§ MR. RYLANDS,
who had given Notice to move—That, in the opinion of this House, the Commercial Treaty recently negotiated with France, and all future Treaties between this country and Foreign Powers ought to be laid upon the Table of both Houses of Parliament before being ratified, in order that an opportunity may be afforded to both Houses of expressing their opinion upon the provisions of such Treaties,said: I have purposely framed this Motion in such general language that in agreeing to it the House will not be committed to any expression of opinion further than that in future Parliament shall have an effectual control over all Treaties that the Government of this country may enter into with foreign Powers. Such a result might be secured by one of three courses—namely, either by requiring an Address from Parliament in favour of a Treaty before ratification; or by making Treaties subject to the disapproval of Parliament; or by submitting all Treaties prior to ratification to the consideration of a Joint Committee of Members of both Houses. I express no opinion upon any of these courses; but I am anxious simply to obtain an acknowledgment of the principle of Parliamentary control, leaving the Government to suggest the best means of carrying the principle into effect. In making this proposal, I do not suppose that at the present day I shall be met with the objection that I am seeking to deprive the Crown of one of its Prerogatives. Indeed, two years ago there was great opposition on the part of hon. Gentlemen opposite to the exercise of the Royal Prerogative in the abolition 449 of purchase in the Army. I did not concur in those views; but still it may be said that on both sides of the House the exertion of the Royal Prerogative was not regarded with favour. In fact, one Prerogative of the Crown after another has disappeared, and it is singular that this in reference to Treaties—one of the most dangerous—has lasted so long. No doubt the making of Treaties was in former ages a substantial Prerogative exercised by the King in his own right and frequently for his own personal interests. But that is now all changed. It is well understood that the Sovereign actually takes no part in making Treaties on behalf of this country with foreign Powers, but that the whole responsibility in the matter lies upon the Cabinet. And it is an extraordinary fact that whilst we refuse to allow the 15 right hon. Gentlemen sitting round the Cabinet table to pass a Turnpike Bill, or to lay a tax of a fraction of a penny in the pound, without the consent of Parliament, we invest them with absolute authority to pledge this country to undertakings that may lead in after times to war, and involve the people in enormous expenditure and in loss and disaster. Blackstone says that the right of the Executive to make Treaties is because it is "the sovereign power"—but the sovereign power now rests with the three estates of the realm, and it is with them and not with the Crown alone that the authority for making Treaties should now reside. This question naturally arose during the two past Sessions in connection with the discussion of the Treaty of Washington, and opinions were expressed by eminent Members of both Houses in favour of the policy which I am now advocating. In this House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard (Mr. Horsman), and my hon. Friend the Member for Waterford (Mr. Osborne), both urged the right of Parliament to control the treaty-making power; and similar opinions were expressed in the other House on June 12th, 1871, by a distinguished nobleman whose judgment will carry great weight with hon. Gentlemen on both sides. In the speech to which I refer, Lord Derby put the matter very clearly, and I am happy to fortify myself by quoting the following passage from his speech. He said—No doubt there is a great deal to be said, both on theoretical and on practical grounds, for 450 the principle that the Parliament and the country ought not to be bound by the acts of the Executive, whoever at the time may compose it, in making international treaties without having an opportunity of considering the merits of those treaties."—[3 Hansard, ccvi. 1854.]In one of the discussions in this House to which I have alluded, the Prime Minister admitted that a great deal was to be said in favour of limiting the power of the Crown to conclude and ratify Treaties without the consent of Parliament; but he objected to it on the ground that it would be a very inconvenient system, and said that it would introduce open instead of secret diplomacy, giving as an instance of the serious effects of the "open system," the course taken by the Due de Grammont in the French Chamber in making public declarations which destroyed the chance of the maintenance of peace with Prussia. But I respectfully submit that the right hon. Gentleman in urging these arguments entirely missed the point. The open system of diplomacy was expressly adopted by the Due de Grammont for the purpose of exasperating the French people and of forcing on the war; but no one recommends a policy of that kind. No one for a moment proposes that pending negotiations shall be made public or that they should not go on, as they have hitherto done, in a confidential manner. But what I contend for is, that after Her Majesty's Government have carefully discussed—and with such secrecy as they may think necessary, in conjunction with the other parties concerned—the conditions of a proposed Treaty, the Treaty itself shall be submitted to Parliament. The Prime Minister said that if tiffs course were adopted the negotiation of Treaties would be rendered more difficult. But that is not a very great objection. We have had too many Treaties. It would have been a very great advantage, instead of a disadvantage, if a large number of objectionable Treaties between this country and foreign Powers had never been entered into. If a proposed Treaty was manifestly for the public interest there would be no difficulty in getting the assent of Parliament; and clearly, if a majority of Parliament were opposed to any Treaty, it is only right that it should be dropped. The Senate of the United States have the power which I am asking for this House, and the National Assembly of France at the present moment possess 451 the power, which they are about to exercise, of reviewing the Commercial Treaty just entered into with this country before it can receive the ratification of the President of the Republic. But in order to give the House the power which the Senate of the United States and the National Assembly of France possess, it is necessary that in the Treaty itself there should be an Article providing that the ratification shall be dependent upon the sanction of the Houses of Parliament being secured by Her Majesty's Government. The other evening, when I urged upon the Government the advantage of giving the House an opportunity of considering the French Treaty, the Prime Minister very courteously assured me that it would be immediately laid on the Table, and inasmuch as it would have to be considered by the National Assembly of France before it was ratified, there would be an opportunity afforded to hon. Members of the House to consider the matter. But while that is undoubtedly true, the fact of the Treaty being now in the possession of the House is merely an accidental circumstance, which practically gives Parliament no control. The position in which we are placed is this—that while under the 24th Article of the Treaty the assent of the National Assembly is to be obtained before the President of the Republic undertakes to ratify the Treaty, our Plenipotentiaries, as I understand, have come under the absolute obligation of ratifying the Treaty without reference to the action of Parliament. Precisely the same kind of accidental circumstance occurred in reference to the Washington Treaty in 1871, which was laid upon the Table of both Houses before it was ratified. Lord Russell took the opportunity, on the 12th of June, 1871, in the House of Lords, of moving an Address to the Crown, praying Her Majesty not to ratify the Treaty —and how was that Motion met? The House of Lords felt itself barred by the terms under which our Plenipotentiaries were appointed from interfering in the matter. A noble and learned Lord of very high authority (Lord Cairns), put the case very strongly. He contrasted the credentials of the Commissioners of the United States—which consisted merely of an authority to discuss and sign a Treaty subject to the ratification of the Senate—with the credentials of the Commissioners of Her Majesty conferring 452 plenipotentiary powers. Those credentials were in the usual terms; but the noble and learned Lord thought them so important that he quoted them at length, and called attention to the fact that the Queen "engaged and promised upon the Royal word" that the acts of the Commissioners should be "agreed to, acknowledged, and accepted" by the Crown in the "fullest manner," and were to be taken with "equal force and efficacy" as if done by the Queen herself. Lord Cairns added—I refer to these words for this purpose. I am as jealous as any of your Lordships can be to preserve intact and in full the proper power of Parliament; but I maintain that when a Treaty has been signed, as this Treaty has been, by plenipotentiaries possessing the powers I have read, the mere accidental circumstance that the ratifications have not been actually exchanged makes no difference to the substance though it may to the form; so that, to all intents and purposes, this Treaty is at this moment, in honour and honesty, as binding upon this country, according to the Constitution of the country, as if the ratifications had been actually exchanged.The House of Lords were evidently impressed with this view of the case, and there was no division on Lord Russell's Resolution. In this House the Washington Treaty was not formally considered until subsequent to its ratification, and the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir Charles Adderley) who raised the discussion, admitted there was no power of interference. And yet, notwithstanding all this, the question is now raised as to whether Parliament is not equally with the Ministry responsible for the Treaty of Washington. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said the other night that the House is responsible for the "Three Rules," about which there had been so much discussion, because "the Washington Treaty was laid before Parliament, and therefore Parliament was cognizant of the Three Rules." My right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie), very properly in my opinion, protested against this doctrine, and denied that the House of Commons were parties to the Treaty. He said—"It was the Crown that made the Treaty, and the Ministers of the Crown are responsible to Parliament." But I observe that the leading journal is pressing this charge of responsibility against us. Two or three days since The Times argued that—" Parliament, having the power by an Address to abrogate the Treaty acquiesced in it, and must therefore share 453 the responsibility." It may be true that technically we had the power; but how was it possible to exercise it under the circumstances? The position of things was such that we could only have stopped the Treaty by an overthrow of the Government, with a great political convulsion, and with the occasion of fresh sources of quarrel with our brethren across the Atlantic. I have a very strong opinion that if the right of considering the terms of the Treaty had been reserved to Parliament, that right would have been effectually exercised, and that the blots in the Treaty would have been detected and cured. In fact, the main blot, even in the partial discussion which took place, was indicated. But the discovery came too late to be cured, and we were left for months in a state of great public anxiety lest the proposed Arbitration should fail. We learned with much surprise that one of the Commissioners, Professor Bernard, justified the dangerous ambiguity of the Treaty by giving reasons which sometimes make it necessary for diplomatists to avail themselves of "less accurate" language than they would otherwise employ. Of course the Foreign Office sanctioned this "less accurate" language. Yet the Foreign Office always prides itself upon its powers of accuracy of expression—they say the training of the service enables them to draw up diplomatic documents in language which shall be free from mistake; but I must say that my experience has shown that the Foreign Office has by no means succeeded in this object. The Washington Treaty was certainly a case in point. It appeared that certain expressions that might otherwise have been insisted upon had been yielded in order to avoid offending the susceptibilities of the Senate of the United States; but if our Commissioners at Washington had been able to say that the language they adopted must be such as was likely to be also accepted by the House of Commons, their position would have been strengthened, and the use of ambiguous language might have been avoided. I think altogether, in this view, the relative position held by our Commissioners was an unfair one, and I hope the Government, by accepting my proposal, will prevent similar disadvantages in future in the negotiation of Treaties by British Commissioners. I think the responsibility of Parliament 454 in the matter of Treaties should be a real responsibility, and whilst I may not carry hon. Members with me to the full extent of all Treaties, I think they will be disposed to agree with me that in the case of Commercial Treaties there should be in every case a special Article rendering their ratification conditional upon the sanction of the House being obtained. We have a right especially to urge this in respect to the French Treaty on the ground of former precedents. Mr. Pitt, in 1787, laid the Commercial Treaty with France on the Table of the House, and an Address to the Crown was moved upon it. In 1860, Lord Palmerston informed the House that in reference to the French Treaty he proposed to follow the course adopted by Mr. Pitt, and he stated that by a distinct Article it was subject to the approval of Parliament. In the present Treaty such a power was reserved to the French Assembly, though not to the House of Commons; but without this power it was impossible that the House of Commons could deal with the subject. It surely seems only reasonable that an opportunity should be afforded of discussing this question, not as a matter of party politics, or of confidence in the Government, but as solely affecting the commerce of the country, and I hope it is not too late even now to introduce a Supplemental Article in the Treaty providing for the prior approval of the House of Commons before ratification. We have yet to discuss the question, whether it is desirable to have any Treaty at all, and I have hitherto heard no arguments which justify the course taken by the Foreign Office. My belief is that the Treaty is altogether an impolitic one. Had Lord Melbourne been alive, he might with advantage have suggested to the Foreign Office—"Why can't you let it alone?" The great thing is to impress upon the Foreign Office the necessity of letting things alone, and of intermeddling as little as possible. Lord Granville at the Mansion House did make a defence of the proposed Treaty, and The Times, which had apparently varied in its judgment upon this question—though I do not complain that it has reflected the changes in public feeling—thus summed up its comments upon Lord Granville's speech—"The weak point in his argument was that he did not show why it was desirable to have 455 a Treaty at all." I quite agree that this was the weak point in his argument. We should have left the French people to learn by experience the effect of the denunciation of the Treaty of 1860, and I believe that in a short period the denunciation of the Treaty would have been generally acknowledged to be very injurious to the commercial interests of France, and that a lesson of political economy would have been taught to the nation, which would have been greatly in favour of free commercial intercourse. We ought not to have stopped forward to assist the President in what was a reactionary policy. By assisting him in this way we have placed ourselves in a false position. I have been ashamed to see deputations from English Chambers of Commerce haggling for terms under the Treaty. Such proceedings must shake the opinion of the world as to the confidence we feel in our own principles, and the policy of the Government has struck a blow and given great discouragement to the Free Trade party in Europe. As an exponent of the opinions of that party, Monsieur Chevalier may fairly be taken as one of the greatest authorities, and he says he is at a loss to explain—Why the English Government, which, since 1846, has assumed to itself the great honour of being the standard bearer of commercial freedom, should be content to endorse the policy of M. Thiers, whose object notoriously is to induce the world to walk backwards.The truth is, that without the assistance of England, M. Thiers would have found it absolutely impossible to carry out his reactionary policy. He distinctly acknowledged in his Presidental Message that—The want of accord between France and England would render impossible any understanding with the other commercial Powers, and that once England had refused to admit our tariffs, they would have stood no chance of being accepted elsewhere.The main reason for the course taken by Her Majesty's Government probably was their anxiety to get rid of the sur-charge imposed upon the British flag in France— a sur-charge which they believed would inflict great injury on British commerce. No doubt there was some alarm expressed in this House. But it was most unfortunate that the Government had not waited for further experience of the operation of the sur-taxe before taking any action. If we had left the question to be dealt with in France, the tax would 456 probably have been abolished in a short time, as a great outcry had been raised against it on account of its injurious effects upon French commerce. The principal shipping ports were up in arms against it. Rouen and Marseilles, Lyons and Dunkirk, Havre and Nantes were all loud in opposition to it. In the Paris correspondence of the London papers last October, it was stated that—There is not a port of any importance in the country that is not sending up either deputations or remonstrances of some kind against an impost which has driven all their usual means of transport from their harbours, and left their produce to rot in their warehouses. Their misfortunes are aggravated by seeing the ports of neighbouring countries benefiting just in the degree in which they suffer.Nor would the effect of this impost have been an unmixed disadvantage for the time, even to English interests. I saw a statement in the papers last month, that owing to its effect in diverting the current of trade, certain shipping interests in Liverpool would have derived a considerable benefit in increased traffic. But it is now perfectly well understood that M. Thiers simply put on the tax to drive the British Government to renew negotiations with him for a new Treaty, and Lord Granville fell into the snare. M. Thiers is a man of great astuteness, and it is understood that he is making use of other matters of policy to carry the Treaty in which he feels so much interested. It is in fact doubtful whether the National Assembly will support the Treaty if taken upon its own merits; but its ultimate disposal will depend entirely upon other considerations affecting the position of parties. All this makes it more unfortunate that we have had anything to do with it. So far I have dealt with the question as to whether there should be a Treaty at all; but that point being conceded in the affirmative, the details of the Treaty become a matter of the gravest importance to Parliament. There are already doubts expressed as to the meaning of some parts of the Treaty arising from the usual ambiguity and want of precision of our Foreign Office. We agree to allow compensatory duties to be levied on British goods on account of taxes which France intends to impose upon the raw materials used by her manufacturers; but it appears that those taxes upon raw materials cannot be levied unless Germany, Austria, Italy, Holland, 457 and Switzerland agree to have compensatory duties upon their goods notwithstanding their Treaties to the contrary, which, unlike ours, will not expire until the year 1877. The question then arises, if Frances is unable, until 1877, to impose any taxes upon raw materials, are our goods, notwithstanding, to pay compensatory duties? I think we ought to have distinct information upon this point, or we may otherwise find that we have agreed to place ourselves at a great disadvantage in relation to other countries trading with France. A rumour has recently obtained currency to the effect that representatives of the British Government had been urging certain Continental Governments having treaties with France to concede what M. Thiers desired. I trust that Her Majesty's Government have adopted no such undignified course, and I shall be delighted to hear the rumour contradicted. But whatever may be the real intention of the Treaty in respect to the compensatory duties, there is no doubt that, as matters stand at present, England will be at a disadvantage with other countries in her trade with France until the year 1877. Up to that time she submits to be excluded from the "most favoured nation" clause. It is not my intention on this occasion to go into any question as to the amount of duties which are proposed to be levied. Any hon. Gentleman in glancing at the schedules will see that the duties are very numerous and very complicated, and must necessarily occasion great interference with trade. But I think I have a right to urge upon the Government, as a reason for submitting the Treaty to the consideration of the House, that several important Chambers of Commerce have expressed strong opinions against it. I hold in my hand Reports of the proceedings of three of those Chambers to which very briefly I wish to direct the attention of the House. The Macclesfield Chamber express their—Entire disapproval of the policy of Her Majesty's Government with reference to the adoption of the Anglo-French Treaty of 1872, which they regard as marking a step backward in the path of free trade," and "they look with confidence to Members of Parliament to oppose with all their influence the adoption of such a retrogressive commercial policy.The Macclesfield Chamber also take the opportunity in their Report of expressing an opinion in favour of the Resolution which I am at present recommend 458 ing to the adoption of the House. I will now quote an extract from the Report of the Chamber of Commerce of Manchester. It says—The directors object to the sacrifice of principle involved in endorsing the policy of M. Thiers, and they share the conviction entertained by a large majority of the French Chambers of Commerce and the French commercial public that the tax on raw materials will do little or nothing to relieve, even temporarily, the financial embarrassments of France; and that by lending countenance and support to its imposition, the Government of this country would violate those principles of free trade and sound commercial policy by the observance of which alone they believe the true and ultimate prosperity of nations can be secured.The Bradford Chamber of Commerce appear to be equally dissatisfied with the Treaty, and the President of the Chamber at a recent meeting remarked—That the terms conceded by the French Treaty to Bradford were perhaps more favourable than those obtained for any other trade in the kingdom, yet he could not but express his deep regret that the English Government had not been able to make further progress in the direction of free trade instead of returning to the dark ages of protection.I need not trouble the House with any further evidence of the dissatisfaction occasioned by the policy of the Government. My hon. and learned Friend who will second this Motion (Mr. Staveley Hill), will be able to tell us that his constituents are much dissatisfied with the Treaty. I dare say that the views entertained by my hon. and learned Friend may differ in certain important points from my own; but, at all events, he represents the opinion of the manufacturers of Coventry that the Treaty is an objectionable one, and that it ought not to be adopted without the sanction of Parliament being previously obtained. I presume we shall be told that other Chambers of Commerce have yielded some measure of approval to the Treaty. But it must be remembered that Macclesfield, Manchester, and 13radfUrd represent the silk, cotton, and woollen trades, which are three of the greatest interests affected by the proposals of M. Thiers. Our exports to France in 1871 amounted, in value of silk goods, to about £500,000; of cotton goods to £2,250,000; and of woollen goods to £3,250,000; making a total in value of one-third of our entire exports to France. Amongst the other heavy items of our French trade were coal, corn, machinery, iron, &c., which were not affected by the proposed compensatory duties, so that the remaining 459 articles which were so affected were of minor importance compared with silk, woollen, and cotton goods. I think that the facts which I have now stated furnish very strong grounds in favour of the Resolution which I have submitted, and in an especial manner justify me in believing that it is essential to the welfare of the trading community that Parliament should have an effectual means of considering the provisions of Commercial Treaties before they receive the ratification of the Crown. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving his Resolution; but the House having already decided that Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair, the Question could not be proposed.
MR. STAVELEY HILL
expressed his opinion that the proposition which had just been made could only be controverted upon one of two grounds —either that the consideration by Parliament of Treaties before their ratification would be derogatory to the dignity of the Executive Government, or that it would give rise to inconvenience in getting full consent to the Treaties. Why should it be said that it was beneath the dignity of the Executive to take into its confidence the Houses of Parliament in reference to the ratification of Treaties? A similar objection to this was raised in 1781 and 1782, when an attempt was made by Parliament to put an end to the American War, and it was said that it was beyond the duty of Parliament to advise the Sovereign in such a matter as that. In the debate which was raised at that time upon the great speech of General Conway, all the precedents on the subject of Treaties were quoted and considered, and it was clearly shown that it was competent to the Houses of Parliament to advise the Sovereign on all matters connected with the relations of England with foreign countries, and notably the precedent furnished by the fact that Henry VII. called his Parliament together to advise him whether he should assist the Duke of Bretagne against the King of France was relied on. But it had been objected that the consideration of a Treaty by Parliament before its ratification would be fraught with inconvenience, inasmuch as, there being two parties to the Treaty, it might produce an unwillingness in the mind of either to enter into it. But what possible inconvenience could arise if it should happen that, on consideration, 460 this country became unwilling to enter into a particular Treaty? So far from such unwillingness being inconvenient, it would, having arisen from full discussion, be attended with advantage to the trade of the country. It was, indeed, true, as was said in the year 1860, when the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government made his famous speech on the subject of Treaties—if, indeed, one of his speeches could be more famous than another — that the publication of a Treaty, which had been kept secret during its negotiation, might "send a thrill through the country;" but it could not be urged with any appearance of sound argument that it would be better that a section of the community should be injured by the operation of a Treaty, without having been consulted, than that before it was entered into they should be allowed to be heard in reference to it through their representatives in Parliament. Would it not, on the contrary, be better and wiser to allow them to show the pressure which the Treaty would bring upon them, rather than leave them to grumble at it after it had been entered into? Was it likely to make a Treaty more acceptable to the trades affected by it to bring it upon them suddenly than to afford them an opportunity of having their opinions in reference to it expressed in Parliament before it was ratified? Again, it was said that a discussion on the subject-matter might make the other party to the Treaty unwilling to enter into it. Well, did anyone think that a Treaty would be regarded by a foreign nation as being worth entering into if they discovered that this country had got the better of them? A commercial Treaty was merely a bargain between two countries, and if either of them were to find out that the bargain was an unfair one would not that country at once repudiate the bargain? It might agree to be bound by the Treaty for the time specified in it; but they might depend upon it that was not the way to produce amity among nations. His hon. Friend the Member for Warrington had gone at length into the question of the Treaty of Washington, and it was not his intention to follow him into that subject further than to ask whether they could not on the floor of that House have settled a far better Treaty than that was? For his part, he believed that the great bulk of the 461 people of this country regarded that Treaty as being one of the greatest shams that ever was palmed off upon the British nation. But they had now to deal more especially with the Treaty with France. It had been said that it was of importance that that Treaty should be completed in secret, and that its publication before ratification would be attended with mischievous results. But upon what ground could that be urged? Only upon the supposition that the 15 gentlemen who sat round the Council Board were qualified to advise the Foreign Office without extraneous assistance; because, if they required such assistance, it ought to come from the Houses of Parliament. Had they, then, of themselves the necessary qualification? That they had not was shown by the fact that the Chambers of Commerce of Macclesfield, Manchester, and Coventry had received communications, marked "confidential" it was true, requesting advice upon particular portions of the Treaty. What was that but a confession that they had not sufficient means of judging for themselves on such matters? His hon. Friend the Member for Warrington had referred to the expression of Lord Granville to the effect that no Treaty of this sort should be retrogressive. But was not the new Treaty with France retrogressive? It was said, indeed, that France had undertaken not to put anything in the shape of a protective duty upon manufactured goods. Well, he found by the Treaty that the tariff duty on raw silk was to be 1f. 25c. per kilogramme, while that upon thrown silk was to be 2f. 50c. per kilogramme. Where was the compensatory duty there? In the conversion of raw silk into thrown silk it was reduced to the extent of from 6 to 9 per cent only. How, then, could it be said that the doubling of the duty was anything but a protective duty? That, however, was riot the time to enter more fully into the subject. The Treaty had been kept private up to the present time, and Parliament had had no opportunity of considering, before it was too late, whether it was likely to be conducive to the prosperity of the country. If no better reason could be shown against the proposal of his hon. Friend than that its adoption would be productive of inconvenience, or that discussion might excite in the minds of either party to a Treaty an unwillingness to enter into it, 462 he hoped the House would agree to the Motion, for he could not but think that it would be for the benefit of the country that Treaties, and especially commercial Treaties, should be considered by Parliament before they were ratified.
§ LORD EDMOND FITZMAURICE
said, that the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. Rylands) had in his Motion referred to a particular case and laid down a general proposition. It would, he thought, have been more convenient if his hon. Friend's Motion had followed the course of his speech—namely, if it had taken the general proposition first and then had illustrated it with the particular cases. He would thus have avoided the mistake into which he fell, of merely illustrating a general proposition by an exceedingly modern instance. It was a mistake, because there was a tendency in the human mind, which it was not easy to avoid, rather to exaggerate the comparative importance of those events which were passing immediately around us. He would be the last to deny the immense importance of the negotiation with America, or of that which had been recently concluded with France; but lie must say that when his hon. Friend brought forward so broad a proposition—namely, that all future Treaties between this country and foreign nations should be treated in a particular way—it would have been well if lie had supported the proposal by other illustrations than the two which lie had adduced in his speech, and on which lie entirely relied. He confessed that when tile hon. and learned Member for Coventry (Mr. Staveley Hill) got up he expected the hon. and learned Member would have made up for the shortcomings of his hon. Friend; but in that expectation he had been disappointed, as the hon. and learned Gentleman had referred to one authority only, and that in the reign of Henry VII. He (Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice) would endeavour to treat the matter in a more general way; and, first, he would refer to the general proposition stated in the Motion. There ran, he thought, through the speeches made in support of it a radical misconception as to what the powers of the House of Commons were, and as to what the Constitutional theory of this country as to the making and ratifying of Treaties was. If he thought that the House was placed in the doleful posi- 463 tion described by his hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, he might be disposed to agree in the view which he took of the remedy. But, believing the case to be otherwise, he should certainly go into the lobby against him. Now, he would begin by referring to the great authority of Mr. Wheaton for a definition of the treaty-making power in this country, for Wheaton was not only an international jurist, but from his knowledge of the Constitutions of the countries to which he was accredited in a diplomatic capacity, was also an authority on constitutional and municipal law. He laid it down, though the treaty-making power as a branch of the Royal Prerogative had in theory no limits, it was practically limited by the general control of Parliament, whose approbation was necessary to carry into effect Treaties by which the existing territorial arrangements of the Empire were altered. Starting, then, with this definition, he would examine the various kinds of Treaties, in some of which the power of the House and of the Executive differed from their power in others. As to Treaties of Guarantee, the hon. Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson), though he obtained little support last Session to his proposal that we should get out of our existing guarantees, certainly represented the national feeling in expressing a horror of them, and no Minister would venture to bind this country to a now guarantee; but he (Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice) thought it only fair to set aside for the present the consideration of Treaties of guarantee when they were considering a state of things very different from that under which Treaties of Guarantee were possible. Treaties of Limited Succour, by which a Sovereign lent or sold men to be used against a State with which he was not at war, also belonged to the past; for no English monarch would now imitate those engagements and loans of troops of which the engagement of Hessians by George III was a fair illustration. He would now proceed to consider the doctrines regarding Treaties known as Treaties of General Alliance—offensive or defensive. The question was whether it would be advisable for that House to exercise the interference which the hon. Member for Warrington advocated in respect to such Treaties. He would remind the hon. Member that 464 a few days ago he had a Motion on the Paper involving an attack upon the conduct of the First Commissioner of Works for the Rules he had framed for the regulation of Hyde Park at a time when Parliament was not sitting. Now, it appeared to him that the arguments at that time used in justification of those Rules applied with far greater force to the making of Treaties without the assistance of Parliament. He submitted that a state of things might arise requiring the making of Treaties of General Alliance and Peace by the Executive alone, without calling Parliament together for the consideration of what might perhaps turn out a very trivial matter; but, on the other hand, might be a matter requiring the utmost secresy and despatch—one in which the time necessary for the consent of Parliament could not possibly be spared. But whatever might be the powers of the Executive, it was incorrect to say that Parliament had no power in the matter. This, indeed, had not always been so. There was no doubt that two centuries and a-half ago there existed a great jealousy on the part of the Executive Government against any interference on the part of the House of Commons in what were called the affairs and mysteries of State. He found it stated by the historian Hallam, that in the reign of James I. the House of Commons drew up a Petition complaining of the conduct of Government in concluding a Treaty with Spain, and of the injustice suffered by English merchants and mariners from the mariners of that Power. They were about to present their Petition to the Crown, when the Earls of Salisbury and Northampton, two of the Ministers of that day, told them that the House of Commons was an excellent body for the management of local concerns, but they had no right whatever to interfere with the Government in the consideration of the affairs of State. The difference between this language and that used the other night by the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), who laid down the very opposite doctrine, and advised the House to recollect that it had other duties besides those of a large select vestry, showed how much the position of the House had changed since then. James I., on another occasion, when the House was about to address him on a question of foreign politics relating to 465 the marriage of his son, rebuked the "fiery and popular spirits" who had presumed to meddle with "mysteries of State." His hon. Friend, had he lived at that time, would have been deemed a "fiery and popular spirit." The question then arose, how had the great change in constitutional theory to which he had alluded been effected? The House had obtained power in foreign as in domestic questions by their power of the purse, and by the appropriation of Supplies—a doctrine maintained with one or two exceptions since Charles II's reign. This gave them the command, not only of the purse, but of the helm of Government. The importance of this doctrine had been pointed out by Hallam in the following remarkable words:—The House of Commons would be deeply responsible to the country if through supine confidence it should abandon that high privilege which has made it the arbiter of court factions and the regulator of foreign connections.A great deal of what he had just said applied to Treaties of Peace, and even to those which ceded territory at the end of a war. Lord Loughborough, indeed, at the end of the American War, brought forward a Motion in the House of Lords declaring that the Prerogative of the Crown in matters of Treaty was limited, and ought not to be exercised without the consent of Parliament in respect to any Treaty under which a cession of territory took place. Lord Thurlow, then Chancellor, ridiculed and denounced this with great violence, but he himself believed the doctrine laid down by Lord Loughborough on this point to be bad law, and only as he had shown by Mr. Wheaton to be correct so far as it applied to treaties of cession made in a time of peace. The only exception he knew of was the cession of Dunkirk under Charles II., which formed one of the articles of impeachment against Clarendon. The cases of the Orange River Settlement and the Ionian Islands were not to the point. It was interesting to know, from a recent letter by Mr. Forsyth in the leading journal, that the matter had recently assumed the position of a practical question, because the Indian Government, acting with the power of the Crown, had thought fit, de proprio motu, to transfer 116 villages, now under English rule, to an Indian rajah. It might, therefore, be said that the authority of the Crown 466 was hero exercised by the Indian Government in the cession, in a time of peace, of so much British territory to Native rule without consulting the opinion of Parliament. As an illustration of cases in which the Government might have to make Treaties when Parliament was not sitting, and when if the Executive Government had to wait for the meeting of Parliament a very important opportunity might be lost, he would take the Treaty made in 1840, concerning the Ottoman Empire. In the secret Protocol annexed to that Treaty, it was stated that the Plenipotentiaries had agreed that the preliminary measures should be carried into effect without oven waiting for the exchange of ratifications, so urgent was the need. If it had been one of the Rules of this House that no Treaty should be valid which had not received the assent of Parliament, that Treaty could not possibly have been carried out. The hon. Member for Warrington had laid great stress upon the French Treaty being a Commercial Treaty, and he was willing to grant that the circumstances of the time had materially diminished the power of that House over Commercial Treaties. When the commercial system of this country was founded on a protective tariff, it was necessary, when the changes proposed affected the Revenue, to come to the House with a measure which was technically a Money Bill, and the House could refuse to pass the Bill if it did not like the Treaty. Since the time, however, that this country had adopted free trade theories, it was now hardly ever necessary for the Government on any such ground to ask the consent of the House of Commons to a Commercial Treaty. The 9th section of the Treaty of Utrecht contained a clause at variance with the Methuen Treaty, which had been concluded with Portugal, and owing to the opposition of Mr. Gould, one of the Members for the City, and the speeches of General Stanhope and others, the Money Bill thereby made necessary was rejected, and the clause was struck out of the Treaty of Utrecht. Although, however, this change had occurred, the power of the House over Commercial Treaties was still great, as it was over all other Treaties, by its general hold on the Executive. Again, its influence could make itself felt by the assertion of its opinions upon commercial matters 467 by Resolutions or Motions for Addresses to the Crown. If the House, for example, thought that the Ministers had effected a bad Treaty, the House might move a Vote of Censure against them. He would remind the House that the Ministry which concluded peace with the American Colonies fell on an Amendment to the Address, and a Resolution of sympathy with the American loyalists being carried against them. While a Treaty was being negotiated a discussion upon it could always be got up, and the opinion of the commercial world could easily be obtained upon it. If, on the other hand, Parliament was not sitting, the Government could consult the Chambers of Commerce, and although the hon. Member did not appear to think that the Government had given clue weight to their advice, it was the undoubted duty of the Government to obtain light from all quarters, and abide by the result. Upon the whole, therefore, lie came to the conclusion that the present state of things, as regarded the making of Treaties, was the best for all interests. In the negotiation of a Treaty, the Executive Goverment was independent and untrammelled by outside interference. The moment, however, the Treaty was concluded, the Minister had to come down to the House and answer for it. The House of Commons, therefore, possessed a great and. real authority in regard to Treaties, and was not in the position of helplessness suggested by the hon. Member for Warrington. His hon. Friend having alluded to the Commercial Treaty with France, he wished to observe that there was one clause in it which had been pointed out in The Economist newspaper of last November as very ambiguous. It appeared to be in direct contradiction to the "most favoured nation" clause which had been held out as a great inducement to this country to submit to the differential duties in the Treaty. Clause 2, sub-section 2, after providing that the duties in the tariff shall be the maximum duties, so long as the Treaties with foreign Powers shall not be modified, provides—That the difference, as against such goods, of the duties therein specified shall not be increased relatively to the duties on the like goods now levied under treaties existing between France and any third Power.468 This clause, if it meant anything, meant that if under now subsisting Treaties between France and Austria and between France and England there were duties of 2 and 3 per cent on Austrian and English goods respectively, it would be open to France to make a new Treaty with Austria admitting Austrian goods at 1 per cent, while at the same time she could not be compelled to admit English goods at less than 2 per cent. What, then, became of the "most favoured nation" clause? Returning to the general question, he might say that it was not from any wish to circumscribe the privileges of that House that he expressed the views he had done; but the present Resolution was, in his opinion, unnecessary for the good government of the country, and not likely to increase the prospects of peace either in this country or in Europe. He would accordingly vote against it.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
The hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. Rylands) in his very able speech, said, although he did not think that all the Members of that House would go along with him in the object of his Motion, nevertheless some he believed would sympathise with him, so far as Commercial Treaties were concerned. Now he (Lord John Manners) confessed that, so far as the hon. Member's Motion regarded Commercial Treaties, he fully sympathised with his views. The confession just made by the noble Lord (Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice) that the House of Commons did not possess the same power over Commercial Treaties which it possessed 50 or 100 years ago, might, he thought, be taken as a concession to the views of the hon. Member for Warrington. His (Lord John Manners) objection to the present system under which Commercial Treaties were effected was that it materially interfered with what he held to be the undoubted right of the House of Commons to decide upon the financial arrangements of this country. It was impossible to say that the House of Commons could properly consider the provisions of the Budget annually proposed by the Government when hon. Members were well aware that whole classes of possible sources of taxation were removed from that consideration. Last night, when the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. W.H. Smith) asked the Prime Minister if Her Majesty's 469 Government had any intention of imposing an export duty on coal, the right hon. Gentleman replied that the new French Treaty contained nothing to prevent the imposition of an export duty on coal; but he added that until the Treaty between us and the Zollverein, which was signed in 1865 and which did contain such an obligation, had expired, which would not be until 1877, France, supposing the new Treaty to be ratified, could claim exemption from any duty on coal under the "most favoured nation" clause. There was not a man in that House who, in the present condition of the country, would say, when the Financial Statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer came to be considered, that the question of the propriety of imposing an export duty on coal was not worthy of discussion; but until the year 1877 that House was precluded from considering so important a question. The noble Lord, qualifying the concessions that he made, proceeded to point out the reason which, in his opinion, rendered the diminished power possessed by the House of Commons of less practical consequence than it would otherwise be. He said that the tendency of modern commercial legislation was no longer to impose import duties on foreign articles, and therefore, though the House of Commons had nominally lost its power in that respect, that in reality it had only lost the shadow of its power. If they examined the Treaty with France they would find, it was true, very few duties retained in our favour, hut it contained an enormous schedule of duties imposed on articles imported from this country into France, and the interests of those classes to whom the noble Lord referred might be most deeply prejudiced by the imposition of those duties. It appeared to him that the House of Commons had a perfect right to be the arbiter of the financial arrangements of the year unimperilled and unimpeded by these Commercial Treaties. He could not support the Motion in that part affecting Treaties in general. The forms of the House, indeed, prevented the hon. Gentleman from putting the Motion for its acceptance; but he could not refrain from expressing his sympathy with that portion of it which referred to Commercial Treaties with foreign Powers.
I do not know whether it be the pleasure of the House 470 to pursue this conversation into a debate upon a scale which, I must submit, would be suited to the importance of the subject. The debate or conversation that has taken place has been conducted with great ability, and in particular I feel indebted to my noble Friend the Member for Calne (Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice) for his able speech, in which he has given us the benefit of those real historical studies that can never be too sedulously pursued by Members of this House, especially by those who take part in foreign affairs, if they wish to make their talents useful to their country. There have, however, been several points on which appeals have been made to Her Majesty's Government, and it seems to me right that the debate should not last any longer without a declaration on our part. The noble Lord who has just sat down (Lord John Manners) has essentially altered the nature of the issue—if, indeed, issue it can be called—where there is neither a division in prospect nor even a Motion before the House. The hon. and learned Member for Coventry (Mr. Staveley Hill) in his zeal seconded what he called the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Mr. Rylands); but though it was true in the spirit in which ho spoke, it was not correct in the actual position of the question before the House. The question, as it is raised by the noble Lord opposite, is really and entirely a different question from that which is before the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Mr. Rylands) has proposed, under what I may call adverse circumstances, not, indeed, to empty benches, but to a thin House, and without the opportunity of testing by Motion, the largest Constitutional change which of late years has been submitted to the House. No doubt my hon. Friend has been already complimented on the ability of his speech, and he has shown no want of courage in the course he has adopted. But the proposal of the noble Lord (Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice) is of a much more limited character. With respect to our Commercial Treaties, it has happened de facto that for the most part Parliament has intervened up to this time. Indeed, I am not aware of any case in which a Commercial Treaty has been made by the Executive Government having important consequences as regards the trade and commerce of the country when 471 Parliament has not had an opportunity of intervening. The noble Lord will permit me to point out that I think he has fallen into an error in the single instance he has quoted of the prohibition by Treaty of an export duty on coal. On that single instance the noble Lord founded the sort of general proposition that in consequence of the system in which we live it happens that behind the back of Parliament important sources of possible Revenue are closed by the act of the Executive at its own discretion. But this is not the case, because the Treaties in force which preclude our laying an export duty on coal are Treaties copied from the very same provisions into which we had entered with the full assent of Parliament. The origin of this prohibition of an export duty on coal is in the Treaty of 1860 between this country and France. The noble Lord and others, who took part in the debates at that period, know that the Treaty was contingent on the assent of Parliament, and that all parts of it were discussed in this House at great length. Indeed, it formed a large part of the Session of 1860. In those discussions Parliament either actively or tacitly gave its assent to the principle on which we had acted of renouncing the export duty on coal; and therefore it was on that principle, approved of by Parliament, that the Government acted, and extended it to Austria and the Zollverein. If the proposal is made to limit the Prerogative of the Crown with respect to Commercial Treaties alone I should consider it a matter of such vast importance as to deserve separate and careful discussion. The main elements of difficulty which attach to the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington do not attach themselves, or only in a minor degree, to the more limited proposal of the noble Lord. At the same time, I must reserve the freedom of my own judgment, and of the judgment of the Government, with respect to it, and must not be supposed in any way to compromise either myself or them with respect to it. But the question we have before us is the very large one raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, on which I understand the noble Lord opposite to part company with my hon. Friend when they have disposed of that portion of the subject relating to Commercial Treaties alone. On the broader 472 question I will offer a few remarks to the House, for I do not believe that even in the mind of the Mover of the Motion it has received the amplitude of consideration which it deserves in all its aspects. The hon. and learned Member for Coventry thought objection could be only taken to the Motion on two grounds —the dignity of the Executive Government, and the inconvenience which might arise to the negotiators themselves if the Motion were adopted. As regards the first of these objections, I certainly, for one, shall not attack it. I do not feel embarrassed by any consideration of dignity in the matter; and on the part of the Government generally and of the Crown it may be stated that the dignity of the Executive Government, and even of the Crown, consists in having that arrangement of public business, and that judicious distribution of duty between the executive and legislative powers which best promotes the interests of the country. With respect to the argument of utility, with which the noble Lord proceeded to deal, I must confess I differ from him. He said we must have some stronger argument in order to overthrow the Motion than the argument derived from the inconvenience which the Motion would import into negotiations. I do think, if it is to be admitted that the success of negotiation is a thing entirely immaterial, and that, if approval of the Motion would be fatal to the successful conduct of negotiation, that would do nothing towards making out the case against it—if that position is to be assumed, I confess I am in despair, because my objections to the Motion are of a practical character. Dealing with a subject of a practical character, on political grounds, I really cannot conceive that the House would for a moment hesitate as to the conclusion at which it must arrive. With respect to the Commercial Treaty with France, there is nothing to prevent the House expressing its opinion at this moment. If the House is disposed to think that, upon the whole, we have done wrong in signing that Treaty, the House is perfectly free to express that opinion, and it is liable to no imputation of breach of faith. But look at the difficulty in which we are placed. My hon. Friend seems to doubt on the whole the expediency of that Treaty, and he, doubting it, and 473 stating some of the arguments against it, the only course open to the Government would be to defend the Treaty. I cannot meet my hon. Friend—I frankly own I am not prepared at the present moment to enter upon a defence of the Treaty, because I think it would be injurious to the public interests. I wish for the Treaty; I think it is our duty to do nothing which might imperil the safe arrival of the Treaty at its conclusion and ratification. I think an argument in this House upon the merits of the Treaty, which might produce abroad exaggerated apprehensions and estimates, either in one sense or the other, might very possibly tend to perplex and embarrass discussion in France. If there is to be discussion, it ought to be unprejudiced, impartial, and spontaneous —derived from French impressions and informations, and not from English opinions and telegraphed reports of what may be said here. I am unwilling to expose the public interests in this way. This, on a small scale, illustrates the difficulty which would arise in these cases, though as regards information there can be no difficulty. I will make a short statement on points upon which appeals have been made to me, and with respect to which I can do so without injury. My hon. Friend is under the impression that we are acting in support of the Government of M. Thiers. We are neither the friends nor the opponents of any particular minister or Executive Government on the face of the earth. Our business is to maintain the friendly relations of this country with all other nations; and if we are to do this we must sedulously abstain from interference with regard to forms of Government or the persons who occupy the post of power. But my hon. Friend is under a misapprehension. He says truly that M. Thiers has been a Protectionist statesman, and is imbued with those doctrines which my hon. Friend and I believe are profoundly erroneous and exclusively mischievous, and that is quite true. Moreover, we go a little beyond the objection to protection. We are agreed that it is a most mischievous policy, even though it need not involve the principle of protection, to tax the raw material of manufacture. But in this matter we have not been dealing with the Executive Government alone; we have been dealing with the French 474 nation speaking through its authorized representatives. Until it had spoken we maintained great reserve. The first propositions of the French Government were not entertained by us, as will be recollected from the discussions which were held last Session; and in the month of July last year the French Assembly passed a law which involved and applied largely the principle of the taxation of raw materials. I am not able to convey the notion that that produced any change in our view of the policy or the impolicy of the matter; but it did for the attitude of one of the parties to the transaction —namely, that of the French Government and of the French nation; and after the Act had received the sanction of the Assembly it was impossible for us to overlook the fact that the French nation had actually spoken. In reply to the questions of my noble Friend (Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice) I have to say that what both parties understand as to the application of the compensatory duties is this—the compensatory duties upon manufactured goods and the duties upon raw material will become applicable together, and not one before the other, and they will become applicable to the imports from this country without becoming of necessity applicable to imports from those countries with which France is under certain Treaty engagements, for a limited time, that may prevent it. That is the state of the case as regards differential duties. Then my noble Friend did not understand the stipulation in the Treaty that there was to be no augmentation of the difference against us—namely, the difference between the duties which France is now stipulating to levy upon our goods, and the duties which by the present Treaty with Austria she is bound to levy as a maximum upon Austrian goods. The meaning of that stipulation I will illustrate by a supposititious case. Suppose there is a particular article on which, by her Treaty with Austria, France may levy a tax of 4f. Suppose we agree by this Treaty that on the corresponding British article she may levy a tax of 5f. She is free under the Treaty with Austria to reduce her tax upon Austrian goods, say, from 4f. to 2f., but she may not do that without at the same time reducing her tax upon British goods from 5f. to 3f. The words in the Treaty have reference to possible 475 reduction of duties, and they are intended to provide a guarantee, which, I think, is necessary and effectual, that that reduction should not be the means of increasing any disadvantage under which for a time we may be obliged to stand. [Lord. EDMOND FITZMAURICE, interrupting, asked a question with reference to the "favoured nation" clause.] I apprehend the answer to the question would be found in this: the most "favoured nation" clause is enacted in this instrument, and, being enacted in it, I apprehend it is subject to the limitations which the instrument itself contains. In bringing forward the Motion, my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington ought to have laid a very broad ground, largely illustrated by cases of admitted inconvenience arising out of the present system, in order to warrant him in recommending the enormous change he wants us to adopt. He has only referred to the Treaty with France, which, as I have said, I feel myself precluded from discussing on the merits, and to the Treaty of Washington, with regard to which he makes assertions, which may be true or not, but which for the present are really assumptions only. He says that, if this Treaty had only been a proper time before the two Houses of Parliament, it would have been of a different character. If the two Houses contain men of the transcendental ability which the hon. Member indicated, it is a pity they do not put them into the Executive Government. It seems to me to be the business of the two Houses of Parliament to get the best men they can to carry on the Government of the country. The hon. and learned Member for Coventry (Mr. Staveley Hill) does not doubt that we could have made a better Treaty on the floor of this House. I, for one, do not doubt it at all; we could have made what we should think a much better Treaty on the floor of the House, and. I will go further, and say we could have done so in the Cabinet. But then the question is—Would the Americans have agreed to it? There is the difficulty. In these negotiations there are two to the bargain, and. the question is— Do you intend to meet the other side, or do you not? As all the ideas of youth and poetry get dreadfully injured by the friction and attrition of practical life, so generally, in matters of covenant and bargain, that which one party has 476 set before his mind as desirable to attain, has to be modified before he can bring his ideas into the consonance of other men whom he has to meet. That is the secret of this difficulty, and a great difficulty it is. The question, as I have said, is too large to attempt to discuss it now. It goes really to the root of one of the most important parts of the Prerogative of the Crown; and in using that phrase do not let it be supposed I intend to draw a hard and fast line between the Prerogative of the Crown and the power of Parliament. All that is meant by that Prerogative is the practical division which it is necessary to make between the duties of the Executive and the duties of the legislative power. I will not attempt to argue this vast question in full; I will only point out a few considerations relating to it. First of all, I will say, whenever the trade and commerce of this country ran a risk of being injured, in every instance there has been ample provision for ascertaining the mind of Parliament. I do not beg the question as to the present French Treaty. I look upon that as suspended, although, of course, if an hon. Member thought it his duty to make a Motion to prevent its ratification, it would be our duty, whether we liked it or not, to discuss the question. The House of Commons does enjoy real power; and, that it should enjoy all the power which the hon. Member may naturally desire, is a matter which may present itself to the minds of some as a simple one and free from difficulty; but if negotiation is one of the most anxious and difficult duties which the Government have to perform under the complications which now exist, it would be still more anxious and difficult if those complications were multiplied. To one point I will address myself with rather more fulness, because I think it really the foundation on which my hon. Friend and others erect, not logically, but practically, the argument they make and the proposition they wish us to adopt—it is the precedent of the United States. They think that in the case of the Senate of the United States you have an instance of a provision wisely made and which gives a new guarantee for the safe maintenance of the interests of the country; and they wish to have something of the same kind in relation to our own Government and Parliament. 477 Now, Sir, I will venture to say, with all possible respect for American institutions —not scrupling to go so far as to say that, in my opinion, no instrument was ever drawn by human skill and sagacity —but drawing a wide distinction between Constitutions made and Constitutions that have grown—I say no Constitution was ever drawn by man that shows equal sagacity with the Constitution of the United States. Therefore, I do not undervalue at all the excellence that there may be, for the interests of America, in the provision which reserves to the Senate a very large power with regard to foreign negotiations; but without hesitation I propound these propositions—first of all, as far as political Treaties are concerned, the condition of America is quite different from that of a Power which forms one of the European family of nations. America is, as it were, remote from the rest of the world, and that remoteness exempts and liberates her from many of the complications that attach to other countries merely united as members of the European family. Secondly, I hope I shall not be thought disrespectful to America if I say, so far as I am able to judge, that whatever benefit America derives from that provision in regard to the Senate is purchased by a very considerable inconvenience to the Powers with whom negotiations are conducted. It both complicates and weakens the action of the American Government. It would be invidious to refer to particulars; but that is the conclusion to which observation and experience have led my mind. And what I wish specially to point out is this—that the precedent of the American Senate is totally inapplicable to this country. If you could have it to-morrow, you would not take it; for what is the precedent of the Senate? It means this—that one of the Legislative Houses of America has a Committee on Foreign Relations, and acts itself with regard to foreign affairs, and that in all critical and important action, when it proceeds to deal with that great branch of its functions, it proceeds to do so in secret. Now, does my hon. Friend propose that this House shall proceed in secret to check the details of negotiations? That would be impossible. But does my hon. Friend think this House would consider it an improvement upon the present state of matters if you were 478 to appoint a Committee on Foreign Relations, and that Committee were to meet in secret to check the action of the Executive Government with regard to the forms of Treaties? But we are not the only parties concerned. There is the House of Lords. They would have the same power as ourselves; they must have another Committee, meeting in secret; and these two Committees meeting in secret are to exercise the ultimate power of control over the responsible Executive, the members of these Committees being of necessity comparatively irresponsible; and that is to be the great guarantee for the maintenance of the interests of the people. Sir, I think my hon. Friend has not taken a just measure of the real and enormous difficulties involved in this matter. My hon. Friend did indeed refer to the expedient of a Joint Committee of the two Houses, which, he thought, might perhaps get over any of the difficulties he foresaw. My hon. Friend has been complimented for his ability and his courage; I must compliment him also for his tactics—he has been wise in adhering to generalities, and avoiding particulars. He has produced a principle, not a plan. He wants to commit us to his views, and commit us blindfold. He makes the proposal of a Joint Committee of the two Houses. I can understand a proposal to have a Joint Committee, to bring their energies into one common stock for the consideration of Railway Bills—that these Bills should go before one Committee, and not before two. I think it a proof of our folly that for 20 years we have not adopted that plan; but as to a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons, which is on behalf of both and in behalf of the people of England to exercise an ultimate judgment and control in respect to the formation of Treaties with foreign Powers, I must confess I have no such exaggerated faith in Joint Committees as my hon. Friend appears to entertain; and until he is prepared to give some body and form to the dreamy proposition he has laid before us, I must stoutly refuse to accompany him in the path in which he would lead us. It is not necessary to carry the discussion much further; but the proposition he wishes us to countenance goes far beyond what is contemplated—it goes to Treaties of Peace. In the midst of the agonies of war, while the whole energies of the 479 Government were engaged in devising the conditions of a Treaty of Peace, even then the stern and iron will of my hon. Friend is determined to restrain their discretion, for fear of accidents, and would compel a Treaty of Peace, it might be from the camp, to come before this House possibly in the midst of its recess in the autumn, or during the Easter or Whitsuntide holidays. I do not think this proposal has yet attained to such a state of health and vigour as to be able to bear more serious treatment. I do not know that it is desirable to discuss it to-night. I do not make light of the difficulty my hon. Friend feels; I do not say the responsibility of Government as to errors in diplomatic negotiations should entirely satisfy the mind of my hon. Friend; but I do humbly think that the changes that are contemplated should not be lightly entertained; they must be strictly and constitutionally examined. We must not commit ourselves to the principle of change till we see our way to a practical arrangement; and as my hon. Friend has not succeeded in any degree in opening such a path, considering the important calls upon us, we shall do better by pursuing our ordinary avocations rather than be beguiled and inveigled by his speculations to take a course which might lead to great practical inconvenience.
§ SIR WILFRID LAWSON
said, his expectation of opposition on the part of the Prime Minister had been fully realized, for his right hon. Friend had said all he possibly could say against his hon. Friend's Motion, but some of his arguments were not very convincing. He was surprised to hear his right hon. Friend say that the discussion of the French Treaty in that House might be injurious to France. [Mr. GLADSTONE: I said "injurious to public interests."] His right hon. Friend did not say whether he alluded to France or England; but as to France it was well known that no public discussion could take place there. It was said a Treaty might be urgent, and Parliament might not be sitting; but if it was a matter of the least importance, Parliament might be called together to discuss it. He thought his hon. Friend had been fortunate in that he consented last year to postpone his Motion, at the request of the Prime Minister, while the Treaty of Washing- 480 ton was under discussion, because the results of the proceedings with regard to the Treaty went to show that his hon. Friend was right in the view he entertained on this subject. One fact was worth many arguments; and what was the fact? Our cousins across the water were a great deal sharper than we were. They referred the Treaty to the Senate, and they made a much better bargain than we did because the Government did not take the House of Commons into council with them. There was an old and true saying which applied in this case, that "Where there is mystery there is mischief." It had been said to-night—and it was always said when this question was brought before the House—that the Ministry are responsible to Parliament for what is done. It was perfectly true that the House had a great deal of power if it chose to exercise it; but as a matter of fact it was very slow to do so. It was very seldom now-a-days that Parliament cut off the head of a Minister. A Vote of Censure on a Government was a very serious matter, because it upset all the arrangements of an industrial country like this. Therefore, when you said—"Oh, the Ministry are responsible in the end," you merely evaded the point, because you spoke of a remedy which in practice was hardly applicable. When a Treaty was being made the practice was to bring arguments forward to try to prevent Parliament from discussing it. In the preliminary stages, when anyone got up to object, he was told by the powers that be—"You are too soon." If he rose at a later period, it was said—"Don't bring forward the subject, or you will interfere with the progress of the negotiations, which are going on in a most satisfactory manner." If an hon. Member got up in his place months after all was concluded, then the language was—"Oh, you are wasting the time of the House, for all is over." Besides Treaties of Commerce, which in time came to a conclusion, there were Treaties of Guarantee, which were interminable, and these it was most important should be discussed. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) said very truly, in a great speech that he made last spring, that our relations with other countries were the most important part of politics; that there was nothing which 481 so much influenced taxation, or which so much affected the industry and enjoyments of the people. It was most desirable that such Treaties should be brought under the consideration of the House. The noble Lord the Member for Calne (Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice) alluded to a Motion which he (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) made last year, and said that ho wanted the Government to get out of those Treaties of Guarantee. But what he wanted the Government to do, was to take the necessary steps to see whether we could not withdraw from them after due notice to the parties concerned. With regard to these Treaties, the matter seemed to be this. We told certain foreign countries we would employ our power and influence to protect them. When the time for action came, we were told that if public opinion was against it there was no objection to the Treaty not being carried out. In that case we deluded the people of the country to which we had given the guarantee. In another case we might be deluded ourselves, because we might have an unscrupulous Minister, who might come down and say—"There, you are bound to go to war," knowing all the time we were not so bound. The noble Lord the Member for Calne had said that no Government now would make such a Treaty. But that was not so, because in 1870, when war was about to break out between France and Germany, a Treaty of Guarantee was entered into on behalf of Belgium by the present Prime Minister. That Treaty was, in his opinion, a most mischievous one, because it gave the people of this country the idea that they were bound in honour to fight for Belgium, and he could trace to that feeling a great deal of that extravagant expenditure from which we were now suffering, and which would probably form a subject of discussion many times this Session. It might be said that danger would be incurred by laying the subject-matter of Treaties before the House. But it might be very important to call this House into council, because when you legislated in a hurry you might legislate in a panic, and there could not be a greater evil than panic legislation. But when panic legislation arose, there would always be found two or three men who would stand up and say all that could be said against a policy which, though popular, might be dangerous. 482 He should be glad to see the principle of his hon. Friend's Motion affirmed by the House—namely, that it was its duty to criticise and deliberate upon all those public negotiations which ought to be made wholly in the interest of the people.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
Sir, I congratulate Her Majesty's Government upon their having fulfilled to-night the engagement they entered into in 1871, when, upon the recommendation of a Committee, the unofficial Members of this House yielded on Thursday to the Government, on condition that they always placed Supply first upon the Business Paper on Friday afternoons and kept a House. I am truly glad that the Government have fulfilled that pledge; and now I would advert for a few moments to the subject-matter of the Motion, which has been introduced by the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. Rylands). I fully admit the justice of the general objections urged to that Motion by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury. I do not see my way to empowering this House to relieve the Government from the responsibility of negotiating Treaties in general; but there is one species of Treaty which I think ought to be taken out of this general category—I mean Commercial Treaties, which are again coming into fashion, and of one of which we have received a copy this morning; the Treaty at present in process of settlement between France and England. I shall not attempt to dwell upon the contents of that Treaty, because I have not had time to read it, and I think that the moment which the hon. Member for Warrington has chosen to bring on his Motion is unfortunate in this respect. If the hon. Member had confined his proposal to Commercial Treaties, he would have found in me a most ardent supporter, because I have a deep and painful recollection of the Commercial Treaty of 1860. Under that Treaty, notwithstanding all the assurances which were given to this House, those of my constituents who are engaged in the ribbon trade were most severely sacrificed, and I find the Chamber of Commerce at Birmingham alluding to the Treaty now under negotiation somewhat after this manner. I need not quote the words; but, after expressing their satis- 483 faction at having warded off from some of the metal trades the imposition of duties in France in a manner that would have been highly injurious to those trades, they proceed to admit that this Treaty must bear heavily upon the textile fabrics of this country. I remember that in 1860 the people of Birmingham were induced to believe that the people of Coventry and of that district were alarmed without a cause; but it was not long before they saw the distress, which was consequent upon the operation of that Treaty. I was Chairman of the Relief Committee, and I remember the morning when I and the committee found ourselves with 22,000 persons to relieve beyond the capacity of the Poor Law. I remember that Her Majesty and the Prime Minister contributed to relieve that distress; and, with all these recollections still upon me, the House will forgive me if I press upon its attention that these Commercial Treaties ought to be taken out of the category of Treaties, the negotiation and arrangement of which ought, in my opinion, to be conducted solely by the Government, and on the responsibility of the Government. Because what happened in 1860? Two or three of the manufacturing interests of this country were absolutely sacrificed to considerations of general policy. Now, Sir, I think that that is a hardship, a grievous injustice, which Parliament ought to interfere to prevent. There is another consideration. It is perfectly true that the duties of this country cannot be altered without the intervention of this House, and that therefore the alteration of our duties involved in or consequent upon a Commercial Treaty must bring the Treaty itself before this House; but in what way does this question come before us when thus submitted to the House? In 1860 I objected to the removal of the duties which guarded in some degree the interests of the silk trade, considering that France had still the power of returning her high duties, and that there was a manifest want of reciprocity. Well, how was I met? In this way— "We, the Government of this country, have agreed with the Government of France that the duties of Franco shall be high, and that the import duties which are levied in England shall be abolished; if you object to this arrangement, you take the responsibility; the 484 House takes the responsibility of a rupture with France; we warn you that unless the duties which are levied in this country are sacrificed, you entail the danger of a rupture with France." Now, I ask, is that a fair position in which this House ought to be placed? That the House must abandon its peculiar function as guardian of the finance and revenue of the country; and why? Because the Government of the day have entered into an agreement with a foreign Government to alter our financial arrangements, not for a year, but for a period of 10 years in this case. I ask, then, whether that is not a sacrifice of the liberty of the House of Commons; whether that is not an interference by the Government with our special duty, and this in concurrence with the action of a foreign Power? Sir, it does appear to me that on this ground alone Commercial Treaties ought to be taken out of the category of Treaties in general, which I admit ought to be negotiated, concluded, and ratified on the responsibility of the Government. With regard to these, as the Prime Minister pertinently asked the hon. Member for Warrington, would you invest this House with the particular function of the Senate of the United States of America? because, if you are not prepared to do that, you have not suggested any method by which your object can be accomplished. He also rightly enough observed that there is considerable inconvenience—there is certainly delay—in the intervention of the Senate of the United States in regard to Treaties of Peace or War, or the cession or acquisition of territory in consequence of war. In all the right hon. Gentleman said on this part of the question I concur; but he never once adverted to the case of Commercial Treaties. I remember when the Commercial Treaty between France and Austria, which through the Treaty of 1860 indirectly affected this country, was under discussion, that I suggested to the right hon. Gentleman this fact—the Treaty which is thus to indirectly affect this country has been submitted to the Legislative Assembly of Austria; why are we to be kept in ignorance of it? and I never received an answer to that question. Now, again, this Commercial Treaty has been submitted to the Legislative Chamber in France. Why is the House of Commons not to 485 have this Treaty submitted to it by Her Majesty's Government? These instances are completely outside the analogy of other Treaties and the action of the Senate of the United States. Sir, I do not think that the terms of the Motion of the hon. Member for Warrington are convenient. They are too wide; but I trust that the subject will be raised before the House again, in order that the House may have an opportunity of expressing its opinion upon this point, whether Commercial Treaties, as affecting the financial and commercial position of this country, ought not to be submitted to this House earlier—that is, before ratification, in contradistinction to the practice which prevails with respect to other Treaties. Because, look at our position at this moment. The right hon. Gentleman told me, and I believe truly—it was in reply to a Question that I put to him—that the Commercial Treaty now negotiating with France will not affect the duties of this country. But, then, it will do this. It will give the consent of this country to the levying upon the produce of this country, when imported into France and her dependencies, and when passing through France to other countries, heavy duties; and those heavy duties will by this Treaty become guaranteed to France for a certain period. So that, literally, this Treaty will make this country and the Legislature, through its inaction, if it takes no part in the matter, parties to the imposition of heavy duties by France and her dependencies upon many articles which have hitherto been profitably employing the industry of this country. If it had not been for the able speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and the omission from it of this particular consideration, and the exceptional position which, as I think, these Commercial Treaties ought to take in the estimation of the House, I should not have ventured to address to the House the few words I have spoken; but I think I have submitted to the House matter with respect to these Commercial Treaties which, I trust, will induce the House hereafter to insist upon an earlier recognition of its financial functions than has hitherto been the case.
§ MR. AUBERON HERBERT
said, he thought his hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Mr. Rylands) need not be at all discouraged at the manner in 486 which his Motion had been treated; for he believed he had gained this much by it—that no Commercial Treaty was likely to be made by any future Government of this country without being previously laid before that House. The Prime Minister had acknowledged that a de facto right to criticise Commercial Treaties existed in the House of Commons; and the control over those Treaties now contended for would be only a legitimate extension of the rights which the House had exercised in financial matters for centuries. The French Chamber had the present Treaty before them. Why was it to be withheld from the House of Commons? The position was one in which it seemed to him most humiliating that the House should be placed. As to that part of his hon. Friend's Motion which related to Treaties of Peace, he believed that the withholding such Treaties from discussion in the House of Commons had a very bad effect. It tended to produce among hon. Members a certain carelessness with respect to foreign affairs. They felt that they wore not responsible to the country, and therefore did not exert themselves to inform themselves on such subjects. Hence it was that there was not one hon. Member in twenty who really took an interest in questions connected with our foreign relations. That was one reason why the complaint was constantly made of us on the Continent that nobody could say what course would be taken by England on foreign questions, which would not be the case if the House felt itself as responsible in regard to our foreign relations as it did with respect to home affairs. It was scarcely fair, he might add, on the part of the Prime Minister to endeavour to frighten the House in the way he had done by talking of secret sittings. If the House possessed the thorough confidence of the country there was no reason, if the interests of the moment really demanded it, why the House should not, in dealing with Treaties, follow the example of the Senate in America, and hold such sittings. While believing that it was, as a general rule, far better to discuss questions in public, there was no reason, when the necessity for it arose, why such a course should not be taken, for there was in secret sittings nothing of which the House need be ashamed. It was also said by the Prime Minister, with even more than his 487 usual force and eloquence, that the line of action proposed would greatly increase the difficulties in the way of carrying out Treaties. But it was, in his opinion, much better, when two countries were about to enter into a Treaty with regard to a very critical question, that the Treaty should be delayed and the whole matter thoroughly talked out—that whatever was done should be done with the full consent of the whole people, and only when the time for doing it was quite ripe—than that an arrangement should be made for which the hour was too soon and the two countries who were parties to it were not quite prepared. By leaving matters in the hands of the two Governments difficulties might no doubt for the moment be better managed; but difficulties got over in that way would be sure constantly to reappear in a worse form. The Treaty between England and America might, it was true, have been delayed if it had been discussed in that House; but then his belief was that better results would have been produced. The curious relic of power in such eases which was left in the hands of the Government, was, he believed, altogether contrary to the general principles of our Constitution, and could not last many years longer. For his own part, he put his faith entirely in that perfectly free, open system of which we had felt the advantages in other directions.
§ MR. WHEELHOUSE
regretted that the Motion of the hon. Member for Warrington was of so wide a character. Treaties of War and Peace, or what might be called Military Treaties, belonged to one class; but Commercial Treaties belonged to a totally different one, and the line between them was broad and distinct. He could quite understand that it might be desirable, for many reasons connected with the good government of the country, and with the maintenance of proper relations with foreign nations, that the power should be preserved to the Government of enabling them to deal with Military or Naval Treaties; but he earnestly protested against the conclusion of any Commercial Treaty before Parliament had had the fullest opportunity of saying whether that Treaty ought to be ratified or not. It was the duty of Parliament to carefully scan every word contained in such Treaties before they were concluded, 488 so as to ensure that the nation should not be called upon to sacrifice any particular branch of trade unless there was the most urgent necessity for such a course. Parliament ought to be far more astute than it had hitherto shown itself in such matters, and ought especially to see that we were not called upon to give up everything and to receive practically little or nothing in exchange. In the case of Commercial Treaties they ought invariably to be laid upon the Table of the House of Commons for ratification. If the House were to insist upon that, it would really be nothing more than was insisted upon in nearly every country of Europe, even where discussion was not so free as it was in England. Reference had been made to what had occurred at Coventry and at Macclesfield, and certainly that ought to be a warning for the future with regard to the fortunes of the textile fabric trade. Within a circumference of a very few miles round the constituency he represented (Leeds) there were more textile fabrics made than were produced anywhere else in Great Britain, and in the case of Manchester, with its cotton districts, and Leeds, with its woollen districts, the slightest change or modification of the present aspect of commercial affairs by a trade Treaty might operate most harshly and hardly. There was one aspect of this question which he thought had not yet been sufficiently considered. If we were to go on giving our coals, our models, our machinery, and our skilled labour to foreign nations, as we had been doing for years, what was to hinder those foreign nations from successfully competing with us in our own markets, and in the markets all over the world? The interests of the artisans of this country ought to be considered, and it should be remembered that by as much as was prevented from flowing into their pockets for the productions of their labour might there be a tendency to pauperise the wage-class population of Great Britain. It was said that everything would come right in the end; but he had not much faith in such sanguine expectations. What he wanted was to see what he had to deal with, and to know what he had to give up. To a certain extent, no doubt, it was desirable that there should be secrecy in the earlier negotiations with regard to Treaties; but no step should be taken to 489 bind this country for a certain number of years until we knew precisely what we were doing, what was expected of us, and whether an adequate return was to be offered for that which we were to give. The hon. Member for Nottingham (Mr. Auberon Herbert) had said something about being frightened. No one was likely to be frightened; but still it was the duty of Parliament to deal carefully and cautiously with these important matters, and not to allow the country to be rashly and hastily committed to a course of action which might turn out to be disastrous.
§ VISCOUNT ENFIELD
could assure the Members of the House who had spoken on this subject that before this Treaty was proceeded with, the most ample information was sought and obtained from the various Chambers of Commerce of the United Kingdom. Those gentlemen were requested by Lord Granville, and they complied with the request, to appear before the Mixed Commission in Paris in order that their various claims should be considered. During the Recess, gentlemen representing the manufacturing and commercial classes of this country attended frequently at the Foreign Office, and subsequently upon the Commissioners in Paris. They gave their views, they entered into the fullest explanation before the French and the English Commissioners; and he believed that when the further Papers were presented to Parliament it would be seen that, by the advice of those gentlemen, very great and important alterations and emendations were made in the Treaty. He thought that, after careful consideration, the House would come to the conclusion that, so far as the Foreign Office was concerned, neither the commercial nor the manufacturing interests of this country had been neglected by the Treaty.
§ DR. BREWER
said, an hon. Member had suggested that the people at large should be consulted on the subject of a Treaty before it was ratified. Now, as to the Treaty of Washington, which had been specially alluded to, he (Dr. Brewer) believed that if it had been first of all referred to the people of the two countries, such great exasperation would have been exhibited at the terms of the Treaty as would have utterly prevented the Government from performing their duty. That would have 490 led to great procrastination, and, perhaps, ultimately to war. He thought the transfer to the House of the responsibility of the Government with reference to Treaties would be nothing but a delusion and a snare.