§ * MR. HENRY SETON-KARR () St. Helen's
rose to call attention to the wholly inadequate production of food supplies within the area of the United Kingdom in relation to its large and increasing population, and to move:—That, in the opinion of this House, the dependence of the United Kingdom on foreign imports for the necessaries of life, and the consequences that might arise therefrom in the event of war, demands the serious attention of Her Majesty's Government.He stated that since he had placed his Motion on the Paper numerous letters had been received by him from all parts of the country supporting it, and urging the necessity for its discussion in the House of Commons. The terms of his Motion had also been unanimously endorsed by a conference of delegates at Ross on March 19th, convened by the Midland Union of Conservative Associations, by whom it was treated as a non-Party Question. The Motion was also 643 adopted in a similar manner by a large conference of over 400 delegates of the Lancashire and Cheshire Conservative Working Men's Federation held at Bolton on Saturday, and the substance of it had been confirmed by the executive committee of the National Agricultural Union. It was now an established fact that the United Kingdom was largely dependent on foreign imports for the necessaries of life. We imported most of our breadstuffs, while, in addition, butter, eggs, cheese, meat, fruit, sugar, vegetables, milk, lard, and oats and barley were being imported in large and increasing quantities every year. For the sake of simplicity he would deal only with breadstuffs, which the people of this country must have in regular quantities, and for which they could not be expected to pay fluctuating and enhanced prices. The national annual consumption of wheat and flour amounted to over 28,000,000 quarters, a steadily increasing quantity; 19,000,000 quarters, also an increasing quantity, were imported from foreign and possibly hostile countries, and from 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 were imported from India, Australasia, and Canada. This was now a decreasing quantity. The balance of between 4,000,000 and 5,000,000 quarters we produced at home, not including wheat used for seed and farm purposes. Five out of every six of the people in the kingdom were fed on imported breadstuffs, and of these five, four, or two-thirds of the population, were fed on foreign imports, and the number would grow larger and larger every year. It was difficult to ascertain what were the reserves of breadstuffs in the country, but he doubted whether they ever exceeded three months' supply, and they often sank below one mouth's supply. On January 1 this year the amount of maize, wheat and flour in the country was only 2,133,000 quarters, or less than three weeks' supply. In the event of a declaration of war a monopoly would be created, the breadstuffs being in private hands. Our present dependence on foreign food supplies was of modern growth, and unprecedented in the history of the world. All the other Great Powers were practically self-supporting. France was self-supporting. In the Franco-Prussian War France was never in danger of starvation, except in beleaguered 644 towns, and then only from want of commissariat organisation and foresight. Russia and the United States were not only self-supporting, but were also two of the largest grain exporting countries in the world. At their good pleasure they fed more than four-sevenths of our population. The countries forming the Triple Alliance produced three-fourths of their supply in time of peace, and in war time could support themselves if necessary. During the ten years from 1883 to 1893, Germany, notwithstanding her great increase in industrial prosperity, had increased her wheat area by 300,000 acres. England alone, with a world-wide empire and with the largest industrial population relatively to her area that had ever been known, lived from hand to mouth and imported five-sixths of her food supply. Two-thirds of it came from countries over whose internal policy England had no control, and against whose commercial and fiscal policy she had deprived herself of all means of retaliation. In 1812, when we were fighting France and America, and when the population was half what it was now, we imported no wheat or flour; we were self-supporting. Yet it was a remarkable fact that the price of the quartern loaf rose to 1s. 8d., and there were bread riots in many of our large towns. That was significant as showing the sensitiveness of the price of bread. In 1840 the population of Great Britain was 17½ millions, and of that population 16½ millions were fed on home-grown wheat. Ireland was self-supporting. In 1843 Cobden estimated that of the annual national consumption of 21,000,000 quarters we only imported one million. When Cobden and his disciples agitated for the repeal of the Corn Laws 50 years ago they did not anticipate the present state of affairs. He would read one or two extracts from Cobden's speeches. The following was from a speech of his delivered after the American war, and in connection with the cotton famine:—I doubt the wisdom, I certainly doubt the prudence, of a great body of industrial people allowing themselves so continually to live in dependence upon foreign Powers for the supply of food and raw material, knowing that a system of warfare exists by which, at any moment without notice—without any help on their part or means of prevention—they are liable to have 645 the raw material or the food withdrawn from them—cut off, without any power to resist or hinder it.Then, in 1844, Cobden said:—These philosophical men, so profoundly ignorant of what is immediately around them, will tell us that Free Trade will throw their land out of cultivation. I predict with Lord Ducie and others that, so far from throwing land out of use, Free Trade in corn is the very way to increase the production at home, and stimulate the cultivation of the poorer soils by compelling the application of more capital and labour to them. We do not—(in consequence of Free Trade in corn)anticipate having one quarter less corn from the soil of this country.He thought that the House would agree that, whatever else Cobden was, he was a very poor prophet. He was of opinion that if Cobden had lived to the present day he would, in view of the total failure of his prophecies, have himself advocated the reimposition of the corn duties. Since 1845 our home production of wheat had steadily de creased, while the population and imports had as steadily increased. The wheat area of this country 40 years ago was 4,199,812 acres, but in 1896 it was only 1,734,118 acres, and now we had 14,000,000 more people to feed. Since 1853 we had had no war to test the situation, and in the meantime other nations had largely increased the number of their battleships and fast cruisers, or commerce destroyers. It should be borne in mind that the Crimean war was in no sense a naval war, and that our commerce was never threatened. Yet the mere fact that we were at war sent wheat up from 55s. to 75s. per quarter, and at that lime the quartern loaf in London cost 1s. to 1s. 4d. He thought the conclusion they were bound to arrive at was, that there was absolutely nothing in history to justify the belief that any country—particularly an island Empire like our own-could afford to depend so largely on foreign imports for its food. In the words of Lord Carnavon—Great Britain, with its imports of raw materials and foods interfered with, would be in danger of becoming, instead of a great Empire, a pauperised, discontented, over-populated island in the North Sea.646 Dealing with the risks involved in the event of war, he said everyone who read the daily papers must admit that the possibility of our being involved in a European war was not an impossible contingency. It was a national risk against which we were bound to insure. The question was, were we properly insured? Was our great industrial population properly and reasonably insured against famine prices for food, particularly bread, in the event of such a calamity as a European war? He submitted that we were not. ["Hear, hear!"] They would probably be told that the fleet was supreme at sea, and that our shores could not be invaded; that food supplies could always be landed on the indented shores of these islands, war or no war; that foreign countries would never deprive themselves of the benefit of our markets; that it was an economic necessity for us to buy food in the cheapest markets: that the present position was inevitable; and that nothing must be done to raise the price of bread in the slightest degree. He desired shortly to examine these statements. For the purposes of his argument he would admit our fleet was supreme at sea against any possible combination, though he would point out, in passing, that this could only be certainly established by a practical test. But he admitted that we had, or were determined to have, an invincible Navy, and that our shores were safe from blockade. We could not, however, compel foreign, and possibly hostile, countries to supply us with food, however strong our Navy. Our reserve of wheat was at present completely out of our control. We got one-fifth of our yearly supply from Russia, two-fifths from the United States and the Argentine. Russia, for her own needs, prohibited the export of wheat in 1891. Let them take an extreme case. Suppose Russia again prohibited the export of wheat in order to put us in a difficulty, and at the same time suppose the crops in the United States failed. What remedy had we got. Absolutely none. If this was done in early summer we should be deprived of two-fifths of our wheat supply for 15 mouths. We could not grow wheat by Act of Parliament, and nowhere else in the world could we get at short notice 18,000,000 quarters of wheat. Again, assuming 647 foreign countries did not prohibit exports, the question of landing food supplies on our shores became a question of commercial risk in time of war. One or two hostile cruisers—even if our fleet was invincible—turned loose in the Atlantic or the Mediterranean would raise the rates of Marine Insurance and of seamen's wages, which would mean a large rise in the price to the consumer. That was an element which high authorities seemed altogether to ignore. During the American Civil War the rates of insurance in blockade runners (no ordinary steamers ran) rose 900 per cent.; seamen's wages rose 300 per cent.; and salt bought for 30s. per ton was sold for £340 per ton, after having run the blockade. No doubt that was an extreme case, but we were in a far more vulnerable position than the Southern States were at that time, because our necessities were greater and we imported large quantities of food. We could not be blockaded as the Southern Ports were. But the Alabama drove the American flag off the seas, and some said American trade had never recovered from the loss that was then inflicted. One or two modern Alabamas would create a sense of insecurity and raise insurance rates and the price of bread by leaps and bounds. Let the House consider the ocean routes by which our grain ships came. Russian wheat was brought chiefly from Odessa and through the Dardanelles, a distance of 4,000 miles. American and Argentine wheat came across the Atlantic and from the Pacific; and Australian and Indian came round the Cape, distances of from 3,000 to 12,000 miles. However strong our Navy, how could we hope to keep down insurance rates under these circumstances—in a war with some naval Power that possessed cruisers capable of steaming 30 knots or more? With regard to the question of contraband of war, when they remembered that at the present moment six of the great civilised Powers of the world were blockading Crete and preventing provisions being landed, they must come to the conclusion that it was a recognised method of civilised warfare to prevent the necessaries of life getting into the possession of an enemy even if carried in neutral 648 bottoms. He declined to admit that the present position was inevitable, or that we were bound to import our food from the cheapest markets. We did not apply any economic argument of that kind to our Navy. Whatever an invincible navy cost us, we were prepared to pay. It was equally necessary to insure against famine priced goods. It was a question of national insurance within reasonable limits, and the rate, when ascertained, should be paid by the Imperial Exchequer. The cost would be felt very little by the population at large, and it would secure us against what might be a dreadful national calamity. He thought he had said enough to show that there was a strong and urgent primâ facie case for a Government inquiry into the subject, and that was all his Motion asked. It was not his business to suggest remedies, but he would put those in which he personally believed before the House, without, however, desiring in any way to commit any Member to them who might be disposed to support his Motion as it stood. The first of these was the Commercial Federation of our colonies. The Secretary to the Colonies in his speech, at the Canada Club Dinner on March 25th 1896, advocated a system founded on the principle of the German Zollverein. His remarks were made with reference to the following Resolution which had been passed at the Ottawa Conference in 1894:—That this conference records its belief in the advisability of a Customs reform between Great Britain and her colonies, by which trade within the Empire may be placed upon a more favourable footing to that which is carried on with foreign countries.If that meant that we were to obtain our food supplies from our colonies on better terms than from foreign countries, it was a partial remedy for the state of things he had described. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that,at any rate a proposition of that kind is entitled to our respectful consideration, and if we object to it we ought, I think, to propose an alternative, and we ought to say at once that all we have said, all we have done, all we have thought about Imperial unity has been thrown away, and that that idea must be abandoned as an empty dream.Further, in speaking of the principle of Free Trade, which was involved in his 649 first remarks, the right hon. Gentleman, said,I have not such a pedantic admiration for it that if sufficient advantage were offered me I would not consider a deviation from the strict doctrine.He hoped and believed the right hon. Gentleman would take the opportunity, when the representatives of our colonies would shortly be in our great City, of advancing this idea of commercial federation further. ["Hear, hear!"] One great danger in connection with our food supply might be avoided if, instead of getting our wheat from America, Argentina, and Russia, we were to obtain it from Australasia, India, and Canada. There were at the present moment over 200,000,000 acres in Central and Western Canada waiting for the plough, and we could with preferential duties supply ourselves with all the breadstuffs that we needed across the shortest Atlantic route and the one furthest away from hostile ports. The danger of absolute dependence on foreign countries would thus be done away with. Here was surely a direction of inquiry to which the Government might usefully turn their attention. ["Hear, hear!"] The next remedy was the increase of our wheat production at home. We required a wheat reserve, and the test place to have it was in our barnyards and stackyards. ["Hear, hear!"] It was sometimes said that agriculture at home was played out, that nature was against it, and that it might as well be given up. Personally he could not subscribe to that doctrine. At the present time there were less than 2,000,000 acres of wheat land in the United Kingdom. Quadruple this area and 8,000,000 acres—one-sixth of the cultivable area of the United Kingdom—would give us practically all, or nearly all, the breadstuffs we required. The nature of the land was also admirably suited for the purpose, and the problem he had been endeavouring to place before the House would be solved. On the point of the productiveness of the land the hon. Member quoted from the evidence of Mr. W. G. Harris, from the County of Devon, who gave testimony on this question before the Royal Commission on Agriculture, and whose evidence had never been contradicted, showing that the land of the United Kingdom was, under equal economic conditions, 650 50s. per acre more productive than the foreign land whose produce beat it in our markets. At present the British farmer was undersold in the market because his own fiscal system was against him. He should probably be told he was talking protection. He was not afraid of the accusation, although he did not wish to commit anybody except himself. But he should appeal to the highest individual political authority whom he recognised. He meant the present Prime Minister of England. Lord Salisbury, speaking at a dinner at the Hotel Metropole, of the Associated Chambers of Commerce on March 10th last, having alluded to the Protectionist attitude of France and America, said:—Do not imagine for a moment that I am going to be heterodox. I do not doubt that Free Trade is the policy for this country, which this country will continue to pursue … I refer to it for another purpose. You cannot say that you are alone right and all other nations wrong. You would, in that case, place yourself in the position of the celebrated dissentient Irish juryman, who told his brother jurymen that he had never met eleven such obstinate people in his life. Is it not possible there is no principle, and that Free Trade is good for one country, and for the resources, the temper, and the climate of one nation and not another.If that was true, as he believed it was, then Free Trade was a question, not of principle, but of expediency, and it became at once a proper subject of Government inquiry. Lord Salisbury on the same occasion said:—I cannot conceal from myself … that we are injured by the knowledge other nations have that, under no circumstances, shall we betake ourselves to any kind of retaliation. You might as well send a party to take a fortress without guns as to enter upon this warfare with such an inability as that.He confessed, when he read these words he came to the conclusion—and he was very glad to think it—that this distinguished Statesman was rather halfhearted in his devotion to the principle of Free Trade. At all events, taking the quotations as he had read them, he subscribed at once to the doctrine that this was not a question of principle but only a question of expediency—a question which for certain purposes and under certain conditions might be inquired into with the object, not of imposing protective duties for the mere sake of 651 protection, but in order to encourage the production of breadstuff's on the land of this kingdom. The other remedy he suggested was a reserve in State granaries. One objection advanced against this proposal was that it would cost too much. He submitted that if it were absolutely necessary to have a reserve of wheat in this country, the question of cost ought not to be an insuperable objection. He contended that it would not cost too much, while, so far as the first cost was concerned, it would not be a throwing away of money, but would simply be an investment. The money would be there in wheat instead of in gold. By the adoption of the system of elevators, which was so prevalent in America, the wheat could be stored away in bulk, could be turned over in the elevator inside of 24 hours, and could be kept ventilated, clean, and in wholesome condition. Wheat at the present time, he pointed out, was stored at Liverpool, Malta, and other places. Perhaps the most serious objection to this proposed remedy was that it would be an undue interference with trade. He did not himself see how it could unduly interfere with trade if done gradually and tentatively, and if it did it would be only for a very short time. The wheat required as a reserve would go to the granaries and would not affect the ordinary now of wheat into the country nor interfere with the markets. He would illustrate his meaning by the example of a mill-dam on a river. The dam, when completed, provided a reserve of water when the river ran low, but in no way lessened or interfered with the flow of water to the sea. In the same way a national reserve of wheat would provide for a contingency, but, when complete, and, if always maintained, would not affect the ordinary flow of the wheat trade. He ventured to think he had made some kind of case in the direction of his Motion. The constituencies of this country, and particularly the industrial constituencies, held the Government they had returned to power responsible for an adequate Navy to guard our shores and preserve our markets. For the same reason they would hold the Government responsible for providing some security against the famine price of food in time of war. [Cheers.] He begged to move the Resolution.
§ * MR. ROBERT YERBURGH () Chester
, in seconding the Resolution so ably and exhaustively moved by his hon. Friend, desired to make clear the position of himself and his hon. Friends on two points. In the first place this was not a class question in any degree, and if in any way it could be so regarded then he would venture to say it was a class question affecting above all the great industrial classes of the country; and, in that connection, The Times, in a leading article upon the rise in the price of bread last autumn, pointed out that there were classes not prepared for even the slightest increase in the price of bread. In the second place they did not come before, the House as alarmists or panic-mongers. His hon. Friend had alluded to a number of representative bodies who had passed resolutions in the sense of the Motion before the House, but he had omitted to mention the London Chamber of Commerce, who, a few days ago, passed a similar resolution. He would mention another point which would be familiar to those who had studied this subject, and that was that the foreign Press, and notably the French and German Press, had been devoting particular attention to this feature in our defence; and writers of authority, whose names would be familiar to the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir C. Dilke) had pointed out that the most effectual way of dealing with us would be by fitting out a fleet of modern Alabamas to prey upon our commerce, and interfere with our food supplies. With regard to these food supplies, he pointed out as an interesting fact, he had worked out carefully that at the beginning of the century one person out of 14 of our population was dependent on foreign supplies; in the years of the Crimean war, 1854–5, one out of every seven was so dependent, and at the present time six out of every seven of our population depended on food supplies from abroad. Last year there was a slight increase in the acreage of land under wheat and a large increase in the yield, the harvest being largely in excess of the previous year, though not of preceding years. Taking into consideration the normal increase of our population, and assigning to that increase the same amount of wheat consumption as at present, in 1906 our increased population would require two and a quarter millions 653 of quarters of wheat, and in 1916 a further increase of four and a-half millions of quarters; that was to say, that in 1916 our increased population would require more wheat to support them than was produced in. the year of a short harvest, the year before last. As regards importation, he had often seen it stated that the lowest level of prices had been readied, and that we may in future look for an increase in prices that will make it worth while for our farmers to grow more wheat. If those who held that view would refer to the Reports of our representatives in Russia, in Argentina, and elsewhere, they would see that those Reports told of enormous tracts of land not yet brought under the plough, and from which wheat could be produced and imported into this country in enormously increased quantities. This disposed of the expectation of an increased supply from our own farmers. What would be our position under a great war? It was perfectly obvious that the very first thing that would happen would be an increase in the price of bread, an increase which would press hardly, as The Times' article to which he had alluded, pointed out, on large classes of our population. The next point would be—of course this was mere hypothesis—an attempt on the part of foreign speculators to create a "corner" in the wheat market, and in the next place wheat would be declared contraband of war. In 1794 we ourselves declared provisions contraband of war, making no distinction between provisions destined for military or civil consumption. The proposition was disputed by the United States, and we drew up a treaty with the United States, but the special point as to the conditions under which provisions should be declared contraband was left entirely untouched; all that was laid down was that they would be so declared under certain circumstances, but, to save the difficulties that might arise, parties who had their goods seized were to be indemnified. In the year 1885 France, then at war with China, declared rice contraband on the special ground that rice was necessary for the Chinese. Now rice was not more necessary to the Chinese than wheat for us, and judging from experience it might be assumed that in case of war France would declare wheat contraband of war. If anyone should be disposed to contest that point then surely the action of the allied 654 Powers in relation to Crete would dispose of the argument. Provisions had been declared contraband when destined for the forces operating in the interior of the island. Here in England we possessed a Volunteer force scattered all over the country, and it was practically part of the civil population, and to make a distinction between the food destined for the civil population and for the Volunteers was absolutely impossible. Therefore, we must take it that wheat would be declared contraband of war, and at the commencement of hostilities we should have bread driven up to an alarming price, not very encouraging auspices under which to commence what might prove to be a life-and-death struggle. He would like to put this to his right hon. Friend who would reply on this Motion. From our wars with France from 1793 to 1812 or thereabouts we, after a protracted struggle, emerged victorious, and at that time the country was practically self-supporting; but in spite of that on two occasions certainly there were most serious riots in the country. History tells how serious were the disturbances, and how the Habeas Corpus Act had to be suspended, and the "Annual Register" for 1812 stated that riots in various parts of the country were caused by the increase in the price of provisions. There was one point his hon. Friend had not dealt with, and that was the position our Army and Navy would occupy in case of our going to war under these conditions. He had seen it stated that the Admiralty had arranged for a certain force of cruisers to be detached, whose duty it would be to protect our commerce and the importation of our food supplies; but the question he would like to put to the representative of the Admiralty was this, whether—in case of necessity, if we were self-supporting and not dependent on foreign food supplies—it would not he in the power of the Admiralty, supposing the question arose, to withdraw those cruisers from the protection of commerce for offensive operations against the enemy? He had read a very interesting speech by the Duke of Devonshire on the position of the Volunteers, in which he laid great stress on their value for home defence, and he said no opportunity should be lost of so defending a vital point as to give the Fleet liberty of action and that freedom which was 655 essential for its proper use. Now, if this vital point of food supply was in some way attended to and placed beyond risk of danger or hazard of interference, would not the fleet pet that further liberty of action upon which the Duke of Devonshire laid so much stress? The Army, Lord Wolseley held, would come into play in case of any disaster by storm or battle happening to our fleet. There were some hon. Gentlemen, no doubt, who held that if our fleet were lost all would be lost; but would the Army be able to operate with any efficiency if it had behind it a sullen, discontented population, ready to take to riot and pillage under the stress of hunger and fear of starvation? The Army could not hope to operate effectively, and there would be no resource but unconditional surrender and loss of empire. With the national food supplies secure the Army would be in a position to offer effective defence. That acknowledged authority on naval warfare, Captain Mahan, said in his book that if there was not that difference in personnel and population which would make one battle or campaign decisive, reserve strength must begin to tell, the organised reserve, the reserve of a seafaring population, the reserve of mechanical skill, the reserve of wealth. We had the three last, but should be unable to make use of our reserve strength, if dependent on foreign supplies we could not obtain, we should be forced to capitulate. His hon. Friend had pointed out that something like 51 per cent, of their wheat supply came from Russia and from the Balkan States. Russia, controlling, as everyone, he thought, must admit, the Dardanelles, had control of the whole of that wheat supply. That being so, what would be the position of this country with an alliance of France and Russia against them? A gentleman who was largely engaged in the wheat trade, and who formerly sat in that House—Mr. Harris—informed him that it would be perfectly possible for France, through her agents, within three weeks to buy "futures" in America to the extent of from 10 to 12 million quarters. So that they would have something like 51 per cent, in the hands of Russia, and this other amount in the hands of France, making altogether some 76 per cent, of the exports which would be controlled by those two Powers. He asked the House whether that was a posi 656 tion in which this country ought to allow itself to be placed? ["Hear, hear!"] He desired to say that he would never be a party to a proposal which would in any way tend to increase the food of the people, but he did not think that would be brought about by the suggestion of his hon. Friend for the establishment of a wheat reserve in granaries built by public funds. The cost which would be involved by the adoption of this proposal might be met by reimposing the old shilling registration duty upon wheat which was taken off by Mr. Lowe. It might be said that that was protection. His answer to that objection was that the duty was left on by Sir Robert Peel and that it remained on while the Liberal Party were in office some 16 years, during ten of which Mr. Gladstone was Chancellor of the Exchequer, it being treated simply as a means of raising revenue. That duty would work out at between £1,000,000 and £1,200,000. It could not be said that this proposal of his would in any way raise the price of bread, for, from inquiries among the bakers, he understood it was the invariable custom of the trade not to add anything to the price of the loaf until wheat had gone up 5s. a quarter. It was his firm conviction that, if this country was not dependent on the foreigner for its bread supplies, in time of war their Navy would have that increased liberty of action which was so ardently desired by the Duke of Devonshire, that the Army would have its defensive power largely increased, and that, above all, it would add largely to the chance of preserving peace. Lord Dufferin had pointed out in most powerful language that, beyond all shadow of doubt, the stronger a, country was the less danger there was of war, and he submitted to the House that, with a wheat reserve, their country must be stronger, and, therefore, was in less danger of war.[Cheers.]
§ * SIR CHARLES DILKE () Gloucester, Forest of Dean
said the terms of the Motion were so vague and general, and, indeed, so inoffensive, that he had little objection to them. The proposition that the peculiar position in which this country stood as regarded its food supplies must be a source of certain anxiety to the Government, and that it was a matter which they should consider did not take them very far, because that consideration might take the 657 form of an increased supply of cruisers, for example, or of a suggestion for insuring against war risks, or many other proposals. Therefore, if he rose, as he did, to rather strongly object to a great deal that had been said, it was not an objection to the terms of the Resolution so much as to the speeches which had been made in support of the Resolution. Those speeches had been largely concerned with a time of war, and it was to that side of the question that the Motion called the attention of the House. If it were not for that, this would be supposed by the House to be a Protectionist Motion in disguise. He certainly noticed a very strong flavour of protection in the speech of the mover. ["Hear, hear!"] He did not propose, however, to discuss what might be behind the Motion so much as the grounds upon which the Motion itself was put forward. The hon. Mover began by telling the House that their wheat supply came chiefly from foreign, and possibly from hostile countries, and by those countries he meant particularly Russia and the United States. He also told the House that two-fifths of their wheat supply came through the Dardanelles—a long and most dangerous line of trade he admitted. But two-fifths of their trade did not come through the Dardanelles.
§ * SIR C. DILKE
said he denied that statement altogether as a matter of fact. He did not admit cither the figure two-fifths or even the correction.
§ * MR. SETON-KARR.
In the Statistical Abstract for 1895, the amount of wheat imported from Russia is given as nearly six million quarters.
§ * SIR C. DILKE
I absolutely admit the figures for 1895, but that was an exceptional year, and the figures are different to those for 20 years. The United States send us half the total importation of wheat into this country.
§ * MR. YERBURGH
The figures I gave were taken from the Corn Year Book. According to that authority, for this last year 47,970,000 quarters was the total exports of wheat, and 51 per cent, of this came through the Dardanelles in 1895.
§ * SIR C. DILKE
Of course I accept the hon. Gentleman's statement with regard 658 to the figures he has there. All I can say is that my right hon. Friend the Member for Thanet and I have two different sets of figures here. They don't agree, but they both agree sufficiently to absolutely contradict the statement just made.
§ * MR. SETON-KARR
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but he has questioned a matter of fact which should be cleared up. I have the figures here for 1894 as well as for 1895. He said 1895 was an abnormal year, but as a matter of fact the total importation from Russia in 1895 was exceeded by the importation in 1894.
§ * SIR C. DILKE
said that Russia now counted far less than formerly as a supply market for this country for wheat, and the United States sent the largest amount of wheat to this country. No doubt the trade with Southern Russia would be jeopardised in time of war, but if we could be fed from the United States, South America, Canada, India, and Australia, we were practically independent of a supply from Southern Russia. ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Member for St. Helens said the great bulk of our wheat supply now came from foreign and possibly hostile countries, in which he doubtless included the United States, and he argued that the danger was not that the wheat was liable to capture in coining across the sea, but that those countries might prevent it coming out at all. Unless those countries were actually engaged in hostilities with us the interest they would have in feeding us in time of war would be so enormously great that they would let nothing interfere with their trade interests. The hon. Gentleman held out the prospect that in the event of war the Government would have to cope with bread riots, caused by the increase in the price of food. There would be an increase in certain foods, no doubt, but it must be remembered that, as regarded the working classes, it probably would be accompanied by a rise in wages, because the Army, Navy, and manufacturing departments of the country would be busily engaged. But even if there were no rise in wages there would be ways of guarding against the starvation of the working classes through high prices. The Government might take steps to prevent a rise of prices to the working classes. ["How?"] Of course there would not be enough food 659 of one class for everybody—wheat for instance—but of certain classes of food there were great reserves. ["What classes?"] There were, for example, large stores of dried peas and lentils. [A laugh.] For a time there would be a certain pinch, but it would only concern certain classes of food here and there. If our ports were open at all there would be such a temptation to foreigners to pour food into the country that food would come in. The real question was whether we could be entirely blockaded and shut up. He admitted that we were highly vulnerable, and it was because we were so that he was in favour of large expenditure upon the defences of the Empire. ["Hear, hear!"] He believed, however, that in the event of us losing command of the sea our enemies, if they were numerous enough, would be much more likely to strike at our heart than to attempt to gradually starve us. It had been said that in time of war wheat would very likely be treated as contraband of war. It was true that in recent years articles of contraband had increased. We ourselves had been far from sufficiently careful upon this question, but he was willing to admit that the matter of contraband was largely one of the stronger side. If we had a great combination of Powers against us we must be prepared for them putting aside the works on international law written by the great international lawyers. It was, however, highly probable that the United States would be neutral in the event of such a great war as was anticipated, and the Powers against us would not be likely to take any step in respect to contraband which would be likely to bring the United States down upon them. The hon. Member for St. Helens made four suggestions. In the first place he proposed a commercial federation with our colonies. He could not see how in any comparatively brief course of time that would affect the question before the House. It was possible to conceive that advantages offered to our colonies might induce them to produce artificially in the course of a good many years more wheat than they did now, but it would take time for the change to operate, and the risks to this country were perhaps not so many years ahead as to give time for the change to be brought about. Besides, it was possible that any advantage we might 660 gain by adopting the hon. Member's suggestion we might lose by discouraging the freer market in Southern Russia and other portions of the world. As to the second suggestion, he thought it was that there should be a bounty put on wheat grown at home. [Dissent.] Oh, no; the hon. Member did not specify, but what he suggested meant that or nothing. ["Hear, hear!"] Then he threw out the suggestion for the cultivation of waste land in the neighbourhood of London by pauper labour. He had some experience in this matter, and he was anxious to see the experiment settled; but he did not think the country would find that it had done much towards its wheat supply by the cultivation of London's waste lands by pauper labour. ["Hear, hear!"] He came to the third suggestion, and it was the most important, and it had been developed by the Member for Chester—public granaries in which wheat should be stored. Very little guidance was given to them in this matter, and the hon. Member who made the Motion gave them no information at all; he talked of a tentative trial of the system. The hon. Member who seconded the Motion distinctly told them that he would not be a party to the raising of the price of wheat, and he thought that all that was contemplated might be done by a shilling duty, which would not affect prices in any way. That was a matter on which, he was afraid, they could not agree. The hon. Member gave the House no figures at all to suggest how far this 1s. duty would carry them with a food supply in time of war. For his part he should be more hopeful if the same amount of money was spent on national defences. [Cheers.] The hon. Member who seconded the Motion told the House he was no alarmist, but he put before them the danger as to covering the seas with Alabamas. As between the French plan of destroying this country by preying on their trade and the German view of invasion after command of the sea was lost, he adhered to the latter rather than to the former. He did not believe that starvation and suffocation would be so easy as a policy of invasion. The hon. Member said that if they were self-supporting their cruisers could be used as a striking force; but, if they were to lay up their cruisers simply because they were not wanted for protecting their food supplies, of course, 661 the whole foreign trade would be destroyed, and one of the great purposes for which the Navy existed would fail. They would have to guard the trade route, not only to the Cape, but from the Cape to India, and from India to China; and the great length of the trade routes would prevent the withdrawing of the cruisers in time of war. The general view he took of the Motion was that it was somewhat vague and harmless, and he did not think that much good would come from carrying it
MR. JAMES LOWTHER () Kent, Thanet
said apparently his right hon. Friend who had just sat down would put all his eggs in one basket. He had not a word to say against any reasonable increase of the Navy which any responsible Government might think necessary, but if he were asked to rely absolutely on the Navy to protect the country and feed their population, he could not agree with his right hon. Friend. His right hon. Friend was like the commander of a garrison who relied solely on sorties, making no provision for feeding the garrison and the population. It was notorious that we often had not more than three or four weeks' supply of wheat or Hour in the country. His right hon. Friend, however, said something about lentils and peas. [Laughter.] How long did he think this country would allow warlike operations to go on if they were driven to food of that kind? Then the right hon. Baronet said Paris held out some time, and they were told that at all events they had the example of Paris in I the diet of rats. [Laughter.] They wanted to be in a position to give their people wholesome food. He was not going to say that help from outside should be dispensed with. What he suggested was that they should be in a position to rely largely on their resources at home; and, secondly, on those friendly elements of the Empire which would be anxious to send supplies. ["Hear, hear!"] They could get enough from Canada alone to feed them for 12 months. He joined his hon. Friends in deprecating any serious addition to the cost of living in England, but under a sliding scale a duty which ceased when the price reached, say, 40s. or thereabouts per quarter, could under no circumstances be a hardship to the people this country. There were many 662 people who went about the country saying that the imposition of a tax on corn would immediately result in famine prices for bread; and the mention of the fact that in 1812 corn stood at an average price of 126s. per quarter was always accompanied by denunciations of the selfish landowning class, who starved the poor by forcing up prices to that extraordinary point. But at that date and in the early days of the century, when prices were high, there was no duty save the shilling registration fee. In fact, when prices were highest duties were lowest. ["Hear, hear!"] He would point out also that the history of this and other countries showed that the imposition of a duty of any given amount by no means involved a rise in prices to a proportionate amount. But what would be the effect of a rise of 5s. in the price of corn on the daily expenses of the people? A full-grown man was capable of consuming 11b. of bread per day. The rations served out to our troops were computed at that rate. An increase of 5s. in the selling price of wheat would affect the price of 11b. of bread to the amount of one-half a farthing. Multiplying that amount by the number of days in the year, it would be found that every full-grown person would have his baker's bill increased by the sum of 3s. 9½d. in the whole course of the year; and yet they were constantly being told that a duty which would involve a rise of 5s. in the quarter of wheat would involve the starvation of the people. On the other hand, the duties which he would abolish on tea, coffee, cocoa, chicory, and dried fruits, articles which we could not produce at home, from which we raised a revenue of from four and a-half to five millions sterling a year, fell upon each individual consumer to the amount, speaking roughly, of 2s. 2½d. in the course of the year, and deducting that amount from the 3s. 9½., they would find that the net loss to the people involved in the adoption of the system of protection which he advocated, would be only 1s. 7d. a year. He was sure that, under that system, the working classes would be in a position to confront without any serious alarm a possible increase in their baker's bill, of a few shillings a year when balanced against a reduction in their grocer's bill, and accompanied by increased wages as the outcome of a 663 restoration of agricultural prosperity. The only suggested alternative to the system he proposed was the establishment of State granaries. He presumed that meant that the State should buy large quantities of wheat, and so become a monopolist in the corndealing business of the country. ["Hear, hear"] That was a vista which he was sure the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not view with any great equanimity. ["Hear, hear!"] The effect on our finances of the imposition of a duty should also be borne in mind. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, replying to a question on the subject last year, said the shilling duty, generally known as the registration fee, which was so unwisely and mischievously abolished by Mr. Lowe, would produce about £2,450,000 a year. A duty of 5s. would produce 12¾ millions, and a duty, of 10s. would produce upwards of 24 millions. The Chancellor of the Exchequer of the late Government had declared that our present fiscal system would be unable to bear the strain that might be imposed upon it in the future; and the present Chancellor of the Exchequer had said that our present fiscal system could not go on providing us with unlimited revenue. Therefore, those who deliberately excluded from the possibilities of the near future a return on a large scale to a system of indirect taxation were cutting themselves off from the only source of revenue that would be available in a time of real pressure in this country. He had disposed of the contention that, if the arrangements suggested were made, the population of the country would be called on to make any great sacrifice. He hoped the Government would not fail to have recourse to the only remedy which could prove efficacious, when they took practical measures to protect the country against dangers to its food supply.
§ MR. GEORGE LAMBERT () Devon, South Molton
said that a very interesting discussion had been initiated. Although the question was one of an inadequate food supply, very little had been said by hon. Gentlemen opposite as to depressed agriculture. They were not nearly so keen on that point now as when the late Government was in office. The remedy which had been propounded by the right hon. Member for Thanet would not receive much sympathy 664 from the poorer classes in the country; and he thought it was very impolitic to buoy up agriculturists with hopes that the old reign of protection would some day return. He wondered that among all the remedies suggested by hon. Gentlemen opposite, no mention had been made of the great remedy of the President of the Local Government Board—bimetallism. Protection, in the minds of a great many, meant not so much greater food supplies for the people as higher rents for the landlords. As had been said by the right hon. Member for Bodmin, the protectionists added a new phrase to the Lord's Prayer—"Give us this day our daily bread, but not too cheap." It had been asserted that bakers did not put up the price of bread till wheat had risen 5s. a quarter. He found that they put up the price directly there was even a prospect of a rise in wheat; but when wheat went down 5s. a quarter, the bakers did not reduce the price of bread. If protection were to be restored, it should not begin with the food of the people. It should begin with manufactured goods, and that was a long way off. In other countries protection had not proved a remedy against agricultural depression; and he believed that it was responsible for the great discontent of the poorer classes which was exhibited at the last Presidential Election in the United States. Whatever was to be said of agriculture, it must be admitted that the agricultural labourer—who could not be left out of account—had enormously improved his position under the system of free trade. Mr. Little, in a Report of the Labour Commission, declared that, by a quiet revolution, from one-third to one-quarter of the profits of the landlord and the farmer had been transferred to the labourer.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is not keeping to the question before the House. The question of the effect of protection upon the agricultural labourer is not the question before the House.
§ MR. LAMBERT
said he wished to show that if we had to rely on increased home-production, we could not depend on protection to secure that result. The question of national granaries wag argued in another place about two years ago, and did not receive much support. It was a reversion to the methods of the time of the Pharaohs. If they were established, 665 they would have to hold some 10,000,000 quarters of wheat, and if the price of wheat fell considerably, the Exchequer would be involved in an enormous deficit. Moreover, the granaries would chiefly afford a paradise for rats. If the productive capacity of the laud were to be increased, the excessive burdens on land, which were crippling agriculture, must be lightened. One farmer in Berkshire and Oxfordshire told the Agricultural Commission that the tenant farmers had been paying the rents out of capital so long that their possibilities of improving the methods and the capacity of the land were greatly reduced. None of the artificial remedies which had been suggested would improve the productive powers of the soil. To do that, we must take a leaf out of the book of our foreign competitors, teach the farmer to produce more cheaply, and cheapen the means of transport and communication. With such a strong Navy as we possessed, there could not be much danger of a blockade which would shut off our food supplies.
§ * SIR JOHN COLOMB () Great Yarmouth
dealing with the various remedies that had been suggested, said it appeared to be a serious thing to propose that a Minister of the Crown should become the biggest corn dealer in the country; and that the House of Commons should be turned into the bulls and bears of the Stock Exchange. The arrangement of public granaries in which reserves of four months' supplies should be kept, was one which would not commend itself to reasonable people. With regard to the idea of a bounty on wheat production, he held that the agricultural produce of this country was unfairly treated by reason of the fact that it contributes to Imperial and local burdens, while foreign and colonial imported wheat contributed nothing. He could not see why the foreigner should altogether escape his contribution so as to equalise competition and place foreign produce in home markets on the same footing as our own. As to commercial federation with the colonies, that was by itself no remedy at all, because he did not see that colonial produce was exposed to less risk than foreign produce. [Cheers.] Wheat from India or Australia would, in the event supposed, be under exactly the same risk as foreign wheat on the ocean. But he could understand commercial 666 federation if it was associated with complete federation for defence. [Cheers.] If we were to enter into commercial federation with advantages to our colonies, to encourage them to grow wheat and other things to compete against our own farmers at home, he wanted to know how they were going to share in the burden and expense of protecting that sea-borne wheat upon the ocean? ["Hear, hear!"] He could not see any sense in such a policy unless it was accompanied by an undertaking on the part of the colony entering into the federation to bear the same.
MR. JAMES LOWTHER
I never advocated free importation of colonial produce, but simply preferential tariffs which would charge the colonists less than the foreigner.
§ * SIR J. COLOMB
replied that the point they had to bear in mind was the risk of sea-going commerce in war, and if advantages were given to a colony to enable it to send produce in time of war, that colony was equally bound to share the responsibility and expense of the protection of its commerce coming to us. The time had really come to face this question of joint action and joint responsibility in the maintenance of the fleet, which was of equal value and necessity to the colony as to the mother country. He did not think the present state of things could long continue. Canada was a considerable mercantile power of the world in ships, and yet Canada contributed nothing whatever to the expense of the sea-going fleet which protected her ships. Such experience as we had showed that the country that was most powerful at sea did not, in the end, suffer so much. At the commencement of the war 1812–14 with the United States, the States had about 50 millions sterling of sea trade, and at the conclusion this had dwindled down to 4½ millions; while, on the other hand, we commenced that war with a sea-borne commerce of the value of 64 millions sterling, and at the conclusion it had risen to 87 millions. The economic problem resolved itself into a question of prices, and the question of prices was affected by war risk, and the war risk would be precisely a question of confidence in the Navy, and that should never be lost sight of. If we got into war to-morrow, of course there 667 would be a rise in the price of bread. And not only would the price of food rise by reason of the war risk, but the price of all raw material would rise too. On the other hand, manufactures exported to foreign countries would increase in value and in price when placed on the foreign market, because the price of delivery at the foreign port would be enhanced. Thus would our competing power be seriously injured. The real question, he thought, was one of insurance with a Government guarantee. There was no department of the Government charged with considering all the economic questions involved, and he thought the time had come when there should be, perhaps associated with the Intelligence Department of the Admiralty some body of commercial men who could advise the Admiralty and the Government upon these matters.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
, who was received with Ministerial cheers: There are two interesting peculiarities, among others, which mark the instructive Debate to which we have listened this evening. The first is that my hon. Friend has so contrived the terms of his Motion that he has made it a suitable text apparently for almost even Gentleman who wishes to agitate, and is in the habit of agitating some special views in the House—["hear, hear!" and laughter]—be those views what they may. My gallant Friend who has just sat down takes a strong view as to a colonial federation for the defence of the Empire, and very property, and has given us some lengthy observations on that subject. The mover of the Motion takes a strong view on colonial federation for commercial purposes, and has brought forward that view. My right hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet is a long-tried advocate of agricultural protection, and it is unnecessary to say that on this occasion he has not lost the opportunity of bringing forward that subject. [Laughter.] Then there is the hon. Gentleman opposite, the Member for the South Molton Division, who is never able to get up in this House without attacking the exorbitant rents of landlords, and, remote as that subject might at first seem to be from the food supply of the nation and the commercial defence of the Empire, he has succeeded, 668 and at considerable length, in introducing that topic also into our Debate. [Laughter.] I think the House will feel that that peculiarity of the Debate necessarily precludes me, as speaking for the Government, from covering the whole field which has been covered by hon. Gentlemen—["hear, hear!" and laughter]—and I can only express my thankfulness that one topic, certainly as relevant to this subject as many which have been raised, and which has, I think, been mentioned, namely, that of bimetallism—[Laughter.]—has not been added to the numerous topics which it has been thought fit to deal with in our speeches to-night. The second peculiarity of the Motion is that, while in the terms which have been put on the Paper, it commands a universal assent—a chorus of assent in which I at all events mean to introduce no discordant note—the actual speakers when they came to put forward in detail their special views as to how the difficulties alluded to in the Resolution should be met, have expressed the most vehement divergence of opinion, a divergence of opinion not at all corresponding to the division of Parties, but making itself quite as plain among my Friends on this side of the House as among hon. Gentlemen opposite. For example, the Mover of the Motion expressed, among other things, a decided desire to see some form of bounty or protection extended to home-grown wheat; the Seconder of the Motion said that whatever else he would agree to, nothing in the world would make him agree to that. [Laughter.] My right hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet made an able and excellent protectionist speech, but he was followed by other Gentlemen also on this side of the House, who pointed out that they certainly could not follow him, at all events, on those lines, in attempting to secure for this country a food supply in case of war. Passing from these irregularities of the Debate to the main arguments that have been advanced, perhaps I may begin with a very brief consideration of the two or three projects which have been put before us for dealing with this Question. On Protection I really have nothing to say. It is too large a question to discuss in detail, and stray references to what has fallen from my hon. Friends, or to arguments from the other side, would really conduce very 669 little to elucidate the subject. I would only remind the House that, though it may be true, and I think it is true, that the apostles of Free Trade have too much elevated themselves into a sect professing a peculiar orthodoxy—["hear, hear!"]—and basing themselves upon certain perfectly sound abstract arguments, they have been too apt to found upon those abstract arguments rules of public policy which they sometimes assume are true to all nations, races, and times. Though I think they have erred in this excessive and abstract treatment of the subject, the broad political fact—I will not travel into economical fact—is that for various historical reasons, partly-arising out of the enormously high price of bread which prevailed during the late war. partly out of the great controversy ending in the abolition of the Corn Laws, the masses of this country view with ineradicable prejudice the notion of any return to anything at all resembling the old Protective duties that used to be levied. [Cheers.] That is my own personal belief. I am not arguing the merits of this question: I am merely bringing before my hon. Friends, as well as hon. Gentlemen opposite, the fact which I think a little experience has probably persuaded them of, that it is perfectly useless to say to an agricultural labourer, for example, that the result of Free Trade is that the value of farms has gone down, and that the farmer as a result of losing his profits cannot give so much employment to agricultural labourers. That may be true; in many parts of the country I am convinced it is true—[Sir H. VINCENT: "Hear, hear!"]:—but, true or not, I venture to say that we have got to deal with political forces as we find them, and we must recognise that the historical prejudice, if you will, but the historical conviction in any case, which has been driven into the minds of the labouring classes of this country with regard to protection of food is so deeply ingrained in them that I do not believe my right hon. Friend's propaganda, however ably conducted, is likely to have very much effect upon their views. I puss from that to the plan which the seconder of 670 this Motion has dwelt upon. He wants to see us spend a capital sum, which, together with the annual cost of maintaining this system, would impose, I imagine, on the Chancellor of the Exchequer an annual burden which my hon. Friend, I think, put at about £900,000 a year, but which I am afraid less sanguine calculators would put a great deal higher. The basis of my hon. Friend's calculation was that money could be borrowed at 2 per cent. I do not think, whatever the rate of interest may be at present, that any Chancellor of the Exchequer would venture to carry out a commercial undertaking involving a capital expenditure, of some 20 millions of money, on the basis of being able to borrow that money at 2 per cent. But my hon. Friend altogether abstained from dealing with the difficulty attaching to this plan, quite apart from the financial difficulty which has been alluded to —namely, that if you are going to establish granaries in which a third of the annual consumption of the whole people is to be contained, you inevitably turn the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the time being into a great corn factor and corn dealer. ["Hear, hear!"] In so doing you would entirely alter the position of the administration at the head of the Government of this country. It is impossible that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should be a buyer and seller on the prodigious scale implied by my hon. Friends plan without making him interfere with prices, and without bringing down on his head an avalanche of criticism and of public feeling which even in quiet times would make his life anything but a happy one, and would make his position absolutely intolerable. The third plan proposed by the mover was that of a commercial Zollverein between England and her colonies, and for this purpose with the wheat-growing colonies. I am one of those who look with considerable longing towards some closer union—[Cheers.]—with our colonies, based, I should hope, both on commercial and on military considerations. I must confess, however, that I do not quite see how this proposal of the seconder of the Motion really touches the difficulty in 671 which Great Britain finds herself at this moment. He did not clearly explain, in the first place, how this Zollverein was to increase the area of wheat production. When we are told by the hon. Member and by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Thanet that Canada has at this moment virgin soil for a sufficient area of wheat we should require without going to Russia or Argentina, I do not doubt the fact, but I do doubt that by any arrangement with Canada we could provide Canada with the population or the capital to convert vast areas of uncultivated plain into grain-producing territory. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] My hon. Friends do not suggest the methods by which the population can suddenly be transferred to Canada, by which she should be enabled to make this enormous addition to her wheat supply. I hope the time will come when this virgin soil may be used; but nothing has been suggested to bring it within the immediate range of practical politics. Those who advocate a Zollverein as a remedy for the difficulties forget from what cause our difficulties principally arise. They seem to assume that the difficulty of finding food for England in time of war arises from the fact, that the nations which chiefly produce our food supply will refuse to allow it to leave their shores and come to ours. I admit that might be met by inducing our colonies, if they could be induced, to supply all the wheat we require. But is that danger a real one? I do not think so. The hon. Members appear to assume, though they have not distinctly said so, that there is to be an alliance of Russia, and America against us. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Russia and France!"] Russia and France will not do it. I am now dealing with the argument that nations will refuse to supply us, and that we shall not be able to import. But that danger is not serious or imminent unless you can conceive America and Russia agreeing together in order to injure w and in order to destroy their most profitable source of exportation.
§ * MR. YERBURGH
said that Russia and France had not been touched upon in the Debate, but he was advised by one of the great dealers that the present system of dealing in grain was largely in "futures," and in this case wheat might be withdrawn from our consumption.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
Apart from the buying of "futures," we have nothing to fear that other nations will refuse to send us corn. But as to "futures," if France can buy "futures" England can do so as well. [Cheers.] While it would pay us to buy "futures" if we cannot get corn, it would not pay France to do so, because she does not want the corn. Thus France, being at war with us, would have her whole financial as well as military system strained to the utmost to buy corn she does not consume. That particular danger, arising from the special methods of dealing with corn found to prevail in America, is not one which it is necessary to provide against. I ought now to touch on the dangers, real or supposed—and I do not minimise them—from which those remedies are intended to protect us. What are they? First, there is the danger arising from bread riots and general disorder prevailing among the wage-earning classes of the community when they found the pinch of starvation in consequence of war. I do not think there is any distinction in this matter to be drawn between one class of the community and another. If this country goes to war depend upon it it will only go to war if the Government of the day feels it has behind it the sentiment of the people; and if this people are resolved to go to war I am confident that they are prepared to undergo the hardships entailed upon them by war. I do not believe that the immediate result of raising the price of grain would be to induce the general disorder which the hon. Gentleman anticipates. I admit that we have an experience, but it is an experience which may reassure us. I cannot imagine that any section of the population is likely to be 673 put to a much greater strain than was the population of Lancashire during the time of the cotton famine. The population of Lancashire during the cotton famine never exhibited any of these disorderly symptoms of which my hon. Friend is afraid; but they so held themselves up as an example for all time of how patiently great misfortunes can be borne by the working classes of this country. [Cheers.] What is the second danger? It is that foreigners will refuse to send us their corn. I have dealt with that; but there remains what I believe is the real and great danger—not the danger of riots or of foreigners refusing to send corn in—but the impossibility we shall be under, through the blockade of our coasts, of getting corn in. I do not wish to minimise that. I think it is a possible one. I will not argue whether food would be regarded as contraband of war. In that matter I associate myself with the views of the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean when he laid it down that the laws of international warfare are determined in any particular case by the stronger party; and if in a war we were the weaker party, and if we could find no allies outside our shores having in this matter a common interest with ourselves, I admit that it might happen a combination of foreign Powers should declare it would be a contraband of war and should insist that neutrals should not carry it to our shores. Yes, but what would the neutrals say? [Cheers.] The case I put is that of the weaker party being ourselves, which I hope may not be the case; but if we are at war with Russia and France, what would be the attitude of the United States to any such declaration of international law as my hon. Friend fears? The United States have never admitted, in the first place, that food was contraband, even in cases where there have been no great Imperial interests to observe by maintaining the opposite doctrine. In this case their theoretical prepossessions would be stimulated by the 674 strongest motives of personal interest. Half the exports from the United States are exports of breadstuffs to this country. To stop those exports—and by hypothesis this is necessary—would make the United States feel that they had a vital interest in associating themselves with us in combating this doctrine of international law. While I have fair confidence that we alone should be strong enough to meet any combination of Powers likely to be brought against us, I say that the United States and us in alliance are strong enough to meet any conceivable combination, even if that combination should include all the rest of the civilised world. [Cheers.] Therefore, I confess that I do not think it likely we shall suffer much from any declaration on that point addressed to us by European nations. Of course, in the final resort our security in this case depends on the Navy of the country. [Cheers.] If you have a Navy adequate to protect you, everybody will, I think, feel that though the price of bread may for the moment spring up to an alarming extent, though there might be difficulties and embarrassments, though the pinch will in the long run be severely felt, yet, if the Navy is adequate to the duties east upon it, there need be no ultimate fear of being starved into submission by any combination which may be allied against us. Therefore, this Debate comes round to whether our Navy is or is not equal to the duties cast upon it. On that question it would be more for my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty than for me to speak. But he has already expressed in detail his views with so much clearness, and he so adequately represents the Government of which he is a Member, that really I have nothing to add to what he has said. But I frankly accept on my own behalf, and on behalf of the Government, the responsibility which the Resolution throws upon us. In the last resort, as I have said, it means responsibility for our Navy, and when my hon. Friend asks the House to lay down the proposition that the 675 strength of our Navy, not merely for the purpose of defending our shores but our commerce—whether that commerce be commerce in food stuffs or other raw materials on which, only in a little less degree, we are dependent—rests with the Government, I heartily accept it. It is a matter which, in the words of the Motion, "demands the serious consideration of the Government," and that serious consideration it most certainly will have, and my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty is the last occupant of his great office who is likely to watch with otherwise than the keenest and most vigilant attention the naval construction and programme of other nations with whom—though far be the possibility of its ever happening—we might by some conceivable mischance be brought into collision. We recognise the necessity under which this country lies for having that Navy; we recognise that we, the Government, are responsible for the adequacy of that Navy, and the House is right in throwing upon us responsibility for that Navy; and in assenting to the Motion we only give another proof that it is a responsibility we do not fear and from which we have no desire to shrink. [Cheers.]
§ MR. W. ALLAN () Gateshead
said they had all listened with interest to the patriotic sentiments of the First Lord of the Treasury. The whole question lay in a nutshell. It was not a question of granaries or alliances with other nations, but whether in the event of war we could keep our highways on the sea open, so as to bring food into this country. It was a subject in which he had for some time taken an interest, and long ago he came to the conclusion that the only way to supply this country in the event of war was to have plenty of ships on the sea. Before other nations could establish a blockade of Britain, our fleets would have to be destroyed, and who would destroy them? During the time of the American War the Alabama swept the whole of the commerce of the United States from the 676 sea. Should we be in that position in the event of war? If we sent vessels to America for breadstuffs they would have to be convoyed by fast-sailing cruisers. He was in great sympathy with the building of these cruisers, but the commercial aspect of the question was terrible when you looked at it, it was so large. The whole question rested on the Navy. It was the duty of the country to have a great number of fast cruisers, whose speed could keep up with merchant ships in going across to America or Argentina for foodstuffs. If they could not convoy merchant ships in this way, the latter would be captured. The money required for the Navy, although it might appear large, would increase from year to year, but we could not maintain the dignity of the country or feed the country during war unless we had a powerful Navy.
§ Motion put, and agreed to.