§ On the Motion that Mr. Speaker do leave the Chair,
§ COLONEL C. E. HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)
rose to move—That, whereas in the opinion of this House, the reduction both at home and abroad of former markets for British commodities by the unfair operation of hostile tariffs and bounties, and the unrestricted importation of the products of competing labour, working under entirely different conditions from those imposed by law and custom in the United Kingdom, is largely answerable for the numbers of unemployed and the diminished earnings of the people in manufacture, agriculture, and shipping, it is the duty of the Government to adopt without delay such measures as may ensure the defence of British industrial interests.He said that want of employment in many trades and industries, as revealed by the evidence of the Select Committee now investigating the subject, and by 1211 everyone's personal observation, coupled with the depression in manufactures, agriculture, and shipping, was one of the most serious problems of the time. He was therefore surprised to see the Government Benches empty, and still more surprised to see that some of the few occupants of the Treasury Bench were already beginning to move out of the House. He might be wrong in the views he held, but he submitted that the present condition of affairs demanded the consideration, at least for a few hours, of the Legislature of the country. The fact that a large number of his colleagues on the Opposition side sacrificed all their private engagements in order to be present at the Debate showed that they at all events considered the subject to be one of the most important and serious that could possibly be laid before the country at the present time. It would not be denied that there were at the present time great numbers of unemployed. To his mind it was the most serious national question this country had to grapple with. That was the view of the Conservative Conference at Newcastle last November. The Labour Gazette issued that evening proved it. In 84 Trades Unions only a fraction of the whole, no less than 30,624 members were reported on February 28th as being without work and wages, or 7.6 per cent. without the building trade, while in 22 Trades Unions 10 per cent. were unemployed. The Local Government Board reported that on a single day last month 406,381 persons had been supported by the poor rates, and no less than 158,783 in London and West Ham. Trades Unionists in work were being called upon to deduct 5, 10, and even 20 per cent. of their wages due to their wives and families on Saturday night for the support of unemployed comrades. Their generosity was magnificent and worthy of all praise, but the burden of it was grievous, and it was not business. The Reports of all the Labour correspondents of the Board of Trade were in the same sorrowful direction. Oldham said: "There is no improvement in the spinning trade." Bolton: "The cotton trade remains depressed." Burnley reported: "The weaving industry has shown a further decline." Manchester: "The tailoring 1212 trade continues bad throughout. Letterpress and lithographic printers and bookbinders report trade as bad." Barrow-in-Furness said: "The pig-iron trade does not improve." And so on all along the line. The wages of upwards of 300,000 operatives had been reduced since November 1, and further reductions in nearly every industry were in contemplation, while thousands of pauper aliens were being admitted to swell the competition for employment in the labour market. A Select Committee had, it was true, been appointed to consider the extent to which distress arising from want of employment prevailed, and what steps could be taken to meet the distress. It had issued an Interim Report, which declared that in 454 localities with a population of 10,000,000 there was exceptional distress due to the severe winter, and in 144 localities with 3,750,000 people there was—a want of employment owing to slackness of trade, depression of agriculture, or to particular local or industrial causes.That proved the case. He need not argue it further, although he must add that the information of the Committee came solely from official sources, and all knew that they were always optimistic, and thought everything was for the best in the best of worlds, with good pay absolutely secured regardless of the state of trade, and the prospect of a good pension. His information came rather from the ranks of the honest, but unfortunate, men who were feeling the pinch in their daily life. The disease was there. Public charity and private philanthropy night alleviate it and soothe the pain it produced; but what was wanted was permanent cure—a remedy which would strike at the root of the epidemic, and put an end to a state of affairs which, aggravated by a few degrees of frost, reduced half the population and three-fourths of the producers to penury. The Select Committee had no immediate recommendation to make. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had assured him on February 28 that the Committee was to go—into the whole question of the Unemployed, its condition, cause, and remedy;and, as he had suggested, into the shrinkage of markets for British productions. 1213 But the Chairman of the Committee had caused him to be informed that it had no such power. That was obviously so under the terms of the reference. The House must, therefore, take the matter into its own hands. That was the object of the Motion he should conclude by moving. It took note not only of the Unemployed, but also of—the diminished earnings of the people in manufacture, agriculture, and shipping.Was there an hon. Member who would deny the absolute truth of that proposition? The earnings of the people were not to be measured by the amount per piece, or per hour paid to this or that especially lucky or skilful man. The only test was the amount and regularity of employment. Intermittent work was bad individually and collectively. With the volume of trade so much reduced as in recent years, the employment of the great artisan population had vastly fallen. Sheffield, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Leeds, Bradford, and Newcastle knew that but too well. What were the facts? There were two markets for British production—the Home and the Foreign. The Home Market ought to be the best, for it gave a profit at both ends, and was ours of right. But he would consider the other in the first instance. They had definite figures concerning it, but not as to the Home Market. British exports, as shown in the Trade and Navigation Returns for February 1895, were declared by the talented statistician who prepared the clear monthly summary for The Morning Post to stand at a lower figure than in any single month for many years past. They amounted to only £15,900,000 compared to £17,600,000 for February 1894, and £21,000,000 in February 1890. The fall since then had been as "progressive" as the rise in metropolitan rates under the County Council. All classes of exports—coal, textiles, and metals—showed a decline. For the year ending February 28 last the exports of British and Irish produce amounted only to £214,500,000 compared to £263,500,000 in 1890. The imports of foreign produce, after deducting re-exports, amounted in the last 12 months to £344,000,000, or 129½ millions more than British exports. There was a decline, it was true, of 1214 £14,000,000 in the imports. But it was in just the most valuable part of the importation—namely, of raw material for manufacture. The increase was in articles we should produce ourselves, in articles of food, and in manufactures. Of foreign manufactures, no less than £69,326,000 worth had come in during the past twelve months, an increase of £6,000,000 worth in four years, and of nearly £20,000,000 in 15 years, while 30 years ago the importation of these manufactured goods was only nominal, for then we made for ourselves and the world. This importation, free of Factory Laws, of Trades Union custom, the production of sweaters and convicts, was free also of the rates and taxes imposed on all articles of home production, calculated at 12 per cent. of their value, and had entailed a loss in wages to the artisan population of considerably over £30,000,000, or sufficient to provide £100 a year to 300,000 families. He could go into much deeper detail. But it was not necessary and time did not allow. The condition of the cotton trade, the most important manufacturing industry, had very recently been the subject of comment in that House. It had been said to be deplorable. The Sheffield telegraph of last Saturday described "the outlook in the iron and steel trades as gloomy," and said—the worst point has not yet been reached. There is a lack of confidence in commercial circles which is assuming alarming proportions.The able writer of the "Political Notes" in The Times, said the other day, on undeniable authority—Owing largely to the crippled condition of the tin plate trade, one third of the operatives have during the past two or three years been permanently unemployed, and the remainder intermittently so. A large percentage have been reduced to a pitiful plight.Hon. Members representing agricultural constituencies on that side of the House had urged, and would urge, attention to the awful decline in that which should be our greatest industry. On an importation last year of agricultural products exceeding £142,000,000, The Field calculated that £108,000,000 represented articles of food which the soil and climate of this country were suited to produce. The value of the foreign butter, cheese, and eggs imported, had alone nearly 1215 been £23,000,000. The Central and Associated Chambers of Agriculture had obtained reliable data showing—(a), That the gross value of the whole land of the United Kingdom had fallen in the last fifteen years by £13,400,000; (b), That rents had been reduced from 5 to 75 per cent.; (c), That the wheat crop which averaged £31,000,000 from 1870 to 1875 had fallen in 1894 to £7,600,000, and the whole corn crops from £70,000,000 to £30,000,000, a loss of £40,000,000 a year to the occupiers of arable land in 20 years; (d), That the land under corn had been reduced by 2,000,000 acres since 1873, and 4,000,000 acres had been laid down to permanent pasture; lastly, That between 1871 and 1891 the number of agricultural labourers employed on the land had fallen 28 per cent., or by more than a fourth. Mr. Giffen estimated the loss in money value of the agricultural products of the United Kingdom between 1874 and 1891 as £76,000,000 a year, and Mr. Martin Sutton, whose authority would not be disputed had put the reduction of the breadstuffs, grown in the country for the food of the people, at 44 million bushels in 20 years. The Daily Telegraph truly asked—Is the British farmer to perish without an attempt being made to save him:One word only as to shipping. The loss of profit was but too well known to shipowners and sailors. The shares of many companies stood at a depreciation of from 50 to 75 per cent. The figures laid by Mr. John Williamson of Liverpool before the Chamber of Shipping the other day showed—that in 1894 all articles of export show decreases, and mainly such as are of greatest value and employ most labour in their production—namely: Yorkshire goods, worsted, woollens, flax and jute goods, iron, tinplates and machinery amounting, excluding coal, to a decline of 474,000 tons; showing a loss in linen and jute goods of 15,000 tons, in woollens and worsteds of 19,000 tons, in machinery of 11,000 tons, in iron, pigs and rails, &c., of 257,000 tons, in tinplates of 25,000 tons, of copper manufactures 9,000 tons.This proved that the decline was not merely a question of price. It was sometimes averred that the Merchandise Marks Act and other legislation to stop fraudulent trading, and therefore abhorred by foreign manufacturers and their agents in this country, many of 1216 whom tried to voice English opinion at the London Chamber of Commerce, had destroyed the transit trade. But, unfortunately for this argument, it had increased by £8,000,000 between 1886, the year prior to the Merchandise Marks Act, and 1892, and by 117,000 tons in 1894 over 1893. So much for the present condition of affairs. Permit him shortly to consider what was one of the principal causes. There might be some depression in other countries, but it was nothing like so acute as in England, and if it were two wrongs did not make a right. For instance French exports in January and February this year showed a gain of 60 million francs over 1894. Depression in other countries, even if it existed, did not prove us to be prosperous. The Chambers of Commerce of Sheffield, Birmingham, Bolton, Bristol, Cardiff, Newcastle, Nottingham, Stockton, North Staffordshire and other great manufacturing places, had this week in London declared these disastrous consequences to be due to the operation of hostile Customs tariffs. The superior voting power of such fashionable centres as Torquay, Tunbridge Wells, and a few comparatively unimportant places, had thought otherwise it was true. But the weight of industrial, if not mercantile opinion, had undoubtedly been in favour of the affirmative view, which the hon. Member for Islington, the President of the Chamber, had pronounced "a truism." The President of the Iron and Steel Institute had declared recently—We have lost the greater part of the Continental trade owing to protective tariffs. The gravity of the situation demands the closest consideration of commercial men and of statesmen. We may well look anxiously round to see where the markets for our produce and employment for our workmen and capital are to come fromIn an admirable book by Mr. Williamson, of Edinburgh, entitled, British Industries and Foreign Competition, and published by Simpkin, Marshall & Co., the opinion was quoted of Lord Beaconsfield as to the impossibility of fighting hostile tariffs with free imports, and comparing the struggle to that of prize-fighter and a galley-slave in irons. The truth of this had been absolutely proved by the progresssive and continuous growth of hostile tariffs directed mainly against British trade. He would 1217 show the House this by an illustration. Against those Manchester goods, a sample of which was on a card he produced, the French duty in 1860 was 12½ per cent., in 1882 16 per cent., in 1892 and now 42 per cent. Against those Leeds goods the duty in France was in 1860 10 per cent., in 1882 32½ per cent., in 1892 and now 50½ per cent. France snapped her fingers at British remonstrance, although we buy of her thrice as much as we sell—a nice balance of trade. The whole world, including British Colonies and dependencies, was in arms against our trade with foreign tariffs and foreign bounties, and we were trying to fight with free imports. It was hopeless. We had not the power of a mouse in commercial negotiation, for we had cast aside all our bargaining power. Why, even little Bulgaria the other day put up the duties against us, and we had not been able to do anything to restrain her. It was absurd and ridiculous. As Mr. Gladstone declared at Leeds in 1881—If you are In strike, you ought to strike hard. If you are to make the foreigner feel, you must make him feel by striking him in his largest interests.Were the right hon. Gentleman there he would have urged him to arouse his colleagues and say to them, as he had said in the House of Commons on February l3th, 1843—Hon. Gentlemen surely do not wish to displace labour at home by the employment of labour abroad.He would have reminded him of his dictum—The cry of cheap bread, considered by itself, means nothing that is necessarily beneficial to the labouring classes. We must look to their relative means.This was analogous to the saying of Dr. Johnson—It is no purpose to tell me that eggs are a penny a dozen in the Highlands. That is not because eggs are many, but because pence are few.He commended this view to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the President of the Board of Trade in their exultation over the fall in prices and cheapness, including, as it did, cheap wages. The President of the Board of Trade told the Associated Chambers of Commerce on Wednesday evening that he saw blue sky in the commercial atmosphere. The only blue sky other 1218 men could see was the advent of the Conservative Party to power. He also said—That trade with the United States was decidely a reviving trade.From what source did he derive his information? Not from the Board of Trade statistics. In 1890 the British exports to the United States had been £32,000,000. In 1893 they had been £23,000,000. In 1894 the American purchases of British goods were not much more than half what they were in 1892, and not one fourth of the British purchases of American goods. Did the President of the Board of Trade rest his optimism on this Wilson tariff? It's author, the favoured guest of the foreign-rival-loving London Chamber of Commerce, had been defeated at the polls, and the Democratic Congress which had supported him sent to the right about by the voice of the great majority of the American people. No, there was no prospect whatever of free imports being sanctioned by the Americans or French, by the Germans or Russians, by Italians or Spaniards—by any self-governing community on the face of the earth. In 1844 Mr. Cobden said—You have no right to doubt that in ten years from the time when England inaugurates the glorious era of commercial freedom, every civilised country will be free traders to the backbone.That was 50 years ago. We had waited and waited in vain, and should wait no longer. We should think of our own people, of our own country, once the workshop of the world. As the previous day's Times declared,—We are still excluded from many valuable markets by tariffs.Some one might ask, who paid Customs duties? The answer was clear. The consumer, if the imported articles did not compete with a home industry, like the duty on tea, coffee, currants, tobacco and wines, which give us so-called Free Traders £20,000,000 a year, or more than any other nation received of fiscal revenue, and all raides on the wrong articles. But if the imported articles competed with home industries, then the producers or exporters paid the whole or part. ["Proof?"] Yes, he would give proof. The great firm of Sutton and Sons, of Reading, were informed the other day that they 1219 must cease to send mangel seed to France unless they lowered their prices to the extent of the rise in the French Customs duties. They had had to accept the situation and pay the duties by lowering the price even to an actual loss, or forfeit their connection. The President of the Iron and Steel Institute had shown how in January an English firm had tendered for steel rails wanted at Oldenburg. The English had to include the Import Duty of 25s. 6d. a ton and the cost of the carriage in the price. Goods sent to New York had to be delivered free of duty. The Englishman paid, and it fan taken out of English wages. Then, in addition to the free market we gave the foreigner here with no return, in addition to throwing away all bargaining power for the reduction of foreign hindrances to British trade, in addition to giving the foreigner a positive advantage in our markets of at least 12 per cent., thus destroying the home market for the British producer, in addition to encouraging English capitalists to invest their money abroad and not at home, Foreign Governments gave bounties on shipping, on the production of sugar, &c., amounting to some £20,000,000 a year. Was this fair play? He must not longer detain the House. It was for the interests of Britain and British industries that he pleaded. American and French favoured competition was at the bottom of the present dispute in the boot trade. He might be asked for a remedy. It was for the Government to find the remedy. It was their duty. It was the purpose for which they were appointed and paid. The House had only to point the way. Let them look at the facts and grasp them. Turning the other cheek to the smiter and twiddling our thumbs for 50 years had done no good. The Chief Secretary for Ireland, the biographer of Cobden, declared at Oldham not long ago that—If the productiveness of the land were increased, the condition of the labourer bettered, and more remuneration obtained by him for his toil, the effect would be that the agricultural population would have so much money to spend and there would be a more active demand for the things which manufacturing towns produced.The President of the Board of Trade said' on January 24th:—The steady depopulation of rural districts, and the inordinate accumulation of masses of 1220 people in a few great centres, is to be profoundly regretted on many grounds.That very week the Minister for Agriculture had professed to be anxious to encourage home production rather than foreign importation. The opportunity was now, if the will were present. Let the Government note the decline in our exports to foreign countries. They showed the injury done us by their tariffs. They amounted to £195,000,000 in 1872, and had fallen in 1893 to £146,000,000, although we had had many millions of additional mouths to feed. The only compensation lay in the increased demand for British goods by British Colonies and dependencies. In 1851 it amounted to only £20,000,000; in 1891 to £87,000,000. In this Colonial direction much remained to be done. Canadian duties on British yarns amounted to 25 per cent.; on woven 22½ per cent. In Australia the duties were higher. In South Africa there was a uniform duty of 12 per cent. All these Colonies offered us better terms than foreigners if only the Government had the courage to say to Germany and Belgium—"We must alter the half-dozen words in the Treaties between us by which you prevent us trading advantageously with our own kith and kin." But let the Government especially consider what would happen, where would be their boasted cheapness, if, for a day, the command of the English Channel fell into foreign hands? The illustrious father of the Speaker had declared in 1842 that—He certainly would not be a party to any measure the effect of which would be to make this country permanently dependent on foreign countries for any considerable portion of its supply of corn.On those grounds, as on the others he had mentioned, he would respectfully ask leave, in the presence of the equally-illustrious and greatly-beloved son of Sir Robert Peel, to move the Resolution which stood in his name, and which his hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, a great undivided borough greatly affected by the present State of affairs, would second.
§ MR. H. SETON-KARR (St. Helens)
, in seconding the Motion, said, he entirely endorsed the remarks of the Mover. There were three separate interests, three sets of individuals affected, namely, the consumer, the capitalist producer, and 1221 the wage-earning producer. Improved transit and competition all over the world, assisted the consumer to defend himself. The capitalist producers could, to some extent, look after themselves by removing their capital to other countries, but the 13,000,000 of the wage-earning classes were absolutely helpless in the existing stagnation and depression of trade; they could not remove themselves and their families to other countries. It was said by some that if the British working-man would consent to work for lower wages, he would be able to get plenty of work; but from that doctrine he dissented. If our system of fighting hostile tariffs with free imports was fundamentally wrong; where was the reducing of wages to stop? A 5 per cent. reduction to-day meant a demand for another 5 per cent. reduction to-morrow. He was inclined to sympathise with men who struck against reductions in wages, which would ultimately land them in barbarism and industrial servitude. Therefore, the wage-earners were entitled to more consideration than the small number of capitalists, who could protect themselves. The first of two points on which he desired to lay stress was, the great decrease of our domestic exports. Let anyone compare our present condition with what it was in 1870–71–72. At that period, in two years, our exports went up no less than £57,000,000. But during the four years 1890–94 the exports of our domestic produce had decreased by the enormous sum of £47,000,000. Some said this was accounted for by the fall in prices; but it could not be wholly accounted for in that way; and, indeed, such an enormous sum must he accounted for by decrease in quantity. In 22 years, the population had increased by £7,000,000; but the exports for British workshops in that time had fallen £40,000,000. It was said that other nations were suffering equal depression. The excellent book which had already been referred to, "British Industries and Foreign Competition," showed that during 20 years the domestic exports of other civilised countries, with the exception of France, had increased, on the average, by 47 per cent.; while this country, excluding exports of coal and machinery, which ought not to be sent away to enable other countries to compete with us, had increased its domestic produce only by 4 per cent. 1222 In the face of these figures, could it be said that other nations were suffering as much as we were? Taking the average per head of the population, our domestic produce had gone down from £6 per head in 1872 to a little over £5 in 1894. We were losing our markets abroad. That would not affect the wage-earning classes if there was a corresponding increase in our markets at home; but in the past 20 years we had doubled our imports of manufactured articles. Our imports of food stuffs reached £150,000,000, considerably more than double what it was 20 years ago. And symptoms of the great national disease was the transfer of industrial capital from this country to others; there were firms, some of whose members had seats in that House, that had so transferred their capital. In his own constituency, a large firm of glassmakers had transferred a part of their business to Belgium, where they were employing the people of that country. He did not complain of the men who did this; but he did complain of the system which compelled them to do it. The book mentioned reproduced the following passage from the Report of Mr. Porter to the United States Government:—I found shoddy manufacturers from Batley and Dewsbury established in Aachen, Prussia; Lancashire and Scottish spinners in Rouen; Leicestershire hosiery manufacturers in Saxony; Yorkshire, wool-combing establishments in Rhcims; Dundee jute mills in Dunkerque; allwool stuff manufacturers in Roubaix; English iron and steel mills in Belgium; and English woollen mills in Holland. Removing English Capital to the Continent has secured a profitable home market, while England was near with widely opened ports to serve as a 'dumping ground' to unload surplus goods, made by foreign labour, superintended by English skill. In this way the English markets are swamped and her labour undersold.This state of things was predicted by Sir Lowthian Bell in 1890 in his presidential address to the Iron and Steel Institute. He said:—Cottons, woollens, rails, machinery will be produced as heretofore and in overflowing measure; they may be oven produced by Englishmen, or by men of English race, as now; but they will be produced by them, not in Lancashire, Staffordshire, Lanarkshire or Yorkshire, but on the banks of the Ohio, at the foot of the Alleghany, or it may be in even more distant quarters still.
§ MR. SETON-KARR
said he was quoting from a book entitled "British Industries and Foreign Competition," by A. Williamson. The same author said:—Brains and Capital will go where the best return is to be found, and if, as free traders contend, our fiscal policy provides the freest scope for the exercise of both, how does it arise that so many of both, whom it is said to benefit, flee from it to get under the sheltering wing of the one so directly opposed to it?Whereas other countries were spending all their energies and capital at home, we were doing our best to drive them abroad. He thought he had said enough to supplement what his hon. Friend had said to shew the magnitude of this industrial crisis. He wished now to deal for a moment with the latter part of the Resolution. It was not the business of private Members to recommend a remedy to Her Majesty's Government, but he wished to say a word from his point of view on the remedy suggested. There was only one way to protect industrial interests and that was by altering our fiscal system and adopting reciprocity. They would probably—those who advocated such a step would probably—be called protectionists. If protection meant putting on Import Duties regardless of what other nations were doing, if it meant putting a duty on the food supply and raw material, then he was not a protectionist; but if it meant fighting foreign countries with their own weapons in order to get free trade all round, then he was a protectionist. Free Trade meant free exports as well as free imports; but as a matter of fact we had not got Free Trade at all. We had only a sort of bastard Free Trade. We had free imports, but no free exports, and he submitted it was time we followed the example of other nations and fought them with their own weapons. He and his friends advocated fighting hostile tariffs with import duties, in the first place, because the history of the past 40 years, and especially of the last 20 years, was dead against our present system. Every prophecy of Cobden and Bright was unfulfilled. Other countries had not followed our example; trade was declining, agriculture was ruined, and we had lost trade where others had gained it. Other nations did not believe in Free Trade. In 1874 we first adopted fully the policy of free imports for com- 1224 peting goods. What happened? In 1879 Bismarck took advantage of this opening. Finding the German mills and factories languishing at that time, he raised the tariffs against other nations, and especially against us, and the result was that German mills and factories were running full time while many of our wage-earners were starving. In 1892 France doubled the duty on cycles. We were the only nation affected by that hostile tariff, and it was absolutely certain that in a year or two we should find our French trade killed, and France would be sending cycles into this country. Which policy did the Government think the men who earned their living by making cycles would support? The policy which allowed the trade to be ruined, or the policy which said we should fight hostile tariffs by import duties until we brought other nations to their senses? It was said that reciprocity would cause other nations to raise their tariffs against us; but there were only £60,000,000 exports on which they could increase their tariffs, while on the other hand there were less than £219,000,000 on which we could retaliate. The advantage on our side would be as three to one. They might be told that reciprocity, or, as some called it, retaliation, would be an act of industrial war. Well, if we were attacked by armies and fleets, we could only meet the attack with armies and fleets. We were being attacked by hostile tariffs, and the time had come when we ought to fight other nations with their own weapons. They would be told from the Ministerial side of the House that reciprocity, or protection, as some hon. Members would say, would result in a tax being put upon food. He was not prepared to advocate any tax upon food, at all events, at present, but if any hon. Member should tell his confiding constituents that they enjoyed a free table and loaf, he would be guilty of a grave error, for food was heavily taxed at the present moment. Much was said now about "sweating." Ask the British farmer and the agriculturist who was being sweated—the foreign producer who sent his supplies to this country and paid no taxation, or the home producer who was being taxed to death? The result of the present system was that there were in this country between six and seven million acres which were growing nothing but weeds, that 500,000 1225 labourers had been driven off the land, and that 30,000 farmers were insolvent Reciprocity would enable us to form a vast commercial union with our Colonial Empire. There was the example of the United States. Inside the boundary fence of the States there was absolute free trade; outside commerce was guarded by a wall of protection. He had never seconded any Resolution with greater confidence and pleasure than he felt on the present occasion. This question certainly interested the working men of Lancashire, Lanarkshire, and Yorkshire more than any other. The time was not far distant when the wage-earners of this country would take the matter into their own hands and would compel the Government to do what they were asked to do in this Resolution.
§ MR. HERBERT PAUL (Edinburgh, S.)
wished the right hon. Gentleman the Father of the House had heard the speeches delivered that evening. What would that illustrious man think when he should read those utterances, proclaiming the doctrines that we could tax the foreigner, and that if our markets were restricted the remedy was to restrict them still further. The hon. Member who had seconded the Resolution stated that he would not propose a tax upon food. Why not? Was not agriculture the most depressed industry in this country at present? And if Protection was the right remedy, surely, the first commodity on which a duty ought to be imposed was corn. That was the staple food in this country. Some hon. Gentlemen with, he would not say more courage, but more inconsistency than the Member for St. Helens, said that the capitalists of this country were transferring their capital to industry abroad. Still he did not blame them, he blamed the system. What system? [Hon. MEMBERS: "Free imports."] The systems of Free Trade [Mr. SETON-KARR: "One-sided Free Trade"]—a system which stood between the working classes of this country and the alternative of starvation and beggary. The hon. Member for Sheffield thought this country was being impoverished because it got more for its own labour than it received formerly. Perhaps he could convey by means of a simple illustration the nature of the process which was apprehended. The hon. Member for Sheffield no doubt had a tailor. He would 1226 put the hon. Member into the position of this country, and his tailor into the position of the foreigner. He would put the clothes the hon. Member received in the shape of imports and the money he paid for them in the shape of exports. Supposing his tailor's prices gradually diminished and the number of clothes which he received for a £10 note—not many—gradually diminished. Would the hon. Member apprehend that the result of that process, if carried on for a sufficiently long time, would reduce him to destitution? Rather he should say, the hon. Member would find that Mr. Poole would be glad to accept that view of the situation, and to act upon it to his own advantage. Did hon. Gentlemen think that when this country adopted Free Trade other, countries then adopted it also? Free Trade was adopted in the face of hostile tariffs, on the principle that the best way to fight hostile tariffs was by free imports. Did we admit the goods of foreign countries for the sake of conferring a benefit upon them? Why, of course, we admitted them for our own sake, and for the sake of nobody else. How were they paid for? In sovereigns? ["Hear, hear," from Mr. JAMES LOWTHER.] Then where did we get the sovereigns? We did not produce gold in this country. Did the right hon. Gentleman really suppose that a sovereign or any sort of foreign commodity could be got into this country without being paid for by the produce of British labour?
§ MR. PAUL
hoped, then, the right hon. gentleman would explain what was the extraordinary philanthropic motive which induced foreign countries to flood is with their goods for nothing. At this time of unfortunate depression in trade—a depression which had been more severely felt in every protectionist country in Europe than in our own—every sensible man was endeavouring to find new markets for British trade, and very new market of British trade involved an increase in the foreign commodities which were imported into this country.
§ MR. PAUL
had the greatest pleasure in telling the hon. Member for Peckham 1227 how these foreign goods were paid for. They were paid for by the labour of this country, and every diminution in foreign trade would add to the number of the unemployed, and increase the misery which, unhappily, to a certain extent prevailed even under our system of Free Trade. While he held Free Trade was good for all countries, in all circumstances and at all times, there never was a country and never a time when any departure from Free Trade would be more disastrous than in this country at the present day. Hon. Members talked as if purchases from abroad were a great disaster to this country. Well, what was the logical conclusion of that? Stop our foreign, trade altogether. What, he should like to know, would be the result to the people of this country of putting an end to our foreign trade? A state of indescribable and unimaginable disaster. The speech of the hon. Member for St. Helens was based on the argument of the disadvantage of getting abroad what they could get at home. But what had been the fundamental principle of Free Trade which had been accepted in this country for halt-a-century? That some things were better made at home and other things were better made elsewhere. The second part of the Resolution was that they should fight bounties with Import Duties. If foreign countries imposed bounties, such imposition was injurious to their own trade. Was it injurious to us? What harm did cheap sugar do us? There had been times in this country when, periods of distress coincided with very high prices, and did the working classes suffer less then than they did now? Periods of distress, great as was the suffering that was always entailed, were infinitely less onerous and disastrous when the prices of the necessaries of life and the staple commodities of industry were low. It might be said that prices could fall to a point where there was no profit and the industry must cease. Yes, but there was a very simple way of ascertaining when that point was reached. When that point had been reached the volume of trade must fall. The volume of trade had not fallen. The hon. Gentlemen talked about the decline of imports as if that was a disaster, but they had not attempted to show that there had been any appreciable falling in the volume of trade. He remembered 1228 a report issued in 1892 or 1893 by a Committee of the Chamber of Deputies in France. That Committee was appointed to inquire into the causes of distress in France, and its members found it was due to two causes—want of a sufficient system of Protection in the French Republic and the persistent prosperity of England. Both hon. Gentlemen opposite had said that it was for the Government to find a remedy, and not for them. But there was no mystery about the remedy. The system about which the hon. Gentlemen complained was a system of absolute Free Trade with all the world, and the remedy for that system was a more or less modified system of Protection. Why it should be modified he had never been able to understand. If Protection was a good thing, it would seem to him that the more they had of it the better, and the idealist Protectionist system would be that the population of this country should be absolutely dependent upon what could be produced within the limits of the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman, in his very picturesque phraseology, said we had been twiddling our thumbs for 50 years. He supposed that meant that they had adopted that great financial system upon which the prosperity of this country had grown, and upon which, whatever temporary wave of depression might come upon us, she had attained and maintained a position which there was nothing like in the former history of this country, and which there was nothing like in the rest of the world now. This was no academic question; this was no question of abstract economies. Speaking as one who represented as many working men as the hon. Member for Sheffield, he said that this was a question which affected every working man in this country. If the proposals of the Mover and Seconder of this Amendment were adopted we should see a state of misery and distress such as had never been known in these islands. There were political questions which excited great interest and passion, and even fierce animosity, such as the questions of Disestablishment and Home Rule. However they might be decided, this country would retain its place among the nations of the world. But there were two questions upon which the prosperity of the British Empire and the 1229 comfort and welfare of the inhabitants of the United Kingdom depended. Upon the answer they gave to these questions, upon their upholding the principles which these questions involved, depended everything which to an Englishman, Irishman, or Scotchman was dear. These two principles wore the steady maintenance of an invincible Navy and a resolute, unfaltering adhesion to the principle of Free Trade.
§ SIR HENRY H. HOWORTH (Salford, S.)
, after a complimentary allusion to the speech of the hon. Member for South Edinburgh, observed that as one representing a constituency comprising a very large proportion of helpless working men who, possibly more than those of any other constituency, were suffering from the various causes of depression, he desired to say a few words in this Debate. That afternoon he asked a question of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and received a very plausible answer from the right hon. Gentleman, which seemed to him to be very misleading on this very issue. His question was as to the increase in the deposits in the Post Office Savings Bank and the consequences likely to arise out of that increase, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer replied that this must be a subject of great congratulation to everybody in the House, because it proved that the working people were getting thriftier and richer. He, himself, held quite a different opinion. The reason why the working people, in the county of Lancashire, at all events, were investing their savings so largely in the Post Office Savings Bank—where the rate of interest was so low as to be almost contemptible—was because other and more profitable avenues of investment had been closed to them owing to the shrinking in trade and the consequent greater difficulty that poor men experienced in advantageously placing their money. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had asked whether it was true that our imports, which had increased at such a tremendous rate, were not paid for by the products of English labour, and he went on to show that this increase in imports proved how vigorous and prosperous English labour must be Could any greater or more misleading fallacy be put before the House? Why nearly two-fifths of the imports into this country were paid for, not by the profits 1230 and wages of English labour in this country, but by the profits of English capital invested in other countries. It was the investment of money in Peruvian mines, and in foreign industries by large English capitalists in Continental towns, where they found it profitable to build mills and manufactories to enter into competition with our own trades—it was those profits which were pouring into this country wholesale, that enabled us to buy this great mass of imported material with which we were being flooded, and with which every small shop in every little village throughout the country was being filled. When the Government spoke on this question he hoped it would be faced on these lines—that the increase of imports into this country, instead of being a measure of the prosperity of our industries, was rather a measure of the facilities and the profits that were being so lavishly made by English capitalists abroad by the employment of foreign workmen. What he contended was—that cheap commodities were an entirely misleading value if the happiness of a community living upon wages—that it was the securing of a competent wage which was the first Clement in the problem. What was the good of cheapness to a man who had no income, or what was it worth to a man who had a large income? To a rich man, whether a 4 lb. loaf was at one price or another was of little importance; the real question to a man was that he should have a sufficient income to buy that 4 lb. loaf at all. This continual exaltation of cheapness at all hazards, meant, he supposed, that eventually the product of Chinese labour, which was the cheapest labour of all, was to displace English labour, which was the dearest labour of all. Was that a prospect of future prosperity? There was another fallacy which had been put forward, and it was that a tariff must inevitably increase the prices of commodities within the country where the tariff was levied. But where money was very cheap the profits upon commodities were measured by the normal rate of interest that was paid for capital in that country, and if that normal rate of interest was very low there was no industry which could exist, without an enormons competition, that showed a profit a little in excess of that rate 1231 of interest in that country; and, consequently, the internal competition within the wall of the tariff necessarily, and in all cases, reduced the prices of commodities to the people living within the wall of the same level, or nearly the same level, that they would be under conditions where there was no tariff at all. From inquiries he had made of large American producers, he had been told that money being cheap in America, and capital flooding every industry, the prices of commodities within the tariff there were little in excess of the price of commodities in places outside that tariff. They contended that the supreme factor in this matter was to secure a continuous income for their own operatives, and that it was an utterly misleading issue to tell the working man that in securing that wage by putting on a tariff they were going to increase the price of the commodities he would have to buy. That would not take place under any circumstances, except in countries where the rate of interest on money was very high, and where it did not pay for capital to flood those industries in which there was virtually no competition. Consequently, then they would have a monopoly, and with a monopoly very large profits, and then enhanced prices. Wherever the rate of interest was small they inevitably had, whether there was any tariff or not, the prices of the products of manufacture reduced to a level very little indeed above the level in which those commodities could be produced in those countries where there was no tariff at all. It seemed to him that they were being misled by some of those extremely plausible statements which had been made over and over again by the advocates of an unrestricted free trade. English labour had burdens placed upon it—some of them very properly by that House to enforce education and sanitary conditions of life—which foreign labour had not to bear at all; and yet at the same time, this foreign labour, which had no burden on its back, was to have the free and unrestricted right to compete with English working men. The problem was very different now to what it was years ago when competition was comparatively unknown. The introduction of machinery had largely done away with individual initiative, and the inevitable result was 1232 that the Hindoo, the Chinaman, and the Japanese, all of them men of great skill and tactical dexterity, were able in almost every handicraft to produce materials quite as good, as tasteful, and as finished as those produced by our own workmen. These men had precisely the same power of managing machinery as our own workmen, and yet, owing to conditions of climate and of food, they were able to live on an income on which an ordinary Englishman would starve. English workmen were told that it was a great gain to them that English capital should be transferred to India, China, and Japan, because, although they would have no employment and no wages, everything they consumed would become wonderfully cheap. The time had come when it would not be possible for optimists to speak with a light air about these great issues. So long as machinery was the special possession of this country we could defeat the world; but our monopoly in this respect was rapidly ceasing. Machinery was being exported in all directions, and at this moment the only industries in Lancashire that were prosperous were those connected with the manufacture of machinery for exportation. We could not prevent this exportation, and yet every machine exported must have the effect of excluding English competition in the country to which it went. With equal facilities for production, industry must go where labour was cheapest. It would not be the profits of capital, but the level of wages that would give one country the advantage over another. That meant that barbarous labour was going to exclude the labour of civilised men. By the distribution of machinery, and the fuel that was to feed it, they brought into competition with English workmen, burdened terribly with rates and taxes, the natural consequences of our civilisation, people to whom civilisation meant an income of a few pence a week, with which to buy enough rice to feed them and the two yards of calico which formed their clothing. He could not agree that it was possible to apply this remedy to one kind of industry only. They could not possibly in the ultimate event give protection to one part of Industry if they were not prepared to give it to the rest. Their object was not to make things dear, but to supply an income to men who were now starving. 1233 Working men knew and felt that if they were getting 30s. a week in nominal wages and out of that could only work three days a week, it would be a vast deal better for them to pay ½d. more for their 4 lb. loaf. He stood upon this, that the remedy they wished to apply did not involve, and could not, except in very poor countries involve an addition to the price of commodities in the country. The competition of capital naturally brought down the prices of commodities. It was an interesting fact that, although the price of wheat had come down to almost exactly one-half of what it was, the quartern loaf was now almost exactly what it was when wheat was at double its present price. It had been no advantage to the working man that the price of wheat had come down in the way it had, because almost the entire difference had gone into the pockets of the middlemen. It would have been a vast deal better for the working men and for other classes in this country if a little of that difference had gone into the pockets of the farmer and the labourer instead of into the pockets of middlemen. In these matters people were being misled by arguments which a little discussion and analysis would put an end to. He could refer to other commodities in regard to which the same state of things existed as in the case of wheat, but wheat formed an illustration that was most familiar to everyone. He hoped that presently, when an answer was given to the arguments brought forward in support of the Motion, the House would not hear mere optimistic phrases such as they had just listened to from the last speaker, but that the real question surrounding this very difficult subject would be faced. He spoke now as he had spoken for nine years in Manchester. His conviction was that he was a Protectionist. He was not a free-trader. He believed that every kind of fallacy that human ingenuity had invented had been accumulated round the fetish of free trade, before which so many hon. members opposite knelt and worshipped. It was for this reason that he had intervened in the present Debate.
§ MR. R. J. D. BURNIE (Swansea Town)
desired to refer to the figures in regard to coal, to show that in that article at any rate there had not been a falling-off in exports. In 1880, the quantity of coal 1234 exported from this country to foreign countries was something over 17,000,000 tons, whereas, in 1894, the quantity had risen to move than 33,000,000 tons. One other point he wished to refer to. The hon. Member who moved the Resolution had not treated that side of the House quite fairly. A Member who brought forward an important Resolution might give them some idea of the remedy he would propound in order to get rid of the evils which they all admitted this country was suffering under. The real reformer's duty was not only to point to the disease, but to propound the remedy. The first question he usually put to Protectionists was: "What are you going to tax?" The ground was, however, cut from under his feet on this occasion by the hon. Member who had just spoken, as he said he would tax everything. The hon. Member was out and out; he was frank; in the most bold and unusual manner he declared himself a real Protectionist. If he were asked for a remedy, he thought he should begin by requiring some reduction in the rents of the country. He should then want to move out of the way the royalties that were paid. He should want to reduce some of the excessive ground rents, not only in urban districts, but on manufactories. Let him point out one of the conditions that a manufacturer had to deal with. He was going to speak of a case with which he was well acquainted. Thirty years ago there was a piece of land which was sandbank and bog which was utilised for the purpose of establishing a large manufactory. The land at that time was of no value. The parties who took the land for 60 years spent £40,000 to £45,000. Half the time of the lease had now expired, and a large portion of that value was rapidly passing to the ground landlord. In addition to this rent, had been paid amounting with compound interest to about £10,000, and it would thus be seen that the manufacturer who had to compete with foreign manufacturers had been mulcted in an enormous sum for the use of what was a valueless piece of land. He ventured to think that if they got rid of some of these charges, if it would not cure it would help to enable manufacturers at home to compete with manufacturers abroad, and so increase our trade and employ our workmen. But it was 1235 not only a question of rents. If the agricultural interest was prosperous, they might look for a large amount of prosperity in every other department, and they were all willing to co-operate in bringing about that improvement in agriculture. Whilst, therefore, he thought there was still room for lower rents to be paid, it was not only that they had to deal with. There were other matters. He had before him a copy of a lease of land which was now in existence, and he wanted to refer to some of the conditions imposed on the farmer who rented the land. The hon. Member then read some of the conditions of the lease, which amongst other restrictions limited the cultivation of certain crops, stipulated what manures he should or should not use, regulated the sale of produce, the cutting of trees, and the keeping of premises in repair. He marvelled how any farmer, under conditions of such a lease, could go on a farm with any chance of success. What hope had he of improving his condition and removing his difficulties with such a mesh of impossible conditions surrounding him? Hon. Members on the other side would do good service, if they would help in removing some of the real causes of commercial distress which he had indicated, and give up the futile attempt to upset our policy of Free Trade, to which was mainly due the commercial supremacy and greatness of the Empire. It would be impossible for hon. Members to convince the working men of this country of the unsoundness of the principle that if we were to keep our trade at all, it was only by freeing the channels and not by damming them up.
MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
, thought he would hardly be justified at that late hour in going into the very interesting question raised by the hon. Member. He and his hon. friends had been asked what would they tax? The hon. Member for Salford very properly said that he would place no imaginary limit to the articles to be taxed. The hon. Member for South Edinburgh asked whether they would tax wine. He did not think that the most ardent advocate of the productions of this country would claim any preeminence for that manufacture. What they desired to tax was competing products—that was to say, articles which 1236 this country could manufacture or produce in considerable quantities. He had not, of course, any preference for prohibitive taxation; but he had always advocated, so far as the necessaries of life were concerned, the imposition of duties based on the principle of a sliding scale which would automatically operate when that figure was attained which would, by general concurrence, represent that price at which the article could be produced in this country. By such a means all famine prices could be absolutely averted. They were always told that the idea of any country in the world being able to compete with the United Kingdon was absurd. The President of the Board of Trade was aware that at this moment the pig-iron manufacture of the Southern States of America—Alabama—was being landed at Glasgow at a price lower than that at which it could be produced at a profit in the great iron-producing centres of the United Kingdom. A large employment of negro labour was one of the elements in the manufacture of this iron, and no doubt yellow labour was also one of the elements which the English working man would have to contend against m the future. The House was told by the hon. Member for South Edinburgh that goods were always paid for by goods. Then, if German prison-made brushes were sold in England, there would be a greater demand in Germany for British manufactures. Would the hon. Member for South Edinburgh endorse that view? But the House of Commons had unanimously decided that that competition between foreign prison labour and English labour should not continue; and did the Chancellor of the Exchequer suppose that if the competition had been that of black or yellow labour, instead of prison labour, the decision of the House would have been any different? The public opinion of the working classes was decidedly set in the direction of protecting their labour from such competition. How did the hon. Member for South Edinburgh make out that goods were always paid for by goods, seeing that this country's imports very largely exceeded in value the exports?
MR. JAMES LOWTHER
said, that it was pointed out to him that money must leave this country to pay for the goods imported in excess of the exports. But the answer of the Free Trader was that the interest on British capital employed abroad must be brought into the calculation. Yes, the interest on British capital driven from this country.
MR. J. LOWTHER
said, that of course his hon. and gallant Friend was responsible for that figure, but he had no doubt that, if anything, it was under the mark. This British capital had been invested abroad for the purpose of getting beyond the range of these hostile tariffs. It was reducing argument to an absurdity to regard British capital driven abroad by the falsity of our fiscal system as a source of British revenue, while it was paying wages to the foreign workman to the detriment of the English workman. That argument would not influence the starving operatives in the Government centres of industry in this country. Those who advocated the imposition of reasonable duties upon foreign competing produce, were not without feasible suggestion for protecting this country from any danger of scarcity in her supply. Her Majesty's Government recently sent a Commissioner (Lord Jersey) to attend the Colonial Conference at Ottawa. What was the suggestion of the assembled delegates there? That facilities should be afforded throughout the British Empire for inter-British trade upon preferential terms; and that certain Treaties should be renounced with the view of once more enabling this country to have a free hand in the arrangement of affairs within the limits of the Empire itself. The hon. Member for South Edinburgh, in a strong appeal to the House, had spoken to two things as essential to the British Empire—a strong Navy and Free Trade. What was the attitude of the British Empire towards the one-sided Free Trade which the hon. Member advocated? Why, nine-tenths of Her Majesty's subjects were dead against it. He would undertake to say that nine out of ten of her Majesty's subjects were dead against it. He did not confine himself to the limits of these islands. He was afraid the right hon. Gentleman 1238 opposite (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) was developing into a Little Englander. The inhabitants of these islands were only about a tenth of her Majesty's subjects, and throughout the other portions of the Empire these falsely so-called free-trade doctrines were denounced.
admitted that, but the other partners had not adopted the same fiscal policy. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Mundella) made a sound and gesture indicating derision; but did he doubt that, with the solitary exception of the United Kingdom, her Majesty's subjects were in almost every part of the Empire of protectionist principles? Then the right hon. Gentleman acquiesced in the statement?
§ MR. A. J. MUNDELLA (Sheffield, Brightside)
That nine-tenths of the British Empire are protectionist?
said that was his statement. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman meant to exclude India, but after the recent discussion he would not be inclined to follow up that argument. At all events all the self-governing portions of the Empire except the United Kingdom had at one time or other in recent years pronounced in favour of protectionist principles. The only exception that could be made was New South Wales, but into that there was not time to enter—which colony had modified its tariff in a way that did not carry with it the good wishes of the right hon. Gentleman. Foreign imports and hostile tariffs against the produce and manufactures of this country had forced on the public opinion of this country that some decided steps must be taken to remedy the present state of affairs. If the Government could only offer the cold comfort the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian offered to the Cobden Club the last time he addressed them, then there would be great and deep disappointment among the toilers of this country. The Government were asked for a policy, and they were found mumbling the dry bones of political economy.
THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. BRVCE,) Aberdeen, S.
said, he had waited for an expression of opinion from the Front Opposition Bench, and had not waited in vain. If 1239 the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowther) represented the Front Bench——
§ MR. BRYCE
said, then the silence of the Front Opposition Bench was the more significant. The hon. Member for Sheffield (Colonel Howard Vincent) in the earlier part of his remarks said that the only hope of agriculturists and manufacturers in the country was the advent of his Party to power. Did he still retain that view?
§ MR. BRYCE
said, the hon. Member did on one occasion succeed in surprising, he supposed he must not call it a Conservative caucus, into a declaration on this subject at Oxford. A resolution similar to this was carried, but the first result was a prompt disavowal—what might be called a "hot potato" disavowal—from Lord Salisbury, and he ventured to predict the same result from the carrying of any other resolution of the kind. Free Trade principles had never been more fully set forth than by the President of the Board of Trade under the late Government (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), and if the Conservative Party had any idea that such a proposition as was embodied in this Resolution would be carried into effect by a Conservative Government, they were very much mistaken indeed. He could not help noticing a sort of crescendo in the speeches of Members who had supported the Motion. The hon. Member for Sheffield complained of the evils, but suggested no remedy; he was followed by the hon. Member (Mr. Seton-Karr) who proposed to draw from its scabbard the sword of retaliation, and then was reached the higher level on which the hon. Member (Sir H. Howorth) and the right hon. 1240 Gentleman avowed themselves thorough-going Protectionists. The hon. Member for Salford did not shrink from the proposal to protect food and agricultural produce, and the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken would carry this policy so far as to prevent British capitalists from investing money abroad or lending money to industrial enterprises in foreign countries. The hon. Member for Salford did not quite go so far as those who wrecked machinery 60 years ago, but he looked with grave disfavour on the export of machinery and coal, because he thought those commodities would enable our competitors abroad to succeed. But to return to the Motion before the House, had the hon. Member who moved it succeeded in proving the propositions on which it rested, or in holding out the slightest hope of success by the remedies at which he was apparently driving? The hon. Gentleman had evidently had a great deal of trouble over that Motion. It had appeared in three successive shapes. In the first shape it suggested no remedy at all; in the second it advocated the preferential tariffs of the Ottawa Conference; and in the third it confined itself to saying that the Government ought to take measures, but what measures had not boon at all indicated by the hon. Member. The hon. Member said: "It is not for me to suggest measures; that is for the Government." But why had not the Conservative party suggested measures? The only Members of the front Opposition bench present were the hon. Member for the Ecclesall Division of Sheffield and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Thanet, and apparently it was from them the future policy of the Conservative Government on this matter was to be taken. The hon. Member for Central Sheffield in his Motion ascribed the increase in the number of the unemployed to the shrinkage of foreign markets and the operation of foreign hostile tariffs. In a paper published in 1894, called "Statistical Tables relating to the Progress of the Foreign Trade of the United Kingdom and other Countries," this subject was fully and instructively discussed; and it showed that under the operation of Foreign tariffs the trade of the country, so far from declining, had actually been increasing. Despite those foreign tariffs, the foreign 1241 trade of this country had increased; had held its own with the trade of other countries, and this country had as firm a grasp of the general trade of the world as in any previous time. The next point of the hon. Gentleman was as to bounties. Would the House believe that foreign bounties were given only on sugar and on shipping. Sugar was not a great industry in this country. It employed only about 9,000 people and had not suffered substantially from foreign bounties. But what was more instructive still was that an attempt was made by the late Conservative Government to deal with the sugar bounties. A Congress met in 1888—hon. Members would find in the Blue Book all the correspondence that had been exchanged on the subject—a Convention was actually signed, but the Conservative Government never took any further step in the matter, and the whole thing had remained dead till this day. So much for dealing with foreign competition by retaliation. Then as to shipping, surely if this country held a conspicuous position in the world for anything it was for its shipping. If bounties were a danger to us, least of all could they be shown to be a danger to an industry so eminently successful as shipping. The Motion said that the earnings of the people had diminished. Earnings might be tested by wages, and the House knew that wages had risen nearly double in the last 50 years, and within the last 30 years they had increased 25 per cent. The wages of agricultural labour, in particular, had risen steadily over the whole country until with the last few years. If hon. Members would refer to what was said by the Commission on the Depression of Trade which sat a few years ago, and the data of the Labour Commission, they would find that this statement was borne out. There had been a steady and continuous advance in the character of our industrial population. The values of our products had been maintained and the quantities enormously increased. Even now, in the unfavourable returns for February, the diminution in quantity was very slight. In the prices of food and clothing and almost everything (except house rent) which was necessary for the well-being of the people there had been a very marked, steady diminution. In 1880 the consumption of pounds of 1242 tea per head was 4.57; in 1890, 5.17; in 1893, 5.41; in 1894, 5.53. The consumption of sugar, which in 1880 was 63.4 pounds, had risen to 80. The consumption of tobacco had risen from 1.42 per head to 1.69. Then to take the question of meat, which was perhaps more important still, he found that within the last 20 years the consumption of meat in this country had increased per head of the population no less than 25 per cent. Something had been said about the competition of the products of labour produced under conditions less favourable than ours. To that he would reply that the better you pay a man the better worth you out of him, and every improvement in the status of our working classes—shorter hours, lower prices, and higher wages, had been followed by an improvement in the quality and quantity of the work which was turned out. There was nothing more true than that cheap labour was dear labour. Those who desired that we should not have our labour competed with by that of foreign workmen working under different conditions must adopt one of two alternatives; either they must exclude foreign manufactured products altogether, or they must ask to repeal our Factory Acts and go back to the state of things which prevailed 50 years ago. The hon. Member for Sheffield assumed an increase in the number of the unemployed, but he had given not a title of evidence on the subject, and, setting aside the exceptional circumstance of the hard frost, there was evidence that the number of the unemployed as it stood at Christmas last was distinctly less than it had been two years before. In regard to pauperism, they had statistics to show that in 1857 no less than 4.86 per cent. of our population were paupers in England, and in 1862 no less than 5.43 per cent.; but in 1893 it had fallen to 2.45 per cent. That under the policy of Free Trade this country had thriven was the opinion of those who knew most of the country. Only on Wednesday last a gentleman from Sheffield brought forward a Motion at the meeting of the Associated Chambers of Commerce couched in much the same terms as the Motion before the House, and it was rejected by 40 to 26—by a large majority of those who had reason to know what were the conditions of commercial prosperity and what was 1243 for the real commercial benefit of this country. He hoped he had shown that the hon. Member for Sheffield had not attempted to substantiate any of the arguments he had advanced. As to suggesting any remedies for what he deplored, he was a perfect blank. Periods of depression pressed less on Free Trade countries than on those in which protection prevailed. The hon. Member for St. Helen's wanted this country to imitate the United States in his protective policy. Did he not know that the depression in trade had been much more severe in the United States, and nearly in every part of the Continent of Europe where protective tariffs prevailed, than in this country? He would appeal from the hon. Member for St. Helen's, who urged that we should fight other nations with their own weapons, to the hon. Member for Sheffield himself, who said we ought not to follow the blind leading of other nations. The Government were absolutely firm against any kind of protection or fair trade, by whatever name it might be called or in whatever disguise it might masquerade. He need add nothing to the admirable speech on the general question, of the hon. Member for Edinburgh. It had been by a free trade policy that the greatness of this country, commercially, had grown during the last 50 years. The Government believed that by that policy the commercial greatness of the country would, in the future, be promoted and maintained, and they did not believe a responsible Government would ever be found to propose or a British Parliament be found to sanction any return to the doctrines of protection.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 105; Noes, 35.—[Division List No. 26.]