put forward as a stalking-horse to raise the cry of Protection. The hon. Member for Northumberland (Mr. Liddell) had alluded to the idea that was in the mind of Mr. Cobden at the time of the conclusion of the Treaty, and that was that a good feeling would be produced between the two countries. This country would have reduced the protective duties if France had not moved at all; and he thought this country had done right in assisting the French Emperor in the difficult position in which he was placed at the time, and enabling him to bring the Treaty to a conclusion.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, he thought the thanks of the House were due to the hon. Member who had introduced the Motion (Mr. Birley), and whom he should presume to call the senior Member for Manchester, which had led to a most useful, instructive, and interesting debate, and. had elicited the views of hon. Members, sitting on both sides of the House, on this most important question. The speeches of the two Members for Manchester, and of the Secretary for the Board of Trade, could not fail to have a considerable effect out-of-doors. The only thing that surprised him in some of those speeches was the argument by which it was attempted to resist the Motion of the hon. Member. In his opinion, even if the facts and figures which had been quoted on the other side of the House were accurate, it would still be desirable that the proposed inquiry should be instituted. As a representative of an agricultural district, he did not hesitate to say that he should vote in favour of the appoint- 143 ment of the Committee of Inquiry into this question asked for by the hon. Member for Manchester. The hon. Member who had just sat down, speaking, no doubt, with great authority, had given a very couleur de rose description of the condition of trade throughout this country. The hon. Member had said that, owing to the system of Protection adopted in the United States, the consumption of their manufactures was confined within their own limits; but the Report of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce asserted the existence of a state of things exactly the reverse of that described by the hon. Member. The half-yearly Report of that Association, dated the 3rd of February, 1870, contained the following statement with respect to a very important branch of trade:—In Australia a very large proportion of the goods in a hardware store are of American manufacture, but made out of English iron and steel, paying a heavy duty, and manufactured by American workmen, earning fully 75 per cent higher wages, and with the value of money much greater, thus beating us, with charges on the raw material of 50 per cent, and on wages, &c., of fully 100 per cent, in the trades that used to be specially our own. This evidently shows that it is not a question of wages alone which is operating so disadvantageously against this country. It can only, therefore, be attributed to the greater aptitude of many of the foreign workmen and their intelligence, which induces them to seize every opportunity of improving their manufacture by novelty of construction and excellence of make.["Hear, hear!"] Hon. Members opposite had received that statement with a cheer, doubtless on account of the allusion it contained to the superior education which the American workman received as compared with the English workman. But still the statement effectually disproved the statement of the hon. Member opposite, that the manufactures of America were consumed within her own limits, because she had adopted Protection. He would, with the permission of the House, proceed to refer to the general position assumed by those who opposed the appointment of the Committee, that the trade of this country was in a very prosperous condition. The Secretary to the Board of Trade had admitted that the silk trade was in a very depressed condition, and he even went further, and said that this was owing to French competition and the French Treaty. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had also admitted that the woollen manufacturers were now very severely de- 144 pressed through foreign competition. But, with these two exceptions, it had been said there was very little to complain of or to inquire about, and that the trade of the country was in a prosperous condition. Now, turning to another passage in the Report of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, of February, 1870, he found this passage—Belgium and Prussia, and other countries which were importers of hardware and heavy work, &c., meet us as keen competitors in neutral markets. This is the more to be regretted, as ten years ago"—the date of the French Treaty—"we considered that in nearly all such manufactures, with the advantages of our coal-fields and skilled labour, we could defy competition. It is impossible for this country to continue to be the greatest manufacturer if the wages of our artizans are to he very much more, and their hours of labour very much less than those of the workmen in the other countries with which we have to compete, unless our countrymen maintain their lead in skill and intelligence.He took these statements from among numerous others of a similar kind, and quoted them simply for the purpose of proving that there was something substantial in the complaints which great bodies of our fellow-countrymen were now making, and something deserving attention in their requests for the appointment of a Select Committee of Inquiry. The Secretary to the Board of Trade had admitted, in a very frank manner, that certain parts of the French Treaty were indefensible, and had told the House that the Government were now labouring to get the duties lowered which he regarded as indefensible, and that application had been made to Manchester to send two representatives to Paris to press on the French Government the view which Manchester might take as to the inexpediency and injustice of these particular duties. Now, the first thing that struck him—and it must have struck every Member—was why Manchester was selected and favoured in this respect. If the Treaty was so partial and unjust, why were not representatives to be sent from those particular seats of industry which had suffered, more, perhaps, than Manchester itself, from the extravagant rates of duty sanctioned by the Treaty? That was a question which they ought to have answered. The Secretary to the Board of Trade had told them—and in that he agreed with the hon. Member for Northumberland (Mr. Liddell)—that it would be, in the highest 145 degree, unfortunate that any idea should be allowed to penetrate France that there was a feeling in this country adverse to a renewal of the Treaty. Well, if he were to take that view he should vote unhesitatingly for a Committee of Inquiry; because he was certain that nothing would give the working people, whether of France or England, a greater suspicion of the Treaty than the refusal of inquiry, and he believed it was obviated, as far as France was concerned, by the course which the French Government had pursued. And when his hon. Friend the Member for Northumberland asked what would be the effect on public opinion in France if they granted this inquiry, his answer was—"What would be the effect on public opinion in England if they refused it?" If he was to choose between the two, he preferred infinitely to look at home; and, in his humble opinion, it would be a most unfortunate thing, when the French Government had conceded inquiry in consequence of the representations of the communities and industries which either were, or conceived themselves to be, injuriously affected, that the English Government, and still more the English House of Commons, should turn a deaf ear to a similar request from those communities and industries which in England either were, or believed themselves to be, similarly affected by the operation of the Treaty. A word now as to how the French Government had proceeded with respect to this matter. The Emperor promised inquiry before the system of personal government was abandoned. It was then, it might be said, the act of the Emperor himself. But was there any change in this policy after responsible and constitutional government had been substituted? Not at all; the Government of the Emperor carried out the pledge given before their accession to Office, and not only was the promised inquiry at this moment going on, as he had been told, in France, but, what was most remarkable, the very inquiry which the Government of England refused to the people was actually, at the request of the French Government, going on in England itself. If not in England, he should be very much surprised, for it was going on in Scotland. For what did he find in The Scotsman of the 23rd of April? There was the following account of the proceedings of the South of 146 Scotland Chamber of Commerce, Glasgow:—Mr. Stewart, secretary, read a letter from M. Concheles, Consul for France at Glasgow, intimating that the French Legislative Assembly is at present making an inquiry into the results of the commercial and industrial reforms which have taken place in France since 1860, and that it has been found advisable to have points of comparison with foreign industries. Nothing could better enlighten upon the general causes which have influenced during the past years French industries than a conscientious observation of the circumstances in which foreign industries have been placed during the same time. The Consul had, therefore, been directed to make similar inquiries in Scotland to those pursued in France, and he solicited the assistance of the Chamber in obtaining information as to the state of the woollen industry.The woollen industry, the House had just been told by the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Platt), required very great consideration, and here they had the French Government inquiring into the position of that trade at Glasgow, while the English Government were refusing to their own people a similar inquiry. He could not help thinking that an unfortunate position. He would not say one word upon the general question alluded to by some previous speakers. Representing, as he did, an agricultural constituency, he did not think it necessary to say a single word on free trade and Protection. It was sufficient for him to know that considerable bodies of his countrymen believed themselves injuriously affected by the operation of the Treaty, which in itself was admitted to be a very exceptional and abnormal instrument. He did not recollect the phrase made use of by the Prime Minister with regard to it, and which had been quoted by the hon. Gentleman. He believed it was "reciprocal instrument." That was a very remarkable phrase applied to an abnormal thing. The Chancellor of the Exchequer took every opportunity of informing people that, as far as his opinion was concerned, these "reciprocal instruments" were very injurious. The right hon. Gentleman told a deputation, that waited on him the other day, that, though he was against them as a rule, there were exceptional circumstances which made him favourable to this "reciprocal instrument." But assuredly if on all broad and general grounds of policy the Chancellor of the Exchequer was against these "reciprocal instruments," that was another 147 argument—when great bodies of our fellow-countrymen felt themselves injuriously affected by the operation of this particular "reciprocal instrument"—why their request for inquiry should not be rejected in the manner which was now contemplated. For these reasons, and without committing himself to any anticipation as to the result, he held that the circumstances of the time were favourable for acceding to the request of the commercial communities, and he sincerely trusted the House would find itself in a position to grant the inquiry.
§ MR. BROCKLEHURST
said, that as his constituents felt a deep interest in the matter under discussion, he would trouble the House with a few words on the subject. It appeared from the Census of 1861 that the number of people whom the silt trade of this country employed was 117,000. He mentioned that to show that it was an important branch of the industry of this country. The number was equal to about one-half the number of the people employed in the woollen and worsted manufacture, and one-fifth of those employed in the cotton and linen trade. When the Secretary to the Board of Trade had said that the French Treaty of 1860 had had a very injurious effect upon our silk trade, he might have stated that, previous to 1860, the imports of French silt goods had reached the value of about £750,000 per annum only; but since then they had gone on increasing until in 1865 they had amounted to nearly £8,000,000. He could not agree with the hon. Member for Northumberland (Mr. Liddell) in supposing that inquiry would probably raise a great suspicion on the part of the French nation. He thought that the evidence that would be brought before the Committee would show such a great increase of foreign manufactured goods introduced into this country that the French manufacturers might feel every confidence in reducing the heavy duties at present imposed on some branches of our trade. It might be asked how the English silk manufacturer had not been able to compete with his foreign rival? As a practical man, he might say the reason was the want of technical education on the part of our working classes. As long as our working classes were engaged as mere machines they were unrivalled for industry 148 and steady work; but as soon as they were required to exercise skill, knowledge, and taste, they were left behind in the race by the foreign workman. Take, as an illustration of that, the French silk-dyeing trade. By his superior knowledge the French silk dyer was enabled to increase the weight of the material he dyed as much as 2oz. or 3oz. to the lb. Now, as one ounce of silt was worth from 8s. to 5s., it was evident that the French silk manufacturer was enabled to produce his fabric at much less cost than the English manufacturer could do. It might be said that was an application of technical education in a wrong and not at all creditable direction; but the fact was as he had stated, and it was one reason why the English, silk manufacturer was left behind in the race with his French competitor. But in proportion as the weight of French silk was increased by dyeing, so was its wearing quality deteriorated; and, in consequence of that deterioration being discovered, the demand on the part of the consumers of silk goods was now very much for English-made goods. If the proposed inquiry were granted, it would supply them with a knowledge of what the effects of the French Treaty had been during the last five or six years. He could answer for the trade he represented, that rather than return to Protection they would prefer that the silk duties should remain as they are now. What they required was an elementary and, if necessary, a compulsory education, to be followed by a technical education, among the working classes of the country; and, these desiderata obtained, he had. no fear that our silk manufacturers would soon be able to maintain their position in respect to other nations.
§ MR. WHEELHOUSE
said, he hoped most sincerely that the Committee now asked for would be granted. The Secretary of the Board of Trade had told them that some of the duties under the Treaty were still too high, and if that was so, there was even on that ground a necessity for an inquiry. But there were other reasons also for such a Committee. We were said to be placed at a disadvantage when compared with foreign countries, and it was eminently desirable that inquiry should be made into the truth of that allegation. Then it had been assumed that the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Co- 149 ventry (Mr. Staveley Hill) was replete with, fallacies; but if they had a Committee of Inquiry, they would be the better enabled to find out what was fallacy and what was fact. If they would not grant such a Committee, the denial would and must carry with it the semblance that there existed something behind that it was desirable to conceal, but which it would be very well to bring to light. The Secretary to the Board of Trade had told them that he feared great ill-will might be aroused in France if they consented to such an inquiry. But they ought to test Franco by England in such a matter, and a similar Committee which had been sitting recently in France had not created the least ill-will or ill-feeling in this country. But if this Committee was refused, there would be an enormous amount of feeling—prejudice in the opinion of some people possibly—generated throughout the whole of the wage classes of England, which it would be very difficult indeed to suppress. That class had the idea, rightly or wrongly, that its interests were sacrificed to those of our Continental rivals and to the labour market of foreign lands, and perhaps, also, to the interests of our own mercantile classes of the upper ranks. And it was desirable, if for no other reason than that, that the error, if error it really were, should be dissipated. An inquiry ought to be granted, and it should be a very searching inquiry, especially with regard to the requirements of our wage classes, our exports and imports, and the English labour market.
§ MR. POLLARD-URQUHART
said, he had heard people in France frequently acknowledge that France had derived great benefits from the Cobden Treaty, particularly in regard to the increased exports to England; but they alleged that England had gained still more by it. An exactly analogous tone had been adopted on the subject by many persons in this country; and, no doubt, much misconception existed in regard to the operation of the treaty. If, after the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Coventry (Mr. Staveley Hill), the House acceded to the Motion, such a proceeding would look very much like an intention to separate. The hon. and learned Member quoted Mr. Stuart Mill as an authority in favour of reciprocity; but there was another authority 150 from whose writings quotations against such a system might easily be quoted. Since 1860 our imports from and exports to France had increased in the same proportion—90 per cent. That was an enormous increase, and in all other parts of the world our imports and exports increased about 30 per cent during the same period. In 1860 our imports amounted to £7 7s. a head of the population; in 1868 they had increased to £9 14s. 6d. In the former year our exports were £4 14s. 7d. per head of the population; in 1868 they amounted to £5 18s. 2d. Those figures showed not only a greatly augmented trade, but a greatly increased employment of labour. Reference had been made to the great distress among the labouring classes; but the depression in trade had been less severe since Mr. Cobden's Treaty and the days of free trade than it had been at different periods before. In proof of this he might refer to the depression in 1840–1, and that in 1848. The House and the country had heard a good deal about the displacement of labour caused by Mr. Cobden's Treaty; but the increased production much more than counterbalanced any displacement that might have resulted from the measure. We had something to learn in the way of designs. A gentleman who carried on a largo business at Coventry, told him that he had been in the habit of bringing over French people to that town to make designs, but after remaining a short time there they lost their taste. With an improvement in technical knowledge our workmen would be able still to compete with those of any other country.
§ MR. BOWRING
said, it had frequently been stated that those who negotiated the French Treaty on behalf of the English Government were not successful representatives of British interests, and. were not able to cope with the diplomatic skill of those who acted on behalf of the French; and that they were in short outwitted by them. Had such a remark been only made when the subject of the French Treaty was under discussion 10 years since, it would have been unnecessary for him to notice it now; but it had been of late frequently repeated by gentlemen of high position, and his right hon. Friend, the Member for North Devon (Sir S. H. Northcote) in a speech delivered at Exeter last 151 winter—a speech which in other respects did him much credit from its thorough free trade character—used the following words in the same sense:—We complain—many people complained at that time and still complain—that the bargain made was not nearly as favourable as it ought to have been and might have been. I do not want to rip up old sores; but those with whom I usually act were not quite content, I am free to say, with the Treaty at the time: and we still think it is not so favourable as might have been obtained with more care, and in a different spirit.Now he (Mr. Bowring) wished it to be known that there was no ground whatever for such an impression. When the French Treaty was being negotiated, he was himself connected with the Board of Trade, and in the position which he then occupied it was his duty carefully to scrutinize all the documents which had reference to the Treaty, for the information of the Minister who was at the head of that Department. The Board of Trade received an immense mass of information on the subject to assist them in forming an opinion, and he was able to state that with respect to many articles England succeeded in obtaining all that she required; in many other cases important concessions were granted by the French Government beyond those originally offered, and as respects the remaining articles, there was not one on which the duty, as then fixed, amounted to the maximum of 30 per cent which the original Treaty gave the French Government a right to impose. Moreover, further important reductions were provided; for, to come into operation four years later (or in 1864). And, lastly, under the most Favoured Nation Clause we had obtained all the concessions which had since been made to other countries. The details of the Treaty reflected the highest credit on his lamented Friend Mr. Cobden and those who were associated with him, and it had been beyond all doubt productive of the greatest good to this country. With respect to the general question now before the House, he had no objection to the appointment of a. Committee in itself, because he was persuaded that the more the matter was inquired into the more would the benefits conferred by free trade be made manifest. But, at the same time, he could not shut his eyes to the fact that the appointment of such a Committee would be looked upon in many quarters as evidencing that the House had an inclina- 152 tion to question the wisdom, not only of the French Treaty, but of our free trade policy in general, and to regard it as a failure. He objected to the Committee upon that ground, and for the same reason he regretted that last year, in a House of 250 Members, as many as 100 voted in favour of a Motion, analogous to the present one, brought forward by the hon. Member for Coventry. It was quite true that last year the President of the Board of Trade promised that a Committee would be appointed; but he did so coupled with this condition, that due cause was to be shown of its necessity; but no cause had been shown in the speeches of the hon. Members for Manchester (Mr. Birley) and Coventry (Mr. Staveley Hill); and after what had been said by the hon. and learned Member for Coventry, it would be positively mischievous to grant such a Committee. He (Mr. Bowring) could show by statistics the great benefit which had arisen from the French Treaty in every branch of our trade, whether of import or of export. In 1858, for instance, the value of cotton goods exported to France, was £230,000; but in 1868 it was £1,100,000; and even with respect to our silk manufactures, in which he admitted there had been a great deal of suffering amongst the workpeople, it had been a beneficial Treaty, our exports to France having increased from £40,000 to £90,000. Our total imports from France had increased in the 10 years from £13,300,000 to £33,900,000; our exports of British manufactures to France from £4,800,000 to £10,600,000; and our re-exports to France from £4,400,000 to £13,000,000. The hon. Member for Manchester had himself just admitted that the moneyed classes, the merchants, and the trading and shipping classes, had reaped a great advantage from the Treaty. Great stress had been laid upon the argument that the distress among the working classes of England was attributable to the operation of this Treaty. If that were true, they would expect to find proportionate prosperity among the French working classes; but the same complaints that were made in England were made in France, and there had also been severe distress among the working classes of the United States, who were altogether exempt from the operation of this Treaty. He understood the argument 153 of the hon. and learned Member for Coventry to be that we should endeavour to get France to adopt a simple measure of free trade; but what benefit would it be to the silk producers of Coventry if France admitted the cotton manufactures of Manchester free of duty? And he saw no reason why, even if France refused to give us entire free trade, we should grant to those silk producers the so-called protection which by common consent we refused to grant to the corn-producing classes of this country. The fact was that the silk trade of Coventry was now passing through the stage which other industries had passed through, and was experiencing the natural result of removing the artificial support formerly given to bolstered-up industries. He willingly accepted the disavowal of the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Birley) of any intention to seek to reverse the policy of free trade, and he had hoped that the hon. and learned Member for Coventry would have adopted the same tone; but the latter sought to obtain not merely the reversal of the policy of the French. Treaty, but a return to Protection—a policy which fortunately obtained little or no support from the Leaders of the Opposition, excepting, perhaps, the noble Lord the Member for North Leicestershire (Lord John Manners) who seemed, from a speech he had made in the country, to continue to cast back longing, lingering looks after the departed ghost of Protection. To show that a return to Protection was advocated by the rank and file of the opposite party, the hon. Member quoted passages from speeches made at a crowded meetings held at Bethnal Green, in February last, under the auspices of the Reciprocity Association, by Messrs. Whittington, Ferdinando, Kydd, and Anderson, strongly condemning free trade, speaking of it as miserable failure, and denouncing its advocates as not merely knaves, but traitors. He would not now seek to argue the question of free trade; but would content himself with saying that since its adoption the great articles of consumption among the working classes, such as tea, coffee, and sugar, had been reduced in price by one-half, while their consumption per head had been nearly doubled. Nine-tenths of our total exports of £180,000,000 consisted of articles manufactured by British workmen, and only one-sixth of our total imports 154 of £300,000,000 (or one-tenth, excluding silk goods) consisted of articles manufactured by the workmen of other countries, and it was only this small portion of our imports which could be considered as in any way competing with the productions of our own working classes. Under all the circumstances, he could not be a party to the appointment of a Committee as proposed by the hon. Member opposite.
§ MR. FIELDEN
said, that the arguments of the Mover of the Motion had been met by assertions that the object was to revive Protection. Even if that were so, would there be any harm in it? All that was desired by those who supported the Motion was that a full inquiry should be made into the working of the Treaty. If the inquiry went to prove that Protection was advisable for the welfare of the working classes, he should like to know whether those who sat on the Ministerial side were prepared to say that they would not adopt it? All that was asked for was inquiry. What were the facts? In 1860, the Treaty was entered into with the French Government, and that Treaty expired on the 1st of February last. A notion had got abroad among the working classes that the present distress arose from the operation of that Treaty, and they had petitioned the House for an inquiry. They petitioned for what they believed to be a redress of their grievances; and was the House, merely because the inquiry might run counter to the pet theory of hon. Gentlemen opposite, to allow the suffering to continue by repressing the inquiry? With regard to free trade, it should be remembered that, owing to their course of legislation, and the transfer of the manufacture of the textile fabrics from the South to the North of England, they had brought together in the North a great mass of people, who relied for their existence upon employment in the manufacture of these fabrics. Supposing cotton goods could be manufactured cheaper in foreign countries than in England, and that, in consequence, the whole of the cotton manufacture of England was destroyed, were they prepared still to carry out the principle of free trade? The whole question resolved itself into one of whether free trade was a benefit to the labouring population of this country. If it was a benefit, he was in fa- 155 vour of it; if it were not a benefit, he had the courage to say to the House that he was against free trade. The circumstances were such as to warrant inquiry. They talked of free trade; but was this Treaty free trade? He admitted that if two nations had the same amount of taxes to pay, and were on an equality in other respects, it might be good policy to have a free interchange of commodities between them. But if one were much more heavily taxed than another, the question arose whether free trade would be mutually beneficial, because the nation that was least heavily taxed would outbid the other. He wished to put the question on a different footing to that on which it had hitherto been placed, and to ask whether the people of England had any ground of complaint with respect to that Treaty, and whether they could reasonably ask for an inquiry respecting it? If he were to allude to the case of the silk manufacture, he would, no doubt, be told that, though it had declined, other branches of manufacture had improved. He would, therefore, take the cotton manufacture, the state of which did not deserve the glowing terms used by the hon. Baronet (Sir Thomas Bazley), for since the American War it had been a wretched trade. Within the last month a sub-committee of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce had addressed a letter to a foreign firm, in which they said—Suffice it to say that, in the year 1869, the extreme badness of trade resulted in an extent of disasters which, both in the amount of property involved and in respect of the hardships and ruin entailed on manufacturers, is almost without parallel in the history of our commerce. In that year alone upwards of 80 spinners and manufactures in this district failed, independently of those who compounded with their creditors unknown to the general public; while those whose wealth enabled them to avoid absolute ruin were left with crippled means and greatly depreciated property. Where mill property had to change hands it is no exaggeration to say that such property fell to a third, and, in some cases, to a fourth of its former value, and was even at times unsaleable. Many millowners, whom a life of industry had placed in apparently affluent circumstances, were driven to seek for subsistence in subordinate situations, and even in emigration. Destitution among the operatives in some localities caused an enormous advance in the poor rates; and, in order to avoid liability to taxation on unworked factories, the machinery of many was cleared out, and even sold for old metal.This was the description given of the 156 position of the cotton trade in 1869; and he would appeal to Members on the other side of the House whether the hon. Baronet the Member for Manchester had, that night, given a faithful picture of the state of things in the cotton trade.
§ SIR THOMAS BAZLEY
said, he had distinctly stated that the losses in the cotton trade since 1860 amounted to £200,000,000. He only spoke of prospective prosperity, for while cotton decreased in value profits increased. He had referred to a bright future, not a bright immediate past.
§ MR. FIELDEN
said, that cotton had been decreasing in value ever since the close of the American War; but the result was still great depression of trade. Taking, however, a wider range than Manchester or Macclesfield, he asked whether the condition of the labouring people of this country had improved or not since the negotiation of the French Treaty, when compared with their condition before that time? The French Treaty was concluded in 1860, and he would, therefore, take the state of things from 1854 to 1859, and compare them with those between 1859 and 1867. The statistics he was about to quote were taken from a Blue Book called Statistical Abstracts, which was published by authority. He found that the population of England, between 1854 and 1859, had increased 5 per cent, and between 1859 and 1867, it had increased 8 per cent. If the population were well-to-do, the poor rates would not increase in a greater ratio than the population; if the people were prosperous, the poor rates would increase in a less ratio than population. The amount, however, expended in the relief of the poor in England and Wales from 1854 to 1859 increased 5 per cent—rather less than the increase in the population; and between 1859 and 1867 the cost of the relief of the poor increased, not 8 per cent, as the population did, but 25 per cent. There was another test of the condition of the people. Between 1854 and 1859 the increase in the county rates in England and Wales, mainly owing to the increase in the cost of the police force, was 27 per cent, and between 1859 and 1867 it was 52 per cent. Here was a clear proof that the condition of the people was gradually growing worse and worse, for the relief to the poor was increasing, and that which invariably followed upon increase 157 of pauperism—namely, vagrancy and crime, had also increased, as shown by the increased number of police who had to guard us against the depredations of these unfortunate people. The number of criminal offenders convicted in England and Wales between 1854 and 1859 had decreased 45 per cent; but between 1859 and 1867 it had increased nearly 14 per cent. Did not these facts furnish good ground for inquiry? What could be the cause of that sudden falling off in the number of criminals convicted in the five years previous to the passing of the French Treaty and of the increase in the six years after? He did not say that the increase was to be ascribed to the operations of the Treaty; but in denying an inquiry into the question, an attempt was being made to prevent the House from arriving at the true state of the case. There was also another illustration of the destitution and misery which prevailed among the labouring classes, and that was the increase of the rate of emigration. No one would contend that if the people were in good circumstances they would be willing to leave their land and go to foreign countries. When, therefore, we found large numbers of them emigrating, we might, with perfect justice, come to the conclusion that they were driven to that course by the sad condition in which they were at home. That being so, he found that, from 1854 to 1859, the number of emigrants had decreased 62 per cent; while from 1859 to 1867 it had increased 62 per cent. There was another very remarkable fact connected with emigration which threw light on the opinions entertained by the labouring classes as to what they deemed to be the cause of their misery. Where did they go to, for instance, when they emigrated? They did not go to countries where there was free trade, or to the Colonies, but to the United States, where the highest Protection was maintained simply for the sake of protection. In 1854, 14 per cent of those who emigrated went to the North American Colonies; 59 per cent to the United States; 26 per cent to Australia and New Zealand; and 1 per cent to other places. In 1859, 58 per cent went to the United States; but, in 1867, a remarkable change occurred in the proportions of the emigrants to different countries, for in that year, while only 8 per cent went to the North Ame- 158 rican Colonies, 82 per cent went to the United States; the emigration to Australia and New Zealand being 7 per cent, and to other places 3 per cent. That was a remarkable state of things; because, during the period which had elapsed between 1859 and 1867, the policy of the United States had become still more highly protective than ever it had been before, and yet the result of that highly protective system was not to deter the labouring classes from going to that country, but rather to encourage them to make it their home. He did not mean to say that the subject was one on which they had formed correct opinions, or that free trade was wrong and Protection right; all he contended for was, that the facts which he had just mentioned clearly showed that there was a strong opinion among our labouring population that their troubles and distress in some way proceeded from the policy which had been adopted by this country, and that they were determined to go to a country in which the policy was the very reverse. He felt it to be his duty to lay these important facts before the House, for they proved that, whatever the policy was which it was right we should pursue with respect to our commercial relations, there was, from some cause or another, widespread, distress existing in this county, which he, for one, had come to that House with the sole object of relieving if possible. But to relieve it, it became necessary to ascertain what the cause was which led to it, and to attain that object inquiries must be instituted. It showed, in his opinion, great weakness on the part of hon. Gentlemen opposite; it showed that they had little faith in their principles when they opposed such an inquiry, because, as they said, it might prove Protection to be light, and free trade wrong. ["No, no!"] If that was not the ground on which their opposition was based, he should like to know what objection they had to the appointment of the proposed Committee. The argument that the French Government were opposed to inquiry could not be held for a moment to be of any weight with that House. Indeed, the French themselves were engaged in inquiring into the operations of the Treaty; and, even though it were otherwise, we had not yet, he hoped, arrived at that position that we would not institute an in- 159 quiry into a law which, we ourselves had passed, and which effected the well-being of the people of this country, without asking the consent of the French Government. He trusted, therefore, that in deference to the feeling which undoubtedly prevailed in our large centres of industry with regard to the operation of the Treaty, the inquiry now called for would be granted; for it would not be well that it should go forth to our suffering people that the House of Commons declined to recognize a grievance of which they so generally complained.
§ MR. CRAWFORD
said, it was not his intention to enter into the general question; but that he was desirous of making a few remarks on what had fallen from the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down. The hon. Gentleman had read an extract from a letter which he understood had been addressed by the Manchester Chamber of Commerce to some one with respect to the distress which prevailed in Lancashire. Now, that distress arose, he apprehended, in a great degree from the circumstance that, during the period of the depression of trade caused by the American War, the people of Lancashire, with a certain want of providence, wasted a great portion of the funds which they had previously been able to lay by in bricks, mortar, and machinery. The consequence had been that an amount of machinery, building, and plant of one kind or another had been brought into existence far in excess of the legitimate demands of the times. The products of our industry also had not been very successful in the markets of the world. We had overstocked the markets of India, China, and other countries; and he attributed in a great degree the bad prices realized in those markets to the large over-production in Lancashire in consequence of the investment of surplus moneys in that district in the manner to which he had referred. It must be borne in mind, too, that the Continent had made great advances of late years in the extension of railways and other commercial respects, and had, therefore, been enabled to meet us in their own and in neutral markets on terms which, a short time since, were not even thought of. These were facts which the hon. Gentleman seemed not to have taken into account, and in reply to the statements of the hon. Gentleman with respect to the state 160 of population in the country, he would simply refer him to the consumption of articles on which Excise and Custom duties were paid, as recently explained to the House. In tea, sugar—even spirits, and all other commodities of that kind, it appeared that an amount of consumption was going forward which by no means indicated the existence of so great an amount of distress as the hon. Gentleman would lead the House to suppose prevailed. It was not his intention to go into the general question, and he would only say that nothing he had heard in that debate, nothing he had read, and nothing that had come under his experience of late would justify him in thinking that there was any reason whatever to lament or deplore the adoption of the great principles on which the commercial system of this country was established 10 years ago.
§ MR. PELL
denied the accuracy of the statement that the reason why the agricultural classes took so warm an interest in the questions before the House was that they were anxious for a return to Protection. The tithe averages proved the price of corn to be no lower under free trade than Protection, while meat and the lesser luxuries of the farm were certainly dearer. He had this evening presented to the House a numerously signed Petition from a portion of his constituents who were really concerned in this matter—namely, those who resided within the walls of the town of Leicester, containing more than one-third of the constituency he had the honour to represent. He had taken some pains to confer both with masters and operatives on this subject during the Recess, and as far as he could ascertain, the former were not dissatisfied with the operation of the Commercial Treaty. They were perfectly aware, however, that with regard to certain branches of trade the position of the manufacturers had been shifted. In Leicestershire they were largely engaged in the production of woollen twist and hosiery, and though some of the classes of woollen goods they formerly produced had now gone abroad, machinery had, he believed, been applied for the production of another kind of goods from which a profit was derivable. He would not treat this subject from the point of view of free trade, which question had, in his opinion, been dead and buried long ago. He wished, however, 161 to say a few words on the subject from the operatives' point of view. He had met them in great numbers and endeavoured to show them that, when circumstances were unfavourable, the mind did not easily distinguish between reciprocity and a policy of retaliation which would be highly mischievous. These men had stated their case to him in a most fair and rational way, and he therefore felt bound to ask the House to meet them in a like spirit. The hon. Member for Manchester had spoken of education; but what kind of education could possibly be more valuable to the people than that which would be imparted to them by an inquiry into this subject? In his judgment the fair way to meet them would be by acceding to the prayer of their Petition, and showing that the inconveniences they suffered might not result from legislation, but from other influences over which Parliament had no control whatever. He thought one of the consequences of such an inquiry as was desired might be to substantiate the soundness of the policy which led to the Commercial Treaty. At all events, the inquiry would show that there existed at the present moment a tendency towards a very great change in wages, both in this country and abroad, and that while this change was going on our manufacturers and operatives must be subjected to a pressure which it was only natural they should complain of. An inquiry might fairly be made into the operation of the Treaty, which had been recently renewed de die in diem, and the result would possibly be that a new Treaty might be concluded even more beneficial than the former one, which he sincerely believed had been of advantage to the nation.
§ MR. HIBBERT
said, he would have abstained from joining in the discussion had it not been for the speech of the hon. Member for the West Riding (Mr. Fielden). The question before the House seemed to have grown up in accordance with the Darwinian theory. The suggestion of the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Birley), for an inquiry into the French Treaty, had been taken up by the hon. and learned Member for Coventry (Mr. Staveley Hill), who wished for an inquiry into all treaties; and now the hon. Member for the West Riding seemed desirous of entering into a still wider inquiry as to whether free trade 162 or Protection was good for the country. He did not think, however, that the hon. Member for Manchester had such an object in view when he brought forward this Motion, and, in his opinion, there were many objections to entering upon so wide an inquiry. The hon. Member for the West Riding had commented on the French Treaty, as it affected not only trade, but also poor rates, the police force, criminals, and emigration. Among other things, the hon. Member had stated that while our population had increased only 8 per cent between 1859 and 1867, pauperism had increased 25 per cent; but he omitted to mention that during that period the American War and several grave financial panics had occurred, and also that we had passed several Acts to insure the better treatment of the poor, so that the increase of pauperism was not due solely to the additional number of paupers, but likewise in a large degree to the higher outlay required for their maintenance. Again, the hon. Member did not allude to the fact that the cotton trade had suffered as much, or more, before the introduction of free trade than it had done since. Before that period, he might remark, one in every 11 of our population was a pauper, whereas in 1869 the proportion was one in every 20; and he thought the amount of pauperism would be further diminished if the people were well educated and weaned from their drinking habits. Again, in 1854, before the great principles of free trade were carried out, the value of our exports to foreign countries was only £115,000,000; but in 1869 it had risen to £190,000,000, an increase which must have had the effect of giving additional comfort and happiness to many of our people. It might be said that our taking an increased quantity of French products was injurious to the home silk trade; but it was precisely because we took so large a quantity of their silk, and other products, that they were able in return to import largely from us; and even if we were now to put a heavy duty on their goods they would not cease to manufacture silk, woollen, and cotton fabrics. The only consequence would be, that if our shores were closed to them they would send their goods to neutral markets, there to establish competition with our manufactures. As regarded the plate-glass makers, if, under present cir- 163 cumstances, foreigners sent in a third of the quantity of plate glass that was used in this country, how could the mere removal of duties enable our countrymen to compete successfully abroad when to the cost of production the cost of freight was to be added? He was not, as a rule, in favour of Commercial Treaties. As a rule, he thought that they were a mistake. But in the case of the Treaty with France, it was the only manner in which the Emperor could carry out a free-trade policy with this country, and it was better to have it in that form than not at all. At the same time, he hoped that no treaty of the same sort would be made with any other nation.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Before the House divides, as the debate has been rather discursive, let me recapitulate the points which are really before us. The hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Birley), who opened the debate, put his proposal to refer the French Treaty to a Committee on the single ground, as I understood him—[An hon. MEMBER: No.] The hon. Gentleman has not heard the ground—on the ground that we were not as favoured in our exports to France under that Treaty as we ought to be, and that it would be desirable to enter into an investigation of the manner in which our exports have been treated, with a view of prevailing upon France, as I understood, to give us more favourable terms. Now, it occurs to me that if the hon. Gentleman wished to prevent our exports getting fairer treatment than they do at present, this is the way to attain his object. Because, if we should enter into an investigation, and show to the French Protectionists—who are very powerful—that under this Treaty they enjoy considerable protection at present, nothing will more strengthen their case, and nothing will make it more likely to prevail. We should be showing them the strength of their own position; we should be putting them upon their guard, and we should be enabling them to use a most powerful argument not only with those who are of their own way of thinking, but also with those who are undecided upon the question of free trade or Protection, and thereby undermining the very arguments which we wish to prevail. But I pass to the very different treatment of the Motion which 164 was given by the hon. and learned Member for Coventry (Mr. Staveley Hill) and those who succeeded him. He not only used the argument of the hon. Member for Manchester, but he went much further; for he did not content himself with demanding fair play, and the more easy admission of our exports into France, but contended that the Members of the Committee that is asked for should devise some plan for restricting the import of French goods into England. That was the whole basis of the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument. He thought that the producers of England were injured by the competition with France, and that some measure ought to be devised for limiting that competition. In order to benefit the consumers of England a tax in the shape of an additional payment for the goods was to be imposed on the consumers of England. Warming with his subject, the hon. and learned Gentleman spoke of "retaliation;" but his argument went beyond that. Retaliation, of course, is one way of limiting the entrance of goods into a country, and thereby raising the prices of such goods by artificial means; but the argument of the hon. and learned Gentleman, whether he meant it or not, went, when fairly considered, the whole length of Protection. Once admit the principle that it is just to impose duties not for the purpose of revenue merely, but for the purpose of restricting the arrival of foreign goods in this country, and thereby raising the market against the people of this country, and you will have admitted, in the most explicit terms, the principle of Protection, with its most odious consequences. Then I go a little further and I come to the noble Lord the Member for North Leicestershire (Lord John Manners); and that noble Lord was less guarded even than the hon. and learned Member for Coventry, becaue he actually pronounced a sort of panegyric on Protection. And though a protected manufacturer is hardly ever a manufacturer whose goods can be exported, because they are produced at an extravagant price, and therefore cannot compete in the markets of the world with other goods which do not enjoy the so-called advantages of Protection, the noble Lord was so impressed with the view, which in some way or other had been suggested to him, that he went into a panegyric of 165 America, and was at great pains to show that, although America imposes such penalties upon hard goods, she is still able to export axes to Australia. Why the noble Lord should have felt it necessary to refer to Australia and America I know not; the only reason that I can imagine is to afford proof that he was a Protectionist to the backbone. Then I come to the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Fielden), who addressed us at so much length, and went into so many statistics upon the subject; he seemed to me to be a most devoted advocate of Protection. "Observe," he said, "the merits of Protection, when persons are driven out of the country by your free-trade policy—where do they go? Not to free-trade countries, but to America." These hon. Gentlemen may all be right in the doctrines which they put forward. I have no right to assume the contrary. But I wish the House to take notice that, with the single exception of the hon. Member for Manchester, the principal speakers in this debate based their support of the Motion really, though with some timidity and hesitation, upon the doctrines of Protection. If that be so, and if the House grants a Committee upon the strength of speeches such as these, we shall be doing the very thing best calculated to strengthen the Protectionist party in France, and to urge upon the French Government to put an end to the Treaty. We shall tend to give the impression that this House is Protectionist, and that it has granted the Committee with the view to establish Protection. But I press this matter further. Anybody who has attended to the debate will see that what is in the minds of hon. Gentlemen is not the French Treaty at all—the French Treaty is a mere stalking-horse. What hon. Gentlemen desire is, a Committee before which they may impeach the doctrines of free trade, and before which they may urge a retrograde policy, taxing the consumer by making an artificial dearness for the benefit of those who cannot in fair market compete with the foreigner. The mischiefs that would result from the adoption of such a Motion would be incalculable. It might turn the balance against us in France; and the Treaty, to the value of which, such important testimony has been borne, might be put an end to altogether. I have criticized 166 the reasons put forward in favour of granting this Committee. I will say one word as to the reasons against it. The question is now undergoing inquiry in France. Why cannot we wait and see the result of that inquiry in France without plunging into an investigation on our own account? What can be the result of any such inquiry? If we show that England has been a loser by the Treaty, the hon. Gentleman will only succeed in making foreigners cling more tightly to the advantages they enjoy, while weakening the support given to the Treaty in this country. If, on the other hand, we demonstrated that England gained largely by it—though it might also be true that France gained equally—the fact of our profiting largely would not tend to increase its popularity among our neighbours on the other side of the Channel. Put it which way you will, therefore, I cannot see that anything but mischief is likely to result from this Motion. It is evident that it is not merely the operation of free trade that is sought to be inquired into, but that it is desired to ascertain how far it lies in the power of the Government to remedy the shortcomings of those who have been unsuccessful in their pursuits. The effect of granting such a Committee would be to establish a principle more unsound than any which has been proposed—that when reverses of trade or pauperism occur the belief should be raised that it is in the power of Government to interfere to restore the prosperity of trade. No more fatal delusion than that can be conceived, because its effect is not only to raise expectations which can never be fulfilled, but because it throws odium upon the Government by holding them to blame for misfortunes for which, in reality, they are not in the slightest degree responsible. For these reasons, therefore, I hope that the House will not agree to the Motion of the hon. Member, which really, under the pretence of a proposition for the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the French Treaty, proposes to re-open the whole controversy between free trade and Protection, and to broach that most pernicious doctrine that it is in the power of a Government to make its citizens wealthy, happy, or industrious.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
wished to say, by way of explanation, that the 167 Chancellor of the Exchequer had entirely misrepresented what fell from him. He (Lord John Manners) had quoted from the Report of the Chamber of Commerce at Birmingham for the purpose of showing that the Americans had actually exported goods to Birmingham.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said: Sir, at the commencement of this debate I was reminded of the saying that popular assemblies are deficient in two qualities: that they have no memory and no foresight. For what was the answer given on the part of the Government to the Motion now before us? That we are not to inquire into the operation of the French Treaty, because, just at the present time, the state of trade is rather improving; and the hon. Member for the City of London (Mr. Crawford) got up, and, in reply to the very powerful speech of my hon. Friend the Member for the West Riding of Yorkshire (Mr. Fielden) said there was a slight increase in the consumption of sugar, I think he mentioned spirits also, and he said something about tea. Will the House ask itself what this Treaty has been, and what it is to be, if renewed? It is an engagement, which has been described by the Vice-President of the Board of Trade as a key to the commercial policy not only of this country, but of Europe, during the last 10 years, and it is proposed to renew, for a further period of 10 years, an engagement, which is to regulate the commercial policy of this country and Europe, with all its incidents as hereafter affecting this country. Hon. Members who spoke early in the debate were very urgent in demanding facts to justify this inquiry. Sir, is any hon. Member of this House prepared to assert that the commercial policy of the country has no effect on its industry? If no hon. Member is prepared to declare that, how can he be surprised, when the representatives of the working classes say that those classes are suffering severely, and have suffered severely during the past 10 years, and that, as compared with the previous 10 years, they have for the greater portion of that time been in a worse position. If that is a fact—if that circumstance characterizes the period during which the commercial policy of this country has been regulated by the Commercial Treaty with France, upon what ground can the right hon. Gentle- 168 man the Chancellor of the Exchequer complain of our showing that the commercial policy of the country and the deteriorated condition of the working classes for the last 10 years, as compared with their condition during the previous 10 years, are coincident facts? Why, Sir, I never heard a weaker argument proceed from the lips of a man of his great abilities, or of any Chancellor of the Exchequer. And then the right hon. Gentleman went on to say—Whatever may have been the circumstances of the commercial classes in the past 10 years, what can the commercial policy of the country have to do with their condition?Why, Sir, the French Protectionists are much more reasonable than the right hon. Gentleman. But the right hon. Gentleman is afraid, if the proposed inquiry be instituted, that the French Protectionists will gain some information; for they say that this instrument—which is described as the key to the commercial policy in France, no less than to that of England during these 10 years, has not been sufficiently advantageous to them. In like manner the operative classes of this country say that it has not been sufficiently to their advantage; and because both these interests declare themselves injured, therefore, says the Chancellor of the Exchequer, this House must not inquire. Such is the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer! This Commercial Treaty, Sir, relates not only to France and French productions. We know that there is a provision in that Treaty, according to which the produce of all other countries passing through France comes duty-free into this country, and this is an obligation which gives not free trade but protection to the industry of France; while it entitles her to free imports into this country. Then we are lectured by the supporters of this Treaty, which secures Protection to France, whilst it enforces free imports on England, upon the doctrine of free trade. Free trade! Free trade! Free trade, forsooth! Call you that a free-trade bargain, which secures 15 or 20 per cent import duties to one country, and refuses them to the manufactured articles exported from the other country? Never before was there such an abuse of the term "free trade." And then we are charged with impertinence for venturing to believe that it is possible for the Chancellor of the 169 Exchequer to find it convenient to impose some duty on French, imports for the supply of the public Revenue. ["Oh!"] Oh! I only wish that the hon. Member who shouts "Oh!" were a Member of the House of Assembly in the United States of America: I can assure him that his exclamation would not be received there with the cordiality with which it appears to be hailed by Gentlemen opposite. I have heard it said that there is a skeleton in the cupboard of every household; and it struck me as being rather singular that there should be such an avoidance of all mention of the working classes in the course of this debate among the supporters of the Government. The same silence respecting them was observed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and the thought arose to my mind that the working classes of England must be the skeleton in the cupboard of the party opposite. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen may not like my referring to the skeleton in their cupboard. I strongly suspect that it is there, that it will come out by-and-by, that, in fact, it will require more than all the ingenuity they possess to keep it under lock and key. Sir, I represent a largo body of the working classes. I have presented their Petition from Birmingham. Nay, for once, I went beyond the limits of my constituency, and represented to the working classes, at Manchester, that it was for their interest that the hands of the Chancellor of the Exchequer should be kept free to deal with the Revenue of this country during the next ten years—I exhorted them to petition this House not to give its consent to the renewal of the French Treaty without previous inquiry. Sir, I have recently moved for the appointment of a Committee, though on a different subject; and last night, after much delay, a Committee was very tardily granted; but, as it seemed to me, during the discussion on that Motion, and so it seems, too, to-night, that nothing is so offensive to Her Majesty's Government, as any proposal for inquiry; nothing so offensive to them as to propose that this House should have the opportunity for acquiring information for itself. In foreign countries, and in other legislative assemblies, foreign Governments do not presume on their knowledge to such an extent as to refuse inquiry. The Reichsrath of Aus- 170 tria has inquired, and has demanded, that the Austrian Government shall submit to that assembly the terms of the Treaty with this country. And, even in Paris, under the Imperial S3'stem, the Emperor has thought it becoming to allow the French Legislature to inquire into the subject of this very French Treaty. In England, however, the First Lord of the Treasury has become so much more Imperialistic than the Emperor of the French, that, when we apply to the right hon. Gentleman for permission to inquire into these questions, which have been examined by the Reichsrath of Austria, and are now undergoing investigation by the French Legislature, we are told that we are too curious—that our curiosity borders upon impertinence! I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman should attempt to refuse this inquiry. He was a party to the negotiations, which led to the conclusion of the Treaty. The secresy, and other circumstances connected with those negotiations, produced a painful impression at the time; and now we are again told that secresy must be observed. For what purpose? That England may have a chance once again of cheating the Protectionists of France? Surely, Sir, such reasons as these are utterly unworthy of the Government of this country. And are they likely to succeed? We have been told to-night, that the French Consul at Glasgow has addressed a letter to the South of Scotland Chamber of Commerce, informing that body that he had been directed to make inquiries in Scotland with regard to the results of the French Treaty, and asking their assistance in prosecuting those inquiries. So that the information can be had in Paris, whether it is given to the House of Commons or not. Rely upon it, that this attempt to hoodwink two great nations will fail; for the people will be informed upon the subject, even though this House may countenance an attempt to bind this country by the Treaty for another 10 years without its consent. Throughout this discussion we have heard so much about the consumer, that it brought a French riddle, or rather the saying of a Frenchman, to my mind. I fully admit that there is in this country that which the right hon. Gentleman the First Minister, a short time since, described as the "lounging class." Those persons have, probably, fixed in- 171 comes, or live upon salaries, and are not directly connected with the industry of the country or its prosperity, and may profit by the cheapness of the luxuries, which are admitted under the provisions of the Trench Treaty. This House itself is a house of consumers. But we sometimes find an hon. Member, like my Friend the Member for the West Riding of Yorkshire, who is not ashamed to declare that he is sent to this House to represent the producers, and, as a legislative body, we should remember that we represent the producing wealth of this country. Well, Sir, all this argument for the consumer, and in favour of the extreme cheapness of all luxuries which the consumers desire, reminds me, as I said, of the remark of a Frenchman at the time the succession duty was being considered in this House. Someone observed to him that the Bill would, if enacted, be very severe upon the owners of hereditary property, and that it would never pass the House of Lords; to which the Frenchman replied—"O! mais vous oubliez, que c'est la Chambre des Pères." The extreme unwillingness of this House, which is a house of consumers, to inquire into the provisions of this Treaty, which cheapens their luxuries, makes me think there may be an analogous feeling in this House to that which the Frenchman ascribed to the House of Lords with respect to the succession duty. Depend upon it, Sir, that there are two sides to this question. There are in this country producers as well as consumers, and these producers are going by thousands to the United States of America, where their industry will be protected. I do not see how you can escape from that, as a proof that the working classes are not so averse to Protection as they have been represented to be. The noble Lord the Member for Leicestershire (Lord John Manners) has told you, that the working classes are not prepared to urge the doctrines of Protection unreasonably. They do not wish to be Protectionists, although they have returned me for twenty-seven years to this House, and I have never disavowed modified Protectionist opinions. What they hold and say is, that this French Treaty is not a true exposition of free trade. They declare it to be unfair, that the French operatives should be protected by a 15 or 20 per cent duty, whilst merely nominal, or no duties are enforced upon 172 French manufactures imported into this country. And thinking this an unfair arrangement, they ask those who are now their direct representatives—they ask the House of Commons, to inquire into the operation of the Treaty before the country is again committed for another ten years; to inquire, as the Legislature of France is inquiring, and as the Austrian Reichsrath has inquired. ["Divide!"] Hon. Gentlemen who represent these consumers may be impatient; but, may I be permitted to remind the House that we are the direct representatives of the operative classes; and, having presented to you a Petition, I demand inquiry? I am not to be baffled by the assertion that these petitioners hold unsound opinions. They hold this opinion, that the French Treaty, as it exists at present, is unfair, because it enacts Protection for France and denies to England the power of levying a duty on imports. That is the strong feeling of the operative classes; and, whatever may be the intention with which the hon. Member for Manchester, who sits on this side of the House, has made this proposal, I claim the right, as representing the labouring classes of Birmingham and North Warwickshire, to vote for this inquiry, and to vote further for the additional inquiry, which has been proposed by the hon. Member for Coventry, even though the House treats as a light matter the ruin of the industry of that city. "O! it is only Coventry that is complaining." And is it a trifling thing in the opinion of this House that the industry of one of our great communities has been reduced to less than one-fourth of what it was? Yet, that result is perfectly well known; you some of you say that this ruin is not the effect of the French Treaty, but it ensued immediately on the Treaty coming into operation, and these men, through their representatives, ask for inquiry, and in doing this are joined by their fellows, the citizens of Birmingham, of Leicester, and of Manchester. ["Divide!"] Why, how afraid you are of this skeleton! ["Divide!"] You may try to prevent the skeleton from getting out and coming in that door; but rely upon it that the working classes will and must be represented in this House. ["Oh!"] Truly it is strange that you who are the advocates of popular education to such a degree that you are willing to exclude the study of religion lest your 173 favourite technical education should be thereby impeded, should raise objections to the operative classes being instructed by a Committee of this House! ["Oh, oh!"] Let me ask those Gentlemen who so persistently cry "Oh," whether these working classes do not pray you to inquire into this subject for their information? If they do not ask that, what is it that they do ask? And if this is their request, is it not most reasonable? Is it not the same request that has been preferred by, and granted to, the operatives of France; the same that has been pressed by, and conceded to, the operatives of Austria? If you are so confident and so sure that the renewal of this Treaty for another 10 years will be for their advantage, why refuse to prove it to the working classes? Sir, I must be allowed to say that I shall see with deep regret this House treated less respectfully by the Government of this country than the Legislature of France has been treated by the Emperor, or the Austrian Reichsrath by its Sovereign; because we only ask for the same means of obtaining information as have been conceded to them; and, I must add, that the reasons advanced against us have been of the weakest description. There has been a demand for facts; and early in the debate we were told that there were none alleged. But the hon. Member for the West Riding subsequently adduced facts in the most lucid manner; and what was the observation made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer respecting them? Why, that nothing could be more dangerous or mischievous than to create in the minds of the working classes the suspicion that their interests could in any way be effected by the action of the Government of this country with regard to—what? The renewal of this Treaty? ["No, no."] Then what is the object? I shall be glad to know, if it is not the renewal of the Treaty.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I have not made that statement. There is no question of renewing the Treaty. It is not to be renewed for 10 years, as the hon. Member imagines, with all the care he has given to the question. It is terminable at a year's notice by either side.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
At last we have a piece of information. ["Oh, oh!"] The right hon. Gentleman has just told us that this Treaty is not to be 174 renewed for 10 years; I certainly was not aware of that fact. It will be information for the country. We were told by the First Lord of the Treasury, when a debate took place upon an analogous subject, the Treaty with Austria, that the practice of this country was different from that of other countries, and we are quite aware of it. According to the practice of this country, the Government have power to commit the Crown to a Commercial Treaty in the first instance, whenever it may seem to them convenient to do so, and it is not until the Crown has been committed that the Legislature is consulted. In other countries this power is not conferred upon the Crown; and, as that is the case, I say that, in a matter which like this mutually affects the interests of these foreigners and our own, it would be convenient for us to institute an inquiry in the first instance. Sir, great political changes have taken place in the constitution and practice of foreign States—they are becoming constitutional, and it seems to me perfectly clear that, if this House refuses inquiry, it will place itself in a position more different from that occupied by the Legislatures of other countries than was formerly the case, since it will have refused a request made on behalf of the working classes of England, to be treated as foreign operatives have been treated by their Governments. The English operatives will feel that, by this refusal, they are placed in a position less creditable to themselves than that which has been assumed by the working classes of either Austria or France.
§ MR. DELAHUNTY
said, he hoped that the House would not at the call of North Warwickshire or Manchester turn its back on free trade. He hoped they would repudiate going back to the dark ages of Protection. If England was great and mighty among the Powers of the earth, it was because she had adopted the principle of free trade with the whole world; and the French Treaty was nothing more than a means by which the French Emperor sought to induce the people of France to pursue the same path as England had so long marked out for herself. It had been said that the people had suffered from free trade. It had not been shown how. Had it suffered in the amount of its sales? In the quantity of its exports and imports? No. The exports and imports were twice 175 what they were a few years ago. And this had been through free trade. Thirty or 40 years ago the amount was only one-fifth of what it was now. When England ruled the sea and had Protection to the masthead the amount of tonnage entered inwards and outwards was only 4,000,000; now it was over 60,000,000. Was not this an answer to those who would muzzle free trade and revive Protection? If free trade were put down the labouring classes would suffer; and England like Ireland would be depopulated. He hoped the House would not listen to the sweet persuasion of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire, who was so fond of Committees. He got one Committee appointed last night; but he hoped he would not get another to-night. In the name of the people of Ireland he said—Down with Protection and up with free trade.
§ MR. BIRLEY
said, he would say very few words in reply. He had not attacked either free trade or the French Treaty. He did not complain of the speech of the Secretary to the Board of Trade. His only complaint was that the hon. Gentleman had not come to the same conclusion as he had himself. The hon. Gentleman admitted distress in this country and the high duties charged by France; but he appeared to think that the best mode of settling the difficulty was quietly in the Board of Trade. His own notion was, that it would be best settled in the face of day by a full, fair, and free inquiry. A distinguished statesman had stated in the French Chambers that the Treaty of Commerce with England was not free trade, but that it was protection to French manufactures; and he (Mr. Birley) did not think that it was possible in two lines to describe the state of the case more clearly. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said it was very imprudent to have any inquiry, because the French Protectionists would find it out; whereas, if we, ostrich-like, hid our heads in the sand, they would know nothing about it. One thing had struck him very much in the speeches of the hon. Gentlemen opposite—they were strongly Protectionist, not for the benefit of this country, but of France. Although he had stated the opinions of the leading Chambers of Commerce in favour of the inquiry, counter statements had not been 176 made except that the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Platt) had said that he did not believe that the Chamber of Commerce at Manchester had asked for inquiry. To this, his reply was that the document that he had referred to in his opening speech showed that the Chamber of Commerce of Manchester was in favour of inquiry upon the subject.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 50; Noes 138: Majority 88.