MR. M'LAREN (Stafford)
, in rising to call attention to the successful efforts of the German and other Foreign Governments in pushing the trade of their respective countries in Foreign markets, in competition with English manufacturers; and to move—That, in the opinion of this House, the Government ought to consider the desirability of appointing properly qualified Diplomatic Agents in all Foreign capitals or seats of Government, for the express purpose of promoting the extension of British commerce,said, this was a matter that deserved serious consideration, as it was a question whether we were doing all that we could do to preserve that commercial supremacy which this country had enjoyed for so long a period. It was said that competition was more favourable for the foreigner than for the English, on account of the cost of manufacture being so much less; but he had such faith in the genius of the English people that he believed if they had fair play, which was all he asked for, they would still command the markets of the world. As it was, they were met in every market by what he could not help calling unfair competition by foreigners, assisted by the Representatives of the countries to which they belonged. It was notorious that the Diplomatic and Cconsular Representatives of other nations left no stone unturned in their endeavours to aid the industries of their respective countries; but our Consuls did nothing of the kind for us. In the first place, they did not know much about our trades; and, in the second, they were precluded by the Rules of the Foreign Office from taking such steps in furtherance of our commerce as were taken by the Representatives of other lands. The trade that might be done by this country with Foreign Governments and Municipalities alone was very large; and therefore it was necessary to see that our chance of 610 obtaining contracts of that sort was not taken away by what might be called official influence. If the existing state of things went on we should soon have a new "Continental system" raised up against us, which would be dangerous, if not fatal, to our trade. Occult German and other foreign influences were now at work all over the world for the purpose of diverting trade into their channels. France and Germany both took care that their foreign trade should be fostered as far as possible partly through their Consuls abroad and partly through their higher-placed officials. They did not hesitate to use the money of the taxpayer in backsheesh in order to smooth the way for contracts with firms of their own nation. In many places that sort of diplomatic pressure was easily put on, and Governments like those of China, Japan, or Servia were quite willing to pay a higher price to please the Minister of a particular nation. A great many instances of that kind of thing might have been seen in the newspapers during the last two or three months. The influences he had mentioned were at work all over the world, and the energy and ability of Prince Bismarck had even brought England within his toils. Instances had come under his observation of English consumers being induced by means of Consular influence to obtain their goods from German manufacturers. He also knew of an instance in which Prince Bismarck had actually written to a large importer in the United States to ask him if he could not see his way to purchase some of the goods he required in his trade from German firms. The same state of things existed in Eastern Europe, where the interests of German firms were being worked through the Consuls. He did not for a moment contend that the trade of this country ought to be carried on by means of our Consuls abroad; but he asked that some means should be taken by which, at all events, our own manufacturers might be placed in as good a position as those of other countries, and he did not think he was asking too much. The hon. Member then produced a large volume, one of four which, he said, had been sent from Germany to commercial clubs in every country. The publication was handsomely got up by a sort of Royal Commission appointed for the purpose, 611 and contained nothing but advertisements of German manufacturers, printed in four languages—German, English, French, and Spanish. This mode of working the interests of German manufacturers had now become a regular system, and the House would see that if that book were to be found on every club table in commercial centres much trade might be diverted from this country. What could be simpler than for the Government of this country to encourage some such enterprize as that? From local inquiries which he made with respect to Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, he found that English trade with those countries was entirely falling off. Every week boats came in from Germany laden with every class of goods which we used to supply. Agricultural machinery and everything in the way of machinery came from Germany to Scandinavia. Then as to ships. Two or three years ago China required two ironclads. At that time there was only one Chinese Foreign Minister in Europe—the Minister at Berlin. One of our largest shipbuilding firms applied to the Chinese Minister at Berlin to be allowed to tender. They were allowed to tender for one, but heard nothing more about it. They were not allowed to tender for the other at all. The building of the iron-clads went to Germany, procured, beyond the shadow of a doubt, for Germany by the Berlin Foreign Office. It was stated that China was very much dissatisfied with the German-built vessels. Not long since The Times Berlin Correspondent stated that two new belted cruisers were to be built for China by Germany; so that two new vessels which could be easily built on the Tyne, the Clyde, or the Mersey had gone to Germany without any English firm having had a chance of competing for them. It was the same with regard to Japan. Two or three years ago Austria was building three iron-clads. It was thought than an English firm would have the armour plating; but just as the contract was about to be signed they received an intimation that it would be supplied by a German house. In order to please the Sister Country of Germany the contract was snatched from English firms and given to an unknown competitor. Formerly we contracted for all the railways in Europe; but he had lately received a 612 letter from a member of a leading firm of railway contractors, showing how a contract in one of the Eastern States of Europe had been lost. The moment it was known that an English firm was likely to obtain the contract, the Austrian Consul, who was in close relation with the Union Générale, and Vienna Landerbank, complained to our Foreign Office that their Representative on the spot was interfering with foreign trade. The Foreign Office instantly recalled him and sent him to an obscure German town, informing him that it was a most dangerous thing for the Representative of the English Foreign Office to interfere with foreign trade. The contract was given to the Austrian protégé, though it cost the country £1,500,000 more at the French price. He believed that it was entirely due to the efforts of his hon. Friend below him and to Lord Rosebery that the German Syndicate in China had fallen flat. It was quite true that our Consuls were called Superintendents of Trade; but they never superintended British trade except for the purpose of preventing British traders from cheating natives or foreigners. In 1872 Mr. James Howard, lately Member for Bedfordshire, brought the subject under the notice of the Foreign Office, and he was under the impression to this day that nothing had been done. In 1865, in consequence of the Report of a Select Committee on British Trade, a Commercial Department was established at the Foreign Office. In 1872 the Consular Reports began to be published. They were not satisfactory Reports. They contained a good deal of discursive information, but they were not Reports by commercial men, and never got into the hands of Members until 12 months after date, and they very seldom got further. He understood the American Consular Reports were not only very much better done, but in many cases were published monthly, and were very much to the point. England had only one Commercial Attaché for the whole of Europe—Mr. Crowe—and he wandered about from country to country, picking up what information he could. This was a state of things not creditable to a great commercial nation. There ought to be a Commercial and Agricultural Attaché at every important Legation in Europe and elsewhere, and they should be men thoroughly acquainted with our 613 commercial affairs. This was a subject in which the country took very great interest, and there was no public body of any importance connected with trade that had not considered the question and passed resolutions similar to that which stood in his name. He hoped that the Foreign Office would consider this matter in a wise and liberal spirit, and that they would be prepared to expend a little money, if necessary, and at any rate a great deal of energy, for the purpose of securing the object which he had indicated. The Foreign Office received between £400,000 and £500,000 a-year; and he thought that a little out of that sum might be set apart to support some such organization as he had suggested. He begged to move the Resolution which stood in his name.
§ MR. C. PALMER (Durham, Jarrow)
, in seconding the Resolution, said, he had been most deeply impressed with the importance of the subject from the information which he gathered while acting as a Member of the Royal Commission on the Depression of Trade. The Commission had received evidence from the first merchants and manufacturers of this country; and it was most painful to hear the one story which was revealed in reference to the state of trade generally. Nothing could be more important and impressive than the Reports which, as they knew, had been sent to the Commission from our Embassies and Consuls abroad. These Reports had been obtained by the order of the Foreign Office; and he might compliment those gentlemen who represented this country abroad upon the fact that the Reports which they had sent were full of information of the most interesting and important character. It was true that, previous to the appointment of the Commission, Reports were made from time to time by the Embassies abroad; but he ventured to say that very few Members of that House went through them, because they did not enter into sufficient details connected with the trade and commerce of the various countries in which our Representatives were placed. The Reports which the Royal Commission now received were very specific, and entered into all matters connected with the industries abroad and with the working classes in foreign countries. He was quite satisfied that if the manufacturing and commercial interests of this country 614 would only consider the Reports, and if the working classes would only study them, they would be able to learn what was being done abroad with reference to working hours, wages, and other matters connected with foreign industries; and they would not be surprised that the commercial prosperity of this country was not equal to that of other countries. With such knowledge before them, he was sure that the working classes would not continue to think that by receiving a sort of temporary relief in the midst of their distress this wave of adversity in our commercial interests was a periodical one. They would gather from the Reports that it arose in a great measure from actual loss of trade in this country—trade which was being taken up by foreign countries. Having perused the Reports to which he had been referring, he was satisfied that this country was suffering from depression of trade to a greater extent, perhaps, than any other country. It was said, in answer to the complaints made by British manufacturers, that other countries were suffering from as acute depression as ourselves. He ventured to say that, with the exception possibly of France, there was no other country at the present time—at all events as far as the Consular Reports went—which was suffering so much from depression of trade as our own.
§ MR. C. PALMER
said, his right hon. Friend remarked that Belgium was suffering from depression of trade; but he (Mr. C. Palmer) ventured to say that Belgium was not suffering from depression of trade in the way indicated—that was, in the sense in which the hon. Member wished it to be understood. What Belgium was suffering from was depression of profits owing to the general lowering of prices for all classes of manufactured goods; but the volume of trade in Belgium was as large as ever. But in this country not only had the profit of trade fallen off, but also the volume of trade was decreasing. Then they heard that Germany was also suffering from depression of trade. That country was undoubtedly suffering from agricultural depression; but in other respects it was far from suffering. Germany was one of the most prosperous and 615 flourishing countries in Europe, and it was running England so close in regard to manufactures and commerce that he feared, unless we took a lesson from it in the assistance afforded to industry and commerce, we should certainly see ourselves behind it in the race. He did not say that we should utilize our Consuls abroad, for commercial purposes; but we might assist our commercial interests abroad and make known what trades were being carried on and what changes were being made. We ought at least to assist the commercial interests of the country by collecting information from various countries and circulating it at home. The fact was that the state of trade in Europe was undergoing a very important change at this time. This arose from many circumstances. Among others, he might mention this—that there was now a more direct communication between the manufacturer and the consumer than there was formerly. Whether this change was brought about by the opening of the Suez Canal, by the piercing of the Alps, or by the purchase by Germany of the railways, whereby that country was enabled to develop its industry and carry its produce to distant parts at a low cost, he (Mr. C. Palmer} could not say; but it was certain that such change had taken place and was developing, and that the Germans were foremost amongst the nations of the world in pushing forward that new development. Germany gave all the assistance in the power of the State to assist the progress of her commerce. She did not hesitate to send her young men into every country in the world to study the language of the countries, and the habits of the people, their industrial and commercial wants; and when they had obtained all this information they put it into practical effect by distributing the manufactures of their country direct to the consumers, and displacing, as far as possible, middlemen. Not only Germany, however, but other countries in Europe were taking a great interest in commercial affairs, whilst our own country, which prided itself upon being the greatest commercial country in the world, did very little indeed to aid in the development of her commercial enterprize or of her manufacturing industries. That House occupied itself a good deal, and very properly so, in discussing and passing mea- 616 sures for the improvement of the condition of the working classes; but it was possible to over-legislate in this direction, and he thought if a Government would only put into their hands well-digested information as to the state of the labour market in other countries, the rates and wages of skilled and unskilled labour, the class of manufactures produced, and other information, which might easily be obtained, a great deal of good might be done to the working classes, who probably would begin to discern that something else was wanted to ensure success besides legislation. They would see that skilled energy and perseverance were necessary in the workman as well as in the capitalist, if we were to keep pace with the manufacturers of other countries. It was, he regretted to say, a fact that other countries, which used to be importers of our manufactures, were now not only competing with us in supplying the foreign market, but were actually sending their surplus manufactures into this country to compete with our own manufactures in the home market. The result of this was to destroy our own industry, and we naturally wanted to know why this was so. Well, he was afraid that one, at all events, of the causes was the little interest taken in our commerce, and the little help given to it by our Government, compared with the Governments of other countries, and he hoped that one outcome of this Resolution would be that the Government would take up this question in earnest in connection with the Foreign Office; or, still better, why should we not have a Minister of Commerce to undertake the direction of such matters? At all events, he hoped the Government would take the matter up, and that they would see that we had at our Embassies, not only Military and Naval Attaches, but also commercial men, of sufficient experience to enable them to gain information up to the latest possible date on everything passing in the countries to which they were appointed, in reference to commerce, the requirements of the people, the rate of wages, the demands for labour, the condition of the working classes, and on cognate subjects. He recommended hon. Members, too, to read the Reports which had been sent home by our Consults in foreign countries. They were very interesting reading; but they were also very startling in the informa- 617 tion which they conveyed as to the manner in which our manufacturers were being supplanted by other countries, and especially by Germany. There was no question of more serious importance to us than our industrial condition. If we chose to pass over it lightly the numbers of our unemployed would continually increase, and we should find the distress intensified from year to year. Our trade would leave us, gradually but most assuredly, unless we could receive prompt information through the channels indicated, and unless when it was received it was promptly disseminated by the Government. No paltry saving should unduly limit the circulation of these Reports throughout the country for the information of manufacturers and all engaged in trade and industry. Nothing would bring working classes and capitalists together more quickly than the realization of the alarming fact that capital was leaving this country for the purpose of establishing large factories abroad. When once capitalists and workers saw that their interests were mutual in the matter there was every reason to believe that the great energy and activity of our merchants, and the intelligence undoubtedly possessed by our working classes and by Englishmen generally, would be united in a well-directed effort to maintain the commercial and industrial status of this country.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, the Government ought to consider the desirability of appointing properly qualified Diplomatic Agents in all Foreign capitals or seats of Government, for the express purpose of promoting the extension of British commerce,"—(Mr. M'Laren,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question"
§ MR. HUTTON (Manchester, N.)
said, that this important subject had been introduced in a very interesting and effective manner by the previous speakers. He was glad that the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. C. Palmer) had alluded to the circulation of the Reports which had been laid before the Commission on Trade, because they showed many of the causes of depression from which 618 this country was suffering. For the last 10 years he had been making representations to Her Majesty's Government on this very subject, and more especially during the last two years, when, as President of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, he had impressed upon the Foreign Office the necessity of taking more interest in the manufacturers and trade of this country. He had not a word to say against the great body of our Commercial Representatives in different parts of the world. We had an able body of men who were anxious to do their duty to the commercial interests of this country. He had frequently heard addresses delivered by Consuls and others before meetings of merchants in this country, and the speakers had laid before those meetings facts which were of immense value. It was, however, a ground of complaint that in a body so able there were many men who were so useless as regarded commerce. He could not support altogether the arguments of the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. M'Laren), who appeared to wish that our Consuls should become commercial touters. It would not be consistent with the dignity of this country for those gentlemen, many of whom were well educated in law and in diplomacy, to become commercial touters, as many of the German Consuls were. A book named by the hon. Member for Stafford was simply three volumes of advertisements which were issued by the German Government. That book reached him last year, and the volumes were on the shelves of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, where they would remain unused, because it was known that they were only advertisements. It ought to be stated plainly and clearly that what was required was a greater amount of earnestness and determination, not only on the part of our Consuls, but also on the part of those who were charged with the Administration of this country. It was to them we must look for more zeal, energy, and determination. We must not simply blame the Consuls who were trying to do their duty abroad, and who, when they sent home good Reports, met with little support and encouragement from the Government at home. Many of the Reports gave interesting and practical information connected with the commerce of the country to which the writer had been appointed; but there 619 were very few which dealt with industrial interests; there were very few that told us what things were wanted abroad which could be supplied by the industry of England. It was in this respect that we wanted more information. There was an interesting Report from Consul Playfair at Algiers, who devoted 36 pages to a most interesting, romantic, archæological, and geographical account of Tunis, but only eight pages of any importance to the trade and industry in which Lancashire was concerned. It was on points like these that instructions might be given from headquarters at home. He might be wrong if he said that the Foreign Office did not instruct the Consuls as to looking after the commercial interests; but their importance was not sufficiently impressed upon them. Then many of these Reports dated back 18 months, and consequently gave no information as to what was now wanted. It seemed to take the Foreign Office a year to consider what Reports should be circulated. The Consuls waited until they could get complete statistics; whereas the Representatives of other countries sent home Reports yearly or periodically, giving information of what was going on at the time of writing, and not troubling themselves, as our Consuls did, with things which were matters of ancient history. Looking through the Reports lately published, he found there were several cases of Reports which had been delayed 18 months, and were practically a year old when they were sent off. In some cases three years were dealt with in one Report. The Consul at San Salvador sent home in 1885 a Report for 1883. The delay in the publication of the Reports was a great source of dissatisfaction. He hoped the Foreign Office would take a leaf out of the book of foreign countries. The Representatives of the United States sent home most valuable Reports of the trade and industry of the countries in which they lived, and these were of the greatest use to the manufacturers and traders in the United States. If this course was adopted by our Consuls it would be of great service to the commercial classes in this country. We also required periodical Reports of a practical character also with regard to our own Colonies, where it was even more important. He urged the Government to consider the enormous interests which 620 were at stake, for unless some measures were taken before long to help the industries of this country they would see a continuation of the present depression, and trade would still further turn away from us.
§ MR. GOSCHEN (Edinburgh, E.)
I think the hon. Gentleman who has introduced this Motion has done a service to the House in bringing this very important matter before it. For a very important matter it is—important not only in its bearings upon commerce, though these are extremely serious, but important also as far as it bears upon the whole of our foreign policy—upon the traditions of the Foreign Office, and on the course of conduct which our Diplomatic Agents, the Representatives of this country in all parts of the world, ought to pursue. I will not follow the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow with regard to the present state of the depression of trade; but the whole House will be prepared to admit these two statements—the one, that the present state of our industry deserves the most careful attention of the Legislature; the other, that the competition of foreign countries has become extremely severe, and requires to be watched with the greatest anxiety on all sides. But it is extremely important that, in endeavouring to meet this competition of foreign countries, we should not be carried into a wrong direction, that we should not, in our desire to push the trade of the country, either at this moment or any other moment, embark on a course which might afterwards prove to be most dangerous, or embark upon a new system system totally contrary to the traditions of the diplomacy of this country in vying with the diplomacy of foreign countries. The words of the Motion are comparatively innocuous; but the preamble calls attention to the successful efforts of the German and other Foreign Governments in pushing the trade of their respective countries in competition with English manufacturers. The speech of the hon. Member who introduced the Motion with so much ability, dealt specifically with a large number of cases where the diplomatic pressure exercised by Foreign Governments had resulted to the detriment of this country; and the question which arose in my mind while the hon. Member was pursuing his argument was this—Does the 621 hon. Member recommend that this country should enter into competition with the Governments of France, Germany, and others which he mentioned, in pushing special enterprizes, such as the sale of ships, or the promotion of railways, or the building of water-works, by bringing pressure to bear upon Foreign Governments, and by doing their utmost to secure concessions? That is a point which it is extremely important for this House to bear in mind. I entirely agree in the remark of the hon. Member who spoke last, that the fault, if fault there is, in not exercising this pressure, does not lie with our Ambassadors or Consuls abroad, but is due to the recognized policy of the Foreign Office, and that they are instructed to abstain from those intrigues and that competition for securing concessions in favour of individuals or firms which forms a great part of the occupation, and the favourite occupation, of foreign Diplomatists. All I can say, from the knowledge which I gained of this question when I was at Constantinople, is that there would be nothing which would give greater satisfaction to British Consuls abroad than that this House should pass a Resolution encouraging them to push trade. It would be a great increase to their occupations; but not only that, it would increase their interest. The hon. Member who introduced this Motion spoke of the pleasures of British Residents abroad, and one of the greatest pleasures of Consuls and Vice Consuls is to be able to trip up Consuls and Vice Consuls of other countries. We cannot, therefore, give them an occupation which will be more congenial to them than to cast aside all the past pedantry of the Foreign Office, and allow them to vie with German Diplomatic Agents both in pushing the wares of individual firms and in securing contracts to individual traders. Is that the wish of the House of Commons? Is it the wish that this course of diplomacy should be followed by our Diplomatists? There ought to be no obscurity upon the subject. I regret that the Resolution does not bring that point out sufficiently clear. It might be perfectly possible that this House would endorse, as I am sure it would endorse, the view that by all legitimate means the Foreign Office should increase the means of information of our merchants and managers, 622 and that we should increase not only their knowledge, but also remove, if possible, impediments to trade generally in foreign countries. In that way they would promote the industries of this country. But, at the same time, I do not think it would be desirable that the House should express its view that our Representatives should imitate the examples which were sketched by the hon. Member behind me, and by which, under the auspices of Prince Bismarck, great results have certainly been achieved for German manufacturers. The House ought also to remember this, that there is a great responsibility involved in the recommendation of particular firms or particular interests. Hitherto it has been the desire of the Foreign Office—and that is why our Consuls are so careful—I think I may speak from my knowledge of the Foreign Office—to hold that it is impossible to discriminate between the claims of different British subjects; and that, therefore, either they must take up the interests of all or they could not promote the interest of any particular enterprize. I wish the House to draw a distinction between promoting British trade in its broad sense by such means as the improvement of foreign tariffs, or increasing our stock of information, and, on the other hand, pushing the trade of particular firms with the object of securing them particular contracts. There is a further point, and that is that the working out of special advantages for special firms or groups of firms afterwards frequently involves the Governments who have promoted such business in very awkward claims. The friction caused by these claims between respective Governments frequently damages the trade of the whole country quite as much as it has been served by the granting of an individual concession. I remember when I arrived at Constantinople there were 102 legal claims by British subjects connected with various industrial enter-prizes which had been entered into in former years, and the pushing of these claims continually seemed to me to weaken the general influence of the Ambassador. Continual interviews with the Foreign Minister, to push the payment of the claims of a particular British subject, caused such irritation that on the following day, if the Foreign Minister had to be seen on some great question of policy, the result of 623 the friction of the disagreeable interview of the previous day still remained. In former times I think there was more encouragement given to British traders in this respect. There were claims open at Constantinople of 22 years' standing and more, which had formed the constant subject of correspondence between successive Ambassadors and Foreign Ministers during those 22 years. Occasionally what happened was an understanding such as this—the Turkish Minister said, "This claim must be satisfied, and I will satisfy it." On one occasion a Turkish Minister granted to a claimant an assignment upon the revenues of some distant Turkish Province. The claimant thought he had at last some satisfaction; but two months afterwards he came with a longer face than ever to the British Embassy, stating that when his friends presented this assignment to the Provincial Treasury there were no assets—that the money had all been remitted to Constantinople. This is an illustration of the kind of difficulty which attaches to this class of business, and which creates considerable inconvenience. I do not think that the House will be disposed to assent to any part of the argument of the hon. Member which went in that direction. I would now come to another point, which is that of furnishing information and sending properly qualified persons to be attached to the Embassies. I entirely endorse what has fallen from one hon. Member who spoke of the great services of Mr. Crowe, who is a singularly able and indefatigable official. I think it is well worth the while of the Foreign Office to consider how they can further expand that system; but I think it is only justice to Foreign Consuls to say that there are amongst them some men who have considerable commercial experience; and I think, on the other hand, the House must also bear in mind that it is extremely difficult to find these properly qualified Diplomatic Agents who are to be generally acquainted with the trade of this country. Far from wishing to discourage the Foreign Office in the selection of such Agents, and in endeavouring to find them, I would encourage them to do so; but it is right that we should bear the difficulties in mind. Whenever you come to select these Commercial Agents you must take care not to select men who have been unsuc- 624 cessful in their own business engagements, because I am sure if it were known to-morrow that the Foreign Office were prepared to engage the services of five or six Diplomatic Agents with commercial knowledge, a very large proportion of the applications for the post would come from gentlemen who had been unsuccessful in their own business. Why? Because, before the time of this great depression of trade, the profits of commercial men, on the whole, were greater than the salaries of our Diplomatists, and it would have been difficult to tempt away first-class men not acquainted with one particular industry, but most of the industries, from successful business, in order to send them to the centre of Asia Minor, or Japan, or China. Then there comes the difficulty of the language. These properly qualified Agents would be of no use unless acquainted with the language. So I think it would be well worth while for the Foreign Office to consider whether they cannot train men to this business who may not be ready in one, two, or three years, but who may be trained specially for the service with a view to an acquaintance with our industries, so far as they can make themselves acquainted with them, and at the same time acquire some knowledge of foreign languages, so that they may be useful abroad. In that way it is possible that considerable advantage may be reaped. But we cannot conceal from ourselves that this kind of universal knowledge which they are to obtain of the general industries of the country is very difficult. What would the great cotton industry say if, in a particular country, you were to appoint a man specially qualified to represent the iron industry, while their own was neglected? If you can find men of general ability, and qualify them by a special course of study, that might be a more effectual way than to select special commercial men, and take them away from their business. I know that as soon as these specially trained men enter the Public Service, there is, perhaps not unnaturally, a kind of prejudice against them on the part of the commercial classes, because it is considered to a degree which, I think, is scarcely justified, that the public servants of the State are tied up with red tape, and if you can only remove them and introduce the commer- 625 cial element, that you would immediately make a great revolution. But those acquainted with these matters know that there are men who now devote themselves to these tasks with great ability; and I think I may appeal to hon. Members who sometimes look into these Commercial Reports whether they are not struck with the ability shown by men who have had no special commercial training at all, but who bring their intelligence to bear on these matters. In conclusion, I would say I entirely endorse what fell from my hon. Friend who spoke just now when he said great energy was necessary at headquarters in this respect. If there was a time when more or less it was true that the Foreign Office looked upon British merchants as rather troublesome people, who were continually causing vexation and annoyance at the Foreign Office, that has ceased to be the case now. Since the Commercial Department has been established at the Foreign Office, and since able men like Mr. Kennedy have been introduced there, I believe there is a great desire at the Foreign Office to promote—I would rather use the word promote than the word push—the interests of British trade. That desire exists, and nothing can be more true than this—that the more the young men in the Departments and in the Diplomatic Service understood they would be approved and rewarded at headquarters if they specially devoted themselves to matters of this kind, the more success is likely to be achieved, and the more it is felt generally at the Foreign Office that all Reports upon trade, and all legitimate efforts made to promote the general course of British commerce without entering into competition by putting on diplomatic pressure, the more I think it will be for the interests of the country. I trust, whatever view the House may take of the particular Motion, they will not encourage the idea that either Prince Bismarck, great man as he is, or any French, or Belgian, or Austrian Ministers ought to be the guides of this country or of our diplomacy abroad—our diplomacy which is looked to to promote British interests, but at the same time to hold as high as possible the standard of British honour.
LORD WILLIAM COMPTON (Warwick, Stratford-on-Avon)
said, that, as a former Attaché, he agreed with hon. 626 Members who had spoken in favour of the Resolution, and, in the case of a division, he should vote in support of it. Sitting, as he did, on the economical side of the House, he thought that the matter of expenses should be duly taken into consideration. Some hon. Members, doubtless, thought that the Consuls were the only gentlemen abroad who attended to commercial affairs, and that opinion appeared to be shared to some extent by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Goschen); but he knew that they formed some portion of the duties at the Embassies. A system ought to be arranged by which properly-qualified commercial men—who understood the laws and language of the countries to which they would be accredited—might be appointed to the Diplomatic Service, while a permanent Secretary, trained and educated in the country, would be of great use to the Ambassador upon his arrival. When an Ambassador arrived at his post he perhaps found a body of new Secretaries, not one of whom could speak the language of the country to which he went; and probably he found a Consul who was the only person able to translate for him into the tongue of the people among whom he resided. If, however, he found on his arrival a permanent Secretary such as existed in Foreign Embassies under the designation of a chancelier—a man who knew intimately the language, manners, customs, and law of the country, and who had always been there—then the Ambassador or Minister would have at his right hand one who could advise him on all commercial matters. It would be inadvisable to hand over commercial duties entirely to the Consuls. If they had permanent Commercial Secretaries at the Embassies and Legations they might reduce the Diplomatic Service considerably. At the present time it was the First Secretary to the Embassy, and not the Consul, who compiled the Commercial Report; but when that gentleman was removed to a new post it was impossible that he could know much, if anything, of the affairs of that country. He believed that the Diplomatic Service did its best to assist our commerce abroad, although many of its members had no special training. The best solution, if economy was to be kept in mind, would, perhaps, be to reduce the personnel of the Diplomatic Service in order to have the Commercial 627 Secretaries to whom he had referred, and who would, of course, be under the guidance of the Ambassadors.
§ MR. BAKER (Somerset, Frome)
said, it had been remarked that hon. Members did not read the Reports presented on trade; but he must say that he had read most attentively the Report to which reference had been made in connection with Tunis, Algiers, and other countries. He noticed that a small slip printed with those Reports intimated that in future they would be forwarded only to those Members who specifically asked for them; so that it was not intended that they should be circulated to the House at large. Many of the Reports were, moreover, presented too late to be of real use. If the hon. Member who introduced the Motion went to a division he would be very happy to give him his vote in order to bring this question more properly before the Government.
§ MR. W. F. LAWRENCE (Liverpool, Abercromby)
said, he would venture to call the attention of the House to one, if not two, cases of recent years in which, owing to our deficiency at headquarters, we had not secured the trade which we should have secured. One case was at Cameroons, where, owing entirely to the activity and energy of Prince Bismarck, the trade of that important place was taken away from us. For three or four years the Kings in that neighbourhood had been writing to our Foreign Office begging us to take them under our protection. The Foreign Office gave no answer, or, if they did, at all events a very halting one. Then they went to Prince Bismarck who procured territory which was esteemed of considerable value. The result was, as he saw in a newspaper in December after the General Election, that in trade the City of Liverpool had suffered to the extent of something like £1,000,000 sterling a-year. That might be only a newspaper statement, and might be exaggerated; but still there was a loss which was entirely owing to a want of energy at headquarters. Then there was Zanzibar, the Sultan of which place had had his territory nibbled away, and this was all the result of lethargy at headquarters. We had let the time go by when we could maintain with success the position of the Sultan of Zanzibar. The trade of Africa and the great cen- 628 tral places there through the activity of Prince Bismarck had gone to Germany. What was wanted was energy, pluck, courage, and resource at the Foreign Office, and, failing that, all the exertions of its subordinates abroad went for nought. He cordially supported the Motion of the hon. Gentleman opposite.
§ MR. SUTHERLAND (Greenock)
said, he hoped his hon. Friend would not think it necessary to divide the House after the testimony which he had obtained from both sides as to the immediate necessity of the Foreign Office taking some steps in order that the Consular Representatives of this country might show a greater interest in all matters connected with British trade in the midst of the terrible competition to which it was subjected. He was very much struck by the remarks of the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. C. Palmer) in reference to the Report already published by the Royal Commission on Trade. He was fully aware that the information contained in the first Report—which he thought was the only one yet published—ought to be of the greatest value to the working classes of this country in showing that if they were handicapped by foreigners they were handicapped simply from the fact that foreign working men were working longer hours and living at a lower rate of expenditure. Considering how much had been heard during the last six months, and especially during the time of the late General Election, with reference to the advantages which were to be derived from the investigations of that Royal Commission, he could not help feeling some disappointment that some achievement had not yet been brought to light by the labour of that Commission.
§ MR. C. PALMER
said, that the Report of the Depression of Trade Commission would be issued in a fortnight.
§ MR. SUTHERLAND
said, that the point to which he was directing attention was that they had heard a great deal on all sides, more especially during the recent General Election, as to the depression of trade being due to the fact that this country was following Free Trade instead of developing Fair Trade, and he thought if that were so the Royal Commission should duly enlighten them on the subject at the earliest possible moment. He was wishful, however, more particularly to take the opportunity 629 of stating his own personal experience in connection with Consular matters, derived after a residence of some years at the Treaty Ports of China. He agreed almost entirely with the observations which had been made by the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. M'Laren) as to the absence of an adequate interest on the part of our Consular Representatives in that part of the world in the commercial interests of our country. But he must say also in this respect, that there were Consuls and Consuls, and if he were to quote the name of a man whose name was honoured in the East, and honoured wherever people were familiar with Eastern commerce—he meant the late Sir Harry Parkes—he would say that in him we had a bright example of a man who would uphold what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh called the honourable position of British commerce, and who, at the same time, would not, if he could possibly help it, allow any enterprize for a moment to be lost sight of or to be taken away through the influence of any foreign Consul to the disadvantage of the commerce of his own country. But he also agreed with what had been said by some of the speakers, that the fault did not lie so much with the individual Consuls as with the spirit which prevailed at the Foreign Office in regard to commercial affairs. He believed that a change for the better had been introduced there, but only, he thought, to some slight extent; and if he deemed it right to occupy the time of the House he could easily give examples in connection with his own experience to show that the Foreign Office did not take kindly to the exercise of those duties which were connected with commercial affairs, and that there was too great a proneness to take for granted matters which ought to be pushed forward with zeal and energy. He would give only one example of what he meant. Under our Treaty with China shipowners trading with that country paid to the Chinese Government a very large amount for port dues, and they naturally expected that the harbours of that country would be maintained in an efficient state. By far the most important place in China was the port of Shanghai, and for many years the merchants and shipowners of that part of that world had been agitating 630 vigorously in order to obtain an improvement in the access to Shanghai; but so far from it having been improved, it has been constantly and disgracefully deteriorating to such an extent that vessels were now not able to cross the bar of the river, when drawing two feet less water than that with which they might have crossed it some 10 or 12 years ago. Great pressure had been brought to bear on the Foreign Office in this particular matter, and he was bound to say that the Foreign Office had carried their action up to a certain point in connection with it. They had carried it to this point, that the Chinese Government actually sent out a powerful dredger for the purpose of dredging the bar; but as soon as they got the dredger out there they took the opportunity of removing it, and the bar remained undredged to the present moment. That was a matter which had been brought under the notice of the Foreign Office over and over again; and if a proper amount of energy had been exhibited in that Department he was perfectly certain that, before now, our Minister would have succeeded in triumphing over the obstacles placed by the Chinese Government in the way of this improvement. It was perfectly well known that the Chinese Government and the Chinese people were of a character of this description—they were obstinate up to a certain point; but when they saw you were determined to succeed they invariably gave in. It was constantly remarked in the course of our wars with China that if ever we showed the slightest determination to take possession of one of their forts they philosophically observed that as we were determined to go in it was necessary that they should go out. That was exactly the position they held on every subject, and if the Foreign Office would prosecute this matter aright they would meet with the desired success.
§ MR. HOWELL (Bethnal Green, N.E.)
suggested that it would be of great advantage if an abstract of the Reports of our Consular Agents abroad were published at a cheap price, so that they might be more generally read. He could not see, however, having read a large number of those Reports, that British trade would be advantaged by our workmen labouring longer hours for lower wages. This would only increase 631 the intensity of trade depression. In spite of his short hours and better wages, the output of the British working man compared, both with regard to amount and cost, more than favourably with that of the foreign workman. If our Diplomatic Agents abroad were to be instructed to use their influence on behalf of British trade, they should be instructed also to give more detailed information on industrial matters in their periodical Reports.
§ MR. SETON-KARR (St. Helen's)
said, he would support this Motion, because he thought something ought to be done to promote the extension of British commerce. It seemed to him to open the larger question whether the whole system of our trade and commerce did not, in some respects, require protection? And by the very terms of the Motion the House would be committed to the opinion that something in this direction should be done. He was glad to hear from hon. Members opposite the admission that our home industries were being injured and capital driven from this country by foreign competition; and it was hardly necessary, perhaps, to point out that the amount of our trade and commerce was of vital importance, not merely for the sake of capitalists, but for the sake of employment of working men. He understood the right hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Goschen) to say that the condition of our trade and commerce had not changed; but it seemed to him that as regards our relations with foreign countries, these conditions had entirely changed; improved means of communication and the advance of foreign protected industries had entirely altered the nature of foreign competition, and the time for some action in the direction suggested by this Motion had, he believed, now come. It was a question with him whether we were not living in a fool's paradise; whether we were not, by our apathy, allowing our home trade to leave us, and our foreign markets to be taken from us by our European and American rivals.
§ MR. J. M. MACLEAN (Oldham)
said, it had been well observed by the late General Gordon that the British Empire had been built up not by its Governments but by its adventurers. If that was true of the British Empire, how much more true was it of British trade? It 632 was the spirit of private enterprize, asking no help from the State, that gave us the volume of trade which in magnitude and value surpassed any other in the world. When we talked of foreign competition and the inquiries Germany, France, and Italy were pushing in every part of the world, we should remember how far behind us they had hitherto been and how much they had to learn from the British merchant. They were trying to encroach on a commercial monopoly which had belonged to this country for years, and which was entirely the fruit of the spirit of individual enterprize. It would be an evil day for this country, and would make a great change in the spirit in which business was carried on, if English manufacturers and merchants were to fall into the habit of coming to the House asking the Government of the country to interfere on their behalf. When Motions of this kind were brought forward it was right that those who represented great industrial constituencies in this House should ask what was really the cause of this great foreign competition in recent days. Had not merchants and manufacturers some grounds for searchings of the heart in this matter? Was it not the case that both capitalists and workmen had been spoilt by prosperity and had fallen into a too luxurious manner of living? During his stay in Bombay he had noticed how Greek and German firms outstripped in some cases their English rivals. What was the reason of this? It was that foreign merchants lived much more simply and in a more thrifty manner than their English rivals. A Greek merchant did not drive down to the cotton market with a phaeton and pair of horses. He walked down from his small bungalow, where he lived in a simple, thrifty manner, and was content with smaller profits than the high-minded, luxurious Englishman. So it was at home. It was said that it was Prince Bismarck who was taking away the foreign trade from this country. But were there not a number of enlightened travellers and merchants in Germany who explored distant markets and on their return induced their Government to support their enterprizes? Look at what the Germans were doing in Eastern Africa, where German pioneers, private individuals, had gone forth like the English merchants who were the great- 633 ness and glory of this country in years gone by. Upon the Western Coast of Africa the same course was being pursued by the French. This country had been carrying out a number of wars in the most distant countries of the world. But did they ever hear of Chambers of Commerce sending representatives to go with our armies to Abyssina, up the Nile, into Central Asia, or even to Burmah? In past times English merchants would have taken advantage of these Expeditions to push their business for themselves, and they would not have wanted any Government to tell them what were the requirements of foreign markets, or how to produce goods to suit the tastes of the people. He should like to point out, however, in what way the Government might fairly assist trade. It was often said that wars were of benefit to the commerce of this country. But was this the case? When Russia pushed forward and acquired new territory the first thing that she did was to establish a line of Custom-houses, with a view of thus shutting out English trade, and then formed railways for the transit of the produce of her people to the new territory. This was an example which England might well follow. We were far too magnanimous in our foreign policy. We had an increasing population, and were greatly in need of new markets; but when we acquired new territory like Burmah, at great cost to the taxpayers of India, and great cost of life to England and India, the Government never thought of imposing differential duties on foreign goods, but threw open to all nations the advantages we had so dearly purchased. We did nothing to prevent foreign competition in the new markets which we acquired, and foolishly abandoned the precautions which other countries always took for the safety of their own commercial interests. The result of that necessarily was that, while we did so much to open distant markets throughout the world, we gained no exclusive advantage from this extension of Empire; while Russia and other countries, by extending their Dominions abroad, did everything that they possibly could to stem our progress, and in this way deprived us of any advantage we might have gained by our enterprize.
§ THE UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. BRYCE) (Aberdeen, S.)
said, the House was indebted to his hon. Friend for the very interesting debate which his Motion had produced. The subject was one which might properly engage the attention of the House at a time when so much was heard on all sides of commercial depression, and they were under an obligation to his hon. Friend for the great pains with which he had collected a number of instances in which it was supposed that foreign countries had profited to the disadvantage of the trade of this country. He did not think that his hon. Friend had made out any ground for complaining of the Foreign Office; and, indeed, his hon. Friend himself seemed to feel that such grounds did not exist; still the cases he had mentioned were not without interest, and deserved to be well weighed and carefully investigated. There had been for several years past constant complaints among the commercial classes as to the diminution in the volume of British trade when compared with that of some foreign countries. He did not believe that the facts were as bad as they were commonly represented to be; but if it could be shown that there was any action possible on the part of Her Majesty's Government which would in any way diminish the severity of foreign competition, and give British traders a better chance in the foreign markets than they had now, and if any complaints were to be made against the Government in connection with the promotion of British trade interests, it was, he thought, very desirable that they should be heard in the House of Commons. He must inform his hon. Friend, however, that it was not possible for him at the present moment to give a complete reply to his case by telling him the measures which the Foreign Office could adopt in order to meet his wishes, because they were at this moment in the very midst of an investigation of this question. The Foreign Office had only just received replies to the questions that had been addressed to the Chambers of Commerce, and it was receiving almost every day a number of valuable letters from Consuls, from private firms, and men of great commercial experience, which were throwing a great deal of light on this question. Within the very first week in which his noble 635 Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade had entered on the duties of their respective Offices, they met and exchanged ideas on this question, and a Minute was frame by the Secretary of State, addressed to the Commercial Department of the Foreign Office, requesting it to take this whole question into consideration, and to endeavour to frame a scheme by which the efficiency of the Foreign Office and of the Diplomatic and Consular Services might be increased, with a view to the better promotion of British trade abroad, and with a view particularly to the prompt collection and diffusion of information regarding the trade conditions of foreign countries, so as to make it available to British merchants and manufacturers at the earliest possible moment. That was one reason why the Government found it impossible to accept the Motion of his hon. Friend. It would interrupt them in the very midst of their investigation, and might have the effect of tying their hands by prescribing to them one particular way in which trade interests might be promoted; whereas they desired at the present to keep their minds perfectly open, so that they might receive suggestions from every quarter, and be able, after full consideration, to frame a scheme which would prove satisfactory to the House. Another reason why the Government could not accept the Motion was because in its terms it implied the creation of a large number of posts, and the incurring of a very large addiional expense, which the Government could not feel itself justified in recommending at the present stage of their investigation. He hoped that, under these circumstances, his hon. Friend would not think it necessary to press his Motion; but if he or any other hon. Member wished to obtain a record of the general feeling and sentiment of the House on the subject, the Government would have no objection to its being taken in the form of some such Resolution as the following:—That the House hears with satisfaction that Her Majesty's Government are examining proposals for increasing the efficiency for commercial purposes of the Diplomatic and Consular Staff of the Foreign Office, and for promptly obtaining and distributing information on commercial subjects.636 He did not himself suggest that any Resolution was needed; but in case it was desired to pass one to the effect he had stated, some such words would have the concurrence of the Government. He did not see that his hon. Friend had given any reason for thinking that our Consular Agents were at present deficient in zeal. His hon. Friend had referred to cases in which contracts which English firms desired to obtain had been obtained by foreigners. He had not shown, however, that the British Consuls had not interested themselves in these cases as far as they could properly do so. They might have taken action, although in vain, or they might have abstained from interference for fear of exposing their Government to a rebuff, or because success could only be achieved by means which the conscience of the country could not approve. His hon. Friend should not ask the House to proceed on the assumption that foreign countries did more in this matter than ourselves. No doubt, the competition of other nations was far more active in every direction than it was formerly, and it extended to parts of the world where it was previously almost unknown; but it was impossible that Britain could always keep a monopoly of trade in regions where she had once enjoyed it. His hon. Friend the Member for Oldham (Mr. Maclean), in what, in its earlier portions, he could not but consider an excellent and seasonable speech, had called attention to some of the causes which awakened this competition; and another hon. Member had truly remarked that the German merchant very often cut the British merchant out because he lived more frugally, was willing to do business upon a smaller margin of profit, and applied himself perhaps with less enterprize but with an untiring industry to his business. Then, mercantile education in Germany had reached a much higher point than it had in this country, which accounted in no small degree for the success of German merchants. This transfer of trade to the hands of German firms was by no means confined to the case of Germans who were German subjects and domiciled in Germany, but it applied just as much to Germans who were domiciled in England and British subjects. He therefore attributed the advances that German trade had made to 637 the attainments and character of the German merchants rather than to any political action on the part of their country. In the United States the same complaints were heard which we heard in this country, that foreign trade was languishing and was not sufficiently pushed by the Government; and the depression felt in England was not in any way exceptional, for there was depression everywhere. The recurrence, however, of that spirit of self-help which was the spirit that had made English commerce great in the past would make it always great, and would expand the limits of our commerce as long as it flourished. It was another question whether our Diplomatic and Consular Agents were deficient in zeal or capacity. Having wandered about the world a good deal as a private traveller, he could recollect very few instances in which he had not found the British Representative to be an active and capable man, with a good knowledge of the country where he lived and a readiness to place his knowledge at the service of the British visitor. He did not believe that any European State possessed a more active or zealous body of officials than those who served Her Majesty abroad as Consuls. He did not admit that there existed any longer a desire on the part of anyone connected with, the Foreign Office to "snub" commerce. If there were any traces of it yet lingering among our Diplomatists, such traces were fast disappearing; and it was now acknowledged within the Foreign Office that one of its clearest duties was to promote the interests of British commerce to the best of its power by all legitimate means. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Goschen) had shown with great force how dangerous it would be if the Foreign Office were to encourage Her Majesty's Representatives to give; ground for foreign complaints and jealousies by endeavouring to press and push English commerce in a grasping and exclusive spirit. We should have to be prepared for troublous times in our foreign relations were we to embark on such a policy. Quarrels would spring up in every direction, because; there was no part of the world where the assistance of the British Agency would not be invoked, and the exercise of British influence to the prejudice of 638 the citizens of other European States would increase the jealousy which our own pre-eminent position had already aroused, and might involve us in such constant difficulties as would necessitate an increase in our Military and Naval Establishments. There was another point even more important—namely, the necessity of maintaining the high character hitherto borne by Her Majesty's Representatives. Lucrative contracts and concessions could seldom be procured, especially in Eastern countries and in some parts of South America, without resort to doubtful means; and the House would hardly wish that Her Majesty's Representatives should be asked to connive at such measures. Let them suppose a case in which competition became very keen, and a bribe of £2,000 was offered by a foreigner to a Mandarin or any other official in order to obtain the desired prize, and then a British merchant or financier came to our Consul and informed him that they could get the concession by offering £3,000. Was the British Agent to connive at such dealings? What would this House say if the matter was brought before it, and a Representative of Her Majesty accused of having been a party? He must remind the House that the attempt to push commerce in the sense which some words that had been used in this debate seemed to suggest would almost certainly lead to transactions of that kind. Nothing had been of greater service to the trade of Britain as well as to her public character than the belief in the integrity of British Representatives and the knowledge that they were above suspicion. He had heard with pleasure many valuable suggestions made by hon. Members upon various branches of the question. These suggestions Her Majesty's Government were prepared to weigh with full care and attention. With regard to the diffusion of information and the alleged delay in the publication of Reports, the fault did not entirely lie with the Foreign Office, but partly with the printers, who during the Session were very much pressed by other work. Remonstrances had, however, been made, and they had received assurances that there would be more expedition in the future. One reason of the delay which sometimes occurred was the Rule that all Reports must first be 639 laid on the Table of the House. A Report received in the middle of August might thus have to remain undisturbed till the middle of February before it could be presented. But if the House were willing to do away with this Rule a great deal of time could be saved. Consuls were also obliged to wait for the publication of statistics, which in many instances came out very slowly. Sometimes they were not published for eight or ten months after the end of the year to which they referred. With regard to the criticisms which had been passed upon Consul General Playfair, the Report of that gentleman was a good deal longer than he was required by the Regulations to make it, and the valuable Report on Tunis which formed part of it was entirely a work of supererogation. The Report was one of great interest; and he thought that the House would agree in thinking that Consul General Playfair had exercised a wise discretion in extending his Report to include other than purely commercial matters. Without adopting many of the views which had been put forward in that debate, he sympathized with the general feelings which had pervaded the speeches upon the question. As to the question of what line their action ought to take, he thought that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh had spoken wisely when he had said that the two principal points required were, in the first place, that some care should be shown in selecting Consular Agents with a view to their commercial qualifications, and, in the second place, that they should have better plans for obtaining and publishing information. In these two ways the Government hoped to be able to do something to satisfy the wishes expressed on behalf of the mercantile community. They believed that it was possible to reward Diplomatic Agents who showed knowledge and skill in commercial affairs by singling them out for promotion and showing in various ways the satisfaction of the Foreign Office with their conduct. They were prepared to do everything that had been suggested towards spurring the zeal of our Representatives in obtaining information of solid commercial value. It had occurred to his mind that, instead of selecting special Commercial Attachés, it would not be a bad plan to use a some- 640 what wider discretion than at present in sending upon special missions members of the Foreign Office or of the Diplomatic or Consular Services who had shown a knowledge of and capacity for dealing with commercial questions. He also thought that it deserved to be considered whether they should not invite Her Majesty's Representatives abroad to tell them from time to time if there was any question regarding commerce or industry which required an immediate Report, so that a special Agent might be sent to inquire and to prepare it. Chambers of Commerce might also make similar suggestions, and the Government would be glad to pick out the most competent official to send over to the place where he was wanted. If time permitted, he thought he could convince the House that the United States alone, with the infinite variety of experiments that were being tried there in industry and in social organization, were sufficient to employ the whole time of a roving Commissioner; and that such Reports as an active and open-minded man could make on various matters would be most valuable to this country. He could also show what was done in Germany by the publication of The Handels-Archive, a species of commercial journal, which contained information of great value. In France and Austria they had similar official journals, which in a similar way gave the latest information on current questions of trade; and he saw no reason why something of the same kind should not be attempted in this country. He hoped the House would believe from what he had said that the Foreign Office was now fully sensible of the importance of this question, and might be trusted to attend to it. They were well aware that commerce was the life-blood of Britain. Now that agriculture was suffering from causes beyond our own control, commerce had become more important than ever, and success in commerce could only be maintained, in the face of the fierce competition of to-day, by turning to account every resource which the country possessed. The Government believed that it might help commerce, if not to so great an extent as despondent merchants believed, yet still to some extent. He fully recognized that the altered conditions of the world had made the swift transmission of infor- 641 mation with respect to the changing conditions of every market, the growing or declining industries of every community, the movements of trade from every great port, more necessary than before, because there were now few parts of the world that were not in touch with every other part through the telegraph—none whose circumstances might not, so frequent and easy had communication become, affect the commerce and the industries of Britain. The Government believed that the country wished them to try whether more might not be done than had yet been done to make the strong and widespread machinery of the Diplomatic and Consular Services helpful to British commerce, and so believing they would try promptly and try heartily.
§ MR. BOURKE (Lynn Regis)
said, with respect to the means of improving our trade foreshadowed by the Resolution, he differed almost altogether from the hon. Gentleman who moved it; but be thought that that part of his speech had been so conclusively dealt with by the right hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Goschen) it was not necessary for him to say more than a few words. He could not imagine anything more inconvenient and derogatory to the character of the Diplomatic Service than that our Consuls and Diplomatists abroad should be turned into commercial agents. Nothing could be more disagreeable than for a Consul or Diplomatist to find himself one day interviewed by five or six British merchants, all of them anxious to get his assistance to push their particular trade with foreign Governments. That would be a thing impossible for any Consul or Diplomatist to do, and complaints would be made in that House against any Consul or Diplomatist who should attempt to push the trade of one commercial gentleman against that of another. But, at the same time, he was far from saying that diplomacy ought to stand idle when our Diplomatists found that those of other Powers were doing their best to push British trade out of the foreign markets. If unfair competition were resorted to by foreign Diplomatists abroad we ought not to permit it. When he was at the Foreign Office he acted on the principle himself. The hon. Gentleman who brought forward the subject had referred to the action of Lord Rosebery, and the hon. 642 Gentleman opposite had said that it was in consequence of their interference that British merchants in China had received justice. He was much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning that case, because the despatch was written by himself in consequence of some representation which had been received from our merchants at home, and which induced the Foreign Office to consider it absolutely necessary to make representations at Pekin. Now, with respect to the changes which had been suggested as to what were called commercial Consuls, he thought hon. Gentlemen had been a little inconsistent; because hardly one speaker had risen without bearing testimony in very complimentary terms to the value of the Reports of our Consular Agents. The hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. C. Palmer) said that he was quite sure if the commercial classes read these Reports they would receive much information. An hon. Gentleman opposite made some very sensible remarks, showing that he appreciated the full value of the Reports, when he said it would be a good thing if a condensation of them should be made by some Department of the Government. That was a recommendation which the Foreign Office might well take into its consideration. The thing might be done with very little trouble, and would be of great advantage. He could not agree with a remark which had been made by a noble Lord (Lord William Compton), whom he heard speaking for the first time with so much promise that evening. The noble Lord seemed to think that though these Reports were extremely valuable they were sometimes prepared by persons who knew nothing whatever of trade. His own experience did not confirm that. If any such thing were done it was the fault of the Ambassador or Minister abroad whose duty it was to choose competent persons, and that was being done at present, as the hon. Member for Jarrow had stated. He took great interest in the question, as the Circular written to the Consuls was signed by himself. As to the Amendment suggested by the Under Secretary, he did not see much objection to it, except that it seemed to take credit to the present Government for instituting a new era; whereas there was nothing that had been indicated by the Under Secretary which had not been foreshadowed 643 by the late Government, and on which they had not taken action. But he hoped that the Motion would be withdrawn, and that they would hear nothing more about the Amendment which had been suggested by the Under Secretary. He had no notion that our Consuls should be turned into commercial travellers; but, at the same time, he thought much was due by the Government at home to the traders of this country. There was one subject which he hoped the House would not think him presumptuous in mentioning. He had been informed by persons in trade among his own constituents, and persons in trade whom he met abroad, that there was a very great difference in education between our commercial travellers abroad and the commercial travellers of foreign nations. A great deal of information which commercial persons sought from the Foreign Office they could obtain from their own commercial travellers if those travellers were competent men. He knew that our foreign commercial travellers were totally ignorant of the language of the country, and totally unable to make themselves thoroughly understood by the persons with whom they were anxious to embark in trade. He could not help thinking that in the Diplomatic Service there was a large number of persons perfectly competent to perform all the duties that might be put upon them. If there was any fault at all it laid at headquarters, with the Secretary of State and the Under Secretary. Persons in the Diplomatic Service performed their duties, comparatively speaking, at small salaries, because they looked forward to promotion; but if they appointed persons engaged in commerce to do the work mentioned by the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. M'Laren) they would have to be paid high salaries, and the Estimates would consequently have to be increased. He hoped the House would not for a moment countenance the appointment of any large number of persons engaged in commerce, because there was in the Diplomatic Service a large number of persons who could perform the duties referred to in this discussion. He hoped that the present system would be retained, and that it would be regulated from headquarters.
§ Question put, and agreed to.644
§ Original Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," again proposed.