§ MR. H. CHAPLIN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
resumed the Debate on Mr. Jeffreys' Amendment to the Address in reply to the Speech from the Throne. He said the hon. Gentleman who concluded the Debate on the previous evening, in defending Her Majesty's Government against the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for the Basingstoke Division of Hampshire, had made a personal attack upon him. He should have been able to bear with considerable equanimity any attacks made 218 upon him by the hon. Member for East Northamptonshire, but a much more important personage—the Prime Minister himself—had also, he was informed, challenged him on Tuesday night by observations somewhat similar in their character, and he was afraid, therefore, that he must preface his remarks upon the general Amendment by some observations more or less polemical in their character. The hon. Member for East Northamptonshire had been somewhat severe upon him on account of some supposed shortcomings on his part with regard to a Bill in Grand Committee of the House last Session—viz., the Market Gardeners Bill—and especially with regard to some Amendments on which he was said to have insisted, and in consequence of which the Bill failed to pass into law. The hon. Gentleman was entirely and completely in error in that statement. He had had no opportunity of referring to the records, but he was perfectly confident that no Amendment of any kind was either moved or supported by him self, or ever submitted to the Grand Committee at all. So far from impeding a Bill which the hon. Member declared last night to be one of great value to a section of agriculturists, he could only say that the information which he had received from most competent Gentlemen with a thorough knowledge of the subject was, that that Bill, when it left the Grand Committe under the auspices of the hon. Gentleman and his friends, was totally and absolutely worthless for the purposes which it was desired to serve. He was bound to say that the hon. Member was not well advised in referring to this subject at all. He was informed that the hon. Member had said everything he could against him to the electors of Evesham; having shed the light of his vast and wide agricultural knowledge upon the voters of Evesham, the hon. Member had received his answer from the very gentlemen affected, the market gardeners themselves, and he hoped that he was as entirely satisfied with that answer as he was himself. The hon. Member then went on to refer to his action in that House in the year 1893.
§ MR. F. A. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)
asked permission to make an explanation. In the statement which he had made at Evesham, and also in the 219 House, he did not commit himself to the proposition that the right hon. Gentleman had during the consideration of this Bill in that Committee put down any Amendment, but that he insisted upon certain changes in the form of the Bill which Sir E. Lechmere himself, in a letter addressed to the voters of Eves-ham, stated would have the effect of destroying the full value of the Bill by turning it from a compulsory into a permissory measure.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said his recollection of what occurred differed absolutely and entirely from the statement of the hon. Member. He was absolutely confident that in the statement he had just made to the House he was absolutely correct. The whole subject, so he was informed, was thrashed out thoroughly at Evesham, and it was impossible, he thought, that they could fight the contest at Evesham over again in the House. The hon. Member had criticised his action in 1893 at a time when Her Majesty's Government had announced their intention of proposing a Select Committee of the House of Commons to consider the question of agricultural depression. The hon. Member in the course of his speech informed them that he had made him an offer upon that occasion which he had refused. He owned that it had escaped his memory altogether, nor did he think that such an offer could have been of very great importance, for he did not understand that the hon. Gentleman was a Member of Her Majesty's Government or a Minister of Agriculture, or in a position to make him an offer of any kind whatever. The hon. Member conplained that he had had the temerity to put down on the Paper an Amendment to the Motion for the appointment of a Select Committee. That was perfectly true; but what was his object in doing so? It was to secure that attention should be paid by Her Majesty's Government, and the Committee they appointed, to specific remedies for agricultural depression, rather than to inquiries which should disclose very little that was new to them. He had intimated to the Government on more than one occasion that so far as he was concerned, he had no desire to oppose the appointment of that, Committee, and that those who represented on that side of the House the agricultural interest would be content, 220 even if they were permitted to have half a day for the discussion of the enormous interests involved in the position of that industry. What was the reply of the late Prime Minister? He said that the devotion of a single hour to the discussion of that question, in his opinion, would be nothing but a complete waste of time. They had resented that opinion on the part of the late Prime Minister, and he himself had accordingly declined to withdraw his Amendment. Sooner than give half-a-day's discussion to the question of agricultural depression the Government allowed a whole Session to go by, and then, having wasted all those months, they appointed at the last moment the Royal Commission which was now sitting. He turned from the statements of the hon. Member to the statements made by the Prime Minister with regard to his attitude upon that Royal Commission. What the Prime Minister said was this—I say we had hopes of a prompt Report. Those hopes have been overclouded through the action of one of the noble Marquess's late colleagues. The Report which was about to be presented has been considerably postponed.The Prime Minister then spoke of his motives in not uncomplimentary terms. The Prime Minister had been entirely misled himself, and his statements were most misleading also. He talked of the Report which was about to be presented; there was no such Report, and there could not have been, under any circumstances, unless they had adopted the principle of making their Report first, and taking their evidence afterwards. Some of their Sub-Commissioners were now in the country, and their Reports were not even completed, and he was informed that they could not possibly be completed within six weeks or two months from the present time. As the House was perfectly well aware, it was impossible to discuss the proceedings of a Royal Commission in any detail in the House of Commons in a Debate like the present one, and for that reason he should not have raised the question then, nor on any other occasion in the House had it not, been for the attack which had been made upon him by the most influential Member of Her Majesty's Government. He did not complain so much of the misleading statements of the Prime Minister but he did complain most bitterly of the 221 source from which they came, and which, with the permission of the House, he would in a very few words explain. When the Royal Commission met after the Recess in November last the Chairman proposed substantially that the taking of evidence should be closed by that Commission before Christmas with a view to considering the Report. When this proposition came to be considered, so many Members of the Commission thought that it was altogether impossible, consistently with the performance of their duties, to take that course that the Chairman himself withdrew his own proposals, and they were never submitted to the judgment of the Commission. Two days after-wards there appeared in. the newspapers a paragraph to the following effect:—On Friday a long discussion took place at the meeting of the Royal Commission as to the future course of procedure. The Chairman proposed that every effort should be made to conclude the hearing of evidence by the end of the present year with a view to framing a Report by the beginning of the next Parliamentary Session, or shortly afterwards. This proposal was opposed by Mr. Chaplin on the ground that there were parts of the country and some special subjects on which sufficient evidence had not been obtained by the Commission. After a prolonged discussion, it appears a majority of the Commission were in favour of Mr. Chaplin's view. The inquiry will now probably be protracted considerably beyond the period within which it was at one time anticipated it would he necessary. The final Report of the Commission may possibly not be ready before the Autumn of next year.For two reasons he was greatly astonished when he saw that announcement. The first reason was, that an honourable understanding had previously been arrived at among the members of the Commission, that no communications whatever were to be made without the knowledge and sanction of the Commision as a whole; and the second reason was, that, in his judgment at all events, it was an inaccurate and misleading description of the proceedings. It turned out upon inquiry that the statement was sent to the Press, in violation of the understanding, by the Chairman himself, without the sanction or knowledge of the Commission. He (Mr. Chaplin) took the earliest opportunity of raising the question before the Commission, and they, upon his motion, agreed to send an amended communication to the Press. That was his answer to the allegations of the 222 Prime Minister. Although he had for months at the hands of the Press of the country been subject to great obloquy in consequence of the statement he had quoted, he had hitherto refrained from taking any public action in the matter, solely because he was desirous of preventing, as far as possible, anything being known which would be likely to reflect discredit on a Royal Commission of which he was a member. But if the action of the Chairman of the Commission was to be made a handle by the Prime Minister, by the Leader of the Chairman's own party, for holding him up to condemnation before the agriculturists of the country, he owned his patience was exhausted, and he felt justified in vindicating himself in the way he had done. Having replied to the attacks upon him, perhaps the House would allow him to turn for a few moments to the general Amendment. No one could be surprised that his hon. Friend had thought it his duty to call marked attention to the prevailing distress which was witnessed in so many industries at the present time. What did seem strange to him was that, when they remembered what a deplorable condition the agricultural interest was in, when they knew that so many other interests were greatly depressed, and that vast numbers of people were being every day put out of employment, Her Majesty's Government showed no adequate sense of the urgency and gravity of the situation. It was quite impossible to exaggerate the gravity of the agricultural situation. It was reported that in almost every district of the country it was steadily and rapidly growing worse. Unfortunately, the latest information was to the effect that, although up to the present it had been the landlords and the tenant-farmers who had had to bear the brunt and the burden of the trouble, the effects of depression had now begun to reach the agricultural labourers themselves. Formerly there was the one bright spot on the agricultural horizon that the labourers were well employed, and that those who were employed received good wages and were suffering less than any other class. Now, he was reliably informed that in many of the agricultural counties the labourers were being paid off in great numbers. He 223 was assured that, heavily as the farmers and landlords had suffered up to the present, it was upon the labouring classes in the agricultural districts that ultimately the chief losses from agricultural depression would fall. Why were the men being dsimissed from their employment? Unhappily, the reason was perfectly simple. It was that the farmers had not got, and could not obtain, from the banks or from any other source, the money with which to pay the wages. He knew of nothing in connection with country life more painful, more distressing, than the arrival of the day when one found himself, from very lack of means, totally unable to continue in employment those people it had been his privilege and good fortune to be able to employ on his estate perhaps for many years previously. Conceive the pitiable condition of the agricultural labourer deprived of his employment, of the means of obtaining food, clothing, and warmth? The information he had received was in the possession of the Government, and, therefore, it did seem passing strange that they had so completely ignored the existence of such a desperate condition of affairs. In answer to the Leader of the Opposition, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said the other night—Well, but we can't do anything—we can't reasonably be expected to do anything—until the Royal Commission has reported.Why not? The Royal Commission had published a vast deal of evidence both upon the causes and effects of the depression. Her Majesty's Government had special opportunities of being seised with all the information in possession of the Royal Commission, because one of themselves, one of the Members of the Cabinet, was Chairman and head of the Commission. They had the advantage of his knowledge and advice, and it was impossible for them to plead ignorance upon the subject. One of the questions before the Commission had been that of Light Railways. The Commission had not reported on that question, but that had not deterred the Government from deal-with it. Why should they not have dealt with infinitely more important matters? What became of the excuse of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Government could do nothing because the Royal Commission had not reported? Whether the action of Her Majesty's 224 Government with respect to Light Railways was likely to be of any use was altogether another qnestion. Questions had been put as to the funds, the sources from which those Railways were to be created, and he thought those questions had hardly been answered. On one point they had very explicit information. The President of the Board of Trade called a great conference at the Board of Trade on the 7th of December, and the right hon. Gentleman said—There was one question outside the scope of their deliberations—the question as to any aid by the Central Treasury of the country. He conceived that it was not a question fit for discussion in this place. He held a strong opinion upon it, and it was one on which he believed the mind of Parliament was absolutely settled, and they would not be spending their time to good purpose if they were to discuss a subject which was not likely to bear any good fruit. The objection to such a policy in a country like this, and in the present state of our revenue, in view of the competition which would at once arise in many parts of the country for such State aid, as well as the results which had followed from it in many of our Colonies and the United States, convinced them that it was a question they need not attempt to consider.If that statement were true, and no change occurred in the mind of the Government on the subject, he feared that Light Railways, wherever constructed, would be very little of a boon. The distressed agriculturists were clamouring for relief, and the Government promised to add to their burdens. The distressed agriculturists asked for bread, and all the Government offered them was a new rate. Many questions had been discussed before the Agricultural Commission, but the most important of all was—To what causes was the agricultural depression due? The hon. Member for East Northampton, with that charitable view which he always took of the conduct of the classes whose great misfortune it was to be owners of land, expressed the opinion in the course of the Debate yesterday that the depression was actually due to the fact that the landlords were not prompt enough in making remissions of rent, and that in consequence the tenants had been losing year after year from £1 to £2 per acre of their capital. Let the House only think for a moment what a very small portion of the whole arable land of the country was let at all at £2 per acre. He had now been the owner for 30 years of a very large estate in a first-rate 225 farming county, and he had never met a farm let for £2 per acre in the whole course of his life. To say that that was the cause of the agricultural depression was a statement which he should characterise—though he was un-unwilling to say anything rude—as ridiculous in the extreme.
§ MR. CHANNING
If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me, I wish to say that I did not make that statement. What I intended to say, but said perhaps imperfectly, was, that the losses to the farmers amounted to about £1 or £2 per acre, and that owing to the delay in making reductions these losses had diminished their capital.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, he was glad to hear that that was what the hon. Gentleman had intended to express, and having heard it he would not say what he had been going to say—that a more ungenerous statement had never been put before the public. But as the question of rent reductions had been raised, and as it was likely to receive a good deal of attention in the country, he desired to say a few words more upon it. He admitted that there might have been some exceptional cases in which, perhaps the reductions of rent had not been so prompt as they might have been. There were black sheep amongst landowners as there were in every class. But the whole mass of the evidence taken before the Agricultural Commission from witness after witness, and from the Sub-Commissioners, teemed with statements to the effect that reductions in rent varying from 20 to 50 and to 80 per cent., and even up to 100 per cent., had been freely and voluntarily made throughout the country, that the landlords in the vast majority of cases had behaved well and generously to their tenants, and that happily, even at the present time, the best of feelings existed between them. That was the unmistakable drift of the evidence of the great majority of witnesses before the Commission, and he defied any member of the Commission to contradict his statement. Reductions of rent might not have been given promptly in some cases, but the explanation was obvious. Every one who had any practical knowledge of land was aware that landlords who had never raised rents when seasons were prosperous did not think it necessary to 226 reduce rents because a year or two years had been bad. The profits of good years had always been supposed to balance the losses of bad years. But when it was found that the depression was unhappily assuming the character of permanency substantial reductions were promptly given in most cases. These opinions of the liberality of the landlords were, he was glad to know, shared by multitudes of tenant-farmers, and were indicated in an honest genuine fashion by numbers of real practical agriculturists examined before the Agricultural Commission. The Commission had done their utmost by probing to the very bottom to ascertain what were the real causes of the existing depression. Every single witness and every single Sub-Commissioner, no matter what part of the country his duties may have taken him to, was practically unanimous upon the point that the depression which was working so much havoc at the present time was primarily due to the great fall in prices in agricultural produce. The witnesses also pointed out this—which was, perhaps, the most important and the most sinister feature of the situation—that the fall in prices was still steadily progressing, and every one of them without exception, agreed that until, by some means or other, that progressive fall in prices was stopped, there was no hope, or chance, or possibility, of a permanent improvement in the country. The Government were aware of all this; they had the evidence before them, and what, then, was there to prevent them from turning their attention at once to this most serious subject? The report of the Commission could do little to help them. He could not foreshadow what the nature of the report of the Commission might be. He believed it would be a report strictly in accordance with the evidence laid before it, and if that were so there could be little doubt as to what the drift of the report would be. But, putting that altogether on one side, it should be remembered that if the matter were to be dealt with at all it could only be dealt with by the Government of the day—by the present Government, or by some other Government which in years to come might succeed them. And further, it should be remembered that agriculture was not the only industry that was suffering at the present time. 227 On the contrary, the great difficulty at the present day, unhappily, was to find one industry that was nourishing in any degree. Take the iron industry. He did not profess to be acquainted with the circumstances of that great industry, but he knew that during the winter he had never taken up a paper without finding column after column under the heading "The ruin of the iron industry of the kingdom," in which the most startling statements as to the condition of that industry appeared. The great textile industries of the north of England were notoriously depressed also; and therefore it was not alone the agricultural labourers that were suffering from want of employment. It was only the other day that the following paragraph taken from the Manchester Guardian, was sent to him—Our Blackburn correspondent telegraphs:— Notwithstanding the gift of £1,000 by Mr. Tattersall, J.P., the distress among the Blackburn poor is still pressing. The Mayor estimates that at least 2,000 families are suffering want, most of these being dependent upon outdoor employment, which has been stopped altogether for several weeks. The residence of Bishop Crame-Roberts and the police station are besieged by hundreds of applicants for relief, and over 300 applied at the Mayor's private residence in two hours.And what was the cause of all this depression in trade? The same answer was returned in every case—the depression was ascribed to the fall in prices. The House would remember the coal strike of a few years ago, probably the most mischievous and injurious event to the community at large which had happened within the memory of the present generation. That strike was caused by an attempt on the part of the coalowners to lower wages. But why? Because of the great fall in prices. The House would find that every depressed industry, whether at home or abroad, owed its depression to the terrible and unprecedented fall in prices. Again, the agricultural depression was not limited to England. It existed also on the Continent of Europe; it was even worse in the United States; and in all those countries it had proceeded from precisely the same cause—the fall in the prices of agricultural produce. If these statements were founded upon truth—and he was certain that no Member of the House would attempt to deny them—and 228 if all this widespread agricultural depression was to be ascribed to one and the same common cause, surely the Government ought to do its very best to ascertain to what this great and progressive fall in prices was due, and also whether it was not possible to do something earnest to relieve the depression. One common explanation, and one which he had frequently heard from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was that the fall in prices was due to the new inventions to facilitate production. On the last occasion there was a discussion on this subject, the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself ascribed the depression to the ingenuity of man. But the theory of over-production by this time was altogether exploded. He would ask the attention of the House to some remarkable circumstances connected with the wheat crop of the world. Fairly accurate estimates of the world's wheat crop were now made: and he had taken his figures from a publication called The Corn Trade Review. These figures did not greatly vary from those given by two or three other publications. In 1892 the wheat crop of the world was very considerably less than the crop in 1891, and it was accompanied by a fall in prices of no less than 18 per cent. In 1893 the crop was estimated to be just the same as the crop of 1891; but meantime there had been a large addition to the population of the world, and yet the fall in prices was 29 per cent. He was totally unable to reconcile these facts—if they were facts, as he believed, and not enormous exaggerations—with the theory of over-production. What the suffering industries of the country were asking at the present moment was this: would the Government look this question fairly in the face? Were they prepared to consider by what means it might be possible to arrest this constant fall in prices from which all classes of industry were suffering, and so to deal with what was the acknowledged root of all the evil? If the Government were willing to do this, well and good. But if the appeal was to be met again, as it had always been met before by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with a non possumus, with a statement that the question of prices was entirely beyond the pale of the Government's consideration—then all their pretended sympathy for the 229 sufferings of agriculture or of any other industry was perfectly useless, and little better than a mockery and a farce. With all the energy at his command, and with all the deep conviction which he felt, he desired to press this fact upon the House of Commons. They must make up their minds to one of two things. They must either harden their hearts and be prepared to do something which would effectually stop the fall in prices; or else they must accept the complete and final ruin of the greatest industries in the country as an accomplished fact. He would next deal with some of the remedies which had been proposed for agriculture by the Government. They were easily disposed of, because they consisted of a system of light railways created at the expense of the rates. As to the textile industry of Lancashire, the attitude of the Government had been most peculiar, and, he should think, most unsatisfactory to Lancashire. The textile industry being sorely driven at the present time, the Government had selected this opportuinity of imposing duties on the import of Lancashire goods into India. In his judgment that was the direct outcome of the policy of closing the Mints in India two years ago—a policy which the Government adopted against the strong remonstrances of many gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House, and the most vehement opposition of Lancashire. Such a policy was rendered necessary because the Government persistently ignored the repeated demands of the Indian Government and of Lancashire, made over and over again, that the silver question should be dealt with. Next as to the remedies proposed by some of the supporters of the Government. With respect to agriculture, the hon. Member for East Northamptonshire said in his speech that he was going to invite the attention of the Government to the question whether it would not be well to inquire into the whole subject of local taxation. There was inquiry again suggested. Inquiry had always been the specific of the Radical Party for anything in the nature of agricultural depression; and all that agriculture wanted now was action of some kind. What chance did the hon. Member think he had of obtaining the inquiry? Why did the Chancellor of 230 the Exchequer, not many days ago, curtly refuse to receive a deputation from the Chamber of Agriculture on this very question, and at a time when the hon. Member for East Northamptonshire was President of the Chamber?
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir W. HARCOURT, Derby)
It was because I took it for granted that the Royal Commission had fully inquired into this question, and were about to report upon it.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, that the right hon. Gentleman was of a much more innocent and confiding character than had been supposed if he could seriously assure the House that he thought he would have the Report of the Royal Commission two months ago when the deputation was proposed. If there was any prospect of obtaining relief in this direction, he was the last person to say a word against it; but when he made a proposition of the same kind not very long ago the Chancellor of the Exchequer answered in a jaunty manner:—If you demand relief of local taxation it rests with you to show where the relief is to come from.If that were to be the answer to the hon. Member for East Northamptonshire's appeal, he had pledged himself too soon to support the Government on this Motion.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, that he could prophesy that when the Royal Commission did report the right hon. Gentleman would find them to be practically unanimous in favour of some relief of local taxation. Let the right hon. Gentleman consult his colleague, and see whether he was prepared to dispute that proposition. The hon. Member was further going to ask the Government to sanction a loan of 12 millions on easy terms.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, that he should be glad to support so excellent a proposition; but he must withhold his commendations upon it until he had heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer's views on the subject. That exhausted the suggested remedies of the Government's supporters; now as to other remedies. Several minor propositions had been advanced which could not be considered 231 remedies, but which would have an undoubtedly beneficial effect on Agriculture. They might be summed up in the programme put forward by the National Agricultural Union. There was first the Amendment of the Agricultural Holdings Act. He agreed that the Agricultural Holdings Act might very well be amended; but he was sure that it had little or nothing to do with the Agricultural depression. The whole body of evidence of tenant-farmers went to show that the most perfect Agricultural Holdings Act ever invented would do nothing to relieve the present depression. Then there was the relief of local burdens, the question of preferential railway rates, the application of the Merchandise Marks Act to food, and one or two other measures. He would now mention a proposition of his own, made, not for the first time in this House, which was not included in the programme of the National Agricultural Union. He believed it would give more material and immediate assistance to Agriculture than anything else at the present moment. Two years ago he urged upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer to consider the possibility of repealing the Beer Duty, and raising an equivalent Revenue by a duty on foreign barley. He seriously repeated that proposition now, and he believed that nothing would be of more material assistance, to the agricultural labourers especially. Wherever it was possible, barley was taking the place of wheat; and if his proposal were accepted it would help to keep the plough going, which was a matter of vital importance to the labourers. Something more could be done in the labourer's interest. There had been a vast increase in the last few years in the number of allotments in this country. On many allotments it would be found that the labourers grew barley. What was the objection to this proposal? He knew of no possible objection, unless it was the sentimental one that it would be Protection. What did he care about that? If he proposed a form of Protection that could do harm to no one, but which might be of advantage to agriculturists and labourers, to refuse his proposal by alleging the sentimental objection that it was Protection was a luxury which they certainly could not afford to indulge in. He now came to 232 the question which underlay the trouble in the case of our different industries—namely, the phenomenal fall of prices from which they had suffered during the last few years. His own views on this subject were well known. He traced the fall for the most part not so much to a change in production, not to a change in commodities or in transport, as to the change which had occurred in the value of money itself, and which dated from the time when the great monetary changes were made on the Continent of Europe and in America 20 years ago. He knew that his views on this subject were shared by some of the profoundest thinkers in the world, by every teacher of political economy, he believed, in this country at the present time, and by many of the ablest men of business in the City and elsewhere. Those views deserved the careful attention of the Government. Hitherto they had been met by the contemptuous opposition of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had never, he believed, been at the pains to examine and to sift them, and whose past utterances on the subject had invariably given him this impression.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Yes; but I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the late Prime Minister was the person who replied to the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, he looked back with the greatest pleasure and admiration to the speech of that right hon. Gentleman, though he differed from the late Prime Minister's views. But the late Prime Minister did not meet his arguments with the contemptuous opposition which he complained of on the part of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was convinced that the interest in this vast question was growing daily; and the right hon. Gentleman or one of his successors, sooner or later, would be compelled by the force of circumstances to deal with and face this question. Up to this moment, however, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had always sought to discredit the question in the House and in the country by pointing to the failure of the Conference 233 which was held at Brussels two or three years ago, and by alleging that other nations would have nothing to do with it. He had shown in detail on more than one occasion that those statements were contrary to the fact. He had also shown that a careful study of the proceedings at Brussels proved that the Powers of Europe had evinced every willingness to consider the question, provided they received the smallest encouragement from England? and, secondly, the abortive results of that Conference were owing to the action of the English representatives at that time. It was a mere invention on the part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to put aside the necessity for dealing with the question, which he believed the right hon. Gentleman dreaded and detested. One of the great questions occupying the attention of the German Parliament at present was the question of agricultural prices. The Prussian Minister of Agriculture made a most important speech on that subject quite recently, and his view was that no doubt bimetallism would be most beneficial to Agriculture, but they could not attempt to deal with it in the face of the opposition of England.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, the Prussian Minister of Agriculture was reported to have said so in the foreign correspondence of The Times. Then there was a significant statement made by the French Prime Minister on Sunday last. He was reported as follows:—M. Ribot, replying to a question regarding the monetary crisis, said that a movement in favour of bimetallism had arisen in England, and he would use his best efforts to overcome opposition to that system in France, by which means he hoped that the country would return to the bimetallic system.Every one knew that political authorities in the United States were sharply divided on the question whether the free coinage of silver should be attempted by America alone; but on the question of the free coinage of silver by International Agreement all parties and statesmen there were absolutely agreed. The method of procedure must be by another International Conference. What was the objection to it? What could be the objection to having the whole question thoroughly threshed out by the men most competent to do so 234 and with an earnest desire to arrive at the real truth? One obstacle was the infatuation, the obstinacy, of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had hitherto refused to consider the question, which, in his judgment, was vital to the interests of Agriculture in this country, to the cotton industries in Lancashire, to the interests of India, and to the workers and producers in all the industries of the Kingdom, and which, according to the highest possible Irish authority, lay at the root of the whole land question in Ireland. The subject was even more important to the farmers in Ireland than it was to the tenant-farmers here. He did not pledge himself to any of the details of this question at present; all he asked was that the Government should seriously consider it in relation to the views he had expressed. If the Powers of Europe were not unfriendly there was no need for the great, indefinite, and prolonged delay mentioned by the hon. Member for East Northamptonshire (Mr. Channing) as the necessary accompaniment of the question. He was persuaded that it was the only thing which stood between them and the practical ruin of the agricultural industry of the country. Could any hon. Member suggest and other proposal for its salvation? If his proposals should be accepted, and by the means he had endeavoured to indicate, then he believed they might hope to see the dawn of brighter and happier times for the ancient industry of Agriculture and all the other industries in the Kingdom, as well as for the workers and producers throughout the Kingdom as a whole.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. G. J. SHAW-LEFEVRE, Bradford, Central)
said, the right hon. Gentleman began his speech by referring to the attack which the Prime Minister had made upon him in another place, and also by making a severe attack on himself with reference to matters which had occurred in the Royal Commission. The right hon. Gentleman did not appear to be certain of the words used by Lord Rosebery, and he would therefore read them:—I do not know his motives. I am sure they were high-minded; but, as the motives of Party Politicians on both sides of the House are always open to question and to suspicion, I could wish that in the exercise of his high discretion he had thought it well to hasten and not to retard the Report of that Commission.235 He associated himself entirely with the remarks of Lord Rosebery. He had never for a moment questioned the motives of the right hon. Gentleman. He still thought that he would have done better if he had assisted in bringing the proceedings of the Commission to a conclusion at an earlier date; but he had not suggested that in taking the line he had taken the right hon. Gentleman was influenced by any unworthy motives; he had no doubt the right hon. Gentleman thought he was acting in accordance with the best interests of the great industry which he represented. With regard to his own action, from the commencement he advised that the Commission should somewhat limit its inquiry. The Duke of Richmond's Commission lasted for four years. It examined a multitude of witnesses, appointed an immense number of Sub-Commissions, and cost a large sum of money. The result was that a great deal of the value of that Commission was dissipated, much of the evidence having become obsolete. He tried, if possible, to avoid the fate of the Richmond Commission, and from the first, to the best of his ability, he urged upon the Commission that it should not endeavour to cover the whole country with Sub-Commissions, but should endeavour to take a selected area of England and Scotland, endeavour to obtain full reports, and then report within a reasonable time. Under those circumstances the House would have been in full possession of the facts of the subject, and able to deal with it. In June last he ventured to point out to the Commission that the time was coming when it would be necessary to come to some conclusion, and the evidence brought to a termination. He pointed out that it would be perfectly possible to present the Report at the commencement of the Session. The right hon. Gentleman took a somewhat different view, but the majority agreed that the evidence should be closed towards the end of the then year. When the Commission met in November he again raised the question as to the termination of the proceedings, with the view of the presentation of the Report early in the present year. The right hon. Gentleman urged his arguments to the contrary, and the majority 236 of the Commission agreed with the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said the reason he objected to the closing of the evidence was that no evidence at all had been taken on several very important subjects.
§ MR. SHAW-LEFEVRE
said that, in his opinion, that evidence might have been dealt with in the few weeks that remained before the end of the year. He sent in the ordinary manner to the Secretary of the Commission a short record of what took place, and he (Mr. Shaw-Lefevre) took full responsibility for the paragraph which appeared in the papers. That paragraph was an accurate and fair representation of what took place, but the right hon. Gentleman took exception to it, as he thought it had given rise to some misconception as to his attitude in the matter. If there was misconception on one side, there was misconception on the other, for he was charged with having attempted to burke inquiry. He was sorry that there was any misconception. At the next meeting the point was discussed, and he should read the Minute then drawn up. He thought the House would see that there was little difference between the two. This was the Minute which the Commission agreed to as a fair record of what took place:—''The Chairman commenced the proceedings of the day by reviewing the points remaining to be considered by the Commission. He said that a great mass of evidence had been taken, and the Sub-Commissioners had reporte do nnumerous districts. There were only three counties in England in respect of which no evidence had been taken or reports made. He enumerated 14 subjects of enquiry which, he thought, had been thoroughly exhausted in the evidence, including the Agricultural Holdings Acts, judicial rents, adulteration of farm products, marking of foreign meat, importation of foreign cattle, &c. He pointed out that, if the Commission sat twice a week till December 21, there would be 14 more days for evidence. He considered that, if witnesses in future were not examined or cross-examined at such length as in the past on these topics, it would be possible to deal with the remaining points of inquiry in the time named. He held it was unnecessary to take evidence from Wales in view of the fact that a Royal Commission has been specially inquiring into the Welsh land question, and their evidence was already published. He thought that 14 days would be sufficient for the evidence from Scotland and on all other matters remaining to be dealt with. If the Commission should think this sufficient, the Christmas 237 Recess could then be employed in preparing a Report, and the Commission would then be able to consider its Report when Parliament meets in February. This proposal was opposed by Mr. Chaplin on the grounds specified in the Resolution which appears upon these Minutes, and which he handed in to the Chairman in the following terms:—'In view of the fact that there remains 20 counties in England from which no evidence by tenant-farmers has been given; that ten of those counties have not been visited by any Sub-Commissioner; that six witnesses only have at present been heard from Scotland; that no inquiry into agricultural depression has at present been made in Wales; and that little, and in some cases no, evidence has as yet been taken with regard to various special subjects such as:—(a) The agricultural position of foreign countries which compete with the United Kingdom; (b) the probable future of foreign competition with which English agriculturists must reckon; (c) the extent of derelict land in the counties of Great Britain; (d) the effect of foreign bounties; (e) the possible extension of dairy farming in Great Britain, and various other subjects, it would be premature during the present year to adopt any decision which would limit the taking of evidence for the future.' After a prolonged discussion, in which a majority of the Commission were of opinion that it would not be possible to complete the evidence within the time named, the Chairman withdrew his suggestion. It was then proposed that the final paragraph of Mr. Chaplin's Resolution should be put to the Commission.He need not read more. He thought then, and he thought now, that the Commission made a mistake in not agreeing to bring the evidence to a conclusion. There the matter stood. He entirely disclaimed any breach of faith with the right hon. Gentleman in sending the paragraph to the papers, and he could only assure the House that it was done in the ordinary course of business, and that he had not the slightest intention of casting any discredit on the right hon. Gentleman. He should have been much better pleased if the Minute finally agreed to had been sent to the papers in place of the paragraph, as it explained the difference between himself and the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that the Commission should go to Edinburgh, a proposition which he thought was unnecessary, and that, if necessary, it should have been sent in the previous autumn. Again the majority of the Commission was against him. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that the Commission should go to Wales, but considering the operations of the Welsh Land Commission, he did not think it a wise action to go to Wales. 238 Again the Commission were against him. The result of all this was that the Report of the Commission could not be presented until somewhat late in the present year, whereas, if it had followed his advice, the Report would have been presented before now. In the interests of Agriculture he thought that was a misfortune, and that it would have been wiser to come to a conclusion so that Parliament might have been able to deal with the subject at an early day this Session. He thought he had shown, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman had, in fact, retarded the adoption of the Report of the Royal Commission, though he in no way imputed improper motives. He could only say that if his own views had been acted upon that Report might have been issued early in the present Session. That disposed of the personal part of the question. In regard to the existing agricultural depression, he desired to say, as the Chairman of the Royal Commission, that he had not the slightest wish to depreciate the gravity of the present position of matters. From the first he had admitted the gravity of the misfortune. During the recess he had visited the County of Essex and other parts, and he could confirm all that had been said by Mr. Pringle in his Report, that a serious crisis had arisen which deserved the most careful consideration. He was enabled to do some good by his visit to the agriculturists of Essex, because he was able to show that the assessments on the land for Poor Law purposes had not been reduced in proportion to the extent the land had depreciated in value. In a letter to the Times at the time he pointed out that the law had not been carried out in this respect by the Assessment Committee, and he had reason to believe that in consequence of that letter the assessments on land in that county had been reduced. He found, however, that the existing depression was not of recent date, but had been going on and increasing for the past ten years. The worst part of the difficulty was that much of the land had been allowed to get into such neglected condition that it would take a large amount—from £8 to £10 an acre—to bring it back into cultivation, and, having regard to the taxes, it would seem to be hardly worth while to expend that amount upon it for 239 the purpose. The right hon. Gentleman had stated that the Government might have proposed legislation to the house to deal with the difficulty, although the Royal Commission had not reported. But how was it reasonably possible that the Government could introduce legislation on subjects which were still under the consideration of the Commission, and on which they were still receiving evidence day by day? For the first time the right hon. Gentleman had then stated that he was in favour of an amendment of the Agricultural Holdings Act.
§ MR. SHAW-LEFEVRE
said, he could state positively that the right hon. Gentleman had not made such a statement on the Commission.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, he must ask the right hon. Gentleman not to lead the House to believe that they had considered the question whether there was to be an amendment of the Agricultural Holdings Act or not.
§ MR. SHAW-LEFEVRE
said, he would admit that, but what he contended was that the subject had already been exhausted, and that when the hon. Member for Northamptonshire moved on the Commission just before Christmas that the Commission should make an interim Report with a view to legislation in the coming Session, the right hon. Member for Sleaford opposed that Motion, and the result was that the Government were therefore prevented from taking action before the Commission fully reported.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, the right hon. Gentleman should not omit to state that the Motion did not meet with any support, and that he himself did not support it.
§ MR. SHAW-LEFEVRE
admitted that this statement was quite accurate. But how did the circumstance come about? The right hon. Member for Sleaford declared that he would offer the most strenuous resistance to the making of an interim Report, and thereupon he, as Chairman of the Commission, said that, though he approved the proposal of the hon. Member for Northamptonshire, yet that it was contrary to precedent for a Commission to make an interim Report upon highly controversial 240 matters, and in face of the strong opposition of the right hon. Member for Sleaford he could not advise the Commission to take that course. Another question which had been referred to in the Debate was that of Local Rating, on which the Commission had heard much evidence. The right hon. Gentleman had said that he thought the Commission would report unanimously in favour of a reduction of local rates. That might be probable, because, theoretically, everybody was in favour of the reduction of local rates. But the difficulty was as to the scheme of reduction, and that very grave difficulty had had not yet been considered by the Commission. In a short time he hoped to be able to call before the Commission a competent witness from the Local Government Board to explain the difficulties of the matter. On this point he might also state that he hoped in the course of a few days to lay on the Table of the House an interesting statement showing the course of local rating during the last 20 years, and the Return would make a comparison, for a definite number of years, between the assessments in each Union throughout the country on land, railways, and house property. It would show that the assessments on land had largely decreased in consequence of the Agricultural depression, while those on other property had largely increased, the decrease in the one case being almost balanced by the increase in the other. Therefore, if any additional relief was given by the State to local rates through increased subventions, the benefit would go far more to other property than to landed property. Let them suppose, for instance, that the State was in a position to give five millions in an additional subvention to the relief of the rates—one million only of it would go in aid of the land, while four millions would go to the relief of the assessments on other property. Moreover, the five millions would have to be raised by taxation on the whole community. Depressed as Agriculture was, the agricultural classes still comprised one-filth or one-sixth of the total population, and therefore they would have in such a case to raise in taxation almost as much as they would receive in benefit from such a subvention. These considerations showed that it would not be easy as hon. Members 241 opposite supposed to give further relief to Agriculture by means of State subventions in aid of local rates. Another proposal made with a view to relieving local rates was that other property besides land, houses, and railways should be included in the local assessments. But would a change of that kind be really to the interest of the farmers of this country? The main property found in local districts other than land, houses, and railways was farming stock. Would it be to the interest of farmers that that kind of property should be assessed for local rating? The only effect would be to impose an additional burden upon farmers for the benefit of the owners of lands, houses, and railways. Yet another proposal was that, instead of confining assessment to the actual property in a given district, they should assess all personal property, wherever situated, which was held by persons living in that district. Would a method of rating of that kind be beneficial to the farming interest? He thought not, for, in the first place, all the capital of farmers would have to be rated; and, in the second place, railway companies would no longer be rated locally. The question of rating was one of the most difficult questions that could be brought under the consideration of the House. He trusted that the Royal Commission, of which he was Chairman, would be able to deal with that subject among others, but no human being could justly find fault with the Government for not attempting to grapple with so difficult a matter at the present moment. The right hon. Gentleman opposite had made some comments upon the circumstance that the Government were proposing to deal with the subject of Light Railways although it was under the consideration of the Royal Commission. He attached, himself, the greatest importance to the construction of Light Railways, believing that 20 or 30 millions could be spent with good results on their extension. In the Lower House of the Prussian Diet the Minister for Agriculture, in a speech on the subject of the agrarian crisis, had declared that the existing depression was of an international character, and that agriculturists must endeavour to overcome the existing difficulties by ability, tenacity, and economy; and the same Minister had laid stress on the necessity 242 of extending the present network of inland communication. This showed that the Minister for Agriculture in Germany had arrived at the same conclusion as the Government had here—namely, that one of the most important things that could be done for Agriculture was the extension of railway communication. The right hon. Gentleman had ended his speech, as he had ended many others in that House, with a statement of his views on the subject of bimetallism. He had no doubt that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would deal with that statement in his customary effectual manner before the Debate closed. For his part, he wished that he could agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the depression of Agriculture was due to the scarcity of gold. If he could only come to that conclusion he should have great confidence in the future.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
explained that his contention was that the depression of Agriculture was due to the fall in prices.
§ MR. SHAW-LEFEVRE
said, that all were agreed as to that, but then came the question, "What was the fall in prices due to?" There were two main causes to which the fall in prices might be assigned. The view of bimetallists was that it was due to the scarcity of gold and to differences of currency and exchange, and the other view was that it was due to increased production and to improved means of communication. If present low prices were due to the scarcity of gold the difficulty was in course of being removed, because during the last four or five years the production of gold had been increasing rapidly. But he did not think, himself, that the low price of wheat and other things was due to that cause. His opinion was that it was due to the multiplication of inventions, and to the increase of railways in the Argentine Republic, in Southern Russia, in the Western States of America, and in other corn-growing districts. These were the circumstances which accounted for the increased importation of foreign products. He thought it rather unfortunate that the right hon. Gentleman should have raised the bimetallic question before the Royal Commission, but as he had done so the Commission, he thought, must consider it. With the right hon. Gentleman the question of bimetallism was a fixed 243 idea, and lie hardly ever delivered a speech without introducing the subject. He would venture to point out, in conclusion, that, although low prices were undoubtedly at this moment the cause of great suffering to the agricultural interest, yet they were, on the other hand, the cause of infinite blessing to a vast multitude of the labouring people throughout the country. He would say without fear of contradiction that at this moment the average condition of the labouring people of this country was infinitely better than it had ever been in the past. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman to make a comparison with the years 1871–73. He supposed that in the commercial history of this country there never was a period of greater prosperity than the years 1871–73. Prices were rising rapidly, trade was improving by leaps and bounds, and there were many other evidences of prosperity; yet he ventured to think that a careful comparison of the last three years with the years to which he had referred would show that the great bulk of the labouring people of this country were better off now than they were then. Since that time an addition of 7,000,000 had been made to the population, representing 140,000 heads of families, three-fourths of whom belonged to the working classes, and yet he believed that there were fewer men out of employment now than in the years 1871–73. Pauperism had been reduced by at least one-half, wages had been increased in money, and still more by the value men could get for their money. Again, the average consumption of meat per head of the population had increased in the same period by 15 per cent., of sugar by 62 per cent., of tea by 30 per cent., and of tobacco by 19 per cent. All these facts showed, to his mind, that there was a silver lining to this black cloud of depression which was overlying agriculture, and that even the agricultural population were infinitely better off now than in the prosperous period of 1871–73. He would, therefore, ask the House to hesitate before they endeavoured to raise prices artificially. The country, as a whole, was gaining by low prices, and for his part, he would endeavour to resist to the best of his power any attempt to raise prices artificially. No 244 doubt there were many people out of work in different parts of the country, but, taking the country as a whole, unquestionably the state of things was better than it was last year, and still better than the year before. The distress had been aggravated by the severe weather, which had pressed hardly on out-of-doors employments; but he undertook to say that the condition of the country was better than in the past two years, and though the depression in prices was causing loss to agricultural producers, that depression in prices was, in the main, of advantage to the country.
§ *MR. J. KEIR HARDIE (West Ham, S.)
said, he could not take the same roseate view of the situation as the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down. The right hon. Gentleman had been unfortunate in his comparison. He was old enough to remember the period to which he had referred, and in 1871 he was engaged as a miner. From 1871 to 1874 the wages of a miner averaged 8s. a day in the districts he was acquainted with, whereas they were now no more than 4s. to 4s. 6d. Neither could he agree that the working population were better off to-day than ever before. Employment to-day was more precarious and intermittent. A man over middle age found it almost impossible to find employment when from any cause he happened to be dismissed. The conditions under which industries were conducted compelled production to be carried on quickly and cheaply, which led to the displacement of men no longer in the flush of youth. It might be true that more tea and sugar and other luxuries were being consumed, but that did not necessarily point to prosperity. He should put it down to exactly the opposite cause. He knew the country districts of Scotland where tea had taken the place of more substantial food, and in the poorer districts of London weak tea was the staple article of diet, because people could not afford more wholesome food. He wished briefly to speak on that part of the Amendment which dealt with the unemployed. He had intended to specially raise the question by an Amendment, but, as he had been informed, by a misunderstanding the Mover of this Amendment had included the question of the unemployed, he had been precluded from moving his own Amendment. By altering the form he 245 could have done so, but in view of the offer of a Committee he was prepared to wait for the result before pressing the matter to an extreme point. There was, he thought, a little confusion as to what constituted a person out of employment. It seemed to him that a person who was accustomed to earn wages and was for the time being prevented from following his occupation was a person out of employment. There were three classes, namely, those out of work from seasonal causes, those who were casual labourers, and those who were out of work through depression in trade—and any remedy proposed would require to meet all three cases and deal with them separately. There could not be two opinions as to the main cause of the want of employment. If the wealth which was being produced were also being distributed, want of employment would be an impossibility. He was certainly surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman opposite say that the numbers of the unemployed were less than two or three years ago. He had endeavoured to make special inquiry in different parts of the country by consulting those persons who were most likely to know, and with one consent they said that never within their experience was the question of want of employment so pressing as at the present time; and the fact that the Government had been compelled to promise the appointment of a Committee belied the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. A certain number of Trade Unions made Reports to the Board of Trade, stating what proportion of their Members were receiving out-of-work pay, and last month that proportion was 7.5 per cent. out of a membership of a million and a quarter. This showed the number of unionists out of work to be over 86,000. Any employer would bear him out that, among those who were not organised, and who were outside of trade unions, the proportion of out-of-works was always higher than it was in the unions. The intelligent and skilled workmen were those who were members of a trade union, and these generally received the first consideration at the hand of the employers. If 7 per cent. of trade unionists were out of work, it was not unfair to assume that 8 per cent. of non-unionists would also be idle. That percentage 246 would represent close on a million of non-workers, and would bring up the total to 1,086,000. It might be said that in the domestic and professional callings the proportions of unemployed were smaller. But an advertisement for a clerk at 20s. or 25s. a week would bring in hundreds of applications; and large numbers of women were living a life of shame because they had not the opportunity to earn an honest living. The lack of employment pressed in certain localities with undue severity; and he himself represented one of the worst localities in the country. In West Ham there were men and women literally sinking into premature graves in working for the relief of those unable to obtain work. When the Prime Minister went to the East End he received a deputation who told him that there were 5,000 unemployed in West Ham. His Lordship expressed surprise, and said that did not agree with the information he had received, presumably from the Local Government Board. Since then there had been a complete canvass of the Borough, and returns had been obtained on forms which had been left at every house, and of which copies were open to the inspection of hon. Members. The returns showed that there was a working population of 44,690, of whom 28,383 were in more or less regular work, while 6,176 were occasionally employed, and earning perhaps an average of 10s. a week, and 10,131 were totally unemployed, probably 25 per cent. having been out of employment continuously for 18 months or two years. The proportion of the unemployed in the building trades who would be affected by the severe weather was very small indeed; and it might be said that 97 per cent. of the unemployed were out of work owing to the prevailing depression in trade, and not in consequence of the severe weather. In Islington there were reported to be 9,000 out of work; and in other parts of London the number was very great. In the provincial towns matters were not much better. In Sunderland 5,000 were reported to be out of employment. A census of Bradford, taken last year, showed that the number of workers totally unemployed was 9,869, and the partially unemployed numbered 11,944. The average period during which persons had been unemployed was 12 weeks and 2 days. These facts constituted a 247 serious state of affairs. In the coalmining districts trade was bad, and was growing worse. Pits were being stopped in Wales, and short time was being worked in England and Scotland. In the tin industry of Wales matters were in a deplorable condition. He read the other day that a deputation of workers went to an employer and offered to accept a reduction of 12½ per cent. upon their former wages if he would open his works; but he had to confess that even at that reduction he could not open the works permanently. In the cotton industry the outlook was alarming. So this was not only a question of men being out of work from temporary causes, but it was a case of our whole industrial system breaking down from one cause or another. He was glad to find that at length the Government recognised the fact that in future it would be the business of the Government to endeavour to re-create our industrial system so that starvation from the want of employment should be almost impossible. Could it be wondered at that the millions who were badly fed and clothed, and who had no hope for the morrow, should sink to the depths of despair and become loafers? Would it be surprising that these people should seek to settle the question for themselves if the Government did not? We could not afford to be ignorant of the great force of discontent which must be dealt with in one way or another. He had indicated that in his opinion nothing short of an entire reorganisation of our industrial system on a Socialistic basis would meet the difficulty permanently; but the people out of work could not wait for this. It was incumbent on us from the point of view of humanity to do something to meet the case as it presents itself to-day. As regarded season trades, authorities might do much by giving work to do out of the ordinary season; and in this respect the London County Council had set an excellent example, which might well be followed by other bodies, including the Government. The Government might also do something with the 12 or 13 million acres of waste lands, the afforestation of which would enable us to grow wood, which we now imported to the amount of £17,000,000 or £18,000,000 worth a year. This would provide employment which would 248 enrich all classes of the community. Experiments should be tried on the lines of making the land of England produce the food of its people. Whether that was impossible remained to be seen. We might, at all events, find out whether a thousand men could not, under ordinary conditions, provide themselves and their dependants with the necessaries of life. These were some of the remedies which might be applied immediately. He urged that the question should be dealt with promptly and effectively by the Committee to be appointed; there was no reason why, within a fortnight, there should not be some substantial relief afforded to centres in which depression prevailed. The Local Authorities were overburdened with taxation and unable to meet the circumstances; our workhouses were overcrowded, and it was an insult to the working classes that when they received relief in the form of work they should lose the rights of citizenship in consequence. It was essential to any reform respecting the unemployed, first, that honourable work should be provided, not oakum picking and stone breaking, which were done by criminals; secondly, that the wages paid should be the current trade union wages prevailing in the particular trade or occupation; and, thirdly, the work should not entail any disability of any kind. If these three conditions were observed, and the Committee realised the gravity of the situation and reported to the House without delay, then he believed the gentlemen of England on both sides of politics would feel it to be their duty not to make this a Party question, but to consider it from the point of view of common humanity and take whatever action might be necessary to remove the darkest stain on our national escutcheon.
§ *SR C. W. DILKE
regarded with alarm the proposal of the Government with reference to a Committee on this subject, but congratulated the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Keir Hardie), who had hitherto been driven from pillar to post, that he had at last got his way upon one point, which was a way in which he (Sir C. W. Dilke) entirely agreed. Two years ago the then Prime Minister, when asked to appoint a Committee to report to the House on this matter, said,''It was an attempt to transfer from the 249 Local Authorities to the House of Commons certain duties which should be discharged by the Local Authorities.He added that,''There was no need for the appointment of such a Committee, because the whole subject was before the Labour Commission, who would report upon it.The Labour Commission reported upon it fully, but the great drawback of all these inquiries was that they took place over and over again, and the hon. Member was indeed a sanguine man if he thought that within a fortnight from that day the Committee would have been appointed and have presented even an interim Report on the question raised in his speech. Upon part of the question all the facts were in the possession of Parliament, having been obtained by at least two Royal Commissions. The hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Keir Hardie) was driven from pillar to post both last year and in 1893. He pressed one particular point with immense pertinacity on two successive Presidents of the Local Government Board—namely, that Boards of Guardians should have power to obtain land for land colonies, which had been so successful in Germany and Holland and other parts of the world. It appeared that the power nominally existed, but the Statutes on the subject were old and unworkable. On this point the hon. Member had got his way, for upon it it would be possible for the Committee to immediately make an interim Report and for legislation to be initiated. Passing to the larger question, he heard with some alarm what fell from the Leader of the House. Let him take the case of his (Sir C. W. Dilke's) own constituency, as a man knew his own constituency best. There were no unemployed in the ordinary sense of the word in it, but a great many people following industries which were declining, in which the employers' profits were becoming smaller and smaller and the wages earned less and less. They were small freeholders, so did not starve. Some of them sold their homes and went to the United States. But these people and others would object to be taxed for the benefit of special districts where the unemployed class existed, and the effect of subsidies being got from the local rates would be to increase the number of the unemployed in 250 the urban districts, and alter the whole tendency of the last few years to try and improve the life of the rural districts and to keep people in them. Directly it got abroad in his constituency that large sums out of the Imperial taxes were to be spent, say, at Cardiff, which was not far off, on behalf of the unemployed, many of the people would go to Cardiff. Therefore, while there was ground for immediate legislation to enable Boards of Guardians to establish labour colonies and try an experiment many wished to see tried, on the other hand he feared there might be hurried legislation on the larger question, which was one that ought not to be dealt with in a hurried way.
§ SR J. GORST (Cambridge University)
expressed regret at the course taken by the Government. He was afraid the subject would be hung up for another year. He did not think the Government appreciated the extreme importance and urgency of this question. He had long looked upon it as a most important social question which pressed for solution by the present Parliament; and at the present moment perhaps the necessity for some action on the part of the Government of the country was possibly a little more urgent than it had ever been before. But it was an urgency which had been resting upon Parliament and the Government of the country for the last five or six years. The statistics of Mr. Charles Booth had been before the country for the last five years, and had never been substantially attacked. In those statistics he showed that in the East End of London no less than 35.5 of the population—more than one-third—were in a condition of chronic and perpetual poverty through being out of work, and when the statistics were extended to the whole of London, including the whole of the healthy West End, there were 30.7 per cent. of the population in a chronic state of poverty. The President of the Local Government Board had talked about pauperism decreasing. The poorhouses in London were never so full as they were at the present time, those sheltered in them having to sleep two in a bed and on the floor. Perhaps the worst case of all was that of Greenwich, which was inhabited by many of the class of casual labourers, and the workhouse there was so crammed that it 251 was a disgrace to our Poor Law Administration. He was quite aware that London was not the only town in the United Kingdom in which the question of the unemployed had arisen. He, however, had had personal experience of the state of things that existed in the Metropolitan districts, and he was speaking from knowledge of the facts and not from mere hearsay. He believed that the feelings of the unemployed would be seriously embittered when they became aware that the Government instead of attempting to deal with their case proposed to refer the subject to a Select Committee, or, perhaps, to a Royal Commission. He had had a large experience of Select Committees and of Royal Commissions, and he had a most unfavourable opinion of their working. The late Mr. Disraeli used to say that an inquiry by a Royal Commission was an expensive and an elaborate mode of discovering something that everybody knew; and he believed that Mr. Disraeli was quite right in taking that view. He knew that when a Government was not prepared to deal with a question, or desired to hang it up indefinitely, a Royal Commission was invariably resorted to; and he believed that the Government merely proposed to refer this subject to a Select Committee because they did not know what to do with it and had no policy to declare with regard to it. The Government, in order to gain time and to avoid announcing some line of action in connection with this question, had resorted to this old form of delay, and had proposed to refer the whole matter to a Select Committee. What the Government ought to do was to instruct their permanent advisers in such matters to prepare some plan for dealing with the subject; and, if they did so, such a plan, which would doubtless be satisfactory to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board and to every Member of that House, would be forthcoming within a very short period. The principles upon which such a plan should be based should be to give to the local authorities power to make experiments in giving relief to the unemployed. It was not as though the local bodies were unfit to deal with these questions, because the Boards of Guardians in London were peculiarly qualified to do so: far more so, in fact, than a Select Committee 252 of the whole House would be. If they were empowered to make experiments in the treatment of the unemployed, labour colonies would be speedily established, and plans put into execution for the reclamation of waste lands and for carrying out other useful projects. He had been much struck at a meeting of the unemployed that he had attended by finding that the men altogether condemned the principle of doles, of free meals, and of other forms of charity, and that they equally condemned the institution of useless and unremunerative works for the purpose of giving them relief. The men pleaded that power should be given to the local authorities to initiate useful and productive work. He believed that if the Government were to take steps to empower the local authorities to try experiments in the direction he had indicated, they would be doing far more good than they would accomplish by referring this subject to a Select Committee.
§ MR. E. H. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)
said, that the House must have listened with much sympathy to the speech of the hon. Member for West Ham. As one of the Representatives of the East of London, he could say that his own observation, and the information he had received, fully confirmed the statement of the hon. Member as to the urgency of the need that existed for taking measures for the relief of the unemployed in that part of the Metropolis. On behalf of himself, and of the hon. Members who were associated with him, and who had been pressing the Government to give them a pledge to deal with this question of the unemployed, he felt justified, in view of the important announcement that had been made that afternoon, in accepting the proposal of the Government to appoint a Committee to inquire into the subject. The right hon. Gentleman opposite had suggested that the object of the Government in making the proposal was to enable them to delay making any announcement on the question, and if they had proposed to appoint a Royal Commission he might have been disposed to agree with him; but a Committee was a very different thing, and might speedily bring their inquiry to a conclusion. There was one part of the subject, however, with which the Government might 253 have dealt without making any inquiry, and that was the one that related to the creation of a Joint Board for the whole Metropolis. At present the Metropolis was divided up into some 40 Sanitary Districts and 30 distinct Poor Law Unions; and the consequence was that the question of the relief of the unemployed could only be dealt with piecemeal. As the hon. Member for West Ham had said, the word "unemployed" was used in many different, and sometimes confusing, senses. For the moment he desired to look upon the unemployed as those who, as a rule, were in employment, and who were only thrown out of work during periods of exceptional depression and distress. Such persons undoubtedly deserved the sympathy of the community at large. The highly organised Trades Unions were able to make some provision for those of their members who were out of work, but that provision left almost entirely untouched the great mass of half-skilled and unskilled labour, whose Unions, if indeed they had them, did not receive such contributions as would enable them to provide out-of-work benefit. Now, in the employment of the class of persons to whom he referred there were three conditions which must be satisfied in any feasible plan. In the first place, the work must be bona-fide work and must not be useless or degrading work, and it must provide the means for those persons to return to their normal avocations. Secondly, the persons so employed must not be brought into direct relations with the Guardians, for that would be the first step in the facile descent to permanent dependence upon the Poor Law. And, thirdly—and probably this was the most important—the cost should be defrayed either wholly or in part by a common charge over the whole Metropolis. How could those conditions best be carried out in a practical proposal? He relied very much on the recommendations of the well-known circular which had more than once been issued from the Local Government Board. He desired really to effect that co-operation to which the circular referred, between the Boards of Guardians and the Vestries. Within the limits of their meagre resources, the London Vestries, he ventured to say, had dealt with the unemployed question in a business-like manner and with fair 254 success. Indeed, the success of relief works was largely dependent on supervision and administration. They wanted more foremen and more gangers, but not a harsher discipline than in the case of ordinary workmen. And so far as the Vestries had succeeded, they had relieved the burdens of the Guardians and had spared the poor rate. It seemed to him, therefore, a strong case was made out for the Guardians being empowered, under proper safeguards, to make contributions in aid of the cost of relief works executed by the Sanitary Authorities in their districts. But that contribution should not be defrayed exclusively by the local rate, for the unemployed after all were not the unemployed of St. George's, or Shoreditch, or Bethnal Green, they were the unemployed of the Metropolis as a whole. The cost, therefore, should be a common charge, and as a practical suggestion, he proposed that it should be charged upon the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund. Legislation would be required. That legislation would authorise the Local Government Board to make the regulations under which the money would be contributed and the work carried out, and in those regulations and in the supervision of the Local Government Board there would be precisely the same safeguards which existed now for all that common expenditure which was charged on the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund. The London Member with whom he was associated, had put this suggestion before the Government. Of course their proposition did not profess to cover the whole question of the unemployed; what it did was simply to provide the machinery under which, under a common charge, the Metropolis might be able to deal with one part and one part only of the question. One other point. The regulations of the Local Government Board were rather out of date and needed to be revised, in order to bring them into harmony with the industrial and social changes which had taken place since they were framed. And here he should like to find in the Local Government Board a more genial reception of Boards of Guardians who desired to make experiments. There had been cases in which a tendency had been shown to crush in the bud any suggestion of this kind proceeding from a Board of Guardians. 255 In his opinion, Guardians who had ideas ought to be permitted to make experiments. If the experiments succeeded they would be imitated; if they failed, we should have to look for safety in other directions. There was no royal road in the solution of social problems. He trusted the inquiry would be appointed at once, and would proceed with all despatch, and he suggested that the Committee might make an interim Report, that was, if it was not able to cover the whole ground, containing some recommendations to meet the immediate need.
The SPEAKER having returned, after the usual interval,
§ MR. G. WHITELEY (Stockport)
resumed the Debate. He stated that for many years he had been closely associated with the Cotton Trade, which was the largest of the textile industries, and he very much regretted that the shortness of the notice which had been given did not permit of his supplying statistics to the House to prove beyond doubt, the present disastrous and deplorable state of that industry. Thirty years ago it would be remembered, the County of Lancashire, owing to the Civil War in America, was devastated by the cotton famine, and though he did not intend to argue that the present state of affairs was parallel to that which existed at that time, yet he ventured to say that a crisis was impending in Lancashire in the near future which undoubtedly was most alarming. He could best indicate the present state of the Cotton Trade by quoting some figures which he had sent to The Times a few weeks ago, and which were culled from The Textile Recorder, a most important paper in the north of England. These figures, which related to the large co-operative cotton spinning district around Oldham, Rochdale and Ashton, showed that the profits in 1894 of 94 spinning Companies in that district, with a collective share capital of £6,947,000, were £4,300. To that extent did the average profits exceed the average losses, and that sum amounted practically to a dividend upon the capital of those Companies of 06 on £100. And this, too, notwithstanding the fact that not a penny had been charged for capital, and that in many cases depreciation funds had been tampered with. In very many cases in and around the Oldham district the value of these Companies 256 stood in their books at something like 50 per cent. over what in all probability they would fetch in the open market. If hon. Members placed their money in Consols or the Debenture Stocks of Railway Companies they expected to get some 2¾ per cent., but here in large and important concerns, over and above the wear and tear of carrying on commercial operations, there was a return of only 06 throughout last year. But, bad as undoubtedly was 1894, he did not think any hon. Member who was connected with Lancashire would deny that 1895 would be very much worse, largely on account of the re-imposition of the Import Duties in India, to which he had no doubt the attention of the House would be called on some future occasion. He was in a position to speak not only for the borough which he represented, but the county in which he lived, and in many districts machinery was now going out of use which would never be replaced, because people who were engaged in the Cotton Trade and had something left were unwilling to throw good money after bad. As a result fabric mills were at present standing idle and were being used in some cases for warehouses or store rooms. The hon. Member for the Sleaford Division of Lincolnshire had referred to the state of Blackburn, but he had not painted it in anything like such dark and gloomy tints as would one who was a native of the place. A return which was issued by the Operative Weavers' officials in Blackburn a few weeks ago, showed that out of a total number of 64,000 looms there 25 per cent. were now stopped. That meant that 6,000 active workers in the cotton trade were at present out of employment. There were generous men in Blackburn who were subscribing in order to relieve the distress, and tide the people over the inclement weather. They did not contend that the consumption of cotton was decreasing throughout the world, on the contrary, it was largely increasing, though unfortunately the consumption of cotton manufactured in this country was not increasing. We were consuming in Great Britain now 32 per cent. of the total supply of the world, whereas 20 years ago we were consuming 44 per cent., despite the fact that during that 20 years the cotton industry had increased 257 to so large an extent. Cotton machinery was being shipped in large quantities to every habitable part of the Globe. He did not think that 10 per cent. of the machinery constructed was being set up in this country. There was now a large demand for cotton machinery in South America. It was a demand which had been checked in a large degree by the gold premiums; but after all that was only a temporary impediment. To India alone in 1893 we exported two million pounds worth of textile machinery and steam engines, and in India during the last ten years the spindles had increased by 82 per cent. and the looms by 9 per cent. Within the last ten days he met a gentleman who had lately returned from a prolonged tour in China and Japan, and that gentleman informed him that there were now ten cotton mills containing 250,000 spindles working in Shanghai alone, and that in Japan there were 82 cotton mills at work and 400,000 spindles ordered to be sent there as soon as the war was at an end. No doubt it would be argued that although the shipment of cotton goods to India and silver-using countries had largely increased during the last year, the value of the goods had decreased. There had been of late a great development of railway communication in India, and before the advance of machine-made goods the hand loom industry had to some extent decayed. That was possibly owing in great measure—at any rate, during the last few months—to the anticipation, which unfortunately was realised, of the re-imposition of the cotton import duties. If our cotton products had not gone to silver-using countries, where would they have gone? At the present time there was hardly a gold standard country in the world that had not built round its industries, and especially the cotton industry, a wall of protection so large that it was impossible to climb it. In this country we acted in a very different manner: we protected the consumer at the expense of the producer. Many speakers had called attention to the universal gloom which seemed to hang over not only agriculture but all the industries of the counties. No hon. Member could put his finger on a single trade which could be said to be prosperous 258 or flourishing. There must be some universal cause at the bottom of this stagnation. One of the chief causes, he thought, was the present position of currency matters. All over the world there was a scramble for gold. The inevitable result of such a state of things was that the value of gold was doubled. That meant a doubling of the indebtedness of the world; it meant a bonus for the rich and a fine for the poor; it meant a benefit for those who had and a loss and expense to those who did not possess; it likewise meant a transference of the cotton industry to the silver-using countries. The second cause to which he attributed our present depression of trade was that trading matters did not receive the attention in the House of Commons they deserved. He felt that until there was in the House a Trade Party who would support trade interests before every other, the trading interests of the country would never get their deserts. Many measures had been promised in the Queen's Speech, but he asked any trading representative in the House what good would the passing of any one of those measures do to the depressed industries of the country. What benefit would accrue to any starved-out weaver in Lancashire or any unemployed rural labourer in Norfolk or Essex by Welsh Disestablishment? What benefit would the Irish Land Act provide for them? What profit would "One Man One Vote" give to those people? "One Man One Vote" was a very trite phrase, but "One Man One Metal" was an equally trite phrase, and he feared that until the currency was put on a sound basis we should not have a restoration of commercial prosperity. What good would light railways, constructed at the expense of the rates, do if there was nothing to carry, and what good would any number of revisions of the Factory Acts bring if our factories had no work? It seemed to him that in presenting their heroic measures, the Government were acting as unwisely as a factory owner would act if he spent his time in pulling out of his premises machinery which could and would work if it were only allowed to do so, in order to put in some new-fangled tackle, of the merits of which he did not know anything. He hoped the present condition of affairs would not last long. The strength of 259 the Government was sapped. ["No, no."] That was undeniable if the recent elections were any test. A good deal had been said about filling up the cup. Speaking as a Lancashire cotton manufacturer, and as the Member for an important Cheshire constituency, he felt that not only was the cup of the Government full, but it was brimming over.
§ MR. W. P. BYLES (Yorkshire, W.R., Shipley),
was glad the hon. Member for Stockport had reminded the House that there were other industries besides Agriculture which were in a depressed condition. The operatives of Lancashire and Yorkshire were suffering as much as the farmers and labourers in rural districts, and if Parliament were asked to do anything for agriculture, the factory districts might fairly claim to have as much done for them. It appeared to him the hon. Member for Hampshire (Mr. Jeffreys) had fallen into a fallacy; he had confounded the interest of the land with the interest of agriculture. Land was one thing and agriculture was another thing. The hon. Member for Hampshire pleaded for a lightening of the burdens upon land, but it appeared to him (Mr. Byles) that the only title a landowner had to receive rent at all for the land of the country was that he should bear the burdens of the State. But he would pass to a question in which he took the deepest interest—the question of the unemployed. Why were men unemployed? Because they were denied the natural opportunities of earning their living. A larger number than ever of the people of this country were dependent upon wages. That was to say that they were unable to supply themselves with the necessaries of life by any other means than by inducing some person to pay them wages for their labour. All an unemployed man could do was to walk from place to place asking some one to give him work. As he walked along the high road he might meet with a turnipfield, but he dare not enter the field and take a turnip, no matter how hungry he might be. The sheep, for which the turnips were growing, were thought of far greater importance than the hungry man on the roadside. He might not snare a rabbit, or take a fish out of a stream. He might not do anything except to walk from place to place until he got some one to give him work, and if 260 he failed in that all he had to do was to starve. There was a story told of a Lancashire collier who was found by the late Lord Derby trespassing on his land. "What are you doing on my land?" said his lordship, "you must not trespass here." "Then on whose land may I trespass?" asked the collier. "I have no land of my own; all the land belongs to somebody, and where then am I to trespass?" The moral of the story was, that all the land of the country being in individual hands locked up the natural opportunities all men ought to have of earning their living. The unemployed were out of work through no fault of their own. It might be that an ingenious man had invented a machine which would do the work of ten, twenty, or forty men; or that a foreign country had put on a tariff that would throw out of work large numbers of men in this country. Or it might be that there was a change in fashion, and men, women, and children were thereby rendered hungry and homeless. Through no fault of their own those people were prevented from earning wages, and they were denied the opportunities of procuring their living otherwise. Many of his constituents, honest and industrious men, competent and most willing to work, were at that moment out of employment, living in houses which they had denuded of their furniture to procure themselves food, and looking forward hopelessly to the future. What was to be done to remedy the sad state of things? Well, the question of the unemployed was not far separated from the land question. They heard frequent complaints in the House, from men competent to speak on the subject, that land was to a large extent going out of cultivation, and that large tracts were now lying idle. It was also true, as the Debate showed, that there was any amount of labour in the country waiting for employment. There was, therefore, plenty of both land and labour available. Now, land and labour were the only two essentials for the production of food and wealth. Some people might say that capital was also essential, and if that were so, he would answer that there was abundance of capital in the country awaiting investment. But he contended that land and labour were the only two essential things to supply food. These two things were divorced, and the problem 261 was to get them re-united. There were many voluntary experiments in the creation of small cultivators being made by landlords, which he hoped would be generally followed by the land-owners. By means of the Clauses of the beneficent Act which the Government passed last year—the Parish Councils Act—the local bodies could also do a great deal towards creating small occupiers. Again, there was the colony founded by General Booth, which had the most satisfactory results, though one would have thought that the men employed in the colony were of the most unpromising nature to put on agricultural land. There was also a little colony of the same kind in Westmorland, in which he was personally interested. It was worked entirely, and with great success, by men and women who, until they were taken into the colony, lived in a condition of the most absolute hopelessness. He trusted that more of these experiments would be tried, for through them they would procure some alleviation, not perhaps of the hunger felt by the unemployed, but of those conditions of society which produced the unemployed. It might be absurd to talk of putting the unemployed back on the land. But, surely, they could prevent them leaving the country districts, and settling down in our great towns. Surely, it was a disgraceful state of things that our rural population should be drifting from the country into the towns and cities; and that failure and distress should fall upon many of those once prosperous village communities. The same land that was there when those places were flourishing was still there. That land would produce the same amount of food if cultivated; and he asked, was it not worth considering whether they could not get back again from the towns and cities to the country villages—that one essential to the prosperity of the agricultural districts; that one essential of human beings to produce from the lands abundance for themselves and their families? It was said that the Government could not find work for the unemployed. But what he wanted the Government to do was to enable those men to find work for themselves by adopting the policy he advocated. At any rate, he thought they must all admit that it was a disgrace to this great and rich country, of which he was as proud 262 as any hon. Member in the House, that there should be hundreds of thousands of men and women who had no home which they could call their own, who did not know where to get their next meal, and who were imperfectly clad. But that sad state of things was not only a disgrace to us, it was a peril to us—a menace to the State and to the security of property, of which hon. gentlemen opposite spoke so often, to allow to exist so large a class who had no stake in the country, and no reason to be attached to the country of their birth.
§ MR. A. E. FELLOWES (Hunts, Ramsey,)
said he desired to bring the House back again to the question of agricultural depression. He did not think the House really realised the magnitude of the depression which existed in the agricultural districts, and especially in the Eastern Counties. He regretted that the Government had not thought it necessary to hold out any hope that help would be extended to distressed agriculturists. Surely, the Government must know that the crisis through which Agriculture was at present passing was most serious. Indeed, the Prime Minister had acknowledged in another place that there was scarcely any subject so imminent, so pressing, and so grave, as the state of Agriculture in this country. It was, therefore, a matter for regret that the Government had not thought it well to do something on behalf of that great and suffering industry. They said they were waiting for the Report of the Royal Commission. Well, he was one of those who had never had any great opinion of the benefits of a Royal Commission on Agriculture. Agriculturists knew very well what were the causes of the suffering in agricultural districts, and the Royal Commission was nothing but an attempt to shelve the whole question. He was more firmly of that opinion after hearing the speech of the hon. Member for East Northamptonshire; but in commenting on that speech he wished to recognise fully the great good which the hon. Member had done in the last 12 months as Chairman of the Central Chamber of Agriculture. The hon. Member said that after what had happened on the Commission, the Report might be delayed till next Session, and probably till the Session after. If that were the case, and if the Government 263 were going to wait for the Report of the Commission, where there were now scores of owners and hundreds of tenant farmers passing through the Bankruptcy Court, there would then be hundreds of the former and thousands of the latter. In many counties the depression spelt absolute ruin. In Norfolk the fall in the corn crop from the year 1874 to the year 1894 had meant a loss of £3,000,000, while the loss of stock in those years had been £384,000. The owners had in that period lost about £25 an acre, or £30,000,000 in all; the farmers had lost about £5 or £6 an acre, or £6,500,000 in all; and the small tradesmen in the villages and towns had difficulty in getting along at all. The yeoman farmer was almost extinct; and the labourers, who, he was glad to hear, had not felt the depression yet, would, if the present condition continued, be thrown out of employment in hundreds. The hon. Member for East Northamptonshire had said that one of the causes of the present state of things was that the initiatory stages had not been met promptly enough with reductions in rent. But this was not a question of rental alone. Taking three typical farms in Hampshire, one that was rented at £900 in 1879, was now rented at £430; another had fallen from £900 to £530; and a third from £1,500 to £250. In Norfolk, in the years 1874 to 1894, the rent of best lands had fallen from 25 to 35 per cent.; of medium land from 40 to 60 per cent.; while light and poorer land was not rented at all, and many farms had been abandoned. Knowing that all profit had gone out of the land, and that the rates and taxes on it had increased largely, agriculturists had a right to demand a thorough readjustment of local taxation. A Report had recently been brought out by Mr. Sturge, of the Surveyors' Institute, who gave as the burden on agricultural land:—Land tax, 9d. in the £; tithe, 3s. 6d. in the £; parochial rates, 2s. 10½d. in the £; death duties, 1s. 9d. in the £; property tax, 8d. in the £—total, 9s. 6½d. Out of that personal property only paid the death duties and property tax, 2s. 5d. in the £, leaving an excess on land of 7s. l½d. The question of the readjustment of local taxation was one which Parliament might be asked to take up soon. As an agricultural Member, he 264 did not in any way desire to bolster up any industry, but he asked that something should be done at once to enable agriculturists to tide over the present hard times. The Royal Commission was not likely to report for many months, and in the meantime some things might be done which would be of immediate benefit. After the Budget of last year, which placed fresh burdens on the land, the Land Tax ought to be handed over to the County Councils to be applied to the maintenance of highways or to the reduction of rates. Legislation respecting pure beer ought to be passed, and the question of preferential railway rates ought to be dealt with. These only touched the fringe of the question, but they would give immediate relief. This question of the condition of agriculture ought now to pass completely out of the range of Party politics. It was a National question, and ought to be treated as such. This country had not only the best farmers in the world, but the best stock in the world, and there was no industry to be compared in importance with the agricultural—none which employed so many hands, none which affected so much the prosperity of other industries. He trusted, therefore, that the Government would now see their way either to bring forward some measure which would be of benefit to the agricultural districts, or else that they would help on private Members' Bills.
§ MR. T. C. T. WARNER (Somerset, N.)
said, that one of the things which had led him to get up was that from the speeches of hon. Members on the Opposition Benches it was evident that they thought themselves to be the only representatives of Agriculture, and the only people in the House who knew anything about it, and could tell the difference between a cheese and a turnip. It was necessary that the agricultural Members on the Government side of the House should show that they also had a keen interest in agricultural affairs. Their sympathy was for the agricultural interest in general, but there was this difference from that of hon. Gentlemen opposite. He and his friends sympathised first and foremost with the agricultural labourer; secondly, with the farmer; and, lastly, and in a minor degree, with the landlord. No doubt there were a few landlords in 265 the House, and he might say that he himself belonged to the landowning class, but his constituency contained only a few landowners; and his feeling was that those who had sent him there were entitled to the first claim on his services and his sympathy. Some reference had been made to the Budget and to the new Death Duties placed on agricultural land. He could speak from experience on this point, for he had recently paid duties on some property which had been bequeathed to him. The amount of land in rental was only £280 a year, but the whole property whence this portion came amounted to £200,000. The Death Duties were therefore aggregated, and the land had to pay 6½ per cent. He maintained, however, that the Budget had relieved the agricultural industry. It had certainly relieved the farmers and the men who received small incomes. He admitted that it had not relieved the landowners, but probably there was not that full amount of keen sympathy for the landowners on this point that some persons professed to feel. The other branch of the complaint made by hon. Members opposite was that the Government had produced no remedies for the agricultural depression. But he might fitly enough retort that other Governments, particularly those with which hon. Gentlemen opposite had been allied, had not seen fit in past years, when they had the opportunity, to bring forward remedies for agricultural distress.
§ MR. WARNER
replied that only one-fifth of the grants in aid went to the relief of agricultural land; the other four-fifths passed to other kinds of rated property. But the result of giving this money was to show that it went, to a great extent, to the property which was least heavily taxed in the country. Take land in London as an example. It was not agricultural land, but indirectly it paid an enormous amount of rates. He believed that the rent of land in London had been estimated at £30,000,000 a year; and the question came to be whether it was desired to advocate the granting of millions in order to relieve taxes in this case. An hon. Member had suggested that rates were heavy on agricultural land. He did not think they were; and he would 266 quote an instance in support of his view. He owned some agricultural land and also some houses in the suburbs of London; the rates in this case were 7s. 2d.; in the agricultural district the rates on land were 2s. 2¼d., and on the houses 2s. 4½d. He thought that a comparison of rates in these instances of land and houses would show that land was considerably better off, either as to rates or rent, than houses in the suburbs of London. It had been further suggested that agricultural land should not pay rates at all; that houses only should pay them. But what would be the effect of that remedy on purely agricultural districts? The effect would be to throw the rates on farm houses and cottages, and probably a small shop or two. By this means hon. Members would be helping to intensify an evil, for they would discourage the building of cottages; they would encourage the pulling down of cottages, and help a great deal to drive persons from the rural districts into the towns. He indicated that perhaps something might be done for agriculture by looking into the question of tithe, railway rates, and in providing an Amendment of the Agricultural Holdings Acts.
§ SIR M. J. STEWART (Kirkcudbright)
said, he did not propose to follow the hysterical speech of the hon. Member, because the hon. Gentleman had not apparently understood the position taken up by the Opposition. But when the hon. Member said that the late Government had done nothing during their term of office for Agriculture, he would remind the hon. Member that the Board of Agriculture was instituted by the late Government, that the Contagious Diseases Acts were amended and strengthened, and that several millions of money in grants in aid were given to alleviate the condition of the rural taxpayers. The hon. Member had also failed to remember that free education for the labouring classes had been granted by the late Government, whence had sprung many useful agricultural lectures. Had the present Government done anything to benefit the working men of the country with the exception of shorter hours of labour for railway servants? Let the hon. Member who had just spoken take any fairly well managed 267 property in the country, where the proprietor lived, and he would find that there were scores of men employed, not for the work they do, but from a great feeling of reluctance to dismiss them, although their labour was wholly unremunerative. Some hon. Members had never employed Agricultural Labour in their lives, although they talked much about the Agricultural Labourer. He knew perfectly well from his own experience in a number of Parliamentary contests, that gentlemen who did not own an acre of land, and who came from heaven knows where, made so many promises that when they came back to ask for re-election they were not returned again. Look at the late Attorney-General. One of his promises was that the Labourers were to have a holiday every week. Did Sir John Rigby ever propound that when he was a member of the Government? Not a bit of it. When he was comfortably ensconced on the Treasury Bench he forgot all about it. What was the result? When Forfarshire was consulted it returned a representative of another colour—one who voted on the Unionist side. The hon. Member, like others, seemed to suggest that the land paid nothing. [Mr. WARNER: Some of it.] Did the hon. Member not mean to suggest that Agricultural Land paid nothing? Of course that was his suggestion, and then he twitted them with pulling down the cottages.
§ MR. WARNER,
interposing, said that his contention was that the effect of taking taxes off Agricultural Land would be that cottages would be pulled down because of the extra amount that would be put upon cottages.
§ SIR M. J. STEWART
apologized if he misrepresented the hon. Member. As to the Labour question, he did not imagine that the proposal of the Government would achieve any good. He thoroughly sympathized with the unemployed. Most of them had many at home in whom they were interested, but they knew what sufferings there must be generally, particularly in this prolonged storm. They would, therefore, welcome any kind of scheme—sound scheme—which might be found useful. Would a Royal Commission do it? He confessed he had very little faith in the Government proposals. The President of the Local Government Board told 268 them he was most anxious that the Royal Commission should report before this session, and he explained why. He should not go into that; but the right hon. Gentleman gave himself away, because he told them soon afterwards—at least it was generally known in the House—that the Royal Commission had not taken any evidence in regard to local taxation upon land.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
I said we had received a great deal of evidence on the subject, and that all we wanted was some official evidence which would not be taken in one day.
§ SIR M. J. STEWART
was sorry if he misrepresented the right hon. Gentleman, but the Commission would hardly have been in a position to report on this important subject. If he had been a member of the Commission he should have objected to its reporting, seeing that Scotland had not been heard. He did not think that Scotland had a fair representative share of witnesses, and therefore he would have objected strongly to the termination of the enquiry. He thought the Budget Act of last Session dealt a very great blow at real property and also that it would strike heavily at smaller properties. It had a popular ring about it, but he believed that it would bring about the downfall of the present Government. There could be no doubt that the existing agricultural depression arose from the lowness of prices, and the Government ought to take some means to ascertain whether it was not possible to prevent a further fall. He wished to direct the attention of the President of the Local Government Board, to the necessity of closer supervision over foreign food imported, and he alluded especially to the large quantities of condensed milk received into the country. It was stated that the milk could not be heated under 140 degrees. It was condensed under vacuum, and he questioned whether it could be heated above 90. That would not kill animal life, or bacilli, and therefore through this milk the people were exposed to contagion from abroad. Some means surely ought to be taken by the Government to protect the public from this danger. As to the quality of this condensed milk, he had the authority of leading medical men for saying that there was so little 269 nutrition in it that it was altogether insufficient to support infant life. If the public could not obtain a proper guarantee of the purity of this article, it should not be allowed to enter the country. The trade in it was rapidly growing, as might be seen from a return, showing in the last week of February 1894, about 8,130 cwt. was imported, as compared with 12,397 cwt. in the week just past. Also with regard to the importation of foreign meat, he thought there should be closer supervision, so that the British public might see that they obtained the article for which they paid; and that a system of licences should be devised for their protection. With regard to light railways he thought they would prove very useful, and hoped the Government would make the terms as easy as possible, and not force the localities to raise large sums from the rates. In case that were done the Government would get no thanks for themeasure; but if, on the other hand, the Government saw their way to make the railways by guaranteeing a certain portion of the funds necessary, the lines would be welcomed. He trusted that the matters to which he had referred, being of great national importance, would receive the serious consideration of the Government.
§ *MR. R. L. EVERETT (Suffolk, Woodbridge)
desired as an agricultural Member, to congratulate the hon. Member for the Basingstoke Division, on having by means of his Amendment raised a very interesting discussion, and he should have been glad if it were possible to continue the discussion to another day. He could imagine no more important subject for consideration than that of the depression which had long affected so many of the industries of the country. He had been much impressed, in his short experience in the House, by the great number of hours and days spent in the House in discussing dilatory motions, and by the great difficulty that was often found in obtaining a few hours to discuss a bread-and-cheese question like that of industrial depression. He was much struck by the remark of the Leader of the Opposition when he described the agricultural position as a national tragedy. These words were strong, but they did not at all exaggerate the depression in the Eastern Counties of England. Agriculture at the present 270 time was in course of a revolution—a revolution which had already overturned the fortunes of a great number of people, and had caused an amount of suffering and distress which was simply incalculable. This was not a Party question, for the depression affected all Parties in the country. In the circumstances in which they found themselves, however, their voting would necessarily have a Party character. Hon. Members on his side of the House had been sent to Parliament to keep the Liberal Government in power, and they would not discharge faithfully their duty to their constituents if they disregarded that fact. At the same time they were quite within their rights in expressing their opinion frankly upon the present great depression, agricultural and industrial. He agreed to some extent with hon. Gentlemen opposite, in thinking that the Government did not fully realise the gravity of that depression. Nevertheless his friends and himself would do their best by their votes to keep the Government in power. The cause of the depression was perfectly well-known. It was the great and continuous fall in prices which affected more or less all the products of industry. That which was produced earned a smaller money reward than formerly. The return for the joint product of the money of the capitalist, the ability of the manager and the work of the artisan, became less year by year. As a result industry was discouraged, and a great number of persons were unemployed. Not long ago he had seen on the Tyne a number of derelict vessels, and he was told that less money was lost when they were laid up than when they were employed. In the same way there were many derelict farms, derelict factories, and even derelict money in the banks to an unprecedented amount, and now derelict men. Two features had marked the depression: one was its long continuance— it had been going on for 15 years—and the other its general prevalence throughout the world. It was felt in the United States, in the Colonies, and on the Continent of Europe, as well as at home. In an article in the December number of the Royal Agricultural Society's Journal it was shown that the depression in Agriculture was greater, if anything, in other countries than here, notwithstanding the fact that 271 in France, Germany, Italy, and elsewhere, recourse had been had to Corn Laws. Legislation of that kind had not availed to save the farmers abroad. The Corn Laws passed in this country in 1815 were intended to prevent a fall in prices which was expected; but, in spite of them, prices went down and remained lower than they had been during the previous 15 years. Thus our own experience and that of other nations now showed that Corn Laws did not prevent agricultural depression. The present depression was world-wide, but still there were countries which had escaped it, and the circumstances of those countries might supply a solution of the problem. They had heard that in India agriculture was not suffering exceptionally; in Mexico, according to Consular Reports, agriculture was making healthy progress, and in the Argentine Republic it was increasing by leaps and bounds. There was one circumstance by which these three countries were differentiated from this country, and that was, that they had not the gold standard. He respectfully submitted to the House that our standard was the real cause of our depression. We were cursed with a standard that was steadily appreciating. That was the curse of agriculture and other industries in Great Britain and every other country which had a gold standard. That was the real root and cause of the continual fall in prices. He would earnestly and respectfully submit to the House that this appreciation of our standard had not been brought about by any natural cause. It was entirely an artificial work, the work of man and the work of legislation. It was not due to a difference in gold, but to a difference in the work that gold had to do. Whereas in 1873 the only countries that had a gold standard were England and her Colonies and Portugal, containing a population of about 47,000,000 people, to-day no less than 320,000,000 of people had come under the gold standard, and the great extra demand for gold thus created had had the natural effect of increasing its value. The general level of prices was the balance between the commodities in the market and the standard by which those commodities were measured, and during the last 20 years gold had had a sevenfold work to do. Such a state of things could have no other effect than to produce 272 an enormous fall in the price of commodities, and he would respectfully remind the House that this had been brought about by a policy of restriction. Baron Rothschild, speaking in Paris in 1870 at the Conseil Supérieur, said:—''The simultaneous employment of the two precious metals is satisfactory, and gives rise to no complaint. Whether gold or silver dominates for the time being it is always true that the two metals concur together in forming the monetary circulation of the world; it is the general mass of the two metals combined which serves an the measure of the value of things. The suppression of silver would amount to a 'veritable destruction of values without any compensation !"That was exactly what had been proceeding since. The effect had been exactly as Lord Rothschild had predicted. This cause had not ceased to work. It was still going on, and we wanted a quick remedy. He could not help thinking in his own mind that what was wanted first, was, to stop this unfortunate legislation, and he would respectfully submit to the House that all the measures mentioned in this discussion would be as useless to check the depression if the fall in prices went on, as were the efforts of Mrs. Partington with her mop to drive back the waves of the Atlantic. Having paid attention to agricultural history, he affirmed, without fear of being contradicted, that the key to agricultural depression or prosperity was to be found in prices, and the key to prices was to be found in monetary conditions. From the time of Elizabeth the value of a quarter of wheat gradually rose from 7s. or 8s. to five times as much, and historians and political economists were agreed that the marvellous lift in prices was due entirely to changes in the supply of the precious metals. As they increased in abundance prices expanded. During the twenty years of our war with France at the end of last century paper money was our standard, and prices went up again very much. After 1819, when we changed our standard back to the precious metals, down went prices to a lower level. After the abolition of the Corn Laws there came the gold discoveries, and they sustained prices at as high a level as they had been under Protection. The general conclusion was that agricultural prices were ruled by monetary conditions. Twenty years ago we made a change in the direction of restricting the supply of standard money 273 by making one metal do the work of two, and, conformably with all experience, the contraction caused our present difficulties. All were agreed that the remedy was to be found in a rise in prices; and that could be produced in one of two ways. We could try to restrict the importation of corn by putting on heavy duties, but he for one was dead against that, and he did not believe it would be done in the case of wheat or barley. The other way, which appeared to him to be the truly Liberal way, was to remove restrictions on coinage—to restore to the precious metals the same freedom of coinage, tender, and use, which they enjoyed before the fall in prices began. People had no objection to shillings or half-crowns; they were willing to take any number of them that were put into circulation. The restriction on the output of money at the Mint was not in their interest. The President of the Local Government Board appeared to think that low prices and general industrial depression were a good thing for our workmen; but that line of reasoning was opposed to commonsense. If the right hon. Gentleman thought that low prices were most to be desired, he might urge the Government to do for England what they had done for India by closing the Mint. The effect of that would be to complete the ruin of English agriculturists by driving prices further down. If low prices were a good thing, let the Government, who had closed the Mint for silver, now close it for gold, and they would see prices go low enough. He hoped the debate would go on for another day, in order that full expression might be given by Members of their views as to the real cause of the depression from which we are suffering. He did not wish to speak altogether against his own side, because he believed the Government had real sympathy with agriculture. They had mentioned it in the Queen's Speech, both at the beginning of this Session and last; and they had appointed a Commission to enquire into the causes of agricultural depression. Hon. Members who had a little spare time would do well to read the evidence given before it by Dr. Giffen, Professor Fox well, and, if he might say so, by himself, for information upon the relation of money matters to the fall in prices. By the financial legislation of last year the 274 Government had relieved the pressure upon farmers, and they had given the agricultural classes the Parish Councils Act—[Opposition laughter]—which was the charter of their liberties—[Renewed laughter]. If hon. Members who laughed attempted to diminish the easier access to the land and the control over charities given by that Act, and the control over the Poor Law, they would soon find out their mistake at the polls. The Government had shown sympathy with the depressed condition of Agriculture, but more could be done for Agriculture than in any other way if the Government would let them have the same freedom at the Mints, for silver as well as gold, as prevailed at the ports with regard to the importation of commodities.
§ *SIR W. H. HOULDSWORTH (Manchester, N.W.)
pointed out that other industries were suffering scarcely less than Agriculture, except, perhaps, the machine-making industry, which had the great advantage of being able to send its productions to India and other parts of the world, duty free. The peculiarity of the present depression was that it was not transient or temporary, as it was thought to be 10 years ago, but continuous. It was formerly the doctrine that periods of depression were I succeeded by periods of prosperity, but the present depression had existed for the last 20 years. In 1885, it was thought phenomenal that prices should have fallen 24 per cent. Now the fall had been no less than 40 per cent, since the period before 1873. The depreciation of industrial property—in fact, of all kinds of property—had been enormous. He admitted that the volume of trade had been maintained, and that some of our export returns showed an increase, but the House should remember that we had an increasing population. The question was—Were we making a profit out of our trade not only for the capitalists, but the wage-earner, or living to a great extent out of capital and destroying the store which was to provide for future generations? In Lancashire scarcely a new manufactory of any account had been erected in the last two or three years; and, although the number of spindles and looms might remain the same, it was well known that some third were becoming totally ineffective, and would shortly be swept away, not 275 being able to compete with new ones. But he desired to take a larger view of this subject. If the future investment of capital in works of enterprise in this country were to fall off, what was to become of the country. In the Economist he had found a table showing the amount of capital invested in this country for every year from 1889 to 1893. That table showed that the amount of capital invested in 1889 was £207,000,000, in 1890 it was £142,000,000, in 1891 it was £104,000,000, in 1892 it was £84,000,000, and in 1893 it had fallen to £49,000,000. Therefore, in 1893, the public were only investing one-fourth of what they had invested in 1889. It must, moreover, be remarked that of this £49,000,000, some £36,000,000 was invested not in industrial enterprises in this country, but in loans to Foreign and Colonial Governments, while of the remainder, which was only £13,000,000, he found £1,000,000 was invested in such undertakings as music halls and hotels. Those figures showed that our investment of capital was diminishing, and that, therefore, we were not laying down a solid foundation for the Labour of this country in the future. Sooner or later, a catastrophe would take place if this sort of thing continued. The cause of the distressed condition of the country undoubtedly was to be found in the abnormal and phenomenal fall, amounting to some 40 per cent., in prices that had occurred within the last few years. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, and the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had each their own explanation of the fall of prices. They maintained that the cause of it was the large increase in the production of commodities. He, however, thought that this was a fallacy. It was quite possible for prices to rise when the quantity of commodities was increasing. Take cotton from 1849 to 1872. Though there had been an increase in the production of cotton from 3,000,000 bales in 1849 to 7,000,000 bales in 1872, the price of cotton rose in that period some 50 per cent. The increase from 1872 to 1894 had only been from 7,000,000 bales to 10,000,000 bales, yet the price had fallen more than 50 per cent. The same thing might be said of wheat. 276 He believed these two periods were as fair as could be taken, to compare the relative movement of prices and of quantities, and he knew of no explanation of the difference except one—namely, that in the former period they had, accompanying the large increase of production of cotton, wheat, and other articles, an increased supply of gold, which raised prices; whereas during the latter period not only had there been a diminished amount of gold, but they had thrown one of the precious metals, silver, out of use as money. That was the reason of the difference in the one period as compared with the other. The Chancellor of the Exchequer did not think the industries of the country could be in a very bad condition, because the Income Tax returns had not only kept up, but had increased. He doubted very much whether the Income Tax returns were a true index of the industrial prosperity of the country; Schedule D included an immense number of profits, beside the profits on industrial undertakings, such as profits on investments in Foreign Railways, &c., profits of middlemen, and the profits of the various professions. The right hon. Member for St. George's some two or three years ago, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, stated that the aggregate profit made by the medical profession exceeded the total profits realised by the whole cotton industry, that the profits of the legal profession exceeded the total profits from the coal industry, and that the profits of the whole of the productive industries only amounted to one-half of the profits derived from distribution and transport. It was not these latter classes, but the producers, we had to look to, both for the prosperity of the present time, and for the capital of the future. The position of the cotton industry at the present time was most lamentable. The secretary of the great United Trades Union, which included all the branches of the cotton trade, informed him that there was at present "a higher percentage of unemployed than was ever known at any time since the Cotton Famine." This statement was confirmed by private information. He had seen a representative of the masters, who also said that no one could go through the great districts of Lancashire without seeing looms and spindles stopped on every side, and that at present 277 there was no prospect of any improvement. He was afraid they were much disposed to lay it at the door of the Secretary of State for India, and he was himself of opinion that the putting on of Import Duties in India would have an injurious effect. But in his view the disease was far more deeply seated, and that if the fall of prices continued, it could only end in the stoppage of works of all kinds, for it was impossible to carry on these concerns at a profit, or even to make both ends meet, if these successive falls in prices continued. The losses were compensated, no doubt, to some extent, by the fall in the price of raw materials; but, as long as they had wages at the present level, it would be found impossible to make both ends meet under these adverse conditions. There had been many rumours of failures, and he believed that unless some miracle were to take place within the next few months, they would find in all our industrial centres very great distress amongst the wage-earners who, up to this time had done fairly well, and whose wages the manufacturers had no desire to reduce if they could help it. The Government should consider this question in a serious spirit, and not wait till they had reached a state of things which it would be very difficult to repair. When they were told that pauperism had decreased, they must remember that the Trades Unions relieved those out of work to a much greater extent than they did formerly. From the Board of Trade returns, it appeared that in 1890 the percentage of unemployed was 1.70, while in 1893 it was 10.2. It was the duty of hon. Members to impress the Government with a sense of the present depression, for he believed, from remarks that had fallen from the Treasury Bench from time to time that its occupants relied too much on bare statistics without considering other circumstances which explained those statistics. The Government should send down a Commission and ascertain on the spot the true state of affairs. They would then be more ready to consider a remedy. Unless something were done soon, the industries of this country would be ruined beyond repair.
§ SIR F. H. EVANS (Southampton)
said, that it seemed to him as if some hon. Members thought that in bi-metallism lay some sort of hope for a change in the agricultural depression of the country. 278 He thought it very unfortunate that hon. Members should hold such a view as to the efficacy of bi-metallism. It was clear to him, from their arguments, that they did not know what was taking place in the various countries of the world. Take America, for example. If ever, in the history of this century, there had been what was known in America as a log-rolling movement, it had been in connection with this silver business. What had the owners of the silver mines done in America.? They had, by controlling the Legislature, induced the people of that country to buy the produce of their mines at a price far exceeding the mercantile value of the production. Look at the position of the American Treasury at the present moment. At the close of the civil war in 1864, they issued bonds bearing interest at 6 per cent. Their credit grew and they issued bonds at 5 per cent., then at 4 per cent., then at 3, and later still at 2½ per cent. But what was bi-metallism doing for them to-day? The fact was, that the Americans were appealing to the bankers of the world to save them from a financial crash, because gold had gone out of the country and they could get nothing but silver in order to meet their financial engagements. They were a large borrowing country, and they had to find gold with which to meet the interest on their debts, and they could only do this by paying a large premium upon gold which they would have to obtain from other countries. In Mexico, which was a great silver-producing country, there was prosperity far and wide—why? Because they owed nothing in gold. The mine-owner paid his men out of the silver which was produced from his mine. He had no gold to find for this purpose, and the consequence was that it accumulated in the country. Take the Argentine Republic. There the, position was this: the gold premium was about 250, but the wages of the labourer had not grown at the same rate as the premium on gold, and he paid to-day something like 30 per cent, more than the original price of silver, as against a premium of 250 in respect of gold. Take South Africa, which was not a silver-producing country, and what was the position there? It was a practically satisfactory position. All the banks were earning money, no one was 279 complaining, and no one desired the adoption of bi-metallism. In fact, if they were to adopt such a system they would simply have to pay for the production of their mines at a higher rate. Some hon. Members asked that bi-metallism should be adopted in this country. Did they know how much England had lent to other countries, the loans to be payable in gold? He believed it was something like £600,000,000 sterling. How was that to be paid back to them? If they made silver the medium of payment, they would have their banks filled with silver, and gold would go out of the country. ["Where to?"] Naturally people elsewhere would want to get gold, if they in this country were to make it very cheap. He was convinced it was a great error to think that the cure for agricultural distress lay in a metallic currency. Some hon. Members wanted eighteenpence or two shillings, to be worth half-a-crown, but no jerrymandering of that kind was going to cure agricultural distress. Let them abandon this attempt to raise the fictitious value of silver, and turn to something which was more calculated to benefit the country. He objected to what the Government did in India in this matter; their action, he believed, being partly attributable to the clamour made in regard to silver. England was the great money-lender to other nations, and if hon. Members really desired to benefit their country, let them drop this silver agitation. They would then find that silver would reach its proper level in the exchanges of the world, they would hear no more about that metal, and would keep gold in their own country and ensure its maintaining, also, its proper value.
§ ADMIRAL E. FIELD (Sussex, Eastbourne)
said, it was a new revelation to him and to many other hon. Members that the fall of prices was due to the want of the bi-metallic system. What it was really due to, he contended, was the gambling, in produce of all kinds, which went on, on the exchanges of Liverpool, London, and elsewhere, and which had now grown to such proportions that it had assumed the position of a gigantic evil which called for prompt legislative remedy. This gambling in produce, he honestly believed, was the main factor in the fall of prices. He 280 had talked to Members of the House who were men of great financial experience, and they had said that there was nothing in the contention; but that was not an answer. Mr. Smith, of Whitney Court, Hereford, who was an expert in regard to this subject, had said that on the produce exchanges of London, Liverpool, and elsewhere in this country, the same cursed system of gambling prevailed as in Berlin, Paris, New York, and Chicago. He had no sympathy with gambling of any kind, but there was no form of gambling which did so much harm as this. The principal articles which were generally dealt in for gambling purposes were wheat, maize, sugar, silver, and cotton; and those were the chief articles whose values had been brought down to the lowest point ever known in the history of the century. England was at last realising that there was a great deal in this contention, while in the Parliaments of other countries measures were being introduced to put an end to the practice. In America a Bill dealing with the subject had passed the Lower House by an enormous majority, and, although it had yet to pass the Senate, the principle of the measure had been acknowledged. In Germany the Emperor, in his speech to the Reichstag, stated that measures would be proposed dealing with the question of speculation in produce; in Belgium a Bill had already been tabled and introduced into Parliament; Russia had dealt with the question, as had also France, Hungary, and the Croatian States. The King of Sweden had also denounced the system, and had stated that the Government of that country would introduce Bills to put an end to it by legislation; and now Denmark was dealing with the question. It would not do for us with our superior air to say this gambling had nothing to do with the question of fall in prices. Some years ago there was on the Stock Exchange what was called bearing down bank shares. That naturally caused a run on the banks, and one or two banks had, to close their doors. The great banking interest in the House went to the Government of the day and said: "There is a tremendous peril in face of us and you must deal with it." Mr. Leatham, the then Member for York, brought in a Bank Bill, which was passed 281 through both Houses in a very short time. The pernicious system was stopped. The law now was, that if any one wished to sell bank shares he must give the number of the shares he proposed to sell. Those who agreed with Mr. Smith asked that the Government on the Royal Commission would not quietly put aside Mr. Smith's arguments. Let him quote another authority that could not be despised, namely, the Secretary of the Board of Trade. Sir Courtenay Boyle had said:—Commercial gambling has been condemned by the common consent of all who have any knowledge whatever of the subject.Was the Royal Commission without knowledge? Sir Courtenay Boyle added that this gambling had been condemned by every writer on Political Economy, and it needed no representation from anybody to convince one that it was an unmitigated evil. Mr. Smith delivered an address before the Central Chamber of Agriculture, and that body passed a resolution requesting the Government to give the matter their immediate consideration. The National Agricultural Union——[A laugh.] Hon. Members might laugh, but the Union had some very influential members, including a former highly respected Member of the House of Commons. Mr. Smith delivered an address before the Union, Lord Winchilsea being in the chair, and a resolution, condemnatory of "the future option and settlement system which tends to displace the natural law of supply and demand," was unanimously passed. They called for legislation which would render all sales illegal except those for actual delivery. That was the remedy which Mr. Smith proposed. All that was wanted was the passing of a Bill of a single clause, which would compel a seller to deliver what he sold. That would put a stop to the whole business of gambling in 48 hours. Often there was no intention on the part of a speculator in corn to deliver a bushel, just as there was no intention on the part of the buyer to require the delivery of a bushel. Twelve million bushels of 282 corn were sold in one day in New York. That stock of corn did not exist within 1,000 miles of New York. Of course, it was necessary for great millers to buy in advance. That was a legitimate speculation. There was delivery at the end of the term fixed upon between the seller and buyer; but in the cases he had been speaking of, there was no intention to deliver and on intention to receive: it was pure gambling. One of the evil consequences of this system of gambling was, that the unfortunate farmers, when they went into the market with their produce, were as helpless as turtles captured by men-of-war's-men in a turtle hunt. The turtles were turned over on their backs by seamen who ran along the beach and then carried them off at leisure to the ships. The prices for produce realised in the local markets were the prices that were determined by the gambling transactions at Liverpool and London. This thing was of American growth. It was imported in 1883 from America, where all the bad things came from, including the present bad weather. [Mr. BURNS:"I came from America the other day."] Yes, the hon. Gentleman came from America the other day. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Seaford had shown that over-production was not the cause of the fall in prices, and yet there had been a reduction of 51 per cent, in the price of wheat all over the world. Indeed, it had been clearly established that, instead of there being an abnormal supply of wheat, the acreage under wheat in America had diminished rather than increased, and that the increase in population had more than kept pace with the supply of wheat. In October 1891–92, the foreign corn imported into this country amounted to 20,520,000 quarters. The price was then 35s. 11d. In 1894–95 there were only 19,405,000 quarters imported—that was a million quarters less, and yet the price fell to 17s. 7d. Therefore it was not any glut in the market that had brought about the fall in prices. What 283 then was the cause of the fall? Mr. Smith had shown conclusively that it was not due to bi-metallism; that it was due simply and solely to the accursed system of gambling, which he asked the Government to put down by legislation. He did not want to fling stones at the Chairman of the Royal Commission; but it was to be regretted that the right hon. Gentleman was not present on the occasion that Mr. Smith was examined. The right hon. Gentleman refused to lay the statement of Mr. Smith before the House. Surely the right hon. Gentle-had no right to keep from the House information of such importance on this pressing question. The House had got, it was true, Mr. Smith's evidence, but Mr. Smith had told him that the evidence he gave before the Commission was not based on his statement, but was given in a hostile cross-examination conducted in the interest of the Stock Exchange rather than with a view to obtain the truth in regard to gambling. [Laughter.] It was all very well for hon. Gentlemen to smile and say: "Our friend the Admiral is playing the fool, or is the dupe of other men more foolish than himself;" but he really thought there was a good deal in this matter. At all events, if he were in error, he erred in good company. Mr. Smith was no child in this matter. He know more about it than any Member of the Government, having been for 30 years engaged on the Liverpool Produce Exchange; and for the last two years he had devoted his attention to the subject completely. When Mr. Plimsoll first protested against the conditions of the Mercantile Marine he was laughed at in the House of Commons; but his self-sacrifice brought about the reform. Mr. Smith was doing for Agriculture what Mr. Plimsoll had done for the Merchant Service, and he would not be laughed out of his purpose. He himself would not have intervened in this question had he not been impressed with Mr. Smith's burning zeal in a righteous cause. He appealed to the Chief Secretary and 284 to the Secretary of State for India to put pressure on the Chairman of the Royal Commission to produce for the instruction of Members Mr. Smith's statement. It was their duty to produce it. Since he had mastered this question he had spoken about it in every part of the Division which he represented, and the farmers had been much moved by the information which he had derived from Mr. Smith. He heard Members laugh, but he was not to be moved by laughter. That was a sign that they did not understand the question and its burning importance. It was generally held that naval men knew nothing but about sheet-anchors and cables, and masts and yards; but he had felt it necessary to lift up his voice with respect to this crying evil. When all other Nations were dealing with the question by legislation, was England to remain the gambling-hell of the world? It was asserted that evil could not be stopped by law. Truly, murder was not prevented because there was the law to hang murderers; and robbery with violence was not made impossible because those convicted of it were flogged. But such punishment deterred others; and in this matter of which he was speaking he believed that legislation would do a great deal to bring men to a higher ideal as to what was right, by showing them that the evil was no longer winked at by Parliament. He would make a last appeal to the right hon. Gentleman on the Treasury Bench to supply the House with a printed statement of Mr. Smith that hon. Members might judge of the weight of his evidence.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned." (Mr. Goschen.)
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the House do now adjourn."
§ House adjourned at seven minutes to Twelve o'clock.