§ [Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Main Question, 5 February, see page 15.]
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. GOSCHEN (St. George's, Hanover Square),
said,—I wish in the first instance to recall to the attention of the House the terms of the Amendment of my hon. Friend, of which the operative part is this:—And we humbly express our regret that Your Majesty's Ministers have shown no appreciation of the extreme gravity of the present situation.It is to that point that I propose to address the observations which I wish to submit to the House. Hon. Members have been perfectly within their right—we cannot be surprised they have done so—in suggesting various measures, various remedies. We have had suggested bimetallism, reconstruction of local finance, advances to landlords, an improvement of the Agricultural Holdings Act. It would be impossible, even if this Debate were to extend to six days instead of to two, adequately to discuss all those measures. What we have to do is to consider the attitude of Her Majesty's Government and of the Gentlemen who support them, and to see whether in their general conduct, in the speeches they have made, in the measures which they have proposed, they have shown us they appreciate the gravity of the situation. A guileless Member of the Government Party, the hon. Member for the Woodbridge Division, stated that Her Majesty's Government have shown their appreciation of the gravity of the situation because they have put a paragraph in the Queen's Speech and have appointed a Commission. I do not know whether his constituents, who have given him a mandate, as he told us, to support the Government under any circumstances, and therefore he will give them his vote on this occasion—I do not know whether his constituents, if they are suffering farmers, will think the Government shows its appreciation of the gravity of the situation by a paragraph in a later part of the Queen's Speech and by a Commission appointed in 1893. I will 322 not at this moment question the place which even this paragraph occupies in the Queen's Speech, but it comes after the destruction of the Welsh Church and after the Local Veto Bill. Have the Government during the Recess shown that they have actually realised the situation? We have had plenty of evidence as to the state of mind of Her Majesty's Ministers. There had been copious streams of rhetoric flowing during the Recess, and many of the speeches were so good that I read them with pleasure. The Home Secretary (Mr. Asquith) has, to use an actor's phrase, been on tour. He has made six, or, I think, eight, speeches during a few months, and in not one of those speeches did he show the slightest evidence of appreciating for one moment the position of the agricultural community. There was one sentence in one speech in which he scoffed at the differences of opinion amongst the Conservative Party with regard to any remedies that could be proposed. There was no allusion to the situation which has now been brought to his attention. The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir William Harcourt) made one most able speech towards the close of the Recess. I find no allusion to agricultural depression in that speech. The Government Party met at Cardiff. They had a grand celebration, they drew out their mandate and their programme. I find no allusion whatever to the grave state of the agricultural population. It is not in the mandate. Her Majesty's Government go about with a mandate in their pockets, and they take this mandate out and consult it before they address their supporters. If there was any allusion in that mandate to agricultural depression, it appears to have been written in such small letters that they were not able to discover it, as Local Veto, Welsh Disestablishment, House of Lords Destruction, were written in such large letters. But the guileless Member for Woodbridge said the Government had shown their appreciation of the situation by putting the question of agricultural depression into the Queen's Speech. I wonder when it dawned upon them that it ought to go into the Queen's Speech. I wonder when, in the course of time, the President of the Local Government Board was consulted as to what ought to be done with regard to agricultural depression. At 323 all events, it was not during the speech-making time of the Recess; it was only when the Queen's Speech came under consideration that agricultural depression turned up. But it turned up with a proposal. Not only do the Government express their sense of the agricultural depression, but they actually make a proposal: they propose the construction of light railways. I am under the impression—but it may be an erroneous one—that when the late Government proposed light railways for Ireland it was called a "sop." I do not know why the term "sop" is now changed. When the Government is in Office the "sop" becomes a "great boon" to distressed agriculture. But there are two things I wish to know about that boon. I wish to know what time it is going to be dealt with. I think that is a fair question to ask on the present occasion. And I want to know, further, where the money is to come from—for we have been told by the President of the Board of Trade, who has given us some valuable information on the subject, that the funds are not to be provided by the State. Now, as regards time, I notice it is proposed, before this Light Railways Bill is taken up, to deal with the Bill for Disestablishment of the Welsh Church and with the Irish Land Bill. Might we not humbly ask on behalf of the British agriculturists—as considerable time has already been devoted to the Irish Land question, and as English Agriculture is now suffering acutely from depression—that the first place should be given to a question so deeply affecting that suffering English Agriculture, as the Government clearly think this Bill does? Will the Government appeal to their Irish friends below the Gangway to allow them to put this measure first? Sometimes the Government find their friends amenable. I remember an occasion when the Budget of last year was in difficulties, when it almost ended in a ridiculous fiasco, on account of the Spirit Duties, the Members below the Gangway were appealed to by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and they responded by consenting to postpone for twelve months their opposition to the Spirit Duties. Therefore, the Irish Members show a spirit of conciliation when they are approached by Her Majesty's Government: and so I ask the 324 Government to consent to put this Light Railways Bill first amongst the measures they are going to bring in. We will not be put off by an offer of time after Twelve o'clock. There is sometimes a little trick played in that way with the Opposition. A measure is put down for consideration after Twelve o'clock; we think it is a measure of importance, that it ought to be passed, but that it requires consideration, and so we refuse to allow it to be brought on after Twelve o'clock. Then that is called Obstruction, and the responsibility for the loss of the measure is put upon us, because, as it is said, we obstructed it. That has been done by the Government over and over again. But I claim that we should have proper time for the consideration of this important measure. Then there is another question. If the Government intend to put the cost of the light railways on the rates I do not think they will be backed by a majority in doing so. I doubt whether they would have a majority of the persons interested, but there is no chance of there being a British majority in their favour. But what about the Irish Members on that particular question? Are they going to support the Government in putting light railways on the rates in Great Britain, when English, Scotch, and Irish money paid for light railways in Ireland? I think it was £600,000 that was voted for that purpose in Ireland. Is it possible that, even if the Government were to say that they refuse public money for the same purpose in England, the Irish Members would support them? Surely Members from Ireland would feel that, as light railways in Ireland had been paid for out of public money, English agriculturists were fairly entitled to the same treatment. I should like to see the hon. Member for the Woodbridge Division or the hon. Member for East Northampton going down to their constituents, and saying, "Oh; the Irish Members received public money for their light railways; but English agriculturists are refused the same terms; they must pay for their light railways themselves. Therefore, you may look upon it as a certainty that the Irish Members will have the justice, the generosity, the good feeling, to support for English agriculturists the same terms which they received themselves. So much for light railways. There is 325 another matter—I mean the concern which the Government showed for agriculture in the appointment of the Royal Commission on Agriculture, so tactfully presided over by the President of the Local Government Board. We have had some revelations as to the conduct of the business of that Commission. But at all events I rejoice to think that we have the testimony of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Commission is composed of able and experienced gentlemen, and, therefore, if a majority of these able and experienced Commissioners support my right hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford, and vote against the colleague of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I suppose we may take the testimony of these able and experienced gentlemen, even against the authority of the President of the Local Government Board. Then here is a point to which I attach considerable importance as regards what I may call the animus of the Government. From the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and from the speech of the Prime Minister, it would appear as if the Government had hopes of having the Report of the Royal Commission on Agriculture early in this Session. I think I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that he had such hopes.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
If that was the view of the right hon. Gentleman then it is patent that he and his colleagues must have had the prospect of the larger question of agricultural depression being before them at the commencement of this Session. Then what time of their future programme have they set out and marked out for the consideration of this question? When the order of the Bills was settled; when Lord Rosebery spoke of the various Bills that would get attention; that Welsh Disestablishment was put first, according to the mandate; that Irish Land and Evicted Tenants were to come next; that the Liquor Traffic Veto Bill was to come third; and when Ministers talked about their going on with those Bills as being like ploughing the sea sands, where in their programme was a place allotted to the depressed industry of agriculture? Where was the time they reserved for that question? 326 There is no hope held out of any consideration being given to the question of agricultural depression either in the Queen's Speech or in any of the statements of the Ministers; and I say, therefore, that the Government have shown an inadequate sense of the gravity of the present situation. But it is not only that. We have heard of great Constitutional questions to be considered; that we are to reconcile all our differences about the House of Lords; and to settle in what way the proposals for disestablishment are to be executed; but, as for agricultural depression, let us not bother about that—that is in the hands of such able and experienced men. And now there is another Commission, or rather a new Committee, to be appointed on the question of the unemployed. We have Committees and Commissions in every direction to take up and report on subjects that are not in the Newcastle programme. The right hon. Gentleman gave an indication that this new Committee would not only report upon the clauses of a Bill, but would indicate the defects of the Bill as to local finance, and so would guide him in the choice of the financial measures for finding the necessary funds to carry out the object in question. I listened in astonishment to the right hon. Gentleman. I should like to have seen the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor—the right hon. Member for Midlothian—appealing to a Commission to assist him in the framing of his Budget. This is a new system. Let us beware that we do not drift into a situation in which we would have Committees sitting almost permanently to advise the Government as to measures with regard to which the Administration ought to take the full responsibility. I have had some experience of public life; I have filled three great offices, and I am proud to think that never during my time of office in any one of those three great departments which were intrusted to my care did I consent to or admit of a Royal Commission, and only in one case did I allow a Committee of this House. We must be wary in allowing Ministers to diminish their responsibilities, in shoving them not only upon Committees of this House, but even on outside gentlemen, who, however eminent or qualified to examine causes, should not enter into competition 327 with Ministers in the construction of policies. I would point out to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that it is to him that we must look, at all events, for the construction of such finance as may be necessary; and his own Party will naturally look far more to him, after what he has done to guide them aright, than to Commissioners or to those who have not the same responsibility as he has. The House will see the importance of this question. Commissions are admirable for analysing causes; for diving into the facts; for dealing with intricate matters; for investigating all the circumstances where less scientific methods would be applied by the Members of this House. There are numerous cases where Commissions have rendered great services. But I demur to Commissions which are to fish for a policy, or which are to relieve the right hon. Gentleman or ourselves from responsibility. Now, apart from their speeches, and apart from this Commission, what has been the conduct, the language, and the attitude of Her Majesty's Government with regard to local finance, to Imperial finance, in its bearing on the agricultural interest? What has been the language of their supporters in the agricultural counties with reference to either promoting or disturbing those good relations between the farmer and labourer and the farmer and owner—indeed, between all the three interests, which are one of the fundamental conditions of agricultural prosperity? I need not labour the question of agricultural depression. It exists. We have heard striking proof of it in the course of this Debate. Already we have the admission of Her Majesty's Government; we have the admission of the friends of the Government. It is notorious and admitted on all sides, and that depression extends, it appears to me, to all three classes who are interested in British agriculture. It has been stated that the labourer hitherto has not suffered from that depression; but that now there are large discharges of agricultural labourers, and in that way the third class are beginning to feel the depression which before rested upon the other two. Now it ought not to be a subject of discussion—it ought to be a truism accepted in all parts of the House—that the prosperity of the labourer depends to a 328 great extent on the prosperity of the farmer, and that the farmer and labourer and owner are all interested together. Is that a doctrine which is acknowledged by the other side of the House? [Ministerial cries of "Yes."] Not by all; I wish it were so. I believe that half the present difficulty which the Government have in appreciating the situation is that they have separated in their minds the different classes of agriculture. Even last night the hon. Member for Somerset (Mr. Warner) made this observation:—"We do not care so very much about the owner." At the same time let us remember this—that the hon. Member for East Northamptonshire said that he blamed the owners for not having reduced their rents in good time. I put it thus. The owner is wanted for two public purposes besides his own purpose. He is required to put capital into the land. He is required to put down his rents, if it be necessary; and he is required to give a certain amount of employment. Therefore I may lay this down—that an impoverished landowner in a district means disaster in that district. The impoverishment of the landlords must have an effect; and, therefore, if hon. Members opposite have stirred up the labourers in any parts to believe that their interests are different from those of the landlords they have done something which runs counter to the general interest of the agricultural community. They know best to what extent that has been done. Let us have no more talk against the "greedy owners"—against owners as owners—if we look to them to reduce the rents and to make their contributions to local taxation. After all, there is one common local purse. That local purse is supplied from the rates contributed by the farmers and the landlords; and if a landlord is impoverished, if rents are so diminished that that local purse is drained, if there are so many more contributions demanded from the farmer through increased rating, actual or comparative in relation to profits, it establishes a dwindling local purse to the disadvantage of the whole community. That being so, let me establish another proposition, which ought to need very little insistence on my part. As in an agricultural community all these 329 interests are closely related one to another, so the interest of the whole Nation is bound up to an enormous extent with the prosperity of the agricultural community. I will not go into the history of the various movements in prices and the ebbs and flows of national prosperity; but I doubt whether it can be shown that the other industries, or the Nation at large, have ever flourished when there was a serious depression in agriculture. It has been illustrated over and over again that the depopulated country districts send their shoals of men to increase the number of unemployed in the towns; small traders are unable to do the same business; it acts and reacts in a hundred ways. Therefore the agricultural interest is one which deserves from the notice of this House the deepest thought and consideration in these times, when its position is what my right hon. Friend calls "a national tragedy." That is the position we have to face, and therefore it is in a common spirit that the urban and the country Members look at this question. The Members of the urban constituencies will notice in the Amendment the word "unemployed." It has been inserted by my right hon. Friend from the point of view that there is an increase in the unemployed, due, in the first place, to the direct discharge of agricultural labourers in consequence of the present situation, and, in the second place, to the influx into the towns of men who have not been able to find sufficient employment in the villages where they were born. That being the case, what has been the attitude of Her Majesty's Government with regard to local finance? Local finance affects local industries and the well-being of the whole Community; and what is the attitude of hon. Gentlemen opposite with regard to increased burdens on the ratepayers? I hope I do not express myself too strongly when I say that their attitude has been to further and promote every movement that would involve increased burdens on the rates, and to denounce the Measures which would relieve the rates. I am prepared to establish both those propositions. Owing to the vicious idea, which I believe is now beginning to be eradicated from their minds, that the rates come merely from the pockets of rich men—we have 330 seen symptoms that the idea is being eradicated, and it is a most important truth to bring home to them—owing to that idea they have been perfectly satisfied that every improvement which they desired to be accomplished should be made at the expense of the rates. What is their attitude with regard to voluntary schools? They wish for rate-supported schools; and it is due to the action of the Unionist Party that voluntary schools have been maintained, and that the burden imposed upon the ratepayers has not been increased by many millions sterling. I wish the ratepayers of the country to understand the attitude of the Government Party with regard to this question. Are they prepared to abolish the voluntary schools? I know that they have a passion for acting in that direction, for two reasons—because in the first place, they always prefer compulsory to any spontaneous action; and, in the second place, they prefer undenominational to denominational schools. They may be perfectly right; but at all events it will be noted that in carrying out their policy, if they should be successful, they would put an increased burden on that common local purse which, if it is to be supplemented continually by the owners and the farmers, will largely decrease the sum which goes to the payment of wages. You must be prepared to pay that price; and I do not knew whether the country and the agricultural labourer himself will be prepared to pay it. It is a very different thing from the free education which we were able to give to the agricultural labourers, and which has been a distinct assistance to every agricultural labourer in the country. Then there is a Bill in the Government Programme with regard to election expenses; and these expenses are to be thrown on the rates. They are quite right from the past point of view, which was that the rates were paid by those whom they did not mind bleeding. They regard a vote as being more valuable almost than work. They have a mania for giving votes on every possible occasion. Votes are valuable, and so are wages. If the farmers are so pressed by the payment of rates they may have to discharge labourers; and it would be rather a poor consolation for a man to sit as a discharged labourer on 331 the Parish Council which will be voting the rates, but by so doing be further diminishing the margin of employment. I wish now to ask what was the attitude of the Government on the Parish Councils Bill? Of course, that Bill is held up before us in the discussion because it was through it that golden grain was to wave—to be sold at 20s. a quarter, it is true. But the attitude of the Government and of their supporters during the whole of our discussions on that Bill was this: "You gave as much power as possible to those who are not rated, and objected as much as possible to the limit of the rate." They did not appreciate the gravity of the situation. They did not see that agitators would come down to agricultural districts with bundles of leaflets and voting papers. The labourers were told: "Now comes the time of your emancipation; you can get rid of the squire and the farmer, and put your own men on the Parish Council, and have ago at the rates." This local purse, which is of so much importance to the agricultural community, was to be drawn upon for every social object possible. I rejoice to think that in a great many parts of the country the common sense of the labourer has sent the agitator about his business. I know a case where, under, I think, central influences, the Radical Party thought they would carry a majority on the Council. They refused to listen to any compromise by which a fair arrangement would be made; they listened to the advice of the emissaries of those who wished, in the Parish Council, not to promote concord, but to see the defeat of the squire and the parson. But the agitator was defeated, and not one of this Party was returned to sit on the Parish Council. There were, however, labourers on that Parish Council who were put there by the common sense of the whole community. The Parish Councils Act will not have the effect, I trust, which some of its advocates hope—namely, to establish that diversity of interest with regard to which so much was said. This, then, has been the attitude of the bulk of the Party opposite with regard to local finance, and as regards pushing every measure, partly from a philanthropic and kindly sense, perhaps, partly from an agitating sense, to increase the rates. What has been their attitude to 332 those measures for diminishing the rates? I think we have made one great step forward in this Debate, though it involves a recantation on the part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for India. It is true that the recantation was made by the President of the Local Government Board last night, but it is made, not only on behalf of the Government, but in entire accord with the facts of the case. What is the position? It was urged that £4,000,000 was given in relief of rates. How was that represented? Was it represented as a general benefit to the agricultural community, or as benefiting the Municipalities? Was it acknowledged that the large portion which went to the Municipalities might assist them, rightly or wrongly, in carrying out many of those Municipal reforms which lie near the heart of many hon. Members on both sides, such as sanitary and educational reform, and technical education? The great portion of this £4,000,000 went to the Municipalities of towns in different parts of the country; but how was it represented? It was represented as £4,000,000 given to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's friends—the Tory landlords. We must not be too severe on hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite; those expressions were used in the heyday of their electoral turmoil, and ought to be passed by without much notice, perhaps. But we have been constantly charged that it is in favour of the owners of land that those £4,000,000 were given. How much went to the agricultural districts? We were told last night by the President of the Local Government Board that the amount was one-fifth. The right hon. Gentleman was good enough to give the final blow to that fallacy which has prevailed so long, and which has prevented so much good work, I believe, in reconstructing local finance. It is the fallacy which has been embodied in 100 leaflets, and which has even figured on the lips of responsible Statesmen—even Lord Rosebery spoke of £4,000,000 having gone to the Tory landlords. We know, however, that the Prime Minister gets his information second-hand; at all events, I think that this Debate will have been of enormous advantage if it establishes this one proposition—that when relief of rates is given one-fifth 333 only goes to the assistance of land. That involves a very serious consideration, which I must put to my hon. Friends behind me. They claim further relief to local taxation. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has quoted me as having said that I had shown my whole hand, and was, therefore, prevented from giving any further relief. But I will remind the right hon. Gentleman that he has disturbed the status quo; that he has in his Budget so reconstructed the burdens on land that, whatever my wish might be, I consider my hands to be free, notwithstanding the declaration which the right hon. Gentleman has quoted. That is perfectly reasonable, I think, after what has happened. But I ask my hon. Friends and the House to consider what is the measure of the advantage which they got from the relief of local taxation? That relief amounted to 6d. in the £1 on the rates. The rateable value of the United Kingdom I should put at £160,000,000 net. If you give £4,000,000 on £160,000,000 the amount comes to 6d. in the £1; and, therefore, you may take it that you may spend £4,000,000 before you give a relief of 6d. in the £1 to the ratepayers, if it is to be distributed under the old system equally among the ratepayers. The Mover of this Amendment showed the enormous burden on land in the shape of rates, and that the power of land to bear them is infinitely less. If that is so, let the House remember that, supposing we were proposing to give another 1s. to the agricultural ratepayers in the ordinary way, that proposal would involve £8,000,000. That is impossible, and I frankly say so. It is no use disguising it. We may give further relief, but it cannot be given, in my judgment, in the old way of further relief, because you must give five times the amount before you get that one-fifth from the purse of the nation. If the agricultural ratepayer requires to be relieved, he must be relieved. If justice demands it, justice he must have; if expediency demands it, for that expediency some remedy must be found. I do not say it is impossible; nothing is impossible to justice and expediency; but it must be done in a different way. Local finance may have to be reconstructed with a view to the agricultural interest, and to the demands of agriculture. 334 I am sure that my hon. Friends will not see in what I have said the slightest indisposition to consider their claims; but I want to show them that the simple diminution of the rates by further subventions would be so costly that they themselves would be indirectly suffering under a great disadvantage from the remedy applied in that way. Let me give an illustration. Look at the fall in prices. If we say 6d. in the £1, what does it mean to the wheat grower? It means, at the most, 6d. an acre. Granted that a remedy must be found—and responsible Statesmen are bound to find it—they must look in some other direction. I need not say many words about other remedies. There is the question of assessment. I doubt that very much, and I am confirmed in that by the views of the President of the Local Government Board. The Assessment Committee have not taken these steps.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. G. J. SHAW-LEFEVRE, Bradford, Central)
said, that the evidence given before the Royal Commission showed that, with slight exceptions, every Assessment Committee had reduced the assessments in proportion to the reduction of the rent.
§ MR. G. J. GOSCHEN
There are cases where the assessments have not moved down rapidly enough, and where the difficulties of appeal are—I shall not say insuperable—extremely difficult. If that be so there would be no remedy in that direction. But there are other remedies suggested. There are the remedies of light railways, and of lending money to the landlords for the improvement of buildings, &c. There is the remedy of the redemption of the title rent-charge and several other remedies which seem, so far as I can gather, to have gained what I may call preliminary favour with some Members of the Commission on that side of the House. What does that mean? It means that the owners of land should get some assistance for carrying on the works in their particular districts. The Member for East Northamptonshire (Mr. Channing) yesterday stated that money was required for the reconstruction of the land. At all events, money was required for the better cultivation of the land—for the placing of land in a 335 better condition than it is now. To do that money is required. Where is the money to come from? There are three sources. You may have recourse to the owner's private resources, or you may have money which would be lent in the ordinary way, or you may have recourse to the public funds. Many will agree with me that the last remedy is the one to which recourse should be had last. There are then the two other means of obtaining the money to accomplish the object in view. What do you require when you want credit—when you want to borrow from private sources? You require confidence that the land is a good interest. You require to inspire the idea that land is a safe interest. I see in the confession that the landlords require public money, two admissions. First, they cannot borrow it easier elsewhere, and that they have no means to do the work with themselves. It is an acknowledgment of the waning confidence in land. We know that land was a good security in times past, and we know that in every country the possession of land is one of the safest bulwarks of credit. But you denounce it as a crime to have the unfettered ownership of the land. Every device is resorted to to diminish the value of that ownership. The landlords are called land sharks, as the owners of, for instance, water shares are called water sharks. If such language is used, if such tactics are resorted to, what confidence is there, what is there to attract capital to the land? You may legislate as you please, but without confidence you will not restore prosperty to the land. Look at the somewhat absurd position in which we are to be placed. The landlords are to pay money into the Imperial Exchequer on one hand, and then the State is to lend the money back again. The landlord is first to be impoverished and then he is to be helped. Look at the Budget of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Was it not founded on the view that the landlords could easily bear the burdens of the right hon. Gentleman? Was he not told that he had to deal with an industry in the last stage of depression? We know of the case where the Death Duties had to be paid three times over, with the result that the labourers were discharged. I know of a case where that process is now going on, where, owing to the payment of these 336 heavy Death Duties, the heir has found himself unable to continue the same scale with regard to those employed as his predecessor. I will not labour this point. I say that in the Budget of the Chancellor of the Exchequer no proper regards have been had to the distressed state of Agriculture, and even now the Government does not recognise the gravity of the situation. I gather that public money is to be lent to the landowners or to those who trust in land—I gather that that is one of the proposals of the Royal Commission. If that is so, I rejoice at it, and, at all events, we, the Unionist Party, may claim some share in enabling that money to be lent on favourable conditions—at a lower rate, on lower conditions than it could have been lent before we took Office. The credit of the country has been so increased that now money is cheaper than it ever has been before. It runs through all finance. Capital has been cheapened by conversion, and capital is the great necessity of the national life. The Chancellor of the Exchequer never wearies in representing me as the champion of the wealthy interest, as the friend of capitalists, and he has sometimes sought to destroy any authority which my experience of affairs might otherwise have by so representing me. He has sought to impair that authority by holding me up always as the friend of capital. I have cheapened capital, at all events, without resorting to his fin de siècle finance. I have not had any of his gradations, his equalisations, his aggregations, and all the other ations under which he has destroyed that financial fabric which the genius of the Member for Midlothian built up. At all events, I have this satisfaction—that I have reduced the interest on capital for good or worse—I believe for good. He has frightened capital. I do not know which service he will consider the greatest—the cheapening of capital or the alarming of it. The unused millions at the Bank of England do not represent the savings of prosperity; they represent the timidity of the capitalists in the present situation, and we are face to face with this problem. There is the capital that cannot be employed, and, on the other hand, industry is checked because it cannot proceed without that capital. I repeat, the Government have not realised the 337 gravity of the situation. They have now, under the pressure of Metropolitan Members, consented to give a Committee. We are not surprised. It is the method which they have so often exercised with distinct advantage to their political existence. On this occasion, as on others, we shall know later what is the duty of this Committee. We heard with great interest the speech of the Member for West Ham. The hon. Member said he hoped the Government would undertake the consideration of a large number of measures which have been recommended by the particular associations with which he is connected. We have not only a Newcastle Programme; we have an Unemployed Programme; we have a Fabian Programme; we have the programme of the Fabian Society. Are we going to extend this inquiry into all parts of the United Kingdom, or is it going to deal only with the present emergency? Is it to range over the whole of our social system? Are we to have a special inquiry, or are we to go into a great variety of subjects? I think it will be impossible. We cannot inquire into all the dreams of social reformers. Still, they have been able to pay a few moments' attention to a question of this kind. I hope one effect of the Debate yesterday and to-day will be to convince the Government that there are questions agitating the public mind of infinitely deeper importance than, for instance, the Disestablishment of the Welsh Church, and that among their own supporters there is a desire—if only they can get their head—to deal with these social questions. Let us be agreed upon this. The difficulties are stupendous, but what we have a right to demand is that the Government shall bend their energies—that they shall give their attention to questions on which the very life of the Nation depends. We are called upon here, by the admission of a Cabinet Minister, to "plough the sand;" but what the nation wants is that it should be able again to plough the land. We are not content at least to see, without such efforts being made, any increase of derelict farms and the ruin of the Agriculturist interest. Is another year to be spent by the Government on these other objects, which seem to absorb their whole time, instead of devoting their energies to questions of this kind? They are 338 tinkering architects of a constitutional edifice; they are jerry-builders trying to raise up a crasy edifice at a moment's notice, and preparing to undertake the demolition of eccelsiastical structures at cost price. These are their objects, but instead of that we have these grave problems before us. Does the House realise what it means if the situation should continue as it is, and it should be impossible to grow wheat? Are you content to see a much further diminution in the area of wheat-growing land—of the constituents of bread in this country. Thank Heaven, we are able from beyond the seas and from every possible quarter, to feed the country. But a mini-mum should surely be grown at home. A country with 35 millions of mouths to feed ought to have some reserve at least within its own shores, however mighty its fleet, and however certain the security of its shores. Fancy the disaster to a country like this, where it might be necessary almost to give up cultivation. It is a stupendous question, and I think it is right that we should face it, and that no preconceived notions, no formulas, should prevent us from facing the consequences. I have not spoken of the remedy propounded by my right hon. Friend, the Member for Sleaford. But, whatever remedies are proposed, they should be treated with earnestness, they should not be scoffed at, but should be looked at as an earnest endeavour to solve a question, as grave as has ever been submitted to us. But, whatever the remedies may be, we ought all to set to work—to bend our energies, to do the most that in us lies, in order to meet what, I think, we are bound to admit is a most grave and difficult situation. Above all, do not let us forget that, though we may pour torrents of public money into the lap of a disheartened industry, though we may pass reams of Statutes, we shall effect no good unless confidence and hope are at the bottom of it. We must show that, in our belief, good feeling between capital and labour, good relations between employer and employed and between class and class, are indispensable conditions of national prosperity, crowned and cemented, as they ought to be and will be, by the commonsense of the British people and sanctified by the charitable feeling of mutual regard and esteem.
§ MR. W. R. BOUSFIELD (Hackney, N.)
thought hon. Members had reason to congratulate themselves that in the course of the debate a new stage had been reached in regard to the question of the unemployed and industrial depression. For the first time the Government had been compelled to face it. In 1892, when he was standing at a by-election, he referred in his address to the difficulty of the unemployed, and the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland went out of his way at that time to ridicule the importance of the question and the suggestions which were put forward in that address. Since that time the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues had treated the whole subject with an amount of scorn quite consistent with the attitude they adopted towards it before they came into office. Various Boards of Guardians, including the Board in his own constituency of Hackney, had suggested the purchase of land on which they might provide work for the unemployed; but the right hon. Gentleman who was now the Secretary for India did nothing but pour cold water on the scheme, and refuse to advance it in any way when he was the President of the Local Government Board. In the course of the Debate reference had been made to certain Statutory powers available to Boards of Guardians for this purpose, but the action of the Local Government Board had been such as to prevent the Guardians, who were anxious to take advantage of these powers, from putting them into operation, thereby excluding the possibility of a solution of the difficulty in that direction. He was, therefore, justified in saying that the present acknowledgment of the difficulty by the Government was a sort of death-bed repentance, for it was only under the pressure of circumstances that they had been compelled to take notice of the matter and to grant a Committee. The first thing that Committee would have to do would be to inquire into the amount of distress existing. But that, after all, would have absolutely nothing to do without the solution of this question. Last year when the matter was under discussion the Leader of the Opposition spoke in support of a scheme for making Local Authorities registering agents for the unemployed. That was a 340 simple step, and would have required only a single section Act to carry it out. The Government, with the support of the Leader of the Opposition, might have taken that step, and thus have ascertained with absolute certainty what was the magnitude of the unemployed problem, or whether such a problem really existed. It was a simple remedy put forward by both sides of the House, but it met with nothing but scorn on the part of the Government, who, instead of passing this short Statute, which would have given them full information, were now going to appoint a Committee of Enquiry. It was perfectly obvious that the solution of this question did not depend upon the circumstances of the moment. The first practical step which ought to have been, taken was the registration of the unemployed, and it was recognised that the true policy in the matter was one of cautious experiment. No one was prepared with a cut and dried scheme; and the Government, he thought, might take a practical step, and they ought to take it, by allowing the Local Authorities to make with their own money their own experiments in any way they chose. But in conformity with their whole policy since they had been in power, the Government had produced a dilatory scheme, and were doing nothing when most people were agreed that something ought to be done. The position might be looked at from two points of view. From the humanitarian point of view, they were all anxious that something should be done. But it was also an urgent matter from the purely conservative point of view that they should address themselves to this problem. There was a large army of unemployed people in the East of London, and in a time of great scarcity of food—if such a time should ever come—the unemployed might be driven to attempt and to do things which would not be compatible with the security of the State. Therefore all those who had any conservative instincts—and he hoped that some Members on the other side of the House had—all those who wished to preserve the existing fabric of society ought to take precautions to guard against a danger of that kind. The hon. Member for West Ham was admittedly a Socialist of a communistic type—he meant by this that the hon. Member, in common with 341 the Independent Labour Party and many Trade Unions, advocated the nationalisation of capital, of the land, and of the means of production. Very possibly the hon. Member was pressing forward the question of the unemployed in furtherance of the policy of Communistic Socialism. Why should men who were earning good wages go out of their way to pass Socialistic resolutions like that passed by the Trades Union Congress at Norwich last year? It was not because they thought they would be better off themselves under a new system, but looking around they saw that in the existing state of Society there was a very large number of persons who could not earn wages and who were in distress; and that state of things constituted a lever which forced them on to pass Socialistic resolutions. If they admitted that this question of the unemployed could not be solved, that in existing social conditions there must always be a large number of unemployed people who could not improve their position, they would supply those who were endeavouring to bring about a different Communistic state of society with a very strong argument in support of their views. Therefore, if they could only deal with this question of the unemployed in a reasonable way, in a way that would satisfy the national conscience, they would frustrate the policy of Communistic Socialism of the hon. Member for West Ham and others. Those who were conservative enough to desire to preserve our existing institutions were therefore bound to deal with the question of the unemployed.
§ *MR. J. W. LOGAN (Leicester, Harborough)
thought that it would be found impossible to separate the great question of the unemployed from the Land Question. He was glad to think that statesmen on both sides of the House would shortly have to turn their attention to the question of the unemployed. They would have to consider how it was that, side by side with an ever-increasing accumulation of wealth in the country, masses of people were living on the border of starvation. Many people were beginning to realise that a very large proportion of the ever-increasing wealth of this country was represented by land values, and that those who owned the land extracted from the masses a larger and 342 larger amount of their earnings in the form of a tax for permission to use the land, without the use of which they could not exist. People were realising that it was they who added value to the land by their work, and that others reaped the reward and charged increased rents in respect of that added value. The wit of man could not possibly devise a more certain means of creating misery and destitution and of adding to the ranks of the unemployed. It might be news to some to hear that the gross annual rental derived from land in England was threefold what it was at the beginning of the century. Out of a total of 76 millions derived from land in England 21½ millions belonged to 642 people. In contrast with this wealth there were 8,000,000 people living in a condition very little above that of starvation, between 700,000 and 1,000,000 persons were out of employment, and the roll of paupers numbered 800,000. He thanked the Government for the Committee that was to be appointed, but he warned them that, sooner or later, a searching investigation would have to be made in order to ascertain to what extent our present system of land tenure was responsible for the misery which they all deplored, and which was a disgrace to our common humanity. On the subject of agricultural depression they all agreed that it was a national calamity, but they disagreed as to its causes and also as to the remedy. There were four points of view from which the question could be approached. There was the point of view of the general public, that of the landowner, that of the farmer, and that of the agricultural labourer. Two remedies had been suggested on the other side of the House. There was, first, the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford, that a duty should be imposed on imported barley. In whose interest did the right hon. Gentleman propose to impose that duty? Was it in the interest of the general public, or of the farmer, or of the agricultural labourer? He did not suppose that the right hon. Gentleman would venture to ask for a subsidy for the benefit of the landowners. He much doubted whether it would be possible to persuade the farmer or the labourer or the public that such a tax would be a blessing to them. Last 343 year 8,748,000 quarters of barley were imported into this country. A tax of 5s. a quarter net amount would produce £2,187,000. Unless the management of estates had altered very much during the last 50 years, the bulk of that money would find its way into the pockets of the landowners. On the other hand, the shipping interest would lose nearly a quarter of a million, and the farmers and labourers would be seriously handicapped in competing with the foreigner in the production of pork and bacon. If the subsidy was intended for the benefit of the farmer and the labourer, then hon. Gentlemen opposite could very well give them the same subsidy by a reduction in rent. There was another remedy suggested, and that was to give relief from the burden of local taxation. Were hon. Gentlemen opposite not aware that today men in the towns were grumbling greatly at the enormous burden thrown upon them for the maintenance of men driven into the towns from the country? And did they seriously mean to think that they could with any justice ask those men to pay their rates so that they might have a little more money to give to their labourers? He had heard that argument given as a reason for enhancing the price of corn, but history was against that contention, for it proved that when wheat was selling in this country at 72s. a quarter, the wages of agricultural labourers were only 7s. or 8s. a week, while to-day, though they were not paid as he thought they ought to be paid, they were receiving 14s. to 15s. a week. He would ask hon. Gentlemen opposite, then, was it on behalf of the farmers that they asked for this relief in taxation? Was it not possible that, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford had said, the relief would go to the landlords? In 1891, the right hon. Gentleman said in answer to the hon. Member for Shoreditch—The hon. Member left out of account altogether the burden of rates, for he declared that the rates fell upon the occupier alone, and were in no way paid by the land. The occupier pays a certain sum for the use of the land, and in that sum are included rates as well as taxes. The effect on the owner is that if the rates are high, he gets less rent, and if they are low, he gets more rent; and I maintain that it would not be difficult to show that ultimately the 344 whole burden of the rates falls upon the owner of the land and upon nobody else.The hon. Gentleman who moved the Resolution said, that the chief cause of the depression was that in other countries the land was more lightly burdened than it was in England. That was true to some extent, but he wanted to ask the farmer, what was the chief burden he had to bear. Was it not rent? The average rent paid over the whole area of land in England was 24s. an acre. Therefore, he said to the farmer—If you need relief, go to the man to whom you pay your rent. By paying you admit that you are making a surplus over and above the cost of production.If there was not such a surplus, there should not be any such thing as rent. The farmers in 1893 paid £57,000,000 in rent, and the mere fact of their paying that rent meant either that there was a surplus over and above the cost of production or else that they had paid that enormous sum out of capital. If it was paid out of capital they should appeal to this Government to grant them land courts in which their rents might be revived. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford seemed to think that his hon. Friend the Member for East Northamptonshire was very hard when he said that landlords had not made the reductions they ought.
§ MR. CHAPLIN (Sleaford)
I did not say that. I disputed the contention that the fact that some landlords had not been sufficiently prompt in reducing rents was the cause of the depression.
§ MR. LOGAN
said he had no intention of misrepresenting the right hon. Gentleman. He was one of those who believed that the depression was largely a question of rent. He wanted the farmers to realise that the 40 per cent, reduction in rent did not meet the case of a 40 per cent. fall in prices. In 1893, the rent paid for agricultural land amounted to about £760,000 less than the sum paid in 1890, a year which gentlemen opposite never wearied in calling a most prosperous year. [Opposition cries of "No, no!"] He had always understood them to say so, though he did not agree with them. Taking the whole cultivated area of England what did that reduction mean? It averaged 4d. an acre. That was the landlord's 345 sacrifice. What about the farmers? In 1890, wheat yielded on the average £6 3s. per acre. In 1893 it yielded £4 5s. 7d., a difference of £1 17s. 5d. That was the wheat growing farmer's sacrifice. He did not say that the sacrifice of the graziers in the Midland counties was so great, but he knew it was a disastrous year with them and with dairy farmers throughout the country. It was within the mark to say that the total loss for the whole cultivated area was 30s. an acre.
§ MR. LOGAN
said he had taken the figures from statistical abstracts. Was there any other industry in which the manufacturer was content to buy the raw material at a reduction of 4d., while he was compelled to sell the manufactured article at a loss of 30s.? When the farmers learned that land was a raw material, and that its cost should bear some proportion to the price of produce, he hoped they would take some steps to help themselves. Was it not on behalf of landlords that relief was sought? If it were, he asked them to recognise hard facts. Agricultural rents were to-day higher by £2,000,000 than they were 50 years ago. The sum collected for agricultural rent to-day in Great Britain was £57,000,000, as against £32,000,000 at the commencement of this century. This meant that the selling value of agricultural land, at 25 years' purchase, was £625,000,000 more than it was at the commencement of the century. With what grace, then, could it be asked that the people should bear the burdens of the landowners?
§ MR. LOGAN
said, he sympathised as much as anyone with those who were suffering from the present conditions of Agriculture; their suffering was deplorable, not only in itself, but also on account of its far-reaching consequences. It seemed to him to be discreditable that we should be importing enormous quantities of agricultural produce while land in 346 this country was going out of cultivation, and while in some parts of the country thousands were asking in vain for work. He ventured to think that the day would come when the people would take this matter into their own hands, and would insist that the land of the country should be put to its best use; when the people would re-enter into their possession, and the cry of distress would no longer be heard, because men would no longer have to pay a large share of their earnings for the mere right of existing upon God's earth.
*MR. J. LOWTHER
said, he understood the last speaker to say he had taken some of his figures from the Income Tax Returns; but unfortunately in these Returns no mention was made of the large abatements in rents that were often granted, and he very much questioned whether the House would be disposed to rely on the minute calculations made with the view of showing the proportion which the reductions bore to the total acreage of the country. How far the tops of mountains might be made available for the purposes of the calculation, and how far accommodation lands close to towns could be brought in on the other side, were matters which should be gravely scrutinised before the statistics cited, and the conclusions to be deduced from them, were taken into account. With regard to the Royal Commission on Agriculture, his right hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford put down a Notice of Motion to prevent a Committee being appointed without discussion; and he himself gave a similar notice with a further object, because he was strongly against an appointment at all. He wanted action of some kind, and not needless inquiry, which did not carry us any further. One objection to a Committee would have been that so few Members of the House approached agricultural questions with a free hand or an open mind; that objection would not have applied to a fairly constituted Commission, but in appointing a Commission the Government constituted it in a manner which was egregiously and scandalously unfair. It was a packed Commission, from which was rigorously excluded any one person who would have been representative of the majority 347 of the agricultural community. In St. James' Hall, in 1892, there was held a National Agricultural Conference, at which some subjects—bimetallism amongst them—were discussed with more or less languid interest, and others, such as Land Courts and other Radical proposals, were snuffed out. None of the minor remedies, so-called, met with substantial favour at the hands of the assembled 2,000; but there was one resolution which aroused general interest, and was adopted by a large majority, and it was in the following terms:—That the unfair competition of untaxed foreign imports with home produce and manufactures, which are subject to heavy internal taxation, is an anomaly and an injustice; and by causing the diminution of the demand for home labour, and the contraction of the purchasing power of the community, adversely affects every trade in the country. And this conference is further of opinion that all competing imports should pay a duty not less than the rates and taxes levied on home production.These opinions may be sound or not; but no one would deny that they were the opinions of a large majority of the owners and occupiers of land; yet the Commission did not include one representative of these opinions. Any person suspected of Protectionist leanings was rigorously boycotted by the Government. It might be all very well to say that Protection was wrong; but, if inquiry was to be conducted with an approximation to fairness, the boycotting of all who held these views was a scandal. As to suggested minor remedies, that of Light Railways scarcely deserved lengthened debate. He very much doubted whether they would hear any more of it; and he did not believe that any Chamber of Agriculture would entertain the idea of a farthing being charged to the rates for a so called boon of that kind. He even doubted whether agricultural Members on the Ministerial side of the House would support such a proposal. As to suggested changes in land tenure, he called those remedies of a dog-eat-dog character, in which groups of the agricultural community were to be used up in the attempt to injure each other. They had heard of paltry subventions in aid of rates, and also of agricultural banks, but he questioned whether any one would lend money to persons who were endeavouring to make land pay by growing wheat at £1 a quarter. There 348 was one suggested remedy in which he heartily concurred, and that was the proposal of the right hon. Member for Sleaford, as to the imposition of a duty upon barley. It would be a step in the right direction though it would not go far enough. But agriculturists were told that their mistake was in not adapting themselves to the needs of the times. It was said to them:What is the use of growing wheat; it is impossible to grow it at a profit; why don't you turn your hand to dairy produce, fruit-growing, and turn more attention to poultry production, and the increased production of meat?This was what was called the "egg-and-jam" theory. No doubt, in some favoured places, under proper conditions, the production of fruit might be successfully attempted; but as far as the great mass of the agricultural land of this country was concerned the suggestion that it should be devoted wholesale to the cultivation of what was associated with petite culture abroad was ridiculous in the extreme. He might be told that any proposal to impose taxes upon imported articles in this country, especially in connection with food, would merely put money into the pockets of the landlords. He need not waste the time of the House in contradicting that, because it was notorious and palpable that increased production in this country would involve the employment of a vast deal more labour. The distress caused by the depressed condition of Agriculture was by no means confined to rural districts. The small towns in the provinces felt the depression acutely. Country shopkeepers said that their customers did not deal with them on the same scale as years ago because of the depression in Agriculture. Manufacturers who supplied the shopkeepers found their orders diminish, and had to employ fewer hands at lower wages. Agricultural depression had become a national calamity, for it was felt by all classes of the community. He might be asked what his remedy was. Two years ago he explained it in a letter which he addressed to a meeting of agriculturists, and which he would now summarise. He urged the imposition, on all foreign imports that came into competition with home industries, of duties based on the principle of a sliding scale, which would automatically cease to be levied on any 349 commodity, included amongst the necessaries of life, as soon as the market price exceeded the figure at which it could be produced at a profit in this country. As far as wheat was concerned, Protection, if adopted, would have to be adopted all round. The price of bread now, with wheat at 20s., was substantially the same as it was when wheat stood at 40s., and his proposal would simply restore matters to what they were when wheat was 40s., which was the figure indicated by the Royal Commission, he did not mean the "Packed Commission," but the Duke of Richmond's Commission, as being the price at which wheat could be produced at a profit in this country. The doctrine of Protection was endorsed by all the rest of the world with the exception of the inhabitants of these Islands. He would read a short extract from a remarkable speech by the late Prime Minister as recently as May 12, 1890, at the presentation of a testimonial to the hon. Member for Rochdale, chairman of the Cobden Club, who was an hon. Gentleman whom they all respected, and if the subscription list had been open to "unbelievers" no one would have contributed his mite more heartily than he, for the hon. Member's public career, however much he differed from him, he regarded with respect. Mr. Gladstone in the speech referred to, said—Free Trade has receded and Protection has pained ground in the United States., and, I yet more regret, and much more regret, to say, in the Colonies of Great Britain. … Let us look at the actual state of things at home and abroad. When we pass over the countries of the world and the countries of Europe, together with the great Republic of America, we see that, although the doctrines of Free Trade have never been unconditionally accepted, yet there has been a kind of qualified progress towards them. That progress first was exchanged for a stationary condition of opinion, and of late opinion has been actively retrogressive.The late Prime Minister found two subjects for consolation in the survey of the state of opinion abroad with respect to the freedom of trade—In some of our Colonies," he said, "I believe the principles of Free Trade are still cherished, they have been cherished up to this time under circumstances most disadvantageous in the great and important Colony of New South Wales. If, however, we look to the world at large, the picture is not an encouraging one. Do not let us conceal from ourselves that this country is almost at present the solitary citadel of Free Trade.350 In a letter to M. Léon Say in March 1894, Mr. Gladstone emphasized his views, for he said—It is a matter of sincere concern to me, in retrospect, to measure the ground that has been lost within the last 25 or 30 years with respect to this great subject both on the Continent of Europe and among the larger portion of what is commonly called the Anglo-Saxon race. On this great subject my own country remains an almost solitary witness to what was once regarded as an established economic truth.It had been contended that, inasmuch as our foreign trade enormously exceeded our home trade in value, we ought to take no steps that would benefit the latter at the risk of endangering the former. But had those who adopted that line of argument ever looked into the question for themselves? He should like to call the attention of the House to what that eminent fiscal authority, Dr. Giffen, said upon the point. Dr. Giffen showed that our total national income amounted to 1,200 millions sterling a year, while the probable maximum value of our foreign trade was only 140 millions per annum. If hon. Members would compare the 140 millions with the 1,200 millions they would see that the foreign trade of the country amounted to only a small proportion of our total trade, and, as Dr. Giffen went on to say, that we should still remain a great and a wealthy nation even if the whole of that trade were swept away. The long and the short of it was, as Dr. Giffen pointed out, that our home trade amounted to 10 or 12 times as much as our foreign trade. He need scarcely say that he did not contemplate for a moment the possibility of our foreign trade being swept away; but he had always contended that reasonable means should be taken to maintain the staple industries of this country while, at the same time, securing that we should obtain a cheap food supply. It would be strange, indeed, if, in an Empire like ours, which extended over one-fifth of the earth's surface, we could not obtain markets for our manufactures, while securing a sufficient supply of cheap food. He would humbly suggest to Her Majesty's Government that, as we now had in our Colonies and Dependencies populations who were only too anxious to be allowed to trade with us upon reasonable terms, we should afford them 351 facilities for obtaining our goods in return for them giving us cheap food. He had always frankly expressed his opinions on this point, whether they were popular at the time or not; and he suggested to the Government that, instead of sheltering themselves behind Royal Commissions, they should bring in some wise and practical measure which would secure the prosperity of the country.
MR. W. SMITH (Lancashire, N., North Lonsdale)
attributed the present low prices to over-production. During the last few years unprecedented crops of grain had been produced, and that fact fully accounted for the low price of wheat. The right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had suggested that the price of bread was not regulated by that of wheat; but he could assure the right hon. Gentleman that a four-pound loaf of excellent bread could now be bought for 3d. The reason that the price of bread did not more closely follow that of wheat was that the people of this country had changed their habits, and that they no longer made their own bread, but purchased it ready made from the bakers. He thought that it would be a good thing if cottagers and even well-to-do people were to revert to the old custom, and were to make their own loaves, in which case they would more fully obtain the advantage of a cheap wheat supply, because the price of flour did follow closely that of wheat. It must be remembered that there had been in this country what amounted practically to a revolution with respect to land. Until a few years ago our farmers had an absolute monopoly of the corn trade of the country; but, owing to the opening up of foreign countries by the great numbers of railways which had been constructed and to the improvements in shipbuilding, wheat could now be brought to us from 3,000 miles away at a cheaper rate than it could be carried a few hundred miles some years ago. In these circumstances, the land of this country no longer occupied the exceptional position it formerly enjoyed. In his opinion, the price of land in this country, whether for sale or for hire, must come down to the level of that of other countries, and until that came about nothing but disaster could befall our agricultural interest were we in future to deal with the land in our 352 obsolete manner, and to tie our farmers down hand and foot by restrictions upon the way in which they were to cultivate their farms. The rents in the country had not been reduced to the extent that they ought to have been. He knew cases of personal friends of his own who farmed land in Essex, and would have liked to continue, who repeatedly applied for reductions of rent, but did not obtain them, until their capital was all gone, and then the landlord offered them the farm at their own price. What that meant was this, that, consciously or unconsciously, that man would extract from the land all its capabilities until in the course of years it became valueless. At the present time there was land in Essex which would be dear rent free. It would take a lifetime, and the free application of capital, before such land could be reinstated. There must be a tribunal established, to which, in case of need, the tenant might be able to have recourse; that in itself would bring about a great redress. Then the conditions under which the farm was held must be changed. It must be competent for a man, so long as he did not exhaust the fertility of the soil, to use his ability and his judgment without all the customary trammels. He must be able to adapt the cultivation of his land to the surrounding circumstances, to grow that for which there was a demand and for which the district was best suited. This freedom conceded, the farmer would be able to farm not only to his own satisfaction, but also to the great benefit of the community and the landlord as well. Rent, truly described, was what remained after the cost of production. He cared not how rich the land might be, how fair the climate, or how near to the door there might be a food market, land uncultivated must be absolutely worthless, and a nuisance to the neighbourhood. It followed as a consequence that the man who cultivated the land, the labourer who contributed his physical energies, and the tenant, who applied his capital and brain power, were entitled to the first enjoyment of the fruits. But that was not the case to-day. Rent was put first, and until that fact was grasped, any remedy that might be applied would prove-illusory. He believed there was abundant room for more than double the 353 population on the land at present there; but it was useless to ask the farmers to throw their capital freely into the land until they had security that they would be able to reap the fruits of their industry.
§ *MR. E. H. HULSE (Salisbury)
did not rise to support the Amendment of the hon. Member for the Basingstoke Division from any selfish point of view; he did so in his capacity as Member for a city which was the centre of a large agricultural district, and which felt most acutely the distress and depression surrounding it on all sides. The Report which was laid on the Table of the House last Session respecting the condition of the County of Essex displayed such a serious state of affairs that we were entitled to doubt whether such depression could be allowed to continue, and that within 10 or 20 miles of the greatest centre of in the world, there should be land going out of cultivation, and that farmers should be unable to make a living even when they got the land rent free. The County of Essex had secured a great increase of population amongst the working classes who were employed in the Metropolitan area, and yet in spite of these exceptional advantages, the farmers in that county could not keep their heads above water. How immeasurably worse must it be in the district surrounding the city he had the honour to represent (Salisbury), and which had already furnished the subject of a Special Report by a Parliamentary Commission? The facts in that Report were uncontradicted and revealed a state of affairs which was deplorable, and he had no hesitation in saying, in some cases, heartrending. He looked upon the waking up on the part of the Government to this serious and crippled condition of agriculture as somewhat in the nature of a death-bed repentance. What was the remedy foreshadowed in the Queen's Speech? The construction of Light Railways. But they were entitled to ask how, when constructed, the Light Railways were to be paid for. If out of local rates, there were many districts, and notably that with which he was identified, where it would be absolutely impossible to levy the rate; and, unless the Board of Trade looked more carefully after the Railway Rates in the interest of the producer and 354 consumer, there was a danger of the Light Railways falling into the hands of the monopolists, and they would in no way affect the stream of foreign produce which was being brought into this country at lower rates to the detriment of home produce, an injustice which was crushing the farmer and ruining the market gardener. What the agricultural community needed was immediate and speedy relief, such relief as would give greater assistance to the local rates which were now placed upon the land, whereas everything in the Report seemed to point to the burden of local rates upon the agricultural industry as a great cause of the present difficulties. It would be just as sensible to put a duty on English iron and steel as to heap fresh burdens upon agriculture. It was not only the agriculturist who had suffered. The tradesmen in our country towns bitterly complained of the state of trade, of protracted credit, and of increasing insolvencies, and a marked diminution in the volume of trade throughout the district. The subject before the House was, in his opinion, a matter which was not merely grave one, but was really of national importance. Agriculture, as the late Mr. John Bright had pointed out, was still the greatest industry in the country, and even a moderately bad harvest meant a difference of 10 millions of money to the country. It was important that they should attempt to grapple with the evil now, when they found that a good harvest did not even give to the producer sufficient to pay interest on his capital, and when, in places, land was actually stated to be assuming prairie value. Even rent free the farmer could not in many cases square his wages account, still less get interest on the capital which he had put into the land; and there never was, in his opinion, a subject more worthy of the attention of a responsible Minister of the Crown. It was only by some speedy relief that the industry could be saved from entire and absolute obliteration, our farmers from bankruptcy, and our labourers from the inevitable results which must follow 355 from a constantly falling market. Labour would always, in the long run, suffer from such an evil as this. There was a lessened demand for labour; wages in many parts did not amount to more than 10s. or 11s. a week, being lower than three years ago; and, during the present winter, the applications for outdoor relief had shown a steady and marked increase. In the city which he himself represented (Salisbury) the tradesmen were almost entirely dependent on the agricultural industry, and they to the system was, that if these they stated that they had had one of the worst winters on record. He appealed to the Government to give some relief in the present very serious condition of affairs.
§ *MR. DODD (Essex, Maldon.)
said, he should regret it if the hon. Member for the Sleaford Division of Lincolnshire succeeded in obtaining a duty on barley, and he should regret exceedingly the imposition of a duty upon wheat. It was true, as had been stated, that large numbers of our people were unemployed in the agricultural districts, and those of them who were obliged to apply to the Poor Law Authorities for relief, had to comply with the conditions of Poor Law Orders of many years standing, the principal Orders rather more than fifty years old. The result was that the Poor Law as it had to be administered by the Boards of Guardians, was not in harmony with the general feeling of our population, and was, he thought, in some matters unnecessarily harsh. Before the new Poor Law came into operation there had undoubtedly been great abuse of out-relief which it was necessary to stop, but he thought that the danger to be anticipated from out relief was now to some extent diminished. As the law stood, Boards of Guardians had very little discretion. The substance of the Order of 1844 dealing with this matter was, that no able-bodied person could be relieved by means of out-relief unless the case was one of sudden or urgent necessity. Then afterwards, exceptions were made, such as the case of widows, but the Boards of Guardians could not legally give out-relief even for a short time to able-bodied persons, nor could they give any relief to a person who was not destitute. 356 What was happening now in our country villages was this—labourers, who owing to bad times were out of work, and who had homes and families, asked the Boards of Guardians for a few weeks, temporary out-relief; the Boards of Guardians were in many cases anxious to grant that relief, but they had no right to do it, inasmuch as the applicants were able-bodied. Besides, so long as a man had any furniture, though it be but a table, chair, or bed, he was not destitute in point of law. The objection to the system was that if these temporarily unemployed did break up their home and go with their families into the workhouse, it was impossible for them, or at all events very difficult for them, ever to get their furniture together again and re-establish their homes. From a mere monetary point of view it was an expensive policy to break up the home of a working man, and from a humane point of view there could not be two opinions. In addition, when a family had been brought into the workhouse, the strong probability was that we should be rearing a race of paupers. Unless it was absolutely necessary, therefore, it was certainly not only a harsh policy, but an expensive policy. The Orders could be altered by the Local Government Board, and he was anxious to know from the Government whether it was intended that the Order to which he had specially directed attention and the other Poor Law Orders, which contained many anomalies, should be laid before the Committee it was proposed to appoint, or whether the Local Government Board would deal with them on their own initiative, and apart from the Committee. He believed the time had come when the Poor Law Orders, and particularly the one which dealt with out-relief, should be revised. His suggestion was not that out-relief should be granted generally—that would be too dangerous a policy—but that some discretion should be given to the Boards of Guardians, in the exercise of which they might give out-relief for a few weeks to those able-bodied men whom they had reason to think would be mere temporary applicants, and who would, in their opinion, be likely to get work if relieved. That would be an economical policy; it would certainly be a humane policy. He might perhaps be allowed to 357 add that ho regretted that in the course of the Debate there should have come from the other side of the House anything in the shape of a complaint that the Government did nothing for agriculture, because Her Majesty's Government wore endeavouring to do something which might be of use to some agricultural districts of the country. There was no doubt that in some parts of Essex a light railway would be of great use. He was not prepared to say the ratepayers would be willing to guarantee the cost, but he thought they would be willing to do something if they were assisted by Her Majesty's Government to some extent out of public funds. There were funds. We always had funds when we wanted to make a railway in Uganda, and personally he would sooner vote for some railway in England than he would for one in some district in Africa. He, however, felt that if light railways were to be made, the ratepayers should assume some responsibility. Unless the ratepayers were prepared to do that, the Government would be well advised if they did not risk public money on the undertakings. In many districts the difficulty with regard to railway extension was the claim which was put in by a landowner when a railway was about to be made on his land. The smaller landowners, to which class he happened to belong, were always tempted when a railway came near to them to make the most of their position. The larger landowners now for the most part fully recognised the necessity of light railways in order to stimulate, in some way, agriculture, and were prepared to part with their land at its market value. He thought it would be found by the Government when they introduced their measure that they would be obliged to have some strong compulsory powers enabling land to be purchased at the market value. He was a little astonished to hear some hon. Members complain that Her Majesty's Government had done nothing for agriculture, because he recollected being present during the passing of the Budget Bill, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer saying, when he made one or two concessions to the farming interest, that all the gratitude then expressed on both sides of the House would vanish very shortly, and hon. Members opposite 358 would say that the Government did nothing to benefit the farmer. Hon. Gentlemen opposite thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer was dealing with them unjustly. They said the right hon. Gentleman was mistaken if he supposed they were ungrateful when he reduced the assessment from 4d. to 3d. Gratitude of that kind gradually vanished, and it seemed to have vanished so completely in this instance, that hon. Members said nothing had been done for the farming interest. He was not satisfied. Though he was not satisfied, he was bound to say something had been done, and what had been done made him wish for more. He was glad to know it was intended to appoint a Committee, and he hoped to hear, before the Debate closed, that the Government would do their best to secure an interim Report from the Committee, so that something effective might be done at once. In conclusion, let him say he was anxious to hear a definite statement from some right hon. Gentleman as to what was intended to be done with regard to the Poor Law Orders. He asked the Government to say, either that the Local Government Board would take the responsibility of going through those Orders, and if they arrived at the conclusion that temporary out-relief might be given, subject to proper restrictions, they would take it upon themselves to allow it to be given, or that, if they thought the task beyond the powers of the Local Government Board, they would see the Committee to be appointed had full power to inquire.
§ MR. C. W. RADCLIFFE COOKE (Hereford)
said, there was no doubt that the complicated character of the Amendment had led to the protraction of the Debate. It would have been much better if the three subjects, each one of which was worth a Debate to itself, had been separately considered. He proposed to say a few words upon the agricultural part of the Amendment. He regretted to say he found himself in great part in opposition to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Thanet. It was much too late, and the subject was much too large, to consider whether Protection or Free Trade was the better for this country at the present day; and he would remind those hon. Gentlemen who sat on the Opposition Benches and were in favour 359 of Protection that the depression of agriculture was not confined to this Free Trade country. Depression was felt very much in France, and hon. Members who had read the most interesting statement in the Times a few weeks ago would know that in the Western States of America the farmers were almost on the verge of bankruptcy. Nor did he quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Thanet, when he somewhat deprecated the multiplicity of minor industries. It was with farming as with all other businesses. As facilities of conveyance were increased from time to time, and we received from places where they could grow them cheaper commodities we used to grow here, so we were bound to change to some extent our system of farming. He did not for a moment say that fruit or jam would save the British farmer; but there were some kinds of produce now imported into this country which could, if there were better organisation among the farming classes, be grown here and which the distributing classes would buy. Only two or three hours ago a young gentleman spoke to him on that very subject. His friend had been to some of the large stores in London which procured their eggs from France and Italy, and he was told that, although the stores would have to pay something more for English eggs, if they could get a regular supply of them they would buy them preferably to foreign eggs, because the quality of them would be generally better. But what did the stores managers say? That they could only get English eggs in driblets; that there was no organisation among the English farmers to secure that a regular supply should be sent up to the stores. There were such organisations abroad. The farmers sent their eggs to some central stores, from which they were despatched to England, and it would indeed be well if some such system were also established in this country. The same gentleman also told him that he went to the manager of the largest Co-operative store in existence, and asked him whether they bought English bacon and hams. "No" said the manager, we get them from Denmark; because "we are sure of a large and regular supply." It seemed that in Denmark the farmers, after fattening their pigs, sent them to some central stores where 360 they were properly killed and cured, and the hams and bacon sent out in large quantities to the customers. Was there any reason why similar factories should not be established in this country? What was wanted, was not Government interference, but the qualities of energy, enterprise and activity amongst the farming classes themselves. References had already been made in the course of the Debate to a speech recently delivered by the Prussian Minister of Agriculture and Commerce. He had read the speech and he was particularly struck by one passage. He said that the depression in agriculture and trade was not to be cured so much by heroic remedies as by attention to small remedies; by public individuals, and associations or public bodies, taking in hand the various industries of the country, seeing how they could be developed, and if they were languishing how they could be revived. There was one farming industry in which he was extremely interested, not pecuniarily, but because it was associated with his county—Herefordshire, the county from which he came, was the county of orchards. Worcestershire, Gloucestershire, Somersetshire, and Devon contained 25 per cent, of the orcharding of England, and 54 per cent. of the total orcharding of the United Kingdom. The greater portion of those orchards consisted of vintage fruit for making perry and cider. There was not at present a large demand for these liquors; but an association with which he had the honour of being connected, were endeavouring to promote such a demand with some considerable degree of success. The profits of this industry had not lately been very great, but the revenue derived from it in past years was considerable. About one hundred years ago an Irish gentleman who desired to benefit his country by promoting its industries, came over to Hereford, as the representative of the Royal Agricultural Society of Ireland, to see how the English orchards were managed. In his report, this gentleman stated that such was the glut of fruit, that a great deal of it was allowed to rot on the ground, because the farmers had not sufficient barrels to place the liquor in, and that cider sold in the district at ten guineas the hogshead. That was much better than wheat growing, and many farmers 361 to-day would consider themselves well paid if they only got half that sum for their cider. The two chief reasons why there was no great demand at present for perry and cider, were that the farmers had to a great extent neglected the industry, and that the trade had got into the hands of middlemen, who had depreciated the quality of the liquors by adulteration. There was no doubt that there were many people who would take the liquors if they could get them pure and genuine and a regular supply of them. But it was not only the adulteration; the orchards also were not now in the state they were a hundred years ago. A celebrated horticulturist named Dr. Beale, who lived in Hereford in the Fifteenth Century, had written a book in which he stated that the orchards of the county were the pattern of England. If Dr. Beale were to rise from his grave he would not be able to-day to make such a statement. It was necessary therefore that the orchard should be renovated. With regard to adulteration—the other reason for the decay of the industry,—he would point out that it was an expensive process to detect adulteration. Even if the Adulteration Acts applied, they must first prove that adulteration existed, before they could proceed, and they could only do that by chemical analysis, which was an expensive process. He recently sent some perry to London for analysis, and though the analysis was not very exhaustive it cost him thirty shillings. He inquired of the Agricultural Society at Cirencester, whether they could undertake such analysis; but they said they had no endowments and could not afford it. Well, the Government had a laboratory, and why should not associations such as the one with which he had the honour of being connected, be permitted to send liquors to see if they were adulterated, and if so, how they were adulterated. The association would in that way be able to tell the public where they could get good cider and good perry, and thereby create a demand for those liquors. Again, why should not the Board of Agriculture or the County Council establish schools for teaching the scientific cultivation of fruit trees. In that way the farmers could be helped in the renovation of their orchards. In the book written in the middle of the Fifteenth 362 Century, to which he had referred, it was said that in every village of Hereford there were numbers of men who could teach the grafting and pruning of trees, but to-day they might go from village to village in the county without finding one man even with that knowledge. Why, then, should not the County Council acquire land for the teaching of the art of fruit cultivation? As to renovating orchards, in Tasmania a Law had been passed establishing District Boards, whose duty it was to go round the districts at certain periods of the year, and see that the orchards were properly managed, and that proper precautions were taken against insect pests. If the Colonists could submit to such legislation for the purpose of maintaining a trade which was competing with our own, surely similar legislation would be possible in this country. As to the question of railway rates, commerce was dependent on the railways, and if their rates were reduced to such a point that they could not maintain their rolling stock, producers would be in worse case than before. But he had heard of a gentleman in Newcastle who ordered a 15-gallon cask of cider from Devonshire, and who had to pay 7s. 4d. carriage—probably more than, half the cost of the cider. He could have got the cider more cheaply from New York; and, indeed, the cheapest way of sending goods from London to Liverpool was via New York. As to speculation in produce affecting prices, he believed that he was the first person to mention "futures" in the House—the subject which had now been taken up by the hon. and gallant Member for Eastbourne. There were a number of persons, it was stated, who speculated in grain and other food products in New York; and that consequently, like jobbers on the Stock Exchange, they made the prices. But, as far as he could see, if they sometimes made the prices low, they must also sometimes make them high; for the business would not go on if the bears always had their way. But where a number of persons were endeavouring to lower prices, the public always assisted them; and where they were endeavouring to raise prices, the public waited for a turn. So that, undoubtedly, in the long run, Mr. Smith's contention was right, and the tendency of these speculations was to 363 lower prices. But, in any case, the price of any commodity, whether raised or lowered, ought not speculations of people who had no other object but speculation; and that appeared to be the view entertained by various continental politicians; for in several countries Bills dealing with the subject had been introduced. Therefore the question ought not to be burked. As to the celebrated Royal Commission of which they had heard so much, if the controversies between its members were conducted in the same manner at its sittings as they were in the House of Commons on the previous day, a protracted investigation might be looked for. But those dissensions might be dismissed in the phrase: "non nostrum inter vos tantas componere lites." Mr. Smith alleged that his views were succinctly laid before the Commission in a printed statement, which was taken as read, and that he was cross-examined quite independently of it. Moreover, he alleged that he was promised that his statement should be printed in the proceedings of the Commission, and that it had been deliberately excluded. If that were so, Mr. Smith had a distinct grievance. For himself, he had nothing to complain of in the present Minister for Agriculture, but, on the contrary, much to admire. When he formed the Cider Makers' Association he wrote to the right hon. Gentleman, and received a sympathetic reply; and at the dinner of the Farmers' Club the right hon. Gentleman had called attention to the cider industry, and suggested that it had not been sufficiently developed. He hoped that before the debate concluded, the right hon. Gentleman would say what the Board of Agriculture proposed to do, and whether they would take notice of the suggestions which had been made to them with regard to this industry.
§ MR. CALEB WRIGHT (Lancashire, S.W., Leigh)
said that the statement which had been made that there was great depression in the cotton, trade of Lancashire was undeniably untrue. He certainly knew of a number of mills in Lancashire which were working short time, and of others which were stopped, but they were a small proportion of the whole. And why were they working short time or stopping? It was because they were old mills, with old machinery, 364 and totally unfit to compete with modern plant. That was why they could not make a profit now, and they could not have made a profit in the most prosperous times of the cotton trade—the years 1873 to 1876. He found that, notwithstanding what was said, the increase in the Lancashire cotton trade had been enormous. Our exports to all countries, especially to silver countries, had been greatly in creasing year by year, and the wages of the workers in the cotton mills had nearly doubled from what they were, and the purchasing power of those wages had nearly doubled. This showed that our cotton trade would not die. With modern mills, modern machinery, good management, and workmen such as we had now, we should be able to stand against any country in the world. He remembered the time when there really was a very great depression in Lancashire, in the cotton trade and in others, and that was when the price of corn was 84s. a quarter. The average wages of the agricultural labourers at that time were 9s. a week, and the wages earned in the mill for 72 hours were about half of what they were now. The increase of national wealth in this country during the last 30 years, he believed, had been greater than in any other like period in history. We had so much money now that we did not know what to do with it. Did anyone who remembered the great depression of 1838–42 know of landed proprietors of this country showing sympathy with the agricultural labourers by advocating a change which might increase their wages from 9s. a week? He never heard of them doing anything of the kind. He was certain that no hon. Members present had heard of such a course being taken. The working classes of the country would now have a larger proportion of the results of labour than they had ever enjoyed in the past; and he believed that the diffusion, of such a principle would contribute to a higher enjoyment of life among the workers of the country.
§ MAJOR F. C. RASCH (Essex, S.E.)
said, that during last Session hon. Members had enjoyed one or two opportunities of expressing their feelings on the subject of Agriculture, and he did not forget that the House permitted him to move the adjournment in order 365 to call attention to it. He wished now to say a few words with reference to what had been said by the right hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. James Lowther) who had spoken with the courage of his convictions. He did not agree, however, with his right hon. Friend in advocating Protection. When the artisans of the north called for, as they did now, a duty on imported manufactured goods, and when the labourers who had allotments and small holdings also wished to protect what they grew themselves, and when those two bodies joined their forces together, it seemed to him that as far as Free Trade was concerned the deluge would have come. He was surprised to see that Free Traders had placed an import duty on manufactured goods entering India. Agricultural distress was now considerably more acute, especially in Essex, than at this time last year, and there was an utter inability on the part of the Government to grasp the situation. Prices were now 25 per cent. lower; there were more labourers out of employment; there were more cottages to let, more farmers were being ruined, and more of the rural population were flocking into the towns to swamp the already congested labour market. He represented a district of Essex where the agricultural depression was most frightfully acute. What had the Government done during the last six months on behalf of Agriculture? As a rule they had given agriculturists platonic assurances of regret at the trouble they were in, and promises to do all they could to help the farmers and landowners. He was surprised also to see that in the last week of December the Chancellor of the Exchequer declined to receive a deputation from the Central Chamber of Commerce on the question of local taxation. He confessed that he was sorry to see this refusal, and the same feeling of regret was shared by many of his constituents. He did not mean to say that the right hon. Gentleman was hostile to the agricultural interest, but undoubtedly the right hon. Gentleman had that disinterested aversion for the parson, the squire, and the landlord, which might lead some to believe that this was possibly the reason for the refusal.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
The hon. Member is under a misapprehension. I 366 could not deal with the question of local taxation, because it was a question of finance upon which I could not express myself freely in prospect of the Budget.
§ MAJOR RASCH
said, that no doubt the right hon. Gentleman was correct; but no Minister was better able to receive a deputation and to tell them so little than he. Then there was the Minister for Agriculture. He admitted that the right hon. Gentleman had done a great deal for the agricultural interest in the Fertilising and Feeding Stuffs Bill, in applying the Merchandise Marks Act to agricultural produce, and in shutting our ports against the introduction of pleuro—pneumonia from abroad. It surprised him not a little, however, to hear the right hon. Gentleman at a farmers dinner in December, when those present expected to receive some words of consolation and advice, tell agriculturists that they should study botany and cultivate a super-excellence of domestic produce. The right hon. Gentleman might as well have told them to study Greek Plays. The President of the Local Government Board was in Essex last Autumn, and he gave agriculturists there some advice with reference to assessments which they had not been able to follow. Their idea, however, was that the right hon. Gentleman came down rather to prepare a counterblast to the report of Mr. Hunter Pringle, which advised the Government to do something when they intended to do nothing at all. Next, there was the Conference called by the President of the Board of Trade who indicated that agriculturists were going to get light railways, but that the Government were not going to help Agriculture to pay for them. The principal suggestion made for the possible alleviation of agricultural distress, therefore, was that the Board of Trade might make light railways, but agriculturists must pay for them out of their own pockets. The hon. Member for East Northamptonshire (Mr. Channing) suggested that rents had not been lowered in sufficient time. In Essex rents had fallen to nothing as compared with 20 years ago. The hon. Member also made the suggestion that the Government should lend £10,000,000 or £12,000,000 to the agricultural interest. But if he were the Chancellor of the Exchequer 367 he should think twice before lending the money in Essex. Then there was the proposal of the hon. Member for the Woodbridge Division of Suffolk (Mr. Everett) whose views generally had a certain amount of saneness about them. His hon. Friend appeared to think that if they called a shilling eighteenpence, then they would relieve agricultural distress. The hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Logan) said that the value of land had gone up three times its value since the beginning of the century. He was best acquainted with the value of land in Essex, and of it he said that its value was absolutely nil at the present time. He suggested on the other hand one or two alleviations which might be adopted. The first was the differential and preferential rates under which Agriculture was being crushed at present. He had a Schedule of the London and South Western Railway from Southampton to London in which the home producer was charged 18s. as against 6s. per ton for the foreigner. This was the way in which this Railway had managed to raise its shares to cent. per cent., and to pay the highest dividend in the course of the last 50 years. Last Session he called the attention of the President of the Board of Trade to the overcharges of the London and South Western Railway, but the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Mundella) replied that he had only advisory powers. What was the use of the President of the Board of Trade, or of any Government Department which only possessed such powers? Why could not the Government bring in an amended Railway Rates Bill to stop railways from treating British agriculturists in this way? As to local taxation he said that he could not accept the figures of the hon. Member for North Somerset (Mr. Warner) or of the Secretary for India. The farmer was now paying 80 per cent. of his income in tithe, rates, and taxes; the professional man in the towns was paying something like 6 per cent. only; and that was the real answer to the difficulty. Tithe was another question. He was a supporter of the Church, and he let a farm for nothing at all, paying the whole of the tithe, land tax and property tax himself. Ho did not object to pay the tithe, though there were a great many persons who did; but 368 tithe was never intended to take the whole of the rent. This was a subject which might fitly be considered in the direction of redemption. A suggestion had been made that the Unemployed should be engaged in re-afforesting the land, but seeing that they had plenty of timber coming in he did not see the advantage of that idea. The Member for the University of Cambridge suggested the putting of some of the Unemployed on the Essex lands, but he could not conceive any man of ordinary common sense putting broken-down cabinetmakers, carpenters and wheelwrights on half-a-dozen acres of Essex clay. He should like to put the Member for Cambridge University on a piece of Essex clay, and then go in a few months and see how he looked. Taking into account the frightfully acute distress in the district, he felt it his duty to speak on the subject.
§ MR. A. C. MORTON (Peterborough)
did not think it was fair to blame the Government for the agricultural distress, or for the present state of the Unemployed. He hoped the Unemployed difficulty was merely temporary, but agricultural depression, he was sorry to say, was almost permanent. His difficulty was this—this subject was brought forward as a Vote of Censure on the Government, with the view of turning the Government out. They had only been in office two or three years, and these questions had been before them all for a great many years. He therefore asked himself who was to blame. If there was any blame attachable to anyone it was to the late Government. He wanted to know what they did for agricultural depression during the six years they were in office? So far as he knew they did nothing at all. They did something perhaps for the landlords, but nothing for the farmers and labourers, and then when they were out of office they blamed the present Government if anything went wrong. He should like to know if the hon. and gallant Member had voted against the late Government on Railway Rates, of which he now complained?
§ *MR. A. C. MORTON
said it was all very well for one or two or half-a-dozen 369 to vote against the late Government when they knew there was no danger of any harm coming to the Government. He did not think the Government was doing all it might do with regard to Railway Rates. The Government had power to prosecute the railways on behalf of the traders and the public, and he should like to know why they did not do that. He hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not object to find the money to compel the railway companies to do what was right in the agricultural interest. The farmer had to fight, not a railway company, but a combination of railway companies, and to ask a poor farmer to fight such a combination was an absurdity. With regard to Light Railways England was, he said it with every respect to their Irish friends, as much entitled to them as Ireland. He thought the Government ought to lend money at a low rate of interest to the counties, and the County Authorities should be responsible for repayment. His own opinion was that they should not get rid of the land question until they had done away with the landlord altogether. He did not contemplate taking the landlord's property without paying him for it—that was the fair market value. They ought to have it so arranged that the farmer could deal with the land, free from interference from the landlord, in the best possible manner. If farmers would only combine as the labourers had done, to send to Parliament men who would represent them and do what was right in their interest, they would soon put an end to the land difficulty, but the landlords, wherever they got a chance, would not allow the farmers to manage their land in their own way. It was well known that in many cases the landlord tried to prevent the farmer from selling his hay and straw off the farm to the best advantage, and under such circumstances it was impossible for the farmer to make satisfactory progress. The truth was that the landlords had brought upon themselves most of the mischief of which they complained. He would be willing to pay a fair price for the land and get rid of the landlords altogether, for the mischief would never be remedied until the farmer was left perfectly free to manage the land in a purely commercial way. The questions 370 of afforestation and the reclamation of slob lands might well be considered as a means of relieving the industrial depression, and he would ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to allow them to be dealt with by the Committee. Fifty years ago a scheme was brought forward by Sir John Rennie for the reclamation of 160,000 acres of land on the Wash, and he showed that the work might have been carried out at a profit and with great benefit to the people of the country. If a similar scheme were undertaken at the present time it would give a large amount of labour to working men. It would be found on inquiry that wherever slob lands had been reclaimed they were let at good rents, and that the tenants upon them were doing well. A very striking instance of this might be found in the case of the reclamation of slob lands on the Forth and on the Tay. On the Forth portions of these lands were let on leases of 19 years, and when, two years ago, the leases ran out the lands, he was informed, were readily relet at rents only 5 per cent. less than those of 19 years ago, notwithstanding the agricultural depression. He had heard that the late Chancellor of the Exchequer had proposed that another loan should be granted to the landlords, but he should strenuously object to anything of the kind. The landlords obtained loans 40 or 50 years ago, and what did they do with them? They borrowed money at a low rate of interest from the Government, and then let it out at a higher rate of interest to their own tenants and made a profit out of the transaction; and when the tenants had paid back all the capital and interest they raised the rents on the improvements made with the borrowed money. Whatever was done to relieve the agricultural depression, they should be careful to see that the tenants, and not the landlords, received the benefit of it. With regard to afforestation, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had stated that he could not see how such a proposal could provide immediate employment; but he was told by those who had a knowledge of the question that a large amount of work might thus be at once provided by clearing and planting the land. Afforestation had been tried in some parts of the country with considerable success. Upwards of £18,000,000 was sent out of 371 the country every year for the purchase of timber, and, if a system of afforestation was properly carried out, much of that money would be saved to the nation. The landlords had suggested that tithes should be abolished as a means of relieving the agricultural distress, but if they were abolished it would not benefit the farmers in the least, for in that case the landlords would at once raise the rents to a corresponding extent. If they were foolish enough to abolish all rates and taxes the farmers would derive no benefit; in fact they would be in a worse position, because they would not only find their rents raised to the amount of the rates and taxes, but would have to pay for doing what was previously done by means of those rates and taxes. He should be happy to give a vote for the benefit of agriculturists, but he could not vote for raising the landlord's rent. The difficulty presented by the question of the unemployed was not easy to overcome. It occurred every year, and instead of considering the matter as they ought to do in a Committee in August, the House did not consider it until this period of the year, when the crisis was acute. Something ought to be done to give workers permanent employment in the winter. Some of the London authorities had tried to do something in the matter. On the 10th of October, 1893, the Poplar Board of Guardians suggested to the London County Council that they should at once consider a scheme such as that of reclaiming the foreshore of the Thames, in order to provide work for the unemployed during the coming winter, the Guardians being of an opinion that work of this nature would provide useful arid remunerative employment without entering into competition with other trades, and the London County Council adopted, on the 23rd October 1893, a Report of their General Purposes Committee on the matter as follows:—That considering the benefits which would result from the reclamation of the foreshore of the River Thames in the County of London, the Council urges the Thames Conservancy to consider in what manner such reclamation could he carried out.If the Government would only give the London County Council and other authorities power to deal with this portion of the unemployed, they would use the power. The Chancellor of the Exchequer 372 would therefore do well to allow the Committee that was to be appointed to consider the question of the reclamation of slob lands, either in the Thames or elsewhere. Royal Commissions he had always regarded as frauds upon the people, and utterly useless. The Royal Commission appointed in 1891 cost the people some £50,000, and no good came of it. Last year there was a Royal Commission on agriculture, and it proved to be a Tory Commission, advocating Protection and measures of that kind. Before these Commissions Radical farmers found it difficult to obtain a hearing. The evidence of a Radical farmer in Lincolnshire had recently been rejected, and also that of a Scotch farmer, a free trader. The complaint was made that a Sub-commissioner in Scotland had refused to take the evidence of Radical farmers, and in some English counties Tory Sub-commissioners had been appointed whose proposals would probably be in favour of Protection and the continuance of existing rents.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
said, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's, began his speech by referring to the Amendment which is before the House, which, I think, has been rather lost sight of. It is an interesting Amendment; interesting to the Government, because it is aimed at the life of the Government, and interesting also in its genesis and even in its incubation. This Amendment, brought forward by the hon. Gentleman who represents the county in which it is my happiness to live, was brought forward originally as a straightforward agricultural Amendment. It said—This House humbly desires to represent to Your Majesty that the continued depression of the agricultural interest and the heavy burdens upon land call for the immediate reduction of local taxation upon land.That is a very simple and clear issue on which we might have had a very instructive Debate, but somehow or other—at whose instance I do not know—it was represented to the hon. Member for Sussex that an agricultural Amendment was not at all the thing that was wanted. It must be an Amendment of a totally different character. It was thought 373 that the hon. Member for Hampshire would appear to more advantage if he presented himself to the House in the garb of the Member for West Ham; and so actually, I believe, in the middle of his speech almost, and in the very instant of production, the agricultural Amendment was transformed into an unemployed Amendment, and then by way of variety the textile industries were woven into this great agricultural Amendment. I remember that Mr. Disraeli accused Sir Robert Peel of stealing the clothes of the Whigs while they were bathing. That seems to be the sort of petty larceny which the Unionist Opposition have practised upon the hon. Member for West Ham. This I will say, that on this transformed Amendment by far the most moderate and sensible speech was made by the person who was the subject of that theft; and I must say that, on the unemployed part of this Amendment, those who have borrowed the name have contributed very much less to enlighten the House and the country on the subject than did the hon. Member in that remarkable speech he made the other day. Now we have got an Amendment in this changed form, a net which is to be large enough to include all the fishes, all the loose fishes, that may be found. It is this:—And we humbly represent to Your Majesty that we view with the gravest apprehension the disastrous condition of the agricultural interest, the prolonged depression of the textile and other industries, and the consequent increase in the number of the unemployed; and we humbly express our regret that Your Majesty's Ministers have shown no appreciation of the extreme gravity of the present situation.I do not know whether the gravity of the present situation means the situation brought about by that Amendment; but, Sir, I should like to ask, because it is a very important question, not for this Government only, but for future Governments:—What is the real pith and meaning of an Amendment of that character? It declares, and it is, unhappily, too true, the deplorable depression of the agricultural interest. Now, whatever may be stated in the heat of Debate, I am perfectly certain that there is not a gentleman opposite who does in his heart believe that I or any of the gentlemen with whom I act on this side of the House, do not feel as deeply as he does that the depression of the agricultural 374 interest is one of the greatest disasters that has befallen or can befall the country. Why should we not share that feeling entirely with gentlemen opposite? speaking for myself, having lived quite as much amongst the agricultural classes as any, I know how much the interests of every class of the community are bound up in those of one of the greatest industries of the country. Therefore it is imputing to us, not only want of heart, but want of sense, to suppose that we do not share with hon. Gentlemen opposite their feeling of distress at the depression of the agricultural industry. And that, of course, is equally true of the textile and other industries of the country. Hon. Gentlemen opposite ought not to impute to us that we do not feel as strongly as they do, or any other man in this House or out of it, the terrible condition of suffering which we know at this moment is being endured by many thousands of our countrymen. They are not justified in attributing to us such a want of feeling as that. But what is the conclusion to be drawn from the Amendment? Is it that the Government are to blame because they have not prevented, and have not come forward with measures to prevent, the depression in these industries, and have not provided employment for the unemployed? Is that what you mean? You do not mean that? Then, what is the meaning of the Amendment? There have been times in this country when the distress even in the agricultural interest has been as great as it is now. If you read the reports of the condition of the agricultural interest in the years 1834 and 1835 you would find that land in this country had gone out of cultivation a great deal more than it has now, and that the price of wheat was some 30s., which, compared with prices known before that time, was quite as severe upon farmers as the price of wheat now. That condition of things produced such a state of distress that I heard Mr. Henley say in this House that there were thousands of acres out of cultivation because they could not pay the rates, and the rates were higher then than they are now. We—at least, those who have reached my age—remember, too, the terrible sufferings in the Lancashire industries in the days of the Cotton Famine. But when has it been charged 375 against the Government, when has it been proposed to displace the Government, because there was depression in the agricultural interest? Or when has it been proposed to displace the Government, because there was a cotton famine in Lancashire? We can remember how the men of Lancashire refused to have that famine put an end to on the condition that they would range themselves on the side of slavery. Is it really to be held in future, when interests are distressed and labourers are unemployed, that that is to be a responsibility of the Government for which they are to be condemned? If so the whole situation of this country will be marvellously changed. You will then have embraced not merely the language of the hon. Member for West Ham, but you will have embraced his doctrine; because, if the Government are to be responsible for the prosperity of all trades, the Government must be the only trader. Then the Government must undertake all the trades of the country, and these trades must be conducted at the expense of the taxpayer. That is the consequence of the course which you are now taking Let us go to the root of this question. Do you hold the Government responsible for this distress—responsible for bringing forward measures to relieve this distress? Do you hold the Government responsible because there are thousands of men unemployed and do you claim that the Government should find employment for them? Let us understand—is that the issue?—then we shall know where we are. Is that the new doctrine of the right hon. Member for St. George's, Hanover Square? Hanover Square will find it an expensive doctrine. No, Sir, we have heard language much more worthy than that we heard at the beginning of the Debate to-night from the Leader of the Opposition. I will read a quototion from an interesting discussion in which he engaged with an elector who heckled him; it showed the courage of the, right hon. Gentleman. He was asked a question on the subject of the unemployed, and he gave a frank and courageous answer. The question was—"What remedy have you for the unemployed"? We are to be condemned because we have no remedy. [Opposition cries of "No, no."] 376 Let me read what the right, hon. Gentleman said—In a working-class and, I am afraid, a very poor district like that in which I am speaking, at a time when trade is languishing in almost every department, the question of the unemployed is one which will never be met with a gibe or a sneer by any responsible politician. It weighs too heavily upon our hearts for us to throw it lightly aside as a thing of no account; but if you ask me whether anything in the power of the Unionist Party or of any other Party, whether anything within the compass of the wit of man to devise is sufficient to meet the crisis of the want of employment now and again falling heavily on the great masses of the population, I fear we can look forward to no prospect of that kind.That was an honest answer; it was an answer worthy of the man who has been, and I hope will be again, responsible for the conduct of public affairs. Therefore, let us know where we are. Is the Government to be called to account because disaster and distress exist among various interests, and because there is suffering? Sir, suffering is the lot of man, and no Government in the world can put an end to it. Is the Government to be condemned because they have not proposed measures to prevent distress in various parts of the country? A few days ago a very instructive speech was made by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham. He said there were two unsolved problems of local life in England. They were the Housing of the Poor and the question of the unemployed; and he added—I think that those two questions are very closely connected. What is the the only remedy for the question of the unemployed?The right hon. Gentleman apparently knows the only remedy for them. He said—The remedy for the unemployed is to find work for them remunerative in itself and which can be profitably undertaken.He then said—I do not know of any work which answers to this description unless it be the work which can be undertaken in every district in London at the same time in sufficient quantities—the work of reconstructing unhealthy areas and rehousing the population.Then he proceeded to say that this was what has been done in Birmingham, and can be done under the existing law in London. If that is so, if the only true remedy is one which is already available under the existing law, why are the 377 Government to be condemned because they have no particular remedy, and the only one does not lie within their discretion? As to the distress in the agricultural districts, we sympathize with the sufferers as much as you; but what are we to be condemned for? For not having proposed a remedy for it? We did what we thought was the best thing; we appointed a Commission. The right hon. Member for St. George's, Hanover Square, was very lofty in his contempt for Commissions; why, Sir, the late Government appointed more Commissions than any other Government ever did. They appointed the great Labour Commission. [Hear, hear] Yes, but I do not think the right hon. Gentleman who cheers heard the denunciation by his colleague of the referring of questions of this kind to Commissions. The Agricultural question is not greater than the Labour question; but especially did the right hon. Gentleman condemn the referring to Commissions of questions which the Executive Government ought to deal with. The Hartington Commission was appointed to determine one of the most difficult and one of the most responsible questions that could possibly have to be decided; and that was the reorganization of the British Army, and especially the character of the Commander-in-Chief of that Army. What is the meaning of this condemnation of Commissions? The Agricultural Commission have not sent in a Report. The right hon. Member for Sleaford (Mr. H. Chaplin), said, no doubt with perfect truth, that they had not done so because they did not consider that they had completed their evidence or had time to come to a conclusion upon the important questions they had had under consideration. But the Commission consists of men who certainly are as versed in agricultural questions as the Government. That we do not deny; and if they have not been able to complete the evidence and form an opinion on this question, is the Government to be condemned and displaced because they have not proposed remedial measures which the gentlemen, who are considering them have not found themselves able to propose? Do not take that opinion from me. Will you take it from a statesman deservedly respected on both sides of the House—I mean the 378 Duke of Devonshire? He was speaking only the other day on the agricultural question, and what does he say about the Commission? He wished some measure to be brought forward and he said:—I believe that we may shortly expect to receive a Report—or rather I should say Reports—from the Royal Commission, for I am informed, on what I believe to be good authority, that more than one Report will emanate from that Commission. I hope rather than expect that these Reports will contain some valuable suggestions as to the cause of this depression and the remedies which can be applied. At all events, I think it is fortunate the labours of their inquiry are now nearly terminated, and there will be no longer any excuse for delay on the part of the Government or Parliament in offering the most ample opportunities for thorough examination of the causes of the depression which has so long hung over important industries.The Duke of Devonshire took it for granted that the Government and Parliament could not come to a decision upon the matter until the Commission had reported. Therefore, I say, it was a perfectly reasonable suggestion of mine the other day, contained also in the Speech from the Throne, that any recommendation of remedies must be founded on the Report of the Commission. Now I must say one word on the distress in Lancashire. The House was not so full as it is now when my venerable Friend the Member for the Leigh Division of Lancashire (Mr. Caleb Wright) addressed it. Those who were here experienced great satisfaction. Another man, who, I believe, is of equal age with my right hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), came forward to give his experiences of former times and of Lancashire in the "good old days" of high prices. Though I have not reached his age, brought up at school in Lancashire I remember those good old days. They were good old days when the unemployed were marching up and down the streets, and I was in Preston when men were shot down by the soldiery, and great rioting took place. I am speaking of 50 years ago; but if you go back 20 years you will find that at the present time there is more than double the quantity of cotton imported into this country, which has to be manufactured, that the cotton itself is half the price it was then, and that the wages of those who work it up are far higher than 20 years ago. Well, now, there are two things which 379 it is absolutely necessary to distinguish in these matters. We may talk of distress in trade. The question is, Do you mean the prices at which the goods are sold or the volume of trade? Now a fall in prices very much affects the profits of the capitalist, no doubt, but the thing in which the labourer is interested is the volume of trade. If you have so many more millions of pounds of cotton imported and worked up, you must have so many more thousands of men employed, and it is a fact that the volume of trade has not diminished. What has happened in the last 20 years has been this—that the labourer who works up the material gets a far larger share of the profits than in former days, and no doubt that is a gain to him, but a loss to the third partner, who gets a smaller share. Now, it is said things are getting worse every day. I hold in my hand the figures for the year 1893–4. Well, the quantity of raw cotton imported in 1893 was 12,600,000 cwts.; in 1894 it was 15,965,000. The imports of raw wool in 1893 were 672,000,000, and in 1894 699,000,000. In 1893 the exports of cotton yarn were 206,000,000 1bs., in 1894, 236,000,000 1bs., and the exports of cotton manufactures in 1893 were 57,700,000 and in 1894, 57,000,000. So in both cases the values were larger; but if you take the quantities of material they were immensely larger. The quantity of material is the real test of employment. When we are told about the causes of this great depression we may look at the, statistical abstract, and we shall find that year by year more looms and more spindles are at work and more people are employed. Therefore the result, as far as I can gather, is this—that, although capital is yielding less profit, the people have not had less employment or less wages. Now I will go back to the question of agricultural depression. It is true that we have not had the Report of the Commission upon the subject, but we have had what I may call, I hope without disrespect, a desultory discussion with regard to it, in the course of which we have had not very unanimous opinions from hon. Members who represent the agricultural interest. I always hear with satisfaction the speeches of the hon. and gallant Member for Essex, because he is always most frank, and because he always says what is very much to the purpose. 380 But half of his speech was devoted to disposing of the various remedies which have been proposed by hon. Members who sit oil the other side of the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford thinks that I do not speak respectfully enough of a certain subject which I will not name, but if he had heard the hon. and gallant Member for Essex's description of this particular remedy—that of taking a shilling and calling it eighteenpence—he would certainly have been astonished. But I will go on to what I may call the more serious part of the speech of the right hon. Member for Sleaford, whom we always recognise as one of the highest authorities with regard to the Agricultural interest. What does he say? He attributes the depressed state of agriculture to falling prices, especially the fall in the price of wheat. The right hon. Member for St. George's also says that the fall in the price of wheat has been most disastrous, and that we must do something to raise the price of wheat; we must keep up our reserves. Why, I am old enough to remember the old Protectionists' speeches, and I accuse the right hon. Gentleman of being a plagiarist of those speeches. He has taken up the points in those speeches, and has worked up all the old fallacies of Protection; in fact, this evening he has preached the pure, unadulterated doctrine of Protection, although not with the frankness of the right hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet. I am bound to say that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford desires to raise the prices of everything
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Then the right hon. Gentleman is willing to compromise for wheat at 20s. a quarter. But he has not told us what the ratio of the prices of other commodities is to be. Well, we know now where we are. He touched with a light hand upon other remedies. He referred to local taxation. Well, that was a very good subject until it was captured by the hon. Member for West Ham, whose original Amendment was not discussed. But we have had a distinct revelation to-night upon the subject of local taxation. I innocently said the other day: "Yes, it is all very well to take local taxation off the people who now pay it, only whom are you going 381 to put it upon?" That appeared to me to be a rather pertinent inquiry, because a great many people will have to say something on that subject, and we have really had some extraordinary light thrown upon the subject to-night. I sat by and I heard the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's with profound interest. I felt myself rather in the position of the moribund King Henry IV. when he caught young Henry Hotspur with his crown upon his head. He played the part to life—Hotspur all over. The right hon. Gentleman, pronounced aglowing eulogium upon his past finance. I do not propose to follow his example in that respect. I bear in mind the old proverb that panegyrics of that kind are no commendation. But what I confess was more amusing to me was, that he told us that he was ready Immediately to take the finances of the country into his hands again. The right hon. Gentleman has already anticipated the result of the Division we are about to take to-night, and I confess that I heard him say so with internal satisfaction, because felt that I should be relieved from a rather laborious life, and that I should have an easier time of it: and that I should have from the right hon. Gentleman a clear exposition of the Budget he is going to bring forward. I am sorry to see that his soreness over the last Budget has not, entirely disappeared—the wound seems to rankle as much as ever. Whatever they may say here, they do not find it expedient to say it in a public audience. For my part I shall not pronounce an eulogium upon myself, following the example of the right hon. Gentleman. It is quite enough for me that the plan I had the honour of submitting was sanctioned by this House, and, as far as I know, has been approved of by the nation. But the most remarkable part of his speech, when the right hon. Gentleman expounded to us the outlines of his coming Budget, was his dealing with the question of local taxation. It was a very interesting argument indeed, but I observed that, it was not addressed to us. He said: "I must warn my friends behind me," and he warned them what they were not to expect about local taxation. He said: "I introduced a most admirable plan," but that was a plan that, in order to relieve rates to the 382 amount of 6d. cost the people £4,000,000; and then, with that magical arithmetical power which he possesses, he said that if a reduction of rate of 6d. cost £4,000,000, a reduction of rate of 1s. would cost £8,000,000. "That" he said, "my friends, is impossible." Now that is a very interesting light upon the subject of local taxation. He even went further, and said that if there was a reduction of rate of 2s. he could hardly make the calculation of the cost. But, as to the right hon. Gentleman's great plan, I have always been under the impression, and freely expressed it, that no greater financial blunder was ever committed than to purchase so small an advantage at the cost of £4,000,000 of Imperial taxation. In my belief £4,000,000 of Imperial taxation might have been employed for the benefit of the very classes it was intended to advantage far better than by giving it in the way it was given. What advantage has it, been? It has been pointed out that even a 1s. rate would not be anything like 1s. an acre. But he is not going to repeat the plan. It is not one that will bear repeating, and it has been acknowledged to be a failure. [Mr. GOSCHEN dissented.] The right hon. Gentleman, I know, never acknowledges failure. I will alter the word, therefore, and say that, that great success is not to be repeated. That is something gained. Accordingly I look forward to the right hon. Gentleman's next Budget with some satisfaction. But he made the interesting announcement that he is going to reconstruct the whole system of local taxation. I wish him joy. I feel the more confident in the right hon. Gentleman's reconstruction of local taxation, because I remember that he is the author of the celebrated doctrine and the famous phrase that "hereditary rates are no burden upon the land." Therefore, the Party opposite are to have no more subsidies, and they are to have the system of local taxation reconstructed on the old principle that an hereditary rate is no burden upon the land. Then the right hon. Gentleman comes forward and tells us: "You are the Party who are always for increasing the rates. You are always against anything that tends to lower the rates. You are the enemies of the Voluntary schools." Ah, he ought to remember his Birmingham allies! He, ought to have some 383 tenderness for that quarter. Aye, and he ought to have a little regard for his former self! Because one of the greatest leaders in the movement against Voluntary Schools was the present Member for St. George's, Hanover Square. Here is a sentence of his—I daresay he has forgotten it—He believed that, in the long run, public feeling would declare itself against the compulsory attendance of children at denominational schools, and the support of such schools by public money,and, referring to the Bill brought in by the Conservative Government with that object, he said that—personally, if a division were challenged, he had no option but to vote against the Bill.He was followed in the Debate by Mr. Forster, who was compelled to remonstrate with him upon his ultra-Radical tendencies.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford referred to the Agricultural Holdings Act, and expressed his amend that Act. I hope, willingness to therefore, that he, as well as I, will be able to support the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for East Northamptonshire.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Then he had a special remedy of his own. He does not go the whole animal, but he has what he admits to be a bit—he says it is a very little bit—of Protection of his own. He wants to have a duty on foreign barley. He confesses that is sheer Protection. Does he believe that it is possible to protect one grain alone?
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Well, if it depends on me, the matter is settled at once. Well, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman treated all these things as minor remedies, and he told us there was only one true remedy. We all felt what was coming. It was like the onion:—in the bowl, Which, half suspected animates the whole.He propounded the only real cure 384 for agricultural distress. It fell a little flat, and it was a little interrupted by the intervention of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Thanet. I venture to say that, in any assembly of agriculturists, the Member for Thanet will have 10 to 1 of the votes in favour of his remedy as against the remedy proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford He knows that perfectly well. What is the obstacle, then, to the remedy proposed by the Member for Sleaford? He says it is my obstinacy. I was flattered at his attributing to me that I alone resisted the universal desire of Europe to adopt bimetallism. But, Sir, there was something more than my obstinacy which stood in the way of our proposing that as a remedy for agricultural distress. and that was the majority of 80 in the House of Commons the year before last against bimetallism. If my obstinacy could command a majority of 80, I can tell the right hon. Member for Sleaford that I would cultivate that virtue to the highest extent. But, Sir, is the House of Commons going to condemn the Government because they have not brought forward bimetallism as a remedy for Agricultural distress? Is the House of Commons going to condemn us because we have not proposed protection as a cure? I am almost ashamed to refer to a matter incidentally mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. He made a statement of what was taking place in foreign countries which I am bound to contradict. He said that the Minister of Prussia was anxious to adopt bimetallism, and that but for England it would be adopted at once. There is no foundation for that statement. I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman states what he thought was accurate, but I take care to verify these things, and I have been supplied with what the Minister for Prussia it:—So far as the silver question is concerned the question whether it is not possible to raise the price of silver is worthy of consideration, but the most zealous bimetallist will admit that Germany alone can do nothing in this matter, and so long as we are unable to compel other countries" (not England alone) "concerned to combine in this matter it would be advisable that the question should not be paraded in a manner which has unfortunately been the case even in the smallest society.385 We must, all of us have suffered from this complaint in the smallest society, and we may devoutly hope that the advice of the Prussian Minister will be taken even, by my right hon. Friend. But, I am at issue with the right hon. Gentleman, not upon the theoretical question of bimetallism—I am at issue with him on a far greater question, and that is the object at which he aims. The avowed object at which he aims is to raise prices. I do not want to raise prices. In my opinion the cheapness of commodities has been an infinite blessing to the great mass of the people of this country. It has been an immense addition to their wages, and the attempt to raise upon the people of this country the price of their bread, the price of their clothes, and the price of all the comforts of life by tampering with the currency is, in my opinion, one of the deepest errors into which a politician can possibly fall. We do not desire to create an artificial dean less by manipulating the currency. The low prices that have ruled and still rule no doubt are severely felt in different parts of the community, but to the labouring classes they have been for years, I am happy to think, an infinite blessing. They have added to their wages, they have enabled them to lay by reserves out of which they might make provision for evil times. Just let me give you a figure or two, to go back to what are called the good old times. In 1851 pauperism upon the total population was 4.5per cent: it is now 2.4 per cent., or about one-half. of children under 16 it was then 5; it is now 2.3 from the ages of l6 to 60 it was 1.4 it is now .5. In old age after 60 it was 21.5; it is now 13.7. If you take the actual figures you will find that pauperism is much less than it was. In 1849 the mean adult pauperism was 13 per 1,000; it has now fallen to 7.7; but it never fell much below that figure until after 1871 when the fall in prices began. [An hon. MEMBER: No, the fall began in 1873] I am speaking of the period 386 since 1871. I say that from 1849 to 1871 the fall was down to7.7, but it has now fallen concurrently with the fall in prices to 2.4. I am quoting these figures from a very interesting paper by Mr. Loch, Secretary to the Charity Organisation Society. That, I think, is a very striking fact. Whenever you come to make attempts artificially to raise the prices upon the consumers of this country you will have raised a war of classes such as never existed before. It is about the most dangerous issue you could possibly raise in this country; therefore, Sir, I tell the right hon. Gentleman that it is not a scientific, it is not a theoretical discussion between us, it is a discussion of the object he has in view. The object he has in view is the raising of the prices of these commodities which are at such a figure as now enable the people to lay by; and they happily do lay by to a great extent. This year there is an enormous increase m the amount of deposits in the Post Office Savings Bank, the small increased facilities we were enabled to give depositors having been largely availed of. Where does the money come from? It comes from good wages and low prices. Then the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for St. George's, turned up his nose at this Committee we are to appoint. Why should we not appoint a Committee? The Commission on Labour referring to this very subject of the unemployed, said that it was a matter which required further investigation. Do you think that we can enter upon a subject of that kind without some full inquiry? If we had proposed a measure upon the subject, from a Party point of view, we should not have had half the success that we hope to have from some scheme at which a Committee representing all sections and portions of this House may, I hope, arrive, at all events for the temporary relief of the distressed classes, and, it may be also, some system of dealing with the matter in the future. Surely it is far better, if we can, to 387 collect upon this subject an impartial opinion gathered from every portion of this House. Now, Sir, that is the object with which we have suggested the Committee to the House; in my opinion it is far too great, far too dangerous, and far too important a matter to be made a Party question. The hon. Member for West Ham appealed to the House not to make it a Party question; but did you not make it a Party question, when you deliberately introduced it into a Motion, the object of which was to displace the Government? You deliberately used the miseries of the unemployed because you thought it would help you in your Party objects, and that is the secret of the manufacture of this Amendment. Sir, with reference to this Amendment I say, as I said at the beginning, that it brings a charge against the Government which has never been brought against a Government before—namely, that it was responsible for the distress in various places, because it had not produced measures by which that distress could be relieved, and therefore ought to be displaced. I do not believe that the majority of the House of Commons will take that view of this question; if they do, future Governments will be short-lived enough. Are you, who expect so soon to fill these seats, ready to assent to the proposition that whenever there is distress you are to be displaced because you have not removed that distress? Sir, there is no Government in the world which has ever been subjected to such a responsibility or which can accept it. Sir, I say that this Amendment is an unjust Amendment, an unfounded Amendment, and the introduction of the unemployed question into it shows the object with which it was framed, an object, which, in my belief, will to-night be repudiated by the House of Commons.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
Mr. Speaker, I never heard the right hon. Gentleman, who is a master of jokes, more jocular than he has been to- 388 night. He has kept his own Party, nay, he has kept us, in a continuous roar of laughter for about half of the interesting speech which he has just made to the House. While I admire the wit with which he has enlivened the debate, I confess I was somewhat surprised at the occasion which he had selected for it. He told us in the early part of his speech that he would be indeed an intolerant and foolish critic who should doubt the deep feelings of sorrow with which the Government regarded the present condition of agriculture and manufactures. Very little of that sorrow appeared in his speech to-night. Admirable comedy has been put before us to-night for our amusement, but what will the ruined farmers and the ruined manufacturers to-morrow say when they read his speech? Will they find as much amusement as we have found in the coruscation of wit with which he has enlivened this debate? I should have thought that the Leader of the House of Commons, in dealing with such a question, and having regard to a particular solution proposed for its settlement, might have approached the subject in a somewhat different tone from that which animated him in the lively display which we have all been enjoying for the last hour and a half. ["An, hour and a quarter."] For an hour and a quarter. I wish, for my own enjoyment, it had been longer. I think, judging by what we did hear from the right hon. Gentleman, a longer speech would have greatly entertained us during the time we have to spend before the Division; his speech would certainly have been of a much more lively and amusing character than anything I can lay before the House on a subject which, until the right hon. Gentleman spoke, never occurred to me to be a subject of jest or of Parliamentary humour. The right hon. Gentleman began his speech and he ended his speech by a denunciation of my hon. Friend who moved this Amendment, 389 for having introduced into it the word "unemployed." I think it only fair to my hon. Friend to say he consulted me as to the form of his Amendment, and I take the full responsibility for the wording in which it is couched. I say that to have omitted from an Amendment which dealt with the present condition of Agriculture and of trade any mention of the working classes who are thrown out of employment by the present condition of Agriculture and trade would have been to present to the House of Commons a maimed Resolution on which to give an opinion. Why, Sir, did my hon. Friend come before this House, or ever intend to come before this House, as a representative merely of the farmer or owner? Did he come before the House simply as a representative of the capitalist manufacturer? No; everybody knows that if trade is suffering and if Agriculture is depressed, it is not merely the owner of the capital nor the owner of the soil who suffers; nor is it in the long run they who suffer most or most severely, but it is the working classes, who depend upon them for employment, who are thrown out of employment, and whose interest surely should be as dear to this House as that of any of the other classes concerned. The right hon. Gentleman has chosen to confuse my hon. Friend's Amendment with the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Ham. I am sorry I did not hear the speech of the hon. Member for West Ham, because, by all accounts, it was a speech, not only of great ability, but of great moderation, upon a most difficult and perplexing question. But the hon. Member for West Ham was dealing in his Amendment with such remedies as he desires to see directly applied in the shape of State or Municipal employment of persons actually out of work at the present time. My hon. Friend introduced the words which have caused the right hon. Gentleman so much distress, because he felt, as every man 390 in this House must feel, that the great evil incident upon these periods of depression is that they must inevitably end in throwing vast numbers of the working classes out of employment, and in adding them to the number whom the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Ham desires to relieve, but who, at all events, are entirely outside the purview of my hon. Friend's Amendment. It appears to me my hon. Friend would have made a very great mistake had he framed his Amendment, intended to deal with the whole industrial system of this country and left out of the purview of that Amendment the class who are, more than any other class, interested in the prosperity of Agriculture and of industry. Before I leave the question of the unemployed I should like to put to the Chancellor of the Exchequer this question. He was good enough to say he entirely agreed with my view expressed at Manchester in answer to a question with regard to the unemployed in the sense of the Member for West Ham. He himself suggested no doubts as to the proper course that ought to be pursued with regard to that class. There was no hesitation in his speech, no suggestion of doubt as to the course which ought to be pursued. Well, but if the right hon. Gentleman has this full and complete knowledge of the whole case, if he agrees with everything I said on the subject at Manchester, if he thinks there is no open question on this point, why does he propose a Committee? A Committee of the House is an important instrument for arriving at the truth where there is some doubt as to the facts of the case, and where the investigation may bring to light circumstances hitherto undiscovered and unknown. But is it not folly for a Government to throw an additional burden upon some of the ablest Members of this House for to be put on such a Committee they must be the ablest men—when they themselves profess to have complete knowledge of the whole 391 problem and have no doubt as to how that problem should be treated, and are of opinion that anybody who, like the hon. Member for West Ham, suggests that there should be State interference in the matter, is the author of economic and social heresies which ought instantly to be crushed out of existence? Having dealt with the attack on my hon. Friend with regard to the unemployed, I pass to what I venture to think are the material and more important parts of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. The rest of his speech can be divided into two parts, the part which dealt with Lancashire and the part which dealt with Agriculture. According to the right hon. Gentleman, Lancashire never was in a more prosperous condition than it is at the present time. [Ministerial cries of "No, no!"] I may have misrepresented the right hon. Gentleman, but, if so, it was done unconsciously and unintentionally. But I understood him to give the Mouse a series of elaborate statements intended to prove that the imports of the raw material of manufacture had been steadily increasing.
§ MR. BALFOUR
What I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say, so far as the employment of labour was concerned, so far as the consumption of raw material was concerned, so far as the turn-out of British goods was concerned, and so far as the prospects of the cotton industries of Lancashire were concerned—
§ MR. BALFOUR
Yes; and the next Government will concern themselves with it. Now, Sir, I have not had time, as the House will readily understand, to 392 check the figures given by the right hon. Gentleman, to criticise them and to make any complete comments upon them. But I gathered that he framed his view of the present condition of affairs on the speech delivered by the hon. Member for the Leigh Division, who appears to have given, the most rosy account of the industries in his district. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is going to stand again. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is going down to his constituents to explain to them that they were never in a more prosperous condition than at the present time. But if he does, unless I am greatly misinformed as to the condition of affairs in his Division, he will meet with a singular reception when he gives his constituents this piece of most unexpected information. I am told that in Blackburn the number of spindles has diminished by a very good fraction of the total number that were working only a few years ago. I am told that in Oldham—which is the very centre of the textile industry—practically no profits have been made by the great bulk of the Companies in the spindle industry for many years past; and it is perfectly vain to tell us—as the hon. Gentleman did tell us by implication, if not directly by words—that, the labouring classes can permanently prosper in a condition in which capital makes no profit whatever. I have no desire that capital should make any undue profit, or any profit greater than that required to increase the amount of capital invested in industrial enterprises. Every one who knows the elements of the question is aware that if capital goes for any appreciable length of time without remuneration it will be gradually withdrawn; or, what is the same thing, will not be replaced as it wears out. The amount of capital will steadily diminish, and with it the amount of work that goes to the labouring classes. It is, therefore, perfect folly for the right hon. Gentleman to engage our attention with one part of the picture leaving out of account another and an equally 393 important part of the picture, and say that employment is going on in some districts while profits are reduced to the vanishing point, or below it. I have myself no personal interest in, and no immediate experience of, the, textile industry of Lancashire. But unless every man of business whom I saw during my recent visit to that county is labouring under the greatest delusion, the existing condition and the, future prospects of that great, and for that part of England the most important, industry, never were gloomier than at the present time. But I leave Lancashire, thus kindly dealt with by the right hon Gentleman, and I pass to Agriculture, which received even more extraordinary treatment at his hands. The right hon. Gentleman, at intervals throughout his speech, expressed profound sympathy with the failing Agricultural interest. But he told us that the one thing he desired was that prices should continue to fall. I wonder what the farmers and labourers of England will think in the Agricultural districts when they are told that the best wish which a sympathetic Government can form on their behalf is that prices, which have been falling disastrously for the last 20 years, should continue to fall in the future. The colleague of the right hon. Gentleman—the President of the Local Government Board—the head of the Commission at which he and my right hon. friend, the Member for Sleaford, have so pleasant a time, made a speech yesterday upon this subject, and he told us—in conformity with all the evidence brought before him, in conformity with common sense, in conformity with knowledge, and with every fact that even the most careless observer could see that the root of the whole Agricultural difficulty was the fall in prices. His colleague comes forward and says he wants the fall in prices even to be aggravated. I want to know how these two right hon. Gentlemen are going to hit it off. Which is the labourer's friend, the man who wants prices to rise 394 or the man who wants prices to fall? [Laughter, and a remark from Mr. SHAW-LEFEVRE.] The right hon. Gentleman says he did not say he wanted prices to rise; and yet he thinks the whole root of the agricultural depression lies in the fact that prices have fallen. And he is the Chairman of a Commission to improve the condition of Agriculture. I do not know who is in a fog; it may be me, or it may be Gentlemen on that Bench; but I confess to being utterly puzzled between the protestations of interest in agricultural prosperity lavished by all the occupants of that Bench when a Division is imminent, and those unfortunate confidences, which escape them in the heat of debate, that the one thing which they are burning for is the one thing which, by the testimony of their own Chief Commissioner, will complete the ruin, already three-parts accomplished, of the industry they love. If the right hon. Gentleman is to pose as a friend of the agricultural interest, then save me from my friends. I do not know what the County Members sitting behind the right hon. Gentleman thought of those utterances. I do not know what the hon. Member for East Northampton-shire, who so lovingly considered the prosperity of every class, including the owners, thought of those utterances. What would he think, if he were in a candid spirit, of spreading through the whole of his constituency and the constituencies of his agricultural colleagues, the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer—in the very same breath when he was protesting that no Government which ever existed had more at heart the interests of the agricultural industry—said he desired nothing so much as a further fall in those prices, which, I am sure, the hon. Member for East Northamptonshire has deplored from every platform in his constituency? Sir, the Leader of the House attacks my right hon. Friend with having gone over to the Party of protection. He saw in my right hon. Friend's speech, 395 apparently, some desire to revert to the system which obtained before the Corn Laws. I am not going to discuss protection to-night any more than I am going to discuss bimetallism. But I do wish to ask every man in this House to face the problem in its extremest form before he lays down these easy platitudes about protection. I have never been, and I am not now a Protectionist. I recognise to the full the whole weight and value which every economist has always seen in the arguments for Free Trade. But I want to ask whether we are, in the extremest cases, to consider that these arguments exhaust the whole question. I ask, not with the view of expressing an opinion myself, and not with the view of extorting an opinion now from any Gentleman who hears me, what I hope is a plain question. Supposing, as is theoretically possible, that the result of the existing system of international industry was that the whole land of England was turned out of cultivation, and every agricultural labourer was driven into the manufacturing towns; supposing that the whole country from Land's End to John o'Groats was useless for anything but a gigantic game preserve. That is an extreme case, but it is coming in certain counties. It has come in certain counties already. I hope that what has happened in these counties is not going to spread. I hope, in other words, that the further fall in prices so passionately desired by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is not going to take place. But it may take place. Under the existing system it is possible that a social and industrial revolution, like that which I have adumbrated might overwhelm the rural districts of this country. If so, in my opinion—and I do not shrink from stating it to the public—you would have to take into account other considerations than these purely economic arguments which are the basis of Free Trade; and you would have to weigh in your own minds whether it was possible to have a healthy 396 and prosperous community confined within the walls of your big cities, and engaged solely in manufacturing pursuits. For my own part, I cannot contemplate such a result without dismay amounting to horror; and though I am glad to think that so gigantic a catastrophe has not yet come upon us, I do ask the House to remember that we seem to be within measurable distance of it in certain not impossible contingencies; and if such a possibility is going to come upon us it will strain all our statesmanship in dealing with absolutely novel and unexpected circumstances, and some cherished formulas must be thrown over if we are going to deal with it. I should be very wrong, even if time permitted, to deal with all the subjects that have been raised; but I may conclude by pleading with every Member of the House, irrespective of Party, and of position, as to the facts we have to deal with. We are naturally attached to the system under which we live, be it a system of currency or of general taxation. I do not ask any man to change these except for good cause; but I do express my own most serious belief that we are face to face with a financial, an agricultural, and a commercial crisis which does require us to consider anew and in the light of the best opinions all the circumstances affecting our social condition, and it is only if we are prepared to give ourselves freely to this laborious research that we can hope to arrive at any conclusion which would benefit the great interests which are committed to our charge.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 261; Noes, 273. (Division List No. 1.)
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. J. Redmond).
§ Motion agreed to.
§ House adjourned at a quarter past Twelve o'clock.