HC Deb 27 April 1897 vol 48 cc1166-80
* SIR HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)

rose to call attention to the great increase in the importation of foreign manufactured goods into the United Kingdom, and the consequent loss of employment to the working classes in Great Britain and Ireland; and to move:— That fully manufactured goods brought into this country from any foreign country should pay a toll for the benefit of the British labour thereby displaced of Ten pounds per centum ad valorem, and partly manufactured goods a Customs toll of half that amount, and that the proceeds should be applied in forming the nucleus of a national fund for the granting of weekly pensions to deserving and necessitous persons over 65 pears of age incapacitated from earning a livelihood by sickness or infirmity, or otherwise utilised for the benefit of British trade and labour. The hon. Member said the Motion which stood in his name appeared very formidable upon the Paper. It was, however, extremely simple. He laid it before the House not only as representing a manufacturing constituency, but also in the hope of applying a solution to the difficult problem of how to provide old age pensions for the industrial classes—a problem in which the whole Unionist Party was interested. To show that the Motion was not framed in the selfish interest of the manufacturing or artisan class, it would be seconded by his hon. Friend the Member for West Wilts, who represented a purely agricultural constituency. It was not necessary that he should say more by way of introduction. But if the House would permit him he would make good the preamble of the Resolution. To do so he would have to transgress the sound unwritten rule as to the avoidance of statistics. But he hoped for the kind indulgence of hon. Members, as in no other way could the point in issue be proved. Material of an authentic character was fortunately not lacking. There were first of all the Returns moved for by his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade in 1882, when a private Member inclined to protection; upon Foreign Trade, Revenue, etc., between 1854 and 1880, and which were known generally as Mr. Ritchie's Returns; and then the Tables of British Trade and Production between 1854 and 1895, presented last year; and then the very able memorandum of February last of Sir Courtenay Boyle to the President of the Board of Trade. He was bound to acknowledge the general fairness of the Reports and Tables furnished by Sir Courtenay Boyle and Sir R. Giffen. One saw them driven by force of fact into admissions which they vainly tried to explain away. He would confine himself as strictly as possible to proving what the Resolution truly called "the great increase in the importation of foreign manufactured goods." The Secretary to the Board of Trade said, p. 18:— The import of articles called manufactured into the United Kingdom has enormously increased, viz., from £53,000,000 in 1883 to £81,000,000 in 1896. No one could say in the face of such figures that Lord Rosebery was exaggerating when he said last year, "these are grave and striking facts." But they became much more grave if one looked further back still, as one was assuredly entitled to do, namely, to the commencement of the time when this country, once the workshop of the world, began to become the dumping ground for the surplus products of foreign states—often sold under cost price, thanks to foreign bounties and duties. The total importation of manufactured goods in 1855 was only just over £9,000,000. Since then it had gone up year after year, until now it was nine times that amount. Indeed, this was below the mark, for the Trade and Navigation Returns for the 12 months ending March 31 showed not only that £82,348,337 worth of manufactured articles were imported, but also £15,148,000 worth of miscellaneous articles, mostly manufactured, and one million worth through the Parcel Post— not far short, therefore, of 100 millions worth, or tenfold the importation of manufactures 40 years ago. Whence, then, came this greatly increased competition? Sir Courtenay Boyle said:— Our imports from France have increased sensibly, notwithstanding its slow increase of population, and the increase on analysis is found to be largely an increase of the imports of silk and woollen manufactures. Our exports to France, on the other hand, show a sensible decline. Then as to Germany. The Secretary to the Board of Trade said, p. 27:— It is evident that the Returns relating to imports from Germany do not tell us the whole story of our trade with that country. It is impossible, therefore, to make up anything like an exact account of the real progress of our imports from Germany. He explained this on page 13, when he said, A not inconsiderable amount of our import trade with Germany is carried on through Dutch and Belgian ports, and appears in our official Returns as imports from Holland or Belgium. The hon. Member was afraid that the President of the Board of Trade, in trying recently to reassure the Wolverhampton Chamber of Commerce as to German competition, had quite forgotten this caution from the Permanent Secretary of his Department. The only fair thing then was to consider the imports from Germany, Holland, and Belgium as a whole, and for brevity's sake they might well include France. The total average annual importation from Germany, Holland, Belgium, and France, was in the quinquennial period 1855–59 but £34,000,000, while in 1895 it was £120,000,000, an increase of £86,000,000, while our export to those four countries only rose in the same period from £25,000,000 to £49,000,000, an increase of but £24,000,000. The House would recollect the passage he had just quoted from the latest Board of Trade memorandum, as to the increase of manufactured imports from France, and the difficulty of precision as to Germany. Sir Courtenay Boyle said, however, "There is a distinct increase in our imports from Germany," and it was necessary to read this, not only by the light of every man's visual experience, and by the candid statements of Mr. Williams' striking book, entitled "Made, in Germany," which everyone should read, but also by the official table, that the exports of manufactured articles from Germany had risen from £83,000,000 in 1880 to £109,000,000 in 1895. In the latter year, moreover, France exported £76,000,000 worth of manufactured goods, and the United States £38,000,000 worth, or nearly double the export of 15 years before, and the greater part came here, to this the only free market. The main lines of the imports of manufactures into this country were soon stated. In 1896 we imported £3,500,000 worth of cotton manufactures £2,740,000 worth of glass manufactures, £4,500,000 worth of iron manufactures, £7,500,000 worth of leather manufactures, besides nearly £3,000,000 worth of boots, shoes, and gloves, £3,000,000 worth, of paper, £16,700,000 worth of silk manufactures (or a third more than the whole export of British and Irish produce to France in 1895, on which we paid nearly 40,000,000 francs of duty), £12,500,000 worth of woollen manufactures, £1,500,000 worth of watches and clocks. In all, £57,500,000 worth of principal manufactured articles, and £23,500,000 worth of other articles. In face of such facts as these, with an increase of some twelve millions in the population since 1855, to provide with wages for food, it was evident that there had been, as the Resolution declared, a displacement of British and Irish labour. If these articles were required for consumption in this country, the making of them in the United Kingdom would have given increased employment to tens of thousands of our own countrymen. We exported in 1896 £208,000,000 worth of articles manufactured or partly manufactured, compared to £231,000,000 worth in 1872, and nearly £215,000,000 worth in 1882, when the population was tire millions less. He might be pardoned perhaps for referring particularly to the staple industry of Sheffield—hardware and cutlery. In 1857 we exported £4,000,000 worth of hardware and cutlery, and in 1895 only £1,800,000 worth. Although, there had been a slight increase in 1896, surely this decline showed there was something wrong. The latest conclusions and statistics of the Board of Trade would have amply justified this Motion being brought forward, even if his duty to his constituents had not necessitated it. Sir Courtenay Boyle said of Germany and the United States, that they are travelling upwards more rapidly than we—that they, and, to some extent, France also, are certain to increase their rate of upward movement, and their competition with us in neutral markets, and even in our home markets, will become increasingly serious. Every year will add to their required capital and skill, and they will have larger and larger additions to their population to draw upon. The recent memorandum went on to say:— It is necessary more than ever that attention should be given in the United Kingdom to the business of manufacturing for export. The change of conditions must be recognised, and we can scarcely expect to maintain our past undoubted pre-eminence without strenuous effort. The question is one which interests consumers as well as producers, labour as well as capital. The proposition he submitted was that this wholesale importation of foreign manufactures or the products of foreign labour was never dreamt of by Mr. Cob-den, Mr. Bright, and the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton the respected Father of this House, when they prevailed on Parliament to open the British market to all the world, without tax or toll. No nation had followed that example, notwithstanding positive assurances to the contrary. Only that afternoon the Secretary of State for the Colonies talked about the Free Trade system of this country. There was no Free Trade system in this country. The system they had was one of free imports without reciprocity, without that interchange which was the very basis of trade. "Free Trade" was an absolute misnomer as applied to their present fiscal system. What they then said, with the Secretary of the Board of Trade, was, "the change of conditions must be recognised." The State should therefore charge a toll for the use of the British market in the same way that every municipal or market owner in the country did on the produce entering it, and that this sum should be applied for the benefit of the working and industrial classes. It was these classes who suffered. Capital knew no frontier, but labour, saddled with family ties and burdens, must stay at home. He readily admitted that a portion of the manufactured imports were really raw materials for manufacturing processes in this country. These partly manufactured goods, or imports, giving some employment to British labour, being placed on the market for sale, should, in his opinion, pay a lower toll than fully manufactured goods imported ready for immediate sale and employing no English labour. He would only detain the House a few minutes more in a brief examination of the amount such a toll might place in the hands of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and of how he might use it for the benefit of the working and industrial classes. The later Returns did not discriminate between fully manufactured and partly manufactured imports—why he could not conceive. But assuming their proportion to be much the same as formerly, about one-fourth of the whole would be partly manufactured. Let him put the partly manufactured at three-eighths of the whole, and take the manufactured imports at only £80,000,000 instead of £100,000,000, as they would be found to be under a stricter Customs system. A 10 per cent. toll on £50,000,000 worth of fully manufactured imports would yield £5,000,000, and 5 per cent. on £30,000,000 of partly manufactured imports would yield £1,500,000 a year, or together £6,500,000. From the Re-turns moved for in 1891 by the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt), it would appear that in round numbers 245,000 persons—88,000 males and 157,000 females—over Go years of age were in receipt of permanent poor law relief, and of these about one-third were ending their days in the workhouse. Double those figures and they had 500,000 persons out of the 1,800,000 over 65 years of age in the country who could establish a claim to pension as being necessitous. This £6,500,000 would give 5s. a week to every one of these 500,000 persons. But even less than one-third of the amount—namely, £2,000,000 would give 5s. a week to over 150,000 persons, or all the women over 65 now upon the rates, leaving in such case £4,500,000 to be applied to other purposes. It might be objected that the income would be fluctuating and of uncertain amount. But if in one year it was less than another, it was certain that the prosperity and employment in the country would be greater, and the demand on the fund less. Compared to the great gain of such grants and the aid they would afford to the rates, the toll would not be felt in the least. Indeed, as our exporters to the United States, France, and other countries nearly always had to deliver their goods duty free, taking the duties off their profits and the wages of their workmen, the foreigner would probably pay it all. In any case, as our Customs Revenue was over £21,000,000 a year, very little less than in 1845, despite boasted free trade, and larger than that of any other country in Europe, this small addition would be felt by no one, home competition would prevent any advance in price. The Resolution favoured British possessions, and, if there was one thing more satisfactory than another in Sir Courtenay Boyle's Report, it was the admission of the Board of Trade that the greater proportion of the trade in British possessions everywhere is carried on with the United Kingdom. ["Hear, hear!"] The important step just taken in this direction by the Dominion of Canada—[cheers]—could not fail not only to be very gratefully received in this country, but also to contribute very materially to the development of trade within the Empire. ["Hear, hear!"] This would assist them more than anything else, he believed, to meet the fierce competition with which they were assailed in markets throughout the world. The Leader of the House would doubtless recollect having once said that it might be desirable to bring foreign nations to a better frame of mind by taxing their manufactures. He submitted that this was an opportunity for bringing them to that better frame of mind, and that in doing it they would confer a signal benefit upon the working and industrial classes of the country. It was absolutely incumbent upon them—and be said it as the representative of a working class and manufacturing constituency, and as knowing something of the feelings of working men in all parts of the country—to do something at the present time to defend the home market. If he were told that retaliation was to be feared, he replied, Was it possible for any foreign country to raise their duties against us higher than they were now? Every country on the face of the earth had done or was doing everything it possibly could to injure British trade, and really the best way, as Lord Salisbury himself had said, to obtain better terms from foreign countries was to show that we were not fast wedded to any system, but that we would meet increased duties by higher duties here; that, in short, we would trade with those who trade with us. He begged to move the Resolution which stood in his name.

* CAPTAIN CHALONER (Wilts, Westbury)

, in seconding the Resolution, observed that he represented a constituency which had suffered by unfair competition from foreign countries. The town of Trowbridge at one time took the lead in the cloth trade industry of the West of England, whereas now, whenever he went there, he had nothing to deplore but empty mills, distressed industry, and hands loafing about the street corners, unable to obtain work. He submitted that every thousand pounds sent abroad necessarily meant that the money was spent in employing foreign labour, whilst the circulation of it was taken away from this country, and consequently led to the employment of a smaller number of English hands. Why was it we were unable to remedy those evils, which not even Free Traders would deny? It was because we went into the fight with our hands tied and unarmed. We endeavoured to compete with foreign nations whilst we had no weapon to use against them, they being armed with all the tariffs directed against our goods. What would be the results if the Resolution were accepted? It must, mean either reciprocity of trade with foreign Powers by making them come to terms, or else it would mean imposing a tariff upon their goods, with one or other of two effects—either to keep out their manufactured goods altogether, in which case there would be an enormous increase in the number of men employed in this country and increased prosperity, or else, if they accepted the tariff and still imported their goods, it would mean that in using our "shop" they would be paying for the use of it. ["Hear, hear!"] He believed the acceptance of the Resolution also would help the Government to redeem many pledges they made previous to the election by doing something in the direction of affording old-age pensions for the benefit of the working classes displaced by the present unfair competition.


My hon. Friends have spoken in defence of the Resolution with great ability and with evident conviction, and they have taken the view that it is in the interests of the working classes and of the manufacturers, and I gather, also in the interests of the agriculture of this country, that some such Resolution should be recorded in our journals and acted upon by the Government of the day. I confess it was with a certain amount of surprise that I heard my hon. and gallant Friend who seconded the Resolution take the view that this Resolution is a Resolution in favour of agriculture. I can imagine a form of protection, a duty upon foreign imports, which would undoubtedly be an advantage to the classes engaged in the production of imported articles into this country. I have no doubt that those engaged in growing wheat and barley would gain by a duty on the importation of wheat and barley; but what I confess I wholly fail to see is how a duty on the articles consumed, among others by the classes engaged in agriculture, could benefit those classes when no corresponding duty is placed on those articles which the agricultural classes themselves produce. [Opposition cheers.] How it could be an advantage to my hon. Friend's constituents that they should pay more for all the articles they import from foreign countries, while they have no advantage in the things they produce in the home market, I confess passes my ingenuity to conceive. [Opposition cheers.] The truth is that this Resolution is advanced by the Mover of it on the ground that it is not for the benefit of the agricultural interest, but for the benefit of the great manufacturing interest of the country; and it is from that point of view I will say a few words. My hon. Friend has lamented that England no longer maintains its relative position among the manufacturing communities of the world and he brought forward statistics of undoubted authenticity to prove the fact. The fact is an undeniable one. Most unquestionably two or three generations ago England stood in solitary grandeur, so to speak, as the great manufacturing country, and now it sees other countries following its steps, and in their turn learning the lesson we have ourselves learnt in the past. I do not deny that in some respects and from some points of view this new condition of things is of the nature of a national danger, and that the facts to which my hon. Friend calls attention deserves most careful watching by those responsible for the conduct of our affairs. But do not let the House take the view that it is a pure and absolute loss, as my hon. Friend supposes, either that other countries should manufacture or that we should import. [Cheers.] It is an advantage to us that we should be able to import goods, and my hon. Friend's ideal, to which he appears to point, is that the nation which imports nothing but raw material and pays for it in manufactured goods is really not the ideal to which we should look as giving the greatest development to our own manufactures. Now, my hon. Friend compares exports and imports in his statement; but the two things are co-relative. You cannot import unless you pay for the goods, and you can only pay for your imports by your exports. [Cheers.] [Mr. JAMES LOWTHER interrupted with a remark which could not be heard in the Reporters' Gallery.] My right hon. Friend says that we are £200,000,000 short. Let it be what you please, what my right hon. Friend means is that what in the old-fashioned discussion was called the balance of trade is against us, and we import more than we export. How does that come about? It comes about, as every one knows, largely from the fact that we are great creditors of other nations. They have to pay their debts to us, and they cannot pay in specie. International trade is a question of barter, and their debts to us are paid in goods. That is a fact which accounts for the fact to which my right hon. Friend has just called attention. If it were not so there would be an accumulating balance of unpaid debts against us, an accumulation of indebted-ness which would rapidly bring us to the verge of bankruptcy. I therefore assume that the debts between the foreigners and this country are roughly balanced in the course of each year, and if that is so, you cannot expect to increase your exports, as my right hon. Friend rightly desires to increase them, without at the same time increasing those imports for which the exports are in effect the payment. The truth is, speaking for myself, I am not afraid of imports into this country. What I am afraid of is the competition in neutral markets between the manufactures of this country and the manufactures of other countries. [Cheers.] I think that if my hon. Friend will give full consideration to that aspect of the question, he will probably see that the best way of bringing our manufactures up to the standard at which they can compete effectively in the neutral markets is not to surround or swaddle them in protective tariffs. [Opposition cheers.] These observations are restricted to the neutral markets. If we are to compete with Germany, France, or America, or any other nation in neutral markets, the way to produce that most desirable result is not to do anything which would take off the competitive strain, without which very little good is done in the world, either in the realm of manufactures or in any other region of human endeavour. Let me say in passing, that there was one point of my hon. Friend's speech which I did not quite follow. He told us that no rise in prices would, in his judgment, follow from the imposition of protective duties. If no rise in price is to ensue from protective duties, it seems hard at first sight to see how manufacturers in this country are to profit by the imposition of the duty. The reason our manufacturers naturally desire that there should be a protective duty is that the price should rise. That is their object, and if that object does not succeed, then one of the main instruments by which my hon. Friend proposes to improve their position would lose all its efficiency. One other point occurs to me in connection with what fell from both speakers. They have stated that the imposition of the duties would produce prosperity, diminish the number of unemployed, and prevent strikes. I profoundly distrust most arguments on economic subjects drawn from what is crudely but inaccurately described as experience. I think it is worth my hon. Friend's consideration whether in the countries which have adopted the system he advocates there are fewer unemployed, fewer strikes, or a greater amount of prosperity. I confess that the indications I have obtained on the subject do not lead me to accept this as a fact, though I do not say that it should not be taken into account. There would be a certain absurdity in the House adopting at the present time a Resolution for fostering manufactures, when, broadly speaking, our manufactures are in a specially nourishing condition—["No!"]—and not in adopting a Resolution at the same time dealing with others which are not in a flourishing condition. If we are to tamper with our traditional fiscal system it ought to be, I should think, in the direction of protecting that which is obviously not flourishing, rather than in the direction of protecting that which is flourishing. While I see all these difficulties in the way of my hon. Friend's contention, and these defects in the reasoning and the arguments, do not let it be supposed that I think our present fiscal system is one wholly without its own difficulties and dangers. I believe my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has given expression to this view before. I think that the very small taxable area with which we now have to deal is a chronic difficulty, or may be a chronic difficulty in certain very easily foreseen contingencies, which would make the position of the Chancellor of the Exchequer an extremely embarrassing one; and, while much is to be said for the extreme simplicity of our fiscal system, it has its own difficulties and dangers which it would be folly of the House to ignore. We have gained greatly by the simplification of the system. Let us remember that while we have gained we have put ourselves in a difficult and delicate position, and that we shall find it hard to raise new revenue if new revenue is required; and it is possible that some modification of the existing system may from that point of view at no distant date be absolutely necessary. The second weakness in our present fiscal system is one to which my hon. Friend referred, and in respect of which he quoted an election answer which I gave to an election question in 1892. To the terms of that answer I absolutely adhere. I have always felt, and I now feel, that we have, one after another, deprived ourselves of every weapon by which we may negotiate with foreign Powers in regard to that matter. I regret that, as a person who thinks that immense advantage can be derived by this country from the system of free trade, because it is evident that by negotiations we were enabled in times past, if not to break down altogether, at all events to modify in our favour those hostile tariffs which foreign nations raised against us. [Mr. MUNDELLA made an observation which could not be heard in the Gallery.] The right hon. Gentleman is a Member of the Cobden, Club, and is necessarily a great admirer of Cobden. I do not say that under the commercial treaty with France, which was Cobden's work, there was anything really given up by this country, but I do say that the possibility of giving it up—in other words, the possibility of modifying our tariff to suit the tariff of France did obtain from France modifications of her tariff in our favour from which we derived some benefit. ["Hear, hear!"] But that process cannot go on now, because now we have nothing to negotiate with. [Mr. MUNDELLA: "It was wine mainly that was the weapon;" and several HON. MEMBERS: "Silk!"] The right hon. Member makes all the concession I desire. He has admitted that the power of this country to manipulate its tariffs is a weapon that can be used in negotiations with foreign countries. But I say that now it is scarcely possible—I do not say absolutely impossible—for us to find any further modification which may be used for that diplomatic purpose. When I said in the answer which my hon. Friend has quoted that I could conceive circumstances in which it would be necessary for us to take up as a diplomatic weapon, a diplomatic threat, some form of fiscal charge upon foreign manufactures, I only said what every wise man would say did not go beyond what might be the commercial necessities of this country. Of course, I grant that that is practically an act of fiscal warfare, and fiscal warfare, like every other warfare, is a very costly operation. But war is an operation which, however costly, nations must sometimes engage in, and I can conceive circumstances in which we should be perfectly justified in undergoing the cost and risk which must inevitably accompany any such diplomatic contest as that to which I refer. I have now, I think, covered all the ground of the Resolution excepting the latter part of it dealing with old age pensions. On that subject it would be obviously premature for me to say anything. We have always entertained the hope that something substantial might be done by this House of Commons in aid of the deserving poor—["hear, hear!"]—and when that is done no doubt it will throw upon those who are responsible for the finances of this country the necessity of finding means whereby to meet any charge that may, as a consequence of such a plan, be imposed upon our finances. But as it would be premature and inexpedient for me to say one word either with regard to the suggested plan of aiding the aged poor or with regard to the financial methods by which the plan could be carried out, I hope my hon. Friend will feel that I am not discourteous to him if I put aside that portion of the Resolution. I do not think that this discussion has been without advantage, but I am not of opinion that much would be gained by asking the House to go to a division upon the Resolution. I could not support it, and the Government could not support it. I hope that in the circumstances my hon. Friend will be content with the opportunity which has been given him of so ably expressing the views which he has long held and strenuously supported, and that now that the discussion has run its course he will not require the House to divide. ["Hear, hear!"]

* MR. J. LOWLES (Shoreditch, Haggerston)

said that he took great interest in this question, because he represented a constituency where trade had been materially affected by the force of foreign competition. The increasing importation of manufactured goods was such as must cause everyone considerable uneasiness. In his constituency he saw every day the evil results of the pressure of foreign competition. The cheap boot trade, for example, was one class of industry which had been entirely driven out by the stress of Belgian competition. That meant that numbers of men were forced to seek employment as casual labourers at the docks and elsewhere. They swelled the ranks of the unemployed. In the very heart of his constituency there were foreign depots and American depôts competing with English manufacturers on their own ground. Surely it would not be unfair to make foreigners pay some toll for the privilege which was extended to them? In New South Wales, a Free Trade Colony, a charge in the shape of a tax on profits was imposed upon foreign manufactured goods sold in the Colony. The income tax of this country was being paid more and more by mere agents, by shopkeepers, buyers and sellers of goods. When they saw one native industry after another falling away, it was high time to take this subject into serious consideration. He was a disciple of the hon. Member for Sheffield, having been converted to his views by hard facts. He felt sure that the spread of education was opening the eyes of the people. They were beginning to realise where the shoe pinched, and it would not be very long before constituencies like his own would ask that some sort of protection should be given to their industries.


said that, after the declaration of the Leader of the House, that the question of old age pensions would receive careful consideration, and after the opportunity which he had had of giving the Chancellor of the Exchequer a hint as to the source whence the right hon. Gentleman might obtain the necessary funds, he would ask leave to withdraw his Motion.

Motion put, and negatived.