§ SIR MASSEY LOPES
, in rising, pursuant to Notice, to move—That it is desirable that the functions of the Executive Government which especially relate to Agriculture and Commerce should, as far as possible, be administered by a distinct department, and be presided over by a responsible Minister of the Crown,said, that he could claim no novelty for the subject-matter of the Resolution which he was about to submit to the consideration of the House. The subject had been frequently discussed before both in that House and also outside its walls. The two Chambers which represented respectively the interests of Agriculture and of Commerce had urged upon successive Governments the necessity of appointing a Minister with a distinct Department, whose special business it would be to watch over the combined interests of Agriculture and Commerce. Joint deputations from those Institutions had repeatedly gone to the Government and endorsed and advocated that policy; and during the last Parliament a Resolution very similar to the one which he had now the honour to submit to the House was proposed by Mr. Sampson Lloyd, the late Member for Plymouth, in a most able and exhaustive speech. That Motion was supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and carried by a considerable majority. But the matter had dropped, and nothing further had been done. On that occasion, there was no difference of opinion with reference to the main issue—namely, the appointment of a special Minister; 439 but some exception was taken with regard to the latter part of the Resolution, which made it imperatively necessary that the Minister who presided over the combined interests of Agriculture and Commerce should be a Cabinet Minister. He (Sir Massey Lopes) did not intend to attach that condition to the present Resolution, not because he did not think it necessary that a Minister presiding over the combined interests of Agriculture and Commerce should be a Minister of the first rank, but because he felt that if those combined interests were to be represented by a Minister with a separate Department, the position of that Minister must necessarily be paramount. That would follow as a necessary and natural consequence, as a simple and certain corollary. It was quite right that a Prime Minister should be able to exercise some discretion in the selection of his Cabinet; but no Prime Minister, be he ever so popular or powerful, would be able to resist public opinion; and though it might be invidious to particularize, all must admit that the combined interests of Agriculture and Commerce would have far higher claims to be represented in a Cabinet than many of those Offices which had hitherto enjoyed, or even now enjoyed, that distinction. This was no Party Question. It was a question of policy rather than of Party, and one in which both sides and all sections of the House took an interest. The days were, happily, past when the interests of Agriculture and Commerce were supposed to be antagonistic. Their interests were so interwoven and dependent one upon another, that they both considered that there would be a mutual advantage in one Department representing their interests. There was no feeling of jealousy or rivalry between Agriculture and Commerce, and the same Minister could supervise both interests. In pressing this Motion, it was hardly necessary to dwell upon the magnitude of the interests of Agriculture and Commerce, or to attempt to show that these combined interests were of sufficient importance to justify this special consideration. These two industries were the bases of our power as a nation; they were the source and foundation of all our national wealth; the welfare and prosperity of all classes were dependent upon them, and there was scarcely a 440 person in the Kingdom who was not directly or indirectly maintained and supported by them. If they were to leave out of consideration the bare naked land, and to estimate the amount of capital invested in agriculture, they would have some idea of the magnitude of the interests involved. It was calculated that the amount of capital which had been invested in agriculture by the owners was £400,000,000. This might be called the fixed capital. Then there was the occupiers' capital, which was the movable capital, and that had been put at £380,000,000; so that they had the total of £780,000,000 invested by owners and occupiers, not taking into consideration the value of the bare naked land. On the authority of Mr. Caird, the average annual value of agricultural produce was £300,000,000. He need hardly say the last four or five years would hardly come up to the average. These Islands produced more produce for their extent and area of their cultivated land than any other country on the globe. England was admitted to be the greatest commercial country in the world. With reference to its commerce, it was easy to calculate the amount of capital, because they had the figures of the Board of Trade. The amount of the exports and imports for the last year amounted to £686,000,000. This total was made up of imports, £410,000,000; exports of British and Irish produce, £223,000,000; and the remaining £53,000,000 represented goods, Colonial and Foreign, imported into this country and exported again from it. These figures would give some idea of the magnitude of the interests involved. He would endeavour to advance a few reasons why they should have a distinct Department for Commerce and Agriculture, presided over by a responsible Minister in this country. There was a strong feeling abroad that the existing machinery of the Executive Government for these objects was incomplete, inadequate, and inefficient. There was a general impression that many functions which the State ought to exercise with regard to Agriculture and Commerce were either inefficiently performed or altogether neglected; that these interests were too important to be dealt with by subordinate Departments; that they suffered from inadequate representation; that there was no special or individual responsibility; that as com- 441 mercial and agricultural interests had, by means of Chambers, for years past organized themselves and adopted representative institutions, that there should also be a separate Department of the Government to which they might communicate their wants and wishes, and that, by this means, a more ready intercourse and interchange of opinion might be effected, which would be conducive to the interests of all concerned; that if such a Department had existed, it would have been able to have given valuable assistance to the Royal Commission now sitting, by collecting and forwarding evidence and giving its opinion respecting the causes of the present depression. Why was England the only important country that had not a responsible Minister and a distinct Department to supervize these two important interests? Other countries had adopted the system which he advocated; it had been found satisfactory and successful; and he was at a loss to know why they should be the only country in the world to neglect taking this prudent step. France, Austria, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Holland, almost every civilized State, and even Japan, had a Minister whose duty it was to attend to these great Departments; and the United States, our chief competitor in all agricultural produce, had a separate Department for Agriculture. His hon. Friend the Member for Mid Somerset (Mr. R. H. Paget) had asked a Question with regard to certain interesting documents relating to Agriculture in the United States; and some of those Papers were now in the Library, and they were most interesting. This Department in the United States superintended everything connected with Agriculture; it diffused the most useful information respecting seeds, plants, and manures; it reported annually to Congress, not only with reference to its own agriculture, but of that of all other foreign countries. Surely we, who are suffering so severely from this competition, needed equal facilities and opportunities. There was plenty of information to be got; but in this country it was no one's business to procure it. The Reports sent home by our Consuls were seldom tabulated or utilized. Had responsibility attached to one Department, greater attention would have been paid to our foreign Tariffs; our Commercial Treaties would have been more carefully considered; 442 our Colonies would not have established hostile Tariffs against the Mother Country; we should have made more favourable terms for our manufactures when we repealed the Sugar Duties in 1864. But these would not have been all the advantages. We would not have had the Bankruptcy Laws, which were a scandal to this country, so long unsettled. Because no one Department was individually responsible for these matters our national interests had severely suffered; nay, more, they had been seriously imperilled. He wished to say something as to the anomalies of the present system. Those anomalies were palpable and patent to all. The various duties of the different Departments connected with Agriculture and Commerce were absurdly incongruous. Their affairs were distributed over so many Departments of the Government—which had no relation with one another—that it was impossible to get information without great inconvenience and loss of time. For instance, if one wanted to get any information about the Diseases of Cattle, he was referred to the Minister who looked after Art and Science, Education, and Religion; if one wished to hear something about Agricultural Statistics or Corn Returns, he was referred to the Minister whose main duty it was to look after Railways and Ships; while the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Dodson), to whom they looked for information with regard to Public Highways, Roads, and Bridges, had for his main duty to look after Paupers. The result was that they never knew from what Member of the Government agricultural legislation was to come. The Agricultural Holdings Act was introduced in the last Government by his late lamented Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Hunt). But the greatest anomaly of all was the Board of Trade. The Board of Trade was a mythical body. It contained no Department of Trade at all. It was no Board. It never met as a Board. He believed the Lord Chancellor was a member of the Board, and also the Speaker; but he would not venture to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he ever attended the Board. He contended that the designation was obsolete, and that it ought to be abolished. The Board of Trade, as it at present existed, had neither the necessary organization, nor did it possess 443 the requisite power, to carry out its important functions. In the Board of Trade they had no Commercial Department to look after the Indian or Colonial Trade, or Commercial Treaties, or their Tariffs at home or abroad. If any illustrious foreigner were to ask any Member of the House the simple question, What Department of the Government in this country directed our commercial policy; or what provision was made with respect to our agricultural interests? he thought there would be considerable difficulty in giving any satisfactory response. The answer might be, "No one;" or "the Executive;" or "the Government generally," or, perhaps, "the Cabinet." If the latter were the correct answer, it might be thought to be another illustration of the truth of the old adage, that what was "everybody's business was nobody's." If the responsibility was distributed among the 12 or 14 Gentlemen who generally composed a Cabinet, each of whom had specific duties in his own Department, and more than sufficient to monopolize his entire time and attention, it would only be natural that they would postpone and neglect the consideration of those duties for which they were not individually responsible, and that, at all events, they would be inefficiently discharged. But he might be told that it was easy to criticize. What remedy did he suggest? It was not his duty to propose a remedy for an acknowledged grievance. His only object was to persuade the Government that the difficulty of arranging those matters was not insuperable; and if he ventured to suggest what duties might be transferred to a new Department, it must be understood that he was not attempting to lay down any hard-and-fast line, or desiring to dictate to those in authority. To carry out his object, he did not consider it would be necessary to re-organize all the other Departments, or to re-adjust their duties. It would not even be necessary to create a new Department; but it would be absolutely necessary that all the functions relating to Agriculture and Commerce, which at present were so irregularly and unsystematically administered, should be concentrated in one and the same Department. It was not necessary to create new work, but only to redistribute existing work. They wanted one Minister with two separate or dis- 444 tinct Departments, each Department possessing separate and permanent official Staffs; one Department dealing exclusively with agricultural subjects, the other with commercial matters; and under the Minister he would like to see a Parliamentary Secretary attached to each Department. The Agricultural Department might include—(1.) Supervision of traffic, transit, and diseases of Stock, now under the Privy Council Office; (2.) the duties now discharged by the Copyhold Tithe and Inclosure Commissioners, and also agricultural legislation, now under the Home Office; (3.) the classification and circulation of all information received from Consular Agents, as well as the collection, tabulation, and publication of Agricultural Statistics and Corn Returns, now under the Board of Trade; and (4.) the administration of roads, highways, and bridges, now under the Local Government Board, might properly be transferred to this Department. All these Departments were at present heavily weighted; and their duties would be somewhat diminished, with benefit to themselves and with great advantage to the public. His hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk) would be more competent, as President of the Chambers of Commerce, to define the duties which should be transferred to the Commercial Department; but all would agree that they should include Tariff regulations at home and abroad, Treaties of Commerce, factory labour, &c. These new Departments should not be overburdened at first; they should grow gradually, and work should be transferred to them tentatively and by degrees. It had been said that at present the different Commercial and Agricultural Societies furnished more information of statistical and other kinds to the Board of Trade than the latter did to them. The Royal Agricultural Society had been of great use in that respect. Questions were often submitted by the Board of Trade to Agricultural Societies. He thought in those matters reciprocity should be established. There was only one industry in the country which was to any considerable extent supported by the Government, and that was mining. We wanted, in short, all matters connected with these two interests concentrated into one Department, where all legislative and administrative questions 445 connected with them would be dealt with. We wanted one recognized authority, who would institute inquiries and initiate measures calculated to promote their welfare. We wanted to fix and concentrate responsibility. If the functions of the Executive Government were collected into one group, instead of being scattered over so many Departments, they could be more easily and efficiently managed. At present, there was no system or symmetry. There was a total absence of homogeneous classification. The affairs of Agriculture and Commerce were divided between the Home Office, Foreign Office, Board of Trade, Privy Council Office, and Local Government Board. We had separate Departments for Foreign, Colonial, and Indian affairs, for our Army and Navy; why should not the same care and distinction be given to these two important industries? It might, no doubt, be said that our Agriculture and Commerce had prospered without the interference of Government agency; but never, in recent times, had there been so great an agricultural depression as existed now. He did not think that the mere recurrence of bad seasons was a sufficient explanation of that depression. Foreign competition, which every year was becoming more keen and severe, and of which they could scarcely predicate the extent or result, was, no doubt, the chief cause of our suffering. All classes interested in the land were looking forward to the future with intense anxiety, and with no very sanguine expectations. Few farmers had made any profits the last four or five years; too many had been living on their capital, which was well nigh exhausted; and, to the great majority, another bad season would bring absolute ruin. In every county they heard of farms untenanted, but, what was worse, uncultivated, of insolvent tenants, and reduced landlords, and on many estates reduced rents barely paid the interests of mortgages and of charges settled upon them. Nor were the accounts received of the state of trade at all more encouraging. The Board of Trade Returns for the month of April showed a deficit of £1,500,000 of exports of British and Irish produce and manufactures, compared with the corresponding period of last year; and the Returns for the last four months were equally discouraging, showing a deficit of 446 £500,000. It was found that our exports steadily diminished, and our imports increased. He did not feel so sanguine as some did with reference to any general revival of trade. He would ask what manufacturing industry was at present prospering? Was it the woollen trade of Bradford, where thousands of work-people were weekly leaving these shores to seek their fortunes elsewhere? Was it the sugar, or the silk trade? Was it the cotton trade? If the production had not diminished, one thing was certain, that the profits were considerably less. Formerly, English Commerce had a monopoly; it was without a rival. Now, owing to Free Trade, and facilities of intercourse by sea and by land, foreign competition was pressing hard on home producers in their home markets. He did not wish to substitute State protection for private energy and enterprize; but he was of opinion that every reasonable facility and opportunity must be given, every impediment must be removed, if they were to hold their own in the unequal race in which Agriculture and Commerce were now embarked. He hoped that he should not receive from the Government the usual stereotyped answer, or a mere vague assurance that the question should be carefully considered. It had been taken up by the majority of the Chambers of Commerce throughout the country, and "carefully considered" by successive Governments for the last 20 years; and in 1879 a majority of that House declared in favour of the principles which he attempted to advocate; and outside those walls this proposal had the sanction of public opinion. In 1869, the then President of the Board of Trade (Mr. John Bright) said that he would strongly recommend a consideration of the question now before the House by the separate Departments, and he promised some reforms. Nothing, however, had been done, though 12 years had elapsed. In the absence, therefore, of a very clear and sufficient statement from the First Lord of the Treasury, he should consider it his duty to divide the House at the conclusion of the debate. It was no good to attempt to patch up the present system. That had been tried in 1864, and had failed. They could not afford to wait any longer. Foreign politics had necessarily of late years monopolized their time and attention. It was now time to look at home, 447 and after their own interests. Those important industries, Agriculture, Trade, and Commerce—the source of all our national greatness—were unanimously of opinion that by such means only as he had attempted to indicate could a satisfactory consideration of their interests be secured, and they asked the Government, the Executive of the British House of Commons and of the country, to grant them a boon which they confidently believe would not only tend to further their interests, but also tend to promote the welfare and prosperity of all classes in the United Kingdom. The hon. Baronet concluded by moving the Resolution of which he had given Notice.
§ MR. MONK
said, he had much pleasure in seconding the Resolution. He should, however, have preferred a Resolution stating the expediency of giving Cabinet rank to a Minister of Agriculture and Commerce. His hon. Friend (Sir Massy Lopes) had referred to the sanction given by the late House of Commons to a similar proposal in 1879, which was brought forward by Mr. Sampson Lloyd, and adopted after a long discussion. It had become his (Mr. Monk's) duty in February last to transmit to the Prime Minister a Memorial from the Association of Chambers of Commerce in favour of the appointment of a Minister of Commerce and Agriculture. At the same time, he pointed out to the Prime Minister that the Resolution of 1879 had remained for nearly two years unchallenged in the Journals of the House, and reminded him that it had been supported by the right hon. Gentleman the present Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. W. E. Forster), by the right hon. Gentleman the present Vice President of the Privy Council (Mr. Mundella), and by the hon. and learned Gentleman the present Solicitor General (Sir Farrer Herschell), while no single Member of the present Government voted against it. The hon. Member for South Devon had made out an excellent case in favour of entrusting agricultural interests to a separate Department of the State. He pointed out the strong objections that existed to the interests of Agriculture being confided to three or four separate Departments. If that were so with regard to Agriculture, how much more was it the case with regard to the commercial interests of the country? The Board of Trade, the 448 Foreign Office, the Colonial Office, and, he believed, the Lord Chancellor, with the Law Officers of the Crown, shared the cares and responsibilities of watching over the interests of Trade and Commerce in this country. The services of so many Departments being called in, the results were not likely to be satisfactory. His hon. Friend had shown that this was not the case in other countries. In France, Germany, Austria, Italy, and Belgium, the interests of Commerce and Agriculture were considered of sufficient importance to be confided to a special Department of the State. Some years ago—in 1864—the relations between the Board of Trade and the Foreign Office with reference to Commercial Treaties were considered by a Committee presided over by his (Mr. Monk's) right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (Mr. W. E. Forster); and in consequence of their Report a Commercial Department was established in the Foreign Office. To some extent that had proved an improvement. No one, he was sure, whose duties had brought him into contact with the Under Secretary of State (Sir Charles W. Dilke) could fail to give him credit for zeal, courtesy, and singular ability. The same might be said of Mr. Kennedy, at the Foreign Office. But, in spite of all that, the arrangement had not proved quite successful. If he (Mr. Monk) were asked why, he should say there was too much mystery about the Foreign Office. A diplomatic atmosphere pervaded it which commercial men found absolutely chilling. They had an instinctive dread of the Foreign Office, and preferred resorting for counsel to the Board of Trade; but the duties of that Department had been so largely increased by recent legislation in reference to Merchant Shipping, Railways, and other matters, that it would be impossible to convert it into a Ministry of Commerce and Agriculture. There was ample room for a new Department. If he might be allowed to throw out a hint, he would venture to suggest that the noble Lord, so long and honourably connected with the Board of Trade, who had recently received the appointment of Lord Privy Seal (Lord Carlingford), must feel a thirst for work, and feel humiliated by occupying a sinecure Office, or, at all events, at the prospect of doing the 449 work of odd man in the Cabinet. In conclusion, he would remind the Prime Minister that legislation was hanging fire, that the Bankruptcy Bill had made no progress, that the Law of Partnership required consolidation and amendment, that the Patent Laws required revision, while Bills of Sale were a scandal and a disgrace under the present law; and last—not least—the question of a new Anglo-French Commercial Treaty must be decided within a very few weeks. Under these circumstances, he expressed a hope that the Prime Minister would give his sanction to a Motion which had received the support of a Member of the Cabinet and of other Members of the Government.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "it is desirable that the functions of the Executive Government which especially relate to Agriculture and Commerce should, as far as possible, be administered by a distinct department, and be presided over by a responsible Minister of the Crown,"—(Sir Massey Lopes,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
Sir, when I heard the proposal of the hon. Member opposite (Sir Massey Lopes) described to me at the outset in general terms, I was afraid it was of a character similar to that of 1879, which undoubtedly it would have been my duty to resist. I could not, in any circumstances, consent to any Parliamentary Resolution going to determine by a vote of this House who should be, under all circumstances, constituent Members of the Cabinet. I shall not trouble the House with my reasons; but they are grave and serious. However, I am perfectly satisfied with the manner in which the hon. Member opposite has framed the Resolution and stated his case. What the hon. Member states is—"I am satisfied that there will be such a development of these functions, if you will only allow it, that the importance of the Minister will bring about a state of public opinion which will involve a sure corollary that the man who has such functions to discharge must be a Member of the Cabinet." Upon that footing I am perfectly ready to leave the matter. I am not so sanguine as the 450 hon. Member may be as to the very rapid and early accumulation of those functions; but it is a perfectly fair statement. Then, again, the hon. Gentleman has very judiciously said that this is to be a union, "as far as possible," of the functions relating to Commerce and to Agriculture by a distinct Department under a responsible Minister of the Crown. I think that we have advanced a little further in this direction—a little further than the hon. Gentleman is, perhaps, aware of. There is certainly nothing unreasonable in the general proposition that those functions of Trade and Commerce should be associated together in the same Department. To that general proposition, qualified as it is by the practical consideration involved in the words "as far as possible," we are ready to assent. Let me, in passing, express regret that the hon. Gentleman should, as is not unnatural for him to do, have imported into this discussion references to the present state of Agriculture, which I agree with him in deploring. I am only sorry for it on this ground, that I fear lest it should lead to expectations in connection with his Motion, which expectations, if they presume that any great and rapid improvement will be brought about by any administrative change we could make, would be soon turned to bitter disappointment. I do not know whether the hon. Member is quite accurate in all his references to foreign countries. I am informed, for example, that there is nothing in the United States like a Minister of Agriculture, and that the Agricultural Bureau is simply statistical. I am also informed that they have no legislation whatever in the United States, even upon such important subjects as the contagious diseases of animals. Passing from that subject, I cannot quite admit that there has been a want of attention to the subject of foreign Tariffs owing to the want of a formal recognition of a Minister of Agriculture and Commerce. It was my fate to be Vice President, and afterwards President, of the Board of Trade during a period when this country was endeavouring to enter into foreign Tariff Treaties, and I say without hesitation that the machinery of the Government was perfectly adequate for the purpose. The failure of our attempts was undoubtedly on account of the difficulties inherent in the case, and was by no 451 means due to any unfortunate dualism between the Board of Trade and the Foreign Office. We did after that conclude a great Commercial Treaty, which for the last 20 years has produced enormous benefits. But that was not done either by the Foreign Department or by the Board of Trade. It was done entirely as a matter of revenue by communications between the Treasury and Mr. Cobden, who was residing and practically representing this country in Paris. As at present advised, I am not aware whether any advantage with regard to the negotiation of Commercial Treaties would be gained by a change of arrangement, seeing that additional expenses have been incurred in the Foreign Office, and an additional establishment has been created in deference to the wishes of the commercial classes of this country. Quite apart from the subject of Tariff Treaties in this country, we have had in existence for nearly 60 years Reciprocity Treaties on the basis of equal dues and equal facilities, and Treaties on very sound principles thus have been made without any sort of conflict between the Foreign Department and the Board of Trade. I will explain to the hon. Member what I mean by acceding to this Motion. I understand myself to accede to this proposition—that a Department of State shall be created to take up and meet any demand which may arise in connection with Commerce or Agriculture; and of course we must look, in the first instance, to those demands which are proximate and within reach, and which mainly have been mentioned by the hon. Member. The office is hardly, at the present moment, to be made a question of title. The hon. Member has animadverted on the constitution of the Board of Trade as it now stands; but he has failed to do full justice to it, for he omitted to name one most distinguished and eminent member of the Board. He omitted to inform us that the first name upon the list of members of the Board is the name of the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury. I myself have a double interest in the Board, for I am not only one member of it, but two—as First Lord of the Treasury and as Chancellor of the Exchequer. There was a Board before, and it was Mr. Burke who abolished it, it is supposed, about the year 1780, because, as he described it, there were eight Members 452 receiving £1,000 a-year for doing very little, in order that they might, when superannuated, receive £2,000 a-year for doing less. I do not wish to commit myself to the question of Board or no Board; but I am bound to admit that, with due consideration, the question may fairly be raised whether a change may not be made in the title of the Board now so well filled by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Chamberlain), because they are—Lords of the Committee of Privy Council appointed by Her Majesty for the consideration of all matters relating to Trade and Foreign Plantations.Now, in the word "Plantations" there is a smack of agriculture; but it is "Foreign Plantations." The title, I admit, is very incongruous, and there may be a fair and reasonable question whether there may not be a change in the title. I am not prepared to announce what the title should be; but I think there should be a change of title, with the view of making it what I have now described—namely, that there should be a responsible Department, of which it should be the duty to take up all functions connected with this subject as far as possible. At the same time, it is not always easy to say to what particular Departments certain subjects should belong; and, in order to see how far that is possible, let us take some of the questions that have been raised. There are many subjects and classes of subjects that have relation to more than one Department. For instance, it has been suggested that factory labour ought to go to the Board of Trade. I remember having a discussion on that subject with the late Sir James Graham, the very first Administrator of his day—a man having one of the most active, rapid, and comprehensive judgments on any administrative question it has ever been my good fortune to know; and it was after full consideration and advice that factory labour was attached to the Home Office. I am not prepared to say that ought to be reversed. Then, with regard to Copy-holds, the superintendence of the Home Office over Copyholds is a superintentendence involving minute interference—whether it ought to be treated as a matter of Commerce and Agriculture I may decline to give an opinion. With regard to highways little difficulty will arise. I do not know whether the hon. 453 Member himself has considered the question. If he has, I admit much weight is due to his opinion; but its connection with Local Taxation and Government I cannot put out of consideration; and on the question of transferring it there may be a good deal of doubt. Then the hon. Member said, with a good deal of force, that all agricultural statistics and all returns as to the sale of corn, which are records of actual transactions and the point on which certain local operations turn, are proper questions for the Board of Trade. But they are already under the Board of Trade, and no doubt they support the hon. Gentleman in the principle of his Motion that the functions may be united. Several other subjects were mentioned by the hon. Member—I do not wish to make any invidious comments where all are united. We have put the President of the Board of Trade in the Cabinet; and not only so, but we have made some practical progress towards the object of the hon. Gentleman—namely, bringing comprehensively into his hands the management of all the great subjects in which the commercial class are interested. There are three of these to which we can point during the short time we have been in Office. There is the Patent Law, the Law of Partnership, and the Law of Bankruptcy—a good earnest, I submit, of the disposition in which we are desirous of approaching this question. There remains only one important question mentioned by the hon. Member on which I ought to say one word, and that is the contagious diseases of animals. That was a very fair case for him to raise, for I think some consideration should be given to the anomalous method in which those diseases are at present dealt with. He objected very much to the answer he might receive from the Treasury Bench; but it is one thing to give a promise of careful consideration as a method of getting rid of a Motion, and the consideration required as to the best method of applying it; and I am bound to say that something may be said for the way in which this subject is now administered, when you have at the head of the Council Office almost always a Nobleman or country gentleman, not only of capacity, but of influence, conversant with subjects of agriculture. I might mention such men as Earl Spencer, the 454 Duke of Richmond, Lord Ripon, and the Duke of Marlborough. There must be great advantage in an arrangement of that kind; but, notwithstanding, I could not give into the opinion that the present arrangement should be maintained. It is hardly right to expect that a Gentleman widely acquainted with agricultural life should be Vice President of the Council, and have charge of educational matters. Therefore, I think there is very much to be said, and, indeed, a general leaning in the minds of those Members of the Government who have considered the subject is, that the administration of the Contagious Diseases of Animals Act should be attached to the Department which is specially charged with the affairs of Agriculture and Commerce. I think I have now gone through the main points connected with the case. There is nothing against which the Government and the House ought to be so much on their guard as the re-organization of a Department; and nothing, I am sure, could be more unwise, as connected with our responsibilities with the public funds, than to set out with purposely instituting an extensive series of offices, each with salaries attached; but we undertake to fulfil the pledge that means shall not be wanting for assuming, and adequately discharging, such functions as have been described when they come into view. The Board of Trade has been re-organized over and over again; but what does it mean? It means the superannuation of a great number of public officers, and the institution of a great number of new public officers, who are probably again, after the lapse of a decorous number of years, to be again superannuated. We ought to adapt our machinery to the work to be done, and not set up a new machine, before we know that it will have work to do or not. That is the spirit in which we are prepared to accept this Motion; and if we do not act upon it to the satisfaction of the hon. Member, he will, no doubt, be prepared to call us by-and-bye to account, and if we cannot tell a reasonable story, we shall, no doubt, receive an adequate measure of animadversion.
§ MR. R. H. PAGET
said, he had heard with the greatest satisfaction the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. There were some points, however, on which he wished to receive further in- 455 formation. The first related to agricultural statistics; and in reference to it the Statistical Department of the Board of Trade was one to which great attention should be paid. To be of any real, practical value, the information should be fresh, for stale statistics, like stale fish, were of no use whatever. The American Commissioner of Agriculture produced annually the most valuable Reports—nay, produced Reports month by month. He (Mr. R. H. Paget) had been the means of procuring, through the courtesy of the hon. Baronet the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Sir Charles W. Dilke), those annual and monthly Reports for the Library of the House. In America they were not satisfied with leaving industry entirely unaided, nor ashamed to go out of their way to procure information about crops, cultivation, machinery, manures, and other things connected with agriculture, and place that information at the service of agriculturists. The Commissioner of Agriculture stated that, by obtaining all the necessary information, he hoped to enable even new industries to be successfully prosecuted, and he pointed to the action of England in the cultivation of tea in Assam, which, he said, in spite of repeated difficulties and disappointments, had proved a success, and that the success was largely due to the expenditure of State funds. The American Agricultural Department had large funds at their disposal, and employed them in procuring useful statistics, which they put forth for the public benefit. He wanted to ask, would there be placed at the disposal of the new Department a sum of money to do what was so ably done in the United States? If he desired to obtain agricultural statistics now, he had to go up and down, through half-a-dozen Departments. He was sorry the hon. Baronet the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was not in his place, that he might thank him for having so courteously placed at his disposal most useful information from the United States. The great point was that everything connected with agriculture should be focussed and brought together into one Department. At present agricultural information was scattered in Reports from India and in the Statistical Abstracts of the Foreign Office, and of the Board of Trade. But they wanted something more than to 456 have this information all in one place; it ought to be digested and printed at the expense of the State, so as to be easily available for those outside. In America, the state of agriculture was carefully watched by the authorities, who were at the utmost pains to circulate information among the farmers. For instance, certain failures in the grass lands having been reported, the Department issued for the benefit of the farmers an illustrated series of specimens of different grasses, explaining their relative value and determining the best kind to grow and the best way of growing it. That was what he hoped might be done in England by an Agricultural Department. It ought, however, to be something more than a Department; to use the Prime Minister's words, "to meet any demands which may arise in regard to agriculture," it ought to have the power of obtaining information, and of spending money in circulating it. He urged that when the Department was created the two interests of Agriculture and Commerce should be kept separate, presided over, perhaps, by a single Minister, but with an Under Secretary of State responsible for each separate branch. He thought the demand was not unreasonable, considering the great importance of Agriculture, and the fact that, with a dwindling trade, its importance was gradually increasing.
§ MR. SLAGG
said, in rising to say a few words, he must express his satisfaction at the prospect that the commercial community were to obtain more attention in future; for it had often struck him as being surprising that, considering the vast importance of our commercial relations, so little attention had been paid by the Legislature to the question now raised. It had been the opinion of a large portion of the community for many years that a separate Department should be instituted for commercial affairs, and that the Minister should have a seat in the Cabinet. He must say, however, that he felt the difficulty of establishing a new Department. With reference to that question, our commercial information was now collected from a large number of Government Departments which had little connection with each other and very little sympathy, and in many instances were at variance with each other. It was therefore impossible that these numerous Departments 457 could work together harmoniously as they were constituted at present. Looking at the number of Offices with which the commercial interests were at present placed, he found that the India Office controlled the trading relations of that country, the Colonial Office undertook to supervise the commercial affairs of the Colonies, the Board of Trade undertook an endless variety of commercial functions, and the Privy Council was charged with many peculiar duties connected with the trade of the country, besides that of Education, while the Foreign Office undertook matters connected with the negotiation of Treaties. Some time ago the formation of a Commercial Department at the Foreign Office led them to hope that better attention would be given to these affairs. But he was very sorry to say that though it was directed by gentlemen of high ability, it was still very far short of that efficiency which they had a right to expect. His (Mr. Slagg's) idea was that before they established a separate Bureau, they should try to develop the existing Offices by making them so strong in the discharge of their duties that in course of time, when they could walk alone, the information they supplied might be concentrated. But before that was done there must be a very great increase in their efficiency. The misfortune was that in Government Offices commerce was looked upon as a somewhat ignoble career for gentlemen who wished for promotion; and the reason of that was that, to some extent, commercial affairs were not regarded as comparable in importance with such matters as the Eastern Question, and no encouragement was given for the pursuit of matters connected with commerce. Any plan that would produce such an encouragement would, he considered, be of much value to the country. He hoped in filling up the important office it would not be conferred upon a mere official of the Government. He hoped he would at least be thoroughly conversant with commercial affairs. He was sure it would not benefit the agricultural or commercial community to have a Minister appointed simply on Party grounds. The Prime Minister had told them that he thought one Minister would be competent to attend both to Agriculture and Commerce; but what a new Minister could do for Agriculture except in the matter of statistics he was 458 somewhat at a loss to see. It was true that such statistics were of great interest and value; but it had been suggested that the duty of a Minister of Agriculture was to do something for the protection of agricultural produce. If that was to be his duty, he (Mr. Slagg) was quite unable to assent to it. If a new Minister for Agriculture and Commerce were appointed, he trusted he would be a man conversant with business, and not a mere official. He was heartily pleased that so much attention had been given to the subject to-night. It was certain that the interests of Trade and Commerce had suffered seriously from official neglect; and, after what had fallen from the Treasury Bench, he looked forward to the introduction by the Government of some practical scheme for placing those interests as regarded our relations with foreign countries on a more satisfactory footing in relation to their administration than they occupied at the present time.
§ SIR JOHN KENNAWAY
said, that, in connection with the subject, he deeply regretted the absence from the House of Mr. Sampson Lloyd, who in times past had so ably advocated the establishment of a Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce; but they had reason, he thought, to congratulate themselves on the great progress which their ideas had made of recent years. The agricultural and commercial depression from which the country had suffered had disabused people of the notion that they could do everything for themselves, in the same way as our recent military reverses had taught us that an Englishman was no longer a match for three foreigners. It was felt that this country was engaged in a competition so severe with other countries that they could not afford to lose a single point of advantage. So far as regarded the agriculturists, they had a right to ask the Government that they should have the best and fullest information upon the agriculture of foreign countries laid before them, such as that referred to as furnished by the American Bureau. He considered that the way in which the debate had been carried on, and the tone in which the Prime Minister had met the Motion, were matters of great encouragement; and he contended that the appointment of a Minister of Agriculture and Commerce would be of great benefit to both Departments. At the 459 same time, he did not anticipate that the establishment of the proposed new Department would induce people engaged in business pursuits to lean too much upon the Government, or that it would discourage the spirit of self-reliance which of necessity would always be the main-spring of our agricultural and commercial industry.
§ MR. ARTHUR ARNOLD
said, nothing delighted him more than the evident anxiety of hon. Gentlemen who directly represented the agricultural interest that the agricultural concerns of this country, and particularly questions dealing with the import of cattle, should be placed under the power of a Minister who was intimately connected with the trade of the country. Though those functions could not, perhaps, be in better hands than they were at present, still there would be obvious advantage in matters connected with the food supply of the country being in the hands of a Minister who was better acquainted than it was possible probably for any Lord President of the Council to be acquainted with the demands of the great commercial population in regard to the food supply. Greatly as he sympathized with the object of the Resolution, and agreeing with much of the speech of the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Massey Lopes), he failed, to some extent, to concur with him, because of the precise terms in which the Resolution was expressed. He sympathized very much with the remarks of the Prime Minister, who, in the fulness of an unrivalled experience, showed them some of the difficulties connected with this very important subject. The hon. Baronet opposite spoke of the different arrangements that obtained in the Governments of Continental Europe. The difference of those arrangements was due to the fact that their Foreign Offices were still less concerned than our own with the commercial interests of the country, and that was, in his opinion, a disadvantage. His hon. Friend the Member for Manchester (Mr. Slagg), who spoke with an experience which few Members of the House could claim, had expressed satisfaction with the Commercial Department of the Foreign Office. He hoped most heartily that the Department would be rendered both more practical and more important. Mr. Cobden once remarked that an Ambassador 460 should be a commercial traveller of his country. It would be a disastrous day for this country when those who were concerned in the foreign relations of the country should cease to have intimate and important connection with the commercial concerns of the community. The difficulty of the subject enlarged as one looked upon it more closely, and when the Prime Minister alluded to the fanciful title of the Board of Trade and Plantations, he pointed to a reform which must occur to the minds of practical men. The Board of Trade had the title of dealing with foreign plantations which had become long since independent of the Government of this country. In order to give our Government a more practical character, he hoped the Board of Trade would take a new appellation. But the Board of Trade had begun a new career under the presidency of his right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain), and had under its administration the Patent Laws to which the Premier had alluded, and Bankruptcy, which were heretofore in the hands of the Attorney General of the day. It was a new departure; but he (Mr. Arnold) regarded it as a very wholesome improvement. He had a strong expectation that there would be an increasing desire for some help from the Government with reference to the present depressed condition of agriculture. So long as hon. Gentlemen confined their demands to matters so harmless as the title or re-arrangement of a Government Department, he, for one, should not complain; but he looked with serious apprehension upon the character of the speeches made from the other side of the House that night. If hon. Members opposite really and sincerely wished to improve the condition of agriculture, they must not cry out merely for a new President of a new Department; but they must set their hands to work to reform the Land Laws of this country, which were at present the bane of agriculture and injurious to the country.
§ SIR BALDWYN LEIGHTON
said, there was one observation made by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister to which he desired to refer shortly. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Government would see that there was some Department charged with looking after all the special interests of agriculture and commerce, and that, as it 461 was, they had not been overlooked or neglected hitherto. Their contention was that they had been neglected, and that was why they wanted a Minister and a Department. They were thankful for the introduction of a Bankruptcy Bill that Session, which the trading classes greatly required; but how about the Patent Laws? Why were not the prohibitive fees done away with that drove the English inventors to America and elsewhere? It might rather astonish the House to be told that many of their so-called American patents, though coming from America, were the invention of Englishmen who were driven abroad to get their patents, owing to the suicidal and prohibitive fees levied in this country. Why, in the interests of Commerce and Agriculture, had those things been neglected so long? Then there was another most important subject to which they had hitherto been unable to get attention given; that was, the railway rates, which were not only in favour of the foreigner as against the English producer, but were actually in contravention of the Statute defining maximum rates. Why were not these things seen to by the Board of Trade? He passed over such questions as prohibitive Tariffs that were crippling their manufactures, Agricultural Education, Corn Returns, and the large subject of Local Taxation, which was over-weighting them in the race with the foreign producer; but the subject of railway freights was essentially within the jurisdiction of the Board of Trade, and should not have been neglected. And one word more. If they were to have some rearrangement of the Public Departments to get these things seen to he trusted there was to be no delay. They could not afford to wait, and they had already waited too long.
§ MR. J. W. BARCLAY
said, that, while entirely prepared to accept the Resolution, he was not one of those who were sanguine that a Minister of Agriculture could do much for the country in present circumstances. Statistics were, no doubt, valuable, and of interest both to Agriculture and Commerce; but it ought not to be supposed that foreign countries were in a much better condition than ourselves in that respect. So far as the statistics of this country were concerned they were equal to those of any other country. He recently applied 462 for statistics respecting the agriculture of the United States; but he was informed at the United States Legation that for the last two years Congress had not voted funds for the printing of them. He thought that, considering the duties in connection with trade and agriculture now performed by the Government, and some others that might be added, it would be of general service that some special Department were organized in connection with some of the existing Departments. It would have to deal with statistics, and it would also be important that it should supply information with regard to Trade and Commerce from abroad. That information might be collected from our Consuls abroad, digested by the Government officials, and the results published in an available form for all those who were interested. One matter on which information was specially needed was the state of cattle diseases in foreign countries. One of the greatest difficulties of the Government in dealing with disease was that there was no reliable information of the state of cattle disease abroad; and he urged two years ago that the Government should take measures to obtain trustworthy information regarding disease amongst cattle in the United States. Another important matter, which would be of great service, was that the new Minister of Agriculture should endeavour to diffuse scientific education in agricultural subjects throughout the country. No doubt there was a great amount of apathy amongst farmers about scientific education on agricultural subjects. Unfortunately, farmers were not sufficiently aware of the great advantages which would accrue to them from a certain amount of knowledge in some of the sciences bearing closely on Agriculture, and a small sum of money might be well spent in drawing the attention of farmers to the subject. Another point which was of immense importance was that the Government should institute and endow, to a moderate extent, scientific investigation in agricultural questions. It had done a great deal for trades and manufactures; but as yet the Government had done nothing in the way of aid of Agriculture, beyond what was done by the Science and Art Department. In the case of Agriculture there were special reasons why the Government should make some attempt at 463 encouraging scientific research and discovery. Great good might follow such a course, as in our manufactures invention and discovery might be stimulated, and the knowledge of agricultural chemistry, in particular, might be more widely diffused. In trade and manufactures, if any private individual made a discovery or any invention he could obtain a patent for it, and if of great utility he was amply rewarded. But this was not applicable to invention or discoveries in Agriculture. What for a farmer was a large sum of money and considerable knowledge were required to make agricultural experiments, and a farmer might make discoveries of importance; but, from the nature of such discoveries and the character of the subject, it was impossible for him to get a patent, and he derived no special advantage except what arose in the course of his own business, which was not sufficient to remunerate him for his trouble and expense. He thought, therefore, that a new Department, such as was indicated in the Resolution, was absolutely necessary. But to be of service a Minister of Agriculture must be acquainted with the subjects with which he had to deal; and there would be great difficulty in finding such a Minister; and unless he were possessed of practical knowledge of the subjects with which he had to deal, he (Mr. J. W. Barclay) could not see that much advantage would arise from this special Department which it was proposed to create. Another matter that he would like to refer to was the supervision of railway rates by the Board of Trade. They had been told that the United States had a Department of Commerce and Agriculture; but 19 separate States had also Departments which were specially constituted to deal with railway rates and charges, and they did their work to the great advantage of the public. A Department of Commerce should have similar powers to deal with Railway Companies in this country. The public had an idea that the Department looked after their interests in the case of private Railway Bills. But—and in saying what he was about to say he hoped the House would except his right hon. Friend the present head of the Department—the Board, practically, did nothing of the kind, and they had in a scandalous manner betrayed the interests of the public in regard to those Bills. The Board was re- 464 quired to report on all Railway Bills coming before the House; but from time to time it had allowed unopposed Bills to pass which gave the Railway Companies power to charge largely increased rates. In some instances that he (Mr. J. W. Barclay) knew of Companies had got power to charge more than double previous rates, and that without any notice being called to the matter by the Board of Trade. That, he thought, should warn them not to trust to any Department of State more than was necessary. Instead of looking so much after the affairs of foreign nations, it would be well if the House of Commons would devote itself more to affairs at home. He hoped, now that he had called attention to it, the subject would be looked after by the Board of Trade.
MR. MAC IVER
said, if there was one thing which our American friends thoroughly understood, it was their own interests, and they were ever ready to take advantage of poor John Bull. He hoped he should not be thought unreasonable if he ventured to examine somewhat closely the gift which the Prime Minister was inclined to bestow. The Prime Minister reminded him of the old story of the siege of Troy. He would like to suggest to the agricultural interest of Great Britain a somewhat free translation of Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes. It might be put—"Don't trust the present Government." Take the Malt Tax. He was not a farmer, he was not an agriculturist, he was a carrier, and his experience showed him that since the abolition of the malt tax he had been offered more barley, sugar, and other things to be brought into competition with the British farmer than ever before. The Malt Tax was abolished with the professed desire to benefit the British farmer; but the Government had omitted the safeguards by which the abolition should have been accompanied; and, therefore, as a matter of fact, that which they had done bad only increased foreign competition, and the only people who had been benefited by the abolition of that tax were that portion of the brewers who carried on the largest business. The Government adhered to what they called the principles of political economy. Political economy, however, was not an exact science, and they ought to deal with the affairs of the country in the same way that they dealt 465 with their own businesses. How was it that we had got into such a mess with respect to the French Treaty? It was because, while we professed the theory of Free Trade it was rejected by the other nations of the world. There was no one in that House, he (Mr. Mac Iver) did not care on what side he sat, who had so thoroughly learnt the art of replying to a Question without giving information as the hon. Baronet the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had done. That hon. Baronet had, however, unintentionally misled the House in the replies which he had given to him. He (Mr. Mac Iver) had asked the hon. Baronet Questions about the Sugar Bounties and about the bounties on shipping; and the replies he gave amounted to this—that they were under the consideration of Her Majesty's Government, and that Her Majesty's Government would make representations in regard to them. Now, he appealed to both sides of the House whether such replies were not calculated to lead simple-minded people in the country to suppose that the Government really meant to do something. ["Question!"] That was the Question, because those were matters with which a Minister of Agriculture and Commerce might well deal with; but which the hon. Baronet had not dealt well with, having much else to do. The whole question as regards bounties on shipping was practically settled and done with. Our Government might make any representation they pleased; but the French Government had perfectly concluded their arrangements to do a thing which was most detrimental to British interests. Let them look at the condition of Ireland. How could the industries of that country be restored unless the industries in Great Britain were prosperous? When they saw the woollen trade falling off, and when they saw competing goods from France and other countries increasing in their importation, and our own exportation decreasing, if we had a Minister of Commerce his first duty would be to see what could be done for the woollen trade at home. Let them look at the distress in regard to agriculture. He agreed with one remark in a letter lately written to Mr. Lord, of Bradford, by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to the effect that the de- 466 pressed state of our manufacturing industries was very much owing to the depressed state of the agriculture of this country. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that the connection between our agriculture and our manufactures was very close indeed. That was not a new idea to him; but it seemed to be new to the right hon. Gentleman, who had not sufficiently considered the rest of the subject, because he went on to say that the depressed condition of agriculture was only owing to a few bad seasons, and that we wanted but a little more sunshine and a little more yield from the land, and everything would go right. Now, going back 12 years, and taking periods of three years each, he found that, in round numbers, our annual importations of agricultural produce in the first three years averaged £60,000,000 sterling in value; in the second three years, £80,000,000; in the third three years, £94,000,000; and in the last £106,000,000. To him that looked very much like the displacement of our own industry; it looked very much as though the real cause of our agricultural depression was the unfair competition of foreign countries whose tariffs were hostile to our manufactures; while, moreover, the conditions of the carrying trade had been altogether changed during the last few years. Trade in the United States was prosperous, and there was enormous emigration going on, and the result was that steamers in the Atlantic trade were more prosperous than they were years ago; but this was no advantage to the farmers. The homeward rates of freight never were lower; and, at the present moment, grain was being carried from New York to Liverpool at 2d. a-bushel, and cattle at about £4 per head. In conclusion, he maintained that a Minister of Commerce and Agriculture ought to have been appointed long ago; but he ought not to be a mere theoretic political economist, but a man who really had the best interests of Great Britain and Ireland and also of our great Empire at heart—one who was not tied to theory, but one who would do his best for the interests of the country.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
said, he did not rise in order to follow at any length the extraordinary and somewhat miscellaneous speech of the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Mac Iver). He did not 467 propose to discuss with that hon. Gentleman the principles of Adam Smith, or even the protective theories which the hon. Member had so much at heart. It seemed to him (Mr. Chamberlain) that the hon. Member had somewhat anticipated the Notice of Motion which he had put on the Paper, and which he intended to bring forward on the second reading of the Customs and Inland Revenue Bill. But he could not help thinking the hon. Member was rather ungenerous in his observations as to the abolition of the Malt Tax. The abolition of the Malt Tax had been for many years an object of the greatest importance with the Party to which the hon. Member for Birkenhead belonged. When that Party came into power they found themselves, owing to circumstances into which he need not enter, unable to deal with the question; and now that a Liberal Government had settled it, the hon. Member for Birkenhead declared that that which his own Party had called a boon had become a bane, because it had been granted by a Liberal Ministry. He hoped that the debate would now be brought to a close, especially as the statement of the Prime Minister had appeared to give general satisfaction. Some speakers that evening had, of course, unintentionally, tried to press further than his words would bear the statement of the Prime Minister. His right hon. Friend had not, as he (Mr. Chamberlain) understood him, said that the Government would pledge itself to the creation of a new Department. What he had said was that he would recognize, as a principle, that some Department of the Government should be prepared to meet every new demand made on behalf either of Agriculture or of Commerce. Some hon. Gentlemen seemed to anticipate too much from any mere re-organization of the work of the Government Departments. Such a reorganization could not be expected either to revive trade, or materially to promote the interests of Agriculture. Nor would it enable Governments or individuals to perform impossibilities. Complaint was made that but little progress had been made; but if there was any fault, it lay with the House of Commons itself. The practice of debating every question at inordinate length had necessarily delayed non-political Business which was not so urgent; and if the commercial 468 class wanted commercial legislation to make more rapid progress, they must bring to bear some reform on the practice of the House which should prevent the waste of time that undoubtedly seriously impeded the progress of commercial legislation. The hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. J. W. Barclay) complained that the Board of Trade had not dealt satisfactorily with the question of railway rates; but his (Mr. Chamberlain's) reply was that they had done all that legislation enabled them to do with reference to this matter. They had raised important questions before the Railway Commission. On some of them they had been defeated by defects in the law; but the Government were quite prepared, when time would allow, to deal with the question, and to take the powers necessary that the matter might be satisfactorily dealt with. But the difficulty there, as in the case of other questions, was the time, and not the particular arrangement of a Government Department. The hon. Member for Forfarshire had spoken of the scandalous way in which the Board of Trade had betrayed the interests of the public, although he was good enough to say that in this he cast no reflection upon the present head of the Department; but he (Mr. Chamberlain) must protest, on behalf of the Department, on behalf of his Predecessors and the permanent officials, against the rash charge brought against them that they had been unmindful of the public interests. He was certain that in past times, as during his occupancy of the Office, they had, to the best of their abilities, protected the interests of the public. They had on every occasion pointed out to the Committees of the House of Commons any alterations of rates proposed by Railway Companies, and the responsibility of allowing those rates rested not with the officers of the Board of Trade, but with the Committees of the House. The hon. Member for Mid Somersetshire (Mr. R. H. Paget) spoke with reference to agricultural statistics, which he desired to see extended. A Report had been made of a very elaborate character; but he (Mr. Chamberlain) understood the hon. Member to require that they should be published more frequently, and contain a great deal of information which they did not now include. Now, it might be possible to improve the preparation of 469 these statistics, and send them to the country at an earlier period than was now done; but the value of statistics often depended on a sufficient period being taken, and if they were published weekly or monthly, no practical conclusion could be drawn from them. But he must remind the House that no Government could do for individuals what they could do better for themselves. He believed the statistics published by the Government were chiefly valuable for the statesman and the political economist. They were not of primary utility to persons engaged in trade, who could better obtain what they wanted for themselves. The experience of the United States had been referred to; and while the hon. Baronet the Member for South Devon (Sir Massey Lopes) was mistaken in supposing that there was a Ministry of Agriculture in the United States, undoubtedly there was a Statistical Bureau, which published a great many statistics; but as to the advantage of them he (Mr. Chamberlain) believed that there was considerable difference of opinion even in the United States themselves. The experiment in England was not a success. At the head of the Office had been Sir John Sinclair, and its Secretary was Arthur Young. Yet it was unsatisfactory. Begun in 1793, it was finally abolished in 1821, and no one said a single word in its praise. Another question was, whether the Department of Agriculture and Commerce could advantageously be combined under one head? He looked forward with the greatest anxiety to the possibility of such an undertaking; and, in connection with it, he would tell the House what had happened to himself. He had only been in Office a very few days when he received a copy of a Return issued by the Department to farmers and others, asking a great number of questions of interest. The Return came back to him from a farmer not filled up. The writer declined absolutely to furnish any information either to the Board of Trade or to anyone connected with it, so long "as they knew as little of practical agriculture as a pig did of watchmaking." He (Mr. Chamberlain) felt the refusal was not altogether without cause; and he could not help fearing, if these two great Departments were permanently combined and placed under one head, difficulties would arise either 470 from the President of the Board of Trade knowing practically as little of Agriculture or, on the other hand, of Commerce, as a pig did of watchmaking. But that was one of the questions which his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister promised to consider by accepting the form of Motion proposed, and he could not help thinking his mode of putting it into practice would be satisfactory to the House. With respect to the other matters concerning which complaint was made, the chief thing wanted was, again, time and opportunity, as the Government were anxious to legislate on many of the subjects which had been touched upon. After the declaration of the Prime Minister, he thought the House might trust the Government to put in practice the principles they were willing to accept.
§ MR. STORER
said, that agriculture was again beginning to assert itself, because trade was declining, and this question was of the greatest possible interest. If they had had a Minister to look after their interest, there would not have been so much bad legislation as there had been of late years. At the same time, he was ready to admit that the manner in which the Vice President of the Council had managed agricultural matters relating to cattle disease was most creditable, and had gained for the right hon. Gentleman the general respect of the agricultural interest. He did not think it was fair to find fault with the sensible speech of the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Mac Iver) on the ground of its Protectionist tendencies, when Birmingham itself, represented by two Members of the Cabinet, had been asking for countervailing duties in opposition to the bounties. He (Mr. Storer) would inform the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade that a large number of his constituents met a few nights since at Birmingham and passed a resolution in the spirit of the speech of the hon. Member for Birkenhead. It had been said that the agricultural interest was not sufficiently grateful for the abolition of the Malt Tax as they ought to be considering their former agitation on that question. But, though he recognized the good the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had done, he could not but remember that the result had only substituted one monopoly for another, for the monopoly now lay with the 471 brewer. The Education Act, too, had also done the farmer much injury, and inflicted on him what amounted to an Income Tax of 1s. or 2s. in the pound.
§ MR. RATHBONE
said, he could have wished that the Resolution of the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Massey Lopes) had been more general in its terms. He (Mr. Rathbone) felt bound to take a particular interest in this subject in consequence of the constant complaints which, as formerly representing a large commercial constituency, he had received as to the failure of the Administration Departments to do their work satisfactorily. There could be no more important Departments than the Local Government Board and the Board of Trade, and the Prime Minister had very often avoided in practice many of the evils of the system by placing able men at the head of every Department; but even in these cases the evil had not altogether been avoided. He thought the root of the evil lay in the present relative dignity and emolument of the different Offices of State. The heads of the Departments he had referred to were frequently not in the Cabinet; the Offices themselves were not considered as of equal dignity, and had not the same emoluments as great Departments. Therefore, when the time for promotion came, the merits of the individual did not enter into consideration. Besides, these very important Departments were often pushed aside from the fact that their Representatives were not in the Cabinet. He thought that the President of the Board of Trade, the President of the Local Government Board, and the Chief Secretary for Ireland should all have places in the Cabinet, and that those Offices should no longer be considered as mere antechambers to the more important Offices. A like dignity should also attach to the Minister of Education. Under the late Government, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Gloucestershire (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) had thoroughly mastered the condition of Ireland and its system of local government. But he succeeded to a position in which he had everything to learn—the Colonies—and he was succeeded by a Chief Secretary by no means his own equal. He (Mr. Rathbone) hoped the whole question would be considered in a comprehensive spirit.
§ MR. ROUND
said, he did not intend to continue the debate after the appeal 472 of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade; but he rose for the purpose of making a suggestion. The Prime Minister had stated that one of the great difficulties in connection with the re-organization of Government Departments was the necessary superannuation of officers. He (Mr. Round) understood that, at the present time, the head of the Statistical Department of the Board of Trade had resigned, and the Office was vacant.
§ MR. ROUND
said, he would take an opportunity of doing so, and, in the meanwhile, would suggest that the appointment should not be filled up until the new arrangements were made which it was stated were now in contemplation. As representing an important agricultural constituency, he felt much interest in the question, and desired also to thank the Prime Minister for consenting to the Motion of the hon. Member for South Devon. His constituency was one that had suffered much from the recent depression in agriculture, and was still suffering. As its Representative, he could not but watch with the greatest interest every notice taken by this House of questions connected with the agricultural interests; and he thanked the Government for their promise in connection with the Motion for a new Ministry of Commerce and Agriculture.
§ MAJOR NOLAN
said, that that was one of the questions on which more than one Ministry had been in a state of chaos. On a previous occasion, in the course of his (Major Nolan's) inquiries on the subject of seed potatoes, he had been referred from one Department to another, from the Board of Trade to the Vice President of the Council, till at last it had been decided, after a consultation, that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland had more to do with potatoes than anyone else. At another time, he had been interested in a matter that was, perhaps, as much commercial as agricultural, and which was of some importance to the people of certain districts of Ireland—namely, the manufacture of kelp; but, on that subject, his inquiries had received no satisfactory answer. And, in like manner, a difficulty often occurred in Ireland as to the very serious question of the drainage 473 of land. There was no one to whom application could be made, and the authorities were conspicuous by their absence. That a Department of Agriculture might greatly benefit small and unenlightened farmers by circulating information among them had been abundantly proved. That was a field in which the Department might prosecute the work that the agricultural societies neglected, or were unable to perform, especially among the small farmers in Ireland. He thought that the Government might fairly be asked to give assistance of this kind, reserving to themselves the question whether the Office of Irish Agriculture should be in London or in Dublin.
§ SIR HARRY VERNEY
said, that he had heard the nostrums of hon. Members from all parts of the House for the relief of agriculturists, who, without doubt, had been very grievous sufferers from the late three or four unfavourable seasons, and for the improvement of Agriculture; and he would mention his, which had this peculiarity—an unusual one in that House—that every hon. Member, on whatever side or part of the House he sat, would agree with him in the opinion that it was the most important of any. It was this—that they, landowners and land occupiers, should learn their business. There was no business or profession in that country with regard to which those who were the most interested were so ignorant. He confessed, and he did so with regret, that until he became a landowner he knew, and he cared, nothing about land. He hardly knew one crop from another, and he felt no desire to know; he had but one ambition, to rise in his profession and get the command of a regiment. He owned this with regret and some shame, because it was his duty to make himself acquainted with the business and calling, a good knowledge of which would enable him to benefit himself and all who lived on his estate. He did not hesitate to say that if, half a century since, he had possessed as good a knowledge of the management of land, and acquaintance with the qualities and treatment of stock, as his land agent or bailiff, he would have been, perhaps, 20 per cent richer during the whole of that time; he would never have had a bad farmer on his land; more work, and better paid work would have been provided for his labourers, 474 and the country would have been benefited by his land producing more food for man and beast. Every class in the country would be materially benefited by landowners being better instructed in land, excepting one—namely, land agents. Their occupation would be diminished by landowners knowing their own business, instead of leaving it to them. In Germany there were few land agents; owners managed their own land. If their present difficulties induced landowners to learn more about land it would prove beneficial to the whole community.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Words added.
Main Question, as amended, put.
Resolved, That it is desirable that the functions of the Executive Government which especially relate to Agriculture and Commerce should, as far as possible, be administered by a distinct department, and be presided over by a responsible Minister of the Crown.
§ Committee upon Monday next.