§ Most Gracious Sovereign,
§ We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal Subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the Most Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—(Mr. Lambert.)
And which Amendment was
At the end of the Question to add the words,—"But this House humbly expresses its regret that no measures are announced by Your Majesty for the present relief of those who are affected by the existing wide-spread depression in Agriculture, either by means of readjustment of local burdens or otherwise."—(Mr. Wharton.)
§ Question again proposed, "That those, words be there added."
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
When my speech was interrupted last night I was endeavouring to describe the condition of agriculture in Ulster. I believe that the condition prevalent in Ulster exists throughout the whole of Ireland; but inasmuch as I am not familiar with the South and West of Ireland, I prefer in my observations to confine myself solely to the Province where I know the facts. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, in the course of the Debate the other day, stated that rents were never better paid. I do not know whether he meant that statement to apply to the whole of Ireland, or to any specific part of it. But upon that remark I have two observations to make, and the first is this: that if, in the midst of depression such as we are passing through now, the rents in Ireland were never better paid, I want to know what can be said for the non-payment of rent in other years when no such depression existed, and when too many hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House practically encouraged the non-payment of rent? But, Mr. Speaker, I should like to tell the right hon. Gentleman that if rents are paid now they are not paid out of the profits of the soil. It is not economic rent at all this year. What are the facts in Ulster? There are two great rent producers in that Province. Rent is paid in Ulster mainly by the sale of cattle, and by the sale of flax. Without these two things rent cannot be 693 paid. For the last nine or ten months not only have the prices of cattle been low hut certain kinds of cattle are practically unsaleable. I have been in fair after fair; I have seen the cattle taken to the fairs, I have seen them taken away. It was perfectly impossible to sell them, and, as a matter of fact, all over my own constituency the rent is walking about on four legs in the field. Now, Sir, as regards flax the situation is even worse. It is only grown in Ulster, and at the best of times is a very hazardous crop. But, as a matter of fact, the flax crop this year in the Province of Ulster has not paid for the seed. I state these facts from my own personal knowledge, and what I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman is this: If his statement is accurate—and I am sure it is made on good authority—that rents were never better paid in Ireland than this year, then my answer is twofold: They ought to have been paid in years when there was no depression; there ought never to have been any Plan of Campaign, and that if they are paid this year they have not been paid out of the produce of the land, but the little reserve of the small farmer has been broken in upon in order to pay the rent. I twitted the Government last night with not following the precedent set by their predecessors in this matter. There was a time at the beginning of the last Parliament when Ireland was affected by a fall in prices. The right hon. Gentleman knows what took place. The late Mr. Parnell introduced a Tenants Relief Bill. He asked for facilities from the noble Lord the Member for Paddington, who was then Leader of the House, for that Bill. Those facilities were granted, and a long discussion took place. The right hon. Gentleman may tell me that one of our main objections to that Bill was that an inquiry was proceeding, that the Cowper Commission had been issued, and therefore that the Government of that day and their supporters took exactly the same ground that the Government take to-day—that a Commission had been appointed to inquire, and nothing could be done until that inquiry had been completed. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman means to take that position or not, but I know how he and his friends ridiculed the position taken up by the 694 late Government. They ridiculed the idea of any kind of Commission or Inquiry being necessary. What was the Commission of that day appointed for? Not to inquire into the cause of the agricultural depression or the fall in prices. It was appointed for the purpose of inquiring into the fact whether it had taken place or not. The Government, at all events, legislated upon the matter, and what I have to point out is that the right hon. Gentleman and his friends then were very angry that the Government did not take immediate action in reducing the judicial rents. The fall in the price of agricultural produce in Ireland is far greater now than it was then, and though the right hon. Gentleman was anxious for action to be taken in 1886, he comes down to the House now, in face of a greater fall and a deeper depression, and absolutely declines to take any notice of that depression, and refuses to take airy, legislative action in relation to it, although he has the precedent of his predecessors and the requests of Members sitting in every part of the House from Ireland. All I have to say its relation to it is this: I perfectly understand the reason of this; I am not sure whether the farmers in Ireland will understand it. Politicians here know well why the Government Will not move; Irish farmers may not know, but it may be sufficient for them to know that after sending candidates into Ulster to promise everything to the farmers, the first opportunity the right hon. Gentleman has he refuses the reasonable request which his predecessors granted. We have heard a good many remedies proposed for the agricultural depression during this Debate, and first we have heard of the remedy of bi-metallism. We have had some very important speeches in this and the last Parliament on bi-metallism. I remember listening fur two hours to the Member for Sleaford (Mr. Chaplin) speaking on bi-metallism. I also had the pleasure, of listening for nearly two hours to the hon. Member for Flint (Mr. S. Smith) upon the same subject, and I am going to make the candid confession that after listening to both of these gentlemen I knew no more of bi-metallism from their speeches than I did before they commenced. I think there is something in it, but I should like to say this: Would they be good enough to issue 695 a small leaflet, entitled, Easy Lessons in Bi-metallism for Beginners. They may circulate them extensively among the House of Commons, or if the Members of the House of Commons are not prepared to deal with bi-metallism on its merits, how do they imagine public audiences are going to understand or act upon what even bits House does not profess to understand? We shall have to look probably in another direction for a remedy. I lately received a letter from a farmers' conference in Chester, asking me to support a Bill for the relief of English Agriculture, and they suggested Land Courts, fixity of tenure, fair rents, and free sale. Well, my distinct impression was that their salvation did not lie that road. We have all these things in Ireland. We have Land Courts, we have fixity of tenure, and we have what are called fair rents—I do not now enter into the question of whether they are fair rents or not. We have got what are called fair rents, and the tenant has legislative security for his interest in the soil, and the fact of the matter is this—the one thing the tenant farmers of Ulster are anxious about now is this: To get rid of all this machinery, to get back to single ownership, to get away from this dual ownership, that has produced so much confusion and bad feeling between landlord and tenant. There has been talk about lessening the burden upon the landlord and tenant in regard to local taxation. I do not enter into that question, which is one that affects England more than Ireland. This is all I have to say in this Debate. I do not know whether the Member for North Loath (Mr. T. M. Healy) regards my intervention in this Debate as a piece of obstruction. If it be, the tenant farmers of Ireland will hear with interest that the hon. Member considers a Debate on Irish agriculture at the present time an obstruction of Parliament. What I have to say about Irish agriculture is this: You may have remedies in England, but the remedy in Ireland is perfectly plain. What is the position there? You have the labourer almost as poor, almost as wretched as he was 20 years ago; a little better paid and a little better housed, but still in a state that nobody can think satisfactory. You have raised the standard of comfort for the tenant, raised it as the result of legisla- 696 tion. Then you have the landlord, and he is infinitely in a worse position than ever he was. He is surrounded and enveloped with charges of all kinds. He is bound by these charges. I do not blame the landlords of Irelands for standing by the judicial rents. I think they are entitled to fight for what they consider to be their rights in this matter. They have lost a good deal. The landlord now is choked with charges of all kinds, and his position is even worse than that of the tenant farmer. I admit that frankly; but the lesson I draw from it all is this—the land can no longer pay three profits. It will not keep the labourer, the tenant, and the landlord. The three cannot possibly continue to pull at the land; it will not support them. One of them must go, and I have never wavered in my belief since I entered the House that the landlord ought to be got out of Ireland, but on perfectly honest and fair terms for him. That is my solution of the agricultural difficulty in Ireland; I believe it will remedy it, and it is because I wish to see it remedied that I have interposed in this Debate.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
I had no intention of taking any part in the Debate, and I should most certainly not have troubled the House had it not been for the extraordinary incursion which the hon. Member, just returned from Canada, had made into the discussion. The hon. Member has become inflamed with an extraordinary zeal on behalf of the Irish tenants—a zeal which was not to be observed as long as the Conservative Party were in power in Ireland.
§ *MR. T. W. RUSSELL
I beg to say that when the Conservative Party were in power I urged upon the Government of the day a reduction of judicial rents, and I voted for it, and supported it all through.
§ MR. DILLON
In a few moments I shall be able to show the amount of truth and sincerity that lies in that statement. There is an observation which has just fallen from the hon. Member, and which I think must prove somewhat interesting and amusing to the House, or to those Members of the House who may have noticed some fragments of his orations in Canada, which were considered worthy of being sent across to this country. He has just drawn a most appalling and frightful picture of the 697 condition of the Irish tenants and their discontent with the present Land Laws of that country. He has told us that these Land Laws have brought about nothing but confusion, heartburning, and disorder in Ireland, and he has informed this House that the one object and anxiety of the Irish tenant is to sweep away the entire machinery of the Land Laws of that country. Is the hon. Member's memory so short that—unless the cable lied, and I admit it often does, particularly when dealing with Irishmatter—within a few weeks after declaring to the people of Canada that there was no country in the world where the Land Laws were so perfect as in Ireland—
§ *MR. F. W. RUSSELL
I made that statement in the House last night. I still say that, so far as legal privilege is concerned, the Irish farmer is in a better position than either the English or Scotch farmer. I say, in addition to that, he is anxious to get rid of even these privileges for the higher privilege of ownership.
§ MR. DILLON
Mr. Speaker, I think we have already very interesting examples of the sincerity and frankness of die hon. Member when he is addressing different constituencies, and of how the hon. Member is accustomed—as he has over and over again been convicted in this House—to suiting his language to the audience which he is addressing. I ask the hon. Member—and I challenge any of his friends in this House—does any hon. Member believe that when he told the people of Canada that the Irish tenants were in the enjoyment of the most perfect land system in the world, that they were to draw the inference that the Irish tenants were discontended with that land system
§ MR. DILLON
Did you tell the people of Canada—[Mr. T. W. RUSSELL: Yes]—that they were in the enjoyment, in fact, of abstract legal perfection and concrete legal misery and discontent? I have my own opinion as to the purpose which the hon. Member had in his mind when he made that statement to the people of Canada, and I am strengthened in that conclusion by the extraordinary difference which I have noticed between the speeches of the hon. Member in the County of Tyrone and his speeches delivered in this House.
698 The hon. Member has suddenly, since the Party to which he belongs was driven out of power and defeated at the last General Election, become most violently anxious to revise the judicial rents in Ireland. Before I deal with the previous attitude of the hon. Member on this question of the revision and reduction of rent in Ireland, I will put a simple question, and one which, it he can answer in the affirmative, will undoubtedly save the House a great deal of trouble, and I have no doubt will save the Chief Secretary for Ireland a great deal of anxiety and responsibility. My question is this: will he undertake now to prove the sincerity of his desire to bring relief to the Irish tenantry by using has influence to obtain from those with whom he is working in this House and another place support for the Bill which will be introduced in a few days, to reduce those judicial rents in Ireland?
§ *MR. T. W. RUSSELL
I shall certainly do everything, publicly and privately, in my power for that purpose.
§ MR. DILLON
We have had instances, only too fresh in out memory, of the value of such assurances from the hon. Member. When he really desires to obtain anything from the Party or the Government which he is supporting a result follows from his exertions. But it is most extraordinary that in relation to this question of reduction of rents in Ireland or of any benefit whatever to the tenant farmers of Ireland, that on several occasions he has made similar declarations to that he has just now made, and that the tenant farmers have always found that no result followed from his exertions. We lead a very singular illustration within the last few moments of the extent to which these declarations may be relied on by the farmers of Ireland when we heard the cries of dissent from his friends, allies, and confederates in the Irish representation when the statement was made that a Bill would be introduced in a few days, which has the general support of the Irish Members, for a reduction of the judicial rents. I can answer for both sections of the Nationalist Members that before very long the sincerity of the hon. Member Will be put to the test; and when the hon. Member endeavours to flatter himself that by walking into the Division Lobby his single vote will be accepted by his constituency in Ireland or by the 699 people of Ireland as a proof that he is sincere in this matter, I venture to inform him that no such action will be accepted as a proof that he is sincere unless he shows in this, as in certain other matters I can allude to, he is able to influence those with whom he acts. The hon. Member referred to the introduction of the Bill of the late Mr. Parnell in 1886, and he has stated on previous occasions in this House that he had been in favour of the reduction of the judicial rents. Allow me, Mr. Speaker, to refresh the memory of the hon. Gentleman. In the month of September, 1886, when a fall in agricultural prices in Ireland had occurred, which was rather more severe, or, at any rate, quite as severe as the present fall, a Bill was introduced by the late Mr. Parnell for a moderate reduction of the judicial rents, and what was the attitude of the Member for Tyrone?
§ MR. DILLON
If the hon. Member will possess his soul in patience, I will show it does not affect the point of my argument what the percentage was. What did the hon. Member undertake to do? He underteok—never losing an opportunity of insulting his adopted countrymen and the people who made the mistake of sending him to represent them in this House—to prove, from statistics of the consumption of whisky, that there was no depression whatever in Ireland, and that no reduction of rent was necessary, and he mocked at the distress of the farmers of Ireland by declaring that in this purely agricultural country spirits and beer had been consumed to the amount of £11,250,000. The hon. Member then thought fit to sneer in a portion of his speech at a certain movement which he is never tired of reviling, called the Plan of Campaign. I have not the slightest intention now of reviving old controversies about the Plan of Campaign; but there is one merit which the Plan of Campaign had, and which the hon. Member can never deny to it; that is, that it converted him and all his friends to see that there was necessity for the reduction of judicial rents in Ireland. And it was not a sense of justice or feeling of sympathy with the sufferings of the Irish people, but because there existed in Ireland in con- 700 sequence of their refusal to do justice an agitation with which they were unable to cope, that they found themselves compelled in 1887 to reduce the judicial rents in that country. The hon. Member is entirely mistaken in his recollection of past events when he attempts to take credit to himself and the Party with which he acts for the legislation for the reduction of rents enacted in this House in 1887. There is another passage in his speech which is most singular. What did he say in reference to the landlords in Ireland before he sat down in that memorable Debate? He said—The landlords, in my opinion, may be trusted to do justice to the tenants, or, at any rate, the great majority of them may be trusted to do so. It was their interest to recognise the gravity of the situation";and he largely based his opposition to the Bill of the late Mr. Parnell on the fact that the landlords of Ireland were to be trusted to do justice to the tenants. Why does he not trust the landlords now? Whilst the Unionist Government were in office the hon. Member thought the landlords of Ireland could be trusted, and that it was not necessary to put any coercion on them to do justice to their tenants; but the moment the Unionist Government are driven out of Office, he finds he cannot trust the landlords to do justice to their tenants, and that it is necessary to appeal to this House to reduce the judicial rents. The hon. Gentleman the Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) never addresses the House without levelling some insult at the leaders of the Liberal Party, and on this occasion—
§ MR. DILLON
And on this occasion he could not but ask them to adopt the precedent set them by their predecessors. I hope they will never follow the precedent of their predecessors. That precedent was to fight against what was asked moderately and reasonably in this House. In the case of the judicial rents, as this House is aware, they fought against a revision and then granted it when the agitation in Ireland became too strong for them. It would, therefore, be a reproach to the Liberal Party if they were to follow this evil precedent. I hope 701 they will never follow it, but that they will make up their minds what is right to be done, and will do it without having to be forced by agitation. The Member for South Tyrone has made a statement which he has often made in this House before—that we are not sufficiently anxious about the welfare of the tenant farmers, and that, therefore, we are not entitled to the confidence of our constituents. Will he go to the South and West of Ireland and preach that doctrine? Allow me to direct his attention to what he did in March last in reference to the question of compulsory sale. The hon. Member never tires of praising himself and his constituents in this House. Well, he declared that he was opposed to this policy and would vote against it; and then he went over to Ulster and the General Election, where he ate his words, in order to get the votes of the Ulster farmers, to whom—the farmers of South Tyrone—he declared he was in favour of it. Now he does not refer to it at all. And in that speech in March last he declared that he would always vote for and advocate any measure for the expropriation of landlords like Lord Clanricarde. We hear nothing about that now, and nothing about the restoration of the evicted tenants to their holdings. I believe, Sir, that the leaders of the Liberal Party will give a fair hearing to any measure that may come before them for the reasonable reduction of rents in Ireland. If the hon. Member for South Tyrone has made this speech in sincerity and not as an attack on the Government—if he is honestly pleading for the farmers of Ireland—let him help in any reform and not try to keep it back. He said that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland had not to fear the Plan of Campaign in the reduction of rents, admitting by that that the Plan of Campaign did do that. We did not stir up agitation last year in Ireland because we have in prospect that which will help us to win our liberties from the landlord party; because we are promised a measure which will relieve us from the tyranny of a plundering minority; because we are assured that system is drawing to a final close; and I am not ashamed to confess that I have counselled the suffering poor in Ireland to bear in patience now, as far as they can bear, the hope that the day of their de- 702 liverance may be, as I believe it is, nigh. That accounts for the present state of quietness in Ireland. That shows that agitation in Ireland has not been abandoned because of the Coercion Act. According as the Coercion Act was withdrawn, the country became quieter. In conclusion, I may say that, so far as there was any serious trouble or disturbances in Ireland—so far as agrarian crime was concerned—it was due to the cruel omissions made in the right hon. Gentleman the late Chief Secretary's Land Act of 1887; for while the agitation all through the winter of 1886 was on behalf of all classes of tenants, the Act only brought relief to certain classes, and I recollect myself telling the then Irish Minister that if he left out large numbers of tenants, especially those on estates who had become involved in the Plan of Campaign, that he would be laying the way for agrarian crime. What has happened since then has been due to the then Irish Secretary and to the Member for West Birmingham, who obstructed our attempt to get relief for the evicted tenants. The Member for West Birmingham would listen to no reason in the case of three or four or five thousand tenants who were left outside the benefits of the Act of 1887, and these tenants have been a source of trouble and disturbance, and will continue to be that until common justice is done to them the same as to the others.
THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. J. MORLEY)
I desire to address a very few sentences to the House with regard to the speech of the Member for South Tyrone. From the spirit in which he raised these points the House will be able to judge whether and how far he was more desirous of dealing with the question of reducing judicial rents than of simply gaining political capital for himself or the section to which he belongs. The reason that I rise is that I may be able to make myself a little more clear than I was able to do in answer to questions as to the view I take of the opinion that undoubtedly prevails in Ireland at this moment for a revision of rents. The hon. Gentleman taxes me with refusing a reasonable request. I will not say that some crisis may not exist which may render necessary a revision of judicial rents. There is a strong feeling on the subject in most 703 parts of Ireland; but the hon. Member forgets that when Mr. Parnell brought forward his Bill in 1886, he was able to point to a depression more serious than exists now, and which had been in existence for over a year and a-half. This depression has not been going on for a year and a-half. I am perfectly sure the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Balfour) will say with me, on behalf of the Irish Department, that there has been a cycle of prosperity. It was one of the causes that brought about the tranquillity that gentlemen opposite are in the habit of attributing to the Coercion Act. Not only that, but there had been a Commission of Inquiry at that time, and in consequence of that Commission most voluminous Reports were sent in. Since then the Agricultural Department of the Land Commission lets been established, and I have called for Reports from that Department, showing a return of the prices. I have not these Reports fully before me, but I have one or two Tables with regard to prices, which leads me to the belief that at the present moment, while there is every reason to admit that there might be considerable improvement in the general condition of Ireland, the condition of the country cannot he regarded as a critical one. The condition of the present values of store cattle and sheep is serious, but there is no reason to regard the depression as likely to last for any time; there is reason to regard it as owing to temporary and fluctuating causes. The hon. Gentleman says in regard to Ulster—agricultural Ulster—that the two sources of prosperity are the sale or cattle and the flax crop. The yield or the flax crop is 40 per cent below the average.
MR. J. MORLEY
Yes; allowing for that. On the other side, the sale of grass seed, which is confined to Ulster, brought, I find, 22 per cent higher price than in 1891, and almost recoups the Ulster farmer for the loss on flax. With regard to the price of cattle, I was speaking to one of the Inspectors of the Local Government Board who was recently in Mayo and Galway, and he says he never saw so much stock remaining unsold—so many unsaleable cattle, inferior cattle. It is the same, I believe, in some other parts of Ireland. Inferior 704 cattle are practically unsaleable. Sheep are given at 30 and 40 per cent depression. Coining to crops, it is not so bad. On good dry land the return is up to the average; on other lands it is below the average. Oats show a depression of 15 per cent. Barley was fairly well maintained in 1892, averaging 5d. per cwt. above the average for the previous five years. The yield of meadows was about 10 per cent below the average, but the price of hay was about 30 per cent above the average for the past five years.
§ MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that pigs have largely decreased in Ireland, even though prices may have increased?
MR. J. MORLEY
I hope I have shown—as I intended to show—gentlemen from Ireland that the Irish Government have this matter under their very careful consideration. The time may come when it may be necessary to make such proposals as have been indicated by gentlemen from Ireland, but at the present moment there is no inclination on the part of myself or my colleagues to support measures in that direction.
*MR. WALTER H.LONG (Liverpool, West Derby)
I do not rise for the purpose of following the right hon. Gentleman in the statistics he has quoted, but for the purpose of calling the attention of the House to the course which this Debate has taken. It is the identical course that only too often follows when a question of this kind is raised in the House. A number of Members opposite have been returned to the house on an agricultural platform. During the General Election they never tired of telling their constituents how much they would do if they were returned to the House; but they have not shown any great eagerness in that Debate to redeem the pledges they have given. We have no right to complain at the condition of Irish agriculture being introduced in this Debate. But Ireland has demanded and has received a great deal of the time of this House, and this Debate has been introduced with special reference to the condition of agriculture in England and Wales. We regret that the Government have found no Cabinet Minister to say a few words with 705 reference to interests so vitally affecting the situation in England and Wales either last night or to-night. We should have felt grateful, for instance, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer had given us the benefit of his agricultural experience and his views on agriculture; but, he left this task to the right hon. Gentleman who presides over the Board of Agriculture, I suppose, because it is more convenient that an expression of opinion intended to convey nothing should come front a Member of the Government who is not included in the Cabinet. What has the head of the Board of Agriculture told the House? That he is not prepared to do any thing, or to recommend anything. All he could do was to suggest a Committee of Inquiry of this house. On what grounds? Because he has, he declares, no basis to go upon. I venture to say that he has only to appeal to his right hon. Colleague, who sits next to him, to find plenty of basis upon which to proceed in reference to agricultural reform. We do not pretend that it is possible, by any Bill or any legislation, to remove the difficulties that are complained of; we do not pretend that legislation will remove agricultural distress, but we submit that something can be done; and we submit, further, that the condition of England and Wales is entitled to more attention and more sympathy than it has received from Her Majesty's Ministers in the leading paragraph in the Queen's Speech. In the course of the Debate we have heard speeches front all parts of the House. How many on that (the Government) side are agricultural Members? The gentlemen opposite never tire of boasting, of the constitution of their Party. We have had many speeches from the other side of the House—one of them front Scotland and one from a Member below the Gangway. Among the many speeches on this agricultural question in the country was one by a Member who represents a portion of my own county. He may be in the House now; but as he is an agriculturist, and this is an agricultural Debate, he probably is not. He told us that we had had six years more of a Conservative Administration, and then we had another period of agricultural depression! The only Tory remedy for this, he said, was bimetallism, i.e. the making of a good sovereign out of a 706 bad one. I confess the hon. Gentleman did not seem to me to understand what the position of bimetallism is, and I would like to call the attention of the house to the ignorance that prevails on that subject. The hon. Member for the Woodbridge Division of Suffolk has dealt with bimetallism, and we are aware that those who recommend it are Members of both Parties in the House. We have heard, in the speech which has just been delivered by the right hon. Gentleman, the careful defence he has been able to make in his capacity as Minister for Ireland. He has taken the trouble to come here charged with considerable statistics and figures, and Irish Members will have listened, no doubt, with interest to his statement, and will be grateful for the attention paid them. We are promised a Committee of Inquiry. What I want to point out to the House is this: that it is not a question for heroic reform, nor is it a question for delay. There are certain directions in which practical steps can be taken. The right hon. Gentleman the Head of the Board of Agriculture tells us there is no basis for him to proceed on. My hon. Friend, in moving his Amendment, indicated that this is a question of local taxation. It is true that relief in the matter of local taxation may not amount to a very great deal.
§ MR. LONG
But the right, hon. Gentleman is not an agriculturist, and he does not appreciate that we unfortunate agriculturists will take any help we can get, even of tile most minute character. Half a loaf is better than no bread. It may be that relief of local taxation may not come; and that the other suggestions we have made, such as practically dealing with the Railway and Canal Traffic Rates or with the preservation of the health of the cattle of the country—a matter which the right hon. Gentleman the Head of the Agricultural Department has dealt with, no doubt, in a satisfactory way so far—it may be, I say, that all these things may come to nothing in the end, but, at any rate, there is something in our proposal whereas the Government other us nothing but a Committee of Inquiry. We say, in the first place, that a Committee of Inquiry is not required. We say the facts are known. We say that the con- 707 dition of agriculture is very serious, and that whole tracts of country are going out of cultivation. What is the suggestion made by some hon. Gentlemen opposite—not in the course of this Debate, but outside the House, when there was no one to answer and tackle them Their suggestion—and I think it was made by the hon. Member who moved the Address—was to the effect that the difficulties of the farmers arise from the absence of the three F's. We are asked to believe that agricultural depression arises from the insecurity of tenure of the British farmer, and from the fact that he is unduly rented. Those suggestions are ridiculous in the eyes of practical men. They do not require answering from this side of the House. They were swept away with the contempt they deserve by the hon. Member for the Woodbridge Division. What is the use of arguments of this kind to us who know that men who own the land they cultivate and have no rent to pay and whose tenure is secure, are under the same difficulties as occupiers of land who pay rent to their landlords? One ounce of fact is worth a great deal of theory. What is the opinion of everyone in the House who is an owner of land? Will he not confirm me when I say that if land is to be sold in a neighbourhood that is contiguous to the farm of a tenant that tenant will do his best to get the landlord to buy rather than buy himself? Will he not confirm me when I say that 90 per cent of the practical farmers of this country would rather pay rents under landlords whose terms are fair and reasonable than they would be saddled with the permanent ownership of the land itself? If you (the Party opposite) believe that the solution of this difficulty is to be found in converting the tenants into landlords, then come forward with a practical proposal and say you are going to do it, and ask for the money to make the farmers the owners of their holdings, but do not come forward and tell us that you have nothing to propose but a Committee of Inquiry. What is the Committee to inquire into? Is it to inquire into the best way to grow wheat, as to the best manure to apply to the land, or as to the amount and incidence of taxation? What is the information that the right hon. Gentleman the Head of the Agricultural Department wants 708 that he cannot get at the present moment? He has Blue Books teeming with information and with agricultural problems of every sort and kind. What is the information they want? They told us during the recent Election that they were ready to deal with this question. We heard nothing about Commissions and Committees then. I heard and read a great many of the speeches made in agricultural villages in my part of the country, but I never heard a proposal for a Committee of Inquiry or a Commission of Inquiry into the administration of the Poor Law. I heard of the sweeping away of workhouses. "Return us," they said, "and your difficulties will disappear." All that was said on platforms; but in the House of Commons it is, "We have appointed a Royal Commission to inquire into the Poor Law; we are going to appoint a Committee to inquire into the basis that agricultural reform should proceed upon." You say you have been returned here with the object of carrying Home Rule for Ireland if you can; but what I contend is, that yon have been returned here not on Home Rule, but on agricultural reform—on the promise of agricultural reform. The first moment you are given an opportunity of putting into practice the views you have suggested to the constituencies you decline to take advantage of it. Will any agricultural Member on the other side of the House deny that the agricultural crisis is a severe one? Suppose he is driven to admit that the theories he has held on platforms in the country he is ashamed to hold in this House, and therefore he is compelled to hold his tongue, surely he might have the decency to come here and say he sympathises With the agricultural interest; that he does not think they will have much comfort out of the Committee of Inquiry, and that he thinks local taxation or some other matter should be considered with a view to helping the agricultural interest generally. But not one word of that kind have we heard. The Irish agricultural question has been dealt with, and only one speech was made on the other side of the House, when it was promptly followed by the leading Member of the Irish Administration, who showed by his speech that he had carefully prepared himself for the question. The question of English agriculture was dismissed with a few 709 very kindly but empty words of sympathy, and with the promise that we are to have a Committee of Inquiry, and with the assurance that without that Committee of Inquiry he, as a responsible Minister, does not know how to proceed. This has been, I venture to say, an instructive Debate. I think agriculturists, whether owners of land or occupiers of land or cultivators of land, will profit by the Debate when they read it. They will find that gentlemen on that side of the House who were so loud in their promises of help during the General Election have been silent or absent when the opportunity came for them to give effect to their promises. It has been left to us (the Opposition) to press Her Majesty's Ministers to give serious consideration to the question of agricultural distress. I am inclined to believe that when this Debate is read outside this House it will be appreciated as a very practical lesson in what agriculturists can hope for from Gladstonian agriculturists Members. I do not know how soon it will be the pleasure of the House to dispose of this Amendment, but I am glad my hon. Friend has moved it, and I am glad that it has given an opportunity to us on this side to express our views, and indicate the lines we think ought to be followed in the interests of agriculture. I still more heartily congratulate myself that hon. Gentlemen opposite have shown by their silence either that they are indifferent, or that they are ignorant, or that they are afraid to put the views they hold before the House of Commons as they have put them before the constituencies. We do not pretend that we can remove agricultural depression by legislation. We do not pretend that you can dispose of the serious difficulty that has confronted us so long, and that is confronting us at this moment by legislation, but we do say that the condition of agriculture is serious, and demands more than the mere passing reference that it has received at the hands of Her Majesty's Government. Let me remind the House of this one fact: it is common to talk of agricultural depression, and say that it means loss to the landlords. I believe there is no greater fallacy in the world than this constant reiteration of the statement that the landowners will be the greatest 710 sufferers. After all, what does it mean to the landowner? It means, as we were told is the case in Suffolk and in Norfolk, only a limited number of landowners able to live in their own homes. I say there is no body of men who spend more of the money which they take out of the country in the country than the landowners of England and Wales. They employ those who live around them, and have been looked on—and properly so—for generations as the means of finding employment for the small farmers who live around them; and what is the first result of agricultural depression?—the closing of these country houses, and the man who has hitherto been accustomed to say "yes," when the young man from a neighbouring farm has come and asked for employment in the garden or the stable, or on the landowner's estate, has to say, "I am sorry I cannot find you any work." Who is the greatest sufferer—the man who has to do with a few flowers less in his garden, or fewer horses, or a less number of servants, or the man who cannot find employment for his son or his daughter, or who is himself turned out of service which for years he has held in the country house? The latter is the greatest sufferer, and I say the time is coming when the difficulty that confronts this class of the community will be greater than it is at the present moment. The landowners have tried to meet this depreciation to the best of their ability. The occupiers of land are trying to face their difficulties, honestly and in a practical way. The tenants and the agricultural labourers are feeling it now, and are beginning to think that there is a worse prospect in store for them. All these considerations make the matter a pressing one. I do not say you can remove those difficulties by legislation, but I say you can do something, and our needs are so great and difficulties so severe that you ought to meet us better than by stating that you are going to appoint a Committee. I think it would have been better if hon. Gentlemen who had said so much in the country had said a little more, or had pressed upon Her Majesty's advisers the necessity of dealing in some practical and prompt way with this difficulty.
§ *THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir W. HARCOURT,) Derby
I shall not be induced, even by what I must call the reproachful tone of the hon. Member who has just sat down, to adopt anything except the language of that sympathy which Her Majesty's Government most sincerely feel for the agricultural interest in regard to the distress which at present afflicts it. I think the hon. Member was a little unreasonable in complaining of other Members of the Government not having previously addressed the House. What would have been thought of our conduct if, in an agricultural debate, we had not given the first place to my right hon. Friend who, by all agreement, has well discharged the duties of Minister of Agriculture, both in the House and out of it? Then the hon. Member said that we had sat silent while agriculture was being discussed. I was here I think every moment last night, and I was waiting to hear something about agriculture. I wanted to hear some details about agricultural distress, and some suggestion from gentlemen well acquainted with the subject as to the remedy; but I found myself immersed in an interesting topic of which I have heard a great deal on other occasions, and the whole evening that was to have been given up to the subject of agricultural distress was really occupied by a disquisition On bimetallism. There were about five speeches delivered, and three of them, the longest speeches, were devoted mainly to bimetallism. If I might venture to give advice to the agriculturists in distress, it would be to occupy themselves more with agriculture and less with bimetallism. They are likely, I think, to secure more atention, both in the country and in the House of Commons, if they address themselves to that subject. Now, we recognise the distress which has afflicted the agricultural interest; but then you demand an immediate remedy. Who has suggested that immediate remedy? The hon. Member who has just sat down has talked about the recent General Election. He criticised very strongly the conduct of hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House in offering suggestions for the relief of agricultural distress at the last Election. Well, I suppose hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the 712 House had other and different views as to the manner in which the agricultural distress was to be met. That is exactly what we want to hear now. What were your proposals at the last Election for dealing with agricultural distress? I admit that the late Government made proposals for the benefit, as they considered, of agriculture. That was some years ago. I remember the emphatic declaration of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, that his proposals upon this subject were final. The agricultural distress did not begin last August when the present Administration came into Office. Gentlemen opposite had ample opportunity of making further proposals with reference to agricultural distress which they thought would have been adequate to meet the case; therefore, it appears to me a little unreasonable that they should complain of us for not making proposals which they did not find themselves in a position to make. They were in a favourable position for making those proposals. There is no doubt that at that time there was financial abundance, which I am sorry to say does not exist at present. If they had thought that more concessions and more grants were necessary they had the means, which I regret to say do not abound now, of making proposals of that character. I have listened to all the suggestions which have been made, and, barring the proposal to overthrow the established system of currency of this country for the purpose of meeting what we hope is a temporary agricultural distress—a proposal which, in my opinion, commands the support of an enlightened, though a small, minority in this country—I have heard nothing except the suggestion that the agricultural interest should be relieved of local burdens. That is a very old demand. The right hon. Gentleman opposite, when he was in charge of the finances of the country, made such proposals on the subject as he thought were reasonable under the circumstances, and he succeeded in carrying them into effect. But, Sir, first of all, allow me to observe that when it is said that rents are too high the answer is given at once, "Oh, well, take away all rent and you won't remove agricultural distress.' But if that is true of rent, it is still more true of rates, because rents are certainly higher 713 generally speaking than the rates. If you remit all the rates that will not remove agricultural distress. If the argument is good on the one point, it is good on the other. I would commend that consideration to the hon. Member who has just sat down. But let me ask this: Can you deal with agriculture alone in a question of this kind? Is every distressed interest to come to the House of Commons and say, "We are in a state of distress; you trust relieve us out of the public purse." That is a very important question, which I am bound to put very seriously to the House. I pot it in no Party spirit. Hon. Gentlemen would he extremely wrong to think—and I hope they do not think—that there is on this side of the House any feeling of animosity towards the landed interest. I have always understood the landed interest to include the whole of the hierarchy which lives on the land—the landlord, the farmer, and the labourer. Well, do you really suppose that any great Party in the State, or any Government charged with the responsibility of the administration of this country, could be hostile to one of its greatest and most important interests? I hope, therefore, to be allowed to make the observations I have to make without suspicious of that description. But you must say to yourselves, "If you deal with one interest in distress you must deal with them all." For instance, in the time of the cotton famine in Lancashire there was immense distress, but there was no demand then that the whole financial system of the country should be altered. Or take the iron industry, or any industry you choose. If you establish the principle that you are to revolutionise your financial system on account of the distress of a particular interest why you must give that relief to all interests. Yes; but at whose expense?
§ *SIR W. HARCOURT
My old Friend—if he will allow me to call him so—says Lombard Street. This is bimetallism pure and simple, and bimetallism with Socialism added to it. I confess I am not prepared to relieve all distressed interests at the expense of Lombord Street. After all, 714 what is Lombard Street? It is the reservoir into which the savings of the people go; it is the fund from which labour is sustained. I must say if the suggestion had come from any one else than my hon. Friend I should have been inclined to criticise it more harshly. Let me ask, then, at whose expense are all distressed interests to be relieved? People sometimes say, not Lombard Street, but the Consolidated Fund; and they imagine that the Consolidated Fund descends like the dew from heaven on the just and on the unjust. But thereat fact is that the Consolidated Fund comes out of labour and out of the pockets of the people. If you are to charge all the distressed interests on the general taxation of the people that is a very large question, and when we propose to appoint a Committee you will see that the questions involved are such as require the most deliberate discussion. If you are going to take the local taxes from the quarter on which they now fall, and on which, certainly as regards the land, they have fallen for generations as a hereditary burden, you must reform the whole system of taxation of the country. You must place that burthen on some other shoulders. Take it from one shoulder and you must place it on another. Where are you going to place it? Are you going to put it on the Income Tax? Is that what hon. Gentlemen opposite desire? That is a point on which one would wish to be enlightened. Are you going to place it on the articles consumed by the people? Are you going to place it, in point of fact, as a charge on labour? You must give answers to these questions before you remove the burden from the shoulders on which it has rested for centuries, and subject to which land has been bought and sold for generations. If you make a claim of that character you are bound to tell us what is the substitute you propose. One of my reasons for not rising before was because I had hoped that we should have reserved a question of this kind for a place and of time when it could be more fully discussed. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has complained that, after all we have sad while in Opposition and during the elections, we have made no proposals. I do not remember that there were any proposals or discussions at the General Elec- 715 tion. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] Might I suggest to hon. Members opposite that it is a fair thing and a wise thing to let a Member finish a sentence—I was only in the middle of one. I say I do not remember that there were any proposals at the General Election, made especially with reference to agricultural distress. There was a great deal said about the land system of this country, and upon that subject at the earliest opportunity we are exceedingly anxious, in a Bill which is referred to in the Queen's Speech, to make proposals which, in our opinion, will put the land system on a much sounder and wiser basis than that on which it at present stands. There is a sentence in the Queen's Speech which, in my opinion, with reference to the whole of this question, is as important as any other, and it is contained in the two words "Parish Councils." [Opposition laughter.] Oh, yes; you ridicule Parish Councils, but I venture to say that when you go before your constituents you will not laugh. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down asked, "Why have you made no proposals if you wish the land of this country to pass into more numerous and into other hands?" We have always said, and we say again, that it is through that instrumentality that this beneficial change can be best accomplished; and I advise you not to imagine that the words "Parish Councils" mean nothing, at all, or that their effect is immaterial. I have endeavoured to show to hon. Gentlemen opposite that there are a great many questions relating to this matter which are not to be dealt with off-hand as the hon. Member, who does not seem to have very profoundly studied the bearings of this question, would have us do, and that the alteration of the incidence of taxation is a very large question; and I am certainly entitled to say this—that when there has been much wider agricultural distress than can be affirmed to exist even now, this has been the course in which, year after year, when Motions of this kind have been made—I mean when the distress of agriculture has been brought under the consideration of the House—it has always been dealt with. Why, Sir, great as is the distress in the agricultural districts now, it is nothing compared to what it was during the 30 years, from 1815 to 1845, preceding the repeal of the Corn Laws. The 716 hon. Member for the Woodbridge Division, who has studied this question with a good deal more care than some Gentlemen who have spoken, fully admitted that. He showed his acquaintance with the distress of agriculture as it existed from 1816 to 1845. He pointed out how there was Committee after Committee, how every possible remedy which could he suggested was considered over and over again by these Committees. I think it is clear that agricultural distress in those days was dealt with in the manner in which we propose to deal with it now. In 1836, when probably the greatest agricultural distress that ever existed in this country was at its height, I remember a gentleman of great experience and much honoured in this House— the late Mr. Henley, the Member for Oxfordshire—telling me how he remembered in 1835 the whole country round about him was going out of cultivation because the land would not pay the rent. That was the condition of things in 1835. Lord John Russell, the Leader of the House at that time, came forward and made precisely the same proposal which we now make—namely, that a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into, the state of agriculture and into the cause and extent of the distress which existed in some important branches thereof. Lord John Russell might have been told, as the hon. Gentleman opposite tells us, that the facts were known. The facts had been known for 10 years before 1835, but the course taken then, and which is taken on all these occasions, was to appoint a Committee to inquire into the distress. There is one passage in the speech of Lord John Russell of which I am strongly reminded of this Debate. He says—At the same time, I am strongly persuaded that there is one remedy that has been proposed for the relief of agriculture which this House ought not to entertain, and I desired the Clerk to read the Resolution of the year 1833, that we might preserve in our minds the recollection of the solemn declarations of this House on the subject of the currency. I am not prepared to say, although I think it undesirable and in some degree unjust to the Committee we may appoint to restrict the Members by any Resolution with regard to the currency—still, so far as I am concerned, and so far as His Majesty's present Ministers are concerned, no recommendation in favour of tampering with the currency would induce them to adopt or further any measure which they would consider not conducive to the public interests.717 Those sentiments of Lord John Russell's I desire entirely to adopt. The real truth is that there is nothing more remarkable in the history of these Committees upon agricultural distress than the fact that it has always appeared to the Party which has suffered front that distress that the first and best remedy for it was what is called in America "soft money, "My hon. Friend behind me talked of abundance of money. Well, abundance of motley he properly explained to mean abundance of bank notes which were not convertible.
§ MR. EVERETT
I did not advocate making abundance of money in that way. I simply said that the distress that prevailed in this country was caused by the amount of money that was withdrawn.
§ *SIR W. HARCOURT
I think he argued that the cause of agricultural distress was the introduction of the convertibility of the bank note. Well, we are not disposed to meet agricultural distress by a measure of that kind. My hon. Friend referred, first of all, to the abundance of money at the time of the Great War. He then condemned the policy, as I understood, of the return to cash payments in 1819, and then condemned the action of Sir R. Peel in the Bank Charter Act of 1844.
§ MR. EVERETT
I did not express any opinion upon his acts. I simply related the historical fact that every contraction of money in that way produced distress.
§ *SIR W. HARCOURT
I do not think I am making an unfair interpretation of the hon. Member's view when I say that he agreed that if that change had not taken place there would not have beet agricultural distress. I do not wish at all to misrepresent him. Well, I do not know what the condition of agriculture is at this moment in the Argentine Republic; but, at all events, the Argentine Republic has an abundance of money, because there is no limit I understand to the issue of what is called "cheap money;" and whether or not that conduces to agricultural prosperity in the Argentine Republic I really do not know. But seriously, I want to show that I have not been negligent in at all events endeavouring to study this question. The real truth is that if I did not rise to speak it is because I have got my box so full of material that I was afraid of retarding.
718 the progress of the Debate in this matter. But if I may be allowed, speaking to gentlemen on both sides who may he said to represent the agricultural interest, I would say to them what I think any wise and experienced physician would say to a patient who is suffering severely—that he had known and seen many worse cases in which the patient had entirely recovered; and, above all, he would warn him against a resort to quack remedies. I know nothing more instructive than to study the history to which the hon. Member referred the other night— the history of the condition of agriculture from 1816 down to 1845, a period of constantly recurring distress, of constant Committees over and over again giving a picture of desperate suffering in every class of the agricultural community far greater than any that now exists. Happily, since the year 1847 we have been comparatively free from these severe trials. My hon. Friend behind me pointed out with great truth how entirely the Corn Law before that period had failed in maintaining the prosperity of the agricultural interest. There was at that time a Corn Law with a sliding scale, of which the object was to keep wheat at 85s.a quarter, instead of which it fell to 35s.a quarter. What has been the state of things since the repeal of the Corn Laws? My hon. Friend behind me has truly said that there was a period of prosperity between 1850 and 1873— that fatal I year 1873, when he says the bimetallic link was broken. But he must allow me to remind him that the prosperity continued until a later date than that. I had a Return the other day from the Inland Revenue Department showing that the rental of England reached its high water-mark in 1880—seven years after that miserable catastrophe of the breach of the bi-metallic link. Now mark this. Though you had during the greater part of those previous periods a condition of things which was full of distress, yet, at all events, you had in power during that time a Party and a Parliament which were predominantly the friends of the agricultural interest. Were they able to prevent the sore distress which then existed? I do not want to incur the reproach that I have bestowed no care or attention on this question. I have done my best to study it, and if I might be permitted to recommend a book to any gentleman who 719 desires to know the true history or the question, I may say I do not know a better one than Mr. Spencer Walpole's work respecting the period between 1816 and 1845. He has made a most careful and accurate examination of the facts during that period. There is another book which I daresay most Members of this House are conversant with, and which gives one of the most life-like pictures of the history of England at that time. I refer to Cobbett's Rural Rides through England, in which pictures are given of a state of affairs which many agricultural agitators desire to return to. There one may learn what the condition of the landlord was in the "good old days," what the condition of the farmer was, and, above all, what the condition of the labourer was. There are people who go about the country saying, "Oh, give us a high price for corn, and the labourer will have high wages." When you had a high price for corn had the labourer high wages? When corn was 120s.a quarter what was the condition of the labourer? I know an old man in the New Forest who told me that in those days of high prices his wages were is a day. Those were times when every commodity upon which the poorer classes lived was double its present price. It was not corn alone that was dear, but every article of consumption—cheese, clothes, sugar, tea—which, of course, was beyond the reach of the poorer classes—and so on. There was no article whatever of which the price was not nearly double what it is at present. I will undertake to say that the wages of labour have increased, certainly upon the average, 50 per cent. since the repeal of the Corn Laws. Well, if we have the wages of the labouring classes 50 per cent higher, and if every article he consumes is about half the former price, that at all events, whatever else we may deplore, is a condition of things at which every man in this country must rejoice. I have here a Table published by Mr. Giffen in his inaugural address to the Statistical Society in 1886. It gives the wages of the agricultural labourer 50 years ago, when Protection was perhaps at its greatest height, and when agricultural distress was very rife in the country, and compared them with the wages of the present day. I will give a few of the 720 figures. He states that 50 years ago, in Surrey, the wages were 10s. 6d., while at present they are 16s. In Sussex they were 10s., and are now 14s. In Wiltshire—and I will call the special attention of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. Long) opposite to this—they were 8s., and are now 12s. In Dorset they were 7s. 6d., and are now 12s. 6d. In Wales they were 7s. 6d., and now in many parts of the Principality are double that figure. In Scotland they have been greatly increased, and even in Ireland I am glad to say they are higher than they have been. I was very glad to read the declaration made by the late Prime Minister of England (Lord Salisbury) at Liverpool on behalf of the great historical Party of which he is the honoured chief—namely, that he at least would never consent to putting a tax upon the food of the people. Let us approach the agricultural question upon that footing as a basis. I will assume that it is also common ground that we are not going to deal with this great question by tampering with the currency of the country. These two principles being admitted, you may proceed to some safe inquiries as to what can be done to relieve agricultural distress. If you demand that you shall be relieved from taxation in one form, it lies with you to suggest on whom you should put the taxation of which you yourselves desire to get rid. One suggestion was made. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is always obliged for anything from any quarter, and I shall be glad to receive in more definite form the proposal which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford (Mr. Chaplin) thought would not be very acceptable to the brewers. [Mr. CHAPLIN was understood to indicate dissent]. Well, the right hon. Gentleman remarked that he did not know how the brewers would like his proposal. I should like to know exactly what the proposal is which he thinks the brewers might not like, because I think that if such a proposal were laid before the Committee something might be made of it. I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that when the Committee is appointed he should bring before it the tax which he seems desirous of placing upon the shoulders of the brewers. They are very broad shoulders, and I should not wonder if he was able to make something of such 721 a proposal. One of the first duties of the Committee will he to examine into the question of agricultural distress, and to consider the remedies which should be adopted. As I have said, most of the proposals which have emanated from gentlemen from the other side of the House appear to me to he open to a great deal of criticism, and require to be very largely discussed. I have said already what I think about the currency proposals. I would remind my hon. Friend behind me that during the period which he regards as the prosperous period of English agriculture—from 1850 to 1873 —the price of corn at times ruled very low. In 1851 the average price of wheat was 38s. In 1852 it was 40s.and in 1864 it was again 40s. This was the period which my hon. Friend said had been made so abundantly prosperous by abundant discoveries of gold.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I think the last figure I gave—namely, 1861, will cover the term he prescribes, and I would point out to him that during the period at which the average price was 40s. the whole advantage of the bimetallic system in France was in full Operation. Low prices are not the result of any monetary system. They arise from very different causes. I once saw a sentence on this subject which seems to me to be absolutely true—namely, that low prices are the result of the ingenuity of man. You are constantly devising new methods of manufacture. You discard the old and expensive processes. You use the steam plough and other labour-saving methods, and you produce articles more cheaply than before. You develop new countries, and are eager for new Empires with new markets. But if they are going to buy your goods what are they going to send you back again? Perhaps wheat, to compete with you in your own markets. And then you complain, as you are complaining of the abundance of Indian wheat at the present time. The large imports of Indian corn into this country are not the result of the monetary system; they are the result of having made railways in India, the result of lower freights, and of the fact that ships come through the 722 Suez Canal. You want to make things cheaper by lowering railway rates, but when you have come to the last point of development of your resources for lessening the cost of production, you say, "Let us invent some method of undoing all we have done, so as to make things dearer if we can." I see my right hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney) in his place, and I would refer to what was said on this very question in the non-Bimetallic Report—Take, for example, the case of wheat. The increase in the supply during recent years in many parts of the world, but especially on the American Continent and in India, has been enormous. This has been due in a great measure to the fact that vast territories, consisting in some cases of virgin soil, have been opened up by the construction of railways and become the means of creating supplies largely in excess of the needs of those engaged in their production. In addition to this, the cost of transit from these countries to other parts of the world has very much diminished. The development of railways to which we have alluded has proceeded with striking rapidity during the last 15 years, especially in America and India, and in the latter case the opening of the Suez Canal has exercised a great influence in the same direction. The diminished cost of transport is also partly due to increased competition for the carrying of goods. Shipbuilding has at times proceeded at a greater rate than the increase of the commodities to be carried. Not only so, but the same quantity of wheat can now be carried, owing to improvements in machinery, with less expenditure of fuel and the employment of considerably less labour. All these things contribute to enable the markets of the world to be stocked at much less cost, and the wheat thus to be sold at a lower price.That is really the cause of the fall in prices. The cause is greater competition—it is the development of the means of production, and I suppose that that is due to a restricted currency, which is really, in my opinion, one of the greatest delusions in the world. I have endeavoured to show the House that there are very large questions involved in this matter, and that you cannot alter the burdens of one class without considering whether these burdens may not fall on another class. We are anxious to go into this matter in a most sympathetic and deliberate spirit with a most sincere desire to do every thing that can properly and fairly be done with due regard to the interests of the community at large, in order to relieve the distressed condition; of agriculture. We are conscious that the great interest of agriculture is now 723 severely suffering, and all Parties and all Members of this House are bound to feel and show the greatest consideration for that suffering. It is by that sentiment that the Government, is actuated—it is in that spirit they propose this Committee. They desire to remit this grave matter to the hands of a body of men most capable of taking it, into consideration, in the hope that it may lead to a just and satisfactory result.
§ MR. W. REDMOND (Clare, E.)
said he did not propose to stand between the House and the Division for more than one moment, but as he represented a very extensive agricultural district in Ireland, he believed he would not be doing the duty which he promised those who sent him to Parliament if he did not take the opportunity of saying that he regretted very much that the Chief Secretary for Ireland could not see his way to give greater encouragement than he did to the Irish Members who had drawn his attention to the serious state of affairs consequent on the inability of the people to pay their judicial rents in full. He wished to point out that though it might be said that no remedy had been suggested to the Government for the existing agricultural depression in England, it could not be said with regard to Ireland, because the Government had been asked by the Irish Representatives to undertake as soon as possible to deal with the question of the judicial rents. In 1887 a measure was passed by the House having for its object the temporary revision of the judicial rents. What he now asked the Chief Secretary to do was to take into consideration the fact that there was unquestionably—for it was beyond dispute—an inability on the part of many of the farmers of Ireland to pay these judicial rents in full. The Chief Secretary had stated that while it might possibly be that such a measure might have to be introduced, as at present advised be was not prepared to introduce it, nor—and this was what alarmed him (Mr. Redmond)—to support any Bill of the kind. He could only say that he regretted that determination of the Government; for, while he admitted the inconvenience to the Government with a large programme to add another item to that programme, he thought a Bill for the temporary 724 revision of the judicial rents would have the support of practically the entire Irish representation, and would pass rapidly through the House without interfering in any way with the programme of the Government. He believed that if the matter was not speedily dealt with it would give rise to other troubles in Ireland, which would sooner or later force themselves upon the attention of the Government. In 1886 the inability of the people to pay the judicial rents was pointed out, but it was neglected by the late Government, with the result that in 1887 they were forced to revise the rents after a good deal of damage had been done in Ireland, which might have been avoided had the Government taken the matter in hand in time. All he wanted the Chief Secretary to do was to find out, through his officials in Ireland whether in Clare, as in other parts of the country, there was this inability to pay the judicial rents, and if he found the statement was true, to provide the remedy. He thought it necessary to warn the Chief Secretary, so far as the district which he represented was concerned, and he could do no more.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 232; Noes 272.—(Division List, No.2.)
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ MR. J.KEIR HARDIE (West Ham, S.)
Mr. Speaker, I rise to move as an Amendment to the Address, at end, to add—And, further, we humbly desire to express our regret that Your Majesty has not been advised when dealing with agricultural depression to refer also to the industrial depression now prevailing, and the widespread misery, due to large numbers of the working class being unable to find employment, and direct Parliament to legislate promptly and effectively in the interests of the unemployed.It is a remarkable fact that the Speech of Her Majesty should refer to one section of industrial distress and leave the other altogether unnoticed, and there are some of us who think that if the interests of the landlords were not bound up so closely with the agricultural depression, the reference even to the agricultural labourers would not have appeared in the Queen's Speech. The proposal which I submit to the House is not one of those referred to by 725 the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Government as having "neither point nor issue," and it is my intention to take the sense of the House upon it. The question of the unemployed is to me of such importance that I would be unfaith and untrue to every election promise I made if I did not insist on it receiving due consideration at the hands of any Government which may be in Office. As to the extent of the evil which passes under the term "the unemployed," the monthly statement issued by the Labour Department of the Board of Trade—based on the returns made by the leading Trade Unions of the country—show that in those trades making returns 10 per cent of their members are in receipt of out-of-work pay. That means that 10 per cent of the well-to-do artizan class, who are members of their trades unions, are unable to find employment because of the depression in trade. If we take the number of industrial workers, as it is usually taken, at 13,000,000, it will be seen that this 10 per cent means 1,300,000, when applied to the workers generally; but we have to remember that behind the workers are their wives and children and others dependent upon them. Professor Marshall, who is a Member of the Royal Commission on Labour, stated inferentially the other day that 10 per cent of the population of the Country might be reckoned as the surplus population. That is to say, that for 10 per cent of the population no provision is made to enable them to earn for themselves and those dependent upon them the necessaries of life. Well, if that statement be true, it means that 4,000,000 of the inhabitants of these islands are without visible means of subsistence, not because of any fault on their part, but because our present land and industrial system denies them the opportunity of working for a living. In London alone it is estimated by those best able to form a judgment that 50,000 men are unemployed. This does not refer to those who are casually employed, and it does not refer to those usually spoken of as loafers and criminals. It refers exclusively to bonâ fide working-men who have been thrown out of employment in consequence of bad trade. We have in addition to these—and I. trust the House will admit it to be our duty to legislate 726 even in the interest of the loafer and the criminal—we have in addition to these figures 300,000 who are classed as casual workers—as loafers and criminals—men whose earnings are intermittent and under I8s.per week. These figures, let me say again, refer to London alone. In addition to these, we have close on 400,000 whose earnings are under 21s.per week. In Liverpool the number of men unemployed who have reported themselves is 7,000; in Glasgow 15,000; in Hull 6,000; in Birmingham 5,000; in Sunderland 4,000; in Derby 2,000; in Stockton 1,500. I think, Sir, that these men have a right to look to this House for assistance in finding employment. It was stated in the House yesterday that the laws of this country permitted manufactures to be brought into the country from wherever they could he produced with the greatest cheapness. I admit that is so, and I do not object to its being so; but I submit that if the laws of this country are so framed as to throw men out of employment it is the duty of this House to enable these men to provide themselves with the means of subsistence. Can that be done? Remember that this question not only affects those out-of-work, but also those workers who are in employment. I believe all the horrors of sweating, of low wages, of long hours, and of deaths from starvation, are directly traceable to the large numbers of people who are totally unemployed or only casually employed. The worker in the workshop is fettered by the thought that outside his workshop gates there are thousands eager and willing to step into his shoes should he be dismissed in consequence of any attempt to improve his position. I therefore submit that in dealing with the problem of the unemployed we are dealing with the whole industrial problem, and those who object to long hours being limited by Act of Parliament should at least aid us in providing means for the absorption of the unemployed in order to give the workers employed a free hand in shortening the hours of labour without the aid of the Legislature. I know that the difficulty is to find a remedy for what everyone admits to be an evil of no little magnitude. Quite a number of remedies have been proposed and discussed. Amongst others, 727 emigration long held the field; but it has been found that emigration is not a cure for the evil, that emigration sends out of the country the best part of our working-classes—the thrifty, prudent, sober and intelligent workers, the very men whom we desire to keep at home; and that we get in exchange for them the Jew, the poor degraded workers of the Continent, who come here to fill the vacuum left by our own people who leave our shores. But even emigration will not long avail as a remedy. America with all its broad acres is closing the door as rapidly as it may against the immigrant from all lands, and what is true of that land is true of many others. It may he said, however, that there is plenty of room in Canada. But in the Canadian industrial centres the unemployed problem exists as well as here, and if there is plenty of room in Canada it would be well for Canada to settle her own unemployed problem. It is also said that a turn for the better in trade will again absorb the unemployed. But I ask, is it right for this House, representing as it is supposed to do every section of the community, to coldly stand by, waiting for the return of good trade, while men, women and children are literally starving to death? Our present Poor Law system aggravates, but does not enable us to grapple with the evil, and it, is not human to expect that the men who are suffering will suffer in silence, waiting for the return of good trade. Then it has been suggested by, amongst others, the President of the Local Government Board, that the increase of municipal activity would help to relieve the distress now prevailing. I admit that it would do so; but the response to the Circular issued by the Local Government Board has not been encouraging enough to justify any high expectations being founded on this movement, and, besides, it is not fair to assume that municipal activity should be spasmodic in its operation, and should depend upon the prevalence of bad trade. We want municipal activity all the year round, and even then it will be found that there will be no lack of workers to meet any increased demand for labour. My Amendment has been objected to because it contains no specific proposal for dealing with the evil. Had it done so, it 728 would have been objected to still more, because then I am certain that everyone who wanted to find an excuse for not voting for the Amendment would find it in the proposal it contained. I think the House will agree with me that we have a high authority in this House for not disclosing the details of our proposals until we are in a position to give effect to them, which is not quite in my power yet. I wish to say that I have no sympathy with, and no intention of supporting, any proposal for dealing with the unemployed question which means a return to Protection. I want to make that perfectly clear, in order to remove excuses behind which certain Members intend to shelter themselves when we come to vote on this Amendment. I would resist as strongly as any Member of this House any attempt to again impose Protection in any shape or form on the trade and commerce of out country. It would aggravate every social and industrial evil and divert the minds of the workers from what I believe to be the true solution of this problem. But whilst abstaining from making any specific proposal in my Amendment, I wish to enumerate one or two things which the Government might do in order to immediately relieve some of the distress now prevailing. The Government is a very large employer of labour. It has its dockyards, its arsenals, and its other departments in which large numbers of workers are employed. I have had occasion recently to go amongst the workers in several of these departments, and I heard the gravest complaints made against the system of overtime which is allowed to prevail in the Government Departments. There are two reforms which the workers in these departments demand, and which, if established, would bring credit to the Government, and be a slight step in the direction of solving the problem of the unemployed. First, there is the increase of the minimum wage for labourers to 6d.an hour; and, secondly, the enactment of a 48hours' week for all Government employés. It may be said that the workers do not desire these reforms, and that it is not the duty of the Government to force them upon the workers. I hold in my hand a copy of a Petition addressed to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty by the workers under their con- 729 trol, and amongst the demands made in that Petition are the following:—We pray your Lordships to abolish the system of overtime, and to allow extra time only to he worked in cases of emergency. We pray your Lordships to reduce the hours of labour to 48 per week by closing the workshops at 12 o'clock noon on Saturdays.Then, again, there is the question of keeping contracts for Government work at home. This House is under an obligation in that matter despite the answer given by the First Lord of the Treasury in reply to a question addressed to him on the Friday of last week; for by a Resolution passed in this House on the 13th February, 1891, it was declared to be the duty of the Government in all Government contracts to make provision against sweating and all necessary conditions, to prevent the abuses arising front sub-letting of work, and to ensure the payment of the wages current in each trade for competent workers. I submit to the Government that it is not consistent with the spirit of that Resolution to go to Bavaria, or anywhere else outside Great Britain, for the supplies of the Post Office. The Government have no means of ascertaining whether this Resolution has been applied on the part of the firms with whom they deal abroad. Dealing with firms at home they would know whether the terms of the Resolution were enforced; and if they were not enforced, they would know how to apply the remedy. But when they go with their work to other lands, they pass beyond the sphere of their own influence, and are powerless to carry out the spirit of the Resolution. If the Government got their supplies at house, additional employment would also be given to our own people in the production of those supplies. Then there is the case of the Post Office, where there have been many reforms, but where there is room for many more reforms in the direction of shortening the hours of labour and employing extra workers. Then there is a consensus of opinion that the time is ripe for dealing with the hours of labourers on railways, in tramways, and labourers engaged in modes of transit generally. It has been estimated by competent authorities that were the hours of railway servants reduced to eight per day employment would he found for 150,000 additional working men, and that surely is an item worthy 730 of being taken into consideration by the Government. The Government might also establish what is known as home colonies on the idle lands about which we have heard so much discussion in this House. This is not a question of theory, for it has been tried with the most satisfactory results. I do not refer to the penal and beggar colonies established by some Continental countries; I refer to what has been tried at home. Some years ago, at Newcastle, the Board of Guardians made provision for finding employment for the paupers in the workhouse. They were the ordinary class of paupers, belonging to all trades and occupations, and to no special trade or occupation. The Guardians set them to work, first to pull down and rebuild the workhouse, which they did to the satisfaction of all concerned; and afterwards the paupers were set to making; their own clothing and everything necessary for carrying on the workhouse. A Report was made on the experiment; which stated that in every department it was found that the production was far more than the house needed. "Everything," said the Report, "in the house is made—from an ambulance to a the plate." The Guardians also put into cultivation 14 acres or land in their possession, with such good results that the net profit on the sale of the produce in three years was £338. If the Guardians of Newcastle could do this, is it not reasonable to suppose that every Board of Guardians in Great Britain could do the same in their own locality? There is no lack of vacant land—land capable of producing for the people who are starving; and I submit that this House, as representing the nation, should give these men who are out of work the opportunity of employing themselves through this system of home colonisation. It would prevent the fearful demoralisation which being out of work never fails to bring in its train. One of the most harrowing features connected with the problem of the unemployed is not the poverty or the hardship they have to endure, but the fearful moral degradation that follows in the train of the enforced idleness; and there is no more pitiable spectacle in this world than the man willing to work, who, day after day, vainlybegs a brother of the earth, To give him leave to toil.731 I am anxious that the Government should have the fullest opportunity of getting to work with their legislative proposals, and I hope that one of them will include something at least being done for the unemployed, because I would again point out that this is not merely making provision for men out of work during periods of bad trade. In every season of the year, and in every condition of trade, men are unemployed. The pressure under which industry is carried on to-day necessitates that the young and the strong and the able should have preference in obtaining employment; and if the young, the strong, and the able are to have the preference, then the middle-aged and the aged are of necessity thrown out upon the streets. We are now discussing an Address of Thanks to Her Majesty for Her Speech. I want to ask the Government what have the unemployed to thank Her Majesty for in the Speech which has been submitted to the House? Their ease is overlooked and ignored; they are left out as if they did not exist. Their misery and their sufferings could not be greater, but there is no mention of them in the Queen's Speech. I take it that this House is the mouthpiece of the nation as a whole, and that it should speak for the nation—for the unemployed equally as for the well-to-do classes. But this House will not be speaking in the name of the nation, but only in the name of a section of the nation, if something is not done, and done speedily, for those people whose sufferings are so great, and for whom I plead. I observe that a certain section of what are called the London Liberal Members have declared their intention of voting against this Amendment. They are, of course, free so to do; but I promise them a full exchange value for the vote they will give against the Amendment. I would remind the Government, too, that what lost them Huddersfield was the absence of the unemployed question from their Programme, and the absence of a candidate in sympathy with labour; and unless they desire the experience of Huddersfield to be repeated in the various constituencies where vacancies now exist, they would do well to give heed to a question which is so pressing as the one we are now engaged in discussing. I am sure that if the 732 election addresses and election promises of gentlemen on both sides of the House were examined, it would be found that during election contests they had plenty of professions of sympathy for the unemployed. I ask of them to-day that they should translate these professions into practice. It is said that this Amendment amounts to a Vote of Want of Confidence in the Government, and that, therefore, hon. Members opposite will not vote for it. The Government that does not legislate for the unemployed does not deserve the confidence of this House; and Members representing London constituencies will take care not to go to their constituencies with these arguments on their lips. If the Queen's Speech contained any reference to this question of anything like a satisfactory nature, I would not have raised it on the present occasion; but having raised it, I will, as I have said, take the sense of the House upon it. It may be pointed out to me that the Queen's Speech does contain promises of many great and useful measures. That may be so; but if the Queen's Speech did not contain an allusion to the question of Home Rule, we should have an Amendment proposed protesting against that omission. The unemployed number 4,000,000, which is nearly equal to the population of Ireland, and am I to be told that a question affecting 4,000,000 of people—affecting, not only their patriotism, or their comfort, but affecting their very lives—is of less consequence than the question of Home Rule for Ireland? And if the hon. Gentlemen who represent the cause of Nationalism in Ireland would have felt justified in risking the life of the Government on the question of Home Rule, I claim to be more than justified in taking a similar risk in the interests of the unemployed. I beg, Mr. Speaker, to move my Amendment.
§ *COLONEL HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)
seconded the Amendment. The condition of trade, agriculture, and labour in the United Kingdom had become, he said, so bad that he had determined, in consultation with his constituents, that it was his duty, as representing an industrial centre, to take the earliest possible opportunity of bringing the matter to the serious attention of the House. In fact, the Amendment which he handed in was the first offered at the 733 Table. But when he heard that his hon. Friends representing agricultural constituencies were anxious to draw special attention to the agricultural question, he gladly yielded his place to the hon. and learned Member for the Ripon Division of Yorkshire in order to save the time of the House. He also agreed, as his Amendment was on the same lines, to withdraw his own Amendment and to second that which had been so ably moved by the hon. Gentleman the Member for South West Ham. Many, however, might disagree with the views put forward upon that and upon other questions by the hon. Member; but he was quite certain that every hon. Member would heartily recognise his independent spirit, and the exceedingly able speech he had delivered. He did not pretend that he agreed with everything the hon. Member said. But the condition of affairs at the present time was so bad, and there was so much distress, that this was not a time to intrude Party consideration. In a question of this character they might agree on some points, but there was much with which they must agree. He especially agreed with the hon. Member's reference to the Queen's Speech, in which he dwelt upon the absence of all reference to the present industrial state of the country and the deplorable state of labour. That omission must have astonished hon. Members who heard the Speech delivered from the Throne, and would, if he mistook not, be interpreted in other parts of the country as it had already been in Huddersfield. He saw on the Government Bench his right hon. Friend and Colleague in the representation of Sheffield, who was responsible for the trade of the country and whose constituents were vitally affected, and he did not think that this condition of affairs could possibly be ignored by him. He would like to call attention to a public declaration made the other day by a gentleman who is well known to his right hon. Colleague—the President of the Federated Trades Council of Sheffield. That gentleman publicly declared that upwards of 1,000 men were registered as out of employment in five days, and went on to say—This, however, did not by any means represent the condition of the borough. They would have to be counted by thousands, if persons who 734 did not earn 15s. a week were added. There were hundreds of men in the town who were not earning, and did not earn for months, more than 6s., or 7s., or 10s. a week. Some of them have as many children as they earn shillings, and he thought if this did not, open the eyes and touch the hearts of men they were either callous or had hearts of steel.Then the local organ of the views of the right hon. Gentleman declared thatthere is no demand for labour, either skilled or unskilled, as is shown by the fact that not one single manufacturer or other employer has yet consulted the register.The day before yesterday the Mayor of the new City of Sheffield declaredthat the register contained the names of 1,002 persons, that he had had it analysed, and was bound to say that a very much larger proportion than he anticipated were respectable men out of work in consequence of slackness of trade.He need not detain the House at any great length in bringing before it the actual condition of the trade of the country. It was far too well known for that. But he was justified in asking his right hon. Colleague the President of the Board of Trade, across the Floor of the House, what was the cause of the condition of affairs, and more especially what was his remedy. [A laugh.] The right hon. Gentleman might laugh at the condition of trade, but he took it that the President of the Board of Trade was well aware.
§ *COLONEL HOWARD VINCENT
said, he apologised if he had in any way offended the right hon. Gentleman. But when the right hon. Gentleman audibly laughed he was justified in bringing that fact to the knowledge of the House. He would call his attention to the statistics of trade and navigation for the year 1892. These showed how the exports of British and Irish produce were last year fully. £20,000,000 less than in 1891, and fully £36,000,000 less than in 1890. The exports of textiles fell in these two years by £12,000,000 sterling; metals and articles manufactured therefrom fell £10,000,000, and other manufactured articles, including machinery, millwork, and apparel, showed a loss of £8,500,000. He would be curious to know it' the right hon. Gentleman regarded these figures with complacency, 735 and regarded with satisfaction the fact that the imports from foreign countries in 1892, mainly competing with home labour, and retained here for consumption, amounted to £359,000,000, whereas the total exports were only £227,000,000, a considerable proportion going to British possessions. There was a difference between the imports and the exports of no less than £132,000,000, or £136,000,000 at the prices of 1891, being £39,000,000 more than in 1890. He knew some hon. Gentlemen contended that the excess of imports over exports was rather an advantage to the country than otherwise. In that case the condition of trade and labour must be more prosperous at the present time than in 1890. He would not trouble the house with many more figures on this branch of the question. He would only say that an eminent statistician had calculated that the decline in trade in 1892 amounted to eight per cent over 1891, and to 14 per cent over 1890. Some hon. Members might say this was a mere question of value, and not of quantity, but he would point out that the export of iron had fallen by £500,000 tons in weight, or 16 per cent., and by£5,000,000 sterling in value, or 19 per cent. The result was bad for the capitalist and the manufacturer. But that was nothing compared with the effect upon the industrial masses of the country, who had to earn daily wages in order that they might obtain daily food. The last Report of the Labour Correspondent of the Board of Trade, whose supercession as Commissioner of Labour would be regretted by main hon. Members, showed that 23 unions, with 279,361 members, had, on the 31st of December, 28,453, or 10.2 per cent out of employment. What a contrast these figures presented to those of the corresponding month of 1889, when only 1.5 per Cent were out of employment. But if this was the condition of things in the highly-skilled trades, how much worse was it among the millions of unskilled workmen who represented fifteen-sixteenths of the labour world. Masters hesitated to dispense with the services of trained artificers, but they never hesitated, in times of bad trade, to dismiss unskilled men, who could be obtained when wanted in any number. The House would be glad to hear the views of the hon. Member for 736 Battersea (Mr. John Burns). That hon. Gentleman had recently stated that the Official Returns of the unemployed were too optimistic, and had said that 20 per cent of the ironmoulders, 13 per cent of the boilermakers, 15 per cent of the engineers, ship-builders, and kindred trades, and 15 to 40 per cent of the tinplate workers, were in November out of employment. He might mention the terrible depression in the shipbuilding trade. That this was largely dependent for its prosperity upon our export trade was proved by the fact that although the gross imports in 1892 amounted to 423 millions, or 435 millions at the prices of 1891, a gain in quantity of 14 millions, there were, according to the Dundee Courier, 578 ships laid up at the present time involving the loss of employment to 8,000 persons, and the loss of £50,000 a month in wages. It had been truly said that the ruinous state of agriculture had flooded the towns with the rural population. Instead of half the population, as in France, being maintained by agriculture, the rural population in this country was diminishing. The last Census Returns showed that in 271 districts out of 632 there was a decline in the population in 1891, as compared with 1881. He did not propose to inquire too closely into the causes of this state of affairs in trade, agriculture, and labour. He refrained from doing so not because he hesitated or had any doubt on the subject, but because the subject was too terribly serious for thousands of men, women, and children to introduce into the consideration of it all the bigotry and prejudice of an abstract and political economy repudiated in every other land. Although it might be true that the condition of affairs in other countries might not he all that was satisfactory, it was certain that in an industrial sense the United Kingdom was in a far worse position than France, Germany, or the United States of America. It was difficult indeed to see in what direction the First Lord of the Treasury, if he condescended to vary the Parliamentary routine by thinking of trade, agriculture, and labour, would bid the suffering masses look for comfort. There was no probability of the M'Kinley Tariff, which had played such havoc in Sheffield and South Wales, being repealed or reduced before 1894, if then. Under it, not only had free imports increased by 200,000,000 dollars, but twelve reci- 737 procity treaties had been already concluded, securing for American goods in some of our best markets a reduction either of the whole duty, or 25 per cent of duty levied on British goods, while we were debarred by old treaties from reciprocity arrangements with our Colonies. There was no probability of the repeal of the French Tariff, the deliberate object of which was declared by his right hon. Colleague (Mr. Mundella), as Chairman of the Trades and Treaties Committees, to be the injury of British trade. American Democrats were very silent now about tariff reform, and, as he learnt the other day, on every hand in the French Parliament and the Bureau du Travail, any move towards greater freedom for the foreigner, either in his person or his products, was not within the sphere of French practical polities. Nor was this much to he wondered at; for last year. American exports increased by £34,000,000 over 1890, while ours declined by £36,000,000. French exports only diminished by £280,000, or about a seventieth of our decline, while the importation of foreign manufactured goods, instead of increasing, as with us, declined by 58,000,000 francs, and only amounted to £24,000,000, as compared with our £80,000,000. The exports of France to England increased by £2,000,000, and the imports from England, already only a third of the exports, declined £1,000,000. The exports of Germany also in 1892 only declined £589,000, compared with our £20,000,000. He had just seen Mr. James Baker, the author of a most, valuable handbook, "Our Foreign Competitors," who had just returned from a visit to the manufacturing centres of Germany, and who informed him in conversation that in that, country "There is poverty, of course, but there is not the squalid poverty which we had in the United Kingdom." Moreover, we were in imminent risk of reducing ourselves to complete dependence upon the foreigner for our food supplies, a state of affairs from which Mr. Cobden himself shrunk, with well justified apprehension. The amendment was a large measure in the direction of the views of the National Union of Conservative Associations, the delegates to which last mouth at Sheffield determined to adopt the advice of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for 738 East Manchester and look at these matters as they affected the welfare of the country, and not as mere electioneerers. While the Liverpool Conference contented itself with the dry bones of the Newcastle Programme—whatever that may be—the Conservative Conference declared its hearty acceptance of the doctrine laid clown by Lord Salisbury, that—The first function of Government, its most vital and imperative duty, is to care for the vast, industry whose prosperity or depression means the difference between health and disease, a life of hope and a life of despair, to millions of our toiling fellow-countrymen.It was in consequence of that declaration that he seconded the Amendment. He asked the attention of the President of the Board of Trade to that return which, in response to a Motion of the Member for Oxford University, had been laid on the Table of the House, entitled "Deaths from Starvation in the County of London." He agreed with the hon. Member for South-West Ham when he said that much of the distress of this country was due to the laws of this country. He did not hesitate to say that the deaths of these 30 persons—28 adults—in the County of London in 1892, the unjust fiscal laws of the country were at least accessories before the fact, and it Was to prevent tens of hundreds sharing a similar fate, and to remove this weight of the want of employment, lowness of wages, and this industrial depression, that he begged to second the Motion of the Member for West Ham.
At the end of the Question, to add the words,—"And, further, we humbly desire to express our regret that Your Majesty has not been advised when dealing with agricultural depression to refer also to the industrial depression now prevailing, and the widespread misery, due to large numbers of the working class being unable to find employment, and to direct that a Bill he laid before Parliament With the object or legislation promptly and effectively in the interests of the unemployed."—(Mr. Keir-Hardie.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ *MR. W. SAUNDERS (Newington, Walworth)
said he sympathised with the object which the Member for West Ham had in view in moving this Amendment, and he recognised the importance 739 of the statement he had made with regard to the sufferings arising from want of employment. But the Amendment appeared to him to be a Vote of Censure on the Government. It did not contain any practical suggestion which the Government might adopt, in case it should be sanctioned by the House. The Radicals and Liberals of London have co-operated to place in power a Government with a programme which largely deals with the depression of trade, and he could not see either the justice or the wisdom of taking the course of placing that Government in power on the programme indicated, which they had undertaken to carry out, and then depriving them of the opportunity of presenting their programme to the House. Such a course was an injustice to the Government, and also unwise in the interests of labour. If there could be any effect from the Motion of the hon. Member, it would be merely to extend an inquiry into the cause of the depression of trade. Inquiry, however, was frequently used as a means of obstruction. It was perfectly clear what were the causes of the depression in trade. They must remember that they wanted not merely employment but also the products of employment, and they found that of the products of agriculture 33 per cent were at present confiscated by the landlords, and the landlord's tax on building operations was 66 per cent. Thus the use of land was restricted, and the employment of labour was diminished. He was not generally given to complimenting landlords, but he must say this—that in proportion to their duties the capacity of landlords was greater than that of any other class in the community. Their duty was to receive rent, and their capacity in that respect was unlimited. Seven shillings and sixpence was being paid for agricultural land, and £30,000 per acre per annum was being paid in that much miscalled place, Cheapside. The larger or the smaller amount was taken with equal facility, and these exactions were the chief cause of the depression and suffering so ably depicted by the hon. Member for West Ham. The Government had pledged themselves to do something to lessen those large demands made by idle landlordism on the industry of the country. He was aware that the 740 Government had not fully set forth their programme in the Queen's Speech, and that most important items had not been specifically mentioned in the House, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget would doubtless provide for the payment of Members and for the taxation of ground values, in order that the burden or taxation should be lightened. The Mover and Seconder of the Amendment were not exactly a double-barrelled gun, but they were like a gun that went off both ways, and it was rather interesting to see how each repudiated the doctrines held by the other.
§ *MR. W. SAUNDERS
When Protection was in operation, the landlords and tenant farmers met, and decided that the wages of the labourer must be reduced. In Wiltshire the decision was that wages must be reduced from 7s. to 6s. per week, and that was done. That was done under Protection and as a consequence of Protection. The hon. Member for Sheffield might just as well try to whistle birds from a tree as invite the agricultural labourers back to Protection. Where trade was free English artizans could beat the whole world, and beat it four times over. Although they had landlords they had not as yet created water-lords; trade out the seas was free, and under these conditions the British people built last year four times as much tonnage of ships as the whole of the rest of the world put together. The land of the country was not developed to one-third of its capacity, and yet our workingmen had to go to a distance of 3,000 or 4,000 miles in order to grow our food. The whole question of agricultural wages was a question of landlordism. What did they find in regard to building in London? Idle landlordism obtained a value equal to £400,000,000, and the builders received only £200,000,000 for all their work. It was impossible for the working classes of London to obtain sufficient house accommodation for sanitation or decency so long as this system prevailed. The evils described by the Mover of the Amendment were the result of want of proper house accommodation, and if proper house accommodation could be provided on fair terms there would be no lack of employment. Now a man with a family had to content himself with 741 one room at 4s. per week, 2s. of which went to the ground landlord. To examine the question of wages more clearly, he directed attention to a Memorandum recently presented to the London County Council by Sir Thomas Farrer, who said that in agricultural districts they found agricultural labourers who were in receipt, of from 10s. to 12s. per week, and these men were able to plough and sow and reap, and to tend animals skilfully and well. What was the meaning of 10s. and 12s. per week to able, intelligent men? It meant that they obtained the services of those men and did not give them sufficient wages to provide more than two-thirds of the food necessary to maintain them and their families in the workhouse. It was not that the land did not produce it, for they had complete evidence to the contrary. A striking fact was mentioned a few days ago by Lord Carrington, who adopted the just and righteous policy of letting land to the workmen on his estate at the same rent as in the case of large farmers; and what, was the result of this liberal policy? He found that for the profit of a small farm, after charging it with wages at 15s. per week, and with every expense, the profit was not less than £6 8s. per acre, and that with five acres of land, in addition to 15s. per week wages, he obtained a profit of £30 per annum, together equal to 26s. per week. It was the custom of landlords to refuse land to agricultural labourers, and if it was let to them they were usually charged three or four times as much as was charged to the rent of the landlords. In his own county hand was let at 7s. 6d. per acre to farmers, who put a barbed fence round it and kept one man on a farm of, say, 500 acres; whereas five acres of that land would maintain a family in comfort. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford said, for the depression which existed not only in agriculture but in other industries, what was wanted was the removal of the great pressure on gold. He quite agreed with that, but he did not think the right hon. Gentleman was aware of the enormous pressure on gold caused by the landlord system. It took £500,000 worth of gold every day to pay the landlords' demand on the industry of the country. The landlord would 742 feel offended if one accused him of doing anything. He recognized that he existed on the industry of others, and it would do no; injustice if they adopted measures by which he (the landlord) would have to get his living by industry. Referring again to the Amendment introduced by the Member for West Ham, he wished to point out that they had in power a Government which had made large promises would be carried out. They knew they would be resisted to the uttermost by the privileged classes in this country. The Government had obtained a great deal of earnest support from the working classes. They would be obliged to move in the line of the least resistance or of most propulsion. They were about to make a great change—not a mere political change. It was not a mere question of the extension of the suffrage, but they were going to attack two hundred years of accumulated injustice. For that period all our legislation had been in favour of the landlord until the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian introduced the Land Act for Ireland, and whatever he may accomplish in future his name would go down to posterity as that of one who had changed the direction of legislation from injustice to equity. He (Mr. Saunders) sincerely hoped that the House would not assent to the Amendment. It would be a misfortune if they were to interrupt the Government in their efforts directed to the amelioration of the condition of the country. He trusted that, on the contrary, they would have the support of every earnest Radical in the Kingdom.
§ *MR. W. R. BOUSFIELD (Hackney, N.)
congratulated the Member for West Ham on his manly, straightforward and temperate speech in moving the Amendment, and said he was much pleased to find that they had returned to that House a genuine Representative of the working classes. Be their politics what they might, be they Liberal or Conservative, such Representatives would be always welcome. The hon. Gentleman who spoke last in the Debate set out for the purpose of discussing one question, and he avoided it by discussing another. He got up to discuss the question of the unemployed, and went on to a denunciation of land- 743 lordism. How this affected the question of the unemployed it was difficult to see. The hon. Member said it was a question, to a large extent, of the want of proper house accommodation, and that if there were plenty of house accommodation there would be no lack of employment. In other words, these starving people of London were crying out for bread, and the hon. Gentleman offered them house accommodation. The observation of the hon. Gentleman that landlords and landlordism were at the bottom of the unemployed question needed hardly any refutation. He said our people had to go 5,000 miles in order to grow corn. The hon. Member must, however, be aware that there were thousands of acres of agricultural land in this country the rent for which was absolutely nil. This proved conclusively that it was not a question of rents paid to landlords, but that there were deeper causes at work. Then the hon. Gentleman said the causes of the depression were perfectly clear. He (Mr. Bousfield) wished he had the clearness of mind of the hon. Gentleman on this subject. Unfortunately, he regarded the question as one of the most difficult with which anybody could be called upon to deal. He would, however, put before the House three causes which, in his opinion, contributed to the existing distress, although he did not wish to speak in any dogmatic way on matters of such intricacy. The three causes he referred to were: First, the vast increase in the productive power of our population during the last 50 years; secondly, the fluctuation which had taken place in some of our inflated trades owing to foreign tariffs and foreign competition; and, thirdly, the shifting of British capital to foreign countries without any corresponding shifting of our workpeople. It could be fairly said that during the last 50 years the productiveness of the labour of our population had increased two-fold. When one came to think of the enormous increase which had taken place in machinery, of the enormous amount of invention which had been employed, and the great extension which had taken place in the division of labour, he thought it might be fairly said that the efforts of a man exercised for eight hours now-a-days would do as much as would have been done by the efforts of a man 744 exercised for 16 hours 50 years ago. If his figures were not correct the principle which underlay them must, at all events, be conceded. The result was that the necessary work for the support of our population could be done now-a-days in say, the time in which it could be done 50 years ago. If people were working the same hours all round, as was the case 50 years ago, only half the proportion of workers would be required to produce the requisites of life. There had, however, been a reduction in the hours of labour which had to some extent absorbed the additional productive power, and there had also been an increase in the demands of the population due to a higher standard of life, which had tended to absorb more productive power. From year to year the productive power of human labour continued to increase, and unless there was a corresponding amount of diminution in the hours of labour it must necessarily follow that there must be a steady increase in the number of the unemployed. If one could imagine the point being reached at which the whole of the production of the country could be carried on by machinery with the intervention of a man here and there, it would at once become apparent that as the productiveness of labour increased it was necessary to diminish the hours of labour, and so to spread the work that remained to be done over the same number of people. These considerations he thought accounted for the attitude of the working classes at the present moment on the eight hours question, and justified the demand for ample discussion. The second point he wished to take was that of the influence which fluctuation in inflated trades had on the question. Here one in a moment touched very debateable ground and he had no doubt that when he had finished his argument he should be called a protectionist. He was not in the least afraid of that, but he wished to make it plain that in the suggestion he made, that upon all foreign manufactured luxuries should be placed an ad valorem duty, his object was not to protect home manufacturers but to secure a field for home labour. He was a free trader and always had been. He believed the free trade argument was a perfectly good one—namely, that we should produce the 745 things we could produce to the best advantage, that other nations should produce those which they could produce to the best advantage, and that we should exchange our products for others. This free trade system had produced an enormous improvement in the prosperity of the country, although in certain cases it had tended rather to the aggrandisement of capitalists than of workmen. There were several industries in this country which were inflated beyond anything we required for our own necessities. The argument for free trade held perfectly good so long as our international relations remained undisturbed, and so long as the market which had led to the inflation of industries still remained open. But the moment there was a disturbance of international relations and some of the channels through which the inflated industries flowed became stopped by foreign tariffs or otherwise, the industries collapsed, and a large number of Men were thrown out of work. He defied anyone to show that this was not the cause of a great deal of the want of employment. Two well-known instances of the state of things he was describing were the tin-plate trade of South Wales and the Nottingham lace trade, as they had been affected by the M'Kinley tariff. His contention was, therefore, that we ought as far as possible to encourage the manufacture within our own boundaries of those things which were needed to meet our own wants, rather than encourage the inflation of certain industries in order that we might exchange the products for foreign goods. How would it hurt anyone if there were a tax, for instance, on the importation of silk goods? Those who could afford to buy silks would have to pay a little more, but it would not hurt them to do so, and the result would be to render industry to that extent stable and independent of foreign industries. His third point was the shifting of British capital to foreign countries without any corresponding shifting of our workers. The statistics available unfortunately did not show what amount of British capital was going year by year for investment in foreign countries. As our exports amounted to £300,000,000 a year and our imports to £400,000,000, it appeared as if there were a large importation of capital into this country. He had never seen any 746 reliable statement as to what was the exact meaning of the difference of £100,000,000. It was generally attributed to the interest on British investments abroad, but he had satisfied himself that it also included a very large item in the way of freights. If all the exports and all the imports of every country in the world were added together one would think they ought to balance. As a matter of fact they did not balance, and the difference might be taken to be the amount of freight paid in transferring them from one country to another. That need not, however, affect his argument, because it was a matter of notoriety that from year to year very large amounts of British capital were being sent abroad for investment. The argument might be illustrated in this way: supposing one devoted £1,000 at the rate of £1 a week to the relief of the unemployed, the result was to do no good to anybody except to keep the unemployed. Supposing, however, instead of paying the unemployed £1 a week for nothing, one employed them to build a house, the result would be to keep the same number of people for the same period and to have a house at the end of the period. Suppose they went a step further and established a manufactory with the necessary plant, they would get not only a return for the £10,000, but would invest the money in such a way as to give permanent employment to a number of people. Therefore, it was obvious that those who invested their money in productive Works in this country instead of sending it abroad for investment did the country a service, whilst those who invested their money in foreign countries were doing the labouring man a disservice. Hence, they ought to treat differently incomes derived from investments in this country and those derived from investments abroad. They ought to adopt a differential income tax, and tax incomes derived from foreign investments at a higher rate than incomes derived from capital invested at home. People talked of Imperial Federation, but we did not seem to get much nearer the ideal. No doubt it would be of vital importance to our trade if we could establish a real free trade federation between ourselves and the Colonies, which, if permanent, would relieve us from the instability which existed when 747 we as free traders were at the mercy of countries that were not free traders. At present there was nothing to induce our Colonies to enter into co-operation with us. But if we had a bond with them under which we should exempt incomes derived from investments in the Colonies from the higher differential income tax, and exempt their manufactures from any duty, it would form the basis of a real Imperial Federation. The Colonies wanted British capital for their development, and as we had nothing to give them in return for free trade, a measure of this kind, which would tend to divert the flow of British capital from abroad into the Colonies, would be looked upon as a quid pro quo. When they had done what they could to reduce the number of unemployed there must always be a certain instability of trade, and a certain proportion of labourers who, owing to the contraction in one branch of trade or another, were thrown out of work. It was a standing problem—that to which the Member for South West Ham had particularly addressed himself—how, after all, were they to deal with the residuum of unemployed that we always had with us? He (Mr. Bousfield) thought we ought to have some permanent machinery to deal with the unemployed, the conditions of which should be twofold. In the first place, it should be elastic. Labour should be organised in what he might call skeleton battalions, which might be filled in times of distress to their full strength, and which might go down again to skeletons when employment was plentiful. In the second place, the employment given should be of a temporary character, and not such as to induce the recipients of it to remain in it in preference to seeking employment elsewhere. There was nothing novel in that, because in theory they had such an arrangement at present. The present Poor Law was a system of that kind in theory, but in practice it discharged no such functions. No respectable hard-working man cared to go to the poorhouse to break stones, not that there was anything disreputable in breaking stones, but that the whole traditions of the thing were out of joint. The system had become thoroughly discredited. The present Poor Law system, in fact, did not discharge that function which it was supposed to discharge—that of giving 748 employment to everyone who was out of employment. He therefore suggested the provision of some more permanent means of dealing with the case. It was always objected that in giving employment to the unemployed employed labour would he displaced, but that statement involved a truth and a fallacy. It was a truth that whenever they started a new enterprise in an old field, labour was displaced to some extent. The fallacy lay in the assumption that that constituted a reason for not starting new enterprises. New enterprises were necessary to provide for the new workers and to keep pace with the increase in the population; and if new enterprises were necessary in the case of private individuals, the same thing could he said in the case of enterprises started by the State, or by a Local Authority, or by "General" Booth. In picking out the best means of giving employment, of course they would choose that which would produce the least dislocation in existing industries. Put it in this way: If 10,000 unemployed were placed upon the 6,000 unoccupied acres in Essex that were spoken of yesterday, if supplied with sufficient capital they would be able to produce for one another the necessaries of life and would displace nobody. He ventured to think that every County Council in the country should have power, if it wished for it, to compete with "General" Booth in the experiment of giving work to the unemployed. If the duty were cast on them, or even if they were only permitted to deal with the question, they would be able to give Parliament most valuable assistance in the solution of the problem. No doubt some endeavour would have to be made to eliminate from the unemployed the worthless elements. The elimination of the loafer, or, as it had been put, "the sterilisation of the unfit," was a problem that human ingenuity would have to direct itself to in the near future, and until they had machinery which would enable them to say to a man "If you are willing to work there is work for you to do" it was impossible to make loafing a crime, as it ought to be in this Nineteenth Century. In these few words he had ventured to sketch—[Laughter]—well, he knew hon. Gentlemen opposite were burning to get forward with the dis- 749 cussion of certain constitutional changes, but it was not inappropriate that something, at all events, should be said on this problem, which, after all, was a burning problem, and which those on his side of the House thought more burning than some of the questions which hon. Gentlemen opposite invited them to consider. It was true Conservative policy to take up these questions that he had mentioned—not that he wished to be dogmatic in any way. It was true Conservative policy to take up this matter and thresh it out whilst there was yet time—before what was now a running sore in the body politic became a confirmed and chronic disease which might end in the loss of a limb, if not in death. They were entitled to ask the Government whether they had any alternative policy to propose in this question. When he was standing, at a by-election not long ago he put into his address some of the things he had said here to-night, and the Chief Secretary for Ireland had done him the honour to discuss that address, and all the right hon. Gentleman could say of it was to describe it as "Communistic," and liken it to a fraudulent prospectus. They on that (the Opposition) side of the House were prepared for having their suggestions treated in this way; but they were entitled to ask whether the Government proposed to do anything in a matter of this kind, or whether they were so wedded to their programme of constitutional changes of one sort or another that they would give the House no time to discuss this question. If the Government would even engage to give time for serious discussion on some of the points that had been raised, it might satisfy the hon. Member who moved the Amendment. This was a Parliament that undoubtedly contained an overwhelming majority of Members pledged to social reform. It was questionable whether there was really a majority in the House in favour of Home Rule, or in favour of payment of Members, or of other matters submitted by the Government; but it was unquestionable that in this Parliament they had an overwhelming majority pledged up to the eyes in this matter of social reform. Instead of having time allowed for the discussion of social reform, all their time was going to be devoted to this hopeless 750 discussion of Home Rule. Were the Government prepared to give them time to discuss, at all events, some of these matters during the coming months, or did the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister mean to treat this great majority in favour of social reform as he treated his own majority in I885—namely, to smash and pulverise it on the rock of Home Rule?
§ MR. MACDONALD (Tower Hamlets, Bow)
said that, in justification of himself, he wished to explain why it was that on this question he separated himself from the Party to which he belonged and intended to support the Amendment of the hon. Member for West Ham. He represented a constituency in the East End of London, who considered that the condition of the unemployed constituted a social grievance. He did not think there was a meeting during his election at which that grievance was not referred to, and at which it was not stated that it ought to occupy a position of primary importance in the consideration of every Member of Parliament who might be returned. He had pledged himself, willingly, over and over again, to regard this question as second in importance to no other question whatsoever—not even the question of Home Rule for Ireland. ["Hear, hear!] He understood those cheers from hon. Members on the other side of the House. But he should like to ask them whether or not they thought that due consideration of this social question was inconsistent with the due consideration of the great claims of Ireland? His constituents had returned him to the House to represent them on more than one subject, and it was out of no disregard for the claims of Ireland that they gave to the question referred to in the Amendment the prominence which they had given to it during the past four or five years. If he did not fulfil the pledge which he gave his constituents he conceived that he should be untrue to them and untrue to himself. He hoped, therefore, that the Members of his own Party would not think him unjustified in the action he was taking. It was necessary, in the first place, to consider the depopulation which had been going on in the country districts during the 751 past 30 or 40 years. Between 1861 and 1881 there had been no less a decrease than 321,000 labourers employed in the conduct of agriculture. That decrease had been attributed to agricultural depression, but that could not be the case, looking at the date at which the depopulation commenced, and to the fact that the depression had started much earlier. The decrease was not due to the appreciation of gold. One of the main causes stated by the Census Commissioners was the application of machinery to agricultural labour. That, he believed, was one main cause. As to the remedy, he could only say that it seemed to him that the consideration of the facts themselves, quite apart from the consideration of the cause from which they sprung, pointed to a closer and more intimate connection between the agricultural labourer and the soil than that which existed at present. The migration of the agricultural labourers to the towns intensified the existing evils. And the extension of the use of machinery, which tended to dispense regularly and constantly with a certain amount of manual labour, took place without any attempt at all being made to adjust the condition of the depressed labourer to the new conditions of labour under which he had hitherto found employment. The effect of the displacement might be traced in every industry to which machinery was actually applied. In the case of the textile industries it had not been to diminish the number of labourers actually employed, but to cause a substitution of female for male labour. In 1851 there were 614,000 men employed in the textile fabric industries of the country, and 604,000 women. In 1881 there were 538,820 men and 721,000 women employed; that was to say, there was a diminution of 80,000 men and an increase of 117,000 women. That was only one illustration of the tendency which had been displaying itself in connection with many of the productive industries of the country. There was not a single industry of this kind in the country in which the use of machinery had not had the effect of displacing a certain amount of manual labour. The question that arose was, "What actually became of the labourers who were so displaced by this development of mechanical appliances?" It had been said 752 that the making of the machinery from which the displacement actually arose absorbed the displaced labour, but that was absurd, because, if the making of the machinery did absorb the labour, the machinery' itself would be as costly as the labour which it displaced. It had also been held that the cheapness in commodities which resulted front the use of machinery tended to promote other demands, and new industries to satisfy them, which absorbed the displaced labour. To some extent this might be true, but even if it were it could not be said of these industries that they were staple in their character, because they depended entirely on the wealth that overflowed front the staple permanent industries of the country. If it were true that this depopulation in country districts had been going on during the past 40 years, and that there had been in all our industrial centres a certain displacement of labour in consequence of the development of machinery, and that in consequence of these two causes working in our social life there had been in our labour market a surplus supply of labour, it was a fair inference to draw that the lack of employment was not to he traced to the men who suffered front it. He had heard it stated by an eminent Professor of Political Economy that want of economy was due not to any real lack of work, but to lack of capacity on the part of workmen who really sought employment. He knew front his own personal experience that lack of capacity did exist, but to trace the want of employment solely to lack of capacity was grossly unfair to the workmen themselves; for it was impossible to estimate what effect lack of capacity had on workmen themselves until they also estimated what effect idleness had On the capacity of the men who suffered from it. Front his own knowledge of working men he wits confident that there was nothing more morally wasteful than idleness, front which so many men suffered. The want of the discipline of work withdrawn from their lives tended to destroy their physical capacity and the moral fibre of the working men hon. Members had to acknowledge that the one great discipline of their lives was the discipline of work; and they, perhaps, had got some restraints 753 from the educational advantages they had enjoyed which might enable them for a time to withstand the influence of idleness; but the ordinary labouring men of the country had not this restraint. That was the first inference he drew from the facts that seemed to present themselves. If the lack of employment was not to be directly traced to this cause then the remedy did not lie in the hands of the men, and this fact was of the utmost importance when they considered the question that had arisen in the Amendment. If the lack of labour really sprung, as he believed it did spring, from causes over which the men had no control, then the remedy to be effective at all must be found not by the men, but by the community whom the Government represented. The hon. Member who last spoke laid emphasis on the fact that a reduction in the hours of labour would tend to absorb a certain amount of surplus labour in the country. He (Mr. Macdonald) did not, himself, think that that effect would follow. The chances were that the only effect would be not to increases the number of workmen employed, but to render the employment of those at present at work more regular and their position more stable. He believed that the object the cotton operatives had in view in their attempt to obtain a reduction in the hours of labour was not that the number of men actually engaged in the industry should be increased, but that over-production should be prevented, and that the conditions under which the work was done should be improved. The same thing might be said of other productive industries in the country. Instances had been related to him in which the reduction of the hours of labour from 10 to 8 had not the slightest effect in reducing the output without, notwithstanding that there had been no increase in the number of workmen. Of course, there were industries in which a reduction in the hours of labour would mean an additional demand for labour. For instance, they could not by machinery do the work of a porter on one of the great railways, nor could they by machinery do the work of an engine-driver. It was impossible to drive either an omnibus or a tramcar by machinery, and, therefore, a reduction in the hours of work would, 754 in such cases, mean an immediate increase in the demand for labour. These were the lines upon which he believed the country would sooner or later be forced to go in dealing with the difficult question of the unemployed. He knew it was contrary to all the principles which had dictated our labour policy in the past, because it had always been held that any attempt on the part of the Government to intervene between working men and adverse circumstances in their lives might tend to destroy that characteristic of independence which had hitherto been the boast of their social system. But they must face the fact that these men were not responsible for the condition in which they found themselves; they had no control over the circumstances which tended to degrade their lives, and consequently he did not hesitate to say that it was the bounden duty of Parliament to take upon itself the responsibility for the amelioration of those people, and he humbly urged the Government to do this without delay
§ SIR J. GORST (Cambridge University)
I am very sorry to prolong this Debate, even with the few observations with which I propose to trouble the House. But the hon. Member for West Ham has brought a very important question to-night under out consideration in a very temperate and moderate speech, and I think that at the present time the attention of the House could not well be directed to a more vital subject. The existence of the large bodies of unemployed, half-employed, and casually employed in our great cities is a discredit to our civilisation, a standing danger to the maintenance of order, and a social evil which urgently demands the attention of Parliament and of the Government. Such a state of things as exists at the present time, the Representatives of labour in this House tell us, means demoralization to the men and starvation to the women and children. The evil is aggravated by that agricultural depression which we were discussing yesterday and have been discussing today, and for which all Parties in the House, including the Government, are 755 unable to suggest any practical remedy whatever. The village industries, which are dependent on agriculture, are all in a depressed state; the workers who are engaged in rural and agricultural industries flock into the towns, and are helping to swell the crowds of unemployed. No doubt there are numbers of loafers who will not work, but it is equally true that there are a large number of men who are willing to work but who are unable to find employment, and whose wives and families are consequently in a state of semi-starvation. The hon. Member for West Ham has not only pointed out this evil, but has suggested remedies. Some of these could be carried out by the Government, but others require to be dealt with by means of legislation, and I hope the Government will give me credit for resisting the temptation for discussing those remedies. They can be entered upon better on a future occasion, when some practical result may be achieved by such discussion. I agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hackney (Mr. Bousfield), and I believe that everybody on this side of the House agrees that the question was more important than that of Home Rule; and, not only so, but the electors of that part of the United Kingdom which is called England have, by a large majority, pronounced such as their opinion. It is undoubtedly true that the majority of the electors of the United Kingdom, as a whole, are of a different opinion; they had placed this Government in power, and I therefore make no complaint against the Government for doing that which they are pledged to do—to put Home Rule in the forefront of their programme. They could do nothing else; they are merely acting in accordance with the will of the majority of the electors, but I did hope, considering the pledges that were given by the candidates of all parties at the General Election, that at least social questions would have been allowed to occupy the second place in the Government programme. I cannot help thinking that Parliament should have been called together last autumn in order to pass into law those social measures which were put before the electors at the hustings, and which all candidates declared themselves to 756 be in favour of. The Government could not have been expected to be prepared with their Home Rule scheme at so early a date as that, and therefore Parliament would have been perfectly free to busy itself with some of the items of legislation, of which its Members had pronounced themselves such enthusiastic supporters. The people of the country must feel astonished to see that a Parliament elected six months ago has now only commenced business. Men who spend their lives in unremitting toil cannot understand the necessity for this long holiday, and I think it was not very decorous for a new Administration to begin its tenure of Office by a six months' recess. However that may be, I trust, notwithstanding the announcements which appear in some of the organs supposed to be in the confidence of the Government, that social legislation will be given a second place. There is no reason why the Government should not even now promise the House and the country that, subject to the exigencies of the Home Rule Bill, they will address themselves to this great question of the unemployed in the second place, and how nothing but Home Rule to stand in the way. But I am afraid from what I read in the newspapers, and from the order in which the subjects are mentioned in the Queen's Speech, that the second place is going to be given to what I may call gerrymandering legislation—legislation which can do no good to any creature in the three Kingdoms. The main object of that legislation will be to secure a Party triumph for the Government and its supporters at the next General Election. I do not object to this legislation because I am afraid of it. I have seen dozens of these schemes carried through, and the general result has been that this sort of legislation bitterly disappointed the party which is the author of it. There is nothing to be gained by this sort of manœuvring. I will give one instance, which indeed tells against my own Party. I remember, 20 years ago, how earnestly the Conservative Party invented and instituted the illiterate voter. He was opposed by the Liberal Party, and justly opposed. How bitterly the illiterate voter has disappointed the authors of his being; but how strange it is that the Party who 757 resisted his creation should now insist on maintaining his existence. That is an instance of what is the result of gerrymandering legislation. I rose for the purpose of appealing to the Government to give some sort of assurance before this Debate closes to those Members who are honestly expressing the views to which they gave prominence on the platform, that the Government will honestly give the second place in their legislative programme to these measures of social reform. I should be very sorry to be a party to any vote or to any proceeding which would turn the Government out of Office, if that were possible, before the production of the Home Rule Bill. The House and the country are now entitled to ask for the production of that Bill, and I would do nothing to embarrass or turn the Government out before that Bill, is produced. Any proceeding of that kind ought to be deprecated on all sides of the House. I do not think the hon. Member for West Ham, who has brought forward his Motion in all sincerity, has done so for the purpose of passing a Vote of Censure on the Government; his object has been rather to stimulate and urge the Government to pursue a policy which he desires, and which he believes would be for the benefit of his class. If the Government will get up and pledge themselves that some of those excellent Bills of which they have given notice shall be produced promptly and forthwith in the intervals of the Home Rule Bill, I do not suppose that there would be any desire to press the Government in any manner whatever. It may be said that after the Home Rule Bill and the Registration Bill there will be plenty of time to pass the social measures to which I have referred, but no one knows better than the Government that time will not allow of that being done. We are anxious to secure the production of the Bills when the Session is fresh and strong, and not in July, when our energies are exhausted, and when Members are leaving town. I appeal, therefore, to the Government, in the interest and in the name of Members representing English, Scotch and Welsh constituencies, to deal with the social wants of the United Kingdom. I do not want to say one word about Home Rule. 758 I grant that it must, from the exigencies of the case, have the first place; but I hope the Government will proceed at once to deal with those questions which a large majority of Members on both sides of the House earnestly and honestly desire to see passed into law.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. MUNDELLA,) Sheffield, Brightside
I think every one on this side of the House, and I hope on the other, has listened with pleasure and satisfaction to the speech of the hon. Member for West Ham, which was couched in terms of great moderation, and evinced great sincerity and earnestness. It dealt with the subject in a practical manner, and although I cannot agree with all the remedies proposed by the h. Member, I heard his speech with much interest. I do not know what the hon. Gentleman will think of the speech of his Seconder, or of that of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, in which there was not one word in support of anything the hon. Member brought forward. The right hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House, with his usual ability and adroitness, has expressed great anxiety that Home Rule shall not take up the whole time of the House, or that, at least, if Home Rule is put first, social questions shall be put second. The right hon. Gentleman has sat on the Ministerial Benches for the last six years. He showed great sympathy for social questions, but did the Government of which he was a Member support him in social questions? He went to Berlin to deal with social questions. When he came back did his Government support him, even on the very modest amendments which he proposed? He has suddenly awakened to find that right hon. Gentlemen opposite are all for social questions, and are most eager to deal with the question of the unemployed. Is this the first time in the last six years that we have had to deal with that question? The condition of the unemployed in 1887 was the same as it is at this moment; in fact, employment in the country was even worse than now. But we heard nothing then about the condition of the unemployed from right hon. Gentlemen opposite. The speech of the 759 hon. Member for the Central Division of Sheffield (Colonel Howard Vincent) ought to have been addressed to a Sheffield audience from a Sheffield platform. It had but one point in it—a eulogium on the M'Kinley tariff. The hon. Member for West Ham said, in a manly way, "I am opposed to all protection. I will have no share in anything that savours of it." But the hon. Member who seconded the Amendment signified that protection was the only remedy for all social diseases. He went all round the world to show how everybody had profited by it. He spoke of Australia, of the United States, and of France and of Germany. I wonder whether the hon. Member has given any study to these questions. The means of the working men on the Continent of Europe at the present moment are of the most sad, I would almost say pitiful, character as the result of protection. I have been among the working men in France, and have seen them pay 80 centimes for a bit of bread that no English working man, no resident even of an English workhouse union, would touch. The hon. Member for Central Sheffield told the House that protection was the remedy for the depression through which this country was now passing. The depression is not new, and the present Government is not responsible for it; but from the speech of the hon. Member it might be supposed to be due to time present President of the Board of Trade. If the hon. Member knows anything on the subject, he knows that the distress began in the crisis which occurred at the end of 1890, and that from that day to this there has been a steady decline in employment and in the exports of the country. In 1891 the falling; off in our exports was —16,000,000, and last year —20,000,000. The hon. Member was quiet about these facts as long as his own Government was in Office. A speech even more striking was made last Saturday night by a right hon. Gentleman who, at any rate, ought to be well-in-fomed. Speaking at Walsall the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) said that trade always fell when the present Prime Minister was in Office. [Opposition cheers.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite cheer. But the first Govern 760 ment of my right hon. Friend, from 1868 to 1874, was marked by some of the most prosperous years in our history. I have taken the trouble to make out the figures, for I was quite sure the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham was misleading the people of Walsall. I found that in the seven years, from 1868 to 1874 inclusive, the annual average trade of the country was £605,000,000. In the seven years previous it was £161,000,000. What an enormous difference. That was a period of leaps and bounds in the prosperity of the country and the increase of the revenue. In the years 1880 to 1885 the right hon. Member for West Birmingham was President or the Board of Trade. The Government came in at a time of great depression, but trade gradually rose, and the annual average for the six years was £695,000,000. But in the six preceding years, when Lord Beaconsfield was in Office, the average was £638,000,000. Under what Government, then, is there bad trade?
§ MR. MUNDELLA
In the six years before, that is from 1868 to 1874, the average was, as I have said, £605,000,000. Now, I want to ask hon. Gentlemen opposite why it was that this question was not raised in the last Parliament? I will tell you. Because it was an inconvenient question to raise. Now, it is raised because it is supposed it will hinder the progress of the measures before the House. The hon. Gentleman says it is not a Vote of Censure on the Government. If you carry the Resolution, I say it will be a Vote of Want of Confidence in the Government. Let us really understand what we are voting for. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir John Gorst) asks us what are we doing for the labourer?
§ SIR J. GORST
What I have asked is that the Government should give the House the opportunity of discussing the excellent Bills they have placed on the Paper.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
If the right hon. Gentleman will only give us a little of his support we will not only discuss the Bills, but pass the Bills. I have placed on the Paper myself three Bill—one dealing with the hours of labour of railway servants, another dealing with the notification of accidents—for a great number of accidents happen in the country of which we get no report—and time third Bill proposes to do something to promote conciliation in labour disputes. Then my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has brought in an Employers' Liability Bill, which was promised by the late Government in the Queen's Speech year after year, but was never brought in. Then there is another Bill. It is not a large measure, but it is a measure that was resisted by the late Government. It proposes to raise the educational age by one year. It is not, as I have said, a large measure, for it would be better, I think, to raise the age by two years; but it is, perhaps, as much as could be carried. Is not the liquor traffic a social question? I believe it is one of the most important social questions. I believe there is no greater curse to the working men of the country than the excessive temptation they meet with on all sides to indulge in drink; and the enormous consumption of drink is more mischievous, so far as the working classes are concerned, than almost any other social question. Then there is another Bill which affects the working classes intimately—the Conspiracy Bill—which was before Parliament year after year, during the last year, and was always rejected. Now, I appeal to the hon. Member for South West Ham, has not the Government shown some sympathy with the working classes? He has pointed out what the Government could do, and ought to do, to assist. labour. He says that in the Government Departments something could be done to adjust the balance by stopping excessive overtime. Well, I am dis 762 posed to agree with him. But have we neglected those things? The right hon. Gentleman (Sir John Gorst) said, in mocking sentences, that we took six months' holiday. It was one of the most laborious Recesses a Government ever had. What have we been doing during this six months' holiday. More than two months ago the heads of all the employing Departments—the War Office, the Admiralty, and the Board of Works—discussed together the present condition of Government employ and the making of better regulations for uniformity in employment. The Secretary to the Admiralty has been round the dockyards and has received over 300 deputations. Returns are now in the Board of Trade of every man employed by all the Government Departments, and they have been tabulated and examined with a view to removing all just grievances and to remedy any inequalities that may exist.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
Why, the right hon. Gentleman would hardly give us time to turn round. We have had only a few weeks to do this, and we have been hard at work at it. The Labour Department has got rules of statistics from the Government Departments to tabulate and digest, for you must have your information ready before you can take action. Then has my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board done nothing for the working classes? Immediately that the distress became apparent my right hon. Friend addressed a Circular to the Local Authorities calling on them to render assistance to the unemployed. I am glad that in a great many instances the Local Authorities have done so, and I hope they may persevere. I say that this distress cannot be met by legislation in this House. It must be dealt with in each locality, for it is impossible for this House to know the exact wants and conditions of every department of industry in the country. The right hon. Gentleman said we have no machinery for dealing with these things. But we have the machinery.
§ SIR J. GORST
I did not say so. [Cries of "Order!"] I am objecting 763 to the right hon. Gentleman putting words into my mouth which I never used. I said nothing of the kind.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
Then my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has been doing a good work. What is more important in the interest of the labouring classes than that the sanitary condition of their workshops should be improved as far as possible and the sweating system got rid of. There is only one way of dealing with the sweating system, and that is to substitute for it a good factory system, and to place the workshops under proper inspection. Well, now I must say something for myself. I have often sat at the Labour Commission and felt ashamed of the meagre character of our Labour Department. It was unworthy of the greatest industrial country in the world. I appointed Mr. Burnett in 1886 as Labour Correspondent, and not a single assistant has he had since to help him. I have now organised, through the generosity of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who came to my aid, an efficient Labour Department. If it is not efficient, I hope the House will make it efficient. For my part, I am determined that it shall be an efficient Labour Department, and that it shall render assistance to labour by undertaking inquiries on matters affecting our great, industrial system. We are now in communication with the so-called Labour Bureaus to see whether they can be utilised in our good work, and to consider whether it would not be advisable to bring in a Bill to give the Local Authorities power to establish a labour registry in each district. Now, Sir, let me say that I do wish we could remove these questions from the field of politics. What has been the tone of the speeches of hon. Gentlemen opposite. They say, "Get rid of your Home Rule Bill and then we will have time to do everything else." But we shall have our Home Rule Bill, and we shall also find time to deal will' all these questions. I hope the labour Members of the House will watch carefully those who impede and obstruct the progress of questions like these I can say, looking round on friends and opponents, that I have been in this House for 25 years, and that I have during that time devoted my best 764 energies to solving the social problem, and in the Office I now occupy I am determined that this labour question shall have our best attention. I hope, in conclusion, that hon. Members will understand that if they support the Amendment of the hon. Member for South West Ham they will be trying to pass a Vote of Censure on Her Majesty's Government.
§ MR. W. R. CREMER (Shoreditch, Haggerston)
said, the only portion of the speech of the hon. Member for South West Ham (Mr. Keir Hardie) with which he found himself in accord was the regret the hon. Member expressed that the Speech from the Throne contained no expression of sympathy with the distress that undoubtedly existed in the various cities and towns of the United Kingdom. But he was not disposed to censure the Government for an omission which might have happened through inadvertence. The House had been distinctly told by the President of the Board of Trade that if this Amendment were carried it would mean a Vote of Censure on the Government. Some of the labour Members had discussed the course it would be best for them to pursue in regard to this Amendment; and notwithstanding- the implied threats which the hon. Member for South West Ham had thought it worth his while to indulge in with regard to the action they had decided to adopt, the hon. Member would not find any of the labour Members following him into the Lobby in support of the Amendment, and, with the exception of the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. J. A. M. Macdonald), he doubted if any of the Liberal or Radical Members would join the hon. Member for South West Ham in his effort to upset the Ministerial coach. They had as practical men to ask themselves practical questions. They had been distinctly told that if the Amendment was carried the Government would consider it a Vote of Censure, and their resignation would naturally fellow. What would happen then? The Tory Party opposite, who had recently discovered that they possessed an extraordinary amount of zeal for the interest of the labouring classes, would come into Office. But during its seven years of Office that 765 Party had done practically nothing in the direction of carrying out the principles they now appeared to be so anxious to see prevail. It was well-known that in 1887 the distress in the industrial centres of London was ten times greater than it had been during the past winter; but what did the Tory Party do to alleviate that distress? Why, the Queen's Speech of that Session did not contain a single word expressive of the sympathy of the Tory Party with the distress of the working classes, and now, forsooth, it is proposed to turn the Liberal Government out of Office for not doing what the Tory Party neglected to do in 1887, when the distress was much more acute than at present. What guarantee was there, if there was a change of Government, that the Tory Party would endeavour to give effect to the pious opinions they now profess in regard to the working classes while out of Office? There was no guarantee whatever. The present Government had not contented itself with mere professions. It had given good earnest of their intention to do something really for the benefit of the working classes by introducing the excellent series of measures which the President of the Board of Trade had enumerated. And there was another good Bill to which the right hon. Gentleman did not allude—a Bill which is of supreme importance to the agricultural labourer—namely, the Bill for the establishing of Parish Councils. Would they get all these reforms if they turned out the Liberal Government and brought the Tory Party into power again? He respectfully submitted that the hon. Member for South West Ham was playing the game—consciously or unconsciously—of the Tory Party on the other side. The hon. Member was being made a cat's-paw of. He did not accuse the hon. Member of playing that game intentionally; but when the hon. Member had been in the House a little longer, he would see what a mistake he had made on the present occasion. With regard to the anxiety that the right hon. Gentleman the representative of the Cambridge University had shown for taking into immediate consideration social questions, he must have thought that they were exceedingly green to be taken in by advice of that 766 kind. That had been tried before. He could give the House an instance where this dodge was attempted to be practised. Many years ago various political reforms were projected by the then Liberal Government. If pressed he could give the name of one hon. Member, who then sat in that House and now sat in the other house, who got hold of some leaders of the organised bodies and invited them to dine at his house to consider whether, after all, it was not better for them to devote their energies to the social questions which, even 20 or 24 years ago, were said to be pressing for solution, rather than to the system of political gerrymandering which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Cambridge University (Sir. J. Gorst) deplored. But they did not fall into the trap. One or two of them went to dine with the hon. Member who then sat in this House, and heard what he had to say, but, fortunately, only one of them fell into the trap; and they went on advocating those political reforms, one of the results of which was that the hon. Member for South West Ham was able to find his way into the House. They were not led off the track by that dodge of social questions. They went on with their gerrymandering schemes, and the present Government were going on with some more. That was the reason why hon. Gentlemen opposite wanted to turn the present Government out of Office. He and his friends were going to try and make it possible for more Members of the South West Ham type to come into the House of Commons. If the Representatives of labour on the occasion he had mentioned had listened to the advice of those who urged them to take up social questions rather than political, the hon. Member for South West Ham would not have been in the House, because they would not have been able to carry the political reforms which had been since accomplished. They were trying to do something more to-day, and they were going to do it with the help of this Government. His impression was that the present was one of the best and most honest Governments that ever existed. He had said that the other night in the face of a large meeting in the East End, at which 2,000 or 3,000 honest working men were 767 present. These men were going in for social questions by-and-by, but they were willing to wait until the political machinery was made perfect. They wanted to be absolutely politically free, and hon. Members opposite wanted to keep them in their present state of semi-bondage. They were, however, going to be made absolutely politically free by this Government, and hon. Members opposite knew it. That was why they hated this Government, and wanted to turn it out of Office; but the working men of London and of the country were with the Government. He did not know how the hon. Member for Battersea intended to vote. All the other labour Members in the House were going to vote right heartily with the Government in opposition to the Amendment of the Member for South West Ham. He told his constituents the other night what he intended to do, and, to a man, they rose up and heartily cheered him. That verdict of the electors of Haggerston would be endorsed by the great majority of the working-class electors, not only of the Metropolis, but of the country. [Opposition dissent.] He did not suppose hon. Members opposite wanted to hear his opinions. They would rather hear the opinions of a man who had been captured and made a cat's-paw of.
§ MR. KEIR HARDIE
Mr. Speaker, I protest against one hon. Member insuiting another. I have not been captured or made a cat's-paw of by anyone.
§ MR. CREMER,
continuing, said he had no intention of hurting the feelings of the hon. Member for South West Ham, they had been friends for many years, and he hoped what he had said would not interrupt their friendship. He did not charge the hon. Member with having knowingly or wilfully taken up this position; but he had said he believed he was being made a cat's paw of, and he repeated that expression. A man was known by the company he kept; and the very fact that the Motion had been seconded by the hon. Member for Sheffield would be in itself a sufficient reason for him to vote against it. There was a London journal which was, probably, read daily by most of the Members of the House. It was ably written, but those who read it would see the 768 cowardly, slanderous attacks which were daily made by it on Her Majesty's Government. That paper was the The Echo. Strangely enough, the hon. Member for South West Ham was patted on the back day by day by that paper, which practically said—Go on Hardie; you are doing the right thing; you are the only honest man among the Labour Party in the House of Commons, the only man that has the courage of his convictions.When he saw in The Echo that the hon. Member for South West Ham was the only pure being and immaculate person in the Radical Party, and alongside of that cowardly attacks in scurrilous language on the right hon. Member for Midlothian, he could not help asking himself whether the hon. Member for South West Ham had not been instigated to the course he was pursuing that night by the advice tendered him and the flattery heaped upon him by that paper.
§ MR. KEIR HARDIE
May I be allowed to say that I have not seen a copy of the evening Echo for at least eight months?
§ MR. CREMER
said, it was only fair to say also that the hon. Member for South West Ham had also patted the proprietor of that journal on the back. He read, only a week or two ago, that the hon. Member was present with the proprietor of that paper at a dinner at the Democratic Club, and that they had been mutually chanting each other's praises—he presumed to their own satisfaction. Of course, he accepted the protest of the hon. Member for South West Ham, although he thought it was very singular that he should have carefully refrained from reading the praises which had appeared concerning himself in that paper nearly every day. He thanked the House for the patience with which it had heard him. For the reasons he had given he was glad and proud to go into the Lobby in support of the Government.
§ SIR J. FERGUSSON (Manchester, N. E.)
Until the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade addressed the House, no Party complexion had been given to the Debate. But the right hon. Gentleman assumed that the Amendment of the hon. Member for South West Ham was supported by 769 the Conservative Party, and was an organised attack on Her Majesty's Government. That would imply that the Conservative Party at large are supporters of the Amendment; but, for my part, I entirely dissever myself from any support of it, for I disapprove it. The right hon. Gentleman, moreover, went out of his way to insist that the late Government had done nothing in the way of social legislation; but we have the testimony of well-known and well-trusted Representatives of the working classes that perhaps there has never been a Government which has done so much in the way of legislation in the interests of the working classes. This is not the time to go over the measures of the last Government of that character. The right hon. Gentleman threatened to charge us with obstruction if we stood in the way of the Government bringing forward their social measures by opposing the other measures mentioned in the Queen's Speech; but I am not to be deterred by any threats of that kind. I do not think it fair, when we are opposing measures that we think revolutionary and most injurious, and which may have the effect of postponing others, that that charge should be made. But that is the manifest meaning and effect of what the right hon. Gentleman said. I will say only a few words why I cannot support the Motion of the Member for South West Ham. I myself represent a constituency almost entirely composed of the working classes, and large numbers of men among them are thrown out of employment when trade is dull. But they do not cry and whine, and call for empirical measures; they do the best they can, and when better times come they return to the industrial occupations in which they had been engaged. The measures proposed by the hon. Member for South West Ham would be most injurious to the working classes themselves and to the country. The hon. Member argued in favour of a minimum wage of 6d. an hour for workmen, and for a uniform eight hours day for all kinds of employment, the result of which must infallibly be to increase the cost of production.
§ MR. KEIR HARDIE
I rise to a point of explanation. I did not to-night refer either to a general minimum wage or to a universal Eight Hours Bill.
§ SIR J. FERGUSSON
Well, Sir, I most distinctly understood the hon. Member to mention a minimum rate of wage of 6d. an hour, and a general eight hours day, and I say that anything that increases the cost of production would be injurious to the welfare of the country. Therefore I utterly disclaim, in the interests of the working people whom I represent, any complicity in measures which I believe would be most unfortunate as regards the interests of the working classes and of the country at large. I disclaim, also, any Party vote in this matter, and, disagreeing as I do with the other part of the speech of the hon. Member for Walworth (Mr. William Saunders), I agree with him in voting against the Amendment.
§ MR. WYNDHAM (Dover)
said, that he and other gentlemen on his side of the House were unwilling to give their support to the hon. Member for South West Ham in a silent vote. Should the hon. Member prove successful in carrying his Amendment—and he did not think the hon. Member's chances of doing that were very great—he, for one, should not hold himself bound to support such measures as the hon. Member might think fit to lay on the Table. But he thought the character of the legislation which the hon. Member might contemplate—and that character was doubtful—was not by any means the most important element in the question which they had to decide. In his opinion, the most important element in that question was this: A Representative of an English constituency had risen and made a protest in that House against the callous indifference shown by Her Majesty's Government to all measures which touched the welfare of English working men, and he, as the Representative of another English constituency, intended to support him.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 109; Noes 276.— (Division List, No.3.)
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ It being after Midnight, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.