§ MR. WHEELHOUSE
rose to move for a Select Committee—To consider the Commercial Relations at present existing between England and Foreign Nations, especially with regard to the import of Manufactured Goods from Abroad, as well as the effect caused by our system of one-sided so-called Free Trade, with a view (if possible) of ameliorating the position of the wage classes of this Country,saying that no one could be more alive to the grave interests involved in the subjects to which he was about to draw attention than himself, for, living among commercial communities for a long time, and then having had the honour of representing for now upwards of 10 years one of the largest and most important mercantile constituencies in England, it had been his duty and pleasure for many years to consider what could best serve the interests of those great commercial communities, and to study their wants and requirements. His only regret had been that he could not introduce the subject earlier, because he felt that, so long as the dark cloud of national distress was overhanging their own horizon, it might have been charged against him that he was endeavouring to seize something like an unfair advantage of a state of affairs that he, in common alike with employer and employed, could not but too deeply deplore. In his opinion, the so-called principles introduced into the country and carried out under the name of Free Trade had been clearly proved to be productive of unlimited evil. He might say, in the outset, that no one would have, in all probability, been a greater Freetrader than himself, had he been able to obtain real Free Trade—that was, freedom of trade between all the nations of the earth. But, in the very inception of this movement, he was one of those who knew that such an idea was merely visionary. He no more believed in universal Free Trade than he did in uni- 605 versal peace, however ardently he might desire them; he knew hut too well that they were, in fact, each equally unattainable. The late Mr. Cobden, to whom he had pointed out the possibility of other nations not following our example, and the very grave danger of foreign countries finding it to their interest some day to repudiate Free Trade principles, replied—"Well, at all events, Free Trade will last my time, and probably yours." To that observation, he (Mr. Wheelhouse) then replied—as respectfully as he could—that such a remark was not an argument, and there, for a time, the matter ended. But the evil he had feared and foreseen had come upon us. The foreigner, now that he had obtained our machinery, our coal, and our skilled labour, had raised up a barrier against our manufacturers. As long as he required our goods as models and patterns, he was glad enough to admit them into his country duty free; but now that he was able to make them for himself, he laughed at the doctrines of Free Trade and excluded our goods from his markets. Thus, while years ago we were the great exporting country of the world for all hand or machine made articles, for the last 10 years our manufacturing trade had been going from bad to worse, and we had now altogether been deprived of our prestige. Even in our own country we had lost the command of the market. Our watches came from Switzerland, our cambrics and silks from France, and our velvets from Germany. All these articles we admitted duty free, while we ourselves were met by prohibitory tariffs almost everywhere abroad. The results upon the industries of this country had been most disastrous. Where now was Spitalfields as an industrial community? The silk trade of Coventry and Macclesfield had been utterly destroyed. It was, perhaps, a grim satisfaction to those who supported these so-called Free Trade doctrines to learn that while the nails came from Belgium our coffins came from abroad also. The effect of this system upon our wage-earning classes had been to deprive them of millions of money. Look at the condition of the once great sugar industry of the East of London, which formerly gave employment to some 50,000 persons. It was now utterly ruined in consequence of 606 the bounties given by foreign nations upon the export of manufactured sugar, and because the Government would not, as it might, impose any countervailing duty upon the article. Not only had Free Trade handicapped the workmen of this country, but it allowed salesmen and shopkeepers everywhere out of Great Britain to extract from the wage-pockets of our people means and money to any extent. There was no use in saying, as had been said, that England could stand against anything in the shape of the manufactures of foreign lands. The broad patent fact was that she was not standing against them. Instead of holding our own, our trade was day by day falling off. Every man almost who lived by labour was calling out loudly and justly that he was unfairly dealt with by the legislation which had taken place on this subject. They were told, 35 years ago, that the principles by which the Government of that day was guided were correct; but that was a ruinous error. It had proved to be fallacious; and were they, he asked, to go on watching their own ruin and seeing their trade cut up to nothing in all directions? He did not expect, nor was it reasonable for any Government to suppose, that any class in this country would submit to needless deprivation because an Administration chose to insist upon a fallacy commercially considered. If this were a small question—a question of a moment—a question of bad times, one which might be remedied hereafter, he could understand that it might be well to wait a while longer, even yet, and see whether—although the hope had by this time become Micawberlike—something might not turn up; but he believed they could not afford to wait, and the time was coming apace when every single individual handicraft carried on in the country would be taken from us. While, on the one hand, he was not prepared to deny that, possibly, some part of the vast development of British trade might be attributable to her commercial legislation, it still remained an open question whether that development would not have been safer to the best interests of the country, on the former lines of our national policy, even though it should have been slower in its operation; and he ventured to assert, notwithstanding a statement recently published over the name of a right 607 hon. Gentleman of high authority in this House and in the country generally, that it was by no means so clearly proved as he considered it to be that our national development was wholly, or even nearly wholly, attributable either to so-called Free Trade, or our railway system. Thousands of causes, with which neither the one nor the other had any concern, had united to promote, not only her development, but that of the world at large, and it was very difficult to fix the relative proportions of those several agencies. Progress must and would be continuous. While some English writers were unceasingly insistingad nauseamthat the entire edifice of our national commerce was the result of so-called Free Trade exclusively, on the other hand the Americans—if we followed Mr. Welsh in his very able reasoning—had demolished that theory as utterly illusory, alleging that the "development" of their commercial prosperity had far exceeded ours, though carried out on the lines of a strict protection. America was beating us in cotton cloths, for she had I her cotton close at hand; she had put a duty of 50 per cent, therefore one practically prohibitive, against our cotton goods; and great mills, such as those which were to be found in England, were now to be seen at the other side of the Atlantic. A premium was thus given to foreign manufactures which enabled them to beat us not only in our own, but in foreign markets; and, seeing this, he said that it was time to hark back upon the lines on which our legislation had proceeded. But it was alleged that it was impossible to go back in the case of certain principles, and to a very limited extent that was true; but with respect to commercial matters and to dealing equitably with other countries, they could go back from lines which had proved to be fallacious. Russia saw she had gone a little too far, and had given away advantages unduly, and she retraced her steps at once. So also did Prussia and many other countries, as well as Canada. American statesmen were astute enough to know their own interests. They knew that their protective duties, policy, and legislation had made their country what it was. In this pamphlet recently published, Mr. Welsh said that while England prided herself on her manufacturing power and expan- 608 sive trade, America had raised her trade from $22,000,000 to more than $118,000,000. If, therefore, we were on the right track, it was a wonderful thing that America should thus be able to outstep, and soon, possibly, to overwhelm us. The question was a very grave one. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham stated not long since that our trade amounted to £600,000,000; but he ought to have added that of that sum no less than £450,000,000 consisted of imports. The question was really one between imports and exports, and in considering the subject it should not be forgotten that our imports greatly exceeded our exports. Within the last few years the whole phase of matters had undergone a serious change. Take France as an example; while, even so lately as 1874, our imports from that country were just under £3,000,000, our exports were £3,700,000, not very far from equal. But, in 1878, four years later, the tables were wholly turned against us; our imports being close upon £4,000,000, while our exports had dwindled down to something less than £3,000,000. But he did not wish to confine the observation to France. Taken as a whole, our imports to this country for 1878—the last available "Return"—showed to be to the value of upwards of £368,000,000, while our exports—even including our foreign and colonial trade—only amounted to something less than £250,000,000, thus leaving a balance against Great Britain of no less than £118,000,000. When the House came to consider that this enormous sum represented, what ought to be, for the most part, the wages of our British working population—because the price of raw materials formed comparatively but a small item in the purchase—the dead loss and everlasting drain upon our national purse and resources, in favour of the foreign artificer, were something almost incredible. And what was the consequence arising out of all this? English manufacturers were building mills and investing capital in foreign countries, since they got the necessary labour cheaper, and could produce their goods from looms in Suabia and Silesia at a less cost than they could make them here. At that very moment, he knew of one large firm which was packing up its business and takingits machinery abroad, because it could obtain the means of 609 production cheaper there than in this country. Again, it must be remembered that the shopkeeper or salesman here never inquired where the article he wanted or bought was manufactured—with him it must always necessarily be a mere question of price. "How much?" settled that matter at the first instant of the negotiations; and, of course, in that sense of the word, it was impossible that patriotism could ever enter into trade. But when this happened, as it did now every day, British capital thus employed went to the benefit of the foreign artizan, and the wage-earning classes of this country suffered in a proportionate ratio. He had mentioned some trades which had suffered greatly, and he could name many others. The velvet trade was almost gone; so also was that of lath-rending, owing to the great imports from Sweden at a price less than that at which laths could be obtained in this country. England received, duty free, ships, foreign-made locomotives, implements, furniture, flowers, carpets, clocks, and innumerable other articles, a list of which he held in his hand, but through which it would be wearisome to travel entirely. The timber trade was fast going—not the raw material, to the import of which he had no objection—but the manufactured articles. In fact, no one who saw the mass of correspondence which had poured in upon him since he gave Notice of the present Motion could doubt that this so-called Free Trade had injuriously affected almost every industry in the country. It was not a matter as to what was best, but it was a question of what they could actually get—what they could save—because that there was a tendency to wreck and to ruin was beyond all doubt. That the shopkeepers of London and the country would feel the pressure in time was certain. They might not feel it now—to-day, or tomorrow—but it was following fast on the sufferings of the wage-earning classes during the last four or five years. Men had been speaking of commercial depression, attributing it to all sorts of notions and ideas except the correct one. They had been talking of the glut of the markets. But although there might be a glut lasting over a few weeks or months, it could not—as had been the ease—be attributable to that. It was the endless stream of foreign-made goods and commodities which, were 610 now being forced upon us. There might have been glut of the markets; but how was that glut produced? In this way—America and Europe had sent their surplus manufactures into England, in the hope that at least they would realize a fair price for them, and to foreigners a fair price was very often less than the sum for which the handicapped British labourer could produce the article. There might be a glut every now and again; but a glut in the market never lasted for four or five years. The glut did not come from their own manufacturers; it came because the English people were willing to buy articles which were sent here from abroad, and, because they could not consume all that was sent, came the glut. If there were a fair and equitable tariff—equal, say, to that of America upon cotton goods—then the working men of this country, notwithstanding the shorter hours of labour, would have been able to hold their own. But, as the matter stood, it was impossible. He had yet to learn why, with reference to foreign-made articles, the wage-earning classes in this country ought not to be put on a level with the same classes in foreign lands so far as the fiscal regulations of this country would allow it. If we put on a duty which was equivalent to the Revenue charge in another country, that country could not complain of our so doing; and it was idle to say, if that were done, we should make the article dearer to the so-called consumer. A greater fallacy than that was never propounded. It must always be remembered that the producer and consumer were often the same people, or so closely allied as to be virtually the same. An article was only cheap according as it was wanted, and as there were the means wherewith to purchase it. It was no use offering a 4d.loaf for 3½d.,if a man only received 2d.wages with which to buy it. He maintained it was time some such Committee as that which he asked for was given. He did not wish to trouble the House further with statistics; but hon. Members might rely upon this, a cry would be raised all over the country on the subject. An attempt might be made, and for a time, possibly, successfully made, to stifle that cry; but although it might be but a murmur now, it might hereafter be heard as loud as thunder from the wage-earning class. Surely there was great reason in what he asked. 611 If it should be shown that he was wrong—and he did not think that likely—the inquiry might have the effect of satisfying the working classes that, at any rate, there was someone alive here and there to their wants and their desires, and who would see that those wants and desires would not be causelessly ignored. Whatever we did, there was one advantage left to England, of which some thought too little, and that was the bond that existed between our Colonies and ourselves. In them we had large areas of wheat-growing land, which could supply us, not only with corn, but also with the raw material for our manufactures, and, if need be, with manufactured goods. Let us cultivate our colonial relations. Let us unite with our Colonies on the general principles of a Zollverein; let us adapt those principles to the countries that would arrange their monetary, fiscal, and commercial affairs upon the same basis as ourselves. Then, within the British Zollverein, commercial relations would act harmoniously; we should derive from foreign countries exactly the benefit they derived from us; and then, if we could not have Free Trade wholly and entirely, we should not have that kind of business for which "Free Trade" was but a delusive misnomer; we could do away with the so-called favoured nation clauses; and we should put our commercial relations on a fair and just basis with reference to foreign countries; and should it be discovered—although he did not think that possible—that the new arrangement pressed with undue severity upon any particular class—say, for instance, that of agriculture—it would be a very easy matter to follow out a suggestion recently made, and devote some portion of the taxation thus extracted from the pocket of the foreigner to the removal of the burthen so pressing upon that class of the community. He trusted the Government would see the time had come when that which had been well described—though the epithet was not his—as the "bastard Free Trade" of this country should be replaced by fair and honourable duties on both sides, if it were impossible, as he believed it to be, to break down the Customs barriers of different countries. He would conclude by moving for the Select Committee of which he had given Notice.
§ MR. EATON,
in seconding the Motion, said, he entirely concurred with all that 612 had fallen from the hon. and learned Member for Leeds (Mr. Wheelhouse) on the general question. He would, therefore, confine himself to making a few remarks on a special industry in which his constituents were interested, and with which he had been connected the greater part of his life. It had been exposed to such terrible disasters by the operation of the French Treaty of 1860, that the simple statement of the facts ought to justify inquiry before that Treaty was renewed. If there was to be another 20 years of such trade as they had just experienced the silk industry of this country would be entirely removed, and those who remained in it must inevitably be ruined. The best way to realize the disastrous effect the French Treaty had had on that industry was to compare the amount of raw silk consumed in this country before the operation of the French Treaty with that consumed since. In the 10 years before the Treaty the average annual consumption of silk was 6,000,000 lbs., and in the 10 years since the Treaty it had been reduced to 2,800,000 lbs. Before the Treaty the average annual value of the importation of silk manufactures was £6,000,000, and it was now increased to upwards of £13,000,000. In Coventry, in 1859, there were upwards of 80 silk manufactories doing a satisfactory trade; but in 1861 and the two following years there were not more than 12 whose owners had not been bankrupt or arranged with their creditors. The weekly wages in 1859 amounted to about £12,000, and now he was assured on the best authority they had so far fallen as scarcely to exceed £3,000. Manchester, Macclesfield, Nottingham, Leicester, Derby, and many other places had suffered in like manner. Such facts and figures ought to justify the demand for a Committee to inquire into the causes of the depression of trade, particularly in the textile manufactures. The effect of its continuance on the large mass of our working population must sooner or later demand the serious attention of the Government. Therefore, he hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not refuse the inquiry.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "a Select Committee he appointed to consider the Commercial Relations at present existing
between England and Foreign Nations, especially with regard to the import of Manufactured Goods from Abroad, as well as the effect caused by our system of one-sided so-called Free Trade, with a view (if possible) of permanently ameliorating the position of the wage classes of this Country,"—(Mr. Wheelhottse,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. MACDONALD
said, he had the interests of the working classes at heart as much as the hon. and learned Member for Leeds or the hon. Member for Coventry; but, in his opinion, their proposal was totally untenable, and some of the facts which had been stated were totally misleading without explanation. A little while ago it was said we had sent our last ton of iron to the United States. This was said to be owing to the prohibitory tariff of the States, and it was somewhat surprising that Parliamentary inquiry was not asked for. From 1873 to 1878 the United States suffered from commercial depression. All the money raised by the sale of their produce was required to maintain the people. There was a surplus in 1876, which was increased in 1877, 1878, and 1879; and at last, in spite of the tariff, 29s.4d.per ton, and the heavy harbour and storage dues, they were taking our iron and steel by thousands of tons. They had been told that America was entering our market with their cotton goods. He would give an instance illustrating the manner in which the American cottons came to this country. Four years ago he met a gentleman, who was a manufacturer, at a public meeting, who confessed to him that for 14 months he had been imitating American cotton goods and selling them. That man was regarded as a shining light in a church; he was also a magistrate; yet he was practising fraud and deceit on his fellow-countrymen, making them believe that we were inundated by American cottons. He said it was impossible for America or any other country to compete with us—that could only be done when all the conditions were equal. There was no evidence to show that we need fear any country, whatever its tariff, if the people had only money to purchase with. They were told that Belgium was going to enter into the race against England. From the Trade 614 Returns it would be found that we had sent more coal and iron to Belgium than we had ever done before, during the last year. They would do so this year. Two years ago he found the pits idle in Belgium, while the people there were burning English coal. What we wanted was a fair field and no favour. Our manufacturers and workmen could stand against the world. But we had been passing through a state of things for the last three years which was quite unparalleled. In India, where our cottons were consumed, famine had been stalking through the land, and where famine was manufacturers were not wanted. America had no surplus for three years, and could not buy our goods. The crops had fallen off in England, Scotland, and Ireland to the extent of £100,000,000. Had they had all this it would have been better for them though worse for America; the farmers, therefore, could not buy our manufactures. It was the elements we had had to contend against. Let there be two good years, as he hoped there would be, and with peace. If they wanted trade they must tie up the dogs of war. They must let Zulus rule themselves, and give up all theatrical gas about scientific boundaries. They had nothing to fear. A Select Committee was quite unnecessary.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, he could not possibly view with indifference the Motion which had been submitted to the House by the hon. and learned Member for Leeds (Mr. Wheelhouse), especially when he found that it was seconded by the hon. Member for Coventry (Mr. Eaton), a city which was situated within the county that he (Mr. Newdegate) had the honour to represent. He was sorry to say that he could testify to the depression of trade which the hon. Member for Coventry had described, and he thoroughly concurred with the hon. Member as to the cause to which that depression was to be attributed. The city of Coventry had lost, at least, onehalf, he believed two-thirds, of its staple trade under the operation of the Treaty with France. The hon. and learned Member for Leeds had led the way among the Representatives of the commercial and manufacturing centres in calling the attention of the House to the state of our trade, and the fact that year by year the imports of foreign manufactured goods increased, owing to 615 their being produced under such advantages of cheap labour abroad, and he believed there were Members of that House representing manufacturing constituencies, who were largely interested in, and applied a considerable amount of capital to, the encouragement of manufactures in foreign countries. That, to his knowledge, was a result of the present commercial system, dominated as that system was by the Treaties into which this country had entered. Under these circumstances, he could not be surprised at finding that out-of-doors the opinion was rapidly increasing that we were not trading under favourable conditions. It was only on the 19th of May last that he brought under the attention of the House the fact that the French Treaty, which was the foundation of all the other modern Commercial Treaties into which this country had entered, had been denounced—to use the French expression—by the French Government, who declared that France would no longer abide by that Treaty; and, if they might judge by the information which reached us from all quarters, France was about to bring that Treaty to a termination, with the view of obtaining conditions under a new Treaty or by the operations of her own commercial policy, still more to her own advantage. Last Session the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs replied to the Motion which he (Mr. Newdegate) had ventured to submit to the House, that negotiations were going on; and, had not the hon. and learned Member for Leeds anticipated him, he had fully intended to request that the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs would lay before this House some further information with regard to the progress of the negotiations to which he referred on that occasion. In the course of the last Session his hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth (Mr. Sampson Lloyd) induced the House to adopt a Resolution to the effect—That it was desirable that a Minister to superintend our commercial relations should be appointed, and that that Minister should also have the superintendence of the condition of agriculture with a view to the information of this House.The Session of 1880 had just opened, and yet they had no information of Her Majesty's Ministers having taken the slightest notice of that Resolution. He 616 felt sure, then, that the House, as sometimes happened early in the Session, had not such information before it with regard to the condition of the negotiations for the renewal or abrogation of the French Treaty of Commerce, or such information before it with respect to the intentions of the Government in reference to the creation of a Ministry of Commerce and Agriculture, as would justify this House—and he spoke the sentiments of a great number of hon. Members—in taking another step in the direction which the hon. and learned Member for Leeds had, he thought, very wisely indicated. Feeling, then, that the House—and he knew this to be the opinion of other Members—lacked the requisite information on the subject, he begged to move the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Newdegate.)
§ SIR HENRY JACKSON
hoped that the Motion of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) would not be acceded to. He (Sir Henry Jackson) did not think that any inquiry could alter the views of his hon. Friend or of other hon. Members on the subject raised by the hon. and learned Member for Leeds (Mr. Wheelhouse). Indeed, demands for inquiry had of late become suspected as being cloaks for demands for some particular results of such inquiry. For his own part, he could not but feel that the House and Her Majesty's Government were in as good a position now as they were ever likely to be for forming and expressing an opinion on this question. He had no intention of intruding upon the House on this subject, upon which so many hon. Members had better means for instructing the House than himself, were it not for the surprise with which he had heard some of the statements made by his hon. Friend and Colleague (Mr. Eaton), which certainly conveyed an impression of the condition of their constituency which was quite new to him. The House might not find it the most edifying spectacle to see the two Members representing the same constituency expressing different views as to its position; but he supposed the divergence was to be accounted for by the fact that, sitting on opposite sides of the House, each of them 617 was in the habit of meeting among their constituents those who entertained similar opinions to his own. So far from thinking that Coventry was a fallen and ruined city, which seemed to be the impression of his hon. Colleague and of his hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire, he should describe it, from an acquaintance now of many years, as an industrious and frugal, and, until the last two or three years, on the whole, a thriving place. It had suffered, like every other place, from the recent depression; but it was a place which desired nothing but peace and quietness, and to be allowed the chance of paying its way. All knew that the French Treaty did produce great calamity in Coventry. That a protected industry, which up to 1860 had flourished like a hothouse plant, should fail, when suddenly, and without warning, left to itself, was, under the circumstances, not surprising. No one could be ignorant that great suffering and poverty were the immediate results of the legislation at that time. The whole country had felt and manifested the deepest sympathy with those who had suffered, and it never could be re-called to his own recollection without exciting a feeling of deep pity; but even in Coventry the memory of that sad time had nearly passed away, and he was happy to say that if the silk industry had fallen off other industries had taken its place; that neither the population of the town nor its rateable value had diminished; that if any hon. Members would pay the city a visit they would find that its houses had not fallen into decay; that new houses were taking the places of old ones, and that important public buildings were springing up and adding a charm to the streets of that ancient and venerable city. As to the general question, this was really the first occasion, as far as far as he remembered, on which Protection had avowedly raised its head and said its say in that House. Last year, they had a Motion on the subject of agricultural distress; and, no doubt, there was a certain tone and indication ofarriére penséeabout the debate which suggested that some day or another they might be regaled by another Protectionist banquet. But he did not know until today that anyone would rise in his place to say that in the re-introduction of protective duties was to be found the salvation of the country. His hon. Col- 618 league had expressed his entire concurrence in every word that had fallen from the hon. Member for Leeds; both hon. Members, therefore, were perfectly honest in demanding Protection; but their theories seemed to be the theories of 35 years ago. Indeed, they came out so fresh and so little affected by what had happened in the meantime that one could not but imagine that they had been preserved and immured in one of those duty-free coffins which had excited the indignation of his hon. and learned Friend. What was really wanted was, not extra duties and enhanced costs, but that which, if and when we got it, would make us all contented—and, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer knew, good Freetraders too—a little increased buying power in the country. What would produce that? Good trade. And what would produce good trade? In the first place, good harvests abroad; and, in the next place, good harvests at home. For some years at least the earth had not given forth her increase; a good harvest in America had already told upon us, and should we have but one or two good years again, we should all have money to spend and be spending it, and nobody would have a word to say against Free Trade. His hon. Colleague had said that everyone engaged in the silk trade was on the high road to ruin, and would soon arrive at his destination. His hon. Friend knew the perfect respect he entertained for him; and he would, therefore, only say that he hoped his hon. Friend would not be among the number. His hon. Friend had referred to figures, and had stated that whereas we used to import only £6,000,000 of manufactured silk we now imported £13,000,000. What did that show? Nobody gave us the manufactured silk; we had to pay for it; and the money did not grow. How did we make it? By our own industries, by our coal, our iron, our cotton, by the profits we made upon every article we manufactured; by the course and volume of trade, which had fertilized the country and had found work for hundreds of thousands. What their fate would have been without Free Trade he did not care to think. He hoped the Government would speak out soon, and plainly, upon this question. It was one upon which, neither in that House nor at the hustings, should there be any weakness or misunderstanding. 619 Let it be known at once that both Parties were agreed to treat it as an economical, and not as apolitical, question; as a question affecting the well-being of millions of people whose destinies were committed to their charge. For his own part, he had no misgivings as to the Government action in this matter. They had often to blame the Government, but never for their treatment of this question. He had no doubt that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was as firm a Freetrader as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham himself. They knew the importance of the question, and they knew this—that whatever might have been said, if the thing were new, it was now too late to re-consider it. We had a population larger than our soil could support, and were therefore committed to a policy which could not be reversed, and upon which he hoped the Government would express their views in a manner which would finally put the question to rest.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Sir, I will say but a very few words, because I wish to address myself to the question before the House—that of the adjournment of the debate. I wish distinctly to say, on the part of the Government, that they, of course, recognize the importance of this question; but, on the other hand, they think it would be wrong by any doubtful proceeding, countenanced especially by them, to raise a false idea or to produce a wrong impression as to their commercial policy. We are perfectly prepared, if the debate continues, to state reasons for not assenting to the Motion of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leeds, and to examine that Motion thoroughly and respectfully. I fully recognize his right to bring the Motion forward; but I shall state reasons why we are not able to support him. One reason is that the appointment of such a Committee would seem to imply a change of opinion on the part of the Government, which, I think, would be injurious. Then comes the question of adjourning the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) says this Motion has been brought forward very early in the Session, and that it has not attracted the attention of many hon. Members; indeed, there are many Members who are not in possession of in- 620 formation which they would like to have; and my hon. Friend says that an adjournment of the debate would enable them to discuss the question more fully. The same difficulty which applies to the appointment of a Committee applies also to an adjournment of the debate. It seems to me that if at this hour of the evening we were to assent to the adjournment, when really we have plenty of time to go on with the discussion, it would, to some extent, be delusive, and might produce an incorrect impression. But, besides that, I have an objection to an adjournment of a debate upon the Motion for going into Committee of Supply, because such a proceeding affects the granting of Supply, and leads to considerable confusion in the conduct of the Business of the House; and, therefore, I cannot consent to the Motion of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire. But, on the other ground, I could not agree to the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Leeds. As to the time of bringing it forward, that is a matter for which Government, of course, are not responsible.
§ Question put, andnegatived.
§ MR. BOURKE
said, that, though the hon. and learned Member who had moved for a Select Committee represented a great commercial community, he had made many observations which had surprised him, and with hardly any of which he was able to agree. His hon. and learned Friend had begun by deploring the fact that Free Trade had altogether proved a failure, and that its principles were founded on fallacious grounds. He had not expected to be called upon to prove to the House the error into which his hon. and learned Friend had fallen; but, perhaps, the best way of disposing of the statement that Free Trade had been a failure was to give a few figures showing the results of the adoption of that policy. He would take the same test applied by his hon. and learned Friend—namely, the exports of the United Kingdom. He found that in the year 1839 the value of the exports was £53,000,000, in round numbers, and that a few years after the repeal of the Corn Laws it amounted to £63,000,000. There was a very marked increase in their value during the 10 years 1849 to 1859, at which latter time it had more than doubled itself, and had 621 risen to £130,000,000. In 1869 it was £189,000,000, and in 1877 it had further increased to £199,000,000. In 1872 the exports were £256,000,000 in value, and although since that time they had decreased in value they had not decreased in quantity. Again, taking the value of the exports per head of the population, he found that that value was in 1829 £1 10s.6d.,in 1859 £4 11s.2d.,and in 1877 £5 18s.11d.There was, moreover, an increase, in much the same proportion, in the tonnage of our merchant shipping, the total of which in 1840 was 2,000,000 tons, and in 1878 16,000,000 in round numbers. Another good test of the prosperity of the country was the Income Tax, the assessment of which amounted to £251,000,000 in 1843, and to £535,000,000 in 1875. In the same way, the deposits in Savings Banks had increased from £53,000,000 in 1840 to £70,000,000 in 1876. Lastly, he might mention that in 1841 the percentage of paupers was 8.2 of the population, and that in 1876 the ratio had fallen to 31 Now, there could be no doubt that those figures alone would be sufficient to show that his hon. and learned Friend was in error in asserting that the Free Trade policy had been a failure in this country.
§ MR. BOURKE
said, he would come to that presently; but it was quite another question. His hon. and learned Friend, however, had not given the imports, but had based his case on the exports, and he had taken them as the comparison instituted by his hon. and learned Friend. His hon. and learned Friend had told the House of the gloomy impression made on his mind when he walked in the City and saw the vast number of articles that had been brought from Germany, France, Switzerland, and other countries; but if he had pursued his examination of that circumstance, and had asked himself the simple question why these goods had been imported, he would have arrived at a fact which, he thought, comprised pretty nearly the whole of the Free Trade doctrine. Those goods were there because the people wished to buy them, and if the people could not afford to buy them they would not be there. 622 The reason they could afford to buy them was that they had been making profits in their respective trades, and were able to become customers of the whole world, very much to their own advantage. It was rather difficult to review all the arguments of his hon. and learned Friend, because the case admitted of no compromise whatever. It was impossible for him to go one inch with his hon. and learned Friend in his sympathy for what he had called the distressed, industry of this country, arising out of Free Trade principles. For his own part, he could not trace that distress, in the least degree, to the action of Free Trade. His hon. and learned Friend had spoken of the excess of imports over exports, and here he gave expression to one of the primary fallacies in this case. There could be no doubt that an excess of imports over exports had occurred in this country; and the theory was that we had, therefore, paid the difference in specie. That, however, was a fallacy, and it was not only a fallacy in theory, but it was capable of disproof, because it could be clearly shown that in the very years when we were exporting the most goods we were also importing most specie, and during the four years 1870–73 we received from abroad in gold and silver bullion or specie £19,000,000 more than we exported. They were told that this was one-sided Free Trade. They all admitted that it was, and they all wished that foreign countries would open their markets to us; but his contention was that one-sided Free Trade was better than no Free Trade at all. It was true, no doubt, that many markets might be opened to English goods if the tariffs were altered; and it would be the constant endeavour of the Government to use every effort they could in order to make foreigners see it would be to their advantage, as it had been to our own, to lower their tariffs. He trusted the House would not adopt any Resolution showing that we had lost faith in the least degree in the principles of Free Trade. It was by persuading foreign nations that it had produced enormous results for us that we must endeavour to induce them to follow our example. He was happy to say that we had a good deal of encouragement; for although the Governments of Europe did not evince any hope at the present moment 623 of being able to reduce their tariffs, yet among the commercial bodies of Europe there was evidently a misgiving in the soundness of the course they were pressing on their respective Governments; for, although they were stout Protectionists, they never approached their own Governments without admitting in principle that they were staunch Free-traders. Accounts from Germany and France showed that each commercial body pressed on the Ministers of State the expediency of protecting its own interests and of giving Free Trade to all the rest of the world. It was just the same in the Colonies, as appeared from a most amusing account given inThe Timesthe other day. In one instance an umbrella-maker, the only one in the Colony, maintained that he ought to be protected; but, at the same time, he was a staunch Freetrader with regard to cotton, silk, iron, sticks, and the other materials of which umbrellas were made. His hon. and learned Friend had mentioned the French Treaty. The negotiations respecting the Treaty of Commerce with France were suspended in consequence of the French Government declining to proceed with them until the general tariff was decided upon. Consequently, we came to an arrangement with France that things should remain as they were for six months after the tariff was agreed upon. It was very easy to show what great advantages had arisen from the Treaty made in 1860 with France, although he at once admitted that Coventry had been a very great sufferer from that Treaty. When Free Trade was introduced, Sir Robert Peel, no doubt, hoped that it would be unnecessary to resort to Commercial Treaties, and that foreigners would see it was to their advantage to adopt Free Trade. But although this was his opinion, Sir Robert Peel was not in theory opposed to Commercial Treaties, for both he and Lord Melbourne, between 1838 and 1843, attempted to make a Commercial Treaty with France, and they only failed in doing so in consequence of M. Guizot saying it would be impossible to carry such a Treaty through the French Chambers. In I860, after 15 years of experience, Mr. Cobden thought it was no use waiting any longer for foreign nations to follow our example; and he succeeded in negotiating a Treaty which vastly increased the trade, not only of this country, 624 but of Europe. Subsequently a great many other Treaties were made, which affected the trade of the whole world. That was one of the objects Mr. Cobden and the late Emperor Napoleon had in view, for they perceived that, if they once made a Treaty between this country and France, other countries would make Treaties among themselves; that in this way a network of Treaties would grow up; and that we, by the "most favoured nation" clauses, should be able to take advantage of all the Treaties which were negotiated. The result of the French Treaty had brought about a vast increase in the trade of France; and he believed that one of the great causes which had enabled France to pay her great Debt in the way she had paid it, and to bear the enormous burden thrown upon her by the late war, was the fact that, apart from her good harvests since 1870–71, and apart from her enormous productive power, she had between 1860 and 1870, by reason of the Commercial Treaty with this country, attained to a pitch of commercial prosperity which she did not enjoy before. Thus she was enabled to bear the tremendous trials which came upon her. Of course, his hon. and learned Friend had based his case in a great measure on the depression of trade in this country during the last two or three years. But other countries had suffered a great deal more. Austria and Germany, for instance, had suffered a great deal more, and these were highly protective countries. Again, the United States had, up to last year, suffered quite as much as we did, and perhaps more. Looking at the result in a general way, the protective system had greatly injured the United States, whereas the reverse system had enabled us to do a great deal more of the Ocean traffic than America did. Some people said that this country took more from other countries than they took from us; but this country took what it wanted, and it was only common sense to buy in the cheapest markets. He would not weary the House by saying more upon the subject. His hon. and learned Friend represented a very important constituency, composed in a great measure of working men engaged in various industries, and it was desirable that such a class of constituents should know beyond all question that Her Majesty's present Government, at any rate, had no doubt what- 625 ever about the commercial soundness of our policy of Free Trade. His own relations with foreign Powers and foreign statesmen made him see the thorough hollowness of their protective system. He had also come to the conclusion that they saw it themselves, and if it were not for the very great interests which were represented in the foreign Legislatures and Governments, he believed the whole system of Protection would fall about their heads like a house of cards. It was, as his right hon. Friend had already said, quite out of the power of the Government to grant this Committee. He therefore hoped his hon. and learned Friend would try and convince his constituents that, after all, the best thing for the working man was to buy in the cheapest market and sell in the dearest.
§ MR. CHILDERS
said, after the admirable speech of the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, he felt it was unnecessary to say more than a very few words. Every word of that speech he was prepared to endorse, and still more strongly could he endorse from personal experience what the hon. Gentleman had said in regard to the United States. He had seen a good deal of that country during the five years of its deepest commercial depression, and he could say without hesitation that, to a large extent, the commercial trials of the period from 1873 to 1878 were due to the adoption of the rotten system of Protection. But, after all, was it really worth while to refer such a question as this to the consideration of a Committee? Why, the House might just as well set a Committee to examine the Multiplication Table. If there was one thing on which nineteen-twentieths of the country, speaking of those who had read something of political economy, and knew the rules that should guide man and man in their commercial relations—if there was anything on which the country was thoroughly agreed, it was this very Free Trade principle which had been now adopted so long, and with such highly beneficial results. Of course, there were some few persons who held a contrary opinion, just as there were some persons who denied the rotundity of the earth—no arguments persuading them it was not fiat; but to ask for a Committee to convince these few would be as ridiculous as to ask for one to consider 626 whether the earth was not fiat, or whether twice two really made four. One suggestion he hoped the hon. and learned Member for Leeds (Mr. Wheelhouse) would act upon. He hoped he would not be persuaded to withdraw his Motion or not to take a division upon it, for it was important that the country should know, after all that had been said about Protection and Reciprocity—which was Protection in disguise—it was right the country should know how many Members there were in the House who were prepared to go back to Protection. If the hon. and learned Member for Leeds had the courage of his opinions—and, without affectation, he might say he knew no man more willing to defend the opinions he held than he—he asked him to allow the question to go to a distinct division, that the country might know how many Protectionists or advocates of Reciprocity the House contained. He thought that would put an end to the agitation for Protection.
§ SIR GEORGE BOWYER,
referring to the assertion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers), that a man who denied the doctrine of Free Trade and Reciprocal Free Trade was like a man who denied the rotundity of the earth, said, he must remind the right hon. Gentleman that the whole civilized world was against Free Trade. Europe and America, to whose opinions we were taught to bow down and worship, were against Free Trade. Although he (Sir George Bowyer) had been brought up in the doctrines of Free Trade, that fact so far shook his belief in it as to make him think that inquiry was desirable. There were no people so dogmatical as political economists. Questions of political economy were subject to great modification from collateral subjects. A political economist told you that wherever there was a demand for labour there was a supply, and that the labourer would always carry his labour to the best market. He would do so if he could. We were all taught in the school of Mr. Cobden that Free Trade was the great panacea and the great secret for the prosperity of mankind, and since that time any man who denied that doctrine was looked upon as a man who deserved to be burnt, as out of the faith. But the country was finding that there were many things that tended to throw a doubt on the doctrine of Free Trade. 627 If all countries would give up their protective duties, he thought Free Trade would work very well. But, when he regarded all the circumstances which had interfered with the working out of the Free Trade principles, he thought it was a subject for inquiry and consideration. Even our own Colonies were turning against the doctrine of Free Trade. Canada had adopted protective duties against England. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) was excessively indignant at her doing so, and would almost wish us to declare war against Canada to compel her to alter her commercial policy. But the Canadians knew their own business. They had acted with a view to their own interest, and they had so far declared against the doctrine of Free Trade. There was, he believed, a strong feeling in this country that the question of Free Trade required re-consideration, at least in cases where there was no Reciprocity. Whether right or wrong, that feeling was gaining such strength that by-and-bye it would become a serious matter, because many of the working men, the manufacturers, and others concerned in the industry of this country believed that we ought not to allow Free Trade except with those countries which acted on that principle themselves. As to the assertion that Reciprocity was Protection in disguise, that was only one of those phrases which were intended to gull people. Reciprocity was a principle apart from Free Trade. Mr. Cobden always argued his theories on the assumption that other nations would be so convinced of the truth of Free Trade that the whole civilized world would be governed by his doctrines. But Mr. Cobden had been proved to be wrong in that assumption, and a state of things now existed which he had not contemplated. Therefore, that question might properly be examined by a Select Committee, which could take the opinions of various classes in this and also in foreign countries, thus obtaining a body of evidence which would much assist the deliberations of the next Parliament. He was himself still a Freetrader, provided Free Trade was carried out fairly; but he could not be insensible to the fact that no other country followed the commercial policy we had adopted; and, therefore, the time had come when the examination of 628 the question was extremely desirable. If the hon. and learned Member for Leeds pressed his Motion to a division he would vote for a Committee. At the same time, he thought that the hon. and learned Gentleman would act more wisely by not dividing, and should be content to rely on his own able speech, and also on the debate he had originated, which would, no doubt, be considered by the country.
§ MR. BARRAN
said, that his hon. and learned Friend and Colleague (Mr. Wheelhouse) had been spoken of as a very popular man, particularly so in his own constituency. He was deservedly popular; but his popularity was not owing to the views he entertained upon this question. He (Mr. Barran) desired to speak upon this Motion, in order that his hon. and learned Friend might not be considered the exponent of principles which were held by the large body of the electors of Leeds. He was confident that if Leeds were polled upon the question of Free Trade the majority would very largely preponderate against his hon. and learned Colleague, who claimed that he did not advocate Reciprocity in the interests of the rich. Now, the very class whom that hon. and learned Member professed to represent to-night were the very class who had profited most by the introduction of Free Trade. In 1842, before Free Trade was established, there was great depression of trade, and one out of every eight of the adult male population of Leeds was a pauper; the working men were not earning more than two-thirds of the average wages now paid to them; and although wages and profits were then low, and work very scarce, bread and other articles of food were dear, starvation being much more common than it had been ever since Free Trade was adopted. The recollection of these circumstances was very vivid in the minds of many thousands of the people of Leeds, and this would lead them to think very seriously before they ventured to support the views of his hon. and learned Friend. By Free Trade they not only had food cheaper and labour more abundant, but luxuries were enjoyed by the people to an extent that was unknown before that system came into operation. It was said that trade was now in a deplorable state; but it must be remembered that they had had 629 three successive bad harvests, and that on a fair computation the loss to the nation through the bad harvest of last year was between £25,000,000 and £30,000,000, the effect of which could not but be injurious to various branches of industry. If, under those circumstances, flour, instead of being 2s.4d.per stone, had been 4s.4d.,as in former days, and the people had little employment, the distress must have been severe. It was said that other countries adhered to Protection; but if they went to Austria, Germany, Italy, or even to France, they would find that in proportion as their restrictive tariffs were developed the earnings of the people diminished. There was no other country, save America, where the people earned such large wages, and enjoyed so many luxuries, as they did hero. Such being the case, the House would carefully consider before they reverted to a system which had proved in the past to be prejudicial to the best interests of the nation. An improvement in trade was visible; and although, at present, the circumstances of the country were not as satisfactory as we could wish, he did not think the position in which we found ourselves was one which ought to strike us with terror and dismay. He hoped his hon. and learned Friend would divide the House, for he was satisfied that the division would be such as would so far satisfy his hon. and learned Colleague and his constituents that the principles which he held were not principles which were acceptable to the House or likely to be endorsed by the nation.
§ MR. ALDERMAN COTTON
said, it was with great satisfaction that he had heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer state that he was not in favour of the Motion, inasmuch as a return to Protection would, in his opinion, be one of the greatest calamities which could befall the country. Forty years ago every article which we imported was subject to taxation of some kind or other, and trade was really reduced to a minimum; but during the 34 years which followed, the prosperity of the country, the accumulation of large fortunes, and the comforts of the working classes had increased in an unparalleled degree. And, although the last two or three years had been a period of depression, trade had begun to show such evidences of revival 630 that we might hope for a return of that prosperity which the country had so long enjoyed. The iron and cotton trades had greatly revived. With respect to the decay of the Coventry and Macclesfield trades, it was altogether a thing apart from Free Trade, being the result of fashion. If to-morrow the ladies of England took into their favour silks and ribbons, as formerly, that trade would revive. When the hon. and learned Gentleman complained that our import trade was three times as large as our export trade, he forgot that the people of this country derived as much profit from the former as from the latter. A large portion of it originated with our countrymen in India and the Colonies; it came to this country in English bottoms, paying freight to English shipowners, and harbour and dock dues to English proprietors; and if it were not for that trade we should cease to be what we were—a great producing people. As to the recent depression in trade, it was to a considerable extent attributable to the repudiation of foreign loans, to reckless speculation, and not a little to the prevalence of strikes. The great rule to adopt was to buy in the cheapest market, and that could only be done if we had Free Trade. The artizans and labouring classes of this country were never so well clothed, housed, and fed as they now were. If we could not produce an article of the same quality and at the same price, we ought by all means to buy it from abroad. He considered that the time spent by the Committee of last Session on the question of the sugar bounties was time wasted, and since then the rise in the price of sugar had been enormous—as much as £5 per ton; and, although it had since fallen about 50s.,the sugar refiners of this country had reaped an immense advantage. He was quite sure the House would not let Protection, under any shape, interfere with the well-established principles of Free Trade.
§ MR. BENTINCK
said, that after a long experience of Free Trade, not only the working classes, but all classes of society, had suffered from the mistaken financial policy which had been adopted by this country; and the working classes had suffered most. Adverting to what fell from the hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Barran), he denied that the number of paupers in this country 631 had been diminished by the action of Free Trade. The fact was the very reverse; the number of paupers was larger now under Free Trade. He entirely disputed what was so constantly said on the question of dear bread. We had had an experience of 60 years—30 years before the repeal of the Corn Laws and 30 years since. Now, 30 years was ample time to judge of the effects of a policy, and he had no hesitation in saying that the price of bread had been higher under the system of Free Trade than it had been under that of Protection. He was an old Protectionist; but they were not discussing the question of Free Trade and Protection—he meant the question so far as it related to countries in a high state of cultivation; but they were discussing the question whether the position of Free Trade without Reciprocity was a tenable position. He was sorry to say that he was old enough to recollect that the early advocates of Free Trade used to put it forward that their policy would be so beneficial to the human race that when once England set the example that policy would be adopted by all foreign nations; Free Trade would become the practice of the whole world. Had that been the case? Thirty years was long enough to judge of the effects of a financial policy. So far from that having been the case, the whole tendency of the financial policy of all the chief European Powers, of the United States and of our own Colonies was to the imposition of protective duties. There was no inclination to try Free Trade. It was a policy which must be ruinous to every class in society with the exception of one class, which formed but a small proportion of the whole; he meant the class of annuitants who were dependent on fixed incomes—the non-producing class. Thus the result of Free Trade was that it fed the drones and starved the working bees. The policy of Free Trade was based on the argument that it would cheapen the food of the people; but he held that this argument was a delusive one, and further, that the principle of Free Trade was brought forward under false pretences. He remembered the day when members of the Anti-Corn Law League were looked upon as patriots, and when they were able to produce what was tantamount to a political revolution. He ventured, however, to repeat, being careful to 632 avoid the strong language not seldom resorted to by a right hon. Gentleman opposite, that the whole movement was brought forward under false pretences. He might mention one fact in support of this opinion. One of the most distinguished members of the Anti-Corn Law League, when asked—"Why are you so adverse to the land interest, so indignant against the owners who produce the food of the people; why do you vituperate them and parade them before the country as men who are responsible for the sufferings of their fellow-countrymen?" replied, "You quite mistake us; we have no antipathy to the land, or to those connected with it; we only want one thing—namely, food at the price of the world, that we may get labour at the price of the world." This was a very natural view for men who had much capital embarked in commercial pursuits to hold; but it was not the professed object of the League. The members of the League endeavoured to persuade the people that they were trying to reduce the taxes on food, when they were, in reality, trying to obtain cheap labour for themselves. He could say without fear that there were two great glaring fallacies in the doctrines of Free Traders. The first was comprised in the words "cheap food." If he could believe that the doctrine of Free Trade tended to cheapen the food and increase the comfort of the people, he should be a Free Trader; but it was his strong conviction that the real effect of the doctrines of Free Trade was to decrease the wages of the working classes and increase their miseries. The words "cheap food" contained a fallacy, for this reason—food should not be considered dear or cheap according to the price of the quartern loaf, but according to the ability of the working man to earn sufficient wages to purchase what food he required. If then, as he asserted, the doctrines of Free Trade led to a decrease in the wages of the labouring man, its supporters were, in reality, making his position worse than it was before. The other point to which he wished to draw attention was the confusion which existed in the minds of a great number of very distinguished persons as to the difference between consumers and producers. The advocates of Free Trade always contended that the object of their policy was to benefit the condition of the con- 633 sumers on the assumption that the consumers included the great mass of the community, and that, therefore, while improving the position of the consumers, they would be improving the position of the majority of the human race. He denied the truth of this assumption altogether, for the great mass of the community was formed by the producing class, consisting chiefly of the labourer and artizan, who, as he had shown, derived no benefit from Free Trade. There was another fact which had probably never occurred to many of those whom he was then addressing. They had heard a great deal about the Corn Laws being a tax upon the food of the people. Even if they assumed the truth of this, was the House aware that the Corn Laws as they existed in 1846 increased the price of a 4lb. loaf by only one-fifth of a penny? But he went further, and maintained, from a comparison of the price of bread in the 30 years preceding and the 30 years succeeding the repeal of the Corn Laws, that the average price of corn in this country was lower during the former period. The effect of the duty on corn, therefore, was not to raise the price; but, in any case, the amount of the increase was not more than one-fifth of a penny upon the 41b. loaf. How was that argument to be answered? The real effect of the sliding scale duty was to regulate the price of corn by inducing speculators to hold a large amount in bond ready to meet the requirements of the market. One result was that the price of corn was kept at a much more steady level. Another result was that during the operation of the duties there were always two years' consumption of corn stored up in the country, whereas, now, we were living from hand to mouth, with only two or three months' consumption in reserve; and, therefore, any sudden emergency might reduce us to starvation. We heard a great deal about the taxpayer, who was always crying out and giving annoyance to everybody. By a stroke of the pen they might derive a large income of many millions a-year from the pockets of the foreigner, and enormously relieve the taxpayer of this country. But there was one great obstacle to such a course. There were a great many very distinguished, very able, and very eloquent men on the Treasury and front Opposition Benches, who, while on other matters 634 they maintained an attitude of the most hostile antagonism towards one another, were, unfortunately, agreed upon the subject of Protection and Free Trade. Many of them had been in former times strong advocates of Protection, and had suddenly been converted to the doctrines of Free Trade. This change had been brought about by political considerations, and not from conviction. These Gentlemen, naturally, were not inclined to recant all they had said, and admit that they had yielded to political necessity. This was the real difficulty of the case, and how it was to be got over he was not prepared to say. But it would have to be got over somehow, for he believed it was the feeling of the country that Free Trade without Reciprocity was national ruin, and must lead to the most disastrous results. The pressure would become so strong through-out the length and breadth of the land that resistance would be impossible. He wished to add one word with reference to a remark that had fallen from the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. He had understood the hon. Gentleman to say that the excess of imports over exports was no proof of the failure of the national policy in this matter. He had heard that statement with the most profound astonishment. He wished to make every concession to the high character and great ability of his hon. Friend; but he was utterly at a loss to understand how any man occupying the distinguished position of his hon. Friend, and filling it with so much success, could put forward a doctrine which appeared to him, not only untenable, but monstrous. It was a simple question of arithmetic. If you were always giving half-a-crown and taking a shilling, however long your purse might be, where would your position be at the end of a certain number of years? As far as he had been able to collect the facts, the balance of trade against the country during the last five or six years had been somewhere about £150,000,000 a-year. The question was one of fact as well as one of policy. They were paying so much and receiving so much. They were paying a great deal and receiving very little—a financial policy which must lead to irretrievable national ruin. He warned the House that they could not persevere in a policy which was draining the resources of the 635 country, and the effect of which would be to deprive the masses of the people of the means of earning their livelihood.
§ MR. BRIGGS
said, he would not occupy the attention of the House for more than a few minutes, as he had not come down prepared with a speech. At the same time, he was pleased to hear the declaration of Her Majesty's Government that they were undoubtedly in favour of Free Trade. At present there was no question of Reciprocity. That word might be whispered when a Cabinet Minister visited his constituents, or be heard occasionally in the agricultural districts; but it could not in the House of Commons. He should have imagined that a very short discussion would have disposed of this question, and when he heard the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) move the adjournment of the debate he was surprised that the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not inform him that he was guilty of obstruction to the Business of the House. Nothing could have been dearer to the heart of a Freetrader than to hear the way in which Protection, sitting behind the Treasury Bench, had been thoroughly castigated by a Conservative Minister, and he did not think that for some time it would dare to raise its head. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had declared that, in his opinion, those who advocated the repeal of the Corn Laws were not so much desirous of cheapening the food of the people as of getting cheap labour for themselves. He could not but consider that to be a monstrous accusation. As a matter of fact, labour had been cheaper before the repeal of the Corn Laws than it had been since. The hon. Gentleman would not say that corn was cheaper before the duties were abolished than it was now. Would the hon. Gentleman assert that it would be for the advantage of the working classes that we should go back to the state of things which existed before the Corn Laws were repealed? For his part, he believed that it was not in the interest of working people that Reciprocity was demanded; it was in the interest of land. Those who were in favour of Protection did not want to impose a duty upon manufactured articles, but upon raw materials, and, of all raw materials, they wanted to tax corn. ["No!"] What was it then? What did hon. Gentlemen want to tax? What 636 else could they tax? They talked about silk and watches, and such luxuries of life; but these formed but a small portion of the great total of our imports. The great total of our imports consisted of hides, tallow, cotton, and corn. How would they tax America? Would they tax its cotton or its corn? What else had America to tax? [Mr. MACDONALD: Mops and pails.] Mops and pails; well, they might as well try to mop out and pail out the ocean of public opinion as expect to carry the object they had in view. The proposal was really so absurd that hon. Gentlemen who made it did not know what to say for themselves. Her Majesty's Government were once told by the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. M'Cullagh Torrens) that there was one place they must not go to, and that was between the food and the mouths of the people, and he was glad the Government had recognized that fact. He believed that the employers of labour and the working classes were as true to Free Trade at that moment as they were five years ago—he might say 30 years—notwithstanding what the hon. and learned Member for Leeds had stated that evening. Let the hon. and learned Member go to Blackburn and call a meeting of the working classes, and discuss the question before them, and if he got a verdict in favour of his Motion he (Mr. Briggs) would never in that House speak against it again. They had heard a great deal about Coventry to-night. Nothing could be more curious than the different lights in which the two hon. Members had portrayed that city. He was rather inclined to agree with the hon. and learned Baronet (Sir Henry Jackson) that the position of that city was not so black as it was painted by the hon. Member (Mr. Eaton) on the other side. In all great transitions some people must suffer. It was the case in Lancashire. When they changed from the use of the handloom to the powerloom the small weavers suffered severely, as the silk weavers in Coventry had done. But there was this which was worse in the case of the Lancashire weaver—he had carried on his trade under legitimate conditions; the silk weaver had carried on his trade under illegitimate conditions. The one had suffered under the natural development of a trade, the other because he had been nourished like a hot-house plant, and when the cold blast of Free 637 Trade came upon him he could not stand the robust atmosphere of open-air competition. They could not help being sorry for both of these classes; but if they were to move on in this world they must do so though some people were left behind in the race. It was idle to endeavour to retain an unhappy and illegitimate state of things, because some people might suffer by the introduction of a better. He was glad the Government had spoken out so clearly and definitely on the subject of Free Trade, and he hoped it would set at rest the question. As they had been taken to Coventry so much in the course of this discussion, he might quote some lines which the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who occupied the front Ministerial Bench, remembering the old Free Trade struggles, might use towards Members opposite—Not only we.…New men, that in the flying of a wheelCry down the past.…Have loved the people well,And loathed to see them overtaxed, hut theyDid more, and underwent and overcame.
§ MR. HERMON
said, this question had been a good deal discussed by the working people of Lancashire; so much so, that, in addressing his constituents, he had sometimes to tell them unpleasant truths, such as if they were prepared to adopt a system of taxing their food he should be prepared to advocate Reciprocity, which would enable them to place a tax on foreign manufactures. But he must say he got no decided answer from them. He told them that before discussing the question whether they should place a tax on the import of foreign manufactures they must be prepared for a corresponding tax on food. While there was no tax on corn, the farmer had a right to buy his farming implements and everything connected with the culture of his land as cheaply as he possibly could. The two questions must go together. There were two sides to the question of Free Trade; and if the hon. and learned Member for Leeds went to a division he should go with him, for the very purpose of having it understood in the country that they could not have Reciprocity without abandoning the benefit they received from the free import of food. If they took with one hand, they must give with the other. It was for this reason only he 638 would vote for the Resolution, although he could wish it had been differently worded. If there was an inquiry, the working population of the country would have it in their power to state what they meant, and whether they wished to return to the old system and to tax imported food as well as imported manufactures—for the taxation of the two must go together. They must not expect that the farmer would be willing to compete with all the world, unless he could buy all he required in the cheapest market. It might have been beneficial if we had pursued a different course when we adopted Free Trade; but it was a different question whether we should now retrace our steps. There might have been times before Free Trade when corn was cheap; but it was still true that we had passed through crises in which we should have suffered still more acutely if it had not been for Free Trade. His chief motive in voting for the Resolution was that the public outside should become acquainted with the real state of the case, and should realize the fact that they must consider the much more serious question of what should be done with imported articles of food.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The Housedivided:—Ayes 75; Noes 6: Majority 69.—(Div. List, No. 5.)
§ Main Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."