HC Deb 07 March 1882 vol 267 cc390-3

, in rising to move the following Resolution:— That, owing to the heavy duties imposed upon our manufactures by so many Foreign nations, whilst all Foreign manufactures are admitted into this Country duty-free, and to the depression of the rural Home trade caused by the free import of Foreign agricultural produce at prices with which our own farmers are unable to compete, the interests of all classes of producers in this Country are vitally assailed; and that the time has arrived when it is necessary to reconsider the policy of free imports, with a view to the relief of our Home industries, and the more equal distribution of the heavy burden of taxation now pressing upon them, said, that this question, though a very important one, had not yet risen to the dignity of a Party one; and, therefore, he trusted that it would be discussed in a calm and temperate manner, and not treated with invective or as a foregone conclusion. He would remind the House that the question of import duties stood in a very different position now from what it did in 1846. At that time there was a probability of famine among the greater part of the community, and manufactures were in a very depressed state; and a certain class of politicians seized upon the opportunity of persuading the working classes that the question of Free Trade was one between themselves and the landlords. He admitted that the theory of Free Trade was perfect; but it pre-supposed two things—first, that everybody agreed to it and adopted it; and, second, that all parties were in an equal or similar condition. These two conditions, however, did not exist. It had been supposed by those who introduced the system that the example of England would speedily be followed by the whole world; but that anticipation had not been realized, and other countries, instead of following our example, had gone in a diametrically opposite direction. The originators of the system had believed that cheap corn meant cheap labour, a consequent extension of the manufacturing interest, and, above all, cheap size for their calicoes. There might be some reason for the latter belief, as the manufacturers were accused of using 30 per cent of size. They, however, had soon discovered their mistake. Instead of getting cheap labour, they had had to deal with trade unions. The prosperity of the country was due, not to Free Trade, but to discoveries of gold and the introduction of railways and telegraphs. The proof of the truth of this assertion was found in the fact that other countries which adhered to protective duties had prospered even more than we had. He declined to argue this question as a matter of exports and imports. But he gathered from the Board of Trade Returns that our imports, which in 1866 were £295,000,000, were in 1880, £411,000,000; and the exports, which in 1866 were £188,000,000, in 1872, £236,000,000, were in 1880 only £223,000,000. Ever since 1873 there had been a gradual but certain declension in the value of our exports, and a corresponding increase in the value of the imports. He would ask the attention of hon. Members to a letter which had appeared in The Morning Post, signed "One of a City Firm," in favour of Fair Trade, and to a further letter respecting the advantages American iron manufacturers had derived from Protection. Men of all classes with whom he had come in contact had agreed that trade had never been so stagnant, particularly in those towns which depended on agricultural custom. As an illustration of this, he would mention the fact that a large shopkeeper in a town of this kind had informed him that for several years past he had been in the habit of taking £150 over the counter on market days, but that now he could only take £50. The effect of American competition was, and must always be, to decrease prices obtained by the farmer for his produce. He would then refer to the question of agricultural depression. Even those who were in favour of Free Trade would admit that bad harvests were not the only cause, though doubtless one of the causes, that led to that depression. Mr. Farrar said in his book, which had been issued with the sanction of the Board of Trade, that the present condition of things could not compare with that of 10 years ago, and that the farmers were worse off by a sum approaching £200,000,000 or £300,000,000. He went on to say— Bad harvests are only one of the causes. The rise in rents, the increase in the cost of labour, and the heavy fall in the price of agricultural produce, owing to foreign competition, are also causes which have led to that result. With regard to foreign competition, the following facts were worthy of observation:—From 1862 to 1877, corn was at 54s. a quarter, while in the three years, 1878–80, it averaged only 44s. per quarter. At the same time the imports were, from 1862 to 1877, 42,000,000 cwt., and from 1878 to 1880, 67,000,000 cwt. Those figures showed that the effect of foreign competition on the English producer was not only to increase immensely the importations, but to diminish the price in the home market. Another fact worthy of notice was that the cultivated area of corn had greatly declined during the last few years. With regard to the remedies for this state of things, he should himself be inclined to propose a small duty on foreign corn; but he supposed that if he did so he should be shouted down, though he was not by any means sure that that was not the direction in which they must seek relief. If a better way were put forward, he should be satisfied to adopt it; but he thought the position of the case required some remedy to be applied, and that speedily.

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members not being present,

House adjourned at half after Eight o'clock.

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