§ * MR. EVELYN CECIL (Aston Manor)
rose to call attention to the absence of direct British steamship communication between Great Britain and East Africa; and to move, "That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the system of subsidies to steamship companies under foreign Governments, and the effect thereby produced on British trade; and to consider and report upon the political and commercial advantages to be gained by encouraging British steamers to circumnavigate Africa, especially having regard to the East coast, and to report upon the best means of giving them such encouragement." He said: I have been fortunate in the opportunity of raising this subject both in regard to time and to form. So far as the form is concerned it is important, because the Foreign Office, the Colonial Office, the Post Office, so far as it deals with the mails, and the Board of Trade are interested; and had I raised the question on the Votes of any one of these offices I should probably have been ruled out of order in respect of what I wished to say regarding the other three, and the House would have missed the importance of the subject through its being argued in driblets. I am fortunate as to the time, because this year the German Government has increased the subsidy to the German East African line of steamers, in order to enable them to go right round Africa, from £45,000 to £67,500. I am also perhaps fortunate in bringing forward this motion, because, with the exceptions of the hon. Member for Bermondsey and the hon. Member for Ormskirk, I believe I am the only Member of the House who has travelled the whole distance along the East Coast of Africa.
There is, I submit, much to inquire into with regard to this subject. It raises many wider issues than it at first sight appears to do. It deals with our trade throughout the world. In mentioning more particularly East Africa I do not want to exclude the question of subsidised lines of foreign steamers in other parts of the world. The North German line is subsidised, and it runs to every continent except America. The Messa- 1142 geries Maritimes line is subsidised, and runs to every continent. The difference between our system of subsidies hitherto—with one exception, which has now been established in the West Indies—and that of foreign Governments has been that we subsidise for value received only, that is for carrying mails, or for obtaining if necessary in time of war the right to seize the best ships of the merchant shipping companies; but foreign Governments subsidise to obtain better ships, better accommodation, and, if necessary, a higher rate of speed, and also to encourage trade and shipbuilding. Therefore I do not wish to confine this subject in any respect solely to East Africa. I have no doubt that many of my hon. friends will be able to adduce evidence of subsidies which have done harm to British trade in various parts of the world; but I have chosen East Africa because I think it is much the gravest case. If you travel to China you can go by the P. and O. Company's steamers, which run in competition with the North German Lloyd and the Messageries Maritimes lines; but if you travel to East Africa there is no line of British steamers by which you can go the whole distance without transhipment. That is a fact which makes a very serious case so far as our trade is concerned. I should like to lay before the House some of the facts and some of the difficulties which our British trade has to encounter. Take our great emporium of Zanzibar. People here, perhaps, do not realise what an important centre of trade that is. To the Indian merchants who come over there it is almost as important as London is to this country, or as New York is to the United States; and if we respect at all the prestige in which the natives of that part of the world are disposed to hold British power, it ought to be one of our primary objects to improve and maintain direct communication with Zanzibar. Statistics show some very remarkable particulars. The tonnage of vessels for 1899 entering Zanzibar—the last figures obtainable—show that there entered into the harbour—German, 168,113 tons, total vessels, 98; British, 103,457 tons, total vessels, 69; French, 26 vessels: Norwegian, 3 vessels; and 1143 United States, 2 vessels. There is no question, therefore, if you measure merely by the tonnage of the ships, that that of foreign ships is greatly in excess of that of the British. But that is not all. We have, as I have suggested, to tranship our goods. The only large British line which runs to Zanzibar is. I believe, the British India, but to get to Zanzibar by the British India from this country you have to change steamers at Aden; and if this is an inconvenience to passengers it is not difficult to understand that the transhipment of cargo is much more serious. The additional risks run by delays all add naturally to the cost of carriage, to say nothing of exposure to the weather and thefts by natives.
Another difficulty arises in respect of passengers. Not unfrequently the plague breaks out at Aden, and supposing a traveller wanted to come home from Zanzibar via, Aden, he might be put in quarantine—the only alternative being for him to go the long round-about journey to Bombay and join the P. and O. steamer. It is perfectly obvious that these disadvantages are very great; but, strange to say, both the passenger fares and the freight for cargo are higher by the British than by the French and German lines. The first class fare of the British India steamers—entailing the change at Aden—is £57 15s.; by the German East African line it is only £42 10s., and by the Messageries Maritimes from Marseilles, £40 14s. But the French and German lines have certain advantages in addition. If the traveller happens to be an official, say a consul of any country, he is allowed a rebate on his fare of 10 per cent. on the German East African line and the same for his wife and family, and by the Messageries Maritimes line a rebate of 15 per cent. Therefore, with all these disadvantages it is not surprising that the tonnage of British ships going out to Zanzibar is much below that of foreign vessels, although Zanzibar is the most important British territory on the east coast of Africa.
But I turn to the other ports. The Consular Report respecting the trade of our East Africa Protectorate for 1899 states—A direct line of British steamers between London and Mombasa would go far to stimulate 1144 trade in British goods, as importers are strongly adverse to the delays and damages which transhipment entails. The gross registered steam tonnage which entered the port in 1899 was 218,089 cons, represented by 142 steamers. Of this tonnage 90,126 tons was English and 127,903 tons German.I believe also that American trade, which I am informed is increasing there with considerable rapidity, is carried in German ships almost entirely. Mombasa is not the only place involved. The circumstances also concern Uganda. Mombasa is a port which has a fair chance of almost equalling Zanzibar if the prosperity of Uganda increases. We have over and over again discussed the question of Uganda in this House, but I cannot see the use of all the money and trouble we have expended in connection with the Uganda Railway if we allow foreign ships to carry away all the trade. The Government have on various occasions, I believe, been approached with reference to running British steamers direct to Mombasa. When it was a matter of material being conveyed for the Uganda Railway it was found necessary to charter a steamer at Cardiff, which ran on an average once every six weeks, because it was found impossible to use any of the other British steam ship lines, as transshipment was too serious and rates were too high. Advantageous offers were made to the Government, but the steamer from Cardiff was the arrangement they preferred. When a debate occurred in this House in April, 1899, with reference to the Uganda Railway and the transhipment of railway material, the Secretary of State for War, in his then capacity as Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, said there were already six lines of steamers on the east coast of Africa running from England, and that therefore it was quite unnecessary to have a direct British line. When the hon. Member for Kilmarnock Burghs interrupted with the remark that all these steamships went round South Africa my right hon. friend made this rather remarkable statement—Whether they go round the south of Africa or the north of Africa does not matter; so long as they arrive at their destination the Foreign Office is willing to take advantage of them.I do not think I need comment on that remark. I can only conclude that my 1145 right hon. friend's better judgment had on this occasion been swallowed up by his official responsibility. Uganda, with all its prospects of development, seems in itself a sufficient ground for establishing a direct line of British steamers, which could run to Zanzibar and Mozambique. The only Consular Report which does not advocate the establishment of this line is the report with reference to Mozambique, but, after all, Mozambique belongs to Portugal, the whole hinterland is Portuguese, and it is not in any sense on the highway to our British possessions. The Consular Report with reference to Mozambique, after mentioning the German East Africa line and the Messageries Maritimes, states that "there is little inducement for other companies to enter into competition as yet"; and this comment, I assume, also applies to another small port, Quilimane, which is still further south, and which also belongs to Portugal. When we come to Chinde, the case is again somewhat different, as it could supply British Central Africa, where there are prospects of coffee, and possibly ivory, india-rubber, and other products, if it were not for the serious obstacle of the bar in the river Zambesi. This does not by any means complete the evidence of the Consular Reports, which urge that the Government should assist direct steamship communication with East Africa. The one dealing with Beira states:—The end of the year 1900 should show a very great increase of trade at this port; the opening of the railway at Salisbury with extensions to Gwelo and Bulawayo, the importation of machinery, the opening up and satisfactory returns from the mining districts of Manica and Rhodesia with the necessary sequence of increase in population, will ail materially tend to this result.If this forecast is true with regard to Beira, I would ask what will the trade be with the Transvaal colony through Delagoa Bay as soon as peace is established? I should like to quote from a letter which I received a few months ago from Sir Arthur Hardinge, when he was still Consul-General at Zanzibar. He writes:—I hope the impetus which the restoration of peace will give to trade with the Transvaal may help to get on an English line direct from home to Lourenco Marques and Durban via Zanzibar.1146 After all, Lourenco Marques is only fifty-six miles from the Transvaal frontier. The railway transport is very much less than from Cape Town or Port Elizabeth. The distance from Cape Town to the Transvaal frontier is 964 miles, and from Port Elizabeth 663, which compare very markedly with the mileage from Delagoa Bay. Prom London to Delagoa Bay via Cape Town is only about 600 miles less than from London to Delagoa Bay via Aden. I took the trouble to get figures from the Royal Geographical Society, and they are as follows:—London to Delagoa Bay via Aden, 7,794 miles; London to Delagoa Bay via Cape Town, 7,170 miles. I think that is an additional argument in favour of my suggestion that the circumnavigation of Africa is the proper course to pursue. If we get to Delagoa Bay by running down the east coast of Africa we might just as well complete the circuit by calling at our various ports around Africa. The circumnavigation of Africa has been started by the German East Africa Company this year, and with regard to German trade I should like once for all to make it most emphatically clear that I am speaking from a sincere feeling of friendship for Germany, and not from any desire for a hostile or offensive rivalry. I have lived too many months of my life in Germany not to value and highly appreciate German friendship. There is ample room in the whole world for the German and British Empires to exist in perfect accord, and if we do imitate the Germans, it is merely in the spirit of that imitation which is the sincerest form of flattery. The German Imperial Government have this year increased the subsidy to the German East African Company in order that they should continue their line right round Africa. They run a fortnightly service alternately by the east coast and by the west coast, and in addition, a monthly service, which runs down the East African coast as far as Beira, returning the same way. If they can do that with regard to their territories, and also with regard to ours, I cannot see why we cannot do something of the same kind, thereby benefiting our possessions, from Somaliland to British East Africa and Uganda, Zanzibar, 1147 British Central Africa, Natal, and Cape Colony, and returning by the west coast to the advantage of the Niger Territory, the Gold Coast, Ashantee, Sierra Leone, and Gambia, altogether forming a complete connection between our different colonies in Africa, which ought ultimately to be a very useful and profitable commercial enterprise.
I also hope that the Committee, if it is appointed, will bear in mind the question of through bills of lading, by means of which the German Government is endeavouring to attract British trade to German lines. Part of the scheme is the largely reduced rate on the German State Railway—I do not say we could reduce railway freights for through goods here, because without a State railway it is obvious the same agreement might not be arrived at; but I think it is a matter for railway directors to consider in this country should through bills of lading be introduced and found profitable. The through bills of lading and the reduced rates of Germany cause the entire traffic of the Continent to be attracted to the German line. Through connection was made between that line and the Pretoria and Delagoa Bay Bail-way at particular rates for goods, and now that the country is in our possession, I cannot see what should prevent us from adopting a similar arrangement for the Transvaal trade if it could possibly be concluded. Let me call the attention of the House in substantiation of what I have stated to some of the figures. The purely German goods traffic on the German East Africa line in the year 1891 amounted to £300,900, and in 1898 it amounted to £955,600—an enormous increase in those seven years. If I compare that with the British imports at Zanzibar and Pemba, which may be taken as a means of comparing the relative increase of British and German trade, I find in 1892 (the first year for which figures are obtainable) they amounted to £105,670. In 1898, the year the German line showed such an enormous increase, they only amounted to £114,217. In 1899, they amounted to £113,914. and in 1900 the actual figures are not yet available—but the Board of Trade states them approximately as £76,509. Whether the war has anything to do 1148 with that reduction I cannot precisely say, but the figures I have quoted are sufficient to show that our trade has remained practically stationary, while German trade has increased very disproportionately.
Two contrary statements may be argued in respect of these facts. It is alleged that the reason, partly, why German trade seems to have increased so much, is because British goods are shipped to Hamburg for further shipment by German steamers, and though I have tried to obtain figures to show to what extent British goods do go by the German route to East Africa, I have not been able to obtain them except on a very hypothetical basis, but the general belief in well-informed quarters is that these German steamers carry mainly German goods, and that the carriage and imports of German goods have very largely increased. The other contrary statement is made by the shipowners, who say it is a fact that the greater part of the trade between East Africa and this part of the world is not through the United Kingdom but through the continent of Europe. I am disposed to think that this is true. Why? Because the rates of freight are lower and communication more direct, and the subsidies granted to foreign companies enable them to run their steamers at a cheaper rate than we are able to do. How can we expect our trading companies to compete against steamers which are superior in every way and have so much larger a money reserve? I do not think foreign subsidies are the only cause why our trade has remained stationary and that of Germany has so much increased. I think in part our manufacturers are to blame. They do not take the trouble to find out what class of goods is wanted in any particular part. It is the old story of the Atbara bridge in the Soudan—where it was found the bridge could be made in America just as well and just as cheaply as here, and in the time and on the pattern required, which our manufacturers could not undertake. It applies to small things just as much as to large. If the natives of Zanzibar like a particular kind of calico for clothes there is no reason for supplying them with another kind. When I was in 1149 Natal I went over the plantations of a large tea-grower. He told me that he wanted a number of a particular kind of pruning hook, that he sent the order to England, but that the British manufacturers sent what he did not want, something somewhat more expensive than that which he had ordered, and told him they were not exactly what he asked for, but were much better than what he ordered; he said that that was not what he wanted, and he gave the order to an American firm and obtained the hook that he required. Mining machinery of a particular pattern is ordered in Johannesburg or Rhodesia from here, and instead of supplying it the manufacturers say they have better patterns than that which the customer has asked for, and that he had better take that. But the customer refuses to accept the machinery, and gives his order to German or American firms, from whom they get the thing they desire. It is no good offering persons goods which they do not want, and it would be much wiser for British manufacturers to establish plant to enable them to make the patterns which are required abroad rather than to continue to manufacture the patterns which are not required. I would suggest also to the Board of Trade whether it would not be possible to establish, not merely a centre of information at the Board of Trade, giving figures, statistics, and illustrations of what particular articles are required for trade in the different parts of the world, but a bureau, such as exists in Germany, to show the actual patterns of the materials wanted, which could be imitated and manufactured here.
Now, this motion concludes by referring to the best means of giving encouragement to the steamship companies. That embraces the whole question, which sooner or later will have to be dealt with, if a remedy for the present state of things is required. There are one or two possibilities, or at any rate suggestions with regard to it. One is that we should grant subsidies on the same system as the foreigners do, and I trust that if the facts justified some intervention of that kind, the jealousy of the companies would not stand in the way of a patriotic purpose if a subsidy were given to 1150 one company rather than another. Nor do I think the Treasury objections should stand in the way, as it could not be said that it would be impossible to find the money. What is the object of Germany in granting subsidies?—a policy the more striking because I find from a perusal of the annual report of the German East Africa line that it would not at present pay its way but for the Government subsidy which it receives. In 1899 the shareholders received 6 per cent. dividend. In 1900 the dividend was 8 per cent. But this 8 per cent. was obtained by the distribution of 600,000 marks among the shareholders, and as the Government subsidy was 900,000 marks, it is plain that without the subsidy the company would have been 300,000 marks or £15,000 to the bad. And when it is borne in mind that the receipts for 1900 included a sum of 400,000 marks paid by the British Government for arresting the "Bundesrath," "Herzog," and other steamers of the line on suspicion of contraband which they were not proved to contain, the balance-sheet does not show any very enviable result. The Bill before the Reichsrath advocating the increased subsidy to the German East Africa line contained explanatory statements as to what were the reasons which induced Germany to adopt this policy. Among those reasons is the freeing of German commerce from the agency of foreign nations, both as regards foreign business houses and in shipping matters; the avoidance of damage resulting from transhipment; the possibility of transmitting mails independently of foreign countries; the economic importance of Cape Colony for the development of German commerce; the opening up of harbours of communication with the important territory of the Transvaal Republic in addition to Delagoa Bay; the improvement of merchant ships for transport of troops and for service in time of war: and in general the considerable expansion of German export and import trade.
Whether the German policy is right or wrong is another matter, but by way of showing how anxious the Germans are to push the policy it is interesting to know that quite recently the Germans bought up an English Sine of steamers, 1151 which traded from Bangkok to Singapore, for what was approximately three times its value; and I have no doubt that some of my hon. friends around me could give instances of similar attempts that have been made by the German Government to buy up other lines in the Yangtsze and other parts of the world. Therefore, there is no doubt that they have a very firm belief in the excellence of their methods, and that is why I am anxious that this Select Committee should be granted. The only possible remedy for counteracting the policy of foreign Governments is sometimes said to be that of countervailing duties on foreign ships and cargoes. I will not say I am very much in agreement with that proposal, because I think there are very serious objections to it, but if we are considering the question of remedies it would be an omission on my part if I did not mention that it has been suggested. In such a case there would not be the subsidising of one shipping company as against another, but on the other hand no doubt the colonists would obtain their goods at somewhat higher prices. I do not, however, see any objection to that, because they would obtain the goods at the natural, and not the fictitious, price. But I do see an objection in other respects as regards East Africa, because, a though it might be practicable to put on countervailing duties in dealing with a place like India, which is a compact whole, you cannot do it in East Africa, where the coast does not belong solely to us, but also to Germany, Portugal, and other nations. Obviously, if countervailing duties were put on foreign ships and cargoes, there would be a great disposition to smuggle into our possessions, and there would be the even greater misfortune that traders would go away from our possessions, and take up their centre of trade in the places in which these countervailing duties were not levied. But perhaps the most serious opposition with which I may be met is what I may call the free-trade objection. I know perfectly well that when some Members first saw this resolution on the Paper, they had the idea that it involved an infringement of the principles of free trade. I venture to dispute that there is any breach of free-trade principles. I am a free-trader myself, and, that being 1152 so, I should not be likely to come forward with a motion of this kind unless I thought there was a very great distinction to be drawn between an infringement of free trade and the present proposal. Consumers throughout the world should be able to buy the best goods at their natural cost in the cheapest market. That is a fundamental doctrine of free trade. But free trade does not aim at bolstering up a fictitious price. If a price is made fictitious by disturbing and extraneous circumstances, free trade is prepared, I imagine, to adopt means to set the matter right, and I do not suppose that in a question of this kind subsidies can be said to be an infringement of free trade, seeing that we are asking only to have set right an arrangement which has upset the principles of free trade. A hostile subsidy disturbs the natural price of goods and creates an inequality, and it does this when equality of competition and exchange between different countries in the articles which they are respectively best able to produce are the very essence and kernel of free trade. We are not without precedents in this matter. There are recent precedents for the proposal of a subsidy, even as regards ourselves. Before referring to the more recent precedents, I should like to remind the House of what occurred more than fifty years ago, when free-trade doctrines were at their height. It was in 1849 when the first guaranteed railway was established in India. I should like to ask what difference there is between a proposal to subsidise a steamship company and a proposal for the Government to guarantee a particular railway company. In 1849 the Great Indian Peninsula Railway was first established in India, and it was established under a guarantee, and the Act of Parliament which created that guarantee was passed by this House with full knowledge of what was being done. But I need not go so far back as 1849. We have some very recent precedents. There is the subsidy granted to the Imperial Direct West India Mail Service to Jamaica. That subsidy was recommended in 1897 by the Royal Commission which was appointed to inquire into the West Indian trade, and consists of £40,000, half of which is paid by Jamaica. That action was taken in 1153 deference to colonial wishes—a very proper reason. This House was disposed at the time to listen to the argument that colonial wishes in such a matter should be respected, and I do not know why they should not be disposed to do the same now. Is not the evidence from the various consular reports to which I have referred sufficient to show what the unanimous opinion of our colonies is? And if we have any desire to respect colonial wishes in this matter, and to cement more closely the different colonies in various parts of the Empire, we have very good precedents for doing so. We have also the precedent of the countervailing duties, which were granted in 1899 in India against foreign sugar bounties. Both these precedents are of some service in favour of the proposal for a Select Committee to inquire into this matter. No doubt the ideal would be to wait until some steamship company to East Africa would pay. That is the ideal, but it will not do in practice, because the figures show that German trade is increasing by leaps and bounds. The German contention is that the cost to the German taxpayer of pushing trade by subsidies is amply repaid in the long run by the vastly increased volume and prosperity of the trade, and I do not stop now to argue whether that policy is right or wrong, but it is certainly a matter for inquiry by this country. German trade is increasing largely everywhere, presumably in part owing to steamship subsidies which are granted. The accommodation provided and the means of transport by their steamers are all exceedingly good, and I could see myself at Zanzibar that the merchants were very much struck by the excellence of these steamers, and they had every intention of retaining their services, and acknowledging in that way that they appreciated them. Merchants are very conservative, and when they have been well served by steamship companies we cannot suppose that they will easily desert them when we find it pays to introduce a steamship company of our own. I would like to urge that it might be worth while to establish as an experiment direct British communication with East Africa for four or five years. If it failed we should profit by the experiment, while if it succeeded it might in the end 1154 pay itself, and it would also bring many subsidiary and incidental advantages to our colonies. At any rate, I repeat that it is a matter for inquiry, and I think a strong case is made out for the Select Committee for which I ask. I am very much afraid that some day we shall awaken from our present attitude to find we have made a serious blunder, and that the trade we might have obtained has been permanently and irremediably lost. I beg to move the resolution which stands in my name.
§ * SIR EDWARD SASSOON (Hythe)
The hon. Member who has moved this motion has been very lucid and comprehensive in his statement, and therefore my observations need only be of the briefest possible character. He has the great advantage of a personal knowledge of this matter, for he has been in the localities concerned. The reason we ask for a Select Committee upon this question is because there has been a great decline in British trade and shipping in East Africa, and that the decline is so serious and the retrogression so unmistakeable that some inquiry into the contributory causes is imperatively demanded. The figures furnished by my hon. friend who moved this motion seem abundantly to justify the demand for a thorough investigation. The trouble is not, as one would from a superficial examination suppose, to be found in the decline of British commercial intercourse simply with the littoral of East Africa. Our case is not based merely upon a "setback" in the character of our commercial intercourse. Above and beyond these circumstances, untoward as they certainly are, there is the paramount question of the enhancement or diminution of prestige consequent upon the comparative volume and extent of the trade carried on under the flags of the different nations competing for that trade. Prestige in oriental countries is an asset of incalculable value. This is a truism, and what unfortunately is also a truism is that the Government—not necessarily this Government, for both parties are tarred with the same brush—seem to be singularly incapable or unwilling to go adequate lengths in consolidating their prestige in backward countries. I happen to know something 1155 of the apathy and langour which invariably creep over public departments when it is a question of taking a broad and statesmanlike view in matters of great public importance. Take, for instance, the question of cable communication, which is a matter of great economic importance to an empire such as ours, with possessions in the four corners of the globe. The case which has been pointed out by my hon. friend is only an illustration of what I have been advancing. Only this afternoon we had a somewhat heated discussion on both sides of the House in regard to the increase in our public expenditure, upon which my hon. friend the Member for North Monmouthshire made a very spirited and eloquent speech. I wish, however, to point out that that speech was not directed against expenditure of a reproductive character such as that at which the motion of my hon. friend contingently aims. I think my hon. friend aims rather at those ill-considered and improvident outlays in which the Governments of both parties are so often involved. What have we been doing in East Africa ever since we dispossessed the British East Africa Company and took over their responsibilities? We have been spending money very freely on the construction of the Uganda Railway. But what earthly use or what possible commercial benefit can accrue from that expenditure if you do not take steps to provide proper feeders for it in the shape of sea-borne commerce? My hon. friend has laid stress upon the importance of considering British influence in East Africa, including Zanzibar, which, valuable as it is from a political aspect, is still more so from its proximity to the Indian Empire. If we desire to have a system communicating with Seychelles, which, as an hon. friend behind me points out, has been discontinued, if the railway is to be conducted on commercial lines and maintained as a going concern, we must see to it that similar facilities to those which are granted with so much foresight, and in anticipation even of any demand for them, by Germany, France, and even Austria, are forthcoming in the case of our own people.
My hon. friend the mover of this resolution also referred to the action 1156 of the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary. I turn with pleasure to the contemplation of the statesmanlike sagacity displayed by the Colonial Secretary in developing the Colonial possessions of this country. Bitter experience has taught me that you can get nothing in this world unless you keep on pegging away and sometimes making yourself disagreeable all round. We must assume that the Colonial Secretary is a past master in this laborious but sometimes fruitful operation, and he must have plied the Treasury with unswerving persistence to have succeeded in obtaining the substantial subvention for the establishment of a direct line of communication to and from the West Indies. I respectfully invite the President of the Board of Trade to closely imitate the tactics of his masterful colleague the Colonial Secretary. At any rate, the right hon. Gentleman might agree to this Committee, and then endeavour to carry into effect as far as practicable its recommendations. I ask the House if it is not an immense advantage and a tower of strength to this country that it possesses the most powerful mercantile fleets in the world, such as that of the P. and O. Company, which is presided over with so much ability by Sir Thomas Sutherland? My hon. friend foreshadowed some misgivings as to the obstacles which he thought might possibly be raised against the granting of subsidies, and he said that the argument of interfering with free trade principles would probably be thrown at our head. But, swearing fealty as I do to free trade principles, I frankly confess to the House that my allegiance in this respect falls short of a pedantic adherence to those doctrines irrespective of any modification or adaptation to present needs and requirements. We want a real and genuine, and not a spurious and meretricious free trade. At any rate, if foreign Powers are enabled by means of lavish bounties and profuse subsidies to jockey us out of markets to which we have every legitimate claim, then I assert that one of two things must happen—either free trade as it exists and is enforced in this country will have to haul down its colours, or else British shipping and British trade in East Africa will have 1157 to go to the wall. I think I have said enough to cause some searchings of heart among those hide-bound doctrinaires, some distinguished representatives of whom I see opposite, who cherish with unceasing and undiscerning faith the doctrines of Mr. Cobden. In conclusion, I implore my right hon. friend to inaugurate the tenure of his office by some generous and substantial boon to British shipping. I cannot conceive why he should refuse the very moderate claims put forward by the mover of this resolution, and in that confident hope and belief I have much pleasure in seconding this motion.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the system of subsidies to steamship companies under foreign Governments, and the effect thereby produced on British trade; and to consider and report upon the political and commercial advantages to be gained by encouraging British steamers to circumnavigate Africa, especially having regard to the East coast, and to report upon the best means of giving them such encouragement."—(Mr. Evelyn Cecil.)
§ * SIR FRANCIS EVANS (Maidstone)
I have listened attentively to the various reasons why we should go to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ask for some assistance to run a line of steamers along the East coast. It is an unfortunate moment to go to the Treasury, and it is a perfectly safe thing to go there now, because the Chancellor of the Exchequer has got a good excuse. I can assure the hon. Member for Aston Manor that I have made as careful a study as is possible of the various ports he has mentioned. The company with which I am connected has run a line first to Zanzibar and then to Beira, but in neither case did the line pay, and, after we had lost a certain number of thousands of pounds, which we thought sufficient to show our good faith as English shipowners, we decided to retire to Delagoa Bay. At that port we have remained and intend to remain, but nothing will stop us from going back to Beira and on to Zanzibar and Mombasa through the Mediterranean the moment it will pay. Frankly, although I like to 1158 have Government subsidies when they are freely given, I am against Government subsidies unless very good value to the nation can be shown for them. The moment has not come when any Chancellor of the Exchequer can make a good case for giving a subsidy to a line of steamers passing from Delagoa Bay round by the Red Sea to this country.
The resolution which has been moved provides for the appointment of a Select Committee to consider and report upon the political and commercial advantages to be gained by encouraging British steamers to circumnavigate South Africa. What is the advantage of circumnavigation of that great country? The hon. Member has spoken of these various ports, but apparently he has not had much experience of shareholders who want dividends. If you want to go on a yachting expedition, the hon. Member's proposal is a beautiful scheme. I wish to tell the hon. Member that his case is not supported by the instance of the German East African line, for that line has only just managed to pay a dividend by writing down its capital one-half. It has done this by the aid of subsidies granted by the German Government and in part by the circumstances attaching to the Transvaal war. Why are the German East African line passing down by West Africa now? Because they cannot make the East African line pay. Am I to go to the British Treasury and say in forma pauperis that I cannot maintain myself against German competition? No, never. The Germans had a right to go there if they liked. I do not object, but we will meet them on their own ground and struggle with them on their own ground, and I hope that, backed up by the merchants of this country, we shall successfully compete with the Germans wherever we find them. There are a good many practical things which can be done by the Board of Trade to assist us in this matter, and it is the duty of the merchants of this country to demand from the Board of Trade such action as will enable us to expand more rapidly our trade in the various articles manufactured in this country. I believe that a Committee established to inquire as to how we can; benefit English trade might do a great deal of good. An Act has been passed 1159 called the Merchandise Marks Acts, and I venture to say that it is the most foolish Act which has been passed in my time. It has taken away from this country a large business, which can never be recovered, and this will continue as long as we oblige the German merchants to put upon their goods "Made in Germany." I do not believe the motion of the hon. Member, well conceived as it is in the interest of commerce, would do any good in this case, because you are going to ask a Committee to inquire into that which I may tell the hon. Member I know beforehand to be an impossibility. You cannot make the circumnavigation of Africa a paying trade. If that is the case, why have a Committee to report upon it? I saw the Secretary of State for the Colonies a few years ago, and I said if he wished to develop the trade north of Delagoa Bay a service would be provided if the Government would take part of the risk for a time. I cannot say, much as I should like to receive money for the purpose, I should be in favour of the Government of this country going in that direction. I believe there are as good shipowners in England as elsewhere, but they love money for all that. We would have friends in Liverpool saying "Really, Liverpool ought to have a say in this extension," and showing good reasons why the Treasury should put its hands in its pockets to help Liverpool. I do not believe any of us are going in that direction. I believe Liverpool shipowners are as much against it as I am, and while I may congratulate the hon. Member on the way he has put the case before the House, yet at the same time I cannot believe in its being a useful thing to do. I therefore regret that I cannot support it.
§ MR. ARTHUR STANLEY (Lancashire, Ormskirk)
I must apologise for saving a few words on this question to hon. Gentlemen opposite, and for coming between them and their socialist commonwealth resolution. The only advantage in favour of the resolution now before the Mouse is that the East Coast of Africa does exist, and I have, seen it, while the socialist commonwealth does not exist, and I do not believe it ever will exist. If any speech could tell in favour of the 1160 motion of my hon. friend the Member for Aston Manor, I think it would be the last speech to which we have listened. I need only take one sentence out of the speech to prove my ease. The hon. Member in the name of British shipowners refused in a thoroughly British spirit this offer of assistance. He said he would be perfectly willing to meet other countries on the same footing. Well, that is exactly what we are proposing to do by asking this subsidy. If we get this subsidy he will be able to meet foreign countries on the same footing, and British shipowners will be able to hold their own; but he knows they cannot do so at present because it does not pay. If it did pay, we should not have this motion for a Committee put before the House. I think the only advantage I can claim in speaking on this motion is that I have been down the coast. I do not believe that going through a country in a railway train makes one qualified to speak upon it. There is one thing, however, that can be said about going down the East Coast of Africa, and that is that you are qualified to speak about the ports on the coast. One who has gone down that coast in a small yacht has more than lively recollections of intricate calculations as to whether your coal will hold out to the next port you are likely to reach. The Germans are the people who are competing with us down that coast. I have reason to be grateful to the Germans at Suez. The only charts we had were those lent to us by the German mail steamers, although the charts were fifty years old, and if we had in any sense trusted to them we should inevitably have gone down. But the loan of these charts was well meant. Our own Admiralty may not be superior in all respects, but at any rate they hold their own from the point of view of charts. It is very difficult to realise the extreme importance of the ports along the East Coast of Africa. By navigating the coast it is brought home to one, in a way no map could do, that Africa is a vast continent of enormous wealth, with practically no outlet except one or two ports. I need not go into figures; my hon. friend has dealt with that; but anybody who chooses to look at the figures will see that the Germans are undoubtedly taking the 1161 trade from us. We have, at a great deal of cost to ourselves, been maintaining British supremacy in the interior of that country. British supremacy in the interior of Africa is absolutely useless to us unless we maintain British supremacy outside. If we are simply to create trade in the interior of Africa in order that German ships and German firms may profit by it, then I should be the first to say, Better let the Transvaal go to the wall.
As my hon. friends have said, we shall, of course, have the free-trade bogey brought up. We shall be told, "You are advocating protection by advocating this subsidy." First of all I would point out that we are not advocating a subsidy at all. We are simply advocating the appointment of a Committee to consider a subsidy. Secondly, I would point out that this subsidy can in no sense of the word be called protection. It is simply doing what I maintain we have a perfect right to do—putting our own people on ane qual footing with the rest of the world, in order to make them better able to compete on their own merits. I hope that my right hon. friend the President of the Board of Trade will see his way to grant us this Committee. There is only one alteration I would venture to suggest. It seems to me that my hon. friend who moved the resolution has made it a little too comprehensive. His argument dealt only with East Africa, and I think if we confine the resolution to East Africa we shall be doing well. I cannot quite agree with him in thinking that the circumnavigation of Africa is necessary. If he would limit his motion to the words—That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the system of subsidies to steamship companies under Foreign governments, and the effect thereby produced on British trade,I believe we should have a better motion, one the House would be more likely to agree with, and one the President of the Board of Trade would be more likely to accept. I earnestly hope that my right hon. friend will accept, if not the whole motion, at all events this amended version of it.
§ * SIR CHARLES CAYZER (Barrow-in-Furness)
I think my hon. friend the 1162 Member for Aston Manor may congratulate himself on getting a hearing on a question of great importance to the varied interests of this country, and it is not of less importance because it has been brought forward by a private Member. If we were to wait for action on these subjects on the part of any of the Governments we have in this House we should have to wait a very long time. Although any Government may think themselves able to govern this country well, I fail to remember that any Government have dealt with the commercial affairs of this country and taken such an interest in the welfare and preservation of our trade interests in the way the German Government have done with theirs. This resolution calls attention to the British steam communication between Great Britain and East Africa. I cordially agree with what my hon. friend the Member for Maidstone said about this trade. From my knowledge, and I have an intimate knowledge of the trade of Africa, I do not think there is sufficient reason at present to ask for a subsidy for a British line to East African ports. As has been shown this trade is greatly carried by the Germans. I think I can give reasons for that. When the Germans went to Africa it was part of an understanding that they should go through the Suez Canal and to the ports on the East African Coast. They have since extended their service from the south, but to say that British trade in East Africa is neglected is to state, to my mind, what is not the fact. There are six lines of steamers trading to the East African ports. These steamers go as far as Beira regularly, and we should be quite prepared to go further when there are inducements for us to go. I consider that to ask for a subsidy for a line to circumnavigate Africa is entirely out of the question.
But there are other reasons which I shall submit to the House very briefly why we have a right to ask for this committee of inquiry. This question is of great importance to British shipowners, and to the traders and manufacturers of this country. British shipowners are at present greatly handicapped by the steamship subsidies and preferential railway rates granted by the German 1163 Government. Germany first commenced with a subsidised line to Australia. It next subsidised a line to the Far East and afterwards to Africa. This has led to an enormous increase in the German mercantile fleet, which now includes some of the finest ships in the world. By running these subsidised lines they have encouraged trade in Germany, and now German manufacturers are closely competing with us in our own colonies in consequence of the facilities which these subsidised lines afford. Well, what does the German Government get in return? Not only direct postal facilities, but no doubt the markets for their trade have been very largely increased, so that what the German taxpayer pays in subsidies is very well repaid to him in an increase of his trade. There are the additional national advantages which the Germans have gained by granting these subsidies, the establishment of a large mercantile fleet and a naval reserve in case of war. Now, I have no complaint to make about Germany taking this action. To my mind it is a very wise policy for a large and powerful nation like Germany, with increasing colonies, to provide proper facilities for their communications and the promotion of their trade with their colonies, especially when we remember that within the memory of some of the youngest Members of this House Germany had hardly any mercantile fleet at all. They have now one of the finest mercantile fleets afloat. I do not complain of the Germans putting on these ships and pressing their trade wherever they can; but what I complain of is that they are competing at our ports with British trade under unfair conditions. It is on that ground that I ask the President of the Board of Trade to grant this committee of inquiry. It is a well-known fact that no manufacturer, trader, or shipowner can compete on fair terms when steamers running on the same lines, and manufacturers putting on the market similar articles with our manufacturers are subsidised by an Imperial Government. Supposing a German manufacturer is 200 miles inland from a seaport, and a British manufacturer is the same distance from the port of shipment, the German manufacturer has an advantage in preferential 1164 railway rates for his goods. And why? Because the German railways are State railways, and the German Government encourage their manufacturers by giving them cheap rates for their goods to the seaport. English and Scotch manufacturers have not the same advantage, for our railways are private railways, and they cannot get cheap rates. I feel sure that I shall have the sympathy and support of the President of the Board of Trade in this matter, and that he will appoint this Committee. He cannot do anything better to inaugurate his term of office than by giving close attention to the preservation and promotion of our trade throughout the world. I do not advocate subsidies. The maritime supremacy of Great Britain has not been built up on subsidies. I think I may fairly state to the House that the subsidised lines do not represent 5, or at any rate more than 10 per cent. of the shipping tonnage of the United Kingdom. How has that great tonnage, which is very largely privately owned, been created? It has been created by the enterprise and energy of the shipowners of the country, and I do not think that we need fear that that enterprise and energy is at all on the wane. But trade is altering. Once these imperial subsidies are granted and extended it becomes a question whether, if some remedies are not found, we will be able to maintain our supremacy in the future as in the past. Do not the Government owe a great deal to the shipowners and traders of the country? Where would they have been without the large mercantile fleet in the late war? Did they wish that by foreign subsidies and bounties our trade should be taken from us? I think it would be a sad day for this country and the colonies if our trade was diverted from British into foreign ships. I complain that we have not got more support from all Governments in the past. I point to the fact that the Government are shipping from ports in the United Kingdom cargoes under their own control for railways in countries under their own Government—and where the capital largely belongs to the Government—not in British ships, but in foreign bottoms—in steamers subsidised by a foreign Government. I refer 1165 to the shipment of stores for the Indian State railways. I do hope my right hon. friend the President of the Board of Trade will see his way to appoint this Committee, not simply for the purpose of inquiring into direct steamship communication between Great Britain and East Africa, but into the whole question, and I ask my hon. friend to agree to substitute for his motion a shorter one for a Select Committee to inquire into the system of subsidising steamships by foreign Governments and the effect produced on British trade, and to suggest remedies. I claim the support of hon. Members opposite, above and below the gangway. The motion commits them to nothing except obtaining true information for the benefit of the country at large.
§ MR. O'SHEE (Waterford, W.)
said that the population and resources of East Africa did not justify the subsidising of a line of steamers to run there. The population of the entire East Africa was only two and a half millions, scattered thinly over a thousand square miles. In a Report by Sir Arthur Hardinge it was stated that the German merchants trading to East Africa were quite content to get their own money back without any loss. Their principal trade, in the steamers subsidised by the German Government, was a low-class brandy which was sold at 3s. 7½d. per dozen imperial quarts, and a low-class whisky which sold at 5s. 6d. per dozen imperial quarts. That vile stuff was thrown at the unfortunate savages in Jubaland and other countries in East Africa. No wonder there were disturbances and fighting. If his voice could reach these savages he should recommend them to purchase a large quantity of dynamite, and use it to blow up the German steamers which carried that vile whisky and brandy. He hoped the House would refuse to assent to the appointment of this Committee.
§ * MR. CHARLES McARTHUR (Liverpool, Exchange)
I think the motion before the House should be modified in the sense suggested by the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness. We are indebted 1166 to my hon. friend the Member for Aston Manor for the very practical and suggestive address in which he brought this subject before the House. He has shown conclusively how British shipping may be injured by the bounty system of foreign Governments. All those who support the motion do not support the granting of bounties in this country. There is nothing about bounties in the motion. All we want is inquiry. The hon. Member for Maidstone has reminded us that the British shipowner is a very independent man, and does not want to be bolstered up by the Government. He is quite content to hold his own by his own ability against all competitors, provided he has a fair field and no favour. But when foreign Governments come behind their shipowners and support them with all the influence and wealth of the State, then the case is entirely different. It becomes an unequal and unfair contest between the British and the foreign shipowners. I further wish to say that the foreign bounty system, as regards shipping, is increasing to a most alarming extent, and I think the mind of the country requires to be-aroused upon this question. May I refer, for the sake of illustration, to the West Indian sugar trade? There is a trade which has been killed by the foreign bounty system. What is to prevent that system being turned first to one and then to another of our industries, each being-attacked in turn and ruined? In 1895 the Board of Trade published a Report on the subsidies given by foreign nations. There are three kinds of subsidies. First, there is the mail subsidy; there is no kind of bounty in that at all; it is simply a payment for services rendered. Such subsidies are given by every maritime State. The second kind is a subsidy on construction. A bounty of this character is given by three States—France, Italy, and Hungary, which pay so much for every ton of every vessel built in the ports of the respective countries. The third kind of subsidy is that which is a simple encouragement—a bounty pure and simple—and that is given by six States—namely, France, Austria, Denmark, Italy, Russia, and Sweden and Norway. That was in 1895, and I understand the Board of Trade are now collecting statistics of the 1167 subsidies given at the present time. Those particulars have, however, to a large extent been obtained unofficially, and the figures show that vast increases in subsidies have taken place during the last five years. In Great Britain they have increased, in round figures, from £592,000 to £704,000 (that is not any increase in remuneration, but simply an increase in the amount of business done); United States, from £107,000 to £357,000; Germany, from £249,000 to £389,000; Italy, from £70,000 to £449,000; France, from £420,000 to £1,700,000; and Japan appears for the first time in any figures with subsidies amounting to £710,000. A subsidy Bill is before the United States Congress at the present time, which, if carried, will have the effect of enormously increasing the subsidies granted.
I would also draw the attention of the House to the sums paid to particular lines. The Nord-Deutsche Lloyd, £279,000 per year; the International Navigation Company, £158,000; the Cie Generale Transatlantique, £446,000; Messageries Maritimes, £554,000; Navigazione Generale, £380,000. What is paid to our lines which compete with those I have named? The White Star and Cunard together get only £126,000; the P. and O., in one service, £243,000; and in another, with the Orient, £167,000. These figures are sufficient to show how extensively handicapped the British shipowner is by the foreign subsidies. What are the effects? One result is a diminution in the number of British fast steamers of high speed. Some years ago we had five lines of "express" steamers, whereas now we have only two. The reason is that shipowners cannot afford to run these very fast vessels for commercial purposes alone, and the result has been that the blue ribbon of the Atlantic has been wrested from this country by Germany. That result may be considered a sentimental one, but there are many proofs of the great loss, not only as regards our shipping trade, but also with regard to our commerce and mercantile trade, which has followed the application of the foreign bounty system, because, as a general rule, it may be taken that the trade follows the flag. As showing the views of British shipowners upon this subject, I should like to read a 1168 resolution passed at the last meeting of the Chamber of Shipping, namely—That the urgent attention of His Majesty's Government be directed to the question of foreign bounties on shipping, and especially to the development of the question which has taken place in foreign countries whereby the interests of the British Mercantile Marine are seriously threatened.That is the view of shipowners through their association. The question is, how is this position to be met? We are not here to-night to prescribe any particular method of dealing with the matter. It may be met, of course, by countervailing duties, or by counter-subsidy; but that is only one way of dealing with the question. In many respects by our own Government foreign shipping is placed in a preferential position as regards our own shipping. For instance, foreign Governments provide at their own expense very large dock and harbour works for the use of shipping, which in this country are provided mostly by local effort, and have to be paid for by shipping. Foreign Governments to a large extent light their coasts free of charge, whereas the entire cost of lighting our coasts has to be borne by the British shipowner. Even our Navy, which uses those lights, does not pay a penny towards the cost. Then there is the question of the load-line. The British shipper loading in a British port can load only up to a certain line. The foreign shipper is free to load to any extent, the only restriction being that the ship must not be, in the opinion of the Board of Trade, unseaworthy. In point of fact, the test is not applied, and foreign ships are never stopped by the Board of Trade on account of unseaworthiness; so that foreign shipowners have a free hand in the matter, whereas the British shipowner is strictly bound by the load-line imposed by the Board of Trade. Then there are other restrictions by regulations on the British shipowner. He has to carry life-saving apparatus, to have a certain weight of crew's provisions, and is bound by regulations as to passengers, whereas the foreign shipowner is free from all these regulations. I think it is a great hardship that ships of the North German Lloyd's should be allowed to come to Southampton and take passengers with- 1169 out complying in any way with our statutory regulations.
Therefore, I say there is ample scope for this inquiry, and I heartily support the resolution, more particularly as modified by the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness. It is a mistake to lay too much stress on East Africa. Of course, we believe that in time to come it will be a very important centre of trade, but at present it has not that character, and there are many other parts of the world which are much more important to shipowners and merchants than East Africa. I say that the subject is a general one, and should be looked at from a general standpoint. Therefore, I hope the House will pass this resolution in some form; I should like to see it amended, but I would rather have it as it is than not at all; and I hope in the interests of commerce and shipping the President of the Board of Trade will see his way to appoint this Committee, which can do no harm, and may do a great deal of good.
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)
The hon. Member who has just spoken stated that there is nothing in the motion before the House with reference to subsidies, but the whole of the debate has been directed to showing that the ship-owning industry is injured by the subsidies granted by foreign governments, and the speech of the hon. Member for the Ormskirk Division of Lancashire was wholly devoted to the fact that the German Government give subsidies to certain steamers running to East Africa. His argument was that because the German Government did this the British Government should do the same. Earlier this afternoon we listened to many speakers who told us that our expenditure was rising tremendously, and that the first thing we ought to do was to see in what way we could economise. Now only a few hours later, the 1170 hon. Member comes down and says that the first thing we ought to do is to expend more money in subsidising—what? An industry which is decaying? An industry which is not prosperous? No. On the contrary, we are asked to subsidise an industry which has been more prosperous during the last three years than during the fifteen years previous. If we are to subsidise the shipping industry because the German or any other Government subsidise their shipping industry, there are other trades and interests which are subsidised by foreign countries, and why should we not subsidise those also? Where are you going to draw the line? Why should you select an industry which is extremely flourishing, and say that the taxpayers should contribute towards subsidising that particular industry and no other?
§ * SIR CHARLES CAYZER
There is no question of subsidies before the House now that my proposal to alter the resolution has been accepted by the hon. Member who moved it.
§ MR. BANBURY
No, but the whole of the speeches of the hon. Member who moved for the inquiry and of the hon. Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool were devoted to showing the difficulties with which the British shipowner is met because he has to compete with foreign shipowners who are subsidised by their respective governments; and the hon. Member for the Exchange Division read out a long list of the subsidies which were given.
§ * MR. CHARLES McARTHUR
I think I must correct my hon. friend if he will allow me. I objected to foreign subsidies, and I certainly do not support British subsidies.
§ MR. BANBURY
If that is so, though we have had an extremely interesting discussion, we might have been talking about something else. I should like to say a word upon the point of view of the German Government. The German Government and nation have a very small shipping industry, and it is natural that they should wish to encourage that industry. We have a very large shipping 1171 industry, and we do not want any particular encouragement. The hon. Member opposite said quite truly that he was prepared to face any opposition provided he could make the trade pay, and that really is the secret of the whole matter. What this motion seeks to do is to make the Government find dividends for shareholders in ships, whereas I hope with my hon. friend opposite that shipowners will in the future, as they have done in the past, compete with their own industry and perseverance. My hon. friend said that the Indian guaranteed railways were a precedent for subsidies being granted to shipowners. I think he hardly understands the conditions under which the Indian railways have been guaranteed by the State. In the first place, they have been guaranteed on the understanding that the whole of the first net profits go to the State until the guarantee is fulfilled. Then in the majority of instances the railways revert to the State after a given period. I do not know that shipowners want their ships to revert to the State in consideration of receiving a subsidy. I am sorry to have occupied the time of the House, but I sincerely hope that, as the hon. Member says he does not want any subsidies, there will not be any inquiry.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. GERALD BALFOUR,) Leeds, Central
My hon. friend has raised a very interesting question, and we have listened to some excellent speeches. I gladly acknowledge the great care my hon. friend has bestowed on his case and the evident knowledge of his subject, partly derived from personal experience, he has exhibited. He devoted his speech principally to the absence of direct steamship communication with East Africa, and, so far as I was able to check them, I have no complaint to make of the accuracy of his statements. Undoubtedly it is a fact that, whereas both Germany and France have provided by means of subsidies direct services between Europe and East Africa via the Suez Canal, no such British service exists at the present time. I ought further to add that the Foreign Office are now considering the question of a subsidy to a steamship 1172 company for the establishment of a direct service between this country and Zanzibar. That, perhaps, is a reason that will satisfy my hon. friend if the Government decline to accept his motion in the form in which it appears on the Paper. It will be, I think, undesirable to appoint a Committee "to consider and report upon the political and commercial advantages to be gained by encouraging British steamers to circumnavigate Africa, especially having regard to the East coast," at the very time when the subject is actually under the consideration of a department of Government. But I have no objection to consent to the first part of the motion, namely, "That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the system of subsidies to steamship companies under foreign Governments, and the effect thereby produced on British trade." That, however, would be a perfectly general inquiry, not an inquiry limited, as my hon. friend proposes, to steamship lines in connection with Africa, and especially East Africa. There is a further reason I would urge on the House why we should not entrust a Committee with the consideration of the political and commercial advantages to be gained by encouraging British steamers to circumnavigate Africa, especially having regard to the East coast, and the duty of reporting upon the best means of giving them such encouragement, and the reason is this. I think my hon. friend will admit that when he speaks of encouragement to British steamship services, what he means is encouragement by means of subsidies. One or two Members who have spoken this evening suggested that there is nothing in the resolution in reference to bounties, but I am afraid I cannot altogether agree to that. It is perfectly true that they are not directly mentioned, but my hon. friend will admit that, when he speaks of "encouragement," we can only interpret it as meaning by subsidies. Now, subsidies given by foreign Governments are of various kinds, and the hon. Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool has referred to them. There is a direct navigation bounty given by France. Italy, and other countries, but I cannot imagine that will be suggested for our 1173 enormous mercantile marine. Such a bounty would certainly result in emptying our Treasury. Then there are indirect bounties, which are given through the granting of reduced rates on State railways for goods which are being exported by particular lines of vessels. Here, again, as railways in this country are not in our hands, it is not in our power, even if it were desirable, to adopt that form of bounty. I take it that the subsidies given to the German Steamship Company and to the Messageries Maritimes are nominally for services rendered, but are in reality in the nature of bounties. Then there are what may be called legitimate subsidies, which are given for services rendered, and represent the value of such services. It is these subsidies, and these alone, which have been given to steamship lines in this country. That being so, I think the House will see that if the obvious suggestion contained in my hon. friend's motion, it would practically mean the acceptance on the part of the House of the idea that steamship companies in this country should be assisted by means of subsidies, which would really be bounties. That has never been done.
I do not wish to deal with the subject pedantically. I do not suggest that under no circumstances would it be justifiable to give bounties, but it is a matter which the House itself should decide, and which should not be referred to a Select Committee. The case of Jamaica is unique, and cannot be quoted as a precedent. The subsidy given to the Elder, Dempster line for services rendered to Jamaica is not a subsidy to that line, but a subsidy to Jamaica. It is an eleemosynary gift to that colony, and was the result of an inquiry by a Commission appointed to inquire into the condition of the West Indies, which seemed to demand some assistance from this country. This recommendation was made by the Commission, and it was carried out by the Government. The question is whether you will look at this matter from the point of view of the British shipping trade or that of a particular colony which it is desired to benefit. The hon. Member for Aston Manor referred to the German service to Africa. I will give the House a proof 1174 that the German service is subsidised entirely from the point of view of German commerce and shipping, and not from the point of view of German colonies. The proof is that while the German service calls at all the important English ports, it does not call at the German South-west African colony at all. That shows that the German companies have not got the interests of the German colonies at heart. In the case of Jamaica, we look at it not from the point of view of British commerce, but from the point of view of Jamaica. If we had not given a subvention in that form we should have had to have given it in another. I have now explained why I am unable to assent to the second part of the reference to the proposed Committee, but I have no objection to the first part. I am aware that this is a subject on which grave apprehensions are entertained. This inquiry may be of service if it proves—as I am disposed to think it will—that the fears entertained on the subject are exaggerated. If, on the other hand, those fears are well founded, it is important that we should know exactly where we stand.
§ * MR. EVELYN CECIL
I am quite willing to accept the alteration of the motion suggested by my right hon. friend.
§ SIR JAMES FERGUSSON (Manchester, N. E.)
I suppose it would be in accordance with what the Government has agreed to, if I moved to leave out all the words after "trade."
§ Ordered, That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the system of subsidies to steamship companies under Foreign Governments, and the effect thereby produced on British trade