§ COLONEL C. E. HOWARD VINCENT
said everyone must be astonished that the Queens Speech contained no reference to the Colonies, and more especially to the Convention at Ottawa in July last of all the self-governing Colonies. The only reference to the Colonies concerned the small Colony of Sierra Leone. It was his duty to call attention to this serious omission, and move an Amendment to the Address on the subject. He must also refer to the omission of reference to the depression of trade, which affected all the large towns in this country and threw a large number of persons out of employment. It was impossible that the Government could be unaware of the condition of things; if so, how was it that they did not call attention to a matter which was of the, most vital importance, to the great working classes of this country? But he was anxious not to raise any controversial matter in the Amendment he was desirous of submitting, which was—And this House humbly desires to represent to Your Majesty that steps should be taken to remove any Statutory or Treaty obstacle standing; in the way of any arrangement which may be desired in the direction of a Customs Union between the different parts of the British Empire.He hoped the Government might see their way to accept the Amendment, or give such an assurance with reference to the subject of it, as might give satisfaction 111 to the great Colonies of Canada, Australasia, and South Africa, taking part in the Ottawa Convention. He need hardly remind the House that the moving spirit of the Convention was Sir John Thompson, whose tragic death, almost in the presence of his Sovereign, was mourned by every subject of the Queen. The President was the Hon. Sir Mackenzie Bowell, the present Premier of Canada. The Governments of Australasia and South Africa were represented by their most able statesmen. The Imperial Government was represented by a Special Commissioner, the Earl of Jersey, who was selected because of his special fitness and Colonial experience. His Report was presented to the Government many months ago, and had since been laid on the Table of the House. There had been ample time for the Government to come to some decision on the moderate recommendations contained in Lord Jerseys Report, which was agreed to by the Colonial Conference at Ottawa. Two Resolutions were carried absolutely unanimously by the delegates of the Colonies represented, and he might say the Colonies selected their most eminent statesmen to represent them. He should like to read the two Resolutions agreed to, and which he had abstracted from Lord Jerseys Report. The first Resolution was—That provision should be made by Imperial legislation enabling the Dependencies of the Empire to enter into agreements of commercial reciprocity, including the power of making differential tariffs with Great Britain or with one another.The second was as follows:That this Conference is of opinion that any provisions in existing Treaties between Great Britain and any Foreign Power which prevent the self-governing Dependencies of the Empire from entering into agreements of commercial reciprocity with each other, or with great Britain, should be removed.A third resolution expressed the opinion of the Conference in favour of preferential arrangements (1) between Great Britain and her Colonies; and (2), pending such an event, between the Colonies inter se. This was also passed by a majority of the Colonies, but not quite unanimously, as some thought the wording a little faulty, and that this Clause—That until the Mother Country can see her way to enter into Customs arrangements with 112 her Colonies, it is desirable that, when empowered so to do, the Colonies of Great Britain, or such of them as may be disposed to accede to this view, take steps to place each others products in whole or in part on a more-favoured Customs basis than is accorded to the like products of foreign countries.—was somewhat in the nature of a threat to the Mother Country. This, he had good reason to know, was far from the intention of the mover, the able Finance Minister of Canada. As to the first Resolution enabling the dependencies of the Empire to enter into agreements of commercial reciprocity with Great Britain or with one another, Lord Jersey had written:It was clearly the opinion of all the Colonial delegates that it is desirable that the Colonies represented should make arrangements with one another, and, if possible, with Great Britain, which would give British an advantage over foreign products, and that for this purpose any statutory or treaty provisions which stand in the way should he removed. It was felt by the delegates that. so far as might be possible. British subjects should take what they have to import from their own kindred rather than from foreign States.This view, if not adopted by Her Majestys Ministers, was largely shared by the people of this country and by the Colonies, and involved no question of Protection, but simply carried out the original object in the acquisition of the Empire, namely, the development of trade. All that was needed was a short Act of half-a-dozen words repealing the section in the Constitution Acts of the Australian Colonies prohibiting them from making differential commercial conventions with other over-sea Colonies. This power had been granted to them as regarded Colonies on the Australian Continent by the Imperial Act of 1873, 36Vict. ch. 22. It was a power already possessed by Canada, South Africa, and the Crown Colonies. There was consequently no ground whatever for withholding it from Australia, and especially as it would probably lead at once to a great development of trade with Canada. He might remind Her Majestys Government that last year the Colony of Victoria had sent home a Special Commissioner, the Hon. Robert Reid, to urge this concession. Lord Jersey had reported thatThis statutory prohibition appears to be of a very exceptional, if not of unique, character,andthe repeal of the provisions in question is 113 free from any serious objection, either on constitutional or on commercial grounds. I consider, therefore, that it will be a consistent and successful policy to recognise the reasonable nature of the request that the self-governing Colonies should have the power, subject to the veto of the Crown, to make such fiscal arrangements with each other as may seem to them most conducive to their commercial prosperity.The second resolution dealt with the removal of any treaty obstacles which might exist to the fullest possible extension of British trade. It might be asked, was it possible that any such treaties had ever been concluded by a British Government with a foreign power? Unfortunately it was so. On July 23rd, 1862, a treaty was entered into with Belgium, and on May 30th, 1865, with the German Zollverein, each containing, without consultation with the Colonies, a clause reported to Parliament in 1888 by the Foreign Officeas precluding the preferential fiscal treatment of British goods in the Colonies and dependencies of the British Crown, and while these two treaties remained in force these express stipulations extend to all countries whose commercial treaties with great Britain contain a most favoured nation clause, and apply to British colonies.Lord Salisbury, addressing the United Empire Trade League in 1891, said—With regard to those two unlucky treaties that were made by Lord Pahnerstons Government some thirty years ago. I am sure the matter of the relation of our colonies could not have been fully considered. We have tried to find out from official records what species of reasoning it was that induced the Statesmen of that day to sign such very unfortunate pledges; but I do not think they had any notion that they were signing any pledges at all. I have not been able to discover that they at all realised the importance of the engagements upon which they were entering. We shall be glad indeed to take every opportunity that arisen for delivering ourselves from those unfortunate engagements.After consultation with the Law Officers of the Crown and other authorities, the present Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs stated in the House of Commons, on July 30th 1894, the general effect of the stipulations of the treaties to be: (1) that they do not prevent differential treatment by the United Kingdom in favour of British Colonies; (2) they do prevent differential treatment by British Colonies in favour of the United Kingdom: (3) they do not prevent differential treatment by British Colonies in favour of each other. We 114 were consequently face to face with this extraordinary position, that while the Colonies and the Dependencies founded by Great Britain could make any commercial arrangements they pleased between themselves, except as before mentioned, as to Australia, the Mother Country which had established them for purposes of trade, had by treaty with foreign nations prevented these Colonies and Dependencies giving her goods any freer market than they gave to the goods of foreign rivals who had not lost a life or had expended a shilling in acquiring them. Lord Jersey had reported, and let the House remember he was a well-known free trader—Now if the advantages of Colonial preferential arrangements are not wanted by Great Britain, that is, if she is willing to allow differential conventions between her Colonies without demanding for herself the benefit of the minimum tariff, it does not seem necessary to take any action with regard to these treaties. But if these advantages are desired, it would be necessary to consider whether effect could be given to the second Resolution. The Resolution was obviously prompted by consideration for the interests of the Mother Country.Lord Jersey added—Her Majestys Government will perhaps consider whether it would be possible, without denouncing the treaties, to induce the Belgian and German Governments to consent to the abrogation of the particular clauses specially referring to the British colonies. It is hardly necessary to observe that these clauses arc of a very unusual character: and with regard to the question of the consideration given for them, I may quote the words of the President (the Hon. Sir Mackenzie Bowell, the present Premier of Canada): There is nothing in either the German or Belgian treaties that gives any advantage to great Britain or Canada over other countries.…We receive no advantages from the treaties which exist at present over any other nation in the way of tariff in either of these countries.He would not deny that these two treaties might contain other provisions advantageous to British trade. But it seemed absurd to suppose that two nations so closely allied to us as Belgium and Germany, both in dynasty and commerce, whose best customers we were, of whose goods we had bought in 1893 and again last year upwards of £45,000,000 worth, of which not less than £25,000,000 represented wages to competing labour, and had given all, or nearly all, of them an absolutely free market, in spite of heavy duties imposed by each of them against British goods, 115 would be so unreasonable as to oppose the natural desire of the British people not to have the hands of commerce made freer within their own Empire. In practical illustration of the evil effect upon our trade of these two treaties, or rather these two clauses of half-a-dozen lines, he might remind the House of the offer recently made by the right hon. Cecil Rhodes, to whom all would wish a prosperous voyage to the scene of his invaluable Imperial labours, an offer still open, that the duties upon British goods entering that great white country of the future—Matabeleland and Mashonaland—eight times the size of the United Kingdom, should never be charged a higher duty than at present. This magnificent offer had been refused by the Secretary of State for the Colonies in his tender solicitude, not for British interests, but for those of foreigners who want to reap where we have sown. He need hardly point out that the termination of these restrictive clauses by the years notice required, would not of necessity make any difference in the Customs arrangements between the United Kingdom and the other portions of the Empire. All that it would do would be to remove the obstacles which now blocked the way to freer trade with our own kith and kin. There was every reason to believe that several of the Colonies would be quite ready to give us an advantage of 5 or 10 per cent, over the foreigner, even without any reciprocal advantage here. Indeed, Canada and South Africa had already offered this. Surely Free Traders would not block the way to freer trade within the Empire? That there was a strong popular movement in the direction of his motion was not to be denied. He had addressed large meetings on the subject in every part of Great Britain, and also in Canada and the West Indies. No dissentient voice had ever been raised, and the most enthusiastic advocates were to be found among the working men whose, kindred had peopled the Colonies. The Conference recently held at Newcastle of the National Union of Conservative Associations, to the chairmanship of which he had recently had the honour of being elected, had endorsed unanimously the Ottawa Resolutions. The prize of 1,000 guineas offered by the proprietors of The Statist newspaper for 116 the best scheme of a Customs Union, and the nomination of such distinguished judges as Lord Lorne and Lord Playfair by Lord Salisbury and the Prime Minister, had shown clearly the direction of the public feeling on the question and its non-party character. His right hon. Friend the Member for St. Georges, Hanover Square, whose opinion on this subject would be respected upon both sides of the House, said, upon February 17th, 1891—I must enter my protest against an extreme application of the view that under no circumstances could no make fiscal arrangements with the Colonies without injuring other portions of our trade. If we find we could make the whole Empire one as regards Customs, surely we have the same right of Zollverein Union with our Colonies as Germany has with Bavaria, or the United States among themselves. I claim for ourselves the same right. But how near are we to any such consummation? What chance or hope have the Colonies held out to us that they are prepared to move in this direction?The whole of the self-governing Colonies had now with one voice held out not only the hope to us that they were prepared to move in this direction, but had actually made a distinct and formal offer. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, and if he mistook not, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, had directly or indirectly intimated that an expression of Colonial feeling, such as had been delivered, could not be ignored. When the House of Commons of Canada resolved on April 5th, 1892—on the Motion of Mr. Alexander McNeill, seconded by Mr. Desjardins, a leading representative of French Canadians—that in certain, conditions it would be prepared to make a substantial reduction in the duties imposed upon British manufactured goods, the Time had observed—We are bound to take note of the fact that the Parliament of the Canadian Dominion has made an offer, which, if backed by the other leading Colonies in Australia and South Africa, would be deserving of careful consideration.The offer had now been backed by all the leading Colonies, and would be supported by India if the Secretary for India were willing. It would prevent that difficulty with which Lancashire was now face to face—the necessity in India of putting a duty on the imports 117 of this country, notwithstanding the enormous sacrifices of blood and treasure which this country has made for India. In the interest of his constituents, who wore grievously afflicted at the present time by the depression of trade and industry, he must earnestly appeal to the Government to assent to this motion. On behalf of the whole industrial community he claimed that something should be done by any Government of any Party to redeem the present state of British industry. In view of the, unanimous resolutions passed by the self-governing Colonies in conference, it was not becoming on the part of Her Majestys Government to do anything less than their utmost to meet the Colonies views and wishes. Those resolutions were, moreover, passed as much in the interest of British as of Colonial trade, as was proved by the Report of the Governments own Commissioner. He hoped the House would have an emphatic assurance that the Government would deal with this matter without delay, and be begged to move, as a friendly addition to the Address—And this House desires humbly to represent to Your Majesty that steps should be taken to remove any Statutory or Treaty obstacles standing in the way of any arrangement which may be desired in the direction of a Customs Union between the different parts of the British Empire.
§ MR. A. F. GODSON (Kidderminster),
in seconding the Resolution, said, that all parties alike had the same opinion that every obstacle to freer communication between England and the Colonies should be removed. The two Treaties with Belgium and Germany most materially affected the trade of the district which ho represented. He hoped the Government would give a definite and satisfactory assurance that night.
§ THE UNDKR SECRETARY FOR THE COLONIES(Mr. SYDNEY BUXTON, Tower Hamlets, Poplar)
said that he had not much complaint to make of the tone of his hon. Friends speech. He was glad to think that on this occasion, as in respect of many of the hon. Members speeches, it was not necessary to discuss the question of Free Trade. The hon. Member care fully avoided dealing with that matter, and he was wise. Certainly there had been no intention of throwing any slight on the Colonies by not mentioning in the 118 Queens Speech the Ottawa Conference. But perhaps the hon. Member forgot that in the Queens Speech at the close of last Session a distinct, and satisfactory reference to that Conference was made, and, therefore, it was perhaps unnecessary to refer to it again. All those who were interested in the closer relations between the Mother Country and the Colonies, would desire to express the satisfaction with which they had learnt of the way in which the proceedings at the Ottawa Conference were carried on, of the unanimity which prevailed, and of the strong expressions of loyalty to the Mother Country and of a desire to foster intercolonial and British relations. This was the first opportunity which he had had of saying anything in regard to this matter, and, on behalf of the Colonial Office, he should like to acknowledge their indebtedness to Lord Jersey, not only for the great tact which he showed at the Ottawa Conference, but also for the very valuable and lucid Report which had been circulated, and was now in the hands of Members. The hon. Member rather assumed that the Government had neglected to consider this matter and to deal with it. He could assure the hon. Member that the Government had given it the greatest possible attention, and he would be satisfied to learn that it was proposed in the present Session to take action in regard to one matter, and that another matter raised at the Conference was under consideration, and it was hoped a solution would be found. The hon. Member had referred to three resolutions moved at the Conference. One of them he wisely put aside—that relating to a Customs Union between the different parts of the Empire and Great Britain. He put it aside because it raised the whole question of our fiscal system, and was only carried by a majority of five to three at the Conference. It was, therefore, on a different footing from the others. The second resolution proposed and accepted at the Conference referred to the question whether the Australian Colonies should be allowed to enter into fiscal arrangements with the other self-governing Colonies. Under their original constitution the Australian Colonies were prohibited altogether from entering into fiscal arrangements with one another or with other Colonies. On its merits it 119 was quite right that the Australian Colonies, like the other self-governing Colonies, should be freely allowed to enter into fiscal arrangements with each other, as Canada could do with the Cape. He thought that his hon. Friend would be satisfied with the statement that the Government would introduce a Bill during the present Session. As regarded the third point raised that was a more intricate matter—as to whether any obligation in our present Treaties prevented us from allowing our Colonies to make intercolonial fiscal arrangements with one another, and whether England was prevented from entering into those arrangements. Any proposal between one Colony and another on these matters must be one of the reserved Bills to be sent home and subject to veto if necessary. The position was this—that by two of his hon. Friends unfortunate Treaties, made years ago before these questions were considered, their hands were, it might be, thought, in some way bound. For years past there had always been in every Commercial Treaty a clause excluding any Colony which did not wish to enter into the fiscal conditions under which the trade of this country had been carried on. He could assure his hon. Friend that, as far as their information went, the Government believed that those two Treaties did not prevent any intercolonial arrangement, and did not prevent England from giving preferential treatment to her Colonies as against foreign nations; but, at the present moment, those two Treaties did prevent the Colonies getting preferential treatment in regard to English goods. He would ask his hon. Friend to be satisfied with the assurance which he had given. The Government, he could assure him, were actively employed in looking into the matter, and were in hopes that some satisfactory arrangement would be brought about. In conclusion, he could only say that the matters which had been referred to, and which were raised in Lord Jerseys Report, were discussed much more from an intercolonial point of view than from the point of view of the fiscal arrangements of the Empire at large. It was a much larger question whether England was at liberty to depart from her established fiscal policy. The Government certainly desired to meet the Colonies with all the favour they 120 could, and he trusted that the Bill which they might introduce and the Administrative Acts following thereupon would enlarge intercolonial trade throughout the country.
§ COLONEL HOWARD VINCENT
thought it hardly necessary, after the assurance just given on the part of the Government, to put the House to the trouble of dividing.
§ The Amendment was then by leave withdrawn.
§ Mr. V. GIBBS (Herts, St. Albans)
said that the condition of Agriculture at the present time had been by no means exaggerated. Desirable as Light Railways were, they could not possibly affect all the evils from which Agriculture was now suffering. One of those evils was the low and continually falling price of produce, and he could not see that any measure which would bring more produce into the towns could possibly benefit the outlying districts. The fall in prices must arise from over-production and the depreciation in the currency, and he was certain that, sooner or later, some Government must deal in a drastic measure with the currency question. The condition of a country where the currency steadily appreciated and the prices of produce steadily depreciated was most serious and important, and he could not conceive any subject which could better arouse the attention of the Government. He had no doubt that the cause of misfortunes from which all commerce was now suffering was the condition of the currency. In regard to the reference, in the earlier portion of the Queens Speech, as to the unfortunate war between China and Japan, he hoped the House and the country might rely on the Government to secure at the end of that war the free opening of the Chinese markets to English commerce. The, condition of trade in our towns at this moment was very distressing, and he hoped that the Government would not lose sight of this opportunity to effect some improvement in it.
§ MR. H. SETON-KARR (St. Helens)
called attention to the paragraph in the Speech from the Throne dealing with agricultural depression, and asked the Government how it was that they had failed to take any notice of the, great industrial depression which was now 121 prevailing in the country. He desired to move an Amendment on a broader basis than that which had been proposed by the hon. Member for Sheffield, namely,—That this House humbly expresses its regret, in view of the great industrial as well as agricultural depression now prevailing in this country, that no adequate portion of the time of Parliament is proposed to be given to the amelioration or relief of any such depression.That Amendment depended upon three propositions: (1), the great agricultural and industrial depression prevailing and the large numbers of men desirous to obtain work and unable to obtain It; (2), the number of legislative proposals which demanded the consideration of the House; and (3), that the Government, who were absolute masters of the time of the House, were not giving any adequate proportion of its time to legislative proposals. On the first point the Government had admitted in the Speech that there was great agricultural depression, and he was surprised that they had made no reference to the industrial depression, It was admitted that the exports of domestic produce were a sure test of the industrial prosperity or the reverse of any country. It was a remarkable fact, moreover, that directly they had a Radical Administration in power the figures showed that trade depression at once prevailed. Take, as an example, the price of wheat. When the late Unionist Administration was in power wheat was 35s. a quarter; the price had risen under the late Administration. But during the last three years, under the rule of the present Government, the price of wheat had steadily fallen until it was now only 20s. a quarter. The figures in connection with the exports of domestic produce showed exactly the same phenomenon when a Radical Government was in power. In 1892 the exports of domestic produce were £227,000,000 in value; in 1893 they were £218,500,000, and last year they had fallen to £216,000,000. Manufacturers of all kinds also were transferring their capital to other countries, and the trade was leaving our shores. Yet the Government refused to take note of the industrial depression. He cited his own constituency of St. Helens as an illustration, and showed that great depression existed there at this moment. St. 122 Helens, at one time, supplied a fourth of the goods tonnage of the London and North-Western Railroad; but the wants of the men in that district had not received any consideration on the part of the Government. Though the Government were responsible for the time of the House they had given no indication that they were going to propose any measures to alleviate the distress. There used to be a time when private Members had the opportunity of bringing in Bills dealing with questions affecting their own constituencies, but they had been, denied that right by the Government. The Government had deliberately refused to give an opportunity for the consideration of these important social questions. He was interested in a Bill for the amendment of the Merchandise Marks Act, and he would point out that in the glass bottle trade, in which hundreds, if not thousands, of men were employed, large quantities of glass bottles were at present imported into this country and sold as of English make, with the result that the trade suffered most severely. They had never, however, been able to get the subject considered since the present Government came into power, and they wished to know why Bills were not allowed to be brought in to benefit the masses of the country. In the Session of 1894 the hon. Member for Sheffield moved an Amendment to the Address stating that the great depression in this country called for the immediate attention of Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman, the then President of the Board of Trade, got up, and amongst other excuses for not dealing with the question, said that the, Labour Commission at that time had not reported. That excuse could not be made now. The Commission had reported several months ago, and had made something like fourteen specific recommendations dealing with arbitration and conciliation in labour disputes. He admitted that there, was a Bill put forward upon that subject, but he, wished to know why the recommendations as to the organisation and development of labour, the wages and hours of labour, non-unionist labour, and the sanitary condition of workmens dwellings, had not received a more prominent place in the Queens Speech. He quoted other instances in which the 123 Government had had an opportunity given them of bringing in legislation on such matters, and had not taken advantage of it. On December 12th, 1893, a motion was moved by the hon. Member for West Ham, pointing out the number of deaths in London from starvation, and asking the Government to inquire into the causes. The right hon. Gentleman, the leader of the Opposition, made a most interesting speech on that occasion; he reminded the House that fourteen different remedies were mentioned in that particular debate. In fact, numberless proposals had been put forward, and the Government had absolutely ignored them all. The obvious moral to be drawn from the Report of the Labour Commission was that the Government should now give the House time for the consideration of these matters. Not only had they declined to give any time themselves, but their practice during the last three years had been also to misappropriate the time of private Members. They all admitted that there was great industrial depression in the country. Numberless proposals had been brought forward in that House to alleviate or remedy this state of things. The Government had not, he urged, devoted adequate time to these matters in the past, and what prospect was there of any time whatever being given up to their consideration this Session? They were warned that the Church was to be disestablished in Wales, that there were to be two Irish Land Bills, and that one of the most thorny questions which could be imagined, the subject of Temperance, was to be dealt with. Then they were to have a Resolution which would embody the principle of the abolition of the House of Lords. What chance would private Members have of getting any share of the time of the House? He thought it was time that they should enter a protest against the further misuse of the time of the House.
§ COLONEL W. KENYON-SLANEY (Shropshire, Newport)
said, he wished to refer to one or two points in the Royal Speech. He agreed with the declaration which had been made that it was intended to deal with Imperial matters in an Imperial spirit, and he hoped those words would find an echo in the legislation which the Government might propose. As to the question of naval expenditure, they did not get that assurance from the Chancellor of the Exchequer which they expected to have. He hoped they would be assured that there would be no want of honesty and completeness in the way in which the naval expenditure would be dealt with by the Government. It was generally recognised throughout the country that the naval expenditure should be no matter of Party voting, and that it should be large and sufficient. He hoped for an assurance from the Government that there would be no attempt to catch votes in connection with this matter, and that the expenditure would be based on a scheme for carrying out a programme to place the country in the position in which it ought to be with regard to the naval establishments. With regard to China and Japan and the state of Armenia, he had little to say. He came to the question of Ireland, and they were asked did they endorse the satisfaction felt as to the decrease of criminal offences? They did endorse it heartily. If there were a competition between that side of the House and the other on this question, it was an honourable one as to which system was the best. Both Governments had probably taken the right measures to meet the necessities of the time and both were to be congratulated on their success. He invited those who asked them to look at this question in a calm and just spirit to remember that their opponents view deserved consideration even though it might conflict with some of their prejudices. An hon. Member opposite had spoken in positive 125 terms of the absolute necessity of dealing with the question of the evicted tenants. They on that side of the House did not agree with the terms "must" and "shall in a case of that sort. They recollected the circumstances connected with the evictions, and although they had every sympathy with the victims of a ridiculous agitation, they had not much sympathy with those who came and said that legislation must be passed. It would be wiser for these people to base their claims on the ground that they had been misled. The question of the Welsh Church was a thorny subject. He presumed he was correct in thinking that the necessity for the Bill rested entirely upon the increasing opinion of the Nonconformists of Wales in favour of such a measure. He pointed to the fact that the defeated candidate at Evesham had alleged as one of the primary reasons of his defeat that dissent generally was waning in that constituency. If that was the case in Worcestershire, might it not possibly be that over the border in Wales there did not exist that strong desire for separation which the Government thought justified them in their action. Of course, they on that side regarded the measure as fraught with immense mischief, and they would probably oppose it to a certain extent—to an extent that would prevent it passing. Living on the borders of Wales, and having a large interest there, he had not been able to ascertain that the feeling was so genuine, so widespread, or so keen as appeared on the surface. However, he was quite willing to allow that there were two sides to the question. In regard to the Local Veto Bill, the Seconder of the Address made a curious admission. He said he was glad the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been willing to obtain certain modifications of the former Bill, because it would create a half-way house for the votes of the people. He did not think that admission would be satisfactory to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was a curious fact that they had it on the uncontradicted assertion of the Seconder of the Address that the Liquor Bill was to be altered in order that a half-way house might be created to catch the votes of the population. Another curious statement had been made in reference to plural voting, and it was to the effect 126 that there were classes now who had the vote, that paid no taxes, either directly or indirectly. It was only last Session that there was a great conflict of opinion on the point as to whether taxes were paid directly or indirectly by certain classes of the population, and he thought the statement referred to was curiously in conflict with the various assertions which had been previously made on the matter. It was a curious state of things that they could find no harmony of argument or assertion between the supporters of the Government and Ministers themselves on these important questions. With regard to the question of Agricultural Depression, it was impossible for anyone who had any knowledge of the rural districts to speak of the matter in other than the most serious terms. Hon. Members who were deeply interested in the subject did their best to raise the matter last Session, and to point out the terrible condition of Agriculture. They pleaded for ameliorative Measures, but they were met on the part of the Government, either by neglect, or coldness, or the stereotyped reply that there was no time to deal with the matter. Notwithstanding that Agriculture was bleeding from every vein, and was rapidly dying out as one of the industries of the country, the greatest blow which has ever been inflicted upon it was the Budget of last year. The evil effects of that blow were being realised more and more every day. As time went on, more and more estates would be subjected to that iniquitous Budget, and more and more would the agricultural classes experience the ruinous effects of it. He urged that great anxiety ought to be shown on the part of the Advisers of Her Majesty to deal with this question in a way which would tend to palliate former mistakes, and to avert what might otherwise become a great National disaster. They looked with keen anxiety that something genuine, earnest, and real might now be done in the matter, but he regretted to say, that they were met. with the assertion that it was really unfair, at present, to ask the Government to suggest any remedy, that a Royal Commission was sitting at that moment, and that, therefore, it would be premature and unwise to take out of the lips of that Royal Commission any pronouncements on the question that it might make sooner or later. 127 The Government, however, did not say that absolutely nothing was to be done before the Report of the Commission was issued, and they had thought right to propose an immediate Measure for the benefit of the agricultural interest. That immediate Measure was to be the construction of light railways. The Mover of the Address had spoken of the boon which such railways would be when they brought producer and consumer into closer connection. They might be a boon in that way, no doubt, but it should be borne in mind that no great advantage would be gained by the producer unless the consumer was prepared to give him a price for his produce which would make his efforts remunerative. Many hon. Members fail to recognise that that which might produce great good in some districts, might do very little good in others. There were, no doubt, districts at present not well served by railways, in which the introduction of light railways would be beneficial; but the benefit would depend upon this, whether the introduction of light railways into those; districts was to be in the shape of a boon or a burden. By throwing the expense of the change upon the localities the State would probably augment the disadvantages under which they laboured at present. Unless no fresh burden was to be imposed upon localities under the scheme of the Government, it was not worth talking about or bringing forward. Upon this point they had heard nothing as yet from any responsible Member of the Government. If the Government were not prepared to establish their scheme out of Imperial resources; if they intended that any fresh burden should be imposed upon localities, then their proffered boon to the agricultural interest was a mere farce and humbug.
§ MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S. E.)
wished to know who was going to pay for these light railways. Unless the Agriculturists of his part of the county got those railways very soon, all he could say was there would be nothing for them to carry. He ridiculed the idea propounded last Session by the right hon. Gentleman, now Secretary of State of India, that the burden of local taxation now was infinitely lighter on rural districts than on urban districts. What were the facts? A man farming, say 1,000 128 acres of land paid something like £400 a year in tithe, rates and taxes, or about 8s. or 8s. 6d. an acre. A man living in town was rated on his house alone, and on a house rented at, say £100 he paid £30 a year in taxes. The statement of the right hon. Gentleman was therefore ridiculous. Now light railways were very expensive, costing from £4,000 to £5,000 a year, and in addition the promoters had to go to Parliament for the requisite powers. The expense of that, as was well known, was enormous; while the requirements of the Board of Trade were such as to make light railways by no means inexpensive to work. But there was a way out of the difficulty. Let the President of the Board of Trade dismiss the idea of starting light railways and substitute instead the system of Steam Tramways, which had been tried with great success in France and Belgium. In constructing Steam Tramways, the promoters had not to incur expense in a Committee Room upstairs. Steam Tramways could be laid by the side of the ordinary high road, and there would be no difficulty about getting land. If land was required, why should not the County Council have the power to arrange the transaction, subject to the advice and sanction of the Board of Trade, with some other Government department. Then, in the case of Steam Tramways, trolly roads could be constructed to farms, and there was no conceivable reason why the great expense which would be incurred by laying down light railways should not be got over by the construction of Steam Tramways. But that did not do away with the main question, and that was, if these light railways were going to be constructed, who was going to pay for them. If the Government were going to give them, and require them to be paid for out of the rates, then he would rather not have them at all.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ House adjourned at ten minutes to Twelve oclock till To-morrow Twelve oclock.