§ *THE UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (Baron H. DE WORMS) (Liverpool, East Toxteth)
I have, Sir, to ask leave to introduce a Bill to enable Her Majesty to carry into effect a Convention made on the 30th day of August, 1888, in relation to bounties on the exportation of sugar. The signatories to the treaty are Great Britain, Germany, Russia, Austria, Holland, Belgium, Spain, and Italy. I think it right that at the outset of my remarks I should contradict the statement that Austria and Belgium are not signatories to the Convention. They are signatories; and the 304 only reservation they made was that in 1891 they should have the power, if any European bounty-giving Power were not party to the Convention, to reconsider their decision. The Bill which. I ask leave to introduce is for the purpose of giving effect to this Convention. It ought to be clearly borne in mind that the penal clause of the Convention cannot be enforced by our own individual action. The principal clause of the Convention, which is due in great measure to the suggestion of Her Majesty's Government, provides that a permanent Commission or bureau shall be established for the purpose of inquiring into the whole bounties question and investigating whether any, and which, Powers give bounties; that that bureau shall report to Her Majesty's Government; and that Her Majesty's Government shall then, if they think fit, convene a conference of the Powers, and by the vote of the majority it shall be decided whether the penal clause shall he enforced. This conclusively disposes of the oft-repeated statement that the Convention gives this country the power of boycotting foreign sugar. Those who make this statement appear really to desire to boycott the English sugar industry for the benefit of the foreigner. This boycotting clause, as it has been called, is in reality nothing of the sort. It is simply an agreement arrived at between the bounty-giving Powers themselves and Great Britain for the purpose of putting a stop to a system which imposes on them great financial liabilities, and on us that which is far worse —the destruction of one of our most important Home and Colonial industries. It is indeed absurd to talk cf our boycotting foreign sugar in view of the fact that seven out of the eight great bounty-giving Powers are signatories to this Convention. Reference is often made to the case of America. But America scarcely sends us any sugar at all, and does not produce enough for her own consumption. A Bill has indeed. been passed by the Senate which. enables America to give bounties on production, and that is the clearest proof you can have that she requires bounties to stimulate her production. Bounties given by America have another most prejudicial effect on our sugar industry. At the present moment a large proportion of 305 our West Indian sugar goes to America. But what would be the result if America were to apply a portion of her vast surplus in bounties? Why she should no longer require sugar from our West Indian Colonies, and if foreign bounties on the export of beet sugar are to continue the trade of those Colonies would cease altogether. It is said that this Convention is a step in the direction of Protection. I deny this absolutely. Clause 7 contains two conditions, the first of which is that any one of the signatory Powers may prohibit the importation of bounty-fed sugar, and the second that any of the signatory Powers may impose countervailing duties. Her Majesty's Government do not propose to exercise the power of imposing countervailing duties; but Great Britain, as the only free-trading Power, could not object to the other protective Powers claiming this right. But whatever prejudice there may now be against countervailing duties, they have in the past been adopted by this country, and adopted by right hon. Gentlemen of the Party opposite. The anti-bounty agitation began in 1862, and it began as the result of the Treaty of Commerce which this country made with Belgium in that year; in the Protocol annexed to that Treaty there is the following clause:—In the Protocol of the 23rd of July, 1862, annexed to the Commercial Treaty of the same date between England and Belgium, it is rceorded;—'With regard to sugar, the Government of His Majesty the King of the Belgians reserve to themselves to renew their proposition that an agreement should be come to between Great Britain, Belgium, France, the Zollverein, and the Netherlands, for respectively bringing the duties upon raw and refined sugars imported from any one of those countries into the others to an equality with the taxes imposed upon the same production of national origin, and for terminating simultaneously in those five countries the system of bounties on the exportation of sugar.As a result of that clause a Conference was held in Paris in 1863, in which Belgium, France, Holland, and Great Britain were represented, and in 1864 the Convention was signed by those Powers. In that Convention appears the following clause—The high contracting Powers reserve to themselves to agree as to the steps to be taken for obtaining the adhesion of the Governments of other countries to the arrangements of the present Convention. In the event of bounties 306 being granted in the said countries on the exportation of refined sugar, the high contracting parties will be at liberty to come to an understanding as to the surtax to be imposed on the importation of refined sugars of, and from, the said countries.That clause means nothing else than imposing a countervailing duty. The object of that Convention was to prevent bounties by establishing uniform rates of drawback to he paid by the French, British, Dutch, and Belgian Governments on the exportation of refined sugars. Hon. Gentlemen opposite will admit that that Convention could not have been signed without the Members of the then existing Government knowing and approving of it, and at that time Lord Palmerston was the Prime Minister, Lord Russell Foreign Secretary, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is, therefore, a fact that cannot be controverted that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian in 1864 approved of a Treaty, the main condition of which—the only condition indeed by which it could be enforced—was a countervailing duty. I only put this before the House to show how unjust it is to carp at Conservatives for introducing a smaller evil and swallow the greater when it comes from the hands of a Liberal Government. That the right hon. Gentleman approved of this Convention there can be no doubt. The right hon. Gentleman, speaking in the House of Commons on the 15th of June, 1866, he then being Chancellor of the Exchequer, said—About that time (1862) a communication came from the French Government to that of England representing that, without interfering at all with the liberty of each State to levy from sugar for fiscal purposes whatever amount of tax it might think fit, it was very desirable to remove every artificial inducement by which sugar was led to one country rather than another, and that it would also be most desirable to combine with the system regulating imports a reconsideration of the drawbacks upon exports; so that, with regard to imports from countries where refining had taken place, there would be a perfect freedom of trade in the absence of these peculiar inducements. Her Majesty's Government could not but perceive that that would be a beneficial arrangement, beneficial alike to the importers, the refiners, and the consumers. They therefore entered very freely and cheerfully into the views of the French Government. A Conference was accordingly assembled, comprising representatives of England, France, Belgium. and Holland, and, after investigating the whole subject, came to the conclusion that certain things ought to be 307 done at once with respect to a modification either of duty or drawback. The provisional arrangements then suggested were all of a character tending to equal trade. Her Majesty's Government, therefore, cheerfully concurred in them, and proposed to Parliament measures which were necessary to give effect to the views of these international representatives at that stage.… There could be no doubt, he apprehended, that Her Majesty's Government were right in entering into the joint conference, because to destroy the barriers which now interposed between different countries in this way was a matter of great importance.Well, Sir, I think I am justified in saying that the Convention of 1864, which was for the purpose of abolishing sugar bounties, and contained a clause in favour of countervailing duties for that purpose, met with the unqualified approval of the then Chancellor of the Exchequer. Subsequently various Conferences were called in many of the years following that. None of them arrived at any practical result, not from any want on the part of this country of a desire to carry out the abolition of bounties, but because foreign nations, for some reason or another, did not agree to carry the various Conventions into effect. The result of that has been that up to the present time the bounty system has continued. I have often heard in the course of this controversy hon. Gentlemen say that bounties are bad things and ought to be abolished. I suppose they hold that opinion still. At all events, those who appear to be their mouth pieces on the platform and in the Press have repeated that statement ad nauseam. What does that statement mean? Is it merely an expression of opinion of about as much value as a copybook text, such as—" Evil communications corrupt good manners," or "assiduously endeavour to improve;" or has it any real practical significance? Some hon. Gentlemen who seem never tired of repeating that bounties are bad things and ought to be abolished also appear to say that if we abolish them the inevitable result would be to raise the price of sugar. Which of those two statements do they elect to stand by? [Mr. HANDEL COSSHAM (Bristol): Both.] The hon. Member for Bristol says "both." On the one hand he thinks bounties ought to be abolished because they are bad things, and on the other hand he thinks they ought to be retained because they give us cheap sugar. I much 308 regret that the hon. Member is not in a position to introduce legislation that would have that double effect. Perhaps in course of time, when sitting on the Front Bench, the hon. Member will favour the House of Commons with a paradox of that sort. But, dealing with the matter on the basis of ordinary common sense, it is impossible to reconcile these two things. Either bounties are had, in which case they ought to be abolished, or they are good, in which case every effort ought to be made to maintain them. Will right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite say they will do everything to maintain bounties? I do not hear a response even from the hon. Member for Bristol. Then they wish to abolish bounties, though they think that by so doing they will make sugar dearer. I do not admit anything of the sort. I do not admit that the abolition of bounties would make sugar dearer, although I think their abolition is necessary, and that they are essentially bad things. It is because the Government have that opinion, because they feel that those bounties press most unfairly on our industry, because they feel that the first duty of an English Ministry is to promote the trade of their own country, that they are endeavouring, notwithstanding the laughter of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, to use every effort in their power to abolish them. I think that the Government have reason to congratulate themselves on one fact—namely, that for the first time the great majority of the bounty-giving Powers of the world have been assembled in London, and by a general consensus of opinion have agreed to the abolition of bounties.. Sir, I do not suppose that anybody in this House, or out of it imagines that we convened the International Conference for the purpose of teaching what hon. Gentlemen opposite consider to be the doctrines of Free Trade to foreign nations, or that we were animated by a philanthropic desire to remove from them heavy financial burdens. We never said anything of the sort. We told them that we thought bounties were an unfair form of competition, and that our interpretation of free trade was fair and unfettered competition; and that, for that reason, Her Majesty's Government would do all in their power to 309 prevent the continuance of a system so detrimental to their industrial interests. We might, if we had wished, have simply introduced legislation for that object. We did not. And why? Because we considered that a question of this sort is essentially an international question, and that it is by the voice of the Powers themselves who are most interested that it ought to be decided. For that purpose the Conference met in London. Its proceedings have been distributed to Parliament; the Convention has been in the hands of hon. Members for a long time, and the Bill which I now ask leave to introduce is to enable Her Majesty's Government to give effect to its decisions. The Bill itself is an extremely short and simple measure. It consists only of four clauses, and the whole gist is contained in the first clause. The first clause is simply to enable Her Majesty to give effect by an Order in Council to the decision of the majority of the Powers under the Sugar Convention, prohibiting the importation of bounty-fed sugar, except in transit. But that can only be done after the fact that bounties have been given is established by the decision of the majority of the signatory Powers. While prohibition is in force, sugar coming from any country dealt with in the Order will come under the Customs Act like false coin, pirated books, spuriously marked goods, and other articles of the same sort. The clause further provides for a certificate of origin. Clause 2 simply gives Her Majesty power to make any further Orders in Council for the purposes of the Act, or to revoke or vary them. Clause 3 is one of definition, and Clause 4 is the title of the Bill. The measure is therefore an extremely simple one, and I am bound to say that the Prohibitory Clause is based on a clause in the Merchandize Marks Act, which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sheffield was foremost in supporting. Much of the credit of that clause is due to the right hon. Gentleman, and the clause in the present Bill is nearly a copy of it. I suppose hon. Gentlemen opposite think that although they agreed to prohibit falsely marked goods sold as English goods to the detriment of our English employers and employed, we are 310 not justified in any way by parity of reasoning in prohibiting sugar which, coming into this country with an illegitimate. spurious profit, competes so unfairly with our own trade that it has the same effect on our trade as the introduction of goods spuriously marked contrary to the Merchandize Marks Act. If there is a distinction in principle between the two cases, I am at a loss to see it. The Merchandize Marks Act was passed for the purpose of protecting native industry against unfair attack, and the unfair competition of foreign industry.
§ *BARON H. DE WORMS
Yes; but it was also for the protection of the public, and, at the same time, for the protection of our manufacturers and our workmen. If a firm at Solingen can send over to Sheffield a large consignment of scissors and knives marked with the name of an English maker in this country, and can sell them at considerably lower price than they could be manufactured for in Sheffield, by what sort of logic can it be said that the purchaser alone is the person who suffers from that practice? The first persons to suffer by it are the manufacturers and the workmen. I should like the right hon. Member for Sheffield to go down to that town and deny this. Another case in point is in regard to watches sent to this country and sold in cases bearing the English hall mark, which led people to believe that they were of English manufacture. Those watches were sold at a lower price than English watches. But they are now prohibited under the Merchandise Marks Act; and the result is that our manufacturers, as well as the purchasers, are not now defrauded, our workmen engaged in the watch trade have recovered their employment, and an English industry which was nearly extinct has now revived to an enormous extent. We are, therefore, to be congratulated on the good working of the Merchandize Marks Act, which can never be enforced except by prohibitory clauses. That is not only my view, but the view of the great mass of the trade unions of this country. I hold in my hand a resolution from a large number 311 of trade unions, representing 423,883 working men, which runs as follows:—That this meeting expresses its gratification that the delegates assembled at the International Conference on Sugar Bounties have unanimously signed the Protocol excluding from their respective markets all bounty-fed sugar; and this meeting, remembering that total prohibition has been found effective in the Merchandize Marks Act, hereby urges the Government to retain the prohibitive clause in such Convention,That is an expression of opinion of those who represent the working classes of this country and are far more able to judge of their wants than even the right hon. Member for Sheffield. I think that, at all events, I have shown in this clause, which I have summarized to the House, that the Government have merely followed the example of another measure, which has been found to work particularly well. But the whole bounty system is fraught with such terrible evil to our trade that I am amazed that those who have the interests of our working classes at heart do not realize the danger in which the country is placed. The bounty system, so far from diminishing, is increasing; creeping up insidiously like a dangerous parasite, it bids fair to sap the vitals of our commerce. The question is one which ought to be treated dispassionately and without Party spirit, and I think the facts I shall give to the House will prove that I am not understating the ease when I say that the bounty system is a source of very great danger to our trade. Bounties are at the present moment largely given on shipping, as well as on sugar. In France bounties are given on the construction of vessels varying from 10f. to 60f. per ton gross. In Italy similar shipping bounties are given varying from 15f. to 60f. Boiler and machine allowances are also given. France grants at present 1f. 15c. per ton in -respect of iron vessels per 1,000 miles, and wooden vessels 1f. per ton per 1,000 miles. Italy grants bounties on navigation at the rate of 65c. per net ton per 1,000 miles. But this is not all. Hon. Members are perhaps not aware that the differences which have arisen and which still exist between this country and France with respect to the Newfoundland fisheries are caused mainly by the bounty system. The following bounties are given. Bounties are given on equipment of fishing boats; 312 50f. per man engaged in fishing and curing fish; 30f. per man engaged in fishing without curing, given once each fishing season. Bounties on the catch are given of 12f. to 20f. per 100 kilos. on exportation of fish to French Colonies or other countries. The total bounty is estimated to equal 50 per cent of the catch of the Newfoundland fleet. Under such a system it is impossible for the poor Newfoundland fishermen to compete who have, unaided, to earn their living. And what is true of bounties on fish is equally true of bounties on sugar. These bounties are creeping up, and I venture to predict—I hope I may be wrong, but I am afraid I shall not be —that the time will come when bounties will be given for far other and different things than raw material. The enormous surplus which America now possesses might, if they chose to use it in that way, be given to bounties on manufactures. Her machinery is equal to ours, and she might give bounties on the manufacture of her own cotton goods with the advantage that she also produces the raw material. If besides imposing protective duties America were to subsidize the industries which compete with ours, the trade of Manchester and others of our Lancashire manufacturing towns might be absolutely destroyed. It is all very well for hon. Members to treat this question of bounties lightly. I should like to know what they would say if to-morrow the bounties which are given on sugar were given on textile manufactures, on woollen goods and hosiery? I should like to know what would be the action of hon. Members who sit for Lancashire constituencies, and for places like Nottingham and Leicester where textile goods are made, if we were to learn that bounties were to be given on these goods? Would they get up and say, "By these bounties you cheapen goods and enable British workmen to buy them cheaper?" No, you would have destroyed the British industry and the British working man would not have the money to buy the goods with. He would have no occupation, and we should have conceded to the advantage of the foreigners that which brought ruin to our own countrymen. The argument which has been used against the abolition of these bounties appears to be a 313 very taking one, but it is specious, and only requires to be examined in the strong light of common sense for the fallacy to appear. It is said that if we do away with bounties we shall raise the price of sugar, and that all the old women of the country will be unable to obtain it cheaply for use in their tea and coffee. That may do very well for a hustings statement, but it will not bear the test of investigation. Who, knowing anything of the principles of Free Trade, will venture to assert that the opening out of an enormous field of production renders the article produced dearer? Yet that is the principle which hon. Members are supporting. A field of production infinitely larger than that of the Continent is being opened in our Colonies. Australia alone could produce far more sugar than the Continent is now sending, and yet it is said that by opening up that vast field of production we shall enhance the price of sugar. I never heard a more ridiculous argument than that. The people are told that the bounties given by Foreign Powers find their way into the pockets of the consumers—that the £9,000,000 of bounties given on sugar go into the pockets of the British consumer. A more absurd statement was never made. The whole value of the sugar imported into this country is only £18,000,000, and does anyone imagine that we receive half of that amount? The whole thing is preposterous. Those who will take the trouble to investigate will find that nine millions do not represent the export bounty, but include the loss to the Revenue of the bounty-giving country, the result of the difference between the actual and the legal yield of the beet on which the Excise duty is payable. The bounties are given for the promotion of the sugar industry, and are, therefore, equivalent to a protective duty in a new country. The reason why our producers cannot compete is not on account of the low price to which an article is necessarily reduced, but because they know that a portion of a 20 or 30 per cent bounty may when their trade is again prosperous and competing be sacrificed by the foreigner to undersell and ruin them. It is like the case of a trader competing with a rival who has unlimited capital 314 behind him. There is a legitimate profit on sugar which our sugar refiners can always obtain, if not unfairly handicapped, and the abolition of these bounties will have the effect of making the foreign refiners sacrifice their illegitimate profits. But it is said that when bounties are abolished sugar will rise in price. Why should it? Does anybody imagine that the sugar growing countries will cease to send sugar to this country, or discontinue its manufacture? Is it probable or possible that seven of the great sugar - producing bounty-giving countries would sign a Convention which meant the death knoll of their business? The fact is, that the great sugar refiners of the Continent will have to sacrifice a spurious profit, and content themselves with the legitimate profit of their business. If the same quantity of sugar were still imported into England as now, I fail to see by what process of reasoning hon. Gentlemen can imagine that sugar would become dearer. I venture to think that when the Convention comes into force sugar will be cheaper instead of dearer. [Opposition ironical cheers.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite cheer ironically, but I will ask them one question. Have they noticed that at this moment the price of sugar is immensely higher than it has been for many years? If, then, we have not cheap sugar when the bounty system is in force, why should we have dearer sugar when it is not in force? The European beet sugar crop for 1888–89, amounting according to the most recent advices to 2,725,000 tons, was the largest on record with the exception of the crop of 1886–87, when it amounted to 2,733,946 tons. Notwithstanding this enormous crop, the price of raw beet sugar was to-day 18s. 1½d. per cwt., whereas on the 1st of February it was quoted only 13s.6d.per cwt., showing a rise of 4S.7½d. per cwt., or £4 12s.6d. per ton, in nine weeks. There is a probability of a further rise in the price. [Ironical cheers.] I suppose hon. Gentlemen oppositemean that cheer in anticipation of the Convention which is to come into force in three years. Well, during the summer months there will be an actual scarcity of sugar, and what are known as famine prices may have to be paid. The imme- 315 diate cause for this great rise in the price of sugar is attributable to the great falling off in the imports of cane sugar, which for the first three months of 1889, compared with the first three months of 1888, showed the remarkable diminution of 98,835 tons into the United Kingdom alone. [An hon. MEMBER: Who is your authority?] My authority is one of the first brokers in sugar in the City of London, and the statistics which I give I shall be able to verify. I wish hon. Members to consider this fact—that the sugar which is grown on the Continent is grown all within the same climatic zone, and is therefore amenable to the same climatic influence, so that if the beetroot crop fails, as it has failed before now, the price of sugar must be enormously enhanced. But there is another reason. I remember a short time ago my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House was asked whether the Government would do all in their power to prevent what was termed the illegal combination of syndicates. I want to know whether, if you give a monopoly to a certain number of foreign countries, you do not establish the very worst form of syndicate possible? You give them the power to "corner" sugar to any extent, and I have little reason to doubt that a great deal in connection with the high price of sugar at this moment is due to the fact that higher prices are anticipated by speculators. Does it never occur to hon. Gentlemen that it is within the range of possibility that some day or other there may be a European war, and that when that war occurs, by the process of conscription the cultivation of these vast beetroot fields will cease, the ploughshare will again be converted into the sword, and the manufacture of sugar and the import of it into this country may cease, or be immensely diminished, and if we close by our own action or neglect to open our own fields and to develop our own industry and that of our Colonies we shall be wilfully exposing ourselves to a dangerous rise in sugar, which cannot arise if those fields are open? Now, beetroot, which gained at the expense of cane sugar, in the imports into the United Kingdom, gained rather more in proportion than cane sugar in the five years end- 316 ing 1882–83, and has gained still more largely in the subsequent five years. The imports of raw cane sugar from British Possessions has diminished in the ten years from nearly 5½ million hundredweight to about 3¼ million hundredweight, or a diminution of 2¼ million hundredweight, the greater part in the last five years. Sugar from beet countries, on the other hand, has more than doubled in amount in the ten years, the increase being from 6,450,000 cwt. raw and refined together in 1877–78 to 13,455,000 cwt. in 1886–88. There is a notable difference, moreover, in the apportionment of this increase in the two quinquennial periods. Between 1878 and 1882 the increase of the imports from beet countries was of raw sugar, the imports of refined rather diminishing. Since 1882 the increase of the imports has only been to a small extent in raw sugar, and the increase of refined in the same period has been over 4,000,000 cwt., or as much as the total imports of refined from beet countries five years ago. In the last five years the imports from British Possessions have greatly diminished, from nearly 5,000,000 cwt. in 1882 to just over 3,000,000 cwt.; and the proportion, which has steadily fallen from 65 per cent. in 1853–55 to 23 per cent in 1880–82, has since further fallen to 13.7 per cent only. I think these figures show pretty conclusively what the effect of the bounties has been upon our sugar cane industry. I trust that when this question comes to be considered calmly, without any party spirit, those who now oppose it will come to the conclusion that the abolition of bounties, advocated for more than a quarter of a century, shall at last be carried out. This is not a new policy; it is a continuous policy, and I will remind hon. Gentlemen that this market will always remain the great sugar market, for the reason that we have no fiscal duties upon sugar. Those duties were abolished by a Conservative Government in 1874. What 1. ask the House to do is to re-open the old sources of supply, to develop new ones of our own, bringing wealth and prosperity to our own shores. Let us give work to the industrious and find work for the unemployed. It is extremely difficult to find work for 317 the unemployed, and, therefore, we should be all the more chary of destroying an industry which employs 51,000 men. The figures were given in a Blue Book 10 years ago, and they have never been refuted. [Cries of "Oh!"] Hon. Gentlemen say "Oh!" but I ask them to say by whom and when they have been refuted? [An HON. MEMBER: The Board of Trade.] The Board of Trade simply stated that the number immediately employed in the sugar industry amounted to 4,000 or 5,000 persons. [Ironical cheers.] Hon. Members who cheer show they are utterly ignorant on the subject. It is not alone the sugar refiners. There are those who make the machinery, those who make the boilers, the men employed at the docks, those who make the bags, the casks, and thousands of others. With the sugar industry is intertwined a vast network of industry, and if one portion be destroyed the whole fabric falls. I believe the working men themselves and their Representatives have come to the conclusion that the sugar bounties are disastrous to British industry, and that the great voice of the country will support the Government in an honest and proper endeavour to put a stop to a system which is detrimental to our industry, destructive of the progress of our Colonies, and which is against the best principles alike of political economy, Free Trade, and common sense. I beg to move for leave to bring in the Bill.
§ *MR. PICTON (Liecester)
The right hon. Gentleman has well said in the course of his speech that this is a subject that ought not to be treated lightly, and he has given very good reasons, indeed, why it should not be treated lightly. He has told us that the system of bounties which he has been considering is not confined to the production of sugar, but that there exist bounties on shipping, machinery, and even on fish. What does this imply? If the Government are obliged to use such violent means as are now proposed in order to put down bounties on sugar, the House will next be invited to put down bounties on shipping, machinery, and fish by the same system; and, therefore, the prospect of a commercial war is opened up, which even the right hon. Gentleman 318 will surely acknowledge is wholly opposed to, and absolutely inconsistent with, the great principles of Free Trade laid down by Mr. Cobden. If the right hon. Gentleman wished to make out his case, or to convince the House, he should have proved, what certainly he has not proved, that our industries have been injured by these bounties. Let me allude to the last few sentences of his speech. He says 50,000 persons have been thrown out of employment in connection with the sugar refineries in consequence of bounties. In 1884 there were 5,200 persons engaged in the sugar industry, and this number has since fallen to between 4,000 and 5,000. But it is said that the House ought not to consider those persons only, but the sack-makers, the machinery workers, and also, I suppose, those who made their boots and shoes, their jackets and hats, tables and chairs, and those who brewed their beer as well. There is an obvious fallacy in an argument of this kind, because if machinery is not made for one purpose it is made for another. It is well known to anybody who studies the Board of Trade monthly Returns that our machinery exports are larger than ever they have been before. Then as to the cooper industry. The Return of last year shows that the practice of packing sugar in barrels is dying out, and that sacks are being substituted. The whole of that argument, therefore, falls to the ground. But even if it did not, if we admit the claims of those engaged in the sugar industry, there is something else to be said. In the correspondence of Mr. George Mathieson, of Hackney Wick Works, it is shown how the confectionery industry, which had been enormously stimulated by the cheapness of sugar, employs at least 75,000 persons in this country. They are employed because the confectionery industry has been largely driven to our shores by the great amount of cheap sugar to be obtained here; and yet, in face of facts like these, the right hon. Gentleman opposite speaks of boycotting British industry. But he says I do not want to make sugar dear—I want to cheapen it, by enlarging the field of supply. But how does he mean to accomplish this? By cutting off the largest and richest fields 319 whence we get sugar. The six Powers who have, to a certain extent, agreed with him, have only done so on conditions. France has not joined him. Austria has joined conditionally, and so has Belgium; the only Powers who have joined unconditionally are Russia and Germany.
§ *BARON H. DE WORMS
I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon—the Powers who have signed the Convention unconditionally are Russia, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Holland. As regards Belgium and Austria, the single and only condition is that, if in 1891 all the Powers have not joined, they claim the right to reconsider their position.
§ *MR. PICTON
They join on condition. I was wrong in limiting the Powers to two. If you exclude, as you must, Brazil, and France, as you may have to do, and the United States, some of the largest and richest fields for the production of sugar in the world will be cut off. It is absolutely impossible by any law to compel mankind to use a particular kind of sugar against their wishes, and beet sugar is competing with cane sugar in all the markets of the world. The sugar industry in the British Colonies is not being ruined thereby; there is more sugar than ever produced in them, al. though it goes in increasing quantities to America. The West Indies and British Guiana produced in 1872 166,000 tons, and in 1886 226,000 tons; other Possessions produced in 1872 33,000 tons, and in 1886 210,000 tons. The hon. Gentleman has given no more basis in facts relating to the Colonies than in facts relating to our Home labour for his demand to deprive our own people of cheap sugar. By narrowing the field of our supply we might double or treble the price of sugar. The £9,000,000 of bounties wore given to enable the sugar makers to spread their sugar abroad as widely as possible by selling it at as low a price as possible; and this large amount must have gone into the pockets of the consumers. The House is asked to ignore one of the most important principles of Free Trade, which is that the consumer is the first who ought to be considered, because the consumers exceed the producers a thousand times. It is this that has given us cheap bread and comparatively cheap tea and coffee; 320 and I should like the principle to be carried very much farther in regard to articles of consumption. It is this which has enabled our poor people to have house comforts which were utterly unknown to their fathers. But it is not true that the benefit of the principle stays with consumers, for, on the contrary, all the consumers are buyers, and the better they are off, and the more they save in one direction, the more they have to spend in others. Therefore, the nation that first considers the interests of the consumer will always have the largest number of buyers, and will always, by the healthiest process, stimulate all its honest industries. But this is a case in which we are on a wildgoose chase after an impossibility—for it is an impossibility to fight against the obvious tendency of events. I cannot but most profoundly regret that we are invited to enter on a mischievous course of this kind. Of course, I do not rise now to deal with the subject at all exhaustively or at any length, but only to make an earnest protest on behalf of the toiling millions of this country who are consumers, and whose interests, as consumers, ought first to be considered. The most sensible amongst these are on our side; and I know that all these resolutions quoted. have been produced by a mode of agitation which is familiar to some capitalists, and to some officials who have either the interests of a particular trade or the interests of a party to serve. I should like to know very much where the money has come from which has been so lavishly spent in stimulating this agitation? I know that Trades Unions honourably pay the expenses of their delegates to Meetings, Convocations, Congresses, or whatever it may be, and they are justified in refusing to have delegates attending these Congresses whose expenses are not paid by the bodies sending them. But it is known that, as to many of these reported meetings, the Trade Unions have not been called together, and, in one case, a delegate, whose expenses were duly paid by his own committee, came back with half-a-sovereign, which had been paid him at the meeting from some unknown source, and the return of which by him was duly entered in the cash account of the Union. I want to know 321 where the money has come from in this case? The money has been spent to enlarge the profits of a few, and this has been done at the expense of the industrial classes of this country. On these grounds I earnestly protest against the introduction of this Bill, and will do what I can to oppose it at every stage.
§ *MR. BURT (Morpeth)
I am an avowed Party man, but I hope there may be questions that can be discussed without an appeal to party passion, and I am rather sorry that no small amount of Party feeling has been already infused into this discussion. Well, I hope, Sir, that we shall avoid imputing motives and making attacks upon those—whether they are Trades Unionists or others—who may have been associated with this movement. On this side of the House and in this quarter of the House we have had a great many inquiries as to where the money has come from in connection with another agitation, and the production of a balance sheet has often been demanded. Now, I do not intend to go into the matters which my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester referred to in the concluding part of his speech. I desire, however, to express my opinion that a prima facie case has been made out for the introduction of this Bill. I intend to support the First Reading, at any rate, reserving to myself the liberty of voting for any modification of the measure after having heard all the arguments. On the present occasion I should not have risen at all had it not been for the references which have been made to the Trade Unionists. I do not arrogate to myself the right to speak for them—I never have done so in this House; I stand forward now, as I have always done, on my responsibility as a Member of this House, and advocate views which I believe to be sound. But the Trades Unions for a great number of years past have passed resolutions against these bounties. So far back as the Trades Union Congress of 1881 a resolution was passed condemnatory of the bounties, and at the last Trades Union Congress, after the Congress itself concluded, nearly the whole of the delegates remained in the same room and passed a resolution condemning bounties. There have also been 322 conferences in London on the subject, and an explicit and definite declaration has, as the Under Secretary for the Colonies has pointed out, emanated from Trades Unions consisting of no fewer than 423,883 members, in favour of the prohibitory clause in the International Sugar Convention. Surely these men would be the last to disregard or to betray the interests of the working classes of the country, They ought to know, and I believe they do know what are the views of the working men. Well, I do not adduce this as an argument to prove, nor do I at all wish to imply, that these men are infallible. They may be mistaken. We are all liable to mistakes, but I should be very sorry if it should be supposed for a moment that they have been influenced in the course that they have taken by the unworthy motives that have already, I am sorry to say, been suggested.
§ *MR. PICTON
I suppose that my hon. Friend refers to me. Certainly, I did not impute any dishonourable motives whatever to the members of the Trade Unions. I asked where the money came from, and if any dishonourable motives were imputed they were imputed to very different people.
§ *MR. BURT
I, of course, at once accept the disavowal of my hon. Friend. I believe he would be the last man to be consciously unfair, or to attribute to anybody motives of that kind. It is with great regret I find myself temporarily dissociated from those Members with whom I usually act, especially those who are regarded as labour representatives. We do not all take the same view on this question. My hon. Friend the Member for the Wansbeck Division (Mr. Fenwick) is called away by a family bereavement, but he was prepared to vote and speak in support of this proposal. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Abraham) agrees with us. Others take the opposite view. The hon. Member for Leicester has described the Bill as an assault upon Free Trade. I am a convinced Free Trader myself, believing in monopoly or special privileges for no one. But, according to my ideas, Free Trade means that there should be no advantage given to, or any disadvantage imposed upon, one producer rather than another. 323 If that is a fair definition of Free Trade, then bounties are quite as much in opposition to it as tariffs, and are more objectionable, inasmuch as they constitute aggressive Protection, while tariffs are defensive Protection. A country imposes tariffs for the sake of giving employment to its own workmen in regard to articles consumed within its own borders. Bounties are imposed to injure the trade, or by unfair means to obtain the trade, of another country. What did Cobden regard as the primary aim of Free Trade? He said—We do not ask for free trade in corn primarily for the purpose of purchasing it at a cheap money rate; we require it at the natural rate of the world's market. Whether it becomes dearer or cheaper it matters not to us, provided that the people of this country have it at its natural price.We want sugar at a natural price, and because bounties create an unnatural price we wish to abolish them. The hon. Baronet the Member for Cockermouth introduces me in his jocose way to his friends as the man who wants dear sugar. I do not at all want dear sugar, but I do want honest sugar. It has been argued that the abolition of the bounties would increase the price of sugar; but Sir T. Farrer, an authority on the subject, has declared more than once that he has doubts as to whether bounties cheapen sugar, or whether their abolition would increase the price. I am opposed to the bounties because I believe them to be unjust. I cannot myself dissociate trade from morality; and it is because this dissociation so often takes place that so many of our industrial and commercial evils from "shoddy" to sweating arise. The question is asked, What will come next? Where will this action stop? That is a Tory rather than a Radical question, and one that was often asked in connection with proposals to extend the franchise. The true Radical doctrine is to deal with every question as it arises; to examine it on its merits without fear of what may follow; and not to be afraid to do what we believe to be right to-day, because we may be asked to do what is wrong to-morrow.
§ *SIR G. BADEN-POWELL (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
I rise to make an appeal to the House. We have had most interesting speeches, but the time at our disposal is brief—only 20 minutes before 324 discussion closes. This is a question of great importance. We are all, without exception, Free Traders. [" No, no ! "] Well, all, with one exception, but no one is a Free Trader without exceptions. The subject before us will require to be discussed very fully, but what is most necessary is time. The right time to discuss the Bill is on the Second Reading; and, therefore, I hope the House will at once pass the First Reading.
§ MR. ILLINGWORTH (Bradford, W.)
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down takes a good deal for granted. It seems to me the question of Free Trade is scarcely understood in some quarters of the House. For my own part, I do not think it possible to allow the First Reading of this Bill to pass unopposed, seeing that it is an upsetting of the policy which has prevailed in this country for the last 40 years. The right hon. Gentleman says bounties are a resultant of the principle of Free Trade. I agree with him, and it is because the right hon. Gentleman has made that admission that I see the immense danger that lurks under this proposal. This proposal is as much a violation of the principle of Free Trade as the Protective system. If the small number of persons engaged in the sugar trade are to be protected, why are all our other industries, which are at least as much affected by the violation of Free Trade principles, to be left without protection? In the woollen, trade of Lancashire and Yorkshire are 150,000 to 200,000 persons affected by the Protective system in all parts of the Continent. Bounties are not the form of Protection from which we suffer most, and there is an enormous compensation in the artificial cheapening of sugar. The right hon. Gentleman is bound to found his case on facts and figures, but he indulged in generalities. He referred to Resolutions passed in the House, and, it was only towards the close of his case,. and then only in the loosest way, that he quoted figures.
§ MR. ILLINGWORTH
The right hon. Gentleman should have informed the House how much of the £9,000,000. was paid on exported sugar, and how much of that exported sugar came to 325 England. In reality, the principal share of the £9,000,000—nearly the whole of it—was given to make sugar consumed in this country artificially cheap. We certainly can tolerate the bounty system much longer than the countries which give the bounties; they are impoverishing themselves, and we may be sure the people of the Continent will not tolerate it much longer. I want to see the bounty system and all other protective systems abandoned; but I do not want to deal with this system and leave the others alone. I shall appeal to the working classes and tradesmen—certainly to those of them in my own constituency—with absolute confidence upon this question. If I knew I should forfeit the confidence of the Trades Unionists and lose my seat in the House in consequence, no vote of mine should ever be given in favour of retaliation, knowing as I do the great advantages we derive from Free Trade.
§ *SIR L. PLAYFAIR (Leeds, South)
I will not imitate the example of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill by making a Second Reading speech. I am, however, very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making that speech, for he has thrown down the gauntlet in the most complete way; he told the House that the Government are going to enter on a large policy of general prohibition.
§ *BARON H. DE WORMS
I never said anything of the sort, and there is not a single phrase in my speech which can convey that idea.
§ *SIR L. PLAYFAIR
The right hon. Gentleman said that this is not a question confined to sugar, and he quoted figures to show that France gives bounties on shipping, as well as fisheries, and said it is impossible that foreign countries can be allowed to injure the working classes of this country in this way. Surely, that is equivalent to saying that the Government are going to enter on a large policy of general prohibition. I see the Chancellor of the Exchequer shakes his head; but that is the logic of the speech. However, I am only going to say that as the right hon. Gentleman has given no facts to show that the restriction on importation and the abolition of bounties are not likely to render dearer an article which is now second only to the bread 326 of the people, it will be necessary to traverse the whole policy of the Convention on the Second Reading of that Bill. I hope the Government will give ample time and notice before the Second Reading comes on. The Bill is exciting great interest both in the House and outside, and I shall, therefore, put on the Paper at once, so that its form may be known, the Resolution I intend to move on the Second Reading.
§ *MR. W. H. SMITH
I have only to say, in answer to the right hon. Gentleman, that ample notice will be given. The Government fully recognize the claim of hon. Gentlemen who oppose the Bill, which is an important Bill, to have ample time for its consideration; but I trust the right hon. Gentleman will accept my assurance that this Bill has no reference to, and does not involve the consideration of, any other question whatever, but deals solely and simply with the question of sugar bounties. I trust, therefore, that the Bill will now be allowed to be introduced. The Second Reading will be fixed for May 16, by way of intimation that sufficient time will be allowed, and before that date the Government will fix a day on which they will propose to proceed with the Second Reading.
§ Question put, and agreed to.