HC Deb 21 May 1875 vol 224 cc723-42

, in rising to move— That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that those functions of Her Majesty's Government which especially relate to Commerce and Agriculture should be administered under the direction of a Principal Secretary of State, who shall be a member of the Cabinet, and that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that She will be graciously pleased to give effect to this Resolution, said, he desired it to be understood that, in the course of any remarks he might make on this subject, he had no intention of casting reflections on the present or preceding Governments. The Central Chamber of Agriculture, some weeks ago, passed a resolution desiring that the subject might be brought before the House in connection with the Chambers of Commerce, and it was in consequence of that resolution, and in accordance with the desire of 50 Chambers of Commerce, that he now ventured to bring the subject under their notice. He thought, however, that the commercial and agricultural interests of the country were so large that it required no apology on his part for acting as he had. When they recollected that the exports and imports, as regarded commerce, now exceeded £600,000,000 per annum, and that the tenants' capital employed in agriculture had been estimated at sums varying from £300,000,000 to £500,000,000, besides the home trade, which must amount to a very considerable sum, nothing more need be said to show that these were very great interests indeed, and deserved to be administered by a responsible Minister, a Member of the Cabinet. Formerly English industry was almost without a rival in the world. After the great French war terminated, and up to a few years ago, the circumstances of English industry were such that no competition on the part of foreign nations could possibly affect them; but now, owing to free trade and the various facilities of intercourse by sea and land, the industries of this country had to contend with foreign competition, which even went so far as to press our own producers hard in the home market. Our position as a commercial nation, then, could be maintained only on condition that the Government appreciated and, as far as possible, removed the impediments which beset our commerce on all sides, and gave it that new and legitimate help and protection which consisted not in monopoly, but in securing to British capital and enterprize a fair field abroad, and in carefully considering all matters affecting its interests at home. It was, therefore, of the greatest importance that the interests of Agriculture and Commerce should be under the charge of a properly constituted Department, and that the head of that Department should be a Minister possessing equal status and influence with the other Members of the Cabinet. What he wanted to call the attention of the House to was the fact that there was no Department in the State specially charged with the duties of watching over the interests of British Commerce and Agriculture, as affected by anything that took place in other Departments of the public service. It was a popular belief that the Board of Trade fulfilled the functions of a Minister of Commerce; but that Department had neither the requisite organization nor the requisite powers to fulfil these functions. The Board of Trade might be called in some sense a mythical body. It never met at all. At the commencement of each reign an Order in Council nominated certain high officials of State as a Committee of Council for Trade and Plantations. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord Chancellor, the First Lord of the Treasury, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and other great officers of State were placed on that body, which never met, and it was obvious that it could exercise no consultative functions. Its administrative functions, however, were performed by the President and Vice President, and they were both multifarious, numerous, and of the most varied description. Amongst them were comprised the following:—the inspection of railways, the registration of designs, the registration of joint stock companies, the relief of British subjects abroad, the granting of Royal Charters, matters relating to shipping, and the collection and distribution of deceased seamen's wages; indeed, some of its duties were inconsistent with the proper functions of a Minister of Commerce. If they turned to Agriculture, the Board of Trade did not partially, or even in pretence deal with it, and it was somewhat anomalous to find that, in another Department, the two noble Lords whose duty it was to combat the ignorance of the lower classes had also the duty devolved on them of combating the Rinderpest and Foot-and-mouth disease. There was a great want of arrangement in the various duties which devolved upon the Department, and even, however, if there were a better apportionment of the duties of the President of the Board of Trade, he was not a Member of the Cabinet, and a Minister who was not a Member of the Cabinet had not necessarily cognizance of the action taken by the other Departments; and yet that action might vitally affect commercial interests. He (Mr. Lloyd) would be amongst the first to concede that agricultural and commercial questions were not to override all others. He trusted that patriotism was as lively in the breasts of agricultural and commercial men as in that of any other class of Her Majesty's subjects. The present system needed alteration. "What took place in the different Departments was not necessarily known to the Board of Trade. In 1860, for instance, Colonel Rigby made a very valuable Report on the trade of Zanzibar, and that Report was first published by another Department of the Government two years after it was received, having never been communicated to the Board of Trade at all. The Reciprocity Treaty of 1854 between Canada and the United States, although it very materially affected many important British interests, was never mentioned to the Board of Trade until it was practically concluded. The same course was adopted in the case of the first Treaty with Japan, and of the French Treaty, which was inaugurated by Richard Cobden. In fact, scarcely any question could arise in other Departments which did not have effect, direct or indirect, on trade; and the interests of Commerce and Agriculture, as he had said, could only receive due care by being represented in the Cabinet by a Minister of equal power and authority with his Colleagues. The commercial community sometimes suffered, or thought they suffered, from the want of that watchfulness over their interests which was exercised by foreign Governments on behalf of their competitors. Sir James Emerson Tennent, in his evidence before a Select Committee which sat in 1864, said that the Treasury never consulted the Board of Trade, and yet the Treasury was the Department of the State which initiated legislation on the subject of Customs, Excise, Banking, and Currency. The India Office, also, it was stated, never consulted the Board of Trade. It appeared, therefore, that when the Committee sat in 1864, taxes might have been imposed, modified, or removed, Treaties with foreign Powers concluded, Acts of Colonial Legislatures sanctioned, banking or monetary systems altered, without the previous consent of the Minister whose duty it should be to consider those changes in relation to Commerce. Nothing was further from his intention than to suggest that the functions of a Minister of Commerce should be discharged only by a man who had sprung from the ranks of commerce. "What he wished to see was a Ministry of Commerce, or whatever the office might be called, filled by a trained statesman—and, happily, such men were to be found on the front benches of both sides of the House—who should be a Member of the Cabinet, and equal in point of status, experience, responsibility, and authority to those who presided over Finance, the "War Office, or the Home Office. Since 1864 the former Commercial Department of the Board of Trade had, he believed, been abolished, so that the Board of Trade was now deprived of the means it then had of exercising its functions. Thus all measures of reform connected with industry and commerce were left to the initiative of the public outside, or else to that of the heads of other Departments. No doubt these heads very sincerely desired the well-being of trade and agriculture, but they did not possess in their offices those means for obtaining a knowledge of details and appreciation of consequences of their measures which would be at the hand of a Minister of Commerce with a properly organized staff. Now, that such a Minister of Commerce should be a Member of the Cabinet was recommended by the Committee who sat under the presidency of the right hon. Member for Bradford, and was also supported by Lord Russell, Lord Malmesbury, and Mr. Milner Gibson. Such a Minister was surely as much entitled to a place in the Cabinet as the custodian of Her Majesty's Privy Seal. The existing want of system was strikingly exemplified by the ignorance and uncertainty of the public as to which Department was responsible on commercial questions, deputations to the Government being referred in the most bewildering manner from one Department to another. He would give an instance of the uncertainty which prevailed on the matter. Suppose a deputation waited upon the Government to ask them to negotiate for the removal of a differential duty on British goods, which would raise the question of the propriety of reducing duties levied in this country on Portuguese wine. The Foreign Office would think there was something in what the deputation urged, and would refer them to the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and when they went to him he would refer them to the Inland Revenue or Customs, and then they would get to the Board of Trade; and, finally, if expenses were to be incurred, they would be referred to the Treasury. In Russia, Prussia, and France, Commerce and agriculture were specially represented in the Cabinet; and in India Commerce and Agriculture constituted two distinct Departments under one Chief Secretary. Having thus far dealt with the arguments in favour of his Resolution, he should, in the next place, briefly advert to the objections which were urged against it. The first of those objections was one which had been made by a Member of the late Ministry, who said that the French Treaty would never have been carried into effect, had it been necessary that its details should have been referred to a Minister of Commerce, and that the secrecy which was desirable could not have been observed if the Board of Trade had to be consulted. Now that remark might be fairly applicable to the Board of Trade as at present constituted; but it did not apply to the case of a country having a Minister of Commerce in the Cabinet, and equal in authority to the head of the Foreign Office. Another objection advanced was that agricultural and commercial communities were the best judges of their own interests, and that the Government would do more harm than good by attempting to patronize them in that way. If, however, that view were carried to its logical conclusion, it would apply with equal force against much which was already done, and also against the Government taking any part in such matters at all. Those, he might add, who were constantly engaged in commerce, were too much occupied to give that attention to the various changes in our own laws, or proceedings of foreign Governments which their importance demanded. They were not, besides, always enabled to obtain in time the requisite information; and, even if they were, they had not the power to carry their wishes into effect. The exercise of Government influence, therefore, was necessary, not to supersede the action of the mercantile community, but to give it a fair field. As matters at present stood, the interests of trade were placed at a disadvantage, not from any want of zeal on the part of those connected with it, but from the difficulty of obtaining from time to time that prompt and precise information which could be obtained only by means of a well-organized and intelligent staff. It was true that there was a commercial department at the Foreign Office; but, in order to answer all exigencies, there must be one such to each of two or three other departments. It would be far bettor to have a separate Ministry; and, he believed that its establishment would be a practical benefit to the country as well as to agriculture. It was urged, in the third place, by persons of high authority that there was no cause for complaint under the existing system, and that Commerce and Agriculture already received much more help under the existing machinery of Government than they suffered. The evidence, however, which he had received—and a great deal more which he could quote from the same quarter—conclusively proved, he thought, that that statement, as it would not have been true previous to 1864, was not correct as applied to the state of things at the present day. He thanked the House for the indulgence with which they had heard him, and would only say—representing, as he did, all shades of opinion amongst the agricultural and commercial classes—that they would gladly welcome a change in the direction he had indicated, from whatever Government or from whatever Party it might proceed. In conclusion, he trusted that Her Majesty's Government would consider this question; for it was to them that the country looted, now that party strife had somewhat abated, for measures of practical utility which would be accepted as evidence of their desire to promote the national welfare and prosperity. He would now move the Resolution of which he had given Notice.


, in seconding the Motion, said, there was a strong feeling existing among agriculturists on the subject. They believed that it would be for their interests that there should be a Department appointed to represent not only Commerce, but Agriculture also, and presided over by a Cabinet Minister. They thought if the change was made, that there would be a fair and direct representation of Agriculture in Parliament. He did not wish to cast any imputation on hon. Gentlemen who filled, or had filled, Government offices; but there was certainly a feeling in the country that when any question relating to Agriculture came on for discussion in the House it was most likely to be shelved. In proof of that, he need only point to the great difficulty which there was in obtaining any information as to the state of affairs on any agricultural question. The various questions were under so many different Departments that it was almost impossible to get any satisfactory answer, and a person was frequently referred from Department to Department, and sometimes even the Departments themselves did not know whether a particular matter came within their Department or not. He would also point out it was a very unsatisfactory arrangement that the management of cattle and the education of the country should be placed together in one Department. To that he thought was owing the fact that there was no adequate supervision of the traffic in cattle and other live stock, and in connection with the subject he would refer to the Report which had been issued to hon. Members from Mr. Holmes of the Veterinary Department of the Privy Council, who had been sent down to Deptford to attend a ship on board of which it was said that some animals had been treated with cruelty. Mr. Holmes had been sent down in consequence of a letter in The Times from Captain Stanley; but the incidental part of it was, that the gentleman reported that the cattle exhibited no indications of having received ill-treatment, but, on the other hand, were in a better condition than most of the cattle landed at Deptford—adding quite innocently, that those affected with foot-and-mouth disease, 34 in number, only had it very slightly. But out of 119 cattle 34 were affected with the disease, in this one ship; and this one of the best cargoes he had seen for some time what must the worst have been? In the face of facts like these it was not much to be wondered at that agriculturists of this country should ask for the appointment of a Minister, nor that the country was inundated with cattle disease, and that the traders who relied for a living upon feeding and grazing were annually losing large sums of money through no fault of their own. He had lately seen a letter in the papers from the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire—a high authority on such matters—in which he estimated his own losses from foot-and-mouth disease alone at £2 per head; other farmers would give similar testimony. How great then must be the loss not only to the farmer but to the consuming public? This was the way things were now managed at home, but things were managed very differently abroad. He found that in Copenhagen, not much more than a month ago, the Minister of the Interior ordered that, in consequence of the prevalence of foot-and-mouth disease in Great Britain all cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs, imported there from should be kept isolated during three weeks at the cost of their owners and then submitted to veterinary examination before being handed over to their owners for disposal. In France, Germany, Hungary, Austria, and in the United States, and even in our own dependencies in India, there was a Minister clothed with the functions which would attach to a Minister of Agriculture in this country, and up to 1816 there had been a Board of Agriculture in this country, and to that board, in the year 1804, the celebrated Arthur Young was secretary. But somehow or other it had lapsed, and there was now no such body in existence, and he, for one, had failed to discover why it was discontinued. If it was that agriculture, by reason of the existence of protection, had at that time reached a state of prosperity which rendered legislative care no longer necessary the present was a period at which such care might advantageously be resumed, for the agricultural interest was now far from being prosperous. In some respects it was suffering from want of legislation, and in others it was over-legislated for—both circumstances being due to the fact that no one central Department was responsible for matters affecting agricultural interests. Farmers not only had natural difficulties to contend with, but difficulties arising from legislation, by which they were prevented from obtaining a sufficient supply of children for agricultural purposes. Besides that they were overburdened with local taxation, and had been saddled with still further expenses by the operation of the Education Act which had been passed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford. By that Act children were no longer allowed to be employed in agriculture, except under great difficulties; but were being educated for the benefit of the towns. The agricultural interest had borne many privations, although they were the last to desire a change in the existing institutions of the country. But the Returns issued showed how greatly the agricultural population both in England and Scotland was decreasing, and no wonder a difficulty was experienced in obtaining soldiers or recruits for the Militia or police, for a large number of agricultural labourers were now emigrating to the towns, from which they went abroad, or were so spoilt there that they never returned as agricultural labourers. In conclusion, he would say it should not be lost sight of that the agriculturists had in their hands the representation of the counties of England; but although that was the case, he was sure that they would never use that power but for legitimate purposes, and, therefore, they were entitled to every consideration in regard to the subject under notice at the hands of Her Majesty's Government, seeing their claim was simply fair and reasonable.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that those functions of Her Majesty's Government which especially relate to Commerce and Agriculture should he administered under the direction of a Principal Secretary of State, who shall he a member of the Cabinet; and that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that She will he graciously pleased to give effect to this Resolution,"—(Mr. Sampson Lloyd,)

—instead thereof.


I am sure, Sir, there will be but one feeling amongst hon. Members on both sides of the House as to the importance of the two great interests represented by those who have brought forward this Resolution this evening; and it is quite certain that if at any time questions are brought forward affecting the commercial or the agricultural interests, those questions will receive the attention and respectful consideration of any Government, from whatever Party it may be formed. But with regard to the particular Motion which my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth (Mr. S. Lloyd) has submitted to the House, I would venture to make one or two remarks. I wish, however, in the first place, to deal with the question of the importance of having a special Department charged with directly looking after the interests of Agriculture and Commerce. My hon. Friend the Member for South Nottinghamshire (Mr. Storer) remarked just now that there was a Department of Agriculture up to the year 1816, and the hon. Member for Plymouth told us, in some detail, how a number of years ago there was a Commercial Department of the Board of Trade, which has now been given up, the duties of which, in fact, have been transferred to the Foreign Office. Now, I would ask my hon. Friends what is the natural inference to be drawn from these facts? There were certain Departments charged with those very duties which you now say are so important, and how is it that they have lost the functions assigned to them? Is it not, in fact, because it was found that the work gradually left them? Now I contend that you cannot by any artificial re-distribution restore that which in the nature of things was passed away from Government. It is, in fact, like the case of a shopkeeper who finds that his business is leaving him, and who feels that he cannot have recourse to any artificial stimulus to restore what in the nature of things is fading away. I do not remember, and I do not know that I have ever paid particular attention to, the circumstances under which the Department of Agriculture was given up. I believe it was attached at one time to the Board of Trade, and no doubt there were very good reasons for the abandonment of that arrangement. But I do remember very distinctly, and I have for many years had occasion to know, what the course of business has been at the Board of Trade. I have myself witnessed a great many of the changes which have occurred in the commercial business of that Department. I remember very well when I was first introduced to the Board of Trade in 1842, that a great deal of business was done of the kind to which my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth now seems principally to attach importance—that is to say, foreign business. A great deal of correspondence was carried on between the Board of Trade and other Departments with regard to treaties, legislation on commercial subjects, and other matters affecting the commercial interests of the country. But by degrees, as the system of reciprocity dwindled away before the spread of Free Trade ideas, as the Navigation Laws were repealed, and as complicated differential duties were abolished, the greater part of the commercial business left the Board of Trade of itself, and at the same time a process of a different kind began to take effect. A number of matters requiring careful administrative interference, such as the Railway system and the Mercantile Marine, came under the notice of the Government, and were handed over to the Board of Trade, which thus became a large and influential administrative Department. Whilst the change I have referred to was taking place there was no doubt still a Commercial Department at the Board of Trade keeping up correspondence with other offices—preaching to them sound doctrine upon a great many commercial matters. But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth has pointed out, and as the evidence taken before the Committee of 1864 shows, the business of the Board of Trade in that respect became less and less important— less and less efficacious—the Board of Trade having a large amount of important administrative duties to perform, and the great principles of commercial legislation and of the relations between England and foreign countries having assumed an entirely new aspect, and it in time became obvious that its commercial business, so to speak, had passed away from it. No doubt commercial questions, such as the duties on Portuguese wines, still arise which require to be dealt with; and under the former state of affairs those who were interested in the matter would have gone to the Board of Trade and laid their case before it. In that case the Board would have corresponded with other Departments; but, after all, it would have simply come to this—that in a matter of that kind there are two Departments whose action must be and would at any time have been supreme. The one is the Foreign Office, which would have to carry on the correspondence with foreign countries; and the other is the Treasury, in whose hands are deposited the fiscal interests of this country. It would even, under the old arrangement, have been impossible to entertain any question for altering the duties on Portuguese wines without having first obtained the approval and co-operation both of the Foreign Office and of the Treasury. The intervention of the Board of Trade would, therefore, really be of very little use in such a case, for it would be able to do little or nothing beyond what those directly interested in the question would be able themselves to achieve. Well, my hon. Friend says that the Minister at the head of the Department which has to deal with Commerce ought to be in the Cabinet, in order to strengthen his influence. Now there are many considerations which determine the number of Members who ought to form the Cabinet, and the particular Departments which, at one time or another, it may be desirable to have represented in the Cabinet. It is impossible that the head of every Department should be in the Cabinet without increasing the number of the Cabinet to a very inconvenient extent. At one time, it may be both convenient and desirable to have the Minister of Commerce in the Cabinet; at another time, the Minister of Education; at another time, the head of the Local Government Department, or the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and so on. No fixed rule, in fact, can be laid down for the number of those who should form the Cabinet at any particular period, as the exigencies of different times vary. But if it is of so much importance that the Minister of Commerce should be in the Cabinet, I would ask my hon. Friend what was the state of matters when the changes to which he has referred were made? Why, most of those changes occurred when the President of the Board of Trade was a Cabinet Minister, and it was with his concurrence that they were made. Therefore, it is not merely the fact of there being a Minister of Commerce in the Cabinet that would secure what my hon. Friend seems to desire. In these matters you ought not to be continually altering your machinery. You ought to devise and settle your policy, and then adapt your machinery to it. That is the only sound principle on which to go. Now, I am at a loss to conceive, from the speeches of my hon. Friends, what policy they recommend in this matter. Are we to rearrange the work of all the Departments which may be affected? My hon. Friend speaks of the foreign side of the Ministry of Commerce; but surely he would not say that the Minister of Commerce whom he asks for ought not to attend to a large number of home matters also which are connected with commerce but which are now dealt with by the Home Department, the Local Government Board, and the Board of Trade. The proposed Ministry, in fact, could not be formed without interfering with the duties of other Departments, and who is to say what duties belong properly to one Department and what to another? You would find that the establishment of a new Minister would be of no use, unless you laid down very clearly and distinctly what were to be the precise nature and extent of his duties. You cannot divide those duties so easily as you imagine. You must remember that these things run one into another. Many questions must, by their very nature, come sometimes under the consideration of one Department and sometimes under another. Therefore, though this matter has been before Parliament many times, though it has been investigated by Select Committees, yet no decision has been arrived at, and I think it would be unwise of the House by adopting the present lie-solution to pledge itself to a matter of which there is no denying the importance, but the exact outcome of which it is extremely difficult to foresee. I am afraid, therefore, it is not in the power of the Government to assent to the Motion, and I hope that the House will not allow itself to be led into what would really be the pursuit of a shadow, unless a more distinct plan be laid before it than the one now submitted by my hon. Friends.


said, that many of his constituents, and several of the Chambers of Commerce in the North of England with whom he had been brought in contact, took a deep interest in the subject which had been brought forward by the hon. Member for Plymouth, and he should on that account make a few observations upon it. He had himself given the question much consideration, having been Chairman of the Committee which sat in the year 1854, and he confessed he was still of opinion, and it was the unanimous conviction of the Committee, that there should be some good reason why the President of the Board of Trade should not be a member of the Cabinet. He, however, hoped right hon. Gentlemen opposite would not suppose he was making any charge against them for not making the President of the Board of Trade a Cabinet Minister. He was fully aware that there might be very good reasons for wishing to have a small Cabinet; but one of the advantages which would arise from having the question discussed was, that it might fairly lead to a consideration of it with a view to the future arrangement of Government business with regard to the management of the different Departments. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that we had much less to do now with tariffs with foreign countries than we used to have. That was true enough; but we were still constantly and seriously affected by the tariffs of foreign countries; and although this country was devoted to the principles of Free Trade, that did not imply that it was not the duty of the Government constantly to watch what other countries were doing, with a view, if possible, to secure an increase of our trade with foreign States. What commercial men felt was this—that, speaking generally, their interests might suffer from the fact that there was not in the consulting body of the Cabinet some Member who would specially represent their interests. "When matters of home policy," they said, "matters of finance, of foreign negotiations, of Indian policy, were brought before the Government, we think that the commercial interests of Great Britain ought to be represented in the Cabinet; and there should be somebody to whom commercial men could go and say we must not be forgotten when those matters are under consideration." He could not help thinking that that was a just and reasonable feeling to a certain extent; and without at all saying that his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade had less influence than he would have if he were in the Cabinet, he still thought that commercial men had reason for the strong protest which they made against the existing state of things. The words of the Resolution, however, when he came to consider them, went further than the House, he thought, would be at present willing to go, but as to one part of it there would be little difference of opinion—namely, that the Government business connected with Agriculture ought to be placed in the hands of the Minister who had charge of the Government business connected with Commerce. He could not help thinking that would be a wise change, whenever a Government had time to consider the subject of changes at all. Why should not all questions relating to cattle, for example, be taken from the Education Office and handed over to the Board of Trade, to which Department they naturally belonged, and where they would probably be better attended to? The same permanent staff could manage the business of both those branches. Or if they were to have a Minister of Agriculture, it would be far better that he should be Minister of Commerce also. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that it would not be well to increase over much the number of the Cabinet, and in that expression of opinion he concurred; but the fact should not be lost sight of that, in a general way, one or two Members of the Cabinet had hardly any official business to conduct. If it was desirable to keep down the numbers of a Cabinet, it was easy to see that the duties of a Minister of Commerce and Agriculture would be onerous, while the duties of a Lord Privy Seal, for instance, were not great. He thought the same remark would also apply to the President of the Council, although at the present moment he undertook agricultural work in regard to the cattle disease. He would further remark that he concurred with the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the opinion that no disadvantage to the commercial community had arisen from the abolition of what might be called the Foreign Department of the Board of Trade, for the investigation of the Committee to which he had referred left upon his mind the strong impression that the Foreign Office must conduct all negotiations with foreign States. There could not be two sets of negotiators representing the Government of this country, and commercial men ought not to have to go to the Board of Trade to make representations in order that that Department should communicate those representations to the Foreign Office. They ought to go direct to the Minister who had to do the work, and who would be more likely to do it well if he felt that the full responsibility rested upon him. The Minister of Commerce ought not to be a kind of adviser to the Foreign Office, but that did not remove the necessity of having the interests of Commerce and Agriculture represented by a Minister who should be a Member of the Cabinet.


gathered from the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he thought the present state of affairs sufficiently satisfactory, and that really no change was required; but it must be admitted, not only from what they had heard that night, but from the meetings which had lately been held both north and south of the Tweed, that among those who were interested in agriculture a very strong and earnest feeling prevailed on the subject which his hon. and learned Friend had brought under the consideration of the House. It was not that the Board of Trade did not give heed to subjects which were laid before it; it was not that the Vice President of the Council was not ready to act upon suggestions which were made to him, but it was because agriculturists generally thought that their interests were not sufficiently considered, or, at all events, were not sufficiently made known. Two points suggested themselves to his mind which he thought would go far to prove what he said. Last Session, for example, there was a short discussion in that House upon the subject of the very great evils arising from the existence of pleuro-pneumonia in Ireland. Having been a sufferer on his own farm from that disease, or a disease very like it, among his cattle, he felt the great importance of having a Minister in the Cabinet who would take into consideration the serious charge which had been over and over again made in respect of Ireland—that the stamping-out of that fatal disease had not been enforced, and that it was being propagated in England and Scotland because the Order on the subject was not put in force. He only rose to say that—speaking from his own knowledge—though as regarded Commerce he was quite ready to take his views from the Chancellor of the Exchequer—it was the earnest wish of agriculturists that there should be some recognized Member of the Government in the Cabinet to consider questions affecting Agriculture. Reference had been made in the debate to the population of rural towns, and he thought that, for instance, was a subject which should come under the surveillance of such a Member of the Cabinet. Considering the enormous mass of capital now sunk in the land, it would be very important that the Government should, if not this, in some future Session deal with the matter.


Sir, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Plymouth (Mr. S. Lloyd) has brought forward a subject which both sides of the House acknowledge to be important and interesting; but, at the same time, I may remind my hon. and learned Friend that it is not now brought under our consideration for the first time. It has occupied the attention of the House and of Committees, and, at various periods, the distribution of duties among the Public Offices has been considered by some of the most eminent Members of Parliament. We must always remember, Sir, that we are dealing with the official hierarchy of an ancient kingdom, and that when we fix upon some particular office and judge from its name that it should be devoted to particular duties, we may really deceive ourselves by being precisely accurate. You may have an office called the Board of Trade which has been so called for many generations, and yet the control or attention to details of trade may become obsolete as far as that office is concerned. On the other hand, duties may have been transferred to that office which have arisen from circumstances attending modern civilization, and which it may admirably perform, though the office still retains its ancient title "Board of Trade." That is remarkably the case in the instance of the particular office in question; because, no doubt, a great amount of the duties of the Board of Trade can hardly be classed under the names of Trade or Commerce, and yet they are duties which deeply interest the people of this country, and are efficiently performed by that office. If, again, we consider what are the real commercial interests with which the Ministry as at present constituted in this country should interfere, I think it will be seen that they are such commercial interests as would call for the interference of the Foreign Office. In 99 out of 100 commercial interests which call for—and which, indeed, may be said have a right to demand—the attention of the Government—the intervention of the Foreign Office is required. My hon. Friend the Member for South Nottinghamshire (Mr. Storer) has evinced a great desire that the interests of Agriculture should be represented in the Cabinet. I think more than one of my hon. Friends have impressed upon the House that the ravages of pleuro-pneumonia might probably have been stayed or diminished if there had been a Cabinet Minister to attend to the interests of Agriculture; but the fact is there has been a Cabinet Minister all this time attending to those interests as connected with pleuro-pneumonia, and not only is he a Cabinet Minister, but he happens to be a very distinguished practical farmer. Therefore, it does not appear to me that the point can be substantiated. If a Government lasts for any considerable period we may practically say there is no time when the distribution of the duties among the various offices of the Government does not occupy some part of their attention. I and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer last year had many conferences on that subject, and I recollect it was suggested that the duties of some of the offices that were over-burdened should be transferred to that of the Lord Privy Seal. I am not at all clear that such an arrangement might not be made, and I entirely agree with the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. W. B. Forster) that the Lord President of the Council has now so much to attend to, that if a convenient arrangement could be made to give protection to agricultural interests against foreign plagues and pestilences, in the form of pleuro-pneumonia and other diseases, that question should not be lost sight of. But, at the same time, what the House should guard against, is rashly creating new offices. In my opinion, the administrative body of this country is sufficiently strong and competent to discharge all the duties of the State; but there is no doubt that some re-distribution might occasionally be made in the public offices of the country, which Would render the fulfilment of their duties more efficient. At the same time, I must say, with regard to the Lord Privy Seal, it is a great mistake to suppose that he has nothing to do because very little is performed in his mere office. Whenever there is a difficult business which a Minister finds it impossible for him to attend to individually, through the great pressure of affairs in his office, the first person thought of is the Lord Privy Seal, and we find in practice the Lord Privy Seal is not that indolent monstrosity which is imagined. I can hardly think that my hon. Friend will ask the House for a division upon this question. He was quite right in bringing it forward: and there is not the slightest doubt that the subject of the re-distribution of official duties is one which must always engage the attention of the Government. There have been in my time many changes in all Departments, and all of them, I think, were improvements. In no Department has there been more changes than in the Board of Trade itself; but they have been rendered necessary by the great diversity of circumstances in our present national life and the new wants of the progressive civilization of this country. More changes are going on in the public offices than is generally supposed, and I believe that those changes, being effected from a sense of their necessity, are meeting the difficulties and deficiencies which inevitably must occasionally be discovered in the system of administration, more completely than the House perhaps imagines. The observations which have been made to-night will not be lost sight of by the Government. They will encourage us in our efforts to improve some branches of our administration, and I trust it will be found that by availing ourselves of some of the suggestions which have been thrown out, and others which have occurred to us from our experience, we may in any alterations which we may make render the administration of this country more effective.


said, he quite agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he said that the Board of Trade had become so overladen with business that the trade and commerce of the country had been lost sight of. If we had a Foreign Secretary or Under Secretary connected with Trade, the commercial interests might find their affairs properly managed; but there was only a very small section of the Foreign Office to whom they could go with their representations, and instead of strengthening that Department, it would be much better to appoint a Minister of Commerce and Agriculture. When they considered that many of their foreign Commercial Treaties would within the next two years have to be re-arranged, they could not exaggerate the great importance of the subject, and he wished the Government to understand that there was a strong body in that House, composed of Members from both sides, who believed that sooner or later there must be a Minister in the Cabinet to superintend the interests of Commerce and Agriculture.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.