§ *MR. R. L. EVERETT (Suffolk, Woodbridge)
rose to move:—That this House regards with increasing apprehension the constant fluctuations and the growing divergence in the relative value of gold and silver, and heartily concurs in the recent expressions of opinion on the part of the Government of France and the Government and Parliament of Germany as to the serious evils resulting therefrom. It therefore urges upon Her Majesty's Government the desirability of co-operating with other Powers in an International Conference for the purpose of considering what measures can be taken to remove or mitigate these evils.The fortune of the ballot, he said, had given him the opportunity of introducing to the House one of the most pressing questions of the day. It had been so described by the Prime Minister as long ago as 1886. Lord Rosebery's words were:—You have three great topics as to which you will have to make up your minds in a very short time. The first and greatest is that of Ireland; the second, and one of the most pressing, is the question of your currency.1574 The question had become much more pressing since then. The House would observe that only a fortnight ago the Prime Minister of France also alluded to this question of the currency, and expressed his strong conviction that the time had come for measures to be taken, in concert with other nations, to mitigate the evils from which, all countries at the present time were suffering; and since then the German imperial Chancellor had expressed the wish that Germany should take steps with other nations to see what could be done to remove the existing and increasing evils. The German Parliament, too, by a two-thirds majority, had just passed a Resolution in favour of something being done for the restoration of silver to its former place. The world had never had before it so great an economic question as that which confronted it to-day in the shape of the Silver question. It was at the root of the great financial troubles in India which had driven a Free Trade Government, sorely against its will, to hamper the external trade of that country with import duties, and its internal trade with excise duties. It was at the root also of the extraordinary fall in prices, which, however gloated over by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was to producers, agricultural and others, an enormous calamity and misfortune, which had plunged numbers of innocent people into ruin, and, besides its effect on agriculture and industry, was Disendowing the Established Church of this country, and, indeed, all whose incomes were derived from the land. This silver question lay at the root, too, of the remarkable fall in the value of land during the last 20 years—probably equalling in amount in Great Britain alone the whole of the National Debt; and he was told by owners of cotton mills, iron works, ships, and other kinds of property, that their property had experienced a like fall. The question lay, too, at the root of the agrarian and anti-Semitic movement on the Continent; of the Australian bank failures; of the glut of unemployed money at the banks; and of the fall in the rate of interest. The issues between the two sides in the contest as to the silver question were in themselves very clear and simple. Bimetallists desired that the monetary standard of the world 1575 should be free; the Monometallist desired that it should be restricted. Bimetallists said that both gold and silver coins were good things, and that the more abundant they were the better it was for the people; the Monometallists contended that gold coins were good enough, but that silver coins might be too numerous, and that, therefore, their number should be restricted; they feared lest the farmer should get too many shillings for his produce, and the work man too many for his wages! There were points of difference between the two metals no doubt, but more of resemblance. They differed in colour, but were alike in being extremely rare; that they were both greatly valued, too; and in not a few cases they were also found together. The famous Comstock lode in Nevada, which at one time it was feared by some would swamp the world with silver, produced 45 per cent, of gold to 55 of silver. A mine in Spain in earlier times produced both precious metals, curiously enough, in the orthodox proportion of 13½ to 1. Both metals were alike in being nearly indestructible, and they were also easily divisible; nor could either of them be produced at the will of man. On an average, too, both cost more to produce than the value of them when produced. The two precious metals, gold and silver, had been linked together in the speech of man from the earliest times, and had also been devoted to the same common use. There was a remarkable duality to be noticed in Nature. We had, for example, red wheat and white wheat, both used for making flour. There were white grapes and black grapes, each equally making wine. The Creator had given to each of us two eyes for the common purpose of sight, and two ears for the common purpose of hearing. We stood upon two legs. We were also created of two sexes, which only fulfilled the highest functions of their being by becoming one in marriage. So had the two precious metals been married from the earliest times to form the world's one money. The earliest ratio between silver and gold recorded in history was 13 to one. This was the ratio of the Babylonian Empire. In the Roman Empire, from the time of Julius Cæsar to the fall of Constantinople, it was 12 to one; about the time gold began to be used 1576 with silver in England, the ratio had fallen to 11 to one. Thus, for more than 20 centuries, the ratio had only changed from 13 to one to 11 to one. After the discovery of America the ratio widened, and for 200 years prior to 1873 it stood at about 15½ to one But during the last 20 years there ha been a variation in the ratio altogether unparalleled in the previous history of mankind. The ratio which stood for 200 years at about 15½ to one, which moved comparatively little for 2,000 years prior to that, passed in a short 20 year from 15½ to one to what it was to-day—namely, 34 to one! There had recently been more fluctuations between the two money metals in a single year than had occurred in centuries and even thousands of years before. What was the explanation of this extraordinary phenomenon which was having such disturbing and disastrous effects? Could it be explained by quantities? No The total quantity of gold coin and bullion existing in the world in 1873 was supposed to be of about £700,000,000 sterling in value, and of silver coin and bullion—reckoning at 15½ to one—about £650,000,000. It might be said that the production of the last 20 years had altered it. Between 1873 and the end of 1894 the production of gold was £515,000,000, and of silver—at 15½ to one—£535,000,000, and the result of the addition of the two sums was that there was in the world to-day of gold coin and bullion about £1,215,000,000 sterling, and of silver—reckoning at 15½ to one—£1,185,000,000 Quantities then afforded no explanation or justification for the extraordinary change in relative value. And though in a position of the 20 years silver had been produced largely in excess of gold the excess was not near equal to what it had been the other way during the great gold-discovery period; and then tin excess of gold had no effect at all on the ratio. Obviously it was not in quantity that the explanation lay! All who had paid special attention to the subject knew that the real cause of the variation had been Legislation. A Committee of the United States Parliament appointed to inquire into the matter reported that the variation had been caused by legislation in Europe A Committee of that House in 1876 came 1577 to the same conclusion. Then the Gold and Silver Commission, which reported in 1888, arrived at a similar result. The legislation which effected this change was legislation directed against silver, to dethrone it and degrade it, to drive it from the use which had been its main use in all the previous history of mankind. The depression of silver as compared with gold, and the difference between silver and gold, had been artificially created by legislation hostile to silver. England in 1816 began this legislation against silver, which was to-day proving so disastrous. As the result of a brief discussion in the two Houses of Parliament, the ancient standard of England, which had been silver, was changed to gold, and the metal which was no longer standard was not allowed free coinage and full legal tender, as gold had been under the long reign of the silver standard. The great statesmen of Queen Elizabeth's time, as well as of the Commonwealth, of the Restoration, of the Revolution, and of the Georgian era—all advocated that silver should be the standard, as it had been the standard in England from the earliest times, and that gold should have unrestricted free circulation beside it; but under the counsels of Lord Liverpool, England in 1816 changed her standard and introduced this new policy of restriction against silver. One voice only was raised against it at the time; it was that of the Earl of Lauderdale in the House of Lords. His protest, recorded in "Hansard," is eminently well worth reading to-day, now that the real meaning of what was done then is beginning to be realised. The policy had no effect at the time, because England was saved from the consequences of her rash action by the conduct of the other nations, which, until 1873, maintained equal treatment of the two metals, and kept, them in free and full circulation in the world at the ratio of the leading Mints. It was only when Germany made a change in 1872, the United States in 1873, and France between that time and 1876, that the extraordinary divergence between the two metals manifested itself. Practically the two metals were then divorced. There had been many memorable divorces in history which had had far-reaching effects, but never had there been one as memorable 1578 and fraught with as grave consequences all over the world—as this! The real meaning of this new state of things he would show by an illustration. The price of commodities bore a certain proportion to the quantity of the precious metals by which they were measured. Until 1873 there was one heap composed of the gold and silver of the world; and another heap made up of the commodities of the world. The price of commodities was proportioned to the comparative size of the two heaps. By closing the Mints against silver and refusing to it any longer its old quality of full legal tender, we in effect took off from the heap of the precious metals the great bulk of silver, except token silver, and transferred it to the other heap, making gold alone the measure of the now swollen heap of commodities. We greatly diminished the size of one heap, we swelled the size of the other. What effect could this have? Every economist said that the key to the general level of prices was the proportion that existed between commodities and money. If there was a large decrease of money there would be a general fall in prices; if there was a large increase there would be a rise in prices. By this new legislation we artificially contracted the money heap and swelled the heap of commodities. In the last 20 years we had seen the struggle, under the new conditions established of commodities to adapt themselves in price to the less money by which they were now measured. There had been introduced a revolutionary change into the valuations of the world, which had nearly doubled the value of the sovereign and nearly halved the price of commodities. This was, no doubt, a fortunate circumstance for the owners of sovereigns, but for the owners of commodities it had been a cruel and awful calamity, and to the indebted, whether individuals or nations, it had been absolutely ruinous. The Chancellor of the Exchequer might be able to laugh over low prices, but the hon. Gentleman could not laugh at the steadily growing weight of the debt which oppressed the Government of India, and compelled a Free Trade and a Liberal Government to throw aside its old principles in order to deal with India's indebtedness. In confirmation of the opinion he had expressed as to this 1579 enormous monetary change, he should like to cite a passage from the evidence given by the late Baron Rothschild, of Paris, in 1870 on behalf of the Bank of France before the Conseil Superieur. Said that great master of finance:The simultaneous employment of the two metals is satisfactory, and gives rise to no complaint. Whether gold or silver dominates for the time being, it is always true that the two metals concur together in forming the monetary circulation of the world; and it is the general mass of the two metals combined which serves an the measure of the value of things. The suppression of silver would amount to a veritable destruction of values without any compensation.To entirely demonetise silver would mean the destruction of a portion of the world's capital. It would spell ruin.What had been going on during 10 or 15 years exactly confirmed the views of that great financier. Unless the demonetisation of silver was stopped, and unless we went back to the old policy of equal treatment of the two precious metals and gave them both full legal tender and circulation, this destruction of values would continue to go on. There was the real inwardness and pith of the extraordinary change which had been made since 1873. Prices had rested all over the world upon the broad and comparatively stable basis of the two precious metals. In gold standard countries now they stood only upon one. We had revolutionised the old measure of value, with the effect that old prices were being halved. Surely England was not interested in the bankruptcy of the nations that owed her money; but this state of bankruptcy would fast ensue unless something was done to check it. He appealed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give his mind to the real position in which this question now stood, to open his eyes to the enormous revolution in values which was being brought about by legislation, to use his best endeavours, in co-operating with other nations, to bring back the happier state of things when the two metals stood at a steady ratio, when they formed one money, and together formed the basis of the prices of the world. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, as Master of the Mint, once had a great predecessor in the same office in the person of the illustrious Sir Isaac Newton, who was Master of the Mint in 1717, and the right hon. Gentleman should ask himself 1580 why the system which Sir Isaac Newton found and left, was not good enough for the present day. What was that system? It was free mintage for both the precious metals, both equally legal tender. This was the system which the great Elizabethan statesmen—such as Cecil and Bacon—which Sir William Petty in later years, which Somers, Montague, Locke, and Harris; which Sir Isaac Newton—greatest among human intellects—lived under and approved, but which Lord Liverpool set aside. He besought the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ask himself, in view of present difficulties and confusions—all new within the last 20 years—whether the old system of freedom for both metals, and equal treatment of both, was not the wiser and the better plan? He appealed most earnestly to the right hon. Gentleman to try to do something now, in the day of his power, which would have the effect of setting prices again upon the broad and stable basis of the two metals; he besought him to help to abolish restrictions, to restore freedom to the world's monetary supply, to restore unity to money, and so to bring in a new era of monetary peace and of industrial activity, and thus earn the lasting gratitude of the present and of all future generations. Never had a Minister of the Crown had so magnificent an opportunity of benefitting the whole world. He concluded by moving the Resolution.
§ MR. H. CHAPLIN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
who rose to second the resolution, pointed out that it laid down the proposition that the constant fluctuations and the growing divergence in the relative value of the precious metals were productive of a number of serious evils. The same view had been recently expressed on behalf of the Government of France, and on behalf of the Government and Parliament of Germany. What were these evils about which complaints was made? The hon. Member (Mr. Everett) had dealt with some of them, and he proposed to call attention to some others. To begin with he took the trade and commerce of the world between gold-using countries on the one hand and silver-using countries on the other. The volume of this trade was measured by hundreds of millions, and there was not a single man of business engaged in it who would not 1581 say that, in consequence of the constant fluctations in the value of silver, the trade was in these days very little more than a mere gamble in exchange. This state of things was by itself enough to command for the resolution the careful consideration of the House. The enormous amount of this trade was not surprising when they remembered that, although it was quite true that one-third of the population of the world at present used gold as their standard, two-thirds still used silver as theirs. Yet it was a positive fact that they had heard in the last year or two some of the most prominent Monometallists in this country declaring that they would see no evils pending in the world if silver were altogether disused as a standard. He would not characterise these views as they deserved, but would turn to another aspect of this question. He referred to the present financial position of our great dependency in India. What was the real cause of the financial difficulties of India? The Secretary of State for India had told them only three nights ago that the cause was the constant fall in exchange, and that fall was due to nothing else than the divergence between gold and silver. For years the Government of India had been imploring the Government of this country to do something to re-establish silver. The Government at home, however, had adopted an exactly opposite policy, and blow after blow had been aimed at silver. The Government had closed the mints in India, thus taking from silver one of the last great markets open to it, and had afterwards imposed a duty upon silver imports into India, while at the same time permitting gold to go in perfectly free. By their own deliberate action they had aggravated the fall in exchange, and now they proposed to meet the resulting difficulties by imposing a tax upon the produce of the unfortunate textile industry of Lancashire. This they did in the hope of extricating themselves from difficulties which they had themselves been instrumental in creating. It was these considerations that induced him to vote as he did the, other night, when he voted in support of the motion of the right hon. and learned Member for Bury, as a protest against the whole financial policy of Her Majesty's Government in 1582 respect of India. The Secretary of State (Mr. H. H. Fowler) had given them some very startling figures with regard to the loss by exchange in 1894 and 1895, but he proposed to supply information of a still more startling character. The other day he asked what was the total loss by exchange during the last 20 years in India, and from the answer it appeared that the loss amounted to Rx.5,000,000 multiplied by 20 years. Taking the old rate and value of the rupee, this would mean a loss by exchange of £100,000,000 which had to be recouped by extra taxation on the natives of India, for whom right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite always expressed such tremendous solicitude.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir W. HARCOURT,) Derby
said that the right hon. Gentleman had overlooked the fact that the words "loss by exchange" were inaccurate as he used them, because he took no account of the gain on the other side by the fall of the rupee. The right hon. Gentleman's statement, therefore, needed correction.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said that he would leave the right hon. Gentleman to explain whether the loss was £100,000,000 £70,000,000, or £50,000,000. There was, however, no doubt that an enormous loss had been incurred through the divergence between gold and silver. It was not only by the Cotton Duties recently imposed that the great textile industry in the North of England had been injured. The cotton industry was greatly hampered and harassed at all times by the fall in exchange, for there could be no doubt that it operated as a protective duty upon goods sent from this country to the East, and also gave to manufacturers in the East an immense advantage over their competitors in the West. Then, with reference to the wheat industry of this country, nobody had attempted to explain away the figures quoted by himself the other night, and showing that, concurrently with a diminution in the wheat crop of the world, there had been a very heavy fall in the price of wheat. What was the cause of this phenomenon? It was likewise very largely due to the fall in the exchange, caused by the divergence of the metals. India was one of our competitors in the wheat industry, and she had special 1583 advantages in this competition. An English sovereign to-day would exchange for 20 rupees, whilst formerly it only exchanged for 10 rupees; and, although wheat had fallen in price in this country from 40s. a quarter to 20s., the Indian grower was still getting 20 rupees a quarter for his wheat. They knew there had been little or no change in prices in India, and consequently the 20 rupees obtained by the Indian grower were as valuable to him as ever, and would buy as much for him in India as they ever did, and he was thus enabled to take a gold price for his wheat which would mean positive ruin to the grower in this country. Those who a few days ago heard the right hon. Member for St. George's pointing out how dangerous it would be for a country like ours to have to rely exclusively for its chief food upon foreign countries, would, he thought, agree with him that the matters to which he had just called attention deserved the close attention of the House. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had thought it a sufficient reply to his right hon. Friend to taunt him with reverting to the Protectionist doctrines of 30 years ago. He did not understand how the Chancellor of the Exchequer could have thought that a good reply, for it appeared to him that the Protectionist prophecies of 30 years ago were now rapidly approaching fulfilment. The question was often asked—"Why do these fluctuations in the relative value of gold and silver occur, and what is the cause of the divergence? It never used to occur formerly. Your trade in the East in former days was conducted without these difficulties; you had no difficulty formerly with your rupee; no complaints came from Lancashire about the fall in exchange; and certainly you never had complaints from wheat-growers in this country. What was the cause of it all? Was it the immensely increased supplies of silver which were now produced? Was it the greater variation in the relative amounts of the metals now produced? That was a reason commonly ascribed for it, but there was no greater delusion in the world. If anybody would take the trouble to study the statistics, he would find that the variations in the production of the metals were infinitely greater during all the years in which the relative values remained perfectly steady 1584 prior to 1873 than they had ever been since that time. No, these great fluctuations could not be ascribed to that; they must be traced to the great changes in the monetary laws in the United States of America and in half-a-dozen countries on the Continent which occurred some 20 years ago. Before those changes all the gold and all the silver that could be found anywhere in the world was, so to speak, potential money. It could be taken to the mints in any quantity. The mints were bound by law to take it and return it coined into legal tender money at a given rate per ounce. It all went into circulation, and pro tanto it increased the volume of money throughout the world. The law had two effects which he desired to note in passing also. At this time population, trade, commodities, and the demand for money were steadily increasing likewise, but the additions to the volume of money readily made by the constant supply of both these metals was just sufficient to meet the increased demands and to keep the general level of prices practically steady for a great number of years. That was one effect. Another was this—that it kept the two metals practically steady, because no one would ever dream of taking less for either of them than at any moment he could command from the mints. All this unfortunately was changed. The mints were closed to the coinage of silver while still left open to gold; and silver, being deprived of these great markets, immediately began to fall, and it fell steadily, though not always rapidly, from that time down to 1893. And then what happened? Why, in that year another mortal blow was struck at silver, and this time by the English Government. They closed the Indian Mint, which was the chief market left, and the effect of that operation was instantaneous upon silver. It fell 8d. an ounce in a single week—a thing absolutely unknown in the whole history of the metal; and there was no reason why, if silver was to continue to be treated in this way, this metal, which still formed the standard value of two-thirds of the population of the world, should not become absolutely worthless except for ordinary merchandise. But it was not only silver that was affected by these monetary changes. The prices of all other things were 1585 largely affected also, and prices generally fell to a much lower level than before. Upon this point he was afraid there was not much use appealing to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman had always been a stout opponent of the views which Bimetallists entertained. Personally he always used to think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had given very little serious attention to the subject, because he used as one of the arguments against them the allegation that foreign nations were entirely opposed to any further conferences or interchanges of opinion upon it. The right hon. Gentleman must now admit, however, in view of recent expressions of opinion on the part of Germany and France, that he had misjudged the views entertained by these countries. He suspected the right hon. Gentleman began to think there must be something after all in the theories of the Bimetallists, and that, as the great monetary changes on the Continent 20 years ago had contributed so largely to the fall in prices, so it was possible, if the Bimetallists were allowed to have their way, they might, perhaps, do something to arrest the fall in prices, even if they could not do much to turn the movement in the opposite direction. That, as they knew, would not suit the views of the right hon. Gentleman at all. Agriculture might be ruined. The House heard what he said the other night. The iron industry might be depressed. The mills in Lancashire might be closed. Thousands of operatives might be out of employment owing to the continual and constant fall in prices. What cared the right hon. Gentleman? Let prices fall. "The more the better," he said, "I don't want to see them rise again." That was the response of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the appeal of ruined and suffering industries. A more cruel, more selfish, more unfeeling reply to the cry of depression and distress surely never was heard in the House of Commons from any English Minister. The hon. Member opposite seemed to think that depression and distress were a great source of amusement. He congratulated the hon. Member on his feelings, though not improbably, when the hon. Member had to appeal to his own constituency again, they might perhaps take a different 1586 view of the situation than he did. There were many gentlemen in the House who had a rooted objection to anything which could endanger the existence of the gold standard in this country. He could perfectly understand and sympathise with their views, but there was absolutely nothing in the Motion which of necessity involved a decision or any result of that kind. He was a convinced Bimetallist himself, but there was a variety of other ways in which the object could be accomplished and the use of silver undoubtedly promoted. It would be impossible for him to discuss all the different schemes which had been suggested on an occasion like this, but surely they were fit subjects for consideration by a conference. He would mention only one as an instance. He would ask the House to remember this—that we were a great Eastern as well as a great Western Empire. He could not see why, as regards the Eastern portion of our Empire, we should not join in an arrangement with other Powers to reopen our mints in India to silver, provided they were willing to reopen theirs, undertaking at the same time to give every facility for promoting the increased use of silver in England. There were many recommendations well deserving the attention of the House contained in the report of the Gold and Silver Commission, and if he remembered aright it was the right hon. Gentleman, the member for the University of London, who was himself responsible for making many of these recommendations. He had no means of knowing if, or how far, any proposal such as he had indicated would be acceptable to foreign Powers, but it did seem to him to be one not undeserving the careful consideration of nations who were anxiously seeking for a remedy for many of those evils which had been described. The secretary for India would, he believed, adopt such a proposal as this with rapture. To the bimetallists in this House he believed the proposal would be acceptable, and he really saw no reason in the world why it should offend the susceptibilities of the most convinced monometallist in England. No one who had carefully studied the question could doubt for a moment that it would have the effect of immensely lessening the evils complained 1587 of, and if that were so he could not conceive why gentlemen in the House should think it necessary to object to the proposal that a conference should be assembled and that England should join that conference for the purpose of considering this among other suggestions which might be made for the purpose of mitigating these evils. He did hope, at all events, that they should not be taunted as they had usually been taunted in these debates with a desire to tamper with the currency. [Sir W. HARCOURT: That is not my phrase.] He knew it was not the right hon. Gentleman's phrase, but if experience gave any right, then undoubtedly Sir W. Harcourt was entitled to be the greatest authority on this subject, for surely no Minister ever tampered with the currency more effectually than the right hon. Gentleman did when he closed the mints in India two years ago. He thought taunts on this subject came with ill grace, indeed, from the Minister who was responsible for that operation. What was the object of it? The object undoubtedly was to give a scarcity value to the rupee. Yes; but increasing the value of the rupee meant pro tanto artificially decreasing the price of everything else measured by the rupee. He had always noticed the peculiarity on the part of gentlemen who held these particular views that if the currency laws were altered so as artificially to depress prices, why then it always meant wise and beneficent legislation; but if by any possibility the alteration of the same laws should have the opposite effect of raising prices, they were guilty of the heinous offence of tampering with the currency. But what was sauce for the goose was sauce for the gander, and if it was right to make the alteration for one purpose, it was equally right to make it for the other. He was painfully well aware that the supporters of this motion laboured under an enormous disadvantage in the absence of the Leader of the Opposition, whose views had been so frequently expressed on this subject, but it might be some encouragement and some consolation to the supporters of those views to learn that he had the authority of his right hon. Friend to say that if he had been able to be present he would have given his most cordial support to the motion of the hon. Member. 1588 They who had been supporters and advocates of those views for many years had had very unusual difficulties to contend with; the opposition had been invariably bitter and not unfrequently unscrupulous to the extreme. But, in spite of all the influences ranged against them, it could not be denied that both here and in other countries they had been recently steadily making way. Whatever might be the issue of that debate it was impossible for him to know, but of this fact at least he was absolutely assured, that at no distant date victory on this question would be theirs, because they had on their side experience, justice, argument, reason and scientific truth, and in the long run they were absolutely certain to prevail. He begged to second the motion.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I think it may be for the convenience of the House that I should rise at the earliest moment to state the views of her Majesty's Government upon this motion. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down that I shall not be guilty of introducing into this discussion any of that bitterness of which he has complained. I recognise that the question is one of the greatest gravity, and in the responsible position that I occupy, I should think myself extremely to blame if I were to deal with the question at all in such a spirit as that. My hon Friend behind me has greatly assisted me in this discussion. He has undergone a positive conversion on this subject which really relieves me of differences of opinion with him, which I am always desirous to avoid. Until a day or two ago there appeared upon the paper, in his name, a Motion which was headed "Silver Free Coinage," and it stated:—That, in the opinion of this House, an international agreement for the restoration of free coinage and full legal tender power to silver is desirable.I am afraid if that Motion had remained on the paper we must have fought it out, he and I, to the end. But that Motion has disappeared, and another Motion has taken its place, which is of a far more innocent character. It will be my duty to refer to the terms of that Motion more particularly presently. My hon. Friend gave a very interesting account of his convictions with reference to the 1589 duality of metals. I always listen to my hon. Friend with great interest and attention, and I read all he writes which he is good enough to send me. I have in my hand a prize essay by my hon. Friend, which is circulated, I believe, in thousands in every agricultural district, and which is of a very instructive character. The case dealt with by my hon. Friend is one of great distress, like that which now unhappily exists in the agricultural industry. My hon. Friend has been a great student of the history of agriculture, and he knows as well as I do that distress in agriculture is not a new phenomenon. In this prize essay he gives an account—I think a perfectly accurate account—of the condition of the agricultural interest as it was 70 years ago. He says:—A dreadful time of suffering they had then. Fanners were ruined wholesale, land went out of cultivation just as it is going out now, trade in the towns became terribly bad, thousands of men in the villages and towns had to stand about idle, because they could not get work. Wages went down to starvation point, the workhouses were filled with able-bodied men and women, who, not being able to obtain employment, had to go there to escape from starvation. There was nearly civil war in this country in some years between 1819 and 1833.You could not give, I think, a worse account than that, not even in the present day, of the condition of the agricultural industry. I think my hon. Friend will agree that it was as bad then as now. Yes, Sir, but my hon. Friend had a solution then for that condition of things that he has not now, and it was not Monometallism at that time that was the cause of the condition of things. He says:—The history of those times may be read in the fall of prices caused by the doing away with the old abundant supply of the people's money.My hon. Friend's halcyon period was not the period of gold and silver—of those two precious metals which established the duality of metals. His cure, then, was a trinity, not a duality, and he gave great preference to a medium of exchange which was neither in gold nor in silver. He says:—As the country could not go on without money the Government took to issuing paper money for daily use. Well, these notes were the money in general use in England for 20 years down to 1819. And it was when in that 1590 year a law was passed to do away with these notes that the great agricultural distress of those times began.And, therefore, the distress of which I have read a description was, in the view of my hon. Friend, due to the return to cash payments in 1819. He says:—The notes being stopped, merchants, maltsters, millers, &c., had to find silver or gold (hard cash, as it was called) to pay the farmer for his produce. As hard cash was not near so plentiful as the notes had been, down thump came the price of produce.That is the monetary theory of my hon. Friend who produces this Motion, and he gives a most interesting account of his family recollection. He says:—I have heard an old farmer say he could remember his mother, who was the treasurer of their family, wearing a great apron with pockets in front of it in which she used to keep her £1 notes.Now, that is the substitute for the precious metals, the loss of which, in the year 1819, produced that terrible agricultural distress which my hon. Friend has referred to; and, therefore, I think I am right in saying that his views upon this subject go somewhat deeper than the question of Bimetallism. It is a very remarkable fact that whenever these periods of depression have existed, and existed in a degree far greater, I have no hesitation in saying, than they do at present—in the period between the cessation of the great war and the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1845—the agricultural interest have always thought the true remedy was to be found in the depreciation of the currency. If anyone will take the trouble to read the early chapters in the second volume of Mr. Walpole's interesting and instructive History of England he will find that year after year proposals were made for the depreciation of the currency, and even for the repudiation of the public debt, on the very grounds now being industriously spread abroad. There is one circumstance to which my hon. Friend has not referred. During those periods when the farmer's wife had her apron pockets filled with convertible paper what was the condition of the labourer? It is represented to the labourer if you only have high prices of produce you will have high wages. Was that true? My hon. Friend knows as well as I do it is the reverse of the truth, and that when the price of wheat was five times what it 1591 is at present the wages of the labourer were 50 per cent, lower than they are now, and a great deal more if you take into account their purchasing power. Happily, in this Amendment none of those questions are raised. I heard the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Sleaford Division that this was not a Bimetallic Amendment. There is nothing about free silver coinage, about ratio, upon the questions which raise an issue between Bimetallists and Monometallists. I am as convinced a Monometal ist as the right hon. Gentleman is a Bimetallist, and I am quite certain, without disturbing our personal friendly relations, if we two spent the rest of our natural lives in endeavouring to convince one another we should utterly fail. I am not going to-night to enter academically into the theory of Bimetallism or Monometallism, because, as the right hon. Gentleman has truly said, it is not involved in this Amendment at all. I recognise that this Amendment is one which is perfectly consistent with the view of the Monometallist as well as with that of the Bimetallist. Let us see what are the statements it makes. It speaks of the growing divergence in the relative value of gold and silver. I have never denied that; I do not deny it at all. We all know it; India is a great example of it. Then the Amendment proceeds to say that, if other countries desire to enter into a discussion of these matters, we ought not to refuse to join them. I have never denied that. I have always, on the contrary, taken part in it, and the present Government and the late Government have taken part in it. This question has two aspects which are both equally important. It has an international aspect, and it has a national aspect; and I must ask the leave of the House to endeavour to place before it what are the views of the Government as to these aspects, both of which are raised in this Amendment. The international aspect is one which it is of the greatest importance should be understood not only at home but abroad, and I think the House will feel that the views of the Government should be so clearly expressed that they cannot be misunderstood either in England or abroad. Now, let us see what our position on this question in relation to 1592 foreign countries is and has been. Everybody knows that we were engaged in the year 1892 at Brussels in a Conference upon this subject. It is curious enough, and I think it is very important, that in regard to this matter both the last Government and the present Government are equally responsible. The agreement to go into that Conference was made by our predecessors, and the instructions for that Conference were drawn up by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's, Hanover Square. We came into Office practically after these instructions were drawn up, though I was responsible for issuing them. The right hon. Gentleman will admit that they were issued substantially in the form in which he had drawn them up; there was no material alteration. I ask the House to observe what was the character of those instructions. I will read the words, because there has been a good deal, I will not say of misrepresentation, but of misunderstanding, of what took place. What I am going to read is taken from the very report of the British delegates, signed by all, including my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, who has taken a leading part in this matter, therefore the House may rely on the account being absolutely correct—The Government of the United States, in proposing a Conference, had expressed a wish to Her Majesty's Government that a ratio might be established by the leading nations for the coinage of silver at their several mints.To that the Government of England declined to accede, they would not enter into a Conference for such a purpose as that.It was intimated, in reply, that Her Majesty's Government would not be able to accept an invitation couched in such terms.Now, that is a very important matter, because it is the course which the late Government pursued, which the present Government has adopted, and which, I venture to say, every responsible Government in this country will follow: That is to say, they will not enter into a matter which professes to impeach the fundamental principles of the currency of this country.The Government of the United States thereupon proposed a Conference for the purpose of considering what measures, if any, can be taken to increase the use of silver in the currency system of nations.1593 That was accepted by the late Government, that has been accepted and was accepted in the Conference at Brussels by the present Government, and therefore in that there was no difference of opinion.The delegates were to speak and vole on any defined plan proposed for the extended use of silver, on the understanding that they did not thereby in any sense commit the Government by whom they were delegated. It was of the essence of the questions that the ideas of the delegates should be reduced to working plans, and should thus be subjected to practical criticism.That was the basis upon which the Government Great Britain entered upon the Conference invited by the United States. Well, the Conference met under these conditions; and I would point out that it is most important and most necessary that we should know exactly what were the feelings of the foreign nations in the matter. The representatives of the United States postponed the question of Bimetallism. It was their proposal and desire to commence the proceedings by a general resolution:—That in the opinion of this Conference it is desirable that some measures should be found for increasing the use of silver in the currency system of the nations.What happened? That resolution was immediately supported by the British delegates, Sir Rivers Wilson and the others, in accordance with the instructions which the British Government had given them. Therefore, as soon as that proposal was made, the first support was given to it by the British delegates. A series of declarations followed from the representatives of the various Powers. One of the earliest of these declarations was upon the subject of Bimetallism, and was made by the representative of Germany. I call special attention to this declaration. It is sometimes said, though refuted over and over again, that the failure of the Conference at Brussels was in consequence of a premature declaration by Sir Rivers Wilson against Bimetallism. That statement is absolutely unfounded. The first declaration on that subject was by Count Alvensleben, the representative of Germany, in the following terms:—"Germany, being satisfied with its monetary system, has no intention of modifying its basis." Remember, that was made on the very first day of the Conference, and made in 1594 reference to this motion for the extended use of silver. This declaration then went on to say:—The Imperial Government does not, however, fail to recognise that the continued oscillation and the considerable fall of silver are much to be regretted from an economic point of view; and that it would be advantageous to the economic interests of the Empire if these evils could be remedied in a lasting manner. Upon these considerations the Imperial Government felt that it ought to accept the invitation of the United States to this Conference. None the less, in view of the satisfactory monetary situation of the Empire, the Imperial Government has prescribed the most strict reserve for its delegates, who in consequence, cannot take part either in the discussion or in the vote upon the resolution presented by the delegates of the United States.That statement represents the instruction under which the German representatives went to the Brussels Conference, and the greater part of the delegates there followed the same course. In fact, England was the principal supporter of the United States upon the subject; but so discouraging was the action of all the other Powers then represented that the resolution was finally abandoned. I will read the words of the Report on the matter. France and the Latin Union did not oppose the, resolution, but the Report adds—Although no definite opposition was offered, France and the Latin Union were at the outset, at any rate, disposed to criticism, rather than cordial co-operation, of the objects of the Conference.That, then, was the first stage of the Conference at Brussels. This resolution in favour of the increased use of silver, brought forward by the United States and supported by England, had to be abandoned in consequence of the discouragement it received from the other Powers. Now, there is another remarkable fact; and that is, that the first practical proposal of a definite character was brought forward by a British delegate, Mr. de Rothschild, with a view to provide for an enlarged use of silver. That proposal was referred to a committee, where it was defeated, principally by the action of France, the Latin Union, and Russia. The majority—that is, the hostile majority on the Committee—while in favour of permitting the discussion of the plan at the Conference, at the same time declared that, if adopted by the Conference, they would be unable to recommend it to their Governments. After 1595 this, the project for extending the use of silver was committed to the Conference, but Mr. de Rothschild, finding it would not receive an effective measure of support, withdrew it. We have then, as the second stage of the conference, a proposal to extend the use of silver, made by an English delegate, rejected in Committee by a majority of the representatives, and withdrawn at the Conference by Mr de Rothschild. Now I come to the third stage. It was not until the sixth session that the discussion on the general Bimetallic proposal of the United States was formally opened. It lasted until the ninth session, and the United States delegation declared at the close of the session they would not ask for a vote at all. We know very well why they did not ask for a vote. It was because they knew perfectly well that the vote would have been adverse to their proposal. The state of the opinion of the European Powers represented at the Conference is clearly set out in this Report of the British delegates, and I must, therefore, ask leave of the House to read it, for it is most important:—Certain countries declared themselves frankly as adherents of the Monometallic faith. The representatives of Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway were clear in their declarations that no change would be made in the gold basis of the currency of those countries. Switzerland, though a member of the Latin Union, declared explicitly that she was an unshaken adherent of the Monometallic principle, and the delegate of Austria-Hungary was equally explicit in his statement that his Government bad every intention of abiding by the gold standard which they are in course of adopting.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
No; it is the unanimous Report of all the delegates, including the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester, the great leader of the Bimetallic party. I have stated nothing in any words of my own, because I think it is most important that this should be the authentic declaration, as it is, of the unanimous Report of our delegates as to the opinions of the Governments of Europe on Bimetallism at that time. The Report goes on:—On the Bimetallic side the lead was taken by the United States. The Netherlands were prepared to join a Bimetallic union provided that Great Britain formed a part, of it and Spain and Mexico were ready to adopt Bimetallism, or other measures which would have 1596 the effect of raising the price of silver. No declaration of policy was made on behalf of Russia, though one of her delegates, speaking personally, was an active supporter of the gold standard. The Roumanian Government did not consider Bimetallism a practical possibility; and Turkey and Portugal expressed no opinion. There remained the four States which, with Switzerland, form the Latin Union, viz., France, Italy, Belgium, and Greece. Upon their attitude, to a great extent, the situation turned.Here I would remark that the right hon. Gentleman, at the conclusion of his speech, urged that a partial Bimetallic agreement might be entered into by States who thought it would be advantageous to them, and, of course no British Monometallist would object to that at all. The Report then goes on:—A partial Bimetallic agreement might have been within the range of possibility had these States been willing to enter it. But M. Tirard (delegate of France), as we have stated above, declared himself opposed to any union for the adoption of Bimetallism unless such union included amongst its members Great Britain, Germany, Austria - Hungary, and Russia. Belgium, Italy and Greece having announced that they could not take up an attitude different from that of their colleagues of the Latin Union, the result clearly is that, unless an event should take place, which in our opinion is highly improbable—unless, that is, there should be a radical change in the declared monetary policy of Great Britain, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia—an international agreement for fixing a ratio between the values of gold and silver must be regarded as beyond the range of practical politics.I suppose the hon. Member for Wood-bridge has at last come to that conclusion, because he proposed an Amendment that does not lead to that end, having withdrawn an Amendment which contained it. One sentence more from the Report:The attitude of France was nearly as reserved, although M. Tirard made two very eloquent speeches, the principal point of which was that he expressed himself perfectly satisfied with the present monetary situation in France.That, then, is the authentic account of the condition of opinion in Europe in 1892 on the proposal of the United States for the establishment of a Bimetallic system. What happened then? After the practical withdrawal of the Bimetallic proposal the Italian delegates come forward with a proposal which amounted to the question, "shall the conference be dissolved or shall it be adjourned?" In this situation the Italian delegate proposed the adjournment of 1597 the Conference till May 12, 1893. He said—We know already that in a new meeting there will he no question of discussing principles. Each party wishes to sit in its intrenchment. We must not hope that the Monometallists will yield any more than the Bimetallists. We know that the resolution to be taken must not affect principles. The proposals to be made will be practical or will not be adopted. It will be an agreement between the Governments—a parallel agreement, leaving to each its independence.That is a most important declaration—that each country was, in respect of its currency, to retain its independence. The Italian delegate then proposed—That the Conference suspends its labours, and decides, should the Governments approve, to meet again on May 12, 1893, and expresses the hope that during the interval a careful study of the documents submitted to the Conference will have permitted the discovery of an equitable basis for an agreement—for what?—mark these words!which shall not infringe in any country the fundamental principles of the monetary policy of the different countries.It was a remarkable fact that upon that occasion the representative of Germany declined to vote in favour of the adjournment for this purpose. It is supposed by the right hon. Gentleman that Germany has absolutely altered her views on that subject. I find no authority for such an opinion. I have read the declaration of the German Chancellor, Prince Hohenlohe, which is stated to be "a carefully drafted declaration," and which appeared in The Times on the 16th of February 1895. This is his statement on behalf of the German Government:Without prejudicing our Imperial currency—that seems to me to be in exactly the same terms as the statement of the Italian delegate at the Brussels Conference—''one must confess that the differences in value between gold and silver continue to react upon our commercial life. Following out the train of thought which led to the convocation of the Silver Inquiry Commission, I am ready to consider, in conjunction with the Federal Governments, whether we cannot enter into a friendly interchange of opinions as to common remedial measures with the other States which are chiefly interested in maintaining the value of silver.Not a word about an international agreement for a ratio between gold and silver. On the contrary the statement is prefaced by the declaration that the German Government says so much, "without prejudicing our Imperial currency." We 1598 have as yet received no official communication from Germany, and whether this change of opinion has taken place since the Conference or not is not stated here. When that communication is made, it will be the business of Her Majesty's Government to consider how it shall be answered. I have no hesitation in saying, as far as I am responsible in the matter, that it will be met exactly as the proposal from the United States of America was met, or as we should meet any friendly Government who should come forward and say: "In our opinion this is a subject which ought to be discussed." That was the language which we held to the United States, and it was the language held by the right hon. Member for St. George's. He said:—We cannot accept your proposal if it would imply an intention on our part to depart from our standard of currency. But if you wish to discuss with us the evils flowing from the depreciation of silver we are perfectly ready to discuss any definite plan on this subject and see how far we can agree on it.That is exactly the position we occupied with reference to the United States. When the Brussels Conference was adjourned, I stated that if any of the Powers, with the United States, had desired that the Brussels Conference should meet again on May 12, we were perfectly ready to go there to discuss this question. That belongs to international courtesy, because the more questions which are so discussed the better for all classes of the community in all countries. There was one mistake made at the Brussels Conference which ought not to be repeated. The delegates who go to a Conference of that character must be delegates who speak in the name of the Government, and with the responsibility of the Government. It is of no use to send men of opposite and conflicting opinions to engage in academic discussions. The delegates you send must express the opinion of the responsible Government which they represent, otherwise they only waste time, as time was wasted at the Brussels Conference. If the United States, Germany, or France want to know what is the opinion of Great Britain on this question, Great Britain will by courtesy always be ready to express its opinion. I am afraid I have occupied the attention of the House too long on the international aspect of 1599 the question; but I do feel that it is absolutely essential on a matter of this kind to have a clear understanding, since there is no country in the world whose interests are so intimately bound up with a stable foundation of the currency as this country. It has a vast income, it has the greatest trade in the world, and it has become the monetary centre of the world—in my opinion, upon the ground of the soundness of its currency; England, which has the greatest trade in the world, conducts it upon the smallest metallic basis of any country; and why? Because it has the largest I credit. It was in former days that trade was actually conducted by metal. Metal is not the instrument of trade now, whether silver or gold. It is the measure of value, truly; but that is not what is meant by the "quantity of gold." The quantity, in theory, is this—that the more goods you have to exchange, the more metal you want. But that is not true of the present state of things. If it were, England would want the largest quantity of gold, and yet it conducts its trade with the smallest quantity of gold of any country in the world. It has been truly said that the quantity of gold used by this country has been growing less and less every year. Why? Because other means of conducting the business of the world have been found. And in proportion as commerce becomes more developed and educated, in proportion as nations become more civilised, they less and less use metals, and more and more use other means of effecting the exchange of commodities. That is obvious to all who have considered the subject; and certainly everybody who has arrived at my age knows how much less of metal we personally use nowadays. In old days it was necessary to have gold and silver in the house and in your pockets to an extent which people do not find necessary now. The business of private life is certainly more extensive than it was many years ago, and yet that business employs less metal than ever. But now, leaving the international part of the question, and stating, as I have stated clearly, the conditions and limitations under which the Government of the; country will always be ready to meet other nations to discuss this or other matters which interest them all alike, I will pass to what I will call 1600 the national point of view. For that purpose I must refer to a very important point—the discussion in 1890 upon the Bimetallic Motion introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Flintshire, and calling for a Conference to consider the question of Bimetallism distinctly. This I am happy to observe—that these Motions become every year less and less Bimetallic. That is to me a most encouraging feature, though I do not know by what sort of surgical operation Bimetallism was extracted from the Motion of my hon. Friend. The motion of my hon. Friend was very bimetallic. He asked that a conference of the chief commercial nations of the world should be called to consider whether a Bimetallic system could be established by international agreement in the interests of all the nations concerned. It has been said that it is very desirable that there should be continuity of policy in foreign affairs. If so, it is still more necessary that there should be continuity of policy in respect of such questions as this. Therefore, I will ask the House to consider what was the opinion and the action of the late Government upon this subject. The motion to call a conference was met by one whose absence, from the House we all deplore, and who was leader of the House at the time—the late Mr. W. H. Smith. It was met in a speech which, for condensed common sense, I do not think has ever been surpassed. It does not occupy two pages of "Hansard," and if anyone chooses to know, in a few lines, the whole pith and marrow of this matter, I advise him to read that speech of the late Mr. W. H. Smith. He was not a professor, but a man of business, who thoroughly understood the bearing of this question. He pointed out what would be the practical effect of endeavouring to introduce Bimetallism into this country. He referred to a statement made many years before by Mr. Herries, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer, a banker, and a man of business—namely, that—Every man who had claims payable on demand, every man who held notes of small or great value, every man who had debts outstanding would, if he secured the amount of what was due to him before that resolution was passed into law, get the whole of his money; whereas, if he delayed doing so, he could only get £95 for every £100.1601 That is a proposition everyone can understand. I will suppose you have made an international agreement on the subject of Bimetallism, and you introduce into this House a Bill to give effect to it, and a man who has money at call—and there are hundreds of millions of money at call in this country—and he knew that before the second reading or Committee stage of the Bill he could get his money in gold, but that if it were read a first time he would only get it in silver, I think if he was a sensible man, as Mr. W. H. Smith was, he would take it in gold before the second reading, and not in silver afterwards. I will read what Mr. W. H. Smith said—To pass such a resolution would be to inflict one of the greatest disasters upon the mercantile community. It would result in this—that all those who were entitled to demand money advanced by them would instantly require that it should be paid, and in the coin and currency in which the debt had been contracted. Mr. Herries pointed out with overwhelming force that the inevitable result of such a sudden change in our circulation and mercantile transactions would be to produce a panic with absolutely disastrous consequences. A change is proposed to be made, because it would be advantageous to the debtor, but if that is so the creditor has a right to say, I will not wait. I insist upon having, while I can, all that belongs to me.' I appeal to hon. Members, considering the vast credit transactions which go on in this country, and the transactions we have with the whole world, to form some idea of the disaster that would result from the desire on the part of creditors to claim what was due to them before such a change was made.That is what I call a common-sense view of the Bimetallic question, which was reinforced and repeated with the greatest emphasis and extraordinary eloquence, which this House will remember, in 1893, by my right hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian. [Opposition laughter.] Well, if you will not take that doctrine from Mr. Herries, the late Mr. W. H. Smith, and the right hon. Member for Midlothian, I have nothing else to say. At any rate, they are good enough for me, and I should like to know who are the authorities you are going to place against them. But in that debate there spoke another authority, who, perhaps, you will not repudiate as such—the right hon. Member for St. George's. Mind you, the motion was to summon a conference to consider the subject of Bimetallism. What did he say? 1602Conferences have been held and very exhaustive reports made, and no result has been possible. We have appointed a Royal Commission, and what is the result? A divided report; and certainly it is not upon any divided report that we have a right to take the immensely responsible step of tampering with the general currency.I venture to think that every responsible Minister in this country will agree with the right hon. Gentleman, and, in the divided state of opinion, will not attempt the responsibility of tampering with the general currency of the country. There was another Gentleman whose opinion in the debate was, perhaps, even of more importance, a Gentleman whose absence we all deplore to-night—the leader of the Opposition. Now, it is known that he is a convinced Bimetallist, but he was then speaking in the character of the responsible Minister of the Crown—a Conservative Government was in office—and, having made an able argument—and all his arguments are able—he thus concludes:—I feel bound to give additional emphasis to what I have already stated—that it would be folly and madness in any Government to go in advance of the educated commercial opinion of the country. I certainly should think it not far from lunacy to attempt to force on the United Kingdom and the City of London a form of currency which they do not thoroughly adopt and believe in.Will the hon. Gentleman opposite or any-other men in the United Kingdom or the City of London honestly say that they thoroughly believe in Bimetallism? If so, we have the authority of every Member of the last Government who spoke in the debate I have referred to that they would not take upon themselves the responsibility of tampering with the general currency of the country or acting in the face of a divided opinion—to force on the United Kingdom and the City of London a form of currency they do not thoroughly adopt and believe in.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
The speech was made in 1890, on the motion of the hon. Member for Flintshire. The Government objected to initiating a conference on Bimetallism. Just before the late Government left office the United States Government came and asked them to discuss the subject. The first thing the right hon. Member for St. George's did was to decline to admit as the founda- 1603 tion of a conference the proposition to enter on the request that a ratio might be established by the leading nations for the coinage of the several nations, which was entirely in accordance with our declaration and the declaration of the Chancellor of Germany. I know there are people who believe there is a possibility of an international agreement. I confess I do not place very much confidence in arriving at that. Whenever a conference does meet to discuss it—as one met at Brussels—they never come to close quarters with it. They had to state what the ratio was. That is always shirked and set up as a mere detail; but any man who has studied the point and calls it a mere detail shows he either knows nothing about the subject or will not argue it honestly. Directly you come to the discussion of the ratio you will discover how various are the interests of the nations involved. You will find producing, silver-using countries have a clear interest in raising the prices of the commodities they produce. There are other countries which have great stocks of silver that they do not know what to do with, and which they would be very happy to unload upon us. We are the great creditors of the state of the world, and hundreds of millions are due to us by other countries. My hon. Friend is a great philanthropist, and says it is very hard upon foreign countries; but if the countries who owe us hundreds of millions of money could only pay us in depreciated silver, or in what they would like better, inconvertible paper, they would be very glad of such an international arrangement. If an agreement were made, what security is there that it would be maintained? The right hon. Member for St. George's, Hanover Square, enlarged upon that point in his speech in 1890—as I did myself in the Debate—of the danger of an international agreement whereby you would revolutionise the public currency. What would happen if a great war broke out? Agreements would disappear in a moment, and international arrangements would no longer have force. When fighting for existence, and when the necessity for self-defence arises, countries need that great sinew of war, gold—and they will have gold at any price—and your international agreement to declare silver equal to gold would disappear at 1604 once. It would not be worth the paper that it was written on. I myself am not willing to place the currency of this country, upon which its commerce and its prosperity depend, at the mercy of any foreign nation. I will not place it under the superintendence and under the control of a committee of foreign states. The policy of this country has been to avoid entangling alliances and European combinations, because we do not desire to involve the fortunes of this country in the accidents which may occur any day, and which may end in a terrible contest between the great military powers of Europe. If that objection applies to political and foreign alliances, in my opinion it applies with ten times greater force to a proposal for an international arrangement in regard to currency. It has been said, and this is one of the great arguments of the Bimetallists, that France alone, of the countries of the Latin Union, was able to sustain the burden of keeping up the price of silver. Well, Sir, if there are countries which think that to be a good system, why cannot they combine to effect that object? If France and Germany and the United States choose to combine in regard to this matter we can offer no objection, but we must be allowed to judge for ourselves what system of currency we should adopt. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the case of India. Sir, it is the case of India which makes me readily admit that the difficulty of the depreciation of silver is a very serious matter. It was carefully considered by the Royal Commission upon that subject, and there are some words in the Report of that Commission which are a very serious warning, and which the House would do well to take into account. This is not a question simply of exchange; it is a question of the interests of the people of India. Allow me to read the words of the Report. They are most important—Turning next for a moment to the special dangers to India which might result from adopting this ratio, we would remark that, although the Government of India would undoubtedly be a gainer, in so far as the burden of its gold debt would be diminished, yet there would be at least a serious risk of substantial mischief to the people of India. Any change having the effect of lowering silver prices, while taxes and charges remained unaltered, might occasion serious discontent; and if it were seen to be a 1605 consequence of political action it might create political dangers as grave as any that are likely to result from a continuance of the present conditions. Further, if it be true that cotton manufacturers in India, haven been fostered and stimulated by the fall in silver, it would be a serious matter, and certainly likely to engender great discontent, if by an act of the State the manufacturing industry thus created were seriously hampered if not destroyed.The Members for Lancashire can sympathise with that.Although we have not felt ourselves able to recommend that this country should enter into negotiations with the view of establishing a bimetallic system of currency, we have indicated that we are fully sensible of the considerations which have been urged by the Government of India; and we think that every proposal which seems calculated to diminish these difficulties and to ease the existing situation is deserving of very careful consideration, and that an earnest endeavour should be made to adopt any which should appear to promise substantial advantage without the risk of greater evils. We think, however, that in the consideration of this or any other proposal of Indian Legislation, for removing the difficulties of that Government, the interests of India should alone be considered. While we cannot recommend that the Mother-country should run any serious risk in altering its system of currency in order to assist the Dependency, we think that the Government of the latter should be allowed a free hand to deal with the problem an it considers best to its own interest,Sir, it was in accordance, with that recommendation that we concurred with the Government of India in closing the Mints. The recommendation was, that the Mother-country should not run any serious risk by altering its currency—that is, by the adoption of Bimetallism—and that the Indian Government should be allowed a free hand; and that was the course that we adopted in regard to the closing of the Mints. There is only one other point, and that is the effect upon wages of the creation of high prices by the action of Parliament. It was not true, historically it is absolutely false, that high prices have brought about high wages. The history of this country shows that in the time when the prices were highest the wages were lowest; that has been so for year after year. I have before me a remarkable chart, drawn up by a gentleman in the United States, whose name is well-known in connection with this controversy, of the effect in the United States, where it has been the most marked, of the rise of prices when cash payments were suspended. It is shown that, at the time when prices were 1606 at their highest possible point, there was the lowest point of the purchasing power. In 1890 wages in the United States stood very much where they did 20 years before, and prices had fallen 64 per cent, but the purchasing power of wages had risen 152 per cent. Therefore, nothing can be, according to experience, more absolutely false, than to say—although wages under particular circumstances vary from time to time—that high prices have been accompanied by high wages. This is a point which the Bimetallists have never attempted to deal with; they know that, although prices have fallen considerably, wages have hardly fallen at all, and that nominal wages have been largely increased through the increased purchasing power of money. If you are going to enter upon a system of change in your currency in which the people of this country will find that the prices of their food and clothing, the prices of all commodities, are raised, you will, in my opinion, pursue a most disastrous course. Having stated to the House, I am afraid at great length, but at at all events with distinctiveness, the view of the Government with respect to the international aspect of the question, and with respect to its national importance, I may say that I find that this Motion states two propositions from which I am not prepared to dissent. I admit that the fall in the price of silver in regard to our trade with silver-using countries has been a source of fluctuation in exchange, and that the fall in the price of silver in silver-using countries has been a great disadvantage. That I have never denied. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the population of those countries, but we have not to look at that. What we have to look at is the relative trade of the countries. It cannot be disputed that the trade of this country with gold-using countries is enormously greater than with silver-using countries. Therefore your currency ought to be adapted to the larger proportion of your trade. With regard to entering into a conference with Germany, or the United States, or any other county, so long as our own position is clear in the matter, as at the Brussels Conference, I have never had objection to it. If the Motion, however, was in any way a committal of this country to the Bimetallic policy, I should resist it to the utmost of my power. 1607 But the right hon. Gentleman has declared that the Motion is as much open to the approval of Monometallists as to that of Bimetallists. I am extremely glad that the Bimetallists take that view. I see that there are two Amendments to the Motion on the Paper. The first turns it back again to a Bimetallic resolution, and to that I should be strongly opposed. The second is that put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead, and he deprecates, as I should, any step being taken that might lead other countries to think that any change on our part is probable—that any change under this Adimnistration, any more than under the last, in the currency of this country is probable. I am deeply convinced, whatever may be the personal opinions of individual politicians upon this matter, that there is no responsible Government of this country who will come forward to propose a change in the basis of the currency of the nation, under which ever since the year 1816—that is, 80 years ago—this country has reached a point of commercial and financial prosperity which no other nation in the world has ever attained. I have deplored the absence of the right hon. Gentleman the leader of the Opposition, because I am sure he would not have contradicted what I am now saying; and I am equally convinced that the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for St. George's, Hanover-square, when he addresses the House on the question, will speak with an equal sense of responsibility. Sir, it is of the greatest moment that, at the present juncture of this matter, the attitude and the conviction of the Government of England should be known to the House of Commons and to the world—whether we do or do not intend to stand by that currency which, in my opinion, is one of the greatest securities of this Empire. In speaking of hon. Members on the Opposition side, who will be responsible when we retire for the conduct of this country, I have only to say that as they have to deplore the absence of their leader on this occasion, so I have most deeply to regret the absence of that great leader the right hon. Member for Midlothian, who, in 1893, in a speech that no man will forget who had the privilege of listening to it, dealt with the whole question in a 1608 manner which, in my opinion, finally disposed of it. Though we have those disadvantages, I hope, at all events, that on this occasion we shall not deal with the question as a party question, and I hope that in the spirit in which I have addressed the House I have not given to the matter any tincture of that character. Sir, I have endeavoured to express the deep conviction I hold on this question, and inasmuch as the motion has been brought forward in terms upon which we can find common, ground; inasmuch as it does not commit us in any sense to an agreement with the Bimetallic system; inasmuch as it declares that there exist evils which we do not deny; inasmuch as it only invites us to join in any communication upon the subject, whether in the form of a conference or otherwise, with the Great States of Europe; and, inasmuch as it seems to me that these are reasonable propositions—I shall not, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, oppose the Motion of my hon. Friend.
§ MR. WILSON LLOYD (Wednesbury)
had the following Amendment to the Motion on the Paper:—To leave out from 'that' to the end of the question, in order to add the words, 'owing to the serious appreciation of gold, by which the value of commodities and wages in this country are being reduced, paralysing thereby the commercial trade of the country, it is expedient that an International Conference should be held to consider what steps can be taken to secure a stable currency.'He said the Chancellor of the Exchequer no doubt believed that we had aperfect and stable standard. If we had an absolutely perfect and stable standard, they of course had no necessity to join in a Conference at all. But if our standard was not perfect and stable, but was limping and imperfect, it became an important question whether they ought not to ask for a Conference to consider the whole matter. The question turned entirely on the point whether our standard was a stable standard or not. He understood that the experts, who gave evidence before the Gold and Silver Commission, had shown that our standard at the present time was not perfect and was liable to variation. If that were so, they might reasonably ask the Government to do their utmost to convene, or form, a Conference for the purpose of having the standard improved or adjusted. 1609 The object of making a standard more firm and stable was to prevent a further fall in prices. But the objection was raised that those who considered that they knew vastly better than anyone else how to deal with the question, told them that a fall in prices was a desirable thing. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said only a short time ago that he did not wish to raise prices—that the cheapening of commodities had been a blessing to the mass of the people, and to raise the price of corn and other articles would be an injury to the people. That statement showed that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was in favour of a further cheapening of prices. Further fall in prices meant, of course, further cheapening of various commodities, and it was important that hon. Members should consider what would be the effect of this. Was it a benefit or the reverse? He would take one of the largest of their investments—the most favoured investment at the present time, that in houses, The fall in prices would certainly tend to reduce the value of house property, a class of investment, too, which was more supported by the thrifty class of the community than by any other, The value of house property in this country was put at over £600,000,000. In the course of the next ten years, owing to the cheapening of commodities and of wages, new houses of the same class will be built at half the price; and the consequence would be that the 600 millions which the thrifty classes had invested in houses to-day would at the end of that period only be worth 300 millions. Further, this cheapening of commodities would lead to a reduction of rents, and thus investors in house property would not only lose half their capital, but would receive a smaller return on the remainder. Was that desirable? In his opinion what was wanted was a staple currency, a staple standard of value which would obviate this change in the value of commodities. A change in the value of commodities forced down investments, investors lost their property, and the nation was impoverished. This impoverishment of the nation was a very serious evil, and he failed to see upon what ground the Chancellor' of the Exchequer defended it. How could it be to the advantage of the community that 1610 the savings of the most industrious and thrifty classes should disappear by the simple fact of the cheapening of commodities? It was supposed that the wealth of the United Kingdom was 12,000 millions. Well, if the value of commodities depreciated 50 per cent, in ten years, the wealth of the country would be reduced to 6,000 millions. He would give another illustration. What they wanted at the present time was to develop the country and enlarge its works. The Chancellor of the Exchequer several times said he would not like to tamper with the prosperity of this country. But he saw there was no prosperity in this country. It was said that we were not worse off than Germany. He had the returns of the iron works in Germany and Belgium, and they showed that in both cases there was an increase last year in the export of iron. That could not be said of this country—we were not holding our own against other countries. He could quite understand that Germany was not anxious about this question, because Germany was really prosperous. If Germany was in our position she would take an entirely different view. Take the case of a man who bought an iron works. He gave £20,000 for a property that probably cost £40,000 ten years before, and he thought he was getting a bargain. He worked the undertaking, and during the next ten years he found that he made £1,000 a year. But during that time the cheapening of commodities and of wages went on, and when he came to examine his balance-sheet he found that his property was only worth £10,000, because, on account of the cheapness, his neighbour could build similar works for that amount. Therefore, the whole of the return he had made in his capital was swallowed up by the cheapening of commodities. That was the position of affairs that arose from the unstable standard at present existing. The investing public found that a sovereign put into works or houses became worth only ten shillings, because of the appreciation of gold or the cheapening of commodities. Could they in these circumstances expect to find men investing? No, they would stand on one side; and that caused the depression in trade, and, to some extent, the want of employment among the working 1611 classes. Take investments in ships. The cost of building ships five years ago was nearly 30 per cent, more than it is to-day, and according to the doctrine of cheapness, the men who had ships to-day and the country ought to be much better off than they were four years ago when iron and labour were dearer. But was that so? The fact was that the men who bought their ships four years ago were out of it altogether. They naturally stood off, and that produced depression in various directions. Then banks were seriously affected in this matter. It was said that the banks had at call 600 millions sterling. But that money must be lent, and the banks must have securities. If the banks had taken proper securities at the time when they lent their money, it naturally followed that, with a cheapening of commodities these securities must lessen in value. It was obvious that the security of the banks must continually be reducing, and that their position must be much more insecure under a currency which was varying and depreciating in value. The banks had a strong interest in endeavouring to obtain a more stable value. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian raised some objection two years ago as to the alteration of the standard of value in this country. He could not see how the holding of a Conference could alter the standard of value, as it would only be to inquire what improvements could be made, and said, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer had also done in the course of the Debate, that if there was any change to make the standard more stable, it would immediately produce a panic, and would cause the withdrawal of all deposits in the banks. But how that withdrawal would take place, or why it should take place, was not explained. The view which the Commission took of the case in regard to any conditions fairly to be contemplated in the future was as follows:—So far as we can forecast them from the experience of the past, a stable ratio might be maintained at the suggested ratio. We think that if in all these countries gold and silver could be freely coined, and thus become exchangeable against commodities at the fixed rates, the market value of silver as measured by gold would conform to that ratio and not vary to any material extent.The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian had told them that if 1612 Bimetallism were enacted, the consequences would be that Bimetallists, Monometallists, silver men, and gold men, every one of them would call in every farthing they could, and Mr. Giffen had estimated the amount so out at call at about £600,000,000. That was an extraordinary statement, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer had inferred that that would occur—that if they endeavoured to make the standard of gold more firm, stable, and secure, in accordance with the requirements of the country, it would produce a panic among the commercial classes. A more preposterous statement could not be made than to say that at the moment they tried to alleviate the present pressure upon gold a panic would be produced. It might just as well be said that if Birmingham came to that House for an extension of her railways because they were insufficient to meet the demand, everybody would want to go upon the new line in one day. Another objection which was mentioned when this subject was before the House many years ago, was that, as we are a creditor country, any tampering with the currency would be detrimental to our interests. But he could not see how any steps which might be taken to strengthen the position of gold in the country would injure us as a creditor country; in fact, he thought it would have a contrary effect. We were a creditor country to the extent of £2,000,000,000; and if that were so, it was surely to our interest to support our creditors and not to injure them. But if we continued diminishing the value of we commodities by having a bad standard, varying in its quality and value, how could we expect to have those £2,000,000,000 paid? As an illustration, investments in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States had gone down considerably during the last four years owing to the depreciation of values, and it was a fact that if they depreciated the value of wool, meat, corn, and cotton—which had happened—the assets would be largely diminished. Hon. Members had told him that their investments had diminished in value, thus showing that the present system did not keep our assets in those countries intact. Being a creditor country he certainly thought they should endeavour to have a more stable currency. One of the witnesses before the 1613 Commission stated in his evidence that during the last 20 years the trade and commerce of the country had increased something like 25 percent., but that not the slightest particle of gold was available to that commerce, the whole of the gold which had been found in that period having been absorbed for other purposes. That showed that something must be done to relieve the pressure upon the traders. Having increased their trade to such an extent they must have been working under great disadvantages owing to the shortness of currency. It had been stated that the £600,000,000 would be withdrawn from the banks; but how could it be withdrawn? The total amount of gold which the banks possessed in March 1886 was not more than £22,000,000; in fact, the amount they held was not more than 9d. in the £ to meet the deposits at call. It seemed to him, in view of the condition of things generally, and the vastness of the deposits, that the Government ought to take up this matter with a view to the solution of the difficulties which surrounded traders at the present time. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had spoken about the progress of the country, but he did not think there had been very much prosperity in progression. He knew, however, that the Liberal Party at one time had inscribed on their banner the word Progress. That was a word which the Conservative Party should inscribe upon their banners. He had heard it said that the Liberal Party had never taken up a question and abandoned it. Had they not abandoned the cause of Progress? Where was the progress, where was the prosperity of the country at the present time? If he looked at the bank returns he found lower dividends. If he looked at the clearing house he found an enormous reduction in the turnover. In Lancashire the cotton trade was in a state of collapse. In Kidderminster the carpet trade was in a state of absolute stagnation. Six large firms had suspended payment during the last six weeks. Was that called prosperity? As to the iron trade, they were told it was struggling for existence; and as to the coal trade, they were informed that they had to go back years before they found that trade in the wretched state in which it now was. It was the same with the 1614 linen trade or Belfast; and the silk trade was almost broken up. In addition to all this they knew that agriculture was in the most aggravated state of depression. To talk about the prosperity of the United Kingdom was really playing with the House. There was no case at all for a Conference on this question. The public could not make out the cause of the existing state of affairs. They were to be told that prosperity depended on the Liberal Party being in power. Then that it depended on cheap prices, on cheap bread, and on peace. They, traders and agriculturists, thought they had discovered the cause of all this. If they had not hit upon the right point—if the question of the currency were not the cause—would the Government tell them what was? They wanted some intelligent reason given—they wanted some enlightenment. He thought the Government of the day should look into the matter. He, and those who thought with him, said there was no progress—that there was actual going back. The Chairman of the iron trade had recently given some figures as to that trade. In 1871 there were produced 11,783,000 tons; in 1882, 21,321,699 tons; and in 1893 there were 23,239,343 tons of iron. Of these quantities there were produced by—
These figures are most suggestive. In 1871 Great Britain supplied, as will be seen, over one half of the whole quantity; in 1882, about 40 per cent., but in 1893 only a little over one quarter; for while the total make for these periods stood respectively—
1871. 1882. 1893. Tons. Tons. Tons. Great Britain. 6,627,000 8,493,287 6,829,841 United States. 1,720,000 5,178,121 7,124,502 Germany 1,278,000 3,469,719 4,700,000 Other countries 2,158,000 4,180,572 4,585,000 11,783,00 21,321,699 23,239,343
the last figures being very significant, as they show a most serious falling off, not only in her relative, but also in her absolute, quantity, whilst Germany and the United States show an increase from both points of view. And yet the demand for iron in the world had increased 1615 from 11,000,000 in 1871 to 23,000,000 in 1893, and instead of making half they only made about one third. Was that the progress which the Government wished them to have? It was said we must not do something, because some other Power will not do it. But there was no other Power which suffered like England. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told them that they did not want anything—that everything was right. It seemed to him that he did not look into the facts, but if the Government did look into the facts he was convinced they would not have had the speech which they had had that night from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He felt that they had a grievous depression, which was cutting the vitals out of their trade. They were losing their hold on the markets of the, world. Until the Government of this country believed in the existing difficulties nothing could be done to meet them. The Government were responsible; and all talk about progress as an excuse for doing nothing was a misuse of the word. Indeed, the Chancellor of the Exchequer ignored the fact that this country was not progressing. Our exports were valued in 1874 at £239,000,000, in 1884 at £233,000,000 and in 1893 at £218,000,000. Did these diminishing figures exhibit progress? While our exports were diminishing, our population was inreasing. The figures on the other side were no better. Our imports were valued in 1874 at £370,000,000, in 1884 at £390,000,000, and in 1893 at £405,000,000. The increase in imports was mostly in manufactured goods; and that increase could not add to the labour, the wages, and the prosperity of our working classes. The pressure upon us as a nation was so great that it ought to be looked into; and Bimetallists believed they had found out the cause why the course of trade was against us. Other countries which were affected by the appreciation of gold had discovered remedies and had defended themselves by protective Duties; but we were defenceless because we had free ports and free imports; and so our wealth and our power of export went on declining. The value of our exports per head of the population was £7 7s. 9d. in 1874,£6 10s. 6d. in 1884, and £5 19s. 2d. in 1893. Thus there was a material 1616 decrease in every decade. Was that satisfactory to the Government and to their supporters? If ever the condition of our industries was a pressing question it was so now. The Secretary for India said they were all Members for India in their desire to do justice to India; and in this matter the Bimetallists were supported by the Report of the Gold and Silver Commission, who, in paragraph 109 of their Report of 1888, said—
1871. 1882. 1883. 11,783,000 21,321,699 23,239,343 Great Britain gave only 6,627,000 8,493,287 6,829,841Assuming such a stable ratio to be secured, what effect would it have on the evils with which we have to deal? Fluctuations of exchange between countries having a different standard, so far as they depend upon the varying relation of silver and gold, would cease, and the perplexities and difficulties which now so severely beset the Indian Government would be at an end, subject to this qualification, that as far as the burden on the Indian Exchequer is due to the fall which has taken place in the gold price of silver, that burden would continue permanently. In the view of the Indian Government—and upon this point we agree with them—this would involve less danger and evil than the continuance of the present state of uncertainty with the risk of a future fall.In justice to India we ought to do something with our own currency, in order to remove existing difficulties. The Secretary for India said the Government were reluctant to put Duties on imports, and especially upon imports from Lancashire. The necessity for doing this showed that the Government were in an extreme case. If they were in such a terrible fix that they were obliged to close the Mints of India, that in itself showed that the condition of affairs between this country and India was of the gravest kind. There was a special claim upon the Government to meet a pressure which was so intense in industrial centres. The pressure in India must also have been very great when it forced the Government to adopt Import Duties and close the Mints. A pressure which affected us in this country, our industrial centres, our commerce, our great dependency, the Mints of India, and our trade with India showed that we were in the midst of a great crisis; and the Government might very well be asked to look into it with the object of finding a solution. Let them not go on with their Bills till they had solved these difficulties and found a solution of them. The question could not be ignored; something must be done to relieve the strain; and the House could not be better employed than in finding out how to deal with such a crisis.
§ *SIR JOHN LENG (Dundee)
said, that he had always felt that there were great difficulties surrounding any proposal to establish a fixed relation between two metals, one of which was found in much larger quantities than the other. But any difficulties that had presented themselves to his mind were as nothing when compared with the great and increasing difficulties which were besetting an important branch of industry with which his constituents were connected. He referred to the jute industry. He held in his hand a letter from a gentleman who had been for many years the head of a large firm engaged in that industry, and the writer said:—There is no doubt that the position of all trades which come into competition with similar trades carried on in silver-using countries grows worse and worse. The very existence of Dundee is threatened, and I feel convinced that the currency question is at the root of the evil.He had also received the following communication from a member of one of the largest firms in the jute trade in this kingdom, if not in the world:—Our trade is being gradually swamped through the advantage accruing to our Eastern competitors by the divergence in the values of gold and silver, in which metals wages are paid here and there respectively.The growth of the jute industry had been checked, and it was now in a very depressed and unprofitable, condition. Many companies were not paying dividends, and their balance sheets showed that they had suffered recently very serious losses. This was owing to the competition of mills in Calcutta, mills established by British capital and under British management and control. No doubt there were natural advantages in favour of the jute industry in India. The mills there had the first choice of material; they were nearer to the Eastern markets, and labour was cheap.
[Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being present—]
§ *SIR JOHN LENG
proceeded. He said that, notwithstanding the advantages enjoyed by the trade in India, Dundee and other places on the east coast of Scotland had been able to withstand the competition until recent times. Now, however, the industry in this country was very heavily handi- 1618 capped in consequence of the fall in the rupee. Firms in India were practically paying only half the wages paid formerly, the rupee being now worth one shilling instead of two. It was a remarkable thing that wages had not risen in proportion to the depreciation of the rupee. That depreciation acted as a bounty on the manufactures of Indian mills, and the result was an extraordinary development of the jute industry in Calcutta and elsewhere. Since 1882 some large new mills had been built, and old ones had been largely extended. One mill was now running 22 hours out of 24, electric light being used. That light was being introduced into other mills, and there could be little doubt that most of these Indian mills would before long be running night and day, as they possessed the advantage of working under a system of shifts, which was not permissible in this country. The number of looms had increased from 2,400 to 10,000, and the value of the export of jute goods from India, which in 1873–74 amounted to only Rx.200,000, had increased in 1892–93 to Rx.3,200,000. India commanded the Eastern, the Australian, the Californian, and other markets; and was now sending goods to New York and even to Dundee itself. Such a state of things was exceedingly serious. He thought those interested in the subject must hail with satisfaction the intimation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he was not opposed to the holding of another conference. It might be, some time before that conference was summoned, and, for one, he should be glad if it were preceded by an inquiry at home, in which the facts could be brought out as they bore on particular industries. A rapid development had occurred on this question since 1892. Many new facts had come to knowledge. Opinions were being formed and ideas matured. He regretted, however, to hear that, if another conference were summoned, those who attended on behalf of Her Majesty's Government would go simply as delegates, with limited and specific instructions, and bound to vote according to their instructions. That would greatly diminish the value of such a conference. It ought to be a deliberative conference. The members should be at liberty to form 1619 their own opinions on the statements they heard and the arguments put before them. He hoped that, before a conference was held, such representations would be made to Her Majesty's Government as would induce them to modify their views in this respect.
§ MR. A. B. FORWOOD (Lancashire, Ormskirk)
said, that, as an old-fashioned merchant brought up in old-fashioned ideas, he could not but refer to the extraordinary attitude taken up by the Government in this matter. With the greater portion of the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer he thoroughly agreed, but the conclusion to which he came was, in his opinion, dangerous. He feared that, from the circumstances under which the Motion was brought forward, great misconception would arise, not only in this country, but also abroad. That the House should accept a Resolution promoting an inquiry into the relative positions of gold and silver would go far to disturb the mind of the commercial community the world over. What was really wanted was that it should be understood that Her Majesty's Government and this country at any rate were determined to have but one standard, and that the one we at present possess. Otherwise agitation would continue in various countries, such as in the United States, where there was a strong silver party, to restore the silver currency. That agitation was largely promoted by those who were interested in the silver mines of the United States. He recalled the circumstances of the monetary legislation of the Republic, under which the Treasury were required or empowered to buy silver, when tendered, at a certain price per ounce, and to give in exchange silver certificates or notes. The consequence had been a large development of silver mines in the United States, and the enormous accumulations of silver, probably amounting to £130,000,000 sterling, in the vaults of the United States Treasury. These vast purchases of silver, continued over a series of years, gave an abnormally high value to the metal, and he believed that to-day the world is suffering, not because England had a gold currency, but because of the artificial stimulus given to the production of silver in the United States. He regretted there should be any chance of 1620 false hopes being raised on the part of foreign nations, and especially silver producing countries, from Her Majesty's Government having accepted this motion, while failing to realise the full force of the limitations laid down by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. With reference to the remark of the hon. Member that what we wanted was more coin, he had always thought that, according to the quantity of the article you have, whether it were money or produce, the value of that article was pretty much regulated. Now if, as was alleged, more coin would generally tend to raise prices, then, of course, there would be a depreciation in the nominal purchasing value of that coin. If, however, every article which we had to purchase was to be advanced in price, where was the advantage of having more coin in one's pocket? It was a new doctrine to him, as a merchant, to be told that lower prices for food were a disadvantage to this country. He had always supposed that the cheaper we could obtain raw products, whether for food or for manufactures, the better for our people and our manufacturers at large. He had always noticed that, with a large supply of produce at a lower price, there was an extensive expansion of manufactures and, naturally, larger employment given to the working classes. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had said that high prices inferred low wages. In his judgment that was not at all a certain axiom. If high prices were the result of a small production of the commodity, then certainly high prices were not attended with any advance of wages, but rather otherwise. If, however, high prices were the result of a larger demand, then, clearly, it was an advantage and a gain to the labour employed. This agitation for Bimetallism largely came from Lancashire, with which he was connected, and from the agricultural interests. The great staple of Lancashire was cotton. The Lancashire manufacturer of cotton found that the workmen in India continued to manufacture at the same rate of wage—payable in silver at its present depreciated value—that he received when silver was nearly double the price; and he inferred that the desire of the hon. Member for Dundee was to influence and raise the value of silver in India so that it should not have such a purchasing power as it 1621 had to-day to the native who received his wages in silver. He thought it would be exceedingly selfish for this country to legislate on the silver question simply from the English manufacturers' point of view. In such circumstances we should be placing the Indian workmen at a disadvantage in order to bring trade to our own towns.
§ *SIR J. LENG
The hon. Gentleman misapprehends the effect of my statement, which was this—that there is and would be no change in the conditions in India, but the change that has occurred has been very adverse to our manufacturers in this country. It would make no difference whatever in the purchasing power of the wage-earner in India.
§ MR. A. B. FORWOOD
said, that the Bimetallist proposition was to raise the price of silver by adjusting its relations with gold, and to raise the price of silver would reduce the purchasing power in India of the wages paid to the native. In his judgment the depreciation in the value of silver had been caused by the artificial legislation of the United States; and, if they were to give silver a certain relation to gold in this country and make it a legal tender irrespective of the amount, they should clearly be watering down their own currency, increasing its volume, and reducing its value in the wages paid to the workmen, whilst in the end the result would probably be the same. The depreciation of the commodities, in his opinion, did not arise in any way from the silver question, but from the extraordinary over-production in recent years. He was asked how he accounted for the price of wheat. Wheat was not grown only in silver countries, but in gold countries as well. The country which had turned the scale in the price of wheat in the last few years had been the Argentine Republic, and silver did not enter into the question at all, the payments to the Argentine labourer being made in paper, which was the currency in that country. They had low prices in wool, and wool was grown in gold-paying countries; they had the lowest prices in cotton almost that this century had ever known, and cotton was grown in cold countries. Why did these low prices prevail? Because of the enormous crop of cotton which had come over to this country. 1622 No silver legislation would have affected the question of whether the price of cotton was to be a little under 3d. or 5d. per 1b. What lowered the price of that commodity was the large amount available for consumption. Allusion had been made to the depression in the iron and steel industries, which was undoubtedly great; but there, again, silver did not enter into the question at all. The production of iron and steel was some six or eight years ago increased and pushed by reason of the development of railways and other undertakings in various parts of the world; but the demand had now ceased, not from the question of silver or gold, but simply from the development of those countries by railways having gone on a little faster than the necessities required. At no distant date they should, he hoped, see a good return of business from these countries, and this irrespective of the question of currency. As regarded iron and steel, what demand there was in the world for these articles in connection with railways had, he was sorry to say, gone to Belgium and the Continent, not because of gold, but because of the wages question and the hours of labour. It might be dangerous for a politician to say so, but he was bound to state, frankly and honestly, that he did not think those who instructed the working classes as to wages they were to be paid had had sufficient regard to the difference in the demand for the manufactures for export abroad. The consequence was, that the wages in this country had been kept at a standard approximate to what they were in the good times; and so the competition from Belgium and Germany, where the artisans worked at low rates and for long hours, had come in, had interfered with, and had taken away the comparatively small amount of demand there was for the export of railway material at the present day. The appreciation of gold was a problem he had not yet been able to solve, but he pointed out that in this country, with a gold standard, the bank rate had been 2 per cent, for twelve months past, and all securities yielded the smallest possible return. If this matter was to be settled, or if it could be settled by agreement, why should the nations of the earth bother themselves at all about gold and silver? Why should they not agree to issue notes, each taking a 1623 certain number? Money was only an artificial token to describe the difference between, say, a cargo of sugar, and a cargo of wheat. The total varied, but the difference of price was really regulated according to the demand of the one or the other article. The currency was simply a token to describe in their books that which they had, and was not the property which they owned.
§ *MR. T. P. WHITTAKER (York, W.R., Spen Valley)
said, this question was one of the most complicated the House had to deal with, but it seemed to him there was a plain way for a plain man to look at it. Silver and prices had been falling for 21 years, a process, which, they were told, was ruining trade, crippling industry, and giving enormous advantages to our rivals. What had been the effect upon the nation at large, and upon our industries? Were we on the high road to ruin? In 1868, the country was in a very similar position, financially and commercially, to that of to-day. We were at the bottom of a commercial slump, after the great troubles of 1866. In 1873, we were at the top of a great commercial boom, and he proposed to compare the position of the country at the time of that boom, with its position to-day, and he thought he should show we were immensely wealthier, and in a vastly superior position now, than then. We were in a commercial depression now, and the causes of that depression were of precisely the same character as those which produced the great depression of 1866, 1867, and 1868. Between 1873 and 1893 the population of the country increased by less than one-fifth, but during that time the gross assessments to Income Tax had gone up from £513,000,000 sterling, to £712,000,000 sterling. The assessments under Schedule D, which represented the trade, commerce, and professions of the country, had risen from £228,000,000 sterling to £363,000,000 sterling, an enormous growth in the profit made from the trade and industry of the country. The value of the houses assessed to income tax had increased from£89,000,000 sterling to £144,000,000 sterling. The wool retained in the country for home consumption had increased from 194,000,000 pounds to 354,000,000 pounds, an enormous growth in the volume of the woollen trade. The con- 1624 sumption of cotton was now 200,000,000 pounds more than, it was in 1873. The tonnage of the vessels which entered and cleared at all our ports with cargoes from our colonies and from foreign countries had increased from 37,000,000 in 1873, that great year of success and boom, to 66,000,000 in 1893. Our coasting trade had increased from 40,000,000 tons to 60,000,000 tons. Another indication of the increased wealth of the country was the amount of money invested. The years since 1873 had not constituted a great railway-constructing period, but the paid-up capital of the railways of the country had risen from £588,000,000 sterling in 1873 to £971,000,000 sterling in 1893. We must have made that money; there must have been prosperity. The increase in the amount of goods carried by the railways had been enormous; and that all indicated great increasing trade. According to The Economist, the deposits in the banks increased by £100,000,000 sterling from 1884 to 1893. The increase in the deposits in the Savings Banks had been enormous; the money which people had put into building societies had increased from £20,000,000 sterling to £51,000,000 sterling; and there had also been a very great increase in the money the working classes had invested in industrial and cooperative societies. There had been a large increase in the houses of between £10 and £15 rental, which showed that the working classes were able to pay more rent. In 1869, the number of persons with incomes of from £200 to £400 paying income tax was 78,000, but in 1893, it was 159,000; and during the same period the larger incomes had also greatly increased in number. In the midst of all this increase in wealth, we had been living in a better style, and spending more money, which alone dissipated a considerable amount of our wealth. It might be said, trade was bad. He admitted it. But we had times of bad trade before 1873; far worse than anything we were experiencing now. Why was trade bad? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Ormskirk Division had shown that, when we lent money freely abroad, we had a great demand for goods as a result of our own loans. That stimulated industry in this country, and led manufacturers and others to put down enor- 1625 mous plant. When the loans ceased the trade based on them stopped, but the plant remained, and manufacturers competed keenly with one another to secure the trade there was, with the result that profits were cut down very much indeed. Profits would tend to diminish as wealth increased. As the nation became more wealthy, people had to invest their money in some way, and had to be satisfied with a lower return than they had hitherto received. If Bimetallism would raise prices, it would not increase trade, and the working classes would suffer, because everything they had to buy would cost them more. If they were going to double the price of bread, in order that farmers might grow corn, were they going to double the wages of the working men in order that they might buy it? Good trade made high prices, but high prices did not necessarily make good trade. If high prices were the result of scarcity or misfortune, they would not bring about good trade. But good trade meant an increase in demand, and an increase in demand meant an increase in prices. The Economist, had recently pointed out that, taking last year's imports and exports of this country, and comparing them with the imports and exports of the previous years, if we had to pay the same prices for our imports in 1894 as in 1893, we should have to pay 30 millions more; whereas, if we got the prices for exports in 1894 which we received in 1893, we should have got only 9 millions more. That showed that the fall in prices had been a benefit to the country this year of 21 millions. Agriculture was, he admitted, distressed. But that was the result of opening up new countries and increasing the facilities for getting the produce of those countries to our shores. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, in a recent speech, illustrated, in a somewhat; exaggerated form, the effect on prices of an addition to the supply of commodities. The right hon. Gentleman said that if they made 101 brushes, and if there was a demand only for 100 brushes, the additional brush would send down the price of brushes by 50 per cent. It was undeniable that if the supply of any article was beyond the actual immediate demand, the excess would reduce the price of that article; 1626 and certainly it was because the wheat-supplying powers of the world had enormously increased that prices were down. But surely that increase in agricultural produce was a great boon to the masses of the country. Again, it was easy to trace the depression in the iron and steel trade to its source. Not many railways were being constructed in the United States, Australia, and South America. In the United States railways used to be constructed at the rate of 10,000 or 12,000 miles a year. Now that country was only building railways at the rate of 1,000 or 1,200 miles a year. Therefore, there was not the demand for rails, steam-engines, and waggons, that there used to be, and it was to that fact, and not to Monometallism that the depression in the trade was to be ascribed. Again, the East had entered into competition with us not only in the corn trade, but in the cotton trade. We had opened up those countries ourselves. It was our boast that it was our special mission to civilise, educate, and train the backward people of the world. But one result of that policy was, that those peoples were sometimes in some trades brought into competition with us as producers. Nevertheless, he hoped that the object we had in view, and that we would continue to have in view was that those peoples would become producers, and at the same time become additional customers for our goods, and thereby increase our commerce. Individual trades might suffer from this enormous expansion of commerce; but the nation as a whole would benefit by the increase in the wealth of other countries, for an increase in wealth was accompanied by an increase in purchasing power. It was quite true that we were passing through a bad time, but Bimetallism would not help us at all. We were passing through a time of stress and strain, with less suffering and privation than any other country in the world. We could only 'bide our time, with the aid of prudence and industry, until the countries in which we had made investments had grown up to those investments, and then we would have, a time of further loans and increased income, and a return of prosperity. Therefore, if we entered into the proposed Conference 1627 it should be on the very distinct understanding that we should not give any support whatever to the policy of Bimetallism.
§ *COLONEL F. BRIDGEMAN (Bolton)
said, the hon. Member who had just sat down had shown that we were in a time of great prosperity. Surely, then, there ought to be abundance of employment, and instead we have an inquiry into the question of the Unemployed. He thought the hon. Member would make a very useful Member of the Committee now sitting to inquire into that question. Perhaps Bimetallists ought to be thankful that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had accepted the Motion. But the right hon. Gentleman had made it clear that if we go to the proposed Conference we were not to impeach the fundamental policy of the currency of the country. Why, the Bimetallists felt that the fundamental policy of the Currency of the country was exactly what ought to be impeached, and they impeached it by the Motion which the right hon. Gentleman had accepted. Therefore, it was a disappointment to them to hear the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, which meant, if it meant anything, that those who would represent Great Britain at the Conference would be ordered to do nothing. They might exchange civilities with the representatives of other nations, but they were to do nothing to impeach the fundamental policy of the currency of the country. Speaking for the distressed industries of agriculture and cotton, he contended that the fact of the rupee in India having lost some of its value was one of the great causes of that depression. He knew that Monometallists maintained that it was impossible to have an artificial value of silver, and impossible to fix a ratio of silver and gold, just as it was impossible to fix a ratio say, of cotton and labour. Past experience showed that that was not the case. During the long years between 1819 and 1873—from the time we became a Monometallic nation to the disruption of the Latin Union—the ratio did exist, though it was an artificial ratio. During all that time, through the mere fact that the Latin Union—though some of the great commercial nations did not belong to it—were prepared to coin silver at 15½ to one of gold, silver maintained that ratio in Europe; and it was only since 1873, 1628 which witnessed the disruption of the Latin Union, that that ratio had been destroyed. He could give one other example of an artificial value. He held in his hand two coins—a rupee and a florin. The rupee contained 165 grains of silver, and the florin 161½ grains of silver; and therefore the rupee ought to be to the amount of 3½ grains more valuable than the florin. But what was the fact? The florin could be exchanged as 10 to a sovereign; but one would have to give 18½ or 19 rupees to get a sovereign. The effect was, that labour paid in India on the debased currency of the rupee practically received a bounty at the expense of the British agricultural labourer and cotton operative. He did not think the speeches delivered against Bimetallism in any way tried to grapple with this difficult question, and he could assure the House that agriculturists and cotton spinners would never be content until the question was more thoroughly threshed out than it had been by the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ *SIR HENRY MEYSEY-THOMPSON (Stafford, Handsworth)
expressed the opinion that the attitude of England had a great effect in making the Brussels Conference abortive. He was acquainted with most of the British representatives who attended the Conference, and he could say, without fear of contradiction, that the general opinion amongst them was that an International agreement would become possible as soon as England realised the situation, and determined to do something practical in the matter. The hon. Member for Liverpool had told them that it did not matter whether prices were low or prices were high, because, if they received less they paid less. But rates and taxes did not go down with bad times; railway directors could not make a reduction in their rates equivalent to the enormous fall in the prices of wheat, steel, and iron; and if there was a fall in other things that fall was not proportionate to the fall in the price of produce. The right hon. Gentleman also put forward an argument which seemed peculiar. He said that, if the currency in India were to be restored to its former basis, on which it existed for 50 years, England would be doing a very selfish 1629 thing, and a great injustice to the working classes of India. But he had a distinct remembrance of being told that no injustice or injury was being done to the working-man of Manchester by the fall in the price of silver. If that were so, how could it injure the operative in India to put things back on the old basis? The Chancellor of the Exchequer tried to persuade the House that any reform of our currency would be an injury to the British working-man, and that, when prices were high, wages were low. What was the limit? There must be one, for otherwise when prices went high enough there would be no wages at all.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I said that wages did not rise in proportion to the rise in prices. I did not say that wages fell because prices rose. High prices are not necessarily followed, and have not historically been followed, by proportionately high wages.
§ *SIR H. MEYSEY-THOMPSON
said, that the country was not now occupied with historical facts. It did not matter two straws to the working-man of this country what the proportion of wages and prices was in the past, unless it was to be taken as a guide to what the proportion would be in the future. He could not see any other purpose in the right hon. Gentleman's reference to the past. Was the right hon. Gentleman prepared to argue, that if prices were now to rise in the cotton trade wages would fall? There were certain hon. Members near him who would be loth to admit that Trade Unionism had fallen so low that it could not obtain at least a proportionate share of the higher prices. But the most important question of the controversy was that of employment. It was of much more moment to the workingman in this country to be able to get employment than to get a particular rate of wages; and the employment of people in English manufactures was greatly threatened by the present state of things. The inevitable tendency of the divergence between the values of gold and silver we to banish the great manufacturing industries from British soil, and transfer them to silver-using countries, such as China, Japan, and Mexico. The report of Mr. Hall, the Consul at Hakodate in Yezo, one of the islands of Japan, showed that seven years ago iron pipes imported from Great Britain cost $28 a 1630 ton. Now, the price in England was 4s. a ton less; but by reason of the fall in the price of silver, the price in Japan had risen from $28 to $40. The Consul added that it was no wonder that the native manufacture of iron pipes was being pushed amain. There was the whole matter in a nutshell. In 1873 four ounces of silver bought £1 worth of English manufactures. Now, eight or nine ounces were required to buy the same amount. The cotton industry was increasing by leaps and bounds in Japan, and that country and China and Mexico were setting up other manufactures merely in consequence of the fall of silver. No question could be more important for the working-man, than this of the transfer of the industries in which he had so long been engaged to other countries. There would soon be in the hands of hon. Members three essays dealing with this subject, in connection with which he had offered a prize. One was written by Mr. Jameson, the Consul General at Shanghai; another by Mr. Box, a silk trader in Yokohama; and a third by Mr. Croal, a London authority on the Eastern trade. He hoped hon. Members would take the trouble to read these papers, which were very short, and written by men well acquainted with the subject.
§ MR. WHITELEY (Stockport)
said, that he never heard the contentions of the Bimetallists so caricatured as they were in the speech of the right hon. Member for the Ormskirk Division (Mr. Forwood). The right hon. Gentleman had endeavoured to show that, notwithstanding thousands of workmen were out of employment, the industries of the country were never more prosperous. He said, that a large increase had taken place in the cotton trade in recent years. Undoubtedly that was the case; but to make good the right hon. Gentleman's argument he must show that that increase would not have been doubled had Bimetallism obtained from 1873 to the present time. The development in the cotton trade previous to 1873 was out of all proportion to that which had taken place since. Since 1873 the shipments of cotton goods had increased by 37 per cent., but in the ten years previously they increased to the extent of 179 per cent., or six times the former rate of progression. The brochure he suggested—so that hon. 1631 Members might pick up the first principles of Bimetallism—would touch upon the fact that Bimetallism existed prior to 1873. The rates between gold and silver only developed fractionally, although the fluctuations in the output were more than had ever before occurred in the world's history. The work would deal with the year 1873 as the highwater mark of prosperity with many of the industries of this country. As a matter of fact the population of this country was now 9 millions more than in 1873, but notwithstanding this increase the exports of British products had decreased by 40 millions since that time. It was perfectly true that Bimetallism broke down in 1873 owing to the demonetisation of silver by Germany and other countries. But that was not a proof of its inherent weakness. It was due to the fact that the area of the Latin Union States was too small to absorb all the silver, which, metaphorically speaking, was thrown at their heads by the countries of the world. The brochure would recite the fact that the Currency Commission, which was composed of the most eminent authorities this country could produce, issued a dual report signed by the whole of the Members, Monometallists and Bimetallists, in which they stated that, notwithstanding the fluctuations upon which he had touched, the system in force previous to 1873 kept the ratio between silver and gold at 15½ to one. Bimetallists did not wish to revert to the old ratio of 15½ to one. They did not pin their faith to any ratio whatever. Undoubtedly, that would be fixed after taking into consideration the accumulated stocks of precious metals existing in the world together with the prospective supply for many years to come. It must never be forgotten—and this point was often passed over—that although undoubtedly the relative value of precious metals was fixed by supply and demand, still the very small amount of the supply of precious metals which annually found its ultimate resting-place in the coinage, was so small compared with the accumulated stocks of money and precious metals in the world, that, as a matter of fact, the supply regulated the demand and not the demand the supply. As a commercial man, he wanted to deal with the argument that 1632 Bimetallists wanted to raise prices They were often taunted with the suggestion that they wanted to give a fictitious value to silver and commodities. They did not want to do anything of the kind. Monometallists wanted to continue the system under which a fictitious value was given to gold, and a fictitiously low value given to silver. Bimetallists argued that it was the abnormal demand for gold for many years on the part of many of the leading nations of the world that had given to gold the enhanced value that existed now. Would Bimetallism raise prices, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer had suggested? No doubt it would raise prices somewhat, but he contended it would not raise them to the extent many expected. No doubt there were many commodities similar to cotton and wheat, of which we got the largest amount from gold-using countries, and which were depressed in value owing to the abnormal supply of them. But were excessively low prices desirable? The Chancellor of the Exchequer said yes, because wages had not fallen proportionately to value. Bimetallists could not deny that. In the coal, iron, and cotton industries, wages had fallen. In almost all the industries of the country there had been a fall in wages, but it had not been commensurate with the fall in prices. The Chancellor of the Exchequer must remember that wages were largely governed by the Trades Unions of this country. He would not say a word against them as he had been a strong supporter of and believer in them. But even Trades Unionists would have to bow the knee to economic forces like the laws of supply and demand, and if Trades Unionists were able to maintain wages at the present time at a rate which was not justified by the value of the products of a trade, or the prosperity of a trade, undoubtedly work would be less. He had been very much struck by the remark of a leader of the operatives in Lancashire, who had said that if the cotton trade remained in its present condition, and if wages did not come down, work would be less. Undoubtedly one of these alternatives must take place. Their contention was that Bimetallism might raise prices somewhat, but at any rate it would arrest the fall which must inevitably take place in the rate of 1633 wages. There was an old adage that with low prices they never enjoyed prosperity, and cheapness was a comparative quality. He argued that it was better to have high wages and be able to purchase what you want, than to have wages reduced. To give a concrete case in the cotton trade; a mill of an ordinary size in Lancashire, with 35,000 spindles for the looms, would cost about £50,000 to build, stock, and work. Twenty years ago the yearly out-turn would have been £80,000; now, owing to the fall in prices, it would be £40,000. The interest and depreciation which had been 20 years ago £4,000, wages for workpeople £16,000, rates, water, &c., £450, carriage £1,250, selling and warehouse expenses £1,200, and salaries and fixed expenses £300, and that was on a yearly out-turn of £80,000. That was only 28 percent., but at the present time the expenses would be something like 51 per cent. of the turn-out. What business in the country could stand such an increase in the fixed expenses? Sometimes it was argued that these fixed expenses and wages ought to be reduced in accordance with the fall in the value of our production, but that was impossible in the first instance, and were it possible it would not, undoubtedly, be desirable at present. This was a state of things which prevailed in almost all the trades in the United Kingdom, and certainly in all the textile trades. It had been proved up to the hilt that agriculture was in a ruinous condition. Sir.J. Caird had estimated that in 1885 the spending power of the agricultural population was something like 42 millions less than it had been formerly, and at the present time the loss must be much greater. The British Empire was at present a larger owner of silver than any of the countries of the world. Why was it that the Bank Rate was so low, and that the interest on securities had dropped almost to a minimum amount? It was because at the present time there was no confidence in business. Money was being banked and hoarded which should be circulated throughout the country and used in the development of trade. He did not agree, with the argument that, gold was only an artificial token. In the cotton trade there was at the present time a transference of the trade from this country with its gold 1634 basis to the silver-using countries of the East. Was the House prepared to see all our textile trades and agriculture ruined? If so they should continue in their present course. As a consequence of the present stagnation, they were already obliged to appoint Special Committees to deal with the growing want of employment.
§ MR. LEONARD COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
said, that as the Chancellor of the Exchequer had accepted the Resolution before the House. The Debate therefore became to some extent of an academic character. The right hon. Gentleman had assented to the Resolution, and he could not possibly escape the significance of that assent. At the same time, he qualified his acceptance of it with many remarks indicating his determined adhesion to the creed of monometalism, and he entered into a laboured argument against any proposals that might operate in another direction. The course, therefore, as expressed by him, would be, to leave the matter in a one-sided state, and it was necessary that something should be added, if only by way of demurrer, to the position taken by the right hon. Gentleman. He had said that the right hon. Gentleman had accepted the Resolution, yet he did not seem to like it. He certainly concealed his pleasure at it.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I beg my right hon. Friend's pardon. It is a Bimetallic Resolution with the Bimetallism taken out.
§ MR. LEONARD COURTNEY
said, he did not think the German Chancellor liked the result of the discussion in the Reichstag, and he also qualified his submission to the vote of that body; but the Reichstag was too much for him, and in the end the German Parliament expressed a very strong opinion as to doing something in the direction of Bimetallism. The German Chancellor, however, safeguarded himself with regard to the currency of Germany; but they saw in Germany, as in England and in other countries, that public opinion, which, however, he granted might be entirely mistaken, uneducated, and perverse, was getting the better for the time being of the persons who were responsible for the government of the, country. It was totally irrelevant to the fact to enter into the argument, however amusing, of the 1635 hon. Member for Woodbridge Division in regard to an inconvertible currency. He might also observe that, having regard to the significance of the course which had been taken, it was of less importance to dwell upon what happened two, three, or four years ago. A good many things things had happened since then. The present Resolution was now accepted, but he did not think it would have been accepted, colourless as it might be, two years ago. It would be found if another conference was held that the attitude of many persons and of many Powers had altered on the question, from whatever cause, since the last conference was held. Evidence was brought before them every day to show there had been a very considerable modification in popular opinion, erroneous as it might be, in respect to this question. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, having accepted the Resolution, would hardly be able to get out of his difficulties. For what was the first proposition in that Resolution? It was—That this House regards with increasing apprehension the constant fluctuations and the growing divergence in the relative value of gold and silver.In presence of that apprehension—that increasing apprehension—they must agree in admitting the desirability of some means of preventing that divergence. If they lamented and deplored the fact of these two metals in their values getting separated from one another, surely they must be agreed in the desirability of bringing them together again and preventing their further divergence. That was Bimetallism. They were all agreed, whatever their opinions as to the action that should be taken, in recognising the patent fact that the rupture began in 1873. If they took the price of silver and gold, or gold and silver, for it was the same thing, they would find that for the whole of the century up to 1873 the price of silver was 60d. an ounce, with a variation never reaching 2d. up or down. The metal, which up to that time had been stationary, had now fallen down to 27d. and 28d. If they agreed that something should be done to prevent the divergence going further, the step could 1636 not be retraced. They were agreed, then, not merely that the divergence arose in 1873, but that it was caused by the Bimetallic tie being then broken. In proof of this he could produce excellent authority. Lord Farrer, as strong a Monometallist as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, said he could not deny that it arose in 1873, and was in consequence of the rupture that took place then. Was there any possible explanation of the stability before 1873 as contrasted with the instability afterwards, except the disappearance of this one element? It might be suggested that up to 1873 there had been very little variation in the production of gold and silver, and that, therefore, no cause had arisen to change the relative value of the two metals. Most of them were old enough to remember the commencement of the Californian and Australian discoveries. Gold had been produced in much less quantity than silver in respect of absolute value; but with these discoveries the ratio changed, and instead of being one-fifth it became five times as much. There was absolute dislocation. Gold became the commodity that was produced with great facility; silver relatively fell off. In spite of that experience, throughout the years from 1846 to 1873 the value of gold in relation to silver and of silver in relation to gold remained the same. The experience was one to try a theory and a law to the utmost. The change created by the recent production of silver was nothing compared with the change caused by the production of gold to which he had referred, and yet that change was absolutely impotent to produce any difference in the relative value of gold and silver. He hoped he might carry the Chancellor of the Exchequer with him so far as to say that they would be well pleased if what had been the case before 1873 could have remained the case up to to-day—that, whatever the cause of the rupture might have been, they wished that cause had not arisen, and that they would like to go back to what happened before, so as to ensure some stability and some, common measure which should be the accepted rule by the whole commercial, industrial and 1637 financial world in measurement of the value of things. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, he believed, had as sincere a desire for peace and as great a wish to keep on the best relations with other countries as he (Mr. Courtney) had, rejected the notion of an international measure of value in language which, on reflection, he would be slow to maintain. The right hon. Gentleman was in favour of isolation; he wanted a system peculiar to this country; he did not wish to be entangled in conventions. By that he meant that he did not wish this country to enter into relations with the other countries of the world which would bind us, in however small a measure, with the bonds of perpetual peace. For his part he gloried in the establishment of an international measure of value which would tie nations more closely together. This divergence between gold and silver was producing great economic harm. Take the case of our relations with silver-using countries. Here we had a gold standard; there they had a silver standard; and the two standards were moving in different directions. In consequence of the change and of gold having been preferred in many countries where it had not been before an exclusive object of desire, that metal had become more sought after, and silver had become less sought after—quite apart from the changes which had happened owing to what might be called the natural conditions of production—and the one had become dearer and the other cheaper. The consequence was, that in all industries where there happened to be competition, between a gold-using country and a silver-using country the competition was aggravated and made sharper by these changes. He did not ignore those great conditions of competition which had affected, and must affect very materially, the position of this country in the industrial rivalry of the world. When he saw the circle of our industrial competition being reduced in its circumference, and our effective contest with the rest of the world being brought within narrower limits, from causes absolutely simple and natural and 1638 independent of law, he confessed he sometimes felt a very severe anxiety as to the future of this country. But this rupture of which they had spoken and the consequences which had flowed from it were aggravating that competition. There was a friction which could not be easily got over in industrial communities in bringing the relations of industrial life into harmony with the new state of things; and if they had a silver standard in one country and silver getting cheaper, and a gold standard in another country and gold getting dearer, it was with difficulty that they brought the industrial relations within each country under the correcting influences which in the process of time no doubt would operate so as to correct these two differences of standard. If they did not alter the standard matters might come right after a generation, but it was possible that before that time had elapsed our industries would have gone altogether, and in the meantime the country would be suffering from a competition which would not be the competition arising from the better conditions of production elsewhere. Then, again, there was another question. Gold was becoming dearer in consequence of this increased demand for it from year to year, and there was a constant increase in the value of money and in the pressure of debts as compared with the value of things. The effect of the change was to make mortgages heavier whilst the things mortgaged declined, and to make charges more onerous. The consequence was a continual grating of the industrial machine. Every process was made more and more scant and more and more contracted when a man knew that he was going to produce something which would not bring him back as much next week as he could have got for it last month. Our industries were suffering severely from the continued hardening and deepening of the standard at home. Not only had we to face international difficulties, but we had difficulties at home in connection with this matter, as was always the case when things were getting cheaper and money was becoming dearer. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had said to-night what he had said on a 1639 former occasion about high prices. But high prices did not mean high wages. We had had high prices with low wages and high prices with high wages. In 1872 and 1873 there were periods of high prices and high wages therewith. Perhaps he should enter into a too contentious matter if he went back to the experiences of Europe in the sixteenth century, when there were great changes in prices, which went up highly, and when, as he believed, the industrial condition of the people was immensely improved; but we had nothing left after that time but misery and a survival of the worst things which occurred when the industrial community was at its lowest. Coming to a later time, when the Australian and Californian gold discoveries were very operative they produced a considerable rise in prices. Those were years of prosperity. There were black times in them, no doubt; but, on the whole, there were years of great and growing industries, not because prices rose, but because the conditions of production were such as to encourage the manufacturer to go into larger spheres of labour. That was a period of industrial encouragement and activity. They should have to alter in some way the organisation of the conference as far as this country was concerned. It would scarcely do again to send gentlemen to speak against one another. They must have some expression of the national mind. They must have some different instructions given to them, and his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed to recognise that, although no argument would convince him, a confirmed Monometallist. They must have some liberty, some encouragement to keep their minds open, not to put down their foot too strongly, but to keep themselves in constant communication with those at home. He should only say one word in conclusion. He could assure his right hon. Friend that he was jealous of any action which would give any advantage to any person or set of persons who attempted to establish a corner in silver. He looked at this 1640 matter as one affecting the whole industrial organisation of the nation—nay, more, as affecting the industrial organisation of the world—not touching this country alone. He wanted to realise something greater than a national benefit. He wanted to realise some great measure of value which would be another link binding nations together in an industrial and civil union.
§ *SIR FRANCIS H. EVANS (Southampton)
thought they should be extremely careful before they adopted any suggestion which would affect the good credit they had built up. In suggesting that it was Bimetallism that saved us from difficulties between 1846 and 1873, the right hon. Gentleman, was quite mistaken. The growth of our trade in those years was due to the terrible destruction of war. First we had the destructive war in the Crimea; and it was followed, as all wars are, by feverish activity. Then there was the Civil War in America, and that was followed by unequalled feverish activity all over the States. Steel and iron went up from £6 to £15 and,£16 a ton; wages were high; everything was high; and the natural result ensued—there was universal collapse in America. The Bimetallic movement was created in and drew its strength from the United States. If you left Mexico with $3 and entered the United States you got $2 for the three, although the Mexican dollar was of greater intrinsic value than the United States dollar. It was impossible for any country to go on from year to year keeping its silver at that unreal value without having to pay the bill. A demand was made for a ratio of about 15½ to one; if this were established England would become a dumping ground for silver and the gold would go away. The United States owing an immense debt to this country in sterling, would pay in silver instead of gold. Mexico was prosperous because it had so little sterling indebtedness. The trouble of other countries was due to their debts in sterling. That was the case of India. 1641 It was the common trouble of people who could not pay their debts. He should like to see any Member of the House addressing meetings at Johannesburg and advising the people there to adopt a double standard; if the right hon. Member for Bodmin did it he would come back a wiser and perhaps a sadder man. The supporters of Bimetal1ism were those who wanted to pay their debts at less than their full value; it was that desire which lay at the bottom of the agitation. Much of our depression, would remain so long as competition was assailed by the lower cost of labour in other countries. He hoped this country would never lower its credit merely to meet a temporary depression.
§ *SIR G. CHESNEY (Oxford)
said, the House was to be congratulated on the advance which this question had made in the last year or two. The movement had had to encounter all the old weapons with which erroneous positions had been defended in the past. Only a few years ago he recollected that in a certain Society of repute—the Political Economy Club—a Society for the discussion of economic doctrine, of the members of that Society he believed he was the only member who professed the doctrine of Bimetallism. He could also remember a discussion at that time wherein a gentleman of considerable standing in the monetary world propounded three remedies for certain financial difficulties under which India at that time was labouring, and he proceeded to state two of those remedies. Then the speaker stopped, and one of the listeners observed to him; "You have not told us what your third remedy is." The speaker replied: "I really forget what my third remedy was. Oh yes, I recollect, it was Bimetallism!" whereupon the company laughed. This was the way in which the doctrine of Bimetallism was received 16 or 17 years ago. On returning to that institution after the lapse of some years passed abroad he found that almost the whole of the members had 1642 been converted to the doctrine of Bimetallism, only one or two Monometallists remained. He called the attention of the House to this remarkable circumstance, that the younger generation of economists, the writers and thinkers on this class of questions, were one and all Bimetallists. He might, indeed, say that the belief was almost universal; there were, of course, one or two exceptions which were just sufficient to accentuate the importance of the change which had passed over public opinion. It was only natural that the older professors of any doctrine, when they found that the world which had been accustomed to look to them for their opinions was passing over them and following the opinions of younger men, should still maintain with a certain degree of obstinacy the exploded opinions which they still held. He asserted that at the present time the thinking world was divided into two classes—the persons who understood the subject and the persons who did not. The persons who understood the subject were all Bimetallists; and, what was still more satisfactory, all the persons who did not understand it were all coming over to the Bimetallic theory. The people with little leisure or opportunity to master such subjects naturally took their opinions from those who were well qualified to speak with authority. They were not, perhaps, able to follow the proof that the earth revolved round the sun, and that it was not the sun that revolved round the earth; but when it was observed that the mathematicians and physicists were satisfied on this point, the rest of the world were prepared to accept the fact as certain. So it was with Bimetallism. The moneyed classes, the bankers, and others were all coming round to the Bimetallic theory, and were giving the greatest support to it. He would defy anyone to show in the literature now published against Bimetallism anything that deserved serious reply. No doubt hon. Members might have seen treatises at 1643 different times, say, to establish the squaring of the circle. If any hon. Member had an opportunity of reading those eccentricities of literature he would find that the author invariably started by assuming the point he had to prove, and then triumphantly proceeded to his conclusion. It was the same with all the treatises on Monometallism. The other day he saw in a leading magazine an article by a gentleman of considerable weight and authority on the subject. In the most artless and ingenuous manner this gentleman assumed in the very first paragraph the theory which he set out to establish; and then he passed on to apply it. There were also, naturally, among those who would not follow a subject occasional instances of persons who would not take the trouble to inquire into it, and who preferred to adhere to their old views. When one heard the right hon. Member for Midlothian tell the House in a debate not long ago that he adhered to Monometallism because the value of gold never altered its standard, one could only regret that the right hon. Gentleman had not been able to spare time to master the elementary principle of the question. So, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer told the House that gold was a very good thing for some countries and silver for other countries, that each should be satisfied with its own currency, and that he would have no share in putting forward currency nostrums, one was reminded of a character in the well-known play of La Malade imaginaire of Molière. Hon. Members would recollect that in that play there was a certain Monsieur Diafoirus, who introduced his son, Dr. Thomas Diafoirus, as a suitor for the heroine. The father said:—What I particularly admire in my son Thomas—in which he resembles me—is that he is blindly devoted to the prejudices of our forefathers, and nothing would induce him to listen to the reason or the proofs of such dogmas as the, pretended theory of the circulation of the blood, or stuff of that kind.1644 When they heard the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer say he would have nothing to do with Bimetallic experiments, it might be supposed that he too was blindly attached to the opinions of his forefathers; but as Dr. Diafoirus no doubt became eventually a convert to the theory of the circulation of the blood, so he hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would become a convert to Bimetallism, and give the great benefit of his powers and his wit to advance that most useful change. He thought the prospects of Bimetallism were never better than they were at the present time, and he was convinced that when it came, the greatest possible benefit would result to the people of this country. All other questions of the Franchise and so forth were insignificant when compared with this great question of putting the currency of the world on a sound basis. There was one consideration he desired to offer. It was sometimes said, and there was some truth in it, that if Bimetallism was so good a thing for England, which had a gold standard, how could it be a good thing for India, which had a silver standard. Undoubtedly the country which suffered most from the present state of things was England, and certainly what England had lost India had in one way gained. And if India were self-contained and as independent of other states as China, then it might be left to go its own ways with all the advantages of the silver standard; but that was not the position. India was hampered and bound, and her Government was bound, by her enormous gold debt, which was so enormously enhanced by having to be paid in silver. India, moreover, was a very poor country and in want of capital. If there was one thing India required at the present time it was a further extension of her railways, but so long as the question of the currency remained unsettled it was hope- 1645 less to think that English capital would be forthcoming. Perhaps the worst result the depression in her currency was the uncertainty of the ratio from day to day, which at the present time was completely paralysing trade. While things remained as they were it could not be otherwise than that the financial position and trade of India should be thrown into confusion. He thought they might all regard the Resolution which had been agreed to that night with hopefulness and satisfaction, as the first step towards this great and much needed reform.
§ *SIR S. MONTAGU (Tower Hamlets, Whitechapel)
desired to say a few words on this currency question, in which he had always taken a deep interest. He was in favour of the full use of silver united with gold long before the awkward title of Bimetallism was invented. He had always thought that the world's commerce could not be conducted on a sound and profitable basis supported by one of those metals only, or even by both metals unless tied together. Our former commercial prosperity, which had progressed by leaps and bounds, had been succeeded by a halting unsteadiness, through which our trade was deteriorating and our traders degenerating into speculators. Silver was absolutely necessary as a circulating medium, and could not be conveniently replaced by any other metal or by bank notes. Therefore, every nation was interested in maintaining its gold value. Our Empire contained a greater quantity of silver than any other country. Silver was largely produced in our Australian Colonies, therefore we should welcome any reasonable plan for rendering it a stable and realisable asset. Was that the case now in India or elsewhere? He thought not. Other Powers held large quantities of unsaleable silver against which bank notes were circulating to an enormous extent. It might be said that that was a danger with which we had no concern—let other countries take up silver or discard it, just as they 1646 pleased, we were devoted to gold, and would have nothing to do with the inferior metal. Was that good policy? Was it not the fact that we were largely interested in every commercial country, and if any great difficulty occurred, say in the United States, we had a reflex action at home. If our Government thought that the restoration of Bimetallism or the rehabilitation of silver by other means would do no good, he would ask them this question, had not the suspension of Bimetallism been an unmitigated evil? Was not every country the worse for the depreciation of silver? The United States and Mexico were notable examples. Was India better off? Her export trade had been stimulated, and even gold in large quantities had been exported. But what was her real financial position? It was most unsatisfactory. The burden of interest on her gold debts and the burden of her home charges had nearly doubled. Hence the imposition of Import Duties, which, although paid mainly by the people of India, injured trade unquestionably. The Secretary of State for India told the House last Thursday that the decline in the value of the rupee from 14d. to 13d entailed a loss of Rx.2,500,000. Had the Indian Mints not been, closed and a Duty imposed on silver, what would be the present position? The price of silver was now 27½d. equivalent to 10½d. per rupee, and consequently the further loss to India would have been 2½d. per rupee, or over Rx.7,000,000. Of course, if the recent policy were reversed, silver might rise somewhat, but there are large stocks of uncoined silver in India and elsewhere; we might safely estimate the further loss at Rx.5,000,0000 or 6,000,000. The action of the Indian do Government was a wise precaution and was justified by the result. We could now offer a tangible concession to other Powers should they desire to rehabilitate silver. We could offer in certain circumstances to re-open the Indian Mints and to take off the Import Duty on 1647 silver. The other Import Duties would also, of course, be abolished in conse-quence of the improved value of the rupee. He wished the Government would display a little real sympathy with currency troubles and the efforts to find a remedy. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had certainly consented to send representatives to an International Conference, and so far so good. But he had opposed international Bimetallism as strongly as ever, and asked whether an international agreement could be maintained, in case of a great war. The right hon. Gentleman evidently forgot that no great war was ever waged in Europe, excepting when Bimetallism was in force, and that the system was not disturbed. The right hon. Gentleman also quoted an opinion, and endorsed it, that if Bimetallism were established in this country people would rush and withdraw their deposits while they could get gold. The idea was ridiculous. What would be the practical process? A man would go to his banker and ask for his balance. The banker might pay him in gold or bank-notes, in which case he could get gold from the Bank of England. But what would he do with it. He would not keep it in his house for long, and he would return it to the bank. There were evidently exaggerations on both sides of this very difficult question, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer exaggerated the difficulties of an international agreement. If all great nations had an interest in silver, and were willing to co-operate in maintaining its gold value, difficulties would soon disappear. But something short of Bimetallism in this country might be carried out internationally—say, the control and absorption of the silver production of the world. But if Bimetallism pure and simple, at a reasonable ratio, were agreed upon internationally, no difference in our circulation would be perceived. Gold would be just as plentiful, and would be obtainable with even greater facility than now, 1648 because it would have no preference anywhere, and would not be hoarded in State banks. However, they could not expect to convert the Chancellor of the Exchequer to Bimetallism in one or two nights, but they might hope that he would favour its adoption elsewhere. Unfortunately, Bimetallism was like a nauseous medicine or mineral water; we were rather prone to recommend it to others, remaining total abstainers ourselves. He would now venture to give a word of warning to his fellow-Bimetallists. It ought not to be assumed that Bimetallism was the panacea for all the evils affecting agriculture and commerce. If our hopes were realised and the rupee maintained at 1s. 4d., it would not materially affect the price of wheat. That, as well as all other produce, was affected by over-production, facilities of transport, and other causes besides the depreciation of silver. If the rupee advanced from 13d. to 16d., the difference would be about 22½ per cent., or 4s. 6d. per quarter on wheat. Against that possible advance they must set the results of increasing facilities of transport by land and sea. There were supplies from other countries not affected by silver. His hon. Friend the Member for the Woodbridge Division, in his able speech on the Address, mentioned Argentina as a silver-using country, where agriculture was in a very prosperous condition. The hon. Member made a very natural mistake, as Argentina had a silvery sound; but the facts were, that the Argentine Republic had a gold currency, and now had paper worth less than 30 per cent. of its former gold value. He mentioned this as an illustration of what he meant by exaggeration as to the effect of Bimetallism on wheat-producing countries. An inflated paper currency had the same effect as depreciated silver in stimulating exports and cheapening the gold price of wheat. Yet no one would advise an international agreement in favour of inconvertible paper. The crux of the evil lay in this, that, 1649 with a depreciated currency, wages, rent, and other expenses were reduced artificially in their gold equivalent. Therefore, low-priced silver in India, paper in Argentina, and Mexican silver stimulated exports and depressed prices in this country. If he thought that Bimetallism would appreciably raise the price of bread he would never advocate its adoption. He did not believe that it would have that effect. He was as much in favour of low prices for the necessaries of life as the Chancellor of Exchequer; but there was a great difference between low prices and declining prices. Low prices with steadiness were better for trade than higher prices with unsteadiness. It was transition downwards which destroyed confidence and weakened enterprise. What he believed would result from an assured gold value for silver would be restored confidence for traders, commerce would greatly improve, enterprise in silver-using countries would largely increase, our factories and workshops would be full of activity, the unemployed would be a vanishing quantity, and Her Majesty's Government would never regret helping forward this good work; the rehabilitation of silver by international agreement.
§ MR. J. SCOTT-MONTAGU (Hants, New Forest)
reminded the House that England had lent its gold to nations all over the world, enabling them by that means to build railways in order to develop their resources. The outcome of that was, that they had to pay interest on their gold loans to England by one particular process. They were unable to pay in their own currency, silver, which we would not accept. Therefore they had to pay by means of the excess of their exports over their imports. For instance, Argentina at the present moment owed to England an enormous gold debt, the interest on which she was unable to pay. The result was that she had to establish prohibitive Import Duties on the products 1650 we would naturally send her from this country, and thereby set up an artificial balance of trade in her favour, in order to pay the interest on her gold debt on this side. That seemed to controvert the argument that Bimetallism was necessarily adverse to Free Trade. He maintained, on the other hand, that Monometallism was most distinctly adverse to Free Trade. Some gentlemen had said that it was impossible to establish a price at which a metal could be coined by law; but was it not the fact that, at the present moment, if one took one ounce or a dozen ounces of gold to the Mint, he got £3 17s. l0½d. for each ounce of gold coined, and no amount of gold which was produced, or which might be produced in future ages, could affect the price that the Mint was willing to give for every ounce of gold. On the other hand, silver was in a totally different position. Last year, owing to the fall in silver, the Mint in this country was able to make a profit of £343,000 as the seignorage on silver, He submitted that as Bimetallists, they had a right to demand equal treatment for the two metals in this regard. The whole question should be looked at not from the point of view of England by itself, but from our position as a great Eastern Empire that was far and away, in point of trade, the largest in Asia. There was another point of view. England was not essentially a producing country, whereas the silver countries of the world were. All great wheat fields of the world were on a silver basis. Broadly, it might be said the whole of South America was on a silver basis, while in the United States at the present moment the tendency of events was towards the rehabilitation of silver. He congratulated the Chancellor of the Exchequer, not only on the political wisdom, but on the real sense he had shown in accepting the Motion of the hon. Member for the Woodbridge Division. It showed that the right hon. Gentleman admitted that there were two 1651 sides to the question, and in agreeing to the motion he was really doing this country a good turn, and distinctly recognising the strength of the movement in favour of Bimetallism, which, they hoped, would prove the means of leading to the eventual rehabilitation of silver.
§ MR. T. C. T. WARNER (Somerset, N.)
desired to have an opportunity of trying to refute one statement made, not only by the last speaker, but also by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin, and which was that this resolution implied Bimetallism. They all regretted the evils which existed in consequence of the fluctuations in the value of silver, and the inconvenience thereby caused in trade, but that was quite a different thing from accepting the bimetallic cure. Many of them believed that if Bimetallism were accepted it would bring a great deal of distress and trouble upon the countries that accepted it, and, though it might possibly cure the evils of the fluctuations in the value of silver, it ought not to be adopted until its advocates had been; able to prove that it would not do more harm than good. Bimetallists by making a law in this country would not be able to fix the value of silver. It had not been, established in any way that any law would actually control the value of a thing. He must protest against the idea that advocating an inquiry, or anything of the kind, into this subject implied an absolute pledge to Bimetallism.
§ MR. H. S. FOSTER (Suffolk, Lowestoft)
congratulated the Mover and Seconder of the Resolution upon the great advance that had been made in the cause they advocated. A great advance, too, had been made in regard to the attitude of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had that night for the first time treated the subject of Bimetallism with considerable respect. They were told in the Debate upon 1652 Agricultural Distress the other day by the Chairman of the Agricultural Commission, that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer came to deal with the question of Bimetallism he would deal with it in his customary manner; and at that statement there was a great deal of laughter in the House. He was glad the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not deal with the question in his customary manner upon that occasion. He thought the Member for the Woodbridge Division had exercised a wise discretion in the framing of the Resolution, because by means of it he had undoubtedly, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin had shown, committed the House as a whole to that for which Bimetallists had been contending, namely, that great evils had been produced by divorcing gold and silver, and that some means ought to be taken to bring them together again. He should like to call the attention of the House to one statement only with reference to the claim made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the prosperity of the country had been due to the gold standard. That was a fallacy which, he believed, was taught in all their schools and universities for many years past, and upon which, no doubt, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was brought up. Lord Beaconsfield foresaw what was likely to happen in this country in consequence of the holding of that fallacy, for, addressing the Glasgow merchants in 1873 he said:—It is the greatest delusion in the world to attribute the commercial preponderance and prosperity of England to our having; a gold standard. Our gold standard is not the cause, but the consequence of our commercial prosperity.He (Mr. Foster) congratulated the Members of the House who were supporters of Bimetallism upon the able, clear, and masterly speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin. If that speech was distinguished for one thing more than another it was 1653 that it was couched in such popular language that it could be understood by the people. He believed agriculture had more to look for from a restoration of the currency to the position it stood in 1873 than to any other remedies he had yet heard of, and he was glad a bridge had been found by which the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government could retire from the untenable position they took up last year and the year before. He hoped that whenever the Conference assembled—as assemble it undoubtedly would—the instructions which would be given either by this Government, or some other Government less prejudiced against inquiring into the question, would result in the Conference meeting with free and open minds.
§ *MR. T. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
did not think thoroughgoing advocates of Bimetallism would be altogether satisfied with the way in which the principle had been put before the House in the last few moments. For instance, one hon. Member opposite denounced Monometallism as unfriendly to Free Trade, but surely that was a bold proposition to be made in this Free Trade country. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said, that it was only those who knew nothing of the subject that were Bimetallists. Then the hon. Member for Whitechapel said he would not support Bimetallism if he thought it would raise prices; but all through the Debate the reason given in favour of Bimetallism was that it would raise prices. He did not think the House should be carried away by the fervid eloquence of the hon. Member for Bodmin. After all, the speech consisted of two propositions. The right hon. Gentleman, alluding to the undoubted depression of agriculture, said the machine was working badly, the expenses were great, and the produce was getting less each month. The right hon. Gentleman did not say a word to show that Bimetallism would remedy this state of things in any 1654 way; his whole argument was uncandid. Anybody who looked at the matter would see there would have to be a far more thorough change in the system of agriculture than was hinted at by the right hon. Gentleman. The second proposition was that the country would not lose anything by adopting a dual standard of money. That was a very bold proposition to make when our system had been opposed to that principle for nearly three-fourths of a century. The hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate said the value of commodities was "proportionate to the size of the heaps of gold in the country." The value of commodities was not proportionate to the heaps of gold at all; it was proportionate entirely to the demand for those commodities. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford said that when "silver was dethroned all things fell." That was a grand sentence, but it was not correct. All things did not fall. It was notorious that wages had not fallen. The general proposition was that the depreciation in the value of silver had caused low prices. He denied it, as he had already said low prices were due to something entirely different from that. He happened to be interested in a small way with an important Indian trade—the tea trade. Was the effect of the present depreciation of the rupee to cause Indian tea to fall? Why, Indian tea was 40 per cent, dearer now than it was when the rupee was 20 or 30 per cent, more valuable. That proved that the price of the commodity did not depend on the value of the rupee, but on the demand for the commodity in proportion to its supply. Again, two or three years ago, when agriculture was in as depressed a condition as it was now, the price of hay in England doubled and trebled, because there was not as much of the commodity in the country as was wanted. When there, was a large demand for a commodity, the price of the commodity 1655 would go up, and nothing else would put it up. This talk about the currency led us to the wrong track. But supposing the low prices were caused by the fall in silver, he contended that a fall in prices was not necessarily an evil in any branch of trade. Low prices increased demand and widened the market, as well as conferred great benefits on the community. A good deal had been said about Indian finance, but the cause of India's financial embarrassments were to be sought, not in the fall of the rupee, but in extravagances of Administration and in frontier wars; and the true remedy was to be found in economy. A complaint was also made on behalf of the Indian Civil Servants who returned to this country, that their salaries were calculated on the rupee, which had much depreciated. But even hon. Gentlemen who put forward that argument admitted that the gold the Civil Servants got for the rupee had doubled in value. Therefore, the doubling of the purchasing power of the gold was more than equal to the fall in the value of the rupee. In. conclusion, he thanked the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the guarded way in which he had granted the concession to the Bimetallists.
§ Motion agreed to.