§ "That there shall be charged on and after the nineteenth day of April nineteen hundred and one the following customs export duty on Coal:—
|Coal (including culm, coke, cinders, and manufactured fuel), per ton.||0||1||0"|
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ SIR EDWARD GREY (Northumberland, Berwick)
The First Lord of the Treasury, in assenting to the postponement of this debate to another day, said that he did so with reluctance, on the ground that a certain amount of inconvenience must be caused to a considerable number of Members of the House. Well, those of us who are anxious to have the opportunity of expressing our views on this tax at this stage must acknowledge the courtesy with which the right hon. Gentleman acceded to our request to have the further opportunity we asked for the discussion of the question, and we must acknowledge also the forbearance of hon. Members of the House who have been put to any inconvenience. In the interval, since the adjournment of the debate last Thursday, I may mention that, so far as information in connection with this tax and its probable bearing on trade, both as regards coal for shipment and the country generally is concerned, I have become almost a millionaire. The amount of correspondence which I have received has been very large, and, like other millionaires, I am now in the position of having rather more valuable material at my disposal than I can make use of at the moment.
I do not desire to weary the House with an exhaustive statement of the case, assuming that, if this resolution is passed, there will be subsequent opportunities in Committee on the Finance Bill, when the more detailed objections to this tax can be presented at greater length. But I hope one or two things will be got out of the way before we reach the debates 785 on the Finance Bill—one or two considerations which have no bearing on this tax, but which have been introduced into the debate. The first of these is the consideration in connection with the war. The hon. Member for Stockton on Thursday stated that he was bound to disappoint the expectations of his friends by supporting this tax as a just demand on his patriotism by the necessities of the war; and there are gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House who, also from considerations connected with the war, are prepared to support this tax also. I entirely agree that when the country has been engaged in a war of this magnitude some financial burdens must be felt by the country at large. I think that for any large section of the community possessing votes to be allowed to imagine that war can be indulged in without any demand upon their patriotism in connection with their pockets, as well as in other respects, would be an unwholesome and immoral doctrine. Therefore, in opposing this tax, I do not wish it to be supposed that I am complaining of the total amount which the Government propose to raise by taxation. My opposition would not be that the total amount which the Government propose to raise in the present year to meet the expenses of the year is too large. On the contrary, my complaint rather is that the amount is perhaps too small. But, holding that view on general principles, it does not absolve us from criticising the methods by which the Government propose to raise the money. But I do complain that this method in its operation is harsh and oppressive to particular districts; while the amount of relief which it will give to the Exchequer is comparatively trifling. It must further be borne in mind that this coal tax is not a war tax at all. The whole foundation of the new taxes as introduced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer is that they are rendered necessary by the growing normal expenditure of the country. This tax is to be a permanent tax, not a war tax, and as nobody supposes that the war is to be permanent, it must be judged, not by the exigencies of the moment, but as an integral part of our system of finance, to be tried by the permanent principles of taxation. The House is not used to discussing 786 those principles. Even the oldest Member can hardly remember the time when the permanent principles of taxation were a familiar subject of controversy in the House of Commons; and there is a general reluctance to embark on what used to be a well-known but is now an unfamiliar sea. The Chancellor of the Exchequer himself prefers to paddle about in shallow water; and if the right hon. Gentleman goes a little deeper sometimes into the question of principle he provides himself with a plank from the debates of about sixty years ago—a plank which comes from one of the greatest authorities, but which is not always the one on which those who have studied questions of finance would have most relied. As one who fears that the question of the principles of finance will more and more occupy the attention of the House, I should be delighted if I could believe that they are as simple and easy of application as the Chancellor of the Exchequer represented them to be in his speech. I have always understood that it was most difficult and at the same time most important to forecast the incidence of any particular tax, because the question of how and on whom the burden will fall makes all the difference in the merits of the tax. In this coal tax the Chancellor of the Exchequer sees very little difficulty. He sees only two people—the foreign consumer and the coalowner; and he consoles himself by thinking that in proportion as he misses the foreign consumer he will hit the coalowner, and that there is an end of the matter. If the application of a new tax and its consequences were really so simple a matter, there would be far greater competition for the post of Chancellor of the Exchequer than is likely to be the case in these days. But the difficulties are far greater than the Chancellor of the Exchequer is aware of.
Let us take the argument of the foreign consumer. Supposing that British coal has such a monopoly that the foreign consumer is going cheerfully to pay the shilling increase, and that the revenue gained will come out of his pocket. That is not the end of the matter, even if it were the beginning. The foreign consumer is not so simple and passive a person as some people suppose. If his pocket is reached, 787 his first thought will be how he can retaliate. In every country affected, we may depend upon it there will be a casting about for export taxes in that country, by which something can be got from British trade in return. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer seems to think that the supply of British coal really rules the market abroad. I do not believe that that is so; and, therefore, I do not believe that the foreign consumer will pay the full shilling of this tax. On figures showing that in spite of the increasing price the export of British coal has increased, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has founded an argument that British coal has a monopoly. But that increased price has been due to the operation of the law of supply and demand, applying not only to the British trade, but to the coal trade at large. I except, for the purposes of this case, the very best classes of Welsh coal; but as regards a large proportion of British coal the high price has been due to the law of supply and demand. The real test as to whether British coal rules the market is to be found in the margin of price by which the British coalowner secures his contracts in the foreign market. I do not wish to weary the House with quotations, but I should like to give two which bear on this question of the margin of price. The first is from an agent abroad of Messrs. Thomas Wilson and Son, of Hull. He writes—You seem to have gone wrong about coal, as the whole of England, and I am afraid they will find they will lose many foreign markets if they do not give up the idea of putting on the proposed tax. Germany exported 9,500,000 tons during 1891, 10,360,000 tons during 1895, 13,943,000 tons during 1899, and 15,275,000 tons last year, and if there had not been such a large demand from the German ironworks they could have exported double the quantity. Now the tables have turned, and German agents are trying all over to place the coals which they cannot sell at home, in spite of the restriction in the output of 20 per cent. on all German pits.Since I entered the House a telegram has reached me to the effect that that restriction of 20 per cent. in all the Westphalian pits has now been reduced to 10 per cent., obviously in the expectation that when this handicap has been put on British coal, German coal will from the very beginning have an opportunity of a greater sale, Well, to continue the extract from the letter—The Swedish railway consider the Northumberland coals only 4d. per ton better than 788 German, and thus with a tax of 1s. the English coals are at a disadvantage of 8d. per on. The Swedish Lloyd running to German, French, and Belgian ports find that the westphalian coals are worth to them about 10 to 15 per cent. more than English or Scottish coal.Now, Sir, the Chancellor of the Exchequer dealt with the best Welsh steam coals, but when he came to the north of England he laid stress on the monopoly it had of the best gas coal. He did not think that a large portion of Northumberland coal is steam coal, and that it has no monopoly; and that is the sort of competition to which the Northumberland coal is exposed. The other quotation I will not give at length to the House. I have singled out the first quotation because Messrs. Wilson and Sons' firm probably stands as high as any as regards knowledge and experience of the coal and shipping trades. The next quotation I will give is from Sir Lindsay Wood, who came on a deputation to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman turned a deaf ear to it at once, and I cannot pretend that it has any special claim on his attention at this moment; but I should like to give it to the House, because it has been stated that there has been a great deal of excitement and exaggeration in the coal trade. Sir Lindsay Wood is well known as a man deeply interested in the coal trade, and is about as little liable to excited and loose talk as anyone. Moreover, he is, so far as politics are concerned, a supporter of the Government. I will put it stronger. Sir Lindsay Wood is as incapable of indulging in exciting or loose talk as any man living. His statement is this—The tax was not levied upon the general coal districts of the whole of England, but was confined only to a few districts, and only a few of the people in those districts. One shilling per ton on coal was an enormous tax on the percentage of the value of the coal. In some instances it was nearly 10 per cent. upon the price obtained at a normal period; in other cases it was nearly 25 per cent. upon the values; and it was impossible for the trade to be carried on with such an enormous addition to its cost. It was said that they might get a shilling out of the foreigner, but all their information since that duty had been proposed was that the foreigners would not pay it, and it must revert back to the coalowners. The competition of foreign ports so handicapped us now that there was not much more than 2d. or 3d. per ton difference in the price between foreign and British coal competing in foreign markets.Before the House decides on this tax it ought to make up its mind whether it 789 believes or disbelieves these statements, Unless it believes, as people have hinted, that these are the exaggerated statements of interested people, the House will run a grave risk in sanctioning this tax. It is not merely the one shilling per ton which the trade will have to bear in the handicap, for it will also have to bear the consequences of all the additional regulations which follow wherever a Customs duty is imposed, and which hamper trade and introduce uncertainty into the making of future contracts. It is suggested that future contracts should be made subject to duty, but I believe that would hamper trade as much as the amount of the duty itself. I believe that part of the great success of British trade has been owing to our free system at home, and our power to give promptly fixed and certain quotations for contracts. If you make coal exporters hesitate, as they must hesitate if this tax is imposed, if you make them try to introduce clauses to safeguard themselves with reference to future duties, then you are putting a serious handicap on the trade on that ground alone. The trade is, I believe, still a prosperous trade, but it is a waning prosperity. In Northumberland there has been a decrease of 9 per cent. from January to March as compared with the corresponding period of last year, and a decrease of 13 per cent. in March as compared with that month last year, and that was before the tax was proposed. But when you come to see what has happened since it will be seen that the exports from Grimsby in the third week of April have been 8,650 as against 22,846 in the corresponding week of the year before. But I admit, as regards that last figure, I do not think that must be considered a final or conclusive argument on the effect of the tax, because the dislocation of the trade at first must undoubtedly be very much more serious. But the figures I have given show that a decrease had taken place before the tax was spoken of at all, and I should be very much surprised if this year hence there is not an alarming decrease in these exports. The foreign consumer may pay a portion of this tax, but to whom will he pay it? Suppose a British exporter is competing for a contract against a German producer, and suppose his tender is 3d. per ton less than the German's, now that this tax is to be 790 imposed he will have to raise his tender 1s. per ton, which will give 9d. advantage to the German producer. The foreign consumer will pay 3d. a ton, but to whom will he pay it? Not to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but to the German producer.
I pass from the foreign consumer and come to the only other person the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have us believe is concerned—the colliery owner. While I have no direct interest in this matter, I have many personal friends who are much interested in the coal trade, and I suspect some of them, no doubt, have been exceedingly prosperous recently. I do not grudge them that. I belong certainly to those who have seen this wave of prosperity pass over the country without bringing any sensible addition to their incomes, and as my main interest in the business enterprise of the country is railway management hon. Members will readily suppose the high price of coal has not added anything to my income. I have looked with a certain amount of admiration on what I supposed was the prosperity of certain trades, but I have not shared in it, and I will deal with the matter from a public point of view. Let us take the effect on the colliery owner from the public point of view. The Chancellor of the Exchequer gave us some figures which, I think, dazzled the Souse last week, but I think the most affective part was that in which he described the exceeding wealth of the colliery owners. Does the House really believe that that was a fair statement of he average position of the average colliery owner? If it does believe that, we should at once sell all we possess and become colliery owners. But I do not think hat that belief is really entertained. When I hear the wealth of the colliery owner introduced as an effective argument for the imposition of this tax am reminded it is only an echo, and a partial echo, of the doctrine with which we were once much more familiar—lamely, the doctrine of ransom. When I first had the honour of taking part in public life I was very much attracted by hat doctrine, and I am afraid I went so far as to defend both the doctrine and its author. But as years have gone on I am bound to say I have become more hesitating—
§ SIR EDWARD GREY
About the doctrine of ransom. It is not from any moral repulsion of the doctrine of ransom, which I know is rife in some minds, that my hesitation arises; it is rather from the difficulty of the application of that doctrine. But while I apparently have been hesitating about the doctrine the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, I think, in those days was rather cool towards it, to put the matter mildly, has now warmed towards it, and proposes to make a partial application of it; and in the latter part of his speech on Thursday I recognised the true ring. If that doctrine is to be applied—if the wealth of the colliery owner is to be the basis on which this tax is to be grounded, then I must say, if I were one of those people who are so unfortunate as to be wealthy enough to attract the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I should object to being singled out as a victim—I should desire the tax to be applied equally to the whole of my class. If wealth is to be the basis of taxation, then I think further attention might be given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the death duties, or to a graduated income tax, as the proper method of dealing with that question. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer can solve the difficulties which lie in the way of the further application of those taxes, and will present them to the House, I am sure it is not from this side that his greatest difficulties will come. I believe the Chancellor of the Exchequer, looking at it still from the public point of view, is not dealing with the colliery owner in the public interest. He says the colliery owner has a considerable nest-egg which will enable him to bear some taxation. It is a most unfortunate simile, because the nest-egg is what you carefully preserve and leave untouched in order to induce the bird to go on laying. But if it is the nest-egg you wish to touch, then hit the colliery owner on existing contracts—that is what would hit him on his past accumulations. But he is not to be hit on existing contracts, I understand. Why is he not to be hit on existing contracts? Because apparently there seems to have been a general feeling that that would 792 be unjust, and disturb the confidence of the trade. Then, surely, it comes to this, that it is not the size of the nest-egg that is in question, that it is not the past accumulations of the colliery owner that are to be taxed, but his future prospects. However large the colliery owner's nest-egg may be, that will not induce him to keep his mines open in future if they have to be worked at a loss.
This is a permanent tax, not a war tax. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has made up his mind that the trade can bear the tax. One of the most extraordinary reasons he has given for his view of the prosperity of the trade, and which I believe is really new, is that the trade has been such a fluctuating trade, that there have been such oscillations in price, and, as I understand the argument of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, everything he saw made for the practicability of this tax. I think it is entirely new that fluctuations should have been adduced to the House as a sign of stability. If a trade is able to bear a tax and yet maintain its own in the world, it must be a stable trade, and I certainly look upon the great fluctuations and oscillations in price in the coal trade asevidence of anything but stability. I look upon that as prima facie evidence that it is a speculative rather than a stable trade. I suppose the Chancellor of the Exchequer believes that by introducing this tax of a shilling a ton he is putting a little weight on the pendulum which will prevent it oscillating as much as it has been doing. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer thinks these fluctuations are still to continue, then I am convinced this charge on a trade which does not fluctuate will certainly be felt as an injury to that trade. We were told the demand for coal always exceeds the supply. I do not believe that has been the case. If that were so, it might mean that all these fluctuations were not inconsistent with stability, but I believe that all these fluctuations are really caused by the fact that the demand has not always exceeded the supply. In 1873 there was a boom of the same kind that we are having now. That boom, no doubt, was because the demand exceeded the supply at the time. There has been another great year of prosperity again, because the demand has exceeded the 793 supply. But in the interval there have been many years of distress. How long has it taken to bring about another time, of high prices equal to those of the early seventies? I believe that from time to time, owing to exceptional causes, such as the war at present, the demand does exceed the supply, and then suddenly prices rise to an enormous height. But after the boom of the early seventies the fall was proportionately steep and the distress was great. Surely, if we argue from the past, the argument is that we may be on the eve of another such fall, and another period of distress. It is not the case of the rich colliery owner that has to be considered. We may have individuals who have made great fortunes, but from them downwards we have a descending scale, until the margin of profit is only enough to keep things going. The Chancellor of the Exchequer himself admits that, taking the year 1897 as a basis of calculation, undoubtedly a considerable number of mines made no profit. His argument was that a good many mines made a large profit in that year my point is that however large the fortunes made by certain individuals, there are a good many mines on the brink, which are only just making a bare profit—mines which in bad times would have to be closed. And then what happens? The pits are closed; and here we come to the real difficulty of this taxation. A certain number of pits will be closed, anyhow, with the present falling prices, and this tax will cause more pits to close than otherwise would if the trade had been left alone. And what will happen? The colliery owners working under the least advantageous circumstances will find their profits disappear, but worse will happen to the poorer colliery owners who will have to close. Some who are now working their pits at less than the 1s. per ton which it is proposed to impose will endeavour to continue by reducing their wages, and those who cannot will, when the fall in wages takes place, close their pits. The rich colliery owner will get a certain compensating advantage. On the fall of wages he will be able to keep his pits going—although I do not say they will meet all the loss he will have to bear—and he is the man who will get 794 off best; but, so far as the smaller and poorer colliery owner is concerned, you will strike off his profits at one blow, and he will close his pits and discharge his men, and directly at some pits and indirectly over the whole trade you will get a reduction of wages.
The miner is perfectly aware of this state of things, and he objects to it. What are we told? That he has no right to object, because he himself has advocated the Mines Regulations and Workmen's Compensation Bills, and in some cases shorter hours, all of which must have added to the expense of the trade. But in those cases if the burden was to fall upon the trade it would fall upon the whole trade and not upon one part; and if the reduction did take place, in every case, the miner felt that he would obtain some return. If he ran the risk of getting lower wages for shorter hours or greater security in his work, it was his own choice and he was entitled to do so. That is the feeling in the coal trade; but in this case he sees a portion of the trade struck and he gets no compensating return for the burden placed upon him. The tendency in this case is for the burden of this taxation to sink lower and lower, although you strike the rich owner first. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer deliberately turns his back upon this argument, because he thinks the miners can bear the burden. That is not the argument which is used outside. The argument which is really behind the Chancellor of the Exchequer in this matter, and which I freely admit is not one devised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself, is that the coal industry—colliery owners and miners alike—have bled the consumer, and now the country is to bleed them. I do not say that the Chancellor of the Exchequer spread his sails to catch that wind, but it is the wind which is filling his sails. The other night, when the right hon. Gentleman the member for West Monmouth was speaking, and was arguing that this tax would not make coal cheaper in this country, I heard an interruption from the other side of the House, an interruption which was not anonymous but which came, I believe, from the hon. Member for the Central Division 795 of Sheffield, who said it had already done so. We have had a recent experience of electioneering, and I dread the use to which this argument may be put in the country. Hon. Members who have constituencies which are not directly interested in the coal trade except as consumers will find a little grumbling in those constituencies about the increased price of sugar, and they will not be slow, if pressed, to point out that, though the Government have increased the price of sugar by taxation, they have cheapened the price of coal. This, I believe, is the feeling which has touched the miner in this matter. He is afraid that coal will be cheapened at his expense, and that, as he bears his share of the increased cost of sugar, he will bear a double burden.
Are we, then, never to put any tax on coal? Yes; we can put a tax on all coal raised at the pit, for the burden would then be distributed over the country at large. It is this hateful export tax falling upon a portion of the trade, this tax which the miner is deliberately told will not be recovered from the consumers in the country, which will not be recovered from their fellows in the community, that rankles in the miner's mind. The feeling is exceedingly strong. I do not wonder that the feeling of miners should be exceedingly strong. I regret that the threat of a general stoppage of work should have been used, because it makes it very difficult for the Government to reconsider their position in regard to the tax. But I hope the House will not take the threat lightly—I do not believe it is bluff. A general stoppage, if it occurs, means a direct challenge—an ultimatum by one section of the community to the rest. It will be the nearest approach to civil war that we shall have ever seen.
I cannot understand how it is that the Government should for this comparatively trivial relief in the Exchequer have stirred up all this dissension. They admit that the sugar tax has not raised anything like the trouble which this coal tax has raised. Why? Because it does not affect one section against the other. It is the injustice of the general policy with regard to the restriction of the export of coal that accounts for this 796 opposition. I do not intend to argue at length whether it is good or bad, but if you wish to diminish the export of coal and to keep more at home is it not the best class of coal which you wish to keep at home? I admit with regard to Welsh steam coal it would be a great evil for this country to be deprived of it, and I agree, therefore, it would be a serious thing if the Welsh steam coal was exhausted. What is the proper way to provide against that? Not to put a tax upon the export of coal, but for the Government to acquire the greater part of the Welsh steam coalfields and work them at their leisure for naval purposes. It is the worst coal, not the best Welsh coal, which will be affected by this tax. The result is that if this tax is imposed it will restrict an important trade in coal of the worst class, though it may stimulate the export of the better class of coal by the fact that the men now engaged upon cheap coal for export and ships which are carrying on the trade will be at the disposal of the better pits. I admit that the argument as to Welsh steam coal is a formidable argument, but I submit it ought to be met in the way which I have indicated. This tax will operate in a way we do not want it to operate—it will restrict the export of the worst class and facilitate and expedite that of the best class of coal.
The House does not realise what this means. It is a differential tax of 1s. a ton on British exports. We are told that the coal trade has survived import duties in countries like France, Russia, Spain, and Portugal. So it has, but not differential import duties. I have always understood that our policy of fighting high import duties abroad by free exports has been an entire success.
§ SIR EDWARD GREY
I must confess I give the hon. Member for the Central Division of Sheffield up. I have always understood that he was in favour of import duties upon goods entering this country, and looked with a greedy eye upon anything that came into this country without. Now I find he is in favour of an export duty, so that he is in favour of nothing coming in and nothing going 797 out, and will not be satisfied until this country has become a desert. If it has not been a success how is it possible for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to point to the prosperity of the trade he is now attacking? I am prepared to stand firm and to fight import duties so long as we have the most-favoured-nation clause; but if it comes to this, that any foreign country deliberately imposes a differential duty on British goods—that is to say, gives British goods deliberately worse terms in its markets than other competitors—then I think we shall have to set no limit to our indignation. But that is exactly what we are doing in the case of this tax. I can quite understand that there is this difference—that supposing France was to put a differential duty on British coal the French Government might get the money; but in this case the British Exchequer is to get the money. I do not say the Chancellor of the Exchequer used that argument, but it is the only one I can conceive being used. In this case that would not be the ground of our objection to the differential duty. We should not care whose pocket the money went into; it would be the injury to trade, and in this case it is the injury to trade to which we object. If the House turned the matter round and looked at trade, and compared what its feeling would be if a foreign country did to our trade what we ourselves are doing to it, it would not contemplate this tax for a moment.
I do not wish to pose as a financial authority, or to embark so very far upon the discussion of first principles, but surely this tax does violate the elementary principles of taxation. Does not the House agree that the most elementary principles of taxation are that you should distribute the burden as much as possible, disturb trade as little as possible, and get for the Exchequer as large a revenue as possible in proportion to the burden imposed? This tax does just the opposite. It brings in little to the revenue; it concentrates the burden upon particular districts and it makes the disturbance of a particular class of trade as great as possible It combines the maximum of injury to a section with the minimum of advantage to the Exchequer. It is really extra ordinary, but it seems to be though 798 incredible that anybody can oppose this tax except from interested motives. People do not really stop to thresh the matter out. They think they are going pell-mell for the wealthy coal owner and the foreign consumer. If anybody refuses to join in the hue and cry, that refusal must be due to some tainted motive. My right hon. friend the Member for West Monmouth, speaking the other day, dealt with this question from the point of view of high principles of finance. His argument is at once discredited on the ground that as Member for West Monmouth he must have acquired some special knowledge which he is bound to be putting to an unfair use, or, if he is not, he is making this a party question. My hon. friend the Member for Morpeth, I suppose, is as little suspected of party feeling or of party malice, at any rate, as any man in the House. I am sure the House must have been impressed not only with the depth but with the genuineness of his interest in the question. The senior Member for Newcastle, speaking on Thursday night, made a maiden speech, to which I listened with great interest, and I only regretted that his maiden speech in the House should have been made under what he must have felt the disagreeable duty of opposing his own side. He certainly speaks without any party feeling, or rather his party feeling is on the other side, but he also was against this tax. These people are interested in the north of England. My hon. friend the Member for Morpeth and the senior Member for Newcastle are specially interested in the coal trade in the north of England. As to my own direct interest in the trade—I have none. My constituency is not appreciably interested. But if my arguments are to be discounted at all, I would prefer that they should be discounted not on the ground of party feeling—which is not operative in me at all in this matter—but on the ground of local sentiment. Though my own part of the county is not touched by this tax, I have a strong local sentiment of sympathy with the county to which I belong, and which, I believe, is most harshly and unduly hit by this tax. If that is a reason for discounting my arguments, I make free confession of it to the House. But that is of the essence of the case against this tax. If it 799 fell as heavily on the whole country as it does on particular districts, if it fell on the whole coal trade, then we might or might not think it inexpedient, and we might or might not argue against it, but we should not feel the sharp and bitter resentment with which we now oppose it. The fact that this tax is popular with the country at large only makes the deeper our sense of the injustice of this tax to our neighbours in the districts which will be most injured. I am sure of this, the Government are only at the beginning of an opposition and an agitation which will be carried no one can tell how far. It is not an economic argument merely, or a matter of selfish interest. As I said, it is the sense of unfairness and injury which will fan this agitation and keep it alive. I will ask the Government once more—was it worth their while to cause all this dissension, this disturbance of trade, this feeling of injustice and injury which rankles in the minds of a large section of the community for the sake of the comparatively little relief to be gained by the Exchequer?
§ *THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. GERALD BALFOUR, Leeds, Central)
The hon. Baronet the Member for the Berwick division of Northumberland has made an able speech, and I think all will agree that Northumberland has been fortunate in her choice of champions. On Thursday we had from the hon. Member for Morpeth a speech which, with its touches of humour and pathos, fairly carried the House by storm, and the hon. Baronet who has just spoken has made a valuable contribution to the debate. But although I think it was a valuable, and certainly an interesting, contribution to the debate, I am not sure that it has thrown very much fresh light upon the subject under discussion. In reality the issues before us are confined within very narrow limits. The matter was fully discussed on Thursday, and I think it would be difficult for any speaker on either side of the House to add very much to the arguments adduced on that occasion. But in one respect, at all events, we on this side of the House will admit that the speech of the hon. Baronet shows a very distinct advance upon the views expressed by the 800 right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouth. What are the points which are now at issue? What are the arguments which are urged against this tax? They all resolve themselves into two. First, it is said that the tax will cripple our export trade; and, secondly, that the tax will be paid by the producer, and therefore constitute an unjust and oppressive burden. Our reply to that is that the tax, so far as we can perceive, will not be borne by the producer, but will be borne mainly, if not wholly, by the foreign consumer. Secondly, even if this forecast is erroneous, the burden could easily be borne by those engaged in the industry, without in any way crippling or seriously injuring that industry. Thirdly, we say that the risk of having to bear this burden, because it is only a risk, and, as we believe, an almost inappreciable risk, is one which the industry may fairly be required to take, having regard to the peculiar circumstances of the coal trade and the extraordinary prosperity through which the trade has been passing during the last year and a half or two years. That may be taken as the simple issue before the House. How is it met by the right hon. Member for West Monmouth? He met it by an argument which, if it means anything, means that in the case of an export duty it is impossible to throw the burden upon the foreign consumer. ["Why?"] I think I can show presently that that really is the only possible interpretation of the right hon. Gentleman's argument.
§ *MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I admit the right hon. Gentleman did not say so in as many words, but I shall presently contend—I do not wish to interrupt my argument at this moment—that that is the only logical conclusion to his argument. But the hon. Baronet, as I understand, does not put forward any contention of that kind. He admits that a part of this tax may be paid by the foreigner—nay, he goes to the length of saying that, so far from restricting the export of the better quality of coal, it will actually facilitate that export.
§ SIR EDWARD GREY
I do not think I spoke so strongly as that; I said it might facilitate the export. That I admit.
§ *MR. GERALD BALFOUR
It might, not merely not check, but facilitate, the export of the better quality of coal. The inference is obvious. The inference is that the exporter of the better quality of coal will be able to get the entire amount of the tax back from the foreign consumer, and possibly even something more. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire used language in respect of the supporters of the tax which is the equivalent of accusing them of ignorance of the most elementary principles of finance and of political economy. Is it true that political economy has condemned the principle of an export duty in the unqualified manner which the right hon. Gentleman led the House to believe? I do not think that is so. On Thursday the hon. Member for Morpeth referred to Professor Marshall as the highest authority on political economy in this country. Is it true, as the hon. Member went on to say, that Professor Marshall had entirely contravened the view taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer of this tax? I do not think that is the case, and I do not think the hon. Member for Morpeth can have quite appreciated the purport of Professor Marshall's remark. It is true that on certain grounds Professor Marshall does withhold his full assent from the policy of imposing this tax, but he does it on the ground of general policy, and not on economical grounds. On economical grounds Professor Marshall declares that a tax of this sort is a justifiable tax. Professor Marshall, in the course of his letter, said that—if Glamorgan wore an independent country she might possibly gain by an all-round tax, either on imports or exports, but as it is, the easiest way in which we can charge the foreigner all that the traffic will bear as regards Welsh coal is by a special export duty.
§ *MR. GERALD BALFOUR
The hon. right hon. Gentleman whispers the mystic word "bimetallism." Does the 802 right hon. Gentleman discredit Professor Marshall's authority on account of his opinion upon bimetallism? With all deference and respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I do not think that is a very satisfactory method of arguing. What I am attempting to show now is that the right hon. Gentleman has poured scorn and contempt upon us for maintaining the proposition, that the foreigner will have to pay the main part of this tax, and I think we are at liberty to quote in support of that view the opinion of a distinguished authority on political economy like Professor Marshall. If such a man holds views of this kind it is hardly fair, at all events, to set us down as mere ignoramuses and tyros in matters appertaining to finance and political economy because we hold the same views. The real question is this. Granted—as I think the hon. Baronet is prepared to grant, whatever may be the views of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire—that an export duty will be paid by the foreigner in the case of commodities for which there is on the part of the foreigner an eager demand, is coal a commodity of that kind? In other words, does British coal command the market sufficiently to enable us to throw a greater part of the tax upon the foreign consumer? This is not a question which can be set aside in, the light and airy manner adopted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire. In considering, let us for a moment go back upon the history of the export coal trade in this country. The increase in the export trade, as everybody is aware, has been phenomenal during the last thirty years. In 1870 it was under 12,000,000'tons. In 1880 it had risen to nearly 18,000,000 tons, and in 1890 it was over 28,000,000 tons. But last year, in the year 1900, it was not less than 44,000,000 tons. In order to fully realise the significance of these figures, let us consider further that, while in this way the export of coal has quadrupled in a period of thirty years, the total output of coal has only doubled. That is in itself a very striking and significant fact.
§ *MR. GERALD BALFOUR
No; 12,000,000 tons of bunker coal must be added to the total for the year 1900. I do not think that bunker coal can properly be regarded as exported coal. The export trade has quadrupled in the period I have mentioned. When considering the export of coal in this country it is well to compare it not only with the output of coal, but with our exports of other articles. If anybody will take the trouble to compare the figures of general export in and about the year 1870 with similar figures at the present time he will see that, if you exclude the amount of our exports of coal, the exports from this country, measured in values, have remained almost unaltered. Measured in values our total exports have remained almost unaltered, while the amount of our exports of coal has no less than quadrupled in a single generation. If I take the values instead of the quantities the contrast would be even more marked, because while in 1870 the value of coal exported was only £5,291,000, in the year 1900 it was £36,410,000. I do not lay stress upon that fact, because the price of coal has fluctuated in such an extraordinary manner, and it appears to me—and I think this will strike anybody who studies the figures of successive years—that even more remarkable than the increase in the export of coal is the extraordinary regularity with which that increase has taken place. Prices have risen and fallen again and again, there have been periods of depression, followed by periods of prosperity, and these have been followed again by further periods of depression. But whether the trade was prosperous or depressed, whether prices were high or low, the increase in the export of coal continued steadily year by year to mount up. That is a very remarkable fact. I think it is impossible to trace any connection between the price of coal and the amount of coal exported. Immediately after periods of the greatest prosperity, as in the year 1873, you will find the export of coal still mounting irrespective of considerations of price.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire, and to some extent the hon. Baronet the Member for Berwick, were very 804 contemptuous over what was described as the argument of fluctuations. I do not think the argument drawn from fluctuations can be so easily set aside as the right hon. Gentleman seems to think. No doubt there is a distinction to be drawn between the changes of price arising from the imposition of a tax and fluctuations arising from supply and demand. The hon. Baronet the Member for Berwick said he thought that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed to fix his attention entirely upon supply and demand in the markets of this country. I would retort with the converse accusation upon the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire, who seems to have fixed his attention entirely upon the question of supply and demand in foreign countries. If the right hon. Gentleman had reflected that the price in this country does not merely depend, or even chiefly depend, upon supply and demand in foreign markets, but upon supply and demand in the home markets, he would have seen that there were and must be numerous occasions on which the price in this country fluctuates in a manner entirely different from the price in foreign countries with which we have to compete, and that is shown to be the case by the figures. You cannot dismiss this argument from fluctuations in the way in which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire seems to think is legitimate. With all respect to him, I contend that the imposition of a shilling duty upon a trade which has shown such an enormous and regular increase, in spite of all changes in price, is not likely to seriously injure or cripple it. To assert that no inference as to the effect of a tax can be drawn from this regularity of increase, which continues in spite of the greatest fluctuation in prices, appears to me to be a paradox beyond the limits within which even the right hon. Gentleman is in the habit of allowing his imagination to roam into when he is criticising his opponents from that bench.
Let me pass to the figures of last year. The year 1900, as compared with 1899, was remarkable for exorbitantly high prices and high freights, and yet the total increase in exports was close 805 upon 3,000,000 tons. Now, how is this increase made up? Here is a return which was moved for by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil, showing the exports of coal in the principal districts of the United Kingdom to a number of groups of foreign countries during 1899 and 1900. The most significant feature of this return is this: it shows that the exports to European countries and to countries bordering on the Mediterranean form 88 per cent. of the entire exports of coal from this country, and the actual increase to those countries amounted to no less than 3,243,000 tons for the last year. It is quite true that the summary shows that there have been decreases in some other cases, and the right hon. Gentleman in his speech on Thursday appeared to attach great importance to this fact. I take it from the questions addressed to me from day to day by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil that he considers these decreases are a very serious feature in the position generally. But what is the real state of the case? It is true that there have been substantial decreases in our exports to India, East Africa, and the American continent, both North and South. No doubt there is a substantial falling-off, and, as my right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer rightly observed, shows what great importance in dealing with this question we must attach to the question of freights. But all these markets in which decreases have taken place are really, compared with European markets, quite unimportant. The total exports to these groups amounted last year to only 2,815,000 tons. In other words, the total exports to the groups of countries which show a diminution in British exports is actually less than the amount of the increase in the exports to European and Mediterranean countries in a single year. Another interesting feature of the summary from which I am quoting is this. It shows that the prosperity of the export coal trade is not confined to a single district of the country, but extends to all districts; for the increase in the exports, and particularly the increase in the exports to the European and Mediterranean ports, is shown in the exports from the Bristol Channel, the ports of the North-West, the North-East, 806 the Humber, and the East and the West of Scotland. It appears to me that the figures I have quoted are sufficient to show that the coal trade of this country is in an altogether exceptional position, and it has occupied that exceptional position, not during a short period or a recent period, but for years and years. It is the one trade in the country which has gone on continually increasing, whatever may have been the case with other trades.
But the hon. Baronet the Member for Berwick attacked my right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer for having stated that the supply is always less than the demand. Well, broadly speaking, that is true of our export trade, in the sense that the demand has been steadily increasing and the supply following after it. In that way, and in that way only, can you explain the fact of the extraordinary increase in the export trade, notwithstanding the great fluctuations which have taken place in prices. My right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer explained to the House in a very interesting part of his speech on Thursday what the superiority of Great Britain in the foreign coal market was due to, and I think it is, perhaps, hardly necessary for me to follow him over the ground which he so well occupied. My right hon. friend pointed out that the quality of our coal and the enormous advantage we possess in freights gave us a position in the coal trade which no other nation, and especially no other European nation, could hope to arrive at.
There is, however, one other consideration to which I should like to call the attention of the House, because I think it is also a factor in the strength and the stability of the position now enjoyed by our export trade in coal, and it is this, that there is no source other than Great Britain from which the great majority of our foreign customers can obtain the coal they require. In other words, it is a question not merely of quality, but, to a considerable extent, also of quantity. We export to European and Mediterranean countries no less than 39,000,000 tons. Now, where is that supply to come from if it does not come from Great Britain? Putting America 807 for the moment aside, where is this supply of 39,000,000 tons annually to come from if it is not to come from the mines of this country? The total exports of coal to continental countries in Europe, other than from British ports, amounted to about 22,000,000 tons as against 39,000,000 from this country. Germany and Belgium were responsible for no less than 20,000,000 out of the 22,000,000. Now, there is a peculiarity about the export of German and Belgian coal, and, indeed, about the export of all coal from continental countries. Almost the whole of that coal merely crosses the frontier which divides these countries. It never travels long distances. It is merely a question of transport from one side of the frontier to the other side of the frontier. That being so, even apart from the question of prices and freights, I think it will be apparent to the House that such countries as Sweden, Italy, Spain, and Egypt, and, to a certain extent, Russia also, are almost absolutely dependent on this country for the coal they import. They have either no home supply or these supplies are so deficient that they are under the necessity of bringing in coal from another country, and the only country which can supply them is Great Britain. And that is not all. I spoke of Belgium and Germany. Belgium and Germany are the only continental countries which produce more coal than they consume, so that it comes to this that the whole of the requirements of European countries, in excess of the home produce, must come from these two countries together with Great Britain, except so far as it may be imported from America. But even Germany and Belgium, although they are exporting countries, nevertheless do import coal to a considerable extent. Germany exports 15,000,000 tons, but imports about 7,000,000 tons. Belgium exports 6,000,000 tons, and imports 3,000,000 tons. Therefore, it comes to this, that the net surplus supply of the only Continental countries which produce more coal than they consume amounts to 10,000,000 or 11,000,000 tons, while Great Britain sends to the Continent no less than 39,000,000 tons. Now, what I say is this. Can it be seriously contended that the imposition 808 of a shilling duty will cripple the trade of a country which furnishes four-fifths of the whole supply available? Such a thing appears to me to be absurd. We hear of contracts being made on a margin of 3d. per ton. It is conceivable that a succession of contracts on a large scale should be lost to this country on margins of that kind. Take Germany as the principal exporting country. With Germany competing with us in the foreign markets, and obtaining contract after contract upon a margin of 3d., the available supply of German coal would be rapidly exhausted, the price would rise, and British coal would come in to supply the deficiency.
It has been said by more than one hon. Member who has taken part in the debate that new sources of supply will be gradually opened up, that mines in Germany will be further developed, and that coal will be attracted from America. In any event, in the nature of the case, that must be a slow process. It cannot happen all at once, if it should happen at all, and meanwhile that position of superiority which I have described will necessarily continue to be held by this country. But is there any fear that Germany or Belgium will be able to meet the deficiencies of the European markets, and supply the 39,000,000 tons of coal which are at present exported from Great Britain to the Continent? The hon. Baronet the Member for the Chester-le-Street Division referred to this question on Thursday, and pointing out that Germany was at present supplying 95 per cent. of the coal consumed in Germany out of her home produce, added how easy it would be for Germany to develop her mines so as to supply the remaining 5 per cent. and displace the coal exported from Great Britain. The hon. Baronet's figures were, as a matter of fact, not correct. The coal now consumed in Germany as native produce amounts to not 95 per cent., but 91.9 per cent. But that is not all. We know, of course, that the production of coal in Germany has immensely increased of late years, but it has not increased in proportion to the demand in Germany caused by the great industrial activity which that country has of late years developed. What is the 809 result? The result has been that, in spite of this enormously increased production in Germany, the percentage of coal consumed in Germany of home produce has actually diminished, whereas both the amount and the percentage which is being exported from this country and imported into Germany is actually increasing. In 1890 we exported to Germany about 3½ million tons, and last year we exported 6 million tons. In 1883 the home produce in Germany was sufficient to supply 95 per cent. of the home consumption; in 1900 that 95 per cent. had fallen to 91 9 per cent. The consumption of British coal had meanwhile risen from a percentage of 2.81 to a percentage of 6.15. In the face of these figures I do not think it can be contended that we have much to fear from German competition. It is quite clear that the whole produce of Germany is growing more and more insufficient for German needs, and that the imports from this country are steadily increasing. As a matter of fact they have actually doubled in the last ton years. Well, so far as America is concerned the question is entirely one of freights.
I hope I am not wearying the House with so many details, but I should like to read to the House a passage from an article put into my hands this afternoon from the Iron and Goal Trades Review—a paper which, I believe, is opposed to the coal tax. It deals with the question of American competition, and after giving tables of the exports of coal from the United States in quantity and value from 1880 to 1899, it goes on to say that a glance at these tables showed that hardly in any year had the average value of American coal exported been under 10s. per ton; in 1899 it was more than 10s., and in 1900 it was rather over 12s. per ton. In other words, the f.o.b. prices were not greatly different from British prices. And in certain classes of coal the American prices were even higher. There need be no fear that the United States was likely to be able to compete in the coal trade with Great Britain, all other things being equal. In this case all other things were not equal, for the United States had as many thousands of miles of transit as Great Britain had hundreds, in order to compete in any of the European markets. 810 Now, with that opinion I entirely agree. It is just barely possible that in a year of extremely high prices and high freights American coals may compete with the coals of Great Britain in the European market, but that can only be under circumstances altogether exceptional. There is no ground to fear that in normal times, and under normal conditions, British coal would be displaced by American coal in those markets most important to us.
I referred at the beginning of my speech to the attitude taken by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire with reference to the economic aspect of this question. The right hon. Gentleman met our contention that the foreigner would have to pay the whole or the greater part of this tax simply by reiterating over and over again a single platitude and misapplying it. The right hon. Gentleman simply kept on repeating that all merchants get the best price they can for their goods, and that to put a 1s. tax on coal would not enable them to get more. That was not only the beginning, but the end of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. It was the Alpha and the Omega of his whole contention. Well, Sir, what I contend is, that if that means anything at all it means that under no circumstances is an export duty paid by the consumer. You cannot interpret the right hon. Gentleman's statement in any other way. I address this challenge to the right hon. Gentleman. Does he mean that never under any circumstances is a tax on an export trade paid by the foreigner? The right hon. Gentleman does not reply. When a similar question was addressed to him by my right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, what did he answer? It is in the recollection of those who listened to my right hon. friend the Chancellor of the [Exchequer, that in the course of his speech he mentioned that a deputation of Welsh coal miners admitted to him that on the best Welsh coal the foreigner would have to pay the tax. And what did the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouth say? He said, "Only a small part of it"; and my right hon. friend immediately pinned him to that admission, and retorted, "You do admit, 811 then, that some part of the tax will be paid by the foreigner?" The right hon. Gentleman saw the trap in front of him, and what did he do? He jumped up and said, "No, I adhere to my principle"; and once more came out the platitude about the merchant getting as much as he can for his goods at present, and that you cannot enable him to get more by putting on a tax.
§ *MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I will answer that question in a moment. The right hon. Gentleman gave another illustration. He said: "Let us take the case of a country like Italy. The export tax of 1s. per ton is equivalent to a differential import duty on British coal put on by the Italian Government." And he turned with an air of triumph and said: "If the Italian Government put on a differential duty of that kind we should consider it a highly unfriendly act. But would the Italian consumer in these circumstances pay the tax?" There is, in my opinion, not the slightest doubt that he would pay. And for this reason, that the import of coal required by Italy from any other country than Great Britain is practically out of the question. Does the right hon. Gentleman mean to tell us that the Italian Government by putting a differential tax of 1s. per ton on British coal could compel the British merchant to sell coal for export to Italy at 1s. per ton under the price he had previously charged? The contention is absurd. If the right hon. Gentleman wants an illus-stration, I would ask him this question: Could a combination of colliery proprietors raise prices? Again the right hon. Gentleman does not give me an answer.
§ *MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I should have thought the right hon. Gentleman might have given me an answer, as he so frequently does, by an interjection across the floor of the House. I ask him, Could the colliery proprietors by combination raise the prices of coal? If he 812 says "Yes," I would like to know how that is consistent with the assertion that the merchants already get all they possibly can. If they can raise the price by combination, it is obvious that they do not already get all that they possibly can. If the right hon. Gentleman says "No," I would refer him to that very able pamphlet in which the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil proves in the most conclusive manner that a combination of the colliery proprietors in South Wales could charge a very considerably higher price than they were individually getting at the time at which the hon. Member wrote his pamphlet. The fact is—if the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to say so—there is a fallacy running through the whole of his argument. He argued as if the only competition was between the British producer and the foreign producer in the foreign market. The real fact is that the most essential element in the question is the competition between one British producer and another, and between one district in this country and another district in this country. It is this which determines prices in the British market; and the further question is whether the price in the British market does not control the price in the foreign market, and whether a rise here would not be followed by a rise there. I believe, as a matter of fact, that that would be the case, especially having regard to the command that is possessed by the British export trade in the markets of Europe, and in view of the enormous advantages we have there over other countries. If by combination among producers here it is possible to raise the price to the foreign consumer, then it is also possible for an export tax on British coal to raise the price in the foreign market. That, however, is not consistent with the principle laid down so repeatedly by the right hon. Gentleman—a principle which, he added, was so elementary and so obvious that he was almost ashamed to mention it to the House.
§ *MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I did not interpret it otherwise. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the education which he had been receiving in South Wales for the last four or five years. I think it would not be amiss if he were to continue that education, not merely among the miners, to whom he attributes so much intelligence in defending their own interests—
§ *MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I have myself seen enough of these miners to be quite aware that they are intelligent. But the right hon. Gentleman might extend his inquiries to another commercial body in South Wales—that is the Stock Exchange. I have taken the trouble to compare the prices of Welsh colliery shares on the local stock exchange before the Chancellor of the Exchequer's proposals were known and after, and what is the result? In three out of eighteen collieries there was no change, in eight there was a fractional reduction, and in seven there was a fractional advance.
§ *MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I cannot say that. The question of over-capitalisation might come in. Very well, Sir, that is the state of the case. The announcement of this tax has not produced any appreciable effect on the price of colliery shares on the stock exchange in the locality. Last Thursday the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire told us that we had disorganised and dislocated one of the greatest trades of this country. He said you have paralysed that trade. I think if we had disorganised and dislocated the coal trade, or if we had paralysed it, there would have been some trace of our operations visible on the stock exchange, and as that has not occurred I can only suppose that the opinions of the stock exchange coincide with the opinions of His Majesty's Government, 814 that this tax will not fall upon the producer but upon the foreign consumer, and that the export trade will not be affected by it.
§ *MR. JOHN WILSON (Falkirk Burghs)
Is the reason for the securities not having fallen that the stock exchange and the coalowners did not think that the Government would be so foolish as to persist with their proposals.
§ *MR. GERALD BALFOUR
No, Sir, I think better of them than that. I do not suppose they expected that His Majesty's Government would change their minds. Now I have dealt with this question, I am afraid at somewhat excessive length, but I should like to say, before I sit down, a few words with respect to another aspect of the case. Supposing we are wrong and you are right. Supposing that a considerable portion of the tax, or the whole of the tax, is paid, not by the foreign consumer, but by the industry. Will the industry be able to bear it?
§ *MR. GERALD BALFOUR
That is one of the points I am coming to. The hon. Gentleman who interrupted me asked, "Which industry?" and I think the question is a very pertinent one, because in the speeches which have been made, except in the speech of the hon. Member for Stockport, practically no mention has been made the shipping industry.
§ *MR. GERALD BALFOUR
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire assumed that there will be a great diminution in the export trade, and he mentioned incidentally that this would interfere with the shipping industry.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I quoted the Committee of 1871, and said, "All export duties are bad, but this is exceptionally bad on account of the injury that it will do to the shipping."
§ *MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman laid very great stress upon that part of the question. But I do not wish to press that point, though I do think it is rather singular that we have not heard more about the shipping industry.
§ *MR. GERALD BALFOUR
What I say is, that if this tax is, after all, borne by what I would call "the industry," it will be borne not merely by the coal industry, but by the shipping industry, and that the burden, whatever it may be, will not be entirely borne by the coal owners, still less by the miners. On Thursday the right hon. Gentleman said the whole of this burden would fall on the miners. I maintain that if the burden falls upon any body in this country it will be shared between the shipping and the coal industry, and I am not at all certain that the shipping industry may not have to bear the brunt of it, though, as a matter of fact, I do not believe it will fall on either. But now, is the coal industry able to bear, I do not say the whole of this burden, but its share? My right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave some figures in this connection which the hon. Baronet admitted made a very great impression upon the House. My right hon. friend showed that if you compare the year 1900 with the year 1897 you will find that the additional profits made in 1900 over and above the profits made in 1897 amounted to fifty-five million pounds, less any sum which ought to be allowed for increased cost of production. He showed that if we allowed five and a half millions for increased cost of production, and fifteen and a half millions for additional wages to the miners, the additional profits to the colliery owners amounted to thirty-four millions. Objection has been made to these figures on the ground that the year 1897 was a year of great depression in the coal trade, and that it was not fair to take it for the purposes of comparison. I recognise that there is something in that criticism, and accordingly I have had 816 figures prepared for the ten years previous to 1900, and compared the average profits of those ten years with the profits made in 1900. I admit that the figures show a considerable reduction.
§ *MR. GERALD BALFOUR
Yes, the whole trade. The profits in 1900 compared with the profits, not of 1897, but of the average of the ten years preceding the year 1900, were forty-four millions instead of fifty-five millions, which was the figure given by my right hon. friend.
§ *MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I have gone very carefully into these calculations. The approximate wages of the miners in 1890 were about 27s. a week; in 1900 they were about 34s. a week, showing a difference of 7s. per week.
§ *MR. GERALD BALFOUR
Yes, Sir. They affect the 780,000 persons employed in the coal trade. I admit there may be something of conjecture about them, but they have been carefully prepared. [AN HON. MEMBER: Will they be laid upon the Table? Yes, Sir; I have not the slightest objection to showing how the figures have been arrived at. They show that the average rise in miners' wages has been 7s. in 1900, as compared with the average of the preceding ten years. That gives a sum of thirteen and a half millions, leaving thirty and a half millions for the coal owners, less any deduction for increased expenditure other than on wages. Putting that deduction at five and a half millions, it still leaves twenty-five millions as the coal owners' profits in 1900 in excess of the average profits for the previous ten years.
§ MR. MCKENNA
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in calculating the 817 figures on Thursday last the Chancellor of the Exchequer forgot to reckon that there were 92,000 me re men employed in 1900 than in 1897, and that, consequently, the figure for wages should stand, not at fifteen and a half millions, but twenty-two millions?
§ *MR. GERALD BALFOUR
No, Sir. I think the hon. Member is under a misapprehension. Now, I will refrain from troubling the House at too great length, but as I have been asked whether these figures apply to the entire coal trade, I would just like to give the figures for Northumberland. It may be satisfactory to hon. Members representing constituencies in that district to have them. The average price of coal at the pit's mouth for the years 1890–99 amounted to 6s. 3d. and a little over; in 1900, it amounted to 10s. 3½d. These are the figures for Northumberland only. The rise, therefore, in 1900 as compared with the average for previous ten years is 4s. a ton.
§ SIR CHRISTOPHER FURNESS
The right hon. Gentleman has given us the figures from 1890 to 1899. What I ask is, would he divide them and give figures from 1890 to 1895, and then from 1895 to 1899?
§ *MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I am not supplied with those figures, but I can give him the following figures: In the year 1887 the price was 5s. 2.9d., in 1898 it was 6s. 1.3d., in 1899 it was 7s. 0.6d.; but I am not prepared to give the figures as asked for by the hon. Member. The rise amounted to 4s. a ton. With regard to the miners' wages, the average from 1890 to 1899 in Newcastle was 26s., and the average in 1900 was 35s., representing a rise of 9s. a week, and the number of men employed in 1900 was 39,000.
§ MR. JOHN WILSON (Falkirk Burghs)
If the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me, he is speaking of one class of workmen. In the same mine there are many others who are working under a lower scale.
§ *MR. GERALD BALFOUR
No, Sir; I believe my figures are correct. My hon. friend can state his case afterwards. The quantity of coal raised was 11,515,000 tons. The rise in wages at 9s. a head represents a sum of £880,000 per annum, and this is the total increase in the miners' wages over the average of the 818 last decennial period. The rise in the price of coal of 4s. a ton represents a total of £2,300,000, and if we deduct from that the £880,000 and, say, £300,000 for increase of expenses other than wages, it leaves a profit to the coal owners of about £1,120,000. It is quite clear, then, that the increase in the coal trade of Northumberland has put, in a single year, considerably more than a million into the pockets of the coal owners, and a shilling tax on the quantity of coal exported from the district would be covered by the excess profits and wages of the year 1900 five and a-half times over. I have not taken out the figures of South Wales. I selected Northumberland because I thought if there was a weak point anywhere in our case it was Northumberland. As regards South Wales, I have no fear whatever that the foreign consumers will not pay the tax. In conclusion let me say this: the right hon. Member for West Monmouth hinted in the course of his speech that the scene of this controversy might be changed from this House to some other arena, and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Berwick also referred to those threats of a general stoppage of work, of which rumours are rife. I must decline to credit those rumours. Such a proceeding on the part of the miners would be not only selfish and unpatriotic but also exceedingly foolish—selfish, because it would be selfish to throw the whole trade of the country into confusion for the sake of a risk which is essentially problematical; unpatriotic, because such a step taken at this time would partake of the nature of veiled rebellion; and foolish for two reasons. In the first place it could not but be a failure. I do not think there is any record of a strike on a large scale which has succeeded without the sympathy of the general community. But it would be foolish in another way. Supposing we are wrong and they are right, and suppose the mining industry has ultimately to bear the burden of this tax and the miners have to fight with their employers as to which is to bear the larger share; if there is going to be a universal stoppage at the present time what will be the result? The miners would be exhausting their resources in an absolutely futile contest and weakening themselves for that contest which, 819 according to their view, must eventually occur with their employers, to decide the distribution of the 1s. tax that is to be imposed. I have several times heard in this House the discussions on the Eight Hours Bill, and I have heard representatives of the miners urge the Eight Hours Bill upon the House and ask Parliamentary assistance on the ground that they themselves were not strong enough to secure their object without it. With what face will they be able to come to this House in future if they show us now that those who were not strong enough to secure an eight hours day from their employers are now found to be ready to enter into a contest with the entire community? I am sure that the leaders of the men, following the example of the hon. Member for Morpeth, will endeavour to persuade the miners against such a course as being fatal to themselves. However that may be, the resolution we have come to, to ask Parliament to sanction this tax, was come to with the fullest deliberation, and it is a resolution to which we are determined to adhere, and in which, I believe, we shall have the support of the House and of the country.
§ *MR. RUSSELL REA (Gloucester)
Rising as a new Member for the first time to address the House, I do not intend to detain it at any length. I think I may say that I am the only Member of this House who will benefit by this tax; to me it is a purely protective duty, and therefore I may be regarded as impartial and unprejudiced in protesting against it as being impolitic. I have heard hon. Members talk about the woes of the contractors, and I have heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer say he proposes to deal with the contractors with liberality. Now, liberality is a subjective term, and is supposed to mean a little more than justice; but having seen the regulations issued by the Customs House it appears to me that something less than justice will be dealt out to the contractors. The loss will not fall upon those whose excessive profits have excited the envy of us all. The export coal owner is very rare, and the tax this year will not fall on the shipowner or the foreigner. In compliance with instructions issued by the Government the contractors have asked their foreign customers to allow this extra 820 amount to be added to their invoices, but the foreigner says he does not call the tune and will not pay, and in every case there has been an unqualified refusal. The loss will fall on the export merchants, who work through bad times and good times alike at a very small margin of profit. I regret that the initial and temporary difficulties attending the imposition of this tax should have, to so great an extent, diverted attention from the fundamental question of the policy of the tax itself. Let us look at this. An export tax upon coal has always been a fascinating subject for theorists and politicians alike. We have heard of Professor Marshall from the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. Now, Professor Marshall commenced to write a book in favour of this tax twenty years ago, but he never got that book written. When he came to consider all the difficulties of the question he withdrew, and left it, as he has said, with a tribute of admiration to the right hon. Gentleman. But his admiration is addressed not to the wisdom of the right hon. Gentleman, but to his courage. In my opinion the importance of this trade has not been realised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer or by this House. I gather it has not been sufficiently realised from many remarks.—especially one. The Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke of the exports of coal as being 8 per cent. of our exports in 1899, and as being 12 per cent. of our exports in 1900. This was taken on values at the port of shipping. But you have immediately to add to that from 50 to 200 per cent. for freights. It is a fact that by far the greater part of the revenue of our mercantile marine on the export trade comes from this trade. When I say the greater part I do not mean that it is greater than the revenue derived from other single exports. But it is far greater than the sum derived from all other exports put together. This is calculating the trade by values. But there is also another way of calculating. In the rough exchange of imports and exports by weight and not by value coal pays for all. Coal is the basis of our whole export and import trade. It is a commonplace political economy that in value exports and imports must pay for each other; but it is also equally certain and clear that there must be some sort of rough equation also in 821 The ships that come to this country must be loaded outwards, and almost all are loaded with coal, and with coal only. Sir Robert Giffen has calculated that the total weight of import of goods into this country amounts to about 40 million tons. The House has seen that the exports of coal alone considerably exceed that quantity. Of course hon. Members are accustomed to see the Board of Trade Returns every month of imports and exports. Coal there appears as one item among many, and apparently not the most important. But all the Manchester goods, all the Sheffield goods, all the Birmingham goods, and the like, are goods of very small weight; they pack into small space, and are all snapped up by the liner. Now the trading steamers, the tramp steamers, and sailing ships bring to our shores the raw material of our manufactories. In timber alone they bring 10 million tons. They bring the food we eat. They bring of grain alone 10 million tons a year, and they go back loaded with coal. This free export of coal is the basis and the fundamental reason of our cheap imports. What is the reason that in the markets of Mincing Lane and Mark Lane and in the Exchanges of Liverpool, you are able to buy the produce of all other countries better and cheaper than any where else in the world? It is not only because here we have a great consuming market, and it is not only because here the merchant has the greatest financial facilities, but it is also because the shipowner knows that he can afford to bring his ships to this country at the very lowest freight, being quite sure of a cargo of coal out again. It is this trade that has made the English produce markets the safest in which to sell, and the cheapest in which to buy in the whole world. Now, I will speak of the effect of this tax upon the future. I cannot understand the Chancellor of the Exchequer's attitude. What is his view? At one moment he speaks of this trade as a growing giant which nothing can hamper, and at another moment he says we are approaching the exhaustion of our best and cheapest coal, and that we shall have to fall back upon the dearer and inferior and more expensively-worked coal. In the second opinion he agrees most nearly with the matured and thoughtful opinion of those who 822 know the trade best. It is the opinion of the best judges that our coal exports will not go up and continue to increase in geometrical ratio or in arithmetical either, but that we are approaching a stationary period, and that we see before us—I hope in a very distant future—a period of decline. The truth is, we are face to face now—and last year I saw it—for the first time with our first serious competitor, and I wish to make an estimate of the chances this competitor has against us. I will take what the Chancellor of the Exchequer regards as our own secure monopoly—the Mediterranean market. Our competitor is America, and no other. America is our first competitor, but she will not be the last. In the Mediterranean America has thrown down the glove, and we have to take up the challenge. She has already taken contracts, and she means to keep them through good times and through bad. America, as the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade has just said, has this disadvantage—she has to bring her coals as many thousands of miles across the seas as we have hundreds. American coal is 3,000 miles farther away from the Mediterranean than British coal. But British coal is 8oo yards under the surface, and American coal is on the surface. And the 800 yards is more than the 3,000 miles. The Chancellor of the Exchequer also alluded to the fact that Providence has placed our rivals' coal two or three hundred miles from the coast, while our coal is on the coast. But the American coalowner has a special and compensating Providence in the American railway companies, who take his coal to the coast at rates which are unheard of here. I have not the rates with me, but the best American coal—the coal of Western Virginia—can be brought to the port of shipment at considerably less than a dollar and a half. Therefore, at the port of shipment America has the advantage. Then comes the question of freights. What has been done with freights in the Atlantic trade already? Fifty years ago, when the Corn Laws had been just abolished, John Stuart Mill ridiculed the idea that any great part of the food of England could be brought from across the ocean. The Chancellor of the Exchequer 823 takes to-day exactly the same position with regard to coal as John Stuart Mill took fifty years, ago with regard to corn. What has been done in the Atlantic trade? Before the present boom hon. Members may have seen in the papers every morning, "Grain freights to Liverpool and London, 1d.," and I suppose very few understood what that meant. Sometimes it was 2d., but it used to gravitate down to 1d. That meant about 3s. 4d. or 3s. 5d. a ton, and not hundreds or thousands, or hundreds of thousands, but millions of tons of grain have come to our ports at such freights. That is a far lower freight than we ever sent coal to the Mediterranean at or even to Gibraltar. It is a lower rate of freight than we were paying for coal from Cardiff to London at that very time. Why was it? Here my argument with regard to weight comes in. The shipowner wanted weight for his eastward-bound ship. Those who look at the larger movement of trade see that America is not always going to provide us with our corn. The growing population of America will eat up their own corn. Further, consider the enormous increase in the export of American manufactures, especially within the past two years. Put these two things together and you will see that America is coming into line with England as an exporter of manufactured goods, and as an importer of raw material and goods of consumption. She will also want an export trade in weight, and she will find it in her inexhaustible coal mines. I do not mean that this will be in the distant future. It will be in the immediate future. America sees it and is providing for it now. Our late boom has given them perhaps a little chance of entering into the battle earlier than they otherwise would have done, but they have taken large Mediterranean contracts, and they are building ships to carry these contracts through and to keep them. They are building colliers of a size hitherto unknown. I do not mean the ordinary tramp steamer—the three-deck steamer that takes out a cargo of coal from Cardiff in alternation with other cargoes, but I mean the single deck, large hatched, self-trimming collier, that can be loaded in a few hours and discharged 824 by machinery almost as quickly. They are building in this country such ships, and these ships will carry 10,000 tons to Marseilles, Genoa, or Port Said at rates as low as have been current from Cardiff to those ports in the past. This is the position of affairs, and it is causing anxious thought to those who are concerned in this business. I beg your pardon, I should say this was the position of affairs three weeks ago. In the meantime, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has interposed with this precious taxation; and in my opinion the force of infatuation can go no farther. When Americans take up a business they generally carry it through. Three or four years ago they took the tin-plate industry, so far as it was an export industry, to the United States, and how far they have succeeded in keeping it the hon. Members who represent the districts of tin-plate industries can tell you. They were aided then by a high protective duty, and they used this weapon without scruple, and without mercy. In this new competition the people of this country expected that at least they would have had a fair field. We heard some rumours of a bounty, but we did not believe them, and the American may now keep his bounty in his own pocket, for we have found a bounty for him out of our pockets. I think the right hon. Gentleman has been deceived by the recent boom. I think that boom was an accident, and was the result of a Continental overflow of orders to a greater extent than the Continental collieries were able to supply. We were the only country able to take an immediate advantage of it; but I believe that the ultimate advantage will go to America. After the boom of 1873 the trade suffered the greatest depression ever known, and we are now beginning to feel the reaction from the year 1900. Probably, in the natural course of events we should have suffered a period of depression, but that period will be aggravated in the immediate future by our first serious competition, and to this we have now to add State aid, not to ourselves, but to our rivals. "There is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood leads on to fortune," but there is also "a tide in the affairs of men which first flows this way and then flows back again," and I feel that the right hon. Gentleman the 825 Chancellor of the Exchequer has embarked upon a tide of the latter character and not of the former.
§ *MR. LOWE (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
I should like, with the indulgence of the House, to say a few words upon the subject which is now under discussion. I venture to think that, being myself in no way commercially interested in the coal industry, and coming from a part of the country which, although it has a good deal to do with the production of coal, has nothing whatever to do with its export, I am in a position to take a perfectly impartial view of this question; and the opinion which, after a careful review of the facts, I should be likely to form in reference to it would, I should imagine, in all probability be likely to reflect that of the ordinary, average Englishman—the "man in the street," if you like, who is not subject to any particular bias in the matter. At all events, I know that I am expressing the views of those whom I represent, of the vast majority of the people of Birmingham, and a good deal of the surrounding district, when I say that they heartily approve of this tax, and hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will stand to his guns and hold firmly to the proposals he has made in regard to it. I heartily sympathise—as I am sure every Member of the House must sympathise—with the colliery owners and their representatives in this House, who feel that they will be injuriously affected by this tax. But, as we have been reminded several times in the course of this debate, new taxes of any kind must always be unpopular with those who have to pay them, and it must be extremely unpleasant to wake up and find oneself amongst a particular class which has been singled out for this very unenviable distinction. But I venture to think that if these good people could be induced to lay aside the personal aspect of this question, and look at it from a broad and national standpoint, even they would be forced to admit that there is no branch of industry which could be more fairly taxed at the present time; there is no branch of industry which, by being taxed, would run less risk of suffering any material degree of loss or injury than their own. I quite agree with them in thinking that a great hardship would have been inflicted upon 826 them if this tax had been allowed to affect existing contracts; but the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already explained his reasons for not excluding them in the first instance, and has now promised to provide for the exemption of all such contracts from his proposals. This difficulty having been got over, I fail to see that any real or just cause of complaint remains to them. This tax is not in the nature of a ransom, but it is simply that the colliery owners have been selected as the class who are about the best able to pay of all classes in this country. I am sure that after the very startling figures given us by the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day, and which have been repeated several times in the course of this discussion—as to the profits which have been made during the last few years by these colliery owners—nobody can for a moment contend that they are not able to pay this tax. In fact, it is quite certain that no class of the trading community has, during the past year or two, been more prosperous, or reaped a richer or more abundant harvest of profits than the coal owners of this country. And when we bear in mind that this new tax was mainly rendered necessary by the expenditure upon the war, and that a good deal of this exceptional prosperity has been due to increased consumption and inflated prices consequent upon the war, it seems to be most appropriate and only right and fair that they should be called upon to bear a portion—and it is only a very small portion—of the burden of this expenditure.
It has been said by many hon. Members opposite that this tax will ultimately fall upon the working miner. That is a very easy thing to assert, but, in my opinion, it is not quite so easy a thing to prove. We have heard a good deal about pits being closed, and strikes, and about this tax leading to a civil war, but I do not think anything of the kind is likely to happen. It is an extravagant assumption to suppose that the imposition of a small tax of this kind would cause the poorest pit to be closed. I also think it is very improbable that there will be strikes upon any material scale in consequence of it, and the idea of its leading to a civil war is so extravagant an idea as to be hardly worthy of serious discussion. It seems 827 to me that it is impossible to prove that the incidence of this tax will fall upon the working miners without assuming two propositions to be correct. (1) You must assume that it will fall upon the home producer and not upon the foreign consumer; and (2) you must assume that the home producer will seek to get rid of his liability in this respect by throwing the burden of it upon the miners whom he employs. I do not admit that the incidence of this tax is likely to fall upon the home producer, for I believe that it will fall upon the foreigner. But even assuming for a moment, for the sake of argument, that it would, I do not think that it is at all reasonable to suppose that these coalowners who have been making such huge profits during the last year or two would seek to recoup themselves for this small additional expenditure by deducting it from the wages of their employees. I think it would be just as reasonable to say that all the Members of this House would seek to indemnify themselves against the small addition which has been made to the income tax by deducting it from the wages of their servants and others whom they employ.
With regard to the contention that this tax would not fall upon the foreigner, but would fall upon the home consumer, I consider that this contention is most effectually disposed of by the facts, figures, and statistics which have been adduced not only by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but by other speakers in the course of this debate. It is no business of mine to recapitulate those facts to the House, for I do not profess to be an expert on mining matters, although I think I may claim to have had some experience in weighing the value of facts and evidence. I do not believe, however, that the authenticity of these facts and statistics has been seriously called in question, and I am quite sure that their accuracy, meaning, force, and effect have not been in any way shaken by any hon. Member who has spoken so far in this debate. To my mind the figures which have been quoted conclusively show that in certain European countries like Russia, Scandinavia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, we hold the market for certain classes of coal. Whether it is because of the better quality of our coal, or the lower cost of 828 transporting it, as compared with other countries, or whatever may be the cause, it appears to be a fact that these countries are obliged to have it, they cannot do without it, and they cannot get it elsewhere, at all events, at the same prices. And notwithstanding considerable increases having taken place in the prices charged and the freights imposed, the amount and value of the coal exported to these countries has continued to go up steadily for many years past. And this being so, it seems to be altogether irrational to suppose that the addition of 1s. a ton in respect of this new tax would in any way interfere with the large and increasing demand for coal the class of which has usually been exported to these countries, or that they would require it the less, order it the less, or take it any the less for having to pay this slightly enhanced price. With regard to the contention of the hon. Baronet opposite that this increase is due to the laws of supply and demand, I think that that view is entirely refuted by the fact that it does not apply to other countries as well, for although our export of coal has continued to go up, the export of coal by other countries has not gone up. [Opposition cries of "Yes."] At any rate, it has not gone up in anything like the same proportion as our own, and in many cases it has not gone up at all. Then the hon. Baronet said that this tax would mean that even if the foreign consumer had to pay it, he would retaliate upon us by putting a duty on goods which were exported by him and sent to this country, but I do not see that this is any argument whatever against the tax so far as it affects the coalowner, for the foreigner would still have to pay it, and simply recoup himself by distributing it amongst various other classes of the community in this country, and they are, I believe, quite willing to take this risk. Nor do I think that the argument that this tax would be partial and unequal in its operation is at all a valid argument, because it is a tax which has been imposed not upon any particular class of individuals but upon a particular kind of trade irrespective of the individuals who are engaged in that trade. Even supposing that this branch of industry would be injuriously affected, which I venture to think is a contingency which 829 is very unlikely to happen, I quite agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer in thinking that it would not be altogether an unmixed evil. As the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out, coal is a different product to almost any other product. It is part of the capital and natural wealth of the country. It is the very life-blood of our industries, and when once it is extracted from the earth, it is gone for ever and cannot be replaced. If it is not sent abroad, as he pointed out the other day, one of two things must happen. Either it will continue to be produced, in which case there will be a more abundant supply of it for home consumption, and the home consumer will get it at a cheaper rate, or it will not continue to be produced, in which case it will remain in the earth and form a sort of storage and reserve for future generations.
I am afraid I am one of those foolish and misguided individuals (referred to the other day by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouth) who believe that the supply of coal we have in this country for our own use and consumption is by no means inexhaustible. At all events, I can quite conceive that a time might come when, owing to some entanglement with foreign Powers, we might need every ton of coal we could lay our hands on for our own purposes. And holding this opinion, I cannot imagine that the people of this country, taken as a whole, and without any reence to any trade or sectional interests, will look with any great favour on those who would make a constant and ever-increasing drain upon our resources in this vital respect, especially when they know that these resources are being impoverished in this way not for the benefit of our own nation, but in order that our foreign rivals may benefit; in order that their ships—which maybe used both for trading and warlike purposes in competition with our own—may be kept as well supplied with coal as our own; in order that their workshops and manufactories may be kept going and in full swing—workshops and manufactories which are engaged in producing goods and commodities which are being sold in every market in the world in competition with our own. Unrestricted trading of this class may be very English, but in my opinion it is neither 830 wise nor patriotic, and for the reasons I have given, I consider this is a very just and proper tax, and I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will insist on seeing it carried into effect.
§ *MR. JOSEPH WALTON (Yorkshire, W.R., Barnsley)
I represent an important coal-producing district of Yorkshire, and in regard to both employer and employed alike in this county there has as yet been no expression of opinion in this debate. In my own constituency no fewer than 11,000 men and boys are employed in coal mines, and they are of opinion that this tax will seriously injure their future prosperity. This tax is undoubtedly a protective duty to the extent of 1s. per ton in favour of foreign producers, and against English producers. We have been told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the present condition of the coal trade amply justifies this imposition, but in the course of his statement he appeared to base this conclusion almost entirely upon the high prices and the strong demand for coal which existed in the year 1900. We all know that trade runs in cycles. After we have a cycle of inflation it is invariably followed by a cycle of trade depression, and when we remember that whilst in 1897 the average price of coal was only 5s. 7d. per ton, we are told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that in the year 1900 it rose to 10s. 9½d. per ton. I think that many people in the country will be astonished to know that the average price of coal in 1900 was only 10s. 9½d. per ton. When the domestic consumers in London and elsewhere have regard to the price they have recently had to pay for their coal, they will begin to wonder where the difference between 10s. 9½d. per ton, realised by the coalowner, and the price they have had to pay as consumers has actually gone. In putting this tax on the coal trade, the intention, I suppose, of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was to hit those who had made so much money recently out of the coal trade. Of course he first stated that his belief was that the foreign consumer would have to pay this additional tax. I will deal with that later, but coming back to the position of affairs at home, I would point out that when the tax was first proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, 831 the existence of forward contracts being absolutely disregarded, this tax would not this year have fallen upon the coal-owner, who has recently made a handsome profit out of his collieries, but it would actually have fallen to an enormous extent on the coal exporter, who, on the average, works his business for a very small margin of profit. We are now told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he will treat those who have existing contracts liberally, but we have not yet definite information as to what he actually proposes to do. What was the position of the coal trade last year? We know that the whole world has enjoyed during the last two years an unusual period of trade prosperity, and that the consumption of coal on the Continent of Europe and elsewhere has been very largely increased. That being so, the collieries of Belgium, France, and Germany have not entered so largely into competition with British coal, because they required for their own purposes the larger proportion of the coal they were able to produce. That state of things has already passed away. The consumption of coal is rapidly declining, and the producers of coal in Belgium, France, and Germany will in the near future enter much more into competition with British coal producers than in the last two years. There is no question that the coal production of Belgium, France, and Germany has, owing to the good prices which were obtainable, been increased recently. Therefore, when we have regard to the fact that the trade has already declined to such an extent that the Westphalian Coal Syndicate are actually restricting their output by 5,000,000 tons a year, and that by removing this restriction they can put the coal on the market to compete with English coal with no delay, I think it must be clear that we, as English coal producers, have not the monopoly of the European markets, which some would lead us to suppose.
With regard to Yorkshire and how it will be affected by this coal tax, I would remind the House, a reaction in the coal trade having already taken place, of the very different condition in which it is to-day as compared with what it was twelve months ago. I will give only two instances. In 1900 the railway companies 832 had to pay 16s. per ton for their locomotive coal. They have renewed that contract recently for the same coal at 9s. per ton—a reduction of 7s. Coke was produced in Yorkshire and sold freely to France and other European countries last year at 23s. 6d. per ton, and within the last fortnight the same producer has been unable to renew his contract in the North of France, even although his quotation was only 8s. per ton. With regard to railway rates as affecting our foreign trade, we were told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he had statistics for the north-eastern districts of England to show that the railway companies charged 50 per cent. less for the carriage of coal for export than for the carriage of coal from the same colliery to the same place for manufacturing consumption. I shall show that this was a misstatement, and I am sure the Chancellor of the Exchequer made it quite unintentionally. The-fact is that the coal in the north-eastern districts which is consumed by iron and steel works, salt works, large engineering works, and, indeed, by all the manufacturing works, if the consumption is worthy of notice at all, is carried at precisely the same rate as coal for export the only difference being that the export, coal is put f.o.b., which might mean 1d. or 1½d. per ton cost. But of this export coal a large quantity is exported from North-country ports to London, and, therefore, the London consumer gets the benefit of it. What I want to point out is this: that the small manufacturers and domestic consumers, using a very limited quantity indeed, have certainly to pay higher rates than are charged on coal for large manufacturers at home, and on coal for export. But I am sure the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be only too glad to have his attention drawn to these misstatements. I have the figures of the actual rates, which I shall be glad to show the right hon. Gentleman in proof of the statements I have made. I am no apologist for the railway companies. I think the rates on coal for household consumption are too high; but one must be just even to those whom we often condemn. The railway companies, be it remembered, have to carry coal for household consumption in single trucks; those trucks are occupied on one journey often for four or five days; 833 whereas the companies carry coal for shipment in train-loads, and the trucks make many more journeys. The same remark applies to the larger manufacturing customers. They get their coal and coke by train-loads, and naturally the railway companies are able to carry it at lower rates. But another fact I will bring to the notice of the Chancellor of the Exchequer is that on coke for shipment higher rates of carriage are charged by the railway companies than are charged on coke for large works in this country.
With regard to foreign competition, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have us believe that we English coalowners can hold the field in the various markets of the world. I may tell him of a telegram which a friend of mine received to-day giving the statistics of the coal imported in the first four months of this year into Hamburg. These statistics show that, whereas the export of German coal into Hamburg has remained unaltered, the exports of British coal to Hamburg, in that period, as compared with the corresponding period of last year, have gone down by no less than 100,000 tons. The exports of coal from Hull have gone down 40 per cent. in the first three months of this year, as compared with the corresponding period of last year, and in Scotland the coal exports have gone down 20 per cent. I should like to know who are the mysterious advisers of the Chancellor of the Exchequer who have given him his information in regard to the coal trade. His first statement was full of want of knowledge and of inaccuracies, and even his last statement on Thursday night did not display the knowledge of the present condition or of the working of the coal trade, which I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to possess before he deals with such a serious question as this, which may interfere with and very seriously cripple one of the most gigantic industries of this country. When we remember that no less than 225,000,000 tons of coal out of the world's product of 650,000,000 tons were produced in England last year, we must see that any interference which may cripple and dislocate such a trade must be very far-reaching indeed in its consequences.
The only just principle upon which taxation can proceed is that every 834 man should be taxed according to his ability to pay. I contend that this coal tax, imposed as it is not only upon one single industry, but upon a section of that industry, whilst all other industries are allowed to go scot free, is a gross violation of the just principles of taxation. Why should not this tax have been divided? Assuming for one moment this tax could be justified—and I do not think an export tax on any British industry can be justified—would it not be infinitely more equitable if it were levied on the whole output of coal in the United Kingdom. Such a tax of 2d. per ton would give the Chancellor of the Exchequer as much money as he will get for the 1s. per ton export duty. The right hon. Gentleman has also overlooked one other body of men who have obtained considerable benefit out of the coal trade during the recent time of inflation, namely, the royalty owners. He does not appear to be aware of the fact that many royalty owners are paid under sliding scales, and that during the recent period of inflation they have been reaping a much greater revenue from the working of their coal. A much more equitable method of imposing this tax would have been to place 1d. per ton upon the colliery owner and 1d. per ton upon the royalty owner, thus making a fair division. I would also ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer why in the case of sugar he is levying an ad valorem duty according to the value of the different grades, while in the case of coal he is putting a uniform tax of 1s. a ton upon all classes of coal—even the small coal, worth only 3s. per ton? In all fairness, equally with the sugar trade, it ought to be an ad valorem duty based upon the prices at the pit's mouth of the respective classes of coal. One reason why I contend that this tax ought to be placed equally upon all the collieries in the country is this: the inland collieries have been obtaining better prices [or their produce during the last two years than have the exporting collieries. Why, in the name of all that is fair, should certain collieries be taxed, while others, making even more money, are allowed to go scot free? The greater part of the coal used in London for domestic purposes is brought not by sea but by rail from inland collieries. I know that the popular feeling of the 835 country is in favour of the coal tax, because of the excessively high prices which people have had to pay for household coal. Then why, in levying this tax, should you not hit the people who have reaped the profit out of the coal supplied for domestic consumption? That can only be done by levying a tax upon the whole of the coal produced in Great Britain. It is perfectly true that the coal trade has been prosperous during the last two years; but, to show the injustice of this tax, I will give one single instance in the Barnsley Division of Yorkshire, which I have the honour to represent. There is one colliery there producing 360,000 tons a year, the whole of which goes for export. At that colliery the seam which is worked is a somewhat expensive seam to work. For years up to 1899 that colliery, employing 1,000 men, was worked at a loss; but during the last two years that loss has been more than recovered. But what will be the effect upon that colliery, the whole of the produce of which is exported, working under such conditions, of the imposition of this enormous tax? That colliery alone will pay £18,000 of taxation, whilst a colliery not far away has no tax whatever to bear, as it sends all its coal for inland consumption? That is a glaring case of the unequal incidence of this taxation. Such a flagrant example of unfairness, if considered impartially by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and His Majesty's Government, must surely cause the right hon. Gentleman to readjust the incidence of the tax, or at any rate to base it upon equitable lines.
I have seen letters from foreign buyers with regard to the proposal that they should be called upon to pay 1s. more than their contract price—letters couched in language as strong as even the Chancellor of the Exchequer would find it difficult to surpass; and I venture to say that his suggestion—nay, his demand—that before we should have our current contracts exempted we should be required to go to our foreign buyer and ask him either to cancel his contract or to add the shilling to the contract price, is an insult to every honourable commercial man. The foundation of British commercial prosperity and supremacy has been built upon the fact of British commercial 836 honesty—on the fact that foreign buyers know that when they enter into a contract with us we will fulfil it to the very letter, whether it goes against us or in our favour. I must express not only the astonishment, but the painful surprise that I felt when I heard these words uttered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he introduced his Budget—I think the law should be framed so as to enable a person who has made a contract here to break his contract, unless the persons with whom he made that contract abroad are willing to pay the shilling.I thought there must be some mistake about this, having regarded the Chancellor of the Exchequer as the very soul of honour. The right hon. Gentleman was, however, afterwards asked whether or not, if certain contracts were not Stamped, they would be legally binding, and he intimated that if they were not stamped, and therefore not legally binding, it was a question whether the 1s. ought to be allowed. All that I can say is that the custom of the coal trade has been that enormous contracts are entered into by the mere exchange of letters or telegrams. I have myself sold millions and millions of tons of coal, but I have never had a stamped contract in my life, nor have I had a single contract repudiated by a foreign buyer. It would, therefore, be rather late in the day for me to begin to seek to repudiate my contract obligations with regard to contracts entered into with customers abroad. I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will soon recover from this view of what are the proper obligations of British contractors. I can only explain his state of mind by recalling the fact that it may possibly arise from the strain of the financial situation arising out of the South African War. I have felt inclined, in playful mood, to suggest that it might be a good thing for the right hon. Gentleman, while he is under this strain, if he took a holiday and went to China in order to study the principles of commercial morality. A Chinaman's word is as good as his bond, and, whether contracts are written or unwritten, a Chinaman is rarely known to break one. I think if the Chancellor of the Exchequer spent a little time among the Chinese commercial classes, as I did not long 837 ago, he would come back with the pristine purity and soundness of his commercial opinions fully restored.
Not only does the Chancellor of the Exchequer propose to handicap the British coal industry by the imposition of a protective tax of 1s. per ton in favour of the foreign producer, but, while he places this burden upon this one industry, other great industries which have made enormous profits in the last two years go absolutely scot free. I ask whether, in all fairness, the Chancellor of the Exchequer should not take into consideration the fact that the huge armament producing works and the ammunition producing works, which have been literally coining money out of the South African War during the last two years, and which are so full of orders that they will continue to coin money for two years to come, are not much better able to bear a special tax of this nature than is the coal trade. What are the facts with regard to the coal trade? The Chancellor of the Exchequer gave us some wonderful figures on Thursday night as to the profits made by the coalowners last year. I will venture to say that the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not possess, nor did the Home Office or the Board of Trade possess, the necessary data upon which to make that statement. Nor did my right hon. friend opposite possess the necessary and reliable information to justify either him or the Chancellor of the Exchequer in seeking to influence the public opinion of this country by a statement such as he made on Thursday night, because he had not the information as to the actual financial results of working the collieries of this country which that; statement would give the people of the country to understand he had. The estimate which was presented by my right hon. friend to-night was largely a question of estimate. The estimates, which he had no doubt carefully made for him, may be correct or incorrect; but I say, when dealing with so important a question, it ought not to be a question of estimates, but a question of actual fact. The right hon. Gentleman will know, however nearly the figures he gave to-night approach to the actual facts as regards the working of the coal mines in 1900, that does 838 not alter the fact that for an average of ten years based on real reliable data the average profit on the whole of the coal collieries in the country was from 5 per cent to 7½ per cent. Now we are face to face with a period of commercial depression. I have already shown that to the House by the quotations I have given as to the value now of steam coal and coke as compared with twelve months ago. But I will turn again to the question of foreign competition. Is it not true that America has deprived us practically of the whole of the trade of the West Indies? Is it not true that at the present moment America is seriously invading our market in Brazil and the Argentine? And is this the time—when prices are declining, and when, we have to face strong commercial depression—to put a tax on British coal of 1s. per ton in favour of our American competitors?
Then I point out this: Not only is this tax of 1s. a ton on British exported coal against the interest of the British coal trade, but it is against the interest of the British consumer. Our shippers take coal to Argentina and bring corn back, and it means that if they have not the coal to take out, or if they have to take it out at a lower rate in order to meet competition, they must have a higher rate for the corn they bring home, and the consumers will have to pay for it. Not only is that true of American coal. Does he know that American coal-owners have actually taken contracts with Paris gas works? Does he know that they have taken contracts at Genoa and Algiers for large quantities? And from the figures named by the hon. Member who sits behind me, in his most interesting and moderate speech, we are in the near future going to be seriously brought face to face with America as a keen competitor with us for the coal trade in many parts of the world. What is being done? Whilst our Chancellor of the Exchequer is handicapping the British coal trade and British shipping by the imposition of £2,000,000 a year, the Americans are considering a Bill in their Senate to give a bounty of £2,000,000 a year to American shipping, and thus assist their foreign trade in competition with us and the rest of the world. Another quarter of the globe has not been referred to. What about the British coal trade in the Far 839 East? I travelled in the Far East in 1892 and 1893, and I got information then as to the British coal trade at various points. I went back again in 1899 and 1900, and the change was perfectly astonishing as to the way in which the coalfields of India and Japan and Australia had been opened up and developed—the increased extent to which they were successfully competing with British coal in India and all round the various consuming centres of the Far East. All I say with regard to that is this, that this protective duty of 1s. a ton is a protective duty in favour of Indian, Japanese, and Australian coal in the Far East as against the British producer.
I must apologise for having spoken at so great a length, but I think this is eminently a question in which a plain statement of fact by those who know something of the trade ought to be made, because it is a most serious departure. To my mind, the idea of the Chancellor of the Exchequer of seeking to make the foreigner pay part of the cost of the South African War is not only the most fantastic that was ever proposed in this House, but one of the grimmest jokes ever perpetrated by a Chancellor of the Exchequer. They absolutely abominate and detest the war, and so strong is the feeling on the Continent of Europe that they would even suffer some loss to themselves before they would pay a farthing of this shilling impost proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Another point is the husbanding of our coal resources. The Chancellor of the Exchequer sought to justify this proposal on the ground that if it did restrict British exports by, say, 10,000,000 tons a year, and deprive British shipping of freight to the same extent, after all there was consolation to be found in the fact that we were husbanding our coal resources. What will be the effect of this tax? Surely the imposition of this 1s. a ton will shut out first of all the collieries at which coal of a poor quality is worked, and that means that men will be thrown out of employment in these inferior collieries. In order to husband the coal resources of the country we make it a rule to try and work thick and thin seams concurrently, so as to prolong the life of the thick seams. But if this tax is placed upon us we shall be 840 compelled to take the men out of the thin and expensive seams and put them into the thicker and more cheaply worked seams of superior quality, and thus there will be a greater output and a more rapid exhaustion of the highest class of coal (which ought to be conserved in every possible way) than there would be had things remained uninterfered with. Now, politically speaking, the Chancellor of the Exchequer may think that his action was characterised by very considerable political sagacity, because, be it remembered, an enormous majority of coal miners are good sound Radicals, and therefore in putting this tax on the coal industry he was following out the line of least resistance. All I say is that politically nothing would strengthen me more with 11,000 miners than to have; this tax proposed by the Government and pressed home and charged upon that industry. But that is not the question we have to consider. It is not a political question. It is, in my opinion, a question as to whether we should reverse the settled fiscal policy of this country, which has remained undisturbed for generations, a question as to whether under any circumstances we ought to place a duty on any export from this country. I have shown I think conclusively that the prospect before the coal trade to-day is of so discouraging a character that we cannot afford, if the trade is not to be seriously interfered with and dislocated, to have this tax imposed. I know the coal consumers in this country imagine, if this tax is imposed, and we have thrown back on our hands 5,000,000 or 10,000,000 tons of coal, they at home: will get their coals cheaper. All I can say to the House and the country is this, that if they insist upon forcing this unjust impost on the coal industry they may drive the coal industry to take steps for its own protection. They may drive us to a course we would be very reluctant to adopt, namely, to take a leaf out of the book of the Westphalian Coal Syndicate, which for years past has, by a regulation of output, maintained prices at a paying figure. I sincerely hope the Government and Gentlemen in this House will not by this act of flagrant injustice cause employers and employed to put their heads together to restrict the output of British coal, and maintain 841 the price of coal at a figure which will amply recoup them for the £2,000,000 unjustly taken out of their pockets by the proposed coal tax.
§ *MR. JOHN WILSON (Falkirk Burghs)
Before endeavouring to point out the injustice and the inexpediency of this proposed export duty upon coal I desire to take this opportunity of expressing my adherence to the remarks made by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade in the latter part of his speech, when he pointed out to the miners the inopportuneness of a general strike throughout the country. I believe that if the miners struck generally throughout the country at the present time the sympathy of the public would be against them. The Scottish coal-owners have met and declared that they object to any general strike of miners, and I am glad that they have done so. They have also pointed out the inopportuneness of a strike of this kind when the question is being discussed in the House of Commons. But while I agree with the President of the Board of Trade in that part of his speech, I am afraid that I cannot go much further, for I entirely disagree with him when he says that this tax has been well considered, and that the Government have taken every step to inform themselves before bringing it forward. I must say that the evidence is entirely against that contention. When the Budget was first brought before the House no attention was paid to several points which ought to have occurred to any practical man who understood the bearings of this question. No one was more surprised than myself when the Government put forward this proposal of an export duty on coal, and I never even dreamt that such a proposal would be made. I pointed out when the Budget was first introduced how, in bringing forward this tax, there were three points which the Chancellor of the Exchequer appeared to have lost sight of. The first was with reference to the existing contracts. There is a class of coal exporters who form contracts for lengthened periods of time for exporting coal, and some of those contracts extend over twelve months, and in some cases over two years. These contractors have not a large margin of profit per ton, and in many oases it amounts to a matter of pence. Therefore the question of paying a duty of 1s. per ton under such contracts 842 must be the means of ruining many of those coal exporters. Another of my points was in connection with the desirability of imposing an ad valorem duty, and I pointed out the inexpediency of placing a fixed and rigid tax of 1s. per ton upon all classes of exported coal. I desire to show now at greater length the inexpediency of the tax being imposed in the form in which it is at present. If ad valorem duties had been imposed it would have been much fairer to all those districts which will be heavily hit by this wretched tax. I desire to make it clear that I do not approve of a tax on coal of any kind, but if it is imposed it should be imposed as an ad valorem duty. The case of Northumberland has been very well stated already, and I desire to state the case of Scotland. The Scottish coal trade exports about one-third of its output, but, not being a smokeless coal, it does not command more than one-half of the price of the Welsh product. Therefore a duty of 1s. a ton on coal which fetches only 8s. at the pit, as compared with 16s. for Welsh coal, is exactly equivalent to placing 12½ per cent. on Scottish coal as compared, with 6 ½ per cent. on Welsh coal. A great deal can be said on behalf of the contention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the South Wales coal must still be taken by the foreigner, for there is no other coal of the same superior quality in the world. There are several other coals entering into competition with it at various markets, the price of which is less, but the South Wales coal commands the market, and will probably continue to do so. But that is only a small portion of our export trade of 44,000,000 tons. I think the export of South Wales coal is about 18,000,000 tons, and therefore you have 26,000,000 tons of coal which must be forced into the market fin competition with the coal of foreign countries.
I do not think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was at all well advised when he brought forward this proposal. I think that before the Chancellor of the Exchequer brought forward this tax he might have consulted some experts on his own side of the House, and they might have given him better advice. On some of these points they would have, at least, satisfied the right hon. Gentleman that he was bringing forward a proposal which was absolutely impracticable. Supposing 843 that the Chancellor of the Exchequer carried this proposal of 1s. per ton? When you deduct the amount of the existing contracts, I do not think I am far wrong in saying that the right hon. Gentleman will find probably one-half of the whole export trade of the country are contracts, and I should like to know how much will be left of the £2,100,000. I do not think it was at all worth while to bring forward this tax in this way, when all the money that will be got by it will not be much more than a matter of £500,000. I should like to know if the right hon. Gentleman's advisers are of the same quality as those who advised the Secretary of State for War in regard to the South African war. When they were asked by the Colonial Governments if mounted men were required in South Africa they replied, "No; send us infantry." The same advisers considered that the cost of the war would be £10,000,000, but instead of that it had cost £150,000,000. They also advised us that 30,000 troops would simply walk through the Boers, but we have since found that 250,000 men are not too many. I think the President of the Board of Trade stated that no speaker had given any prominence to the injury that would be done to the shipping trade of this country. I wish to say that when the Budget was first introduced I pointed out the serious disaster that would occur to the shipping industry in consequence of this tax. I pointed out the amount of coal which was sent out from the various Scotch ports. I think I can show very clearly how it does affect the shipping trade of this country. Take, for instance, the Argentine Republic. We are importing from the Argentine Republic every year 400,000 tons of wheat and 800,000 head of cattle, and we send to the Argentine in return for that 1,000,000 tons of coal. That export trade has been declining, and will continue to do so, because America has got her eye upon that country. The American coal seams are very easily worked, and they can place coal at the ports in the Argentine at a price with which we cannot compete. The Americans are quite ready now to enter into the market and cut us out there. It will be seen that if you have only the advantage of a freight one way, and do not get it both ways, it will be 844 double the cost, and the price of your necessaries is bound to be raised to the working-men of this country. That is the point I wish the Chancellor of the Exchequer had given more consideration to, for apparently our American neighbours are fully alive to the importance of doing nothing that would cripple trade in the direction which I have indicated. I will read a short paragraph bearing upon this point which puts the case very distinctly. [The hon. Member read a passage from the Francisco Chronicle to the effect that the supremacy of the shipping trade of Great Britain was almost entirely owing to the vast extent of her export trade in coal. Four-fifths of all the weight of cargo exported from Great Britain consisted of coal, and in this way the shippers then were assured of an outward cargo, so the freights homeward were much less than otherwise. America was, however, rapidly developing her inexhaustible coalfields, and was gradually becoming a rival of Great Britain in many of the markets where hitherto she had held exclusive sway. No efforts would be spared to extend her export trade in coal.] I find throughout the country and amongst many hon. Members of this House an evident desire to discourage by this tax the exportation of coal to foreign countries. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said it would not be an unmixed evil if the export of coal was decreased. [Cheers.] I see some hon. Members agree with him in that respect. But they perhaps forget that we have an immense supply of coal at the present time, and probably "sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." Another effect which probably they have not calculated is the effect that the stoppage of the export of coal from this country would have on the accumulated wealth. I put myself to the trouble of making a little calculation. The export in 1900 was 44,000,000 tons of coal, and this taken at 16s. per ton the price realised from the Board of Trade returns amounts to £35,200,000. This sum, put out at 3 per cent. compound interest, and allowed to accumulate for 100 years, would amount to £676,495,766, or almost equivalent to the whole of the National Debt. I hope hon. Members who have not looked at the question from that point of view will 845 consider how much they may cripple the accumulating wealth of the country, because remember the wealth that comes into our hands promotes enterprise in every way. I think it is little use hoarding up our coal. We do not know what may be effected in the course of twenty, thirty, or forty years with respect to the saving of coal, on account of the advance of science. Modern engines, it is perfectly well known, can be much more economically worked as regards the consumption of coal than the old class of engines. The scientific improvements for the saving of coal will probably change the aspect of the coal trade altogether. Therefore I think it is foolish to endeavour to injure to such an extent as this 1s. tax will undoubtedly do the wealth of this great country. It seems to me that colliery proprietors must certainly not be included in the class "who toil not, neither do they spin." We have worked hard for what we possess, but we are looked upon as a kind of Mohawks or wild Indians who are endeavouring to plunder the community. I entirely dissent from that view. It is ridiculous for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to bring forward the contention that the members of the coal trade have exacted more than they are entitled to. Do his constituents in Bristol not take as much for sugar and tobacco as they can get? Supply and demand rules that question, and no coalowner, although he desired to do so, could restrict the price. The law of supply and demand has regulated the price during the past year, and although that has been high, the price has been a low average over a period of years. Manufacturers who consumed large quantities of coal are apt to forget that they have prospered when the prices of coal have been low during the last twenty, thirty, or forty years. I have had forty years connection with the production and selling of coal, and I remember in 1873 the price went up to 21s. per ton at the pit. No such prices have been got at the present time for Scotch coal. They may be got for Welsh coal.
I point this out to show the fluctuations of the coal trade. From 1860 to 1873 there was a period of prolonged dulness, low prices, and little profit. The Report of the Royal Commission of 1873 showed distinctly that the coal trade was not the most profitable of the industries of 846 this country. From 1873 what has been the state of matters? Why, immediately after the boom of the 1872–73 period a prolonged dulness took place, and prices went down to a miserably low level. In 1880 a small rise was got, and in 1890 another small rise was obtained. Now, after a lapse of thirty years, we have got a short boom, which has lasted not more than a year and a half. I cannot accept the figures of the Chancellor of the Exchequer as accurate, but suppose, for a moment, that I take his figures and assume that £34,000,000 was made on the capital of the colliery owning companies in 1900; if that amount was spread over a large series of years when prices were low, I do not think it would come to anything but a very low rate of interest indeed on the capital. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade gave some statistics with reference to Northumberland. I say that unless these figures are put on the Table, and open to the inspection of practical men, they are practically worthless. I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not going to establish the doctrine of ransom, such as was exacted from the wealthy Jews of the Middle Ages in England. If that is the case, then I suppose the converse will hold. When profits fall, and the balance is on the wrong side, no doubt the Chancellor of the Exchequer will come to the rescue and make up the loss. That is fair and reasonable. The right hon. Gentleman says the cost will come out of the pockets of the foreigner. Does he really believe that statement? If so we may be proud as coalowners that we have a Chancellor of the Exchequer who can regulate prices in that way. I do not know that I would vote against the imposition of this coal duty if I were perfectly certain that he has the power he assumes he has. If this tax is imposed it will cause serious injury to the shipping trade of this country, and dislocate the free-trade policy of the country. It is for that reason that I shall vote against this proposal. Greater men than the Chancellor of the Exchequer have changed their minds when they saw the unwisdom of their proposals. He changed his mind last year with reference to contract notes, when pressure by the Stock 847 Exchange was put upon him. I think there is a little more reason why he should listen to the arguments and contentions now put before him. I hope, after all that has been said and will be said, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will yet see it to be wise and prudent to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into this question. I venture to say, as one deeply interested in this trade, that if he does so, and if the Royal Commission finds an export duty of 1s. is a wise thing, I will accept it with pleasure, and will not vote against the proposal.
§ *MR. J. ACRON THOMAS (Glamorganshire, Gower)
I represent a district in which three-fourths of the people are interested in the coal industry. The coal there is in such quantity that if it is worked at the same rate, or even at a greater rate than at the present time, it will last 4,000 years. My constituency consists very largely of colliers. I want the House to understand that all the coalfields in South Wales do not produce what is known as high-class steam coal. South Wales is divided into three districts—Cardiff, which produces 21,000,000 tons; Swansea, about 5,000,000 tons; and Newport, about 7,000,000 tons. In the Cardiff district a considerable quantity of the coal is high-class steam coal. In the Swansea district the coal is of quite another class. We have some anthracite coal of high quality, but the bulk of the coal there is bituminous and friable steam coal. The difference in the working in the two districts, as far as large or small coal is concerned, would be this—Cardiff district coal cuts 75 per cent. large and 25 per cent. small, and Swansea 25 per cent. large and 75 per cent. small. Hence it will be seen that the value of the coal of the two districts is quite different. One is a high-class coal, of which we have heard so much to-night; and the other is of a very different class—far more friable, and it does not reach in the market more than half the price realised by the first. In the districts where this small friable coal is won, works have been erected to manufacture patent fuel, and at the present time we export from Swansea half a million tons of that patent fuel in the year. This makes, with the two million tons of coal, a total of two and a half million tons exported 848 from Swansea alone. Now, of all that coal and patent fuel, more than half goes to France; but a large quantity is taken to Germany and Belgium, Holland and Italy. In fact more than three-fourths of all we export goes to these countries. Well, I am informed on the most reliable authority by people in the trade—and I know a little of the trade myself—that in all these markets we have to compete with German and Belgian coal, and also with some coal that is produced in France. I am assured that our trade in small coal and patent fuel will be materially affected, and that the area of supply will be curtailed to a very considerable extent, if the 1s. duty is put on the coal. Hence it is a matter of the very greatest importance to the Swansea district, which is practically maiden ground. This very year Swansea is coming into Parliament for powers to build a dock which is to cost two millions, and that dock is mainly to be used for the purpose of developing the district, and making it what nature intended it to be—a great seaport to develop the district, and to find occupation for the large number of people in the neighbourhood.
It appears to me that the chief result of this debate has been to show that the boom we have had for the last couple of years seems to have made an impression on those who advocate this tax, that the coal trade can well afford to pay handsomely. Of course, there is no gainsaying the fact—I freely admit it—that the coal trade has been highly remunerative during these years, but the cost has also been increased to a larger extent than those on the Front Bench have foreshadowed. I know that in some small collieries the cost has gone up cent, per cent. At the same time, they have made very handsome profits during the last two years; but in 1894–5–6 and 7 there was no question of profits, but of how long the capital would last. Fortunately for us, the good time came and we were able to exist. The argument that has been made use of is that those supporting the Eight Hours Bill are prevented from advocating opposition to this coal tax. I think that the Eight Hours Bill will have quite a contrary effect from that which those who use that argument seem to indicate. If the colliers were to get an eight hours day, I doubt very much whether the quantity of coal sent to the 849 surface would be curtalied very much. I think that, in justice to the colliers, eight hours is quite long enough to work underground. I do not think that the quantity of coal produced would be very much curtailed, because at the present moment the colliers do not work very long. I think that they should have that right which the great majority in this House would allow them. But if the Eight Hours Bill came into operation and there were a curtailmentof the supply, the demand for coal would not be lessened. If this tax, however, is imposed, the area of supply would be curtailed, and the supply would be larger. There would be a plethora of coal thrown on the market. The distinction is this, that to the collier it is a matter of great importance to have the Eight Hours Bill; but it is to him of greater importance that this tax should not be imposed, so as to avoid a glut of coal on the market, and thus reduce wages.
In regard to the foreigner paying the 1s. per ton. I have had it from merchants and colliery proprietors—I have seen the correspondence—that contracts have been lost to a considerable extent because of that extra 1s. added to the price. If that is the case, and if they lose the contracts, the result will be that there will be an extra depression in the coal trade. If that depression takes place at once, bad times for everyone—for the merchants, for the colliery proprietors, and especially for the colliers—will come. And as one who has had much to do with colliers and the coal trade, I say that there would be nothing so disastrous both to the colliery proprietors, and to the colliers especially, disturbance of the present arrangements. That disturbance would be a far greater injury than any benefit that would arise from the tax. The inevitable result would be that the small colliery proprietors would certainly go to the wall. Then men would be thrown out of employment and very likely the colliery proprietors would make desperate efforts to induce the workmen to make concessions. Now, these workmen own largely the houses they live in, they are attached to the place, their families are there, they have their connections there, and very probably they would make the concessions asked of them. And no one who has not had experience can understand what injury that does. Nothing is more disastrous both to capital and labour than those 850 disturbances which appeal for concessions; and concessions given in one or two places would lead in other places to men being thrown out of employment. It is a serious matter interfering with well organised labour. I am a believer in organised labour. Organised labour, like everything else, has its drawbacks, and if a fight comes on, as it will come, if a depression takes place with the curtailment of the demand for coal, it will be a fight disastrous to all concerned. This is the first time in which I have addressed the House, and it may be presumptuous on my part to make an appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but on this occasion, with due modesty, I would like to do it, and I hope I will not be lacking in respect in doing it. I would suggest that this tax will not bring in more than a million this year. Well, if a Commission were appointed to make inquiry it ought to be able to report by the end of September. Put on that Commission representatives of the miners. I do not want particularly the colliery proprietors, but men whose opinion it is necessary to get. I ask this to be done so as to avoid anything like an industrial warfare. Having had a good deal to do with colliers, I know that they do not bark. If they talk they mean to bite. It is a matter of serious consideration, therefore, to see how we can avoid a conflict with a great body of highly respectable men, who are entitled to fair and considerate treatment. I do not know whether the men will come out. I have known colliers to come out, when they thought that their representatives were a little too slack and not pressing their claims strong enough; they have taken the bit between their teeth, and gone their own way at the great loss to themselves and others. I believe that the colliers are not going to sit down quietly under this tax, and, if so, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his friends will find they will be as far out in their calculations as they were as to the cost of the South African War. That war they estimated was to cost ten millions, but I believe that if the colliers come out on strike the loss will be more than ten millions. Why not appoint this Commission? If there is anything in the statement that we are exhausting the coal supply, and that there is a necessity to preserve it for future generations, and if you can convince the men of that, they will consider it. They are reasonable. But if you do not convince 851 them there will be trouble. If you appoint this Commission the loss would not be more than a million, but if you go on with the tax the loss will be such that you will seriously regret that you have not taken the advice offered you.
§ *MR. EDWARD HAIN (Cornwall, St. Ives)
The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade expressed his surprise that more had not been heard on the subject from the shipping interest. Now, as a shipowner, and as one who will be considerably affected by the payment of this tax, in respect of coals taken for steamers abroad, I rise to support the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I would not have it believed that shipowners, or indeed anything like the majority of them, are so unreasonable as to take part in what I cannot but describe as an altogether exaggerated agitation against this coal tax. We have heard very much from speakers in the course of the debate about American competition and very large contracts having been placed in the Mediterranaen for American coal, even at the low margin of 3d. per ton, against supplies of English coal. But I must confess, Sir, that in my opinion there must be some special circumstances in connection with these contracts, for I do not believe that American coal in the Mediterranean can beat the English article by the small margin of 3d. per ton. I have been engaged in carrying American coal during the past twelve months to the Mediterranean, to Port Said, and Marseilles, and the difference in freight as compared with the English article would be at least 10s. per ton. We have heard in the course of this debate that American coal has not risen in price in anything like the same proportion as English coal, and with declining prices, if our English coal comes down to normal value, how is it possible that the American coal can compete with our English article in the Mediterranean? One coal has been mentioned in the course of this debate—the Pocahontas coal—a very excellent American coal, and the only kind that can compare with the better classes of English coal. I have known this coal for years. I have been a very large purchaser of it, and I should always give it the preference in America over 852 any other coal that can be obtained there. But when it is exported a long distance it has this disadvantage—it cannot bear the handling that the English coal can, and it becomes smaller in transit. We have heard much about the Americans taking away the trade of the Argentine with their coal, but there need be no fear of that. I have myself only within the last month refused Pocahontas coal on the River Plate at a difference of 4s. a ton under English coal, and if English coal comes down to its normal price I do not believe that American coal can compete with it. An hon. Member opposite said the price of Pocahontas coal was 1 dollar 50 cents per ton. I do not know what his experience is, but it is very different from mine. I have never been able to obtain Pocahontas coal at less than 3 dollars a ton free on board at the exporting port. An hon. Member has stated, what is perfectly true, that the Americans are building ships for the carriage of their coal and for other purposes. He said they were gradually building up a mercantile marine, and he described those ships as being well adapted for their trade, and spoke of them as being very different indeed from the three-deck, old-fashioned English steamers. Why, Sir, if one of those old-fashioned three-decked ships were to-arrive in the Tyne to load coal she would be looked upon as a curiosity and only fit for a museum I might instance a matter which came under my own notice very recently in connection with one of my own ships which put into a port for coal. It was impossible at the time to obtain English coal for the purpose of the ship, and native coal was put on board. What was the result? Four days after the ship had sailed from the port she put back again, finding it impossible to get steam from the coal, and the delay in taking the coal out of the bunkers and getting a better supply extended to three weeks. It is therefore not a question of 1s. per ton on English coal, as 20s. a ton would not have paid for the loss.
I do not desire upon this, the first occasion of my addressing this House, to detain the House at any length. I simply desire as a shipowner to put forward the shipping view of the matter, and to state that 853 I and other shipowners do not believe in, the dismal forebodings of foreign competition. And we do not believe that the export of our own English coal will be injured in the least by the imposition of this tax, and because I hold these views I shall most cordially support the resolution.
§ *MR. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)
The hon. Member for the Falkirk Boroughs began his speech to-night by associating himself with the President of the Board of Trade in his protest against what is known as the policy of the general stoppage of the mines of this country. It is not my intention to discuss that policy at this moment. Nobody knows yet what may happen—whether the stoppage will take place or not. The President of the Board of Trade described such a policy as selfish and unpatriotic. But remember when we have an unjust imposition which it is proposed to levy on a particular section of the community, and which will not affect other sections equally capable of bearing the impost, we must not be surprised if strong measures are taken by that section of the community in order to checkmate the Government's policy. But I hope, however, that hon. Members will disabuse their minds of an impression which prevails outside this House, and which I fear also exists inside the House to a certain extent, namely, that the miners are acting in collusion with the employers in connection with this stoppage. That is not so. I am sure hon. Members will take it from me that that is not so. The hon. Member for the Falkirk Boroughs went on to say that he thought this policy of imposing a 1s. duty on coal could not have been carefully considered before it was proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There I agree with him. I firmly believe that if the right hon. Gentleman had availed himself of all the sources of information open to him, if he had thoroughly considered what would be the effect of his proposal on the mining, shipping, and other kindred industries of this country, he would never have made himself responsible for such a proposal. Indeed, he practically admitted as much the other evening in his reply to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire, when he referred to the 854 difficulties which confront a Chancellor of the Exchequer when contemplating a proposal such as that before the House. I can quite conceive that any Chancellor of the Exchequer who contemplates tapping a new source of revenue may find himself surrounded with difficulties. He is afraid to make a confidant lest his confidence should be betrayed and his object frustrated.
There is a strong belief in that part of the country that I come from, namely, Northumberland, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not availed himself of all the sources of information open to him, and which are thoroughly reliable. For instance, it would be interesting to know whether the present Postmaster General was consulted. Lord Londonderry has had a long and honoured connection with the North of England, and is largely connected with the production of coal there. A few years ago he raised his voice on the Compensation for Accidents Bill, but then the noble Lord was out of office. At this moment he is in office, and that seems to make a very great difference in his political opinions. But there is another right hon. Gentleman, now a noble Lord, whose opinion was well worth knowing on this subject. It would be interesting to the House to know whether the late Home Secretary was consulted. It would be interesting to know what Sir Matthew White Ridley—now Lord Ridley—had to say on a subject such as this. Lord Ridley has a very large interest in the port of Blyth, which exports more than three million tons of coal per annum, and he has a very wide experience and knowledge of the coal trade. It would be interesting to know whether he was consulted. Perhaps he was, and it may be that is the reason why he is now in another place, for with the interest which Lord Ridley has in the town of Blyth, where the inhabitants are dependent almost entirely on the export of coal, it would be impossible in my opinion for him to continue a member of a Government which made itself responsible for such a proposal. One of the hon. Members who has spoken, and who represents one of the divisions of Birmingham, stated very frankly what were the views of his constituents on this proposed impost. He would not have 855 spoken in the same way if he had represented a mining district in the North of England? The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade says the average wages of the Northumberland miners last year amounted to 35s. I challenge that statement. He will find on more careful examination that his figures are wrong. But I am prepared to take the estimate he gave to the House. What was the object he had in giving the House the average wages of the miners? His object was to show that, even if a portion of this tax did fall upon the miners, they were still able to bear it because their average weekly wage was 35s. I appeal to hon. Members on both sides of the House who represent artizan constituencies whether the wages of their constituents do not average far more than 35s. There is not an artizan who does not earn more. Why do not you interfere with their industries? You tax the miner's sugar and increase his cost of living, and now you propose legislation which will have the effect of taking away a portion of that wage which hitherto has enabled him to purchase these necessaries of life.
I will tell the House, with its indulgence, how my constituents view this tax. Eighty per cent. of the coal sold in Northumberland is sent over sea. What is our proportion as a district of this £2,100,000 I Northumberland's proportion is £400,000. The President of the Board of Trade put it at a little less, but I think he will find that I am right. That is equal to a tax of £10 per head on all those employed in and about the mines in Northumberland. I do not for a moment wish the House to understand that I believe the whole of this burden will fall on the miners of Northumberland, but I think that I shall be able to convince the House that a substantial portion of it will. We are probably, in proportion to the number of people we employ, harder hit than any other district. Of the five districts affected by this proposal, South Wales will pay £950,000, Yorkshire £200,000, Durham £230,000, Scotland £330,000, and Northumberland £400,000. The tax per head in Northumberland is equal to £10, South Wales £6 10s., Yorkshire £2 15s., Scotland £4, and Durham £2. That is how the Northumberland miners look at this subject. My hon. friend and colleague the hon. Member 856 for Morpeth gave us an interesting piece of autobiography. He told us that for eighteen years he had been engaged as a miner, and knew how these questions were dealt with. Though a younger man than my hon. friend, I have had a more extensive experience as a miner than he. For twenty-five years I was engaged in active work as a coal-miner, and my position among all my colleagues, with whom I am accustomed to act is somewhat unique, inasmuch as I came straight from the "coal face," as we call it in Northumberland, to a seat in this House. Therefore I have had considerable experience, as the House will see, in dealing with wages questions, and my honest opinion—and I give it at whatever the House chooses to appraise it at—is that this tax will affect, and directly affect, the coal-miners.
The real question at issue is whether the coal trade—the export trade of the country—can bear this 1s. tax. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is firmly of opinion that it can. Well, I should be a rash man to put my opinion against that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I have had more experience than he has in dealing with these questions. I am not speaking as a coalowner or in any other way than as one who is interested so far as he can to protect the wages of those he has the honour to represent. The coalowners, exporters, and shippers are quite able to take care of themselves. I venture to say the miner cannot bear any proportion of this tax. The time selected for its imposition is unfortunate, seeing that it is a time when business is receding and prices falling, and wages are being reduced. The miners in Northumberland have just agreed to a reduction of 13¾ per cent., and at the next quarterly meeting may have to meet a further demand for a reduction of their wages. The Scotch miners have already suffered a reduction of 25 per cent., and, I believe, are meeting their employers to-day in Glasgow to consider a further demand of 25 per cent. reduction, and my belief is that the imposition of this tax will accelerate the fall in prices and further reductions in wages. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, both in his Budget speech and in the speech he made the other night, referred to and laid great stress on the superior quality of the Welsh steam coal. But the House will 857 observe that when he came to the consideration of North Country coal, it was not the steam coal which he had in his mind, but gas coal, and he called the attention of the House to the superiority of gas coal; but we do not produce gas coal in Northumberland. I could have wished that the Secretary of State for India had been in his place, because it is not so very long ago that the Government considered that the steam coal of the North was of such an inferior quality that they went the length of striking it off their contract list, and when the Secretary of State for India was First Lord of the Admiralty I had the honour to introduce a deputation to him at his office from the north of England, who sought to have their names reinserted in the list, but we received scant courtesy. Since then you have favoured us with a few contracts for coal for manufacturing purposes, but for the Fleet you struck us off the list, and now you are imposing a tax which will have the effect of preventing us from supplying the fleets of other nations which do buy our coal.
The principle upon which our wages are regulated may not be well known to this House, but it is a principle upon which we have acted for many years with considerable success. Wages have always been held to bear a certain relationship to the realised price of coal, and they are regulated by that, and the effect will be this: if your proposal causes the price to fall, a part of this burden will fall upon the miner, because the first ascertainment of prices which is made will show that the realised price is less by 1s. a ton, and that will have a direct effect upon the wages of the miners of Northumberland. Therefore, I maintain that your proposal is unjust and inequitable, and a hindrance to the free development of the industry of this country. The Chancellor of the Exchequer the other night gave us some very interesting figures to show what profits were being made in the coal trade; and he stated the prices which obtained in 1897, 1898, 1899, and 1900. I want to put the prices realised for Northumberland steam coal alongside of the prices realised over the whole of the country to show that the steam coal of the North is not of that superior quality which it is alleged to be by hon. Members opposite. The 858 average price for the country in 1897 was 5s. 7d. a ton, Northumberland's price 5s. 2.9d.—call it 5s. 3d.; in 1898 the price of the whole country was 6s. 4d.—our coal 6s. 1.35d.; in 1899 the country's price was 7s. 7d., Northumberland coal 7s. 0.68d.; and in 1900 the one price was 10s. 9½d., our price 10s. 6½d., or a difference all the way through of 3d. or 4d. less for Northumberland than the average for the whole country. That seems to me a very serious consideration so far as the industry in Northumberland is concerned. Now, constant reference has been made to our position in the Hamburg market, and it seems to be imagined that such is the balance in favour of Northumberland coal in the Hamburg market that we have nothing to fear. On the 24th of last month the price of Westphalian coal in Hamburg was quoted at 14s. Taking Northumberland coal at the average of the last year, and the highest average it has reached during the last twenty-seven years at 10s. 6d. f.o.b., if you add 4s. for freight, it leaves a balance against North Country coal in the Hamburg market of 6d. per ton. Add your 1s. tax, and you have a balance against us of 1s. 6d. Will any hon. Member get up and say that, handicapped as we shall be under these circumstances, we can hope to maintain our position in the Hamburg market?
Let the House consider what the effect of this tax really is. Supposing you have a big colliery strike, such as you had in 1893, when almost the whole of the Federation district was standing idle for a considerable time, and when foreign coal was being sent into the home market, what would be the condition of things under the existing proposal? There would be the ridiculous spectacle of foreign produced coal being brought into the English market free of import duty, while our own coal, intended to be exported, would have to bear an export duty. That is, the foreign miner would be able to place his product on the home market without any hindrance or difficulty, absolutely unshackled, while the home producer, the British subject, would be prevented from disposing of his product in free and open competition. Now, I want to make one observation upon a statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer both when he introduced 859 the Budget and on Thursday night last. "Suppose," said the Chancellor, "this proposal does check our export, I should not look upon that as an unmixed evil." The hon. Member for one of the divisions of Birmingham quoted those words to-night with apparent approval. "What will happen?" asks the Chancellor of the Exchequer. "One of two things—either coal will continue to be produced and be sold at a cheaper rate in the home market, or it will not be produced, and thus be husbanded for future consumption." Suppose either of these contingencies does arise; suppose the coal is continued to be produced, and is sold cheaper, what will be the effect on the wages of the miner? They will of course be reduced. But supposing the coal is not produced, then he will get no wages at all; he will be thrown idle on the market. Do you really imagine that if you succeed in preventing the export of coal, and compel the mines to be shut down and the coal husbanded for future consumption, you will ever be able to get it? Once you close your collieries you will never get that coal. The difficulty you will have to encounter from the breaking up of the roof of the mines and from the water flooding the mines will be such that no man will be so foolish as to invest additional capital in reopening those mines. I say this as a practical miner, who has had considerable experience in the actual working of mines. If the mines are once shut down much of the coal in those mines will be lost for ever.
I have one word more to say. We know now that this is not a temporary tax. It is not a war tax, merely imposed for a short time, to be taken off as soon as the circumstances which made it necessary have passed away. It is a permanent tax, and in that fact alone you have the secret of the strength of the opposition which confronts it outside the House. We are now beginning to realise, and the working men of the country are now beginning to realise, what we have to pay for "killing each other as Christians should in the Transvaal." We now know what it costs us to safeguard and protect the interests of our friends at home. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouth the other 860 night called attention to the fact that it was proposed to get just about as much out of this tax as would be required for the grant under the Agricultural Rating Act, and suggested that it was in order to continue that payment that this tax was imposed, the Chancellor of the Exchequer repudiated the suggestion with indignation. But has not the First Lord of the Treasury told us that it is the intention of the Government to renew that Act? Is not the money necessary for that grant taken out of the general taxation of the country? Will not the revenue from this impost go into the general taxation of the country? I maintain, therefore, that we are justified in saying that this impost is being levied upon the exporting trade of the country in order to pay, at any rate, a portion of the amount required under the Agricultural Bating Act. If the Government intended to raise their revenue on the principle that those who are making money should pay, I maintain that their proposals ought to have had a wider application—a broader basis, if I may so put it—because they are proposing now to affect only a particular industry in particular districts, while leaving untouched other industries which have made equally large profits during the last two years. It is because of the inequality of this impost, and the iniquitous effects which this proposal will have upon that part of the country which I have the honour to represent, that on this and every other occasion it shall meet with my strenuous opposition.
§ *MR. CHAPLIN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
The hon. Member who has just sat down has given, I think, a most effective and telling description of the way in which, in his opinion at all events, the tax which is now proposed would affect the industry with which he is connected, and the wages of those employed by it, especially in his own county of Northumberland, the circumstances of which, I suppose, he is acquainted with as well as, or better than, any other Member of the House. My only regret is that at the commencement of his speech, and especially when he referred to that county, there were not more Members of the Government present to hear him. I cannot help feeling that perhaps I owe some apology to the House for intervening in 861 this debate at all. But I have some Interest in the coal industry of the country, and I concur with a great deal of the speech of the hon. Baronet who resumed the debate this afternoon, although I differ altogether from him in the alternatives which he proposed. I shall, therefore, be grateful if the House will allow me to make a few observations before a division is taken. It seems to me that some of the grounds upon which this proposal was originally supported have, to some extent, been changed, or, at all events, considerably modified, during the progress of the debate. One of the reasons which, I think, commanded a good deal of public support for this tax was to be found in the belief that it would do something to diminish or to restrict the export of coal from this country. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouth had nothing but ridicule for this suggestion, but I can quite understand, in spite of his attitude, that there is a great deal which might be said from that point of view. The Chancellor of the Exchequer himself was careful to point out, when he made the announcement, that coal was the very life-blood of our industries; that without coal those industries would languish, and that the whole of our great population would diminish and decay. He went even further, and said that in some of the districts where coal is most easily obtained the coalfields were already exhausted, and that the process which so many people feared had already begun. My own knowledge of the condition of the coalfields, I confess, is not sufficient to warrant rue in expressing any positive opinion; but it may be, for anything I know, that the time is approaching when some of the contingencies indicated in the, speech of the right hon. Gentleman are beginning to come within an appreciable distance. If that were so, I say not only is the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman absolutely justified, but, under such circumstances, it does not go half far enough. That, however, is apparently not the view which is maintained now—if, indeed, it was ever intended to be seriously put forward. This tax is proposed simply and solely for the purposes of the revenue which is needed, and 862 which it is estimated it will produce. That being so, it raises considerations of a totally different character, upon which, with the permission of the House, I will make a few remarks.
The commonest axiom of financial doctrines is this—that when new taxation is required great care should be taken to select methods for raising the revenue necessary which should interfere as little as possible with the comfort and convenience of the people, and, above all, with the industries of the country. How far does this tax, imposed upon an article representing 12 per cent. of the total exports of the country, fulfil that condition? Upon this point we all know that there is the most acute difference of opinion between the right hon. Gentleman and the opponents of this tax. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us—I am sure with perfect conviction—that in his opinion this tax would fall on the foreign consumer; not only this, but the right hon. Gentleman intimated to one of the deputations that he had always intended that that should be so, and that was how he intended that this export duty should be paid. I wish that I could believe that my right hon. friend was entirely right, for if there is one thing upon which we are all absolutely agreed it is that we should all like to make the foreigner pay as much as we possibly can. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouth has, however, declared that this tax will do nothing of the kind. He has enforced that opinion again and again by asking what seems to me to be a most pertinent question—Do you suppose that if we could get 1s. a ton more from the foreigner than we get now that we should not have done so all along? To that question I am still bound to say I heard no sufficient answer at all given, and this for reasons which I will explain presently. The opponents of this tax maintain, on the other hand, that the tax will fall probably first upon the coalowners in the shape of diminished profits, and then immediately afterwards upon the miners—and with this unhappy result, that a certain number of mines will be closed, a great number of working men will be put out of employment, and that once mines of that kind are, closed they are never likely to be 863 opened again. I cannot help thinking that some of the consequences which hon. Gentlemen opposite foreshadow are very much exaggerated. That, however, is their conclusion, and they are supported in that view by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Mon-mouth. The right hon. Gentleman has asked why the foreigner can be made to pay 1s. per ton more for his coal now than he did before. If you could not get this 1s. per ton extra out of the foreigner before imposing this duty, how can you expect to get it now? It may be due to my limited intelligence that I do not see this point, but I have not yet heard any sufficient answer to this question. It is not sufficient to quote the statistics and figures which were adduced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, telling as they undoubtedly were, nor the figures, so far as I was able to follow them, put before us by the President of the Board of Trade to-night. These statistics and figures are, no doubt, most careful and admirable records of a trade which was highly successful in the past, but successful before this new element was introduced into this question; but, in my humble judgment, they cannot be taken as any criterion which can be safely relied upon as to what is likely to happen in the future under a totally different state of things which has had no existence before. There is another argument which has been used, and which is not more effective. I have seen it in the press, and I think in The Times. It is urged that when the English demand for coal goes up, because the iron and other industries are especially busy, the price to the foreigner is also put up in proportion. Quite so, and upon that statement this question is founded. It is asked why, in that case, should the foreigner not be made to pay a similar increase due to a different cause? The answer to that seems to me to be perfectly plain, and it is this: the different cause which directly affects and is adverse to you in this country does not touch him at all. The foreigner is beyond the reach of our legislation in this case, and just let me explain a little more fully what I mean. The position is this. We are competing at the present 864 time with other coal exporting countries in the markets of the world, and in that competition those countries are subject as we are to all the natural causes and influences which go to make higher or lower prices, and in that competition you have been able hitherto to beat them. Now you have introduced, or you are going for the first time to introduce, a new element which directly affects and is adverse to you, but from which the foreigner is free. It is perfectly true that, at even weights, if I may use a sporting phrase, you have always been able to win the race in the past, and at the same weights I have no doubt you would in the future be able to win. But in the handicap which he has recently made the Chancellor of the Exchequer has given the British producer 1s. per ton extra to carry. My racing experience has always taught me that weight makes a great deal more difference over any course than is very often allowed for. I suspect that the same principle which holds good in a race on the turf will not be very far out in a race in trade, or in anything else. It remains to be seen whether, with the extra weight you will now have to carry, you can continue to beat your rivals again in the future. With the very best coal I think you probably will, but how will you fare with the other? All I can say is that I shall be agreeably surprised if you do not find it a very close race Nor do I think that it would be very surprising if that was the case. I speak with great diffidence on this subject. My knowledge of the coal trade is very far from being extensive, but I am interested in some coal mining properties in this country, and I do know that the difference of 1s. Per ton in the price of coal not only may, but actually does very often, make a most enormous difference in the profits, or losses of a mining concern; and if this new tax falls, as so many people think hat it will fall, upon the English producer can imagine numerous cases where it will be unpleasant in the extreme.
There is another question which, so far as I have been able to gather, has not yet been dealt with in the course of this debate, and it is this. The coal which is exported from this country is of varied qualities. 865 There are different classes and qualities of coal, each and all commanding totally different prices. There is the Welsh steam coal, which I presume is the best, and commands by far the largest price, say 16s. or 18s. a ton. Then there is the north country coal, the price of which is considerably less; and, lastly, there is what is known as the middle-class coal, which is lower still. And yet each and all of these different classes of coal are to be taxed at the same rate, namely, 1s. per ton. The consequence is that the cheaper and more inferior coal, for which it is far more difficult to find a market abroad, is taxed something like two or two and a half times as much, according to value, as the best coal. That seems to me to be a manifest anomaly, and although perhaps I am not the person who ought to put it forward, these representations have been made to me from a variety of different quarters, and I submit them to my right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the consideration to which they are entitled, and which I feel perfectly certain they will receive from him.
I have endeavoured to examine this question in some of its aspects, and the general conclusion to which I have come is this: I believe this duty—I do not mean the whole of the duty, but a considerable part of it at all events—will fall, not as the Chancellor of the Exchequer thinks on the foreign consumer, but on the English producer of coal in this country. I do not wish to underrate the serious character of that consideration, but at the same time, supposing that to be so, in view of our present requirements and the necessity for increasing our revenue, which must be obtained by some means or other, I think it is impossible not to agree with what fell from the Chancellor of the Exchequer not many days ago—that it was perfectly useless for the opponents of this tax to go on opposing this or any other new taxation and not suggest anything else in its place, and unless they do that, unless they come forward with an alternative plan to provide an equivalent revenue, and from sources less objectionable than the coal tax, I do not believe myself the opponents of this tax have the slightest ghost of a chance of 866 escaping the duty which they regard as so objectionable. Above all, if I may say so, I greatly regret the kind of menace and of threats which are still being made in many quarters to-day. Both the right hon. Gentlemen who spoke from the Front Benches this afternoon pointed out the serious character of opposition of this kind, and I hope most sincerely that, both in their own interest and in that of the country, the leaders of the miners will not proceed in this direction. I can imagine nothing more certain to defeat the cause of the miners than any attempt to overawe the judgment of Parliament by threats or by menace of this kind. I have honestly tried to express exactly what I think and feel on this question. I do not think it can be said my speech has been unfriendly to the miners, and I do most earnestly hope their leaders will be guided by wiser counsels in this matter. To go back to what I was saying just now—is there such an alternative? I believe that there is, but certainly not of the kind which was suggested by the hon. Member just now, and proposed by the right hon. Member for West Monmouth the other evening, and of which I will only say this, that it was worthy of the man who made it. The hon. Baronet who opened this debate this afternoon talked of the high financial principles of the right hon. Gentleman. I hope he did not intend to include in these high financial principles his proposals with regard to the Rating Act, for to get rid of the Rating Act and impose additional rates on agricultural land instead of the coal tax is the policy which the right hon. Gentleman proposed. According to him we are to relieve the coalowners at the expense of the owner of land. Let me ask the House to consider seriously how these two classes stand with regard to the property which they severally enjoy. We know from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that in 1900 alone the net income of the coalowners has increased in a single year since 1897 to the extent of £34,000,000, and one-fifth of this probably must be put down to the exporting owners of coal. We also know from the Report of the Royal Commission which was appointed by the late Mr. Gladstone that the property of the landowners of this country within the last 867 twenty years has decreased in capital value by £1,000,000,000. And it is under these circumstances that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouth proposes that the burden of this tax should be transferred from the millionaire coalowner to the unfortunate and ruined owner of agricultural land. That is my commentary on the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman, and on the injustice which he is always prepared, and apparently glad—God knows for what reason, for he comes of that stock himself—to mete out to those who depend for their livelihood on agricultural land, and surely not a word more is needed. I hope, whatever other proposals may be made to this House, that is the last we shall hear of his brilliant suggestion.
Well, Sir, there is another proposal which I think I might make to the House. There is a tax, or rather there was a tax, which was in existence not very many years ago, when I first came into Parliament, which nobody felt, to which no one objected, and the very existence of which ninety-nine people out of 100 were in absolute ignorance of, because neither for good or evil did it affect any one single human being in the country—a tax which we were told the other day, if it were in existence at present, would produce £2,500,000, or considerably more than the right hon. Gentleman anticipates from the proposal which is now under our consideration. But, unfortunately, it was most unwisely repealed by Mr. Lowe in 1869. The repeal of that tax I am told has been lamented by all Chancellors of the Exchequer since then, as perhaps the most wanton piece of financial extravagance that has ever taken place. The price of bread was not diminished a fraction of a farthing by its repeal, nor would it be raised a fraction of a farthing by its reimposition now. There is only one thing against it which I am aware of, and that is a thing called sentiment—sentiment handed down not unnaturally from the old days of Protection, which was a very different thing, the memory of which lingers still in some quarters, although I am happy to think that it is gradually dying away. I hope it is so, for in these days of growing expenditure, and grow it will, you may be certain, whatever you do, sentiment in 868 matters of finance is a luxury which we can hardly afford to indulge in. I refer to the old 1s. duty on grain. It is a matter, however, for hon. Gentlemen opposite to consider. I have only made the suggestion as a possible means of escape for them out of the difficulties in which they are placed. I should have thought it might have been worth their while to induce the new leader of the Welsh party to take up the question and champion it for them. There is no man in the whole House, if he would, who could do that better than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouth. I daresay it would be a considerable change. I admit it would be rather a plunge, but he is pretty well accustomed to that. If they made such a proposal I should support them, and they would find, I believe, a great deal of support in other quarters, both in and out of Parliament—not because of the agricultural interest, for I do not think it would make one iota of difference to them. Whether wheat is 21s., or 25s., or 26s. a quarter, the wheat industry in this country, except on very small portions of the very best land, would be equally ruined.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman will not be in order in discussing the reimposition of a tax upon corn.
§ *MR. CHAPLIN
Of course, I obey your ruling; indeed, I had nothing more to say on the subject but this, that upon general grounds I should regard it as much to be preferred to the coal tax. Because I believe that as a new tax it would cause less inconvenience, be less of a burden, and create infinitely less disturbance for any class or any interest in the country than the export duty on coal, and also because I think it is time that Parliament and Governments should have the courage of their opinions, and not be afraid to say, in the face of popular passion or prejudice, what they know to be true.
The decision, however, must rest with the industry which is attacked, and if they dislike my proposal, if they reject the idea of the 1s. duty on grain, which never hurt any one—why, then, I am afraid they will have to make the best of 869 the coal tax, and in the absence of any better alternative I shall certainly vote for my right hon. friend.
§ MR. WILLIAM ABRAHAM (Glamorganshire, Rhondda)
I hope the House will pardon me for presuming to follow the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. The right hon. Gentleman claimed to have very great sympathy with the miners, and I thought at one time that, like the Member of old, he wanted to make out that no man ought to be a Christian who supported this tax. However, something dropped from him afterwards that will make us all anxious to see his sympathy in words followed out by sympathy in deeds when we come to divide. The right hon. Gentleman has made an alternative proposition, but I am afraid that if that proposition were placed before the working men of the country they would say that, bad as they think the coal tax is, they would prefer it to a corn tax. An hon. Gentleman opposite made a very encouraging statement to those of us who fear the evil effects of this coal tax, in regard to the competition with America, but his proposition turned upon an "if." "If," he said, "the prices of coal in this country came down to their normal position, then American coal would not be able to compete with English coal." Yes, but there is that "if." The question is, When the prices come down to their normal condition will the coal trade be able to bear this tax? I think not. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer made the statement that the foreigner would pay this tax we all believed that he meant it, but we also believed that he has made a great mistake. (Cries of "No.") I think I am justified in saying that the House itself is wanting very much in information on that subject; and I make an appeal to the House to well consider the point before imposing this tax on one of the staple trades of this country. A comparison was made between the prices of coal in Wales and Northumberland—the former being put at 16s. and the latter at 6s. per ton, but no explanation has been given as to the reason for that difference. I have made inquiries to-day, and I find that the Northumberland price is the price at the pit head—through and through; but the 870 price of steam coal in South Wales is the price of colliery screened coal at the port of shipment, free on board. That means a difference of 3s. a ton. Then there is the cost of transit from the colliery in South Wales to the seaport, another 2s. per ton. or 5s. a ton altogether. That means the price, occasionally, of a ton at the pit head in Northumberland. [An HON. MEMBER: There is nothing in that.] Well, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer could get that 5s. a ton he would think there was a lot in it, instead of there being nothing in it, as is alleged by one of his supporters. We have heard a good deal of the high prices obtained in South Wales; but the average during the last two years was 17s. f.o.b.—not at the pit's mouth—and colliery screened. At the end of the strike in 1898 the average price was 13s. 4d.; and the ten years prior to the strike it was 10s. 6d. per ton, and for the whole past twenty-one years the average price was only 10s. 1d. At the best of times the miners only received 17½ per cent. above the standard rate of wages—the average being 5s. 4d. to 5s. 6d., but if the helpers are included it is only 4s. 4d. to 4s. 6d., and I appeal to any man to say whether that is too much to pay men who work under ground. And what will it be with an extra tax of 1s. put on the coal? For nearly thirty years I have had the honour of being the representative of the South Wales miners, and during that time we have been preaching to the employers that they ought to get more from the foreigner, and their answer invariably has been that, considering the keenness of the competition, they had exacted the highest price they could. In 1888, as the House will remember, after having been receiving for three years a wage lower by nearly 20 per cent. than the wage of the miners in the Midlands who are not asked to bear this tax, we asked our employers for a 10 per cent. advance. They fought as stubbornly for twenty-two weeks—that was the answer we received—and in the end we returned to work with a 5 per cent. advance. The employers even then declared that they could not exact a halfpenny more from the foreigner. If that was the case in the past, what will be the case in the future? The past history of the coal trade has proved that the competition has been far keener in 871 the export market than it has been in the inland market during the last twenty years. Then, when that fact is so patent, where is the justice of asking these people again to bear the burden of an extra 1s. on every ton of coal produced as against other producers, who have received for all this time better treatment? The thing is impossible, and the more one thinks of the distribution of the tax the worse the proposition becomes.
The tax, look at it as you like, will become a tax upon labour. At the best it must be a tax upon labour and profits, because there are certain high standing charges in the production of a ton of coal which this tax will not touch at all. Various grades of labour, in producing a ton of coal, receive two-thirds of the price of it, and the other one-third is divided between high-standing charges and whatever profit there is to receive. The South Wales coal trade is under this disadvantage, that from the nature of the seams we are working we have to number, and numbering alone costs on an average 8d. per ton. Royalty rents in South Wales, as will be seen from the Report of the Royal Commission, also average 8d. a ton, so that with those two items you get a burden on coal of 1s. 4d. a ton. Add to that the other rates and taxes, the price of iron, and the price of steel rope, horses, and fodder, and all those incidental charges, and you find that oftentimes, especially as the prices rule now, the other third is swallowed up, leaving little profit for anybody. But I am not here to defend profit at all. The employers are strong enough to look after themselves, but everybody knows who represents labour in this House—well knows—that when there is no profit to be made, labour being the only squeezable commodity, the employer falls back on labour, and will get his profit out of labour. What has happened in the past will happen again, and this undoubtedly will be a tax upon labour. If it is right then to put a tax upon labour, why not have it upon all labour in this country. If it is fair to tax the miner, why not tax the steel-worker—for the steel-workers of this country earn far higher wages than the miner. It is not for me to suggest that any other worker should be taxed. My point is to show you the inequality of this taxation, and 872 to show that you dare not tax any other people. Why do you tax the collier? Has not the collier proved himself the most faithful labourer in the land? Is not his life sufficiently precarious; does he not spend a sufficient number of hours, years, practically his whole lifetime, in the darkness of the bowels of the earth, in order that the community may have warmth and light?
We appeal to the House now. Seeing that the question is not understood, and seeing that it will affect one-half of the labour of the community, and that the most essential for the comfort of the community, we ask the House to well consider it, to defend us, the miners of this country, and if this tax is necessary to make the foreigner or the employers pay it; to do anything you can; to stay your hand until you have sufficient proof that it will not be paid by the collier. It is on behalf of the workmen we appeal to the House to protect them, and to say that they shall not be made to bear this burden.
§ *MR. LAMBTON (Durham, S.E.)
I must apologise for intruding upon the House at this late hour, but I cannot allow this Vote to go without saying a few words, and, being closely connected with Northumberland and Durham, I think I am entitled to speak upon this subject. I agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Berwick—he is my Member in this House. I approve of every observation he made to-night. I object to the principle of the tax, the inequality of the tax, and the spirit in which the tax which has been introduced into this House. I have not been much about, but from what I have heard, what I have been able to see and hear here, and what I have read in newspapers, I think the reason why this tax is so popular and why the sails of the Chancellor of the Exchequer are filled, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Berwick says, is that there is a feeling against the coalowners on the part of the public—a desire to have revenge on the coal-owners, and a strong spirit of selfishness amongst consumers of coal. You have only to read the papers for the last few days, or listen to the conversation of people you meet here and elsewhere 873 and you will hear them say, "I am glad of this tax; I wish it was more than 1s." And what is the reason? They say, "I had to pay 30s. a ton for my coal last winter, and I am glad the coalowners will be hit." That is the spirit in which this tax is supported. I do not know whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer whistled for that wind or not when he put up this tax, but I must say the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman bear out the remarks I have made. This is no new state of affairs. The same thing existed in 1873, when the price of coal was far higher than it was in 1900. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouth told us that he paid 60s. for coals in 1873, and in 1873 I had to inflict upon myself the same ordeal which I am now undergoing of making a speech in defence of the coalowners, who were attacked then as they are now. I do not say it was in this House, it was in Pop.—the Eton Debating Society. If I may be permitted, I will now quote something from that debate. We are told that the child is the father of the man, and I know there are men here now who were also in Pop. with me at Eton. The discussion for that evening was the state of the coal trade, and the mover laid great stress upon the fact that it was the most crying evil of the day. A little farther on I read that so-and-so made the remark that the question was a little beyond his comprehension and he would go behind the Chair. That meant that he would not vote—it is the Eton synonym for sitting on the fence. "He then gave way to Mr. Lambton, who thought the interference of the Government would only make matters worse. He also objected to the terms in which the coalowners were alluded to." I only allude to that because I could not find what the re-marks against the coalowners were. I expect they were too bad for publication. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer has used expressions against the coalowners of Northumberland and Durham—I do not speak for Wales—which I resent very strongly indeed. The Chancellor of the Exchequer almost incited the coalowners to dishonesty and forgery.
§ *MR. LAMBTON
I am glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman contradict that statement. That, at all events, is the opinion on the Coal Exchange of Newcastle, and the honour of the coalowners of Northumberland and Durham is as high as that of any hon. or right hon. Gentleman sitting on that bench. I say that the right hon. Gentleman practically accused them of forgery, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire asked him why he did not allude to the contracts before, and the right hon. Gentleman replied, "Because I believe a good many more existing contracts would have been found." SIR M. HICKS BEACH: Will the hon. Gentleman excuse me for saying that is not a suggestion of forgery. That is a suggestion that a good many contracts would have been made before the date of the Budget which otherwise would not have been made.
§ *MR. LAMBTON
I am glad also to receive that explanation. The coalowners will be glad to hear that the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer cannot be construed in such a way. During the whole of this debate the coalowners have been held up as Shylocks and men without honour. I object to the spirit of the tax, and I should like to see on what grounds its principle is justified. The right hon. Gentleman told us he was a free-trader.
§ *MR. LAMBTON
We have heard some quotations from professors and others, but when this grimy ghost was raised in the country I looked into my small library to see if I could find any work that would teach me anything which I did not know about free trade, and I found a book called "Free Trade 875 and Protection," by Mr. Fawcitt. This book was written in 1879, a few years after the high price of coals in 1873. In the course of that book I find—There are many, for instance, who consider that it would be highly advantageous for England to impose an export duty on coal. It is supposed that through such a duty we might obtain a considerable revenue from foreign countries.He went on to say that he did not think it would be the case, and then he says—From events which are now happening it appears that if such an export duty had] been sanctioned, foreign countries would gradually have ceased to purchase coal from us, and would have obtained it from other sources. Thus a certain quantity of American coal is at the present time being sent to Europe.This was written twenty-two years ago, and I should like to ask whether American competition is not stronger now than it was then. When you have 100,000,000 invested in a combination to control the steel trade there is no guarantee that there will not be a combination for coal.It may therefore with certainty be concluded that if the export of coal from England had been burdened with a duty, we should soon have entirely lost the foreign market for our coal. In a period of depressed trade like the present the maintenance of such a duty would be impossible.… There has been a great diminution in the profits of the proprietors of coal mines, their workmen are suffering great distress…and it would be felt that there could be no justification whatever for adding to the difficulties which have thus to be encountered, by continuing to maintain a duty, which, though it might yield nothing to the State, would have the effect of destroying the foreign demand for English coal.I apologise for having read such a lengthy quotation, but I think that is as good an authority as any other that has been quoted. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer tells us he is a free-trader, I am not saying he is not, but the argument put forward by him, and those supporting these proposals, seem to me most contradictory; first they say the foreigner will pay the tax; then they say the coalowners can well afford to pay it; and then they say it will be a benefit to the country, because the coal will not be exported, and that therefore it will be sold cheaper in this country. A Royal Commission which once sat upon this question said the export of coal for the next thirty years would amount to 360,000,000 tons, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer 876 was horrified when he told the House that the export had amounted to 960,000,000 tons. I want to ask if the country would be any richer to-day if the 960,000,000 tons were still in the bowels of the earth. We are told on the one hand that this tax will not prejudice the export, we are told on the other that it will be a good thing if it does prejudice the export.
One objection I have to this tax is that this tax will be inflicted only upon coalowners and miners. Why is this to be the only trade taxed? The Government seem to me to be like a riotous pack of hounds worrying a lamb. Every sporting man knows what a dangerous thing it is, when a pack of hounds taste blood in that way, and every sporting man knows how to treat such a pack of hounds. The only reason for projecting this tax is the supposed enormous wealth of the coalowners, but the enormous wealth of the coalowners is no reason for taxing them specially. Are there not many millionaires in London, men who in one day make more money than the richest coalowner has ever made in a year? Hon. Members seem to think that coal-mining is the most extraordinarily lucrative proceeding in the world. I happen to know coalowners who were very large producers who have sold their collieries, and it is not to be supposed that if they were coining money in the way that is suggested that they would have sold their collieries at so small a figure as many did. If you come to my constituency I will show you half a dozen abandoned collieries, one of which existed for twenty-four years, and during the twenty-four years it was working it only paid a dividend for three years, and the highest dividend paid was 5 per cent.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Morpeth and the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. It is ridiculous to say it will not affect the miners, when I can point out in a district like my constituency eight collieries have been closed and no longer afford work or wages for the miners. The tax upon the mines was supposed to be for the purpose of paying for the war; now the Chancellor of the Exchequer tells us it is going to be a permanent 877 tax. It seems to be forgotten that, although the coalowners made a large fortune last year, that these men pay income tax upon their profits, and they pay income tax upon their capital; and now we are told that coal is capital, and they are to be charged on that. They are not only going to, pay 1s. 2d. tax on the income received, but are going to pay on the coal as well. Now, why not put a tax on the foreign warships built in this country and foreign war material manufactured here? I suppose it would not be so popular, because the public does not lodge in warships or cook its dinners with Kynoch's cartridges. I do not support this tax myself, and I do not suggest inflicting a tax on either warships or war material, because I am a free trader; but when the Government abandon free trade and fix an export duty, I suggest another source which might bear a duty. I suggest another little lamb. The Chancellor of the Exchequer says coal is a unique article; that is a most extraordinary statement. Certainly the coal of Northumberland and Durham is not unique, though that of Wales may be. Then the Chancellor of the Exchequer says the demand for coal always exceeded the supply. The right hon. Gentleman has heard me, therefore I take it he assents. I suppose it does; but what sort of demand is it? Is it a demand that will give a profit to the mine owner and a living wage to the miner. It is all very well to say there is a demand, but it is not such that it will pay the coalowner to produce coal. Now, reference has been made to the coal of Westphalia and Silesia. The division which I represent exports a certain amount of coal. In that division at the present moment there are £1,500,000 sunk in making new pits and in building houses and so on along the sea coast. The harbour at Seaham is having £600,000 spent upon it, chiefly for the export of coal. It may be anticipated that the further output of coal in my division will produce a large increase for foreign export. Seaham entirely depends upon the export of coal, except, perhaps, for the export of bottles. The North Eastern Railway is making twelve new miles of railway in the division to supply the pits and the harbour. 878 What will the effect of this tax be there? We have heard enough statistics to-night. The President of the Board of Trade quoted columns of figures which certainly did not carry conviction to my mind, and will not carry conviction to the minds of the miners of Northumberland and Durham. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said the coalowners need not pass a penny of this tax on to the miners. But the rate of wages in Northumberland and Durham depends upon a sliding scale, and therefore if you diminish the price the coalowner receives you will certainly diminish the wages of the miner.
We have heard some rather hard words to-night about the miners and the threatened stoppage of work. I sincerely hope that the stoppage will not take place. In my own mind I look upon that less as a threat than as a protest. The miners of the north country are an independent people, and they do not come to this House to ask for sympathy or to whine for charity. They demand justice, and they think the best way in which they can show their earnestness of purpose and their strong belief that this is a most disastrous tax on their industry is to-contemplate a stoppage of work. I hope that will be considered not as in any way intimidation towards the Government or as a threat to the House, but as an honest expression of their strong feeling with regard to the manner in which this tax will affect themselves and their families. Sneering remarks have been made about the lives of the miners. The miner's life is not a very attractive one. Life in a colliery village is not a very delightful one. The men work hundreds of feet below the surface of the earth—I might almost say hammering against the walls of hell. In my division there are deserted villages and empty houses, in which at one time there lived people who were warm, well clad, and happy. The miners honestly believe that if this disastrous tax is imposed you will greatly increase the number of deserted villages in Northumberland and Durham. There is also a monument in a churchyard in my division upon which are inscribed the names of nearly 200 men and boys who died in one day owing to explosions in a pit. Yet I hear Members grudging the miners the wages they receive. Those wages are not usually 879 very high, and when for once in ten years the wages are higher, why should not the miner, like everybody else, have a good time for once in his life? Whatever you may say of the conduct of the miners with regard to the threatened stoppage of work, you cannot deny that these men are certainly brave men. There has never been an explosion or accident in a pit in the county of Durham in which volunteers to go down the pit have not been forthcoming. There are hundreds of men there who are as worthy of the Victoria Cross as any soldier in the Army. It is for such men as these I appeal to-night. I ask the House to consider their case, and to hesitate before it lays a withering hand upon the industry by which they live.
§ *MR. ASQUITH (Fifeshire, E.)
This subject has been so exhaustively discussed that I shall not intervene for more than two or three moments. But I do so mainly for the purpose of presenting a case of hardship and injustice which, I think, has not yet been touched upon—a case, I think, of more than local interest, because it illustrates a possible, and even a probable, result of this particular tax. I will not enter into the general question more than I can help. Certainly I will not endeavour to go again over the ground so completely covered in the admirable and as yet unanswered speech of my hon. friend the Member for Berwick-on-Tweed. But there has been so much misunderstanding and misconstruction of the motives of those who feel it their duty to oppose this tax—their attitude has commonly been represented as governed by no higher or broader consideration than the self-interest of those engaged in the coal trade, or the secondary self-interest of those who represent the persons so engaged—that I must ask to be allowed to make one or two brief preliminary remarks. I am not one of those, if any such there be, who complain that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has endeavoured to meet the large and unprecedented deficit which he has to encounter by a substantial increase of the taxation of the country. Nor do I blame him in the least for spreading his net as wide as he could and bringing in as far as possible every class and interest, for all are equally responsible for the policy 880 which has been pursued. I shall not vote against the increase of the income tax or the sugar tax. There are many objections to the income tax, and the sugar duty requires much adjustment to make it fair. But there we are dealing with taxes the incidence of which we know, which fall the one on the more wealthy, the other on the poorer parts of the community, but which, at any rate, fall equally and justly upon all.
But what is this new tax we are now considering? In the colossal scale to which our national arithmetic has now reached, it contributes a comparatively small rivulet to the ocean of the general revenue. It belongs to a category of taxation which for the last fifty years has been discarded by the joint consent of both parties in the State, and which, even in the days of the greatest financial stress during that period, has never been resorted to, until the present Chancellor of the Exchequer attempted it. He has, so to speak, taken down from the shelf of our fiscal museum this rusty weapon, and furbished it up for modern purposes.
The arguments urged in favour of the proposal resolve themselves into two—not incompatible, but alternative arguments. One is that the tax will fall on the foreign consumer; the other is that if, and so far as it does not fall upon the foreign consumer, it will fall on the coalowner. I admit that it is very difficult as a matter of abstract theory to trace the incidence of an export duty. Each case must be determined by its own particular circumstances. As regards this particular tax, however, the problem seems to me a very simple one. The question whether this tax will or will not fall on the foreigner depends on drawing the line between those classes of coal for which there is effective competition in the foreign market and those for which there is not. There may be a class of coal the quality of which is so rare, and the necessity so imperative, and, as regards an alternative supply, the only other possible sources so inferior in quality and infinitesimal in quantity, that it commands a practical monopoly and can command its price. It may be there is such a class of coal, but I believe it to be a very small one in proportion to 881 the 40,000,000 tons of coal which are annually exported from this country. There are class distinctions in coal which are almost as well defined as the class distinctions in society. There is the aristocratic coal, the blue seam of South Wales. There is the, middle-class coal of Northumberland and Durham. And then there is the humble and inconspicuous but still useful coal which is largely produced in Fife. I must ask the House to consider the case of this unconsidered but not inconsiderable quantity of our foreign exports of coal. In the east of Scotland, more particularly in the county I represent, there has been, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has constantly reminded us, an enormous increase in the output. I think during the fifteen years I have had the honour to sit for that county it has nearly doubled, and it now amounts to something like 5½ million tons every year. Of that five-and-a-half million tons over 3,000,000 tons are exported, or equal to 65 or 70 per cent. As compared with the aristocratic and more favoured qualities of coal it is a very cheap and humble material. I believe the difference in price is something like 2s. 6d. as compared with Northumberland and Durham, and 6s. or 7s. as compared with South Wales. But where does it go? It goes to the Scandinavian and Baltic ports. It goes in large quantities, the journey being short and the freights low, to the ports of Denmark, Sweden, and Russia, and competes with the Westphalian and Silesian supply. I am told that so close in quality are the Fife coal on the one side and the German coal on the other that a difference of 3d. or even 2d. a ton makes the whole difference between your retaining or losing a contract. I want to ask, and I request any member of the Government who proposes to take part in this debate to answer the question—How are my constituents in East Fife to send this coal at these low prices to a market in which they are in close competition with 882 the native producer when they are burdened with an extra shilling a ton? I am certain in that case, at any rate, the burden of the tax cannot be thrown on the foreigner. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us that if the burden of the tax cannot be thrown on the foreigner it will be thrown on the rich, well-provided, almost bloated capitalist whom he represents the native producer to be. The Chancellor of the Exchequer seems to me to confine himself to particular and rather favoured branches of industry. Has he ever considered the case of Scotland and the poorer classes of coal?
§ *MR. ASQUITH
The right hon. Gentleman takes the year 1900, which, like 1873, forms no real basis of comparison, as anybody acquainted with the coal trade knows. He takes a year of inflated prices and compares it with preceding years, and he takes the average over the whole of the coalfields of the country, and he asks the House to accept that as representing the normal product of an ordinary year. But we are not dealing with the year 1900; we are dealing with the years that are to come. It is a permanent tax and I venture to tell him that during the four months from January to April in the present year the decrease in the exportation of coal from the east of Scotland as compared with the corresponding months in 1900 amounted to no less than 33 per cent. It is a falling market, a market of dwindling prices, a price this year as compared with last year which has gone down 5s. to 6s. a ton. With what relevance is it in a state of things like that to refer us to the exceptional prosperity of one particular year? When I listened to the glowing figures which the right hon. Gentleman produced 883 with reference to the profits of capitalists and miners in 1900, I could not help thinking that either his argument was irrelevant or it proved vastly too much. It was irrelevant if the bulk of the tax is to fall on the foreign consumer. If and in so far the burden of the tax is to fall on the home producer, it proves a great deal too much, because if it is true the trade is so prosperous, why has this tax been imposed on only one-fifth of it? I do not hesitate to say that it would be far more fair to put a uniform tax of 6d. or 3d. on every ton of coal at the pit's month than to select out of your total output of 200,000,000 tons these particular 40,000,000 to heap the whole burden of the tax on a fifth of the trade. It is curious to observe that, as justification of this proposal, public opinion in this country, the opinion of people who consume at home, is encouraged to support the tax on the ground that for the last two years they have been paying excessive prices to the producer here. But what retaliation is it to them? It will not hit the persons to whom they have been paying excessive prices. But they, having paid excessive prices, are to get a sort of vicarious compensation from a totally different class of producers who are engaged in the export coal trade. I do not look on this matter as it affects one of the interests of the country only. It is justified on grounds that would justify the imposition of a special tax on any industry in the country which happened at a particular time to be excessively prosperous. If you begin with the coal trade why should you not go on with the iron trade? There is no single trade in the whole range of our industries that under this novel principle of taxation, might not in turn be made the subject of a special impost. And what is the net result? This tax, if the most sanguine anticipations of the Government are realised, will produce a relatively insignificant proportion of the whole taxation to be raised. And yet to 884 realise this you hamper one of the most important and delicate trades in the kingdom. In two distinct directions it creates or aggravates inequalities and arouses a legitimate sense of injustice. In the first place, it does this as between different districts—it increases the natural advantages of some and the natural disadvantages of others by imposing, under the guise of a uniform tax, a burden which presses heavily where it ought to be light, and lightly where it should be heavy. Again, as between different classes of producers, it establishes an artificial discrimination, because it takes the minority of one-fifth of the trade and imposes a special burden upon it, while it allows a majority of four-fifths to go scot-free.
If I thought the agitation which this tax has aroused represented merely the selfish clamour of an organised interest, as some hon. Members seem to think, anxious to escape its fair share of the common burden, for my part I would not raise a finger or utter a syllable by way of protest or remonstrance. But it is because I believe that if you accept this tax you will do serious—I do not say fatal—injury to the foreign trade of this country, create artificial inequalities, and, what is still more important, arouse a burning sense of injustice in one of the largest and at the same time one of the most intelligent and public-spirited sections of our industrial population, and because I believe you will do this for the sake of a totally incommensurate result, that, even now, at the eleventh hour, I beg the Government to reconsider their proposals.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR, Manchester, E.)
At this time of night it would, I think, be contrary to the general feeling in the House if I were to attempt any complete survey of the debate, which has now extended over more than two nights. 885 Therefore the remarks I will venture to address to the House at this, which, after all, is only the preliminary stage in the discussion of the question, will he compressed within the briefest possible limits. The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down spoke partly, as he was well entitled to do, for the party to which he belongs. He spoke also for the constituency he represents, and brought in, as he was well entitled to bring in, the coal industry of Fifeshire as a special example of the hardships to which the coal industry generally will be exposed in those parts of the country where a large proportion of the coal produced is exported. Well, I well believe that the east coast of Scotland will suffer as much as any part of the country, if suffering there be, which I entirely dispute; I believe the right hon. Gentleman is right in saying that probably the east coast of Scotland will feel it as much as any part of Great Britain. I am glad to think that the prosperity of the coal industry in that part of the country has been so great in recent years that, if I am rightly informed, the largest company dealing with coal in that district divided 50 per cent. on its capital in the last year, besides handing on a good deal to meet with difficulties that might have to be dealt with in years to come. I do not mention that because I think that a prosperous industry ought, because it is prosperous, to be taxed. I agree with those who say that that is bad finance. It is not our finance. That is not the principle upon which we have proposed this tax; it is not the justification brought forward for it by my right hon. friend. But it is not an irrelevant consideration to bring before the House that the industry with which we are dealing at this moment is in so prosperous a condition that none of those disturbances, temporary but inevitable when you are dealing with taxation, is likely to interfere with its essential prosperity. I notice that every 886 speaker in this debate who has attacked this tax has attacked it on the assumption—the avowed or tacit assumption—that the tax after it is imposed will greatly diminish the amount of our exports. That is their fundamental thesis. I ought to add that it is not the fundamental thesis of the right hon. Member for West Monmouth, who started a new economic theory. Political economy with him is the obedient servant of party polities. That Oracle, as far as he can manage it, always speaks with the voice which he desires to hear, and he actually had the courage to start in the first night of this debate a theory from which he deduced the consequence that price was settled by the seller; but that, as a seller always exacted the highest price he could get, if you put an export tax on the commodity it followed that the English seller of coal would not be able to throw any of the burden on the foreign consumer, and that the right hon. Gentleman called the law of supply and demand. If the right hon. Gentleman would read a little more of that sentimental and sensational economist John Stuart Mill, or rather, I should say, if the right hon. Gentleman would revise his recollection of John Stuart Milk, he would see that, whatever else the law of supply and demand means, it does not mean that a set of producers can settle their own prices and can always compel the buyer to pay these prices.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Yes, the right hon. Gentleman used Adam Smith's phrase, but he did not reproduce Adam Smith's doctrine. But I am not going to deal with the right hon. Gentleman's political economy at twelve o'clock on the last night of the debate. That would be 887 an occuption of the time of the House which might be resented. The hon. Member for the Berwick Division read out some letters from which everybody would have deduced that a difference in price of 3d. between Scotch and English coal made the differences as to whether that coal was to be sold in Scandinavia or Europe. I believe that to be a profound delusion. When a man makes a contract of course he cuts it as fine as he can. He thinks what his rival will offer, and he offers as little less than that hypothetical offer as be thinks will get him the contract.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Quite so; and I have no doubt that if the Scotch and English contractors know their business they cut it as fine as 3d. very often. But that does not show that the difference in value between Scotch and English coal on the one hand, and Westphalian coal on the other, in a neutral market, is a difference of only 3d. It shows nothing of the kind. It is not even a step towards demonstrating that result. Yet the hon. Member for the Berwick Division and others used that argument because—
§ SIR EDWARD GREY
Certainly, in one of the quotations I read out to the House the statement alleged was that, in the opinion, I think, of a Swedish contractor, the difference in value between English and German coal was.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Of course I do not at all dispute what the hon. Gentleman says; but when he and the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down tell us that Scotch and Northumberland 888 coal are in real danger in the Scandinavian market, I think they cannot have examined the facts and figures. I believe the Scandinavian market to be under the entire control of the British producer, tax or no tax. I notice that the amount of coal imported into Sweden from Great Britain last year was over three million tons. The amount imported from every other source was about 100,000. And to tell us that, under these circumstances, with the fluctuations in price which we are familiar with in the coal market, we are endangering the Scandinavian market is to put too great a burden on the credulity of the House. I think those who have gone upon the assumption that the tax is to diminish exports have not taken to heart two facts, both of which have been brought to notice from this Bench and from other parts of the House. One of those facts is the superiority of British coal. We have heard complaints raised from Welshmen; but even the case of Wales was given up by the hon. Baronet the Member for Berwick, who admitted that, so far as Welsh steam coal was concerned, he did not believe it was possible for the foreigner to do without it; and that, therefore, the shilling would be gladly paid by the foreign consumer, and none of it would fall on the clients of the hon. Gentleman who spoke a few moments ago. But the superiority of British coal is really not confined to Welsh coal. There is no competition and can be no competition in all that part of France which we can reach by a seaborne trade. There is not, and there cannot be, any competition either with French or with German coal. There can be no competition, as I have already pointed out, in Sweden and Norway, in Spain, in Italy; the market of Austria we have not got, and never can hope to have. [An HON. MEMBER: Partly.] Austrian steamers no doubt use steam coal, and if an Austrian steamer has got to take Welsh coal I do not think Wales need be 889 afraid of any European competition. But I was not talking at the moment of coal required by steamers as bunker coal. I was talking of the ordinary employment of coal in the manufactures of the various countries, and it is really absurd, if you look at the quality of the coal and the locality of the places in which our coal is used, to suppose that competition will be effective. I admit that that argument does not cover the case of Germany itself. Germany itself is a coal-producing country, but the facts brought forward by the President of the Board of Trade earlier this evening surely should have convinced any gentleman who listened to them that even in respect of Germany itself there is no serious danger to British coal. The reason I say that is because, great as has been the increase in the production of German coal, the percentage of increase in British coal used in Germany has augmented in all these recent years in spite of high prices. And as for America, I do not believe that any gentleman seriously supposes that, with the enormous freight which is necessarily imposed upon American coal, there is the smallest danger that so far as Europe is concerned there is any permanent peril to the British producer from that quarter.
If that be true, all the arguments used against this tax fall to the ground. They are all based on the supposition that the export is going to be diminished. We believe it will not be materially diminished. There may be a margin of the worst English coal—of the mines most difficult to work—from which it may, in consequence of this tax, be unprofitable to take the coal into foreign countries. But that margin is a small margin; its effect upon the trade must be infinitesimal. A tax of 1s. cannot have the far-reaching effects prophesied by the right hon. Gentleman. And it is forgotten that the fluctuations come in 890 here. The hon. Baronet misunderstood that. He thought that my right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer had laid down the doctrine—winch would have been amazing had it ever been stated by a responsible politician—the doctrine that the fluctuations of trade prove its stability. No such doctrine ever was laid down either by my right hon. friend or anybody else; but when you find that the fluctuations of price in a trade are very great, that sometimes they are relatively low, but that through periods of high prices and periods of low prices the export trade goes on flourishing, augments, increases, with a growth unknown in any other branch of our industry, then it is not illegitimate to infer that so trifling an alteration as could be produced by the imposition of 1s. duty will have no effect upon that trade. It has been pointed out by the President of the Board of Trade that since 1870 our exports of coal have quadrupled. In those thirty years prices have gone up and gone down, there have been good times and bad times in the coal trade; fluctuations of value, not of 1s. but of many shillings, have taken place in the price of the article. Through all those changes the exports have gone on augmenting, until now they have reached a point at which they seem almost threatening to dwarf every other branch of our exports. Is it not fair to say to the House and to the country, to those concerned in the trade, to the great mass of the community who are watching this controversy with such profound interest—is it not fair to point out to them that a trade in which the exports have gone on augmenting through all this variety of circumstances is not a trade likely to be materially interfered with by so trifling an imposition as that suggested by my right hon. friend? No answer has been made to that argument, and it has been put by more than one speaker on this side. I am not aware that any 891 speaker on the other side has dealt with it. For my own part that argument alone would be enough to convince me that those who think that the trade of Northumberland, Durham, Fife, and South Wales is going either to be materially interfered with or to be diverted into different channels from those which it at present occupies, are suffering under a scare which has absolutely 110 justification, and which, I believe, a relatively short experience will suffice to dissipate.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Can the hon. Gentleman tell me of any other export which has increased fourfold under varying circumstances in the last thirty years? There is no such trade. I am convinced that those representatives of the workmen who think that the interests of that great body of the working classes who are concerned in the coal trade are going to be damaged by this proposal are suffering under a great delusion, a delusion which I trust the debates of this House will do something to dispel, and which they in their turn will do their best to dispel among those who naturally and properly look up to them. We have always heard from the coalowners under circumstances like this that the margin of profit is so small that the trade will be ruined if this or that is done. We have not always heard the miners' case. I remember exactly the same prophecies were made about trade when we brought in the Workmen's Compensation Bill. Then we were told that the competition 892 was such that the margin of profit was so exiguous, that if we ventured to pass that Bill in the interests of the workmen we should ruin the trade. I do not know whether the workmen took that view at the time. But the coal-owners did.
§ *MR. JOHN WILSON (Falkirk Burghs)
I am a coalowner, and I spoke in support of the Bill on the Second Reading.
§ *ME. D. A. THOMAS
As this charge has been brought against all the coal-owners, I may say that I myself was an earlier and, possibly, a more zealous advocate of the Compensation Bill than the right hon. Gentleman over was.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I wish to do injustice to no man in this House, but my hon. friend behind mc, I think, whatever he did on the First Beading, showed himself a zealous critic of the Bill at its later stage.
§ *MR. JOHN WILSON
I showed myself a zealous critic and friend of Amendments which, if they had been adopted, would have made the Act more perfect, instead of its being called by the judges in the court an Act to give employment to lawyers.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I have not the least doubt that my hon. friend acted according to his lights on the Committee on that Bill, but I could hardly claim him as an earnest and zealous supporter of it. In truth, I 893 believe that all these fears excited by this tax are as illusory as the fears excited by that beneficent measure. All now, coalowners, coal employees, and the general public, are agreed that no undue burden was thrown on the industry by that Act. Since then it has prospered exceedingly, since then our reports have augmented day by day. And when I remember that the gloomy vaticinations with which the Act was received have been falsified by the event, I confess I look forward with more serenity than perhaps persons of less experience might be disposed to do to the future of the trade on which so many melancholy prophecies have been uttered this evening. I do not believe that our exports will be seriously diminished, I do not believe that the augmentation which has been going on these last thirty years in the export trade will be seriously impaired. I confess I am one of those who wish that it were otherwise. I cannot regard with perfect equanimity the enormous diminution of our coal supplies for the benefit of foreign manufacturers which we see going on under our eyes. The export trade was thirty years ago 10,000,000 tons; it is now 40,000,000 tons. The right hon. the Member for Monmouth says that our coal supplies are inexhaustible, and he would look, apparently, with equanimity on our present annual export of 40,000,000 tons being again quadrupled in the next thirty years. Sir, I cannot regard such a prospect with equanimity, nor do I think it to be for the best interests of this country. The right hon. Gentleman seems to hold that "what is, must over be," and that the coal under our feet is an inexhaustible asset for this country, and that those who have called attention to its rapid diminution are faddists and prophets of evil, or men who have nothing to say for themselves except to raise spectres and bugbears as to the future of this country. I cannot take that view, though I admit that no wise statesman would or could seriously attempt to diminish the export of coal.
I heard one hon. Gentleman in an interesting maiden speech say that the tax was a benefit to the foreign producer 894 —an amazing proposition. The foreign producer whom we have got to fear is he who uses, among other things, our coal, and I cannot believe that any mere manipulation of freights, of which he speaks, can have any comparable effect with that, which will be produced or may be produced by the augmentation to which I have referred. I do not think that that; is a question on which the House would desire me to enter at length; but I may say that in the opinion of the Government the whole case against this tax falls to the ground, because it is based on the assumption that it will result in a great diminution of exports from Wales and the east coast of England and Scotland. We do not think so. We have given reasons for not thinking so, and all the fears brought forward on behalf of the coalowner and the miner and the industry which we are accused of attacking are erased in our judgment from the argument which the House has to consider. We hold that this is not a tax which is imposed on a minority, on a particular district or industry—at all events, which is not paid by a particular class or industry, or by a certain set of capitalists, or a certain class of working men. We think, on the contrary, that it is a tax which is general in its character in so far as it touches this country at all, a tax which is easy and economical to levy, and in that respect a tax which no responsible man will say that it will fall | on the British producer or on the British manufacturer, or on the British public; and on these grounds the Government hold that it is eminently a tax which this House ought to pass in the present position of our finances. I hope, therefore, that we may have a large division on the present occasion. In conclusion, I venture to suggest that, as there will be ample opportunities for the discussion of this question on the Finance Bill, this long drawn-out debate on what is, after all, but a preliminary and initiatory proceeding with regard to the financial proposals of the year, should now be brought to a conclusion without further discussion.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 333; Noes, 227. (Division List No. 171.)895
|Acland-Hood. Capt. Sir Alex. F||Corbett, A. C. (Glasgow)||Hanbury, Rt. Hon. Robert Wm|
|Agg-Gardner, James Tynte||Corbett, T. L. (Down, North)||Hardy, Laurence (Kent, Ashfd.|
|Agnew, Sir Andrew Noel||Cox, Irwin Edward Bainbridge||Harwood, George|
|Aird, Sir John||Cranborne, Viscount||Haslam, Sir Alfred S.|
|Allsopp, Hon. George||Cross, Herb. Shepherd (Bolton)||Haslett, Sir James Horner|
|Anson, Sir William Reynell||Cubitt, Hon. Henry||Hay, Hon. Claude George|
|Archdale, Edward Mervyn||Cust, Henry John C.||Heath, Arthur Howard (Hanl'y|
|Arkwright, John Stanhope||Heath, James (Staff's., N. W.)|
|Arnold-Forster, Hugh O.||Dalrymple, Sir Charles||Heaton, John Henniker|
|Arrol, Sir William||Davies, Sir Horatio D. (Chatham||Helder, Augustus|
|Ashmead-Bartlett, Sir Ellis||Dewar, T R. (T'rH'mlets, S. Geo.||Henderson, Alexander|
|Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John||Dickson, Charles Scott||Hermon-Hodge, Robert Trotter|
|Dickinson, Robert Edmond||Hickman, Sir Alfred|
|Bagot, Capt. Josceline Fitz Roy||Dickson-Poynder, Sir John P.||Higginbottom, S. W.|
|Bailey, James (Walworth)||Dimsdale, Sir Joseph Cockfield||Hoare, Edw Brodie (Hampstead|
|Bain, Col. James Robert||Disraeli, Coningsby Ralph||Hoare, Sir Samuel (Norwich)|
|Balcarres, Lord||Dixon-Hartland, Sir Fred Dixon||Hobhouse, Henry (Somerset, E.|
|Baldwin, Alfred||Dorington, Sir John Edward||Hogg, Lindsay|
|Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J. (Manc'r)||Doughty, George||Hope, J. F. (Sheffield, Brightsd.|
|Balfour, Capt. C. B. (Hornsey)||Doxford, Sir William Theodore||Hornby, Sir William Henry|
|Balfour, Rt Hn Gerald W. (Leeds||Duke, Henry Edward||Horner, Frederick William|
|Balfour, Maj. K. R. (Christch.)||Durning-Lawrence, Sir Edwin||Houldsworth, Sir Wm. Henry.|
|Banbnry, Frederick George||Dyke, Rt. Hn. Sir William Hart||Houston, Robert Paterson|
|Barry, Sir Francis T. (Windsor)||Howard, John (Kent, Faversh.)|
|Bartley, George C. T.||Egerton, Hon. A. de Tatton||Howard, J. (Midd., Tortenham)|
|Bathurst, Hon. Allen Benjamin||Faber, George Denison||Hudson, George Bickersteth|
|Beach, Rt. Hn. Sir M. H. (Bristol||Fardell, Sir T. George||Hughes, Colonel Edwin|
|Beach, Rt. Hn. W. W. B. (Hants)||Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn Edw.||Hutton, John (Yorks., N. R).|
|Beckett, Ernest William||Fergusson, Rt. Hn Sir J. (Manc'r|
|Bentinck, Lord Henry C.||Fielden, Edward Brocklehurst||Jackson, Rt. Hon. Wm. Lawies|
|Bhownaggree, Sir M. M.||Finch, George H.||Jebb, Sir Charles Claverhouse|
|Bigwood, James||Finlay, Sir Robt. Bannatyne||Jeffreys, Arthur Frederick|
|Bill, Charles||Fisher, William Hayes||Jessel, Captain Herbert Merton|
|Bond, Edward||Fitzroy, Hn. Edw. Algernon||Johnston, William (Belfast)|
|Boscawen, Arthur Griffith-||Flannery, Sir Fortescue||Johnstone, Hey wood (Sussex)|
|Boulnois, Edmund||Fletcher, Sir Henry|
|Bousfield, William Robert||Flower, Ernest||Kennaway, Rt Hon. Sir John H.|
|Brassey, Albert||Forster, Henry William||Kenyon, Hon. Geo. T. (Denbigh|
|Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John||Foster, Sir Michael (Lond. Univ.||Kenyon, James (Lancs., Bury)|
|Brookfield, Colonel Montagu||Keswick, William|
|Brawn, Alex. H. (Shropshire)||Galloway, William Johnson||Kimber, Henry|
|Brymer, William Ernest||Garfit, William||King, Sir Henry Seymour|
|Bull, William James||Gibbs, Hn. A. G H (City of Lond.|
|Bollard, Sir Harry||Godson, Sir Augustus Fredk.||Lawrence, William F.|
|Butcher, John George||Gordon, Hn. J. E (Elgin & Nairn)||Lawson, John Grant|
|Gordon, MajEvans- (T'rH'ml's||Lee, Arthur H (Hants., Fareh'm|
|Carlile, William Walter||Gore, Hon. F. S. Ormsby-||Lees, Sir Elliott (Birkrnhead)|
|Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edw. H.||Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir John E.||Legge, Col. Hon. Heneage|
|Cautley, Henry Strother||Goschen, Hon. George Joachim||Leigh-Bennett, Henry Currie|
|Cavendish, R. F. (N. Lancs.)||Goulding, Edward Alfred||Leveson-Gower, Frederick N. S.|
|Cavendish, V. C. W. (Derbysh.||Graham, Henry Robert||Llewellyn, Evan Henry|
|Cayzer, Sir Charles William||Gray, Ernest (West Ham)||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. A. R.|
|Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor)||Green, Walford D. (Wednesb'ry||Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine|
|Cecil, Lord Hugh (Greenwich)||Greene, Sir E W (B'ry S Edm'nds||Long, Col. Chas. W. (Evesham)|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. J. (Birm.||Greene, Henry D. (Shrewsbury||Long, Rt Hn. Walter (Bristol, S.|
|Chamberlain, J Austen (Worc'r||Greene, W. Raymond- (Cambs.)||Lonsdale, John Brownlee|
|Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry||Grenfell, William Henry||Lowe, Francis William|
|Chapman, Edward||Gretton, John||Lowther, Rt. Hn. James (Kent)|
|Charrington, Spencer||Grenville, Hon Ronald||Lowther, Rt Hn J W (Cum., Penr|
|Churchill, Winston Spencer||Groves, James Grimble||Loyd, Archie Kirkman|
|Clare, Octavius Leigh||Guest, Hon. Ivor Churchill||Lucas, Col. Francis (Lowestoft)|
|Cochrane, Hon. T. H. A. E.||Gurdon, Sir W. Brampton||Lucas, Reginald J. (Portsmouth|
|Coddington, Sir William||Guthrie, Walter Murray||Lyttelton, Hon. Alfred|
|Coghill, Douglas Harry|
|Cohen, Benjamin Louis||Hain, Edward||Macartney, Rt Hn. W. G. Ellison|
|Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse||Hall, Edward Marshall||Macdona. John dimming|
|Colomb, Sir John Chas. Ready||Halsey, Thomas Frederick||MacIver, David (Liverpool)|
|Colston, Chas. Edw. H. Athole||Hambro, Charles Eric||Maconochie, A. W.|
|Compton, Lord Alwyne||Hamilton, Rt Hn. Ld. G (Midd'x||M'Arthur, Charles (Liverpool)|
|Cook, Sir Frederick Lucas||Hamilton, Marq. of (L'nd'derry)||M'Calmont, Col. H. L. B (Cambs.|
|M'Calmont, Col. J. (Antrim, E.)||Pretyman, Ernest George||Sturt, Hon. Humphry Napier|
|M'Iver, Sir Lewis (Edinb'gh, W.||Pryce-Jones, Lt.-Col. Edward|
|Majendie, James A. H.||Purvis, Robert||Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)|
|Malcolm, Ian||Talbot, Rt Hn. J. G. (Oxf'd Univ.|
|Manners, Lord Cecil||Quilter, Sir Cuthbert||Thorburn, Sir Walter|
|Maple, Sir John Blundell||Thornton, Percy M.|
|Martin, Richard Biddulph||Randles, John S.||Tollemache, Henry James|
|Massey-Mainwaring Hn W. F.||Rankin, Sir James||Tomlinson, Wm. Edw. Murray|
|Maxwell, Rt Hn Sir H E. (Wigt'n||Rasch, Maj. Frederic Carne||Tritton, Charles Ernest|
|Melville, Beresford Valentine||Ratcliffe, R. F.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Col. Edward|
|Meyscy-Thompson, Sir H. M.||Reid, James (Greenock)||Tuke, Sir John Batty|
|Middlemore, J. Throgmorton||Remnant, James Farquharson|
|Mildmay, Francis Bingham||Renshaw, Charles Bine||Valentia, Viscount|
|Milner, Rt. Hn Sir Frederick G.||Rentoul, James Alexander||Vincent, Col. Sir C E H (Sheffield|
|Milward, Colonel Victor||Richards, Henry Charles||Vincent, Sir Edgar (Exeter)|
|Mitchell, William||Ridley, Hon. M. W. (St'lybridge||Wanklyn, James Leslie|
|Molesworth, Sir Lewis||Ridley, S. F. (Bethnal Green)||Warde, Colonel C. E.|
|Montagu, G. (Huntingdon)||Ritchie, Rt. Hn. Chas. Thomson||Warr, Augustus Frederick|
|Montagu, Hon. J Scott (Hants.)||Robertson, Herbert (Hackney)||Wason, Jolm Cathcart (Orkney|
|Moon, Edward Robert Pacy||Robinson, Brooke||Webb, Colonel William George|
|More, R. Jasper (Shropshire)||Rolleston, Sir John F. L.||Welby. Lt.-Col. A C E (Taunton|
|Morgan, D. J. (Walthamstow)||Ropner, Col. Robert||Welby, Sir Charles G. E. (Notts.|
|Morgan, Hn. Fred. (Monm'thsh||Rothschild, Hon. Lionel W.||Wentworth, Bruce C. Vernon-|
|Morley, Rt. Hn. John (Montrose||Round, James||Wharton, Rt. Hon. John L.|
|Morrell, George Herbert||Royds, Clement Molyneux||Whiteley, H (Ashtonund, Lyne|
|Morris, Hon. Martin Henry F.||Rutherford, John||Whitmore, Charles Algernon|
|Morrison, James Archibald||Williams, Colonel R. (Dorset)|
|Morton, Arthur H. A. (Deptford||Sackville, Col. S. G. Stopford-||Willox, Sir John Archibald|
|Mount, William Arthur||Sadler, Col. Samuel Alexander||Wills, Sir Frederick|
|Mowbray, Sir Robt. Gray C.||Samuel, Harry S. (Limehouse)||Wilson, A Stanley (York, E. R.)|
|Murray, Rt. Hn. A. G. (Bute||Sandys, Col. Thos. Myles||Wilson, John (Glasgow)|
|Murray, Chas. J. (Coventry)||Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone, W.)||Wilson-Todd, Wm. H. (Yorks|
|Seely, Charles H. (Lincoln)||Wodehouse, Rt. Hn. E. R. (Bath|
|Nicholson, William Graham||Seton-Karr, Henry||Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm|
|Nicol, Donald Ninian||Sharpe, William Edward T.||Wortley, Rt. Hn. C. B. Stuart-|
|Shaw-Stewart, M. H. (Renfrew)||Wylie, Alexander|
|O'Neill, Hon. Robert Torrens||Simeon, Sir Harrington||Wyndham, Rt. Hon. George|
|Orr-Ewing, Charles Lindsay||Skewes-Cox, Thomas|
|Smith, Abel H. (Hertford, East)||Yerburgh, Robert Armstrong|
|Palmer, Walter (Salisbury)||Smith, James Parker (Lanarks.||Young, Commander (Berks., E.|
|Parker, Gilbert||Smith, Hon. W. F. D. (Strand)||Younger, William|
|Parkes, Ebenezer||Spencer, E. (W. Bromwich)|
|Pease, Herbt. P. (Darlington)||Stanley, Hon. A. (Ormskirk)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—|
|Peel, Hn. Wm. Robt. Wellesley||Stanley, Edward J. (Somerset)||Sir William Walrond and Mr. Anstruther.|
|Penn, John||Stanley, Lord (Lancs.)|
|Percy, Earl||Stewart, Sir Mark J. M'Taggart|
|Pierpoint, Robert||Stirling-Maxwell Sir John M.|
|Pilkington, Richard||Stock, James Henry|
|Platt-Higgins, Frederick||Stroyan, John|
|Powell, Sir Francis Sharp||Strutt, Hon. Charles Hedley|
|Abraham, William (Cork, N. E.||Brigg, John||Craig, Robert Hunter|
|Abraham, William (Rhondda)||Broadhurst, Henry||Crean, Eugene|
|Allen, William (Gateshead)||Brown, George M. (Edinburgh)||Cremer, William Randal|
|Allen, Charles P (Glouc., Stroud||Brunner, Sir John Tomlinson||Crombie, John William|
|Ambrose, Robert||Bryce, Rt. Hon. James||Cullinan, J.|
|Asher, Alexander||Burke, E. Haviland-||Dalziel, James Henry|
|Ashton, Thomas Gair||Burt, Thomas||Davies, Alfred (Carmarthen)|
|Asquith, Rt Hon Herbert Henry||Buxton, Sydney Charles||Davies, M. Vaughan- (Cardigan|
|Atherley-Jones, L.||Caine, William Sproston||Delany, William|
|Austin, Sir John||Caldwell, James||Dewar, John A. (Inverness-sh|
|Barry, E. (Cork, S.)||Cameron, Robert||Dilke, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles|
|Bayley, Thomas (Derbyshire)||Campbell, John (Armagh, S.||Dillon, John|
|Beaumont, Wentworth C. B.||Campbell-Bannerman, Sir H.||Donelan, Captain A.|
|Bell, Richard||Carew, James Laurence||Doogan, P. G.|
|Black, Alexander William||Carvill, Patrick Geo. Hamilton||Douglas, Charles M. (Lanark|
|Boland, John||Causton, Richard Knight||Duffy, William J.|
|Bolton, Thomas Dolling||Cawley, Frederick||Duncan, J. Hastings|
|Boyle, James||Channing, Francis Allston||Dunn, Sir William|
|Brand, Hon. Arthur G.||Condon, Thomas Joseph||Edwards, Frank|
|Elibank, Master of||Lundon, W.||Redmond, William (Clare)|
|Ellis, John Edward||MacDonnell, Dr. Mark A.||Reed, Sir Edw. Jas. (Cardiff)|
|Emmott, Alfred||MacNeill, John Gordon Swift||Reid, Sir R. Threshie (Dumfries|
|Evans, Sir F. H. (Maidstone)||M'Crae, George||Renwick, George|
|Farquharson, Dr. Robert||M'Dermott, Patrick||Rickett, J. Compton|
|Fenwick, Charles||M'Fadden, Edward||Rigg, Richard|
|Ferguson, R. C. Munro (Leith)||M'Govern, T.||Roberts, John H. (Denbighs.)|
|Ffrench, Peter||M'Kenna, Reginald||Robson, William Snowdon|
|Field, William||M'Laren, Charles Benjamin||Roche, John|
|Fison, Frederick William||Markham, Arthur Basil||Roe, Sir Thomas|
|Fitzmaurice, Lord Edmond||Mather, William||Samuel, S. M. (Whitechapel)|
|Flavin, Michael Joseph||Mellor, Rt. Hon. John William||Schwann, Charles E.|
|Flynn, James Christopher||Milton, Viscount||Scott, Chas. Prestwich (Leigh)|
|Foster, Sir Walter (Derby Co.)||Minch, Matthew||Shaw, Charles Edw. (Stafford)|
|Fowler, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Mooney, John J.||Shaw, Thomas (Hawick B.)|
|Fuller, J. M. F.||Morgan, J. L. (Carmarthen)||Shipman, Dr. John G.|
|Furness, Sir Christopher||Morley, Charles (Breconshire)||Sinclair, Capt. J. (Forfarshire)|
|Gilhooly, James||Morton, E. J. C. (Devonport)||Smith, H C (North'mb, Tyneside|
|Goddard, Daniel Ford||Moss, Samuel||Smith, Samuel (Flint)|
|Grant, Corrie||Moulton, John Fletcher||Soames, Arthur Wellesley|
|Grey, Sir Edward (Berwick)||Murnaghan; George||Soares, Ernest J.|
|Haldane, Richard Burdon||Murphy, J.||Spencer, Rt. Hn. C. R. (N'rth'nts|
|Hammond, John||Nannetti, Joseph P.||Stevenson, Francis S.|
|Harcourt, Rt. Hon. Sir William||Nolan, Joseph (Louth, South)||Strachey, Edward|
|Hardie, J Keir (Merthyr Tydvil||Norman, Henry||Sullivan, Donal|
|Harmsworth, R. Leicester||Norton, Capt. Cecil William||Taylor, Theodore Cooke|
|Harris, Frederick Leverton||Nussey, Thomas Willans||Thomas, Abel (Carmarthen, E.|
|Hayden, John Patrick||O'Brien, Kendal (Tipperary M'd||Thomas, Alfred (Glamorgan, E.|
|Hayne, Rt. Hon. Charles Seale-||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)||Thomas, David Alfred (Merthyr|
|Hayter, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur D.||O'Brien, P. J. (Tipperary, N.)||Thomas, F. Freeman- (Hastings|
|Helme, Norval Watson||O'Connor, James (Wicklow, W.||Thomas, J A (Glamorgan, Gow'r|
|Hemphill, Rt, Hon. Charles H.||O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)||Thompson, E. C. (Monaghan, N.|
|Hobhouse, C. E. H. (Bristol, E.)||O'Doherty, William||Thomson, F. W. (York, W. R.)|
|Holland, William Henry||O'Donnell, T. (Kerry, W.)||Tomkinson, James|
|Hope, John Deans (Fife, West)||O'Dowd, John||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|Horniman, Frederick John||O'Kelly, Conor (Mayo, N.)||Tully, Jasper|
|Humphreys-Owen, Arthur C.||O'Kelly, James (Roscommon, N||Ure, Alexander|
|Hutton, Alfred E. (Morley)||O'Malley, William||Wallace, Robert|
|Jacoby, James Alfred||O'Mara, James||Walton, John Lawson (Leeds, S.|
|Jameson, Major J. Eustace||O'Shee, James John||Walton, Joseph (Barnsley)|
|Joicey, Sir James||Palmer, Sir C. M. (Durham)||Warner, Thomas Courtenay T.|
|Jones, Dav. Brynmor (Swansea||Palmer, George Wm. (Reading)||Wason, Eugene (Clackmannan|
|Jordon, Jeremiah||Partington, Oswald||White, George (Norfolk)|
|Joyce, Michael||Paulton, James Mellor||White, Luke (York, E. R.)|
|Kearley, Hudson E.||Pearson, Sir Weetman D.||White, Patrick (Meath. North)|
|Kennedy, Patrick James||Pease, Alfred E. (Cleveland)||Whiteley, George (York, W. R.)|
|Kitson, Sir James||Pease, Sir Joseph W. (Durham)||Whitley, J. H. (Halifax)|
|Labouchere, Henry||Pemberton, John S. G.||Whittaker, Thomas Palmer|
|Lambert, George||Perks, Robert William||Williams, Osmond (Merioneth)|
|Lambton, Hon. Frederick Wm.||Pickard, Benjamin||Wilson, Fred. W. (Norfolk, Mid|
|Langley, Batty||Pirie, Duncan V.||Wilson, Heny J. (York, W. R.)|
|Leamy, Edmund||Plummer, Walter R.||Wilson, John (Durham, Mid.)|
|Leigh, Sir Joseph||Power, Patrick Joseph||Wilson, John (Falkirk)|
|Leng, Sir John||Priestley, Arthur||Yoxall, James Henry|
|Levy, Maurice||Rea, Russell|
|Lewis, John Herbert||Reckitt, Harold James||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—|
|Lloyd-George, David||Reddy, M.||Mr. Herbert Gladstone and|
|Lough, Thomas||Redmond, J. E. (Waterford)||Mr. M'Arthur.|
§ Ordered, That it be an Instruction to the Gentlemen appointed to bring in a Bill upon the Resolutions reported from the Committee of Ways and Means on the 29th day of April last, and then agreed to by the House, that they do make provision therein pursuant to the said Resolution.—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.)