HC Deb 16 March 1882 vol 267 cc1079-85

who had the following Notice on the Paper:— To call attention to the Treaty signed by Lord Lyons and M. Freycinet, which, without the authority of Parliament, binds this Country for a period of ten years to continue the existing state of things with regard to Fisheries, Trade Marks, and Navigation, and to move, that in the opinion of this House Her Majesty's Government is not justified in perpetuating arrangements which leave our fishermen at a disadvantage as compared with French fishermen, which are unsatisfactory as regards trade marks, which leave our seaports at a disadvantage as compared with those of France by reason of the 'surtaxe d'entrepôt, and which enable bounties to be paid to vessels of French ownership sailing in competition with British vessels, said, that the course he intended to take had been somewhat changed by an interview which he had had in the Lobby with Mr. Peters, a person well known as representing a large number of people engaged in the sugar trade. Mr. Peters brought a charge so serious against Her Majesty's Government that it was only right he should call attention to it at once. Mr. Peters desired him to ask whether Mr. Robert Giffen, who was at the head of the Statistical Department of the Board of Trade, had received any official or other instructions to interview leading members of the Trades' Union Congress at their last annual meeting held in London, with a view to preventing discussion amongst the representatives of the labour organization on the question of sugar bounties; and, if so, on what grounds? The allegation seemed to be that the interview took place for electioneering purposes; but that was an allegation which, he hoped, was not true, as the trade unions should be for trades' union purposes, and not have any relation to the Birmingham caucus. The subject of his Motion was one which he would not be justified in bringing before that House that night except on the ground of urgency or of its relation to the Naval Estimates. ["Oh, oh!"] Those grounds did not commend themselves to hon. Gentlemen opposite; but he had been some time in the House, and longer than many Members opposite, some of whom would not come back when there was a General Election. His Resolution would justify itself on the plea of urgency, and also on the ground that it had something to do with the Naval Estimates; but the Forms of the House, he was sorry to say, would not allow him to move it. He was afraid that hon. Members opposite did not really appreciate the effect of the French bounty system upon shipbuilding. Although we were now at peace with France, we ought to consider the possibilities of the future. It had been contended that the French, by giving these bounties, were merely imposing a tax upon themselves; but the effect of those bounties had been to fill to overflowing every shipbuilding yard in France. Their private shipbuilding yards were increasing, and in those yards they could produce, and, indeed, were already producing, ships of war. They were, under their bounty system, adding to their Navy in the cheapest possible way; because they were rapidly accumulating useful steamers, many of which would make admirable transports, and be a valuable addition to their Navy as fast cruisers in time of war. The course that the French adopted in the matter was, perhaps, a reasonable and a proper one from their point of view; but our Foreign Office should have taken care to have concluded a Treaty that would have prevented them from taking it, and from getting the whip hand over British mercantile competition at the same time. The bounty paid by the French Government on every French ship constructed amounted to £17 16s. per cent of its total cost, while, in addition, they paid 1½ franc per ton for every 1,000 miles sailed. There was some urgency in bringing forward the subject that evening, because he could not trust the Government, and they might wake up one morning during the Easter Recess and find that a Treaty had been concluded which bound them for 10 years, without these matters having been taken into consideration. He thought he had shown that he was justified in calling attention to these questions. The House would be kind enough to remember that he represented a large constituency, and the subject he was speaking on he ought to understand, because it had for years been his every day work. There were two or three other matters to which he desired particularly to refer. First, as regarded the fisheries. The British fishermen were under a great disadvantage, which ought to be remedied. When English vessels were driven into French, ports by stress of weather, they were prohibited from selling their produce in open market. They were, however, on special application, allowed to have a certain portion sold to buy provisions to enable them to go out of harbour. That was not fair to the fishermen, and the Government ought not to have renewed a Fisheries Treaty which omitted all reference to that and other real grievances. Then, as regarded the trade marks. The hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs said that the Treaty made no change. But his contention was that a change ought to have been made. He would give the House one instance only amongst many of the injustice to English traders. French watches were sent to this country, and after arrival the names of English makers were stamped on them, and they were sold as English made. That was the practice during many years, and a grievous hardship to British workmen, even although it might suit London shopkeepers; but those who sold foreign wares as British were becoming more bold, and now these watches were sent over to this country with the English makers' names already stamped on them. That was a matter which ought to have been dealt with by the Government, as it had an injurious effect on English trade. What he wanted to emphasize was that the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had no business whatever to agree to any Treaty which allowed this kind of thing to be done. Another question was that of the surtaxe d'entrepôt. That was a question which affected Liverpool very much, and was a highly important subject. He would remind the House of the hon. Gentleman's manner when answering questions on this subject. Hon. Members who put questions were not allowed to enter into argument. They had, therefore, to confine themselves to their questions as revised by the Clerks at the Table. But the hon. Gentleman, when replying, presumed on his position, and treated the Interrogator with an air of superiority—with a sort of feeling of "What does he know about the matter!" Was it reasonable the hon. Gentleman should take that stand? It would be impossible for the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to sustain such a position if private Members had a right of reply. Questions in regard to the surtaxe d'entrepôt were considered important by the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce, who were not an unknown body, and Liverpool was not an unknown place, and they knew quite as much as the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs upon those questions. He wished to read from the Blue Book the copy of a Memorial from that body which would, no doubt, be unacceptable to hon. Members opposite. That Memorial stated that the United Kingdom suffered in a special degree, and the port of Liverpool in particular, from the operation of the surtaxe d'entrepôt, which placed importations of foreign produce into France at special disadvantages, viâ ports in Great Britain, as compared with importations into France direct. They really did not know what might happen in the next two or three weeks with a Government like the present, and it was in view of negotiations reported to have taken place between England and France that he protested against terms being made in practical violation of the "Most Favoured Nation" Clause. The hon. Gentleman said that the subject would not be forgotten. But what kind of reply was that, and what did the Under Secretary of State really mean? It was no answer to say that the Treaty had nothing to do with the fisheries, trade marks, and the surtaxe d'entrepôt. His contention was that the Treaty ought to have had to do with them. The matter had, however, not been dealt with by Her Majesty's Government in the Treaty which had just been concluded. He hoped, however, that before long the subject would engage the serious attention of that House. The Government ought not to have tied the hands of the country by a Treaty with France for 10 years, that perpetuated a system which worked against the interests of the country.


said, that before his hon. Friend the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs answered the speech of the hon. Member for Birkenhead, he should like to reply to a pointed inquiry which he was informed the hon. Member had in his absence addressed to him. He had been informed that the hon. Member wished to know from the President of the Board of Trade whether Mr. Robert Giffen had received orders to interview certain trades' union delegates upon the sugar question at a tavern in the Strand, called the Occidental Tavern, on a Saturday afternoon? If the hon. Member required any information in detail from the Board of Trade, perhaps he would give Notice of his Question. But that was a Question within his (Mr. Chamberlain's) own personal knowledge, and he ventured to assure the hon. Member that he had not given any instructions to Mr. Giffen to interview any trades' union delegates with regard to the sugar bounties or any other question, at a tavern called the Occidental or any other place, on a Saturday afternoon or at any other time. He had too much confidence in the good sense of trades' union delegates to imagine that they would require any assistance from the Board of Trade in order to be able to deal with the absurd propositions of the sugar delegates at the Trades' Union Conference.


The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Mac Iver) began his remarks by saying that he would not have brought the subject forward if it had not been very urgent. If hon. Members opposite will forgive me, I may describe it as an Irish urgency. He has brought the matter forward altogether too soon, and he has called attention to a Treaty which has never been made, and which will not be made. The hon. Member has called attention to some of the difficulties of the bounty system of France, and he has done so without having read the Blue Books which have been distributed within the last few days. The hon. Gentleman has described what has taken place between the English and French Commissioners; but he has told us that he has not had time to examine the Blue Books. He ought, however, to have made himself conversant with their contents before making his remarks. It would be necessary to read through about 500 pages of the Blue Book. Very long discussions took place between the Commissioners. [Mr. MACIVER: With any result?] The hon. Member had better read the Blue Books. In regard to surtaxe d'entre-pôt, there were considerable results. If we had made a Treaty with France, and negotiations were only broken off in a very small number of heads—on three out of about 600 heads discussed by the Commissioners—if the Treaty had been concluded, the hon. Member would have received satisfaction on many of the points which he has brought before the House. That shows that the hon. Member ought not to have brought the subject forward without making himself acquainted with what had passed. There can, however, be no doubt in any reasonable man's mind that the French bounty system has, up to the present time, been chiefly beneficial to British shipbuilders. If the Treaty had been made, the hon. Member would have got much of what he wants as regards surtaxe d'entrepôt. The hon. Member condemns the Treaty. [Mr. Mac Iver: No.] The hon. Gentleman does not condemn the Treaty?


I do not condemn the Treaty except in reference to its omissions. I asked if there was any result from the Conferences, and I say that as regards bounties on shipbuilding and on navigation there was no result.


The hon. Member has not read the Blue Books, and therefore he does not know whether there was any result or not.


Was there any result?


I have told the hon. Member that, with regard to surtaxe d'entrepôt, there was a marked result; but he is not aware of it, because he has not read the Blue Books. I could not exactly understand the drift of the hon. Member's remarks about foreign watches imported into this country, and purporting to be made in this country. All such articles are detained by the Customs authorities. It was only last week that a large importation of foreign watches, purporting to be made here, were detained, and they are in custody at the present time. I may inform the House that the Treaty, roughly speaking, contains a great number of heads and deals with questions of navigation, fisheries, and trade marks; and other subjects, recognizing a state of things which has existed between this country and France from time immemorial. The hon. Member complains of the fishery provisions; but he has not seen them, and I may tell him that they are practically those of the Convention of 1839. As to trade marks, the arrangements are the same as before. If there had been the lapse of a week or two, or even of a single day, almost all our trade marks would have been forged, and a state of confusion would have been created if some arrangement had not been come to. The Treaty preserves the existing state of things, except that there are a few improvements. One of these improvements is of considerable importance. It is as follows:— Article XI.—The subjects of the high contracting parties shall be exempted from military service, requisitions and contributions of war, forced loans, advances, and other contributions leviable under exceptional circumstances, in so far as those contributions are not imposed on landed property. That is an article the advantages of which had been obtained by a few Powers—Russia, and a few other Powers—from France; but was never obtained by this country before. We have now obtained the same concession. That and other points are entirely new, and some of the provisions are provisions the absence of which, even for a single day, would cause great inconvenience and great confusion. I cannot but repeat my regret that the hon. Member should have brought the subject before the House in such an imperfect manner, because it is impossible that he could have had time to make himself fully acquainted with the details.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.