HC Deb 10 June 1903 vol 123 cc454-532


Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment to Question [9th June], "That the Bill be now read a second time."

Which Amendment was— To leave out from the word 'That,' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'this House considers that the financial policy of His Majesty's Government, in the remission of indirect taxation imposed only last year for purposes of a permanent, character, involves a needless and injurious disturbance of trade and a serious loss to the Revenue, without substantial relief to the consumer; and that, if any remission of indirect taxation is considered necessary by His Majesty's Government, such remission ought to be made by a reduction of the Duties proposed to be levied on tea or other articles of general consumption.'"—(Mr. Chaplin.)

Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

MAJOR SEELY (Isle of Wight)

Some of the speakers have complained that the House has not received sufficient information to enable it to come to a judgment on the repeal of the corn duty, or the maintaining of it as suggested. I cannot say that I require any information on this matter, owing to the history of what has taken place since the tax was first imposed. I did notice, however, throughout the whole of yesterday's debate, to which I listened with great attention, that we were able to come to some kind of agreement on one or two points. The first was that this tax, which it is not now proposed to maintain, was originally imposed as a purely fiscal measure to enable us to get more money either to pay for the war, or to meet the interest coming due on moneys borrowed for war purposes. It was further laid down at that time that it had not, nor was it intended to have, any protective tendencies. The second point which seems to be apparent is that many persons who have no protective tendencies are disappointed that this tax should be removed, since, in point of fact, as they allege, it caused no hardship to any individual. I suppose that that is the attitude taken up by the right hon. Member for Sleaford. The third point which came out most clearly was this: that since this tax was imposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol, it has assumed an entirely new complexion. Whereas it was originally imposed as a fiscal measure, it has since come to be regarded by many persons in this country, and especially by those who favour protective taxation, as a thin edge of the wedge of protection. For that reason Chambers of Commerce and others, who, rightly from their own point of view, no doubt, regard the protection of agriculture as desirable, are extremely disappointed that the tax should be removed, for it is indubitable to them that this duty on corn may be used as a means by which we may strengthen certain ties which bind us to our colonies. I myself, as a convinced free trader, have no doubt whatever in this matter. If this tax is to be regarded, as undoubtedly it is regarded, as the thin edge of the wedge of protection, I rejoice that it is at once to be repealed, and I support the Government and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in all that they have said as to the desirability of repealing it. I will only say one word as to the possibility that this tax if retained might be of use in strengthening the bonds of Empire which we all wish to see strengthened. I presume I shall be in order in saying this purely in reference to this shilling duty on corn. Nobody wishes to see strengthened the bonds to which I have referred more than I do, and if I may say so with all respect I have special reasons for thinking so, because at the time when those bonds showed valuable proof of their existence I had the privilege of seeing how great was the help rendered to us by our colonies. I myself have served with forces in the field which have done work for this country the value of which can never be overestimated, and if it were possible that, by adopting the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford we could assist in strengthening those bonds, I, for one, would not take the course which I propose to take to-day in voting against the Amendment. But in my opinion that is not the case. I support the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in all they have said against the attempt to convert a lofty ideal into a sordid system of profit-sharing.


I would remind the hon. Member that that is not the question before the House, and if I permitted him to proceed I should be encouraging others to follow the same line.


I humbly apologise, Sir. I did not know that I should be transgressing your ruling, or I would not have said what I have already said. With regard to this tax which it is now proposed to repeal. I look upon it as a fiscal measure, and in that light consider it defensible, but as the thin edge of the wedge of protection I say it is absolutely indefensible, and I earnestly trust, therefore, that, when we go to a division, the House, by an overwhelming majority, will decide that it will have nothing to do with such questions as have been adumbrated by certain persons in authority.

*SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)

I do not propose to detain the House many minutes, as I have already had an opportunity of speaking on some of the subjects which are really being debated. But there are two or three aspects of the matter which have been rather left out of sight in the course of the debate which has since taken place, and to these I should like to draw attention, because without transgressing the rules of order by which we are so closely bound, I think it may be possible to present some new considerations to the House. I do not know whether hon. Members have read the Amendment on which they are going to vote. But I would venture to point out that it is very different from what one would suppose it to be, bearing in mind the nature of the discussion which has taken place. We are not asked by it to vote on Clause I. of the Finance Bill, and we shall have another opportunity of discussing that question and the repeal of the corn duties. The Amendment now before the House is a curious Amendment. It makes a number of statements to which the majority of the House will cordially assent. It is a self-evident proposition to state, as the Amendment does, that the financial policy of the Government, so far as the House knows what it is, "involves a needless and injurious disturbance of Trade." I say so far as we have been able to elicit the policy of the Government in the course of this debate. But I would ask, is the House likely to succeed in obtaining a distinct statement as to what the policy of the Government is going to be? The leading authorities of the Government, on a question of this kind, ought to be those who represent the Treasury and the Board of Trade. The opinion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been distinctly expressed to the House, and we know what it is. We know also what is the opinion of the Secretary to the Treasury. But these Gentlemen did not clearly tell us that it is the policy of the Administration as a whole. With regard to the Board of Trade, the President of which is absent for causes which we all regret, all we know is that the Secretary to that Board, speaking for himself and not for his Department, represents a diametrically opposite view on the main issue as between free trade and protection. The lead which we ought to obtain from the Prime Minister, who is the head of the Treasury, has been wanting up to the present time, and I confess I fear, from what we have seen during this debate, that even if the Prime Minister winds up the discussion to-day we are not likely to obtain from him on this occasion that lead which the House and the country ought to receive.

What was the attitude of the Prime Minister when last he spoke upon this question? It was an attitude of doubt—of loudly expressed doubt on every one of the free trade propositions, and of doubt with an air of assent to every one of the protectionist propositions; and hampered as we are by the rules of the House on the present occasion, I think that probably the present restrictions of debate will not be unpleasing to the right hon. Gentleman, who is likely to tell us even less now than he has told us before. Is not that a humiliating position for this House? Has it not a right to demand that if we cannot discuss this question to-day, if we cannot discuss it on Clause I. of this Bill, we shall have some other opportunity of discussing and of taking the judgment of the House on the fiscal policy of the Government? The Government may reply that it is always open to the Leaders of the Opposition to bring forward a vote of censure, but I venture to assert that this is not an occasion when a vote of censure would elicit the opinion of the House, and I maintain that we ought to have a free and unfettered opportunity of giving such aid to the Government and the country as is possible in the decision of a question of this stupendous importance. I should be out of order if I were to attempt to discuss the question how far this announcement or suggestion of doubt with regard to the national policy of free trade has disturbed the relations of this country. We know that threats have been addressed to us from certain quarters, and we know also that the question has excited the deepest interest in the minds of the people of India, who form an overwhelming majority of the people of this Empire. The doubt which has been thrown upon our Imperial fiscal policy—a policy so long regarded as a settled matter—has proved disturbing in the highest degree, and it is the first duty of the Government to give a lead to the country and to the Empire in regard to it.

There is another point in the Amendment which has not received any consideration in the course of this debate, and that is the final proposition which has been taken, I think, from the admirable speech of my right hon. friend the Member for West Monmouth on the night when the Budget was introduced. This Budget, which we are now called upon to support, was opposed by us on the first night of its introduction. The suggestion in the Amendment is that it does not do enough in the remission of indirect taxation, and that the tea duty ought to have been reduced. That view received our support on the night of the introduction of the Budget, and we shall, of course, be prepared, when circumstances admit, to support it again. We do not like this Budget; we voted against it on its introduction, and we shall be prepared to vote against it again. But it is mainly on account of the speech of the mover of the Amendment, rather than because of its actual terms, that most persons on this side of the House are likely to vote against it to-day. This speech recommended a large increase of the duty on corn in the future, and we have this stupendous admission from those who now dare, for the first time for many years, to call themselves protectionists in the House of Commons, that the higher duty which they recommend in place of this shilling corn duty will be paid by the consumers of this country. We should be out of order in this debate if we were to attempt to discuss any of the purposes for which it is proposed to raise this larger duty, and we should be equally out of order in discussing the question of devoting the money to social schemes such as old-age pensions, etc. But may I say this—that it has not been attempted to be shown that, the poorest of the poor, on whom, by the admission of protectionists, this tax will fall in the case of a larger duty, will ever obtain the benefit or that they will not be taxed for the advantage of other persons in a better position. The Prime Minister has not given the House any guidance. In the speech which he made when this question was debated before the Adjournment, he said that this country must more and more depend upon foreign countries for its supplies of food. Yes, but it is this supply of food which it is proposed to tax in the future in a higher degree, and the price will be raised against the poorest of the poor for no benefit which they will receive, and for purposes which, in this. House, we are unable to discuss. The only answer which has been made in this debate — and it has been powerfully attacked by the Secretary to the Treasury in his speech—is that wages might be raised in the event of the adoption of protection of this kind. But how are the wages to be raised? Are they to be raised by combination; by efforts in the way of strikes on the part of the poorest of the poor? Is that a pleasant industrial prospect to hold out to this country? We are in a great difficulty in debating this matter, not only on this occasion but we shall be on all occasions throughout this Finance Bill. Arguments on the protectionists' side are not brought forward in this House, but they appear, day by day, in letters in the Press, which are widely circulated throughout the country among the classes to whom they are intended to appeal.

I believe I shall be in order, after the speeches of the right hon. gentleman the Member for South Aberdeen and of the Secretary to the Treasury, in briefly alluding to the most powerful of the arguments in favour of protection which have recently been put forward. We are told we must be a foolish people in this country to maintain a policy different from that which prevails elsewhere. We are told that the United States and Germany are prospering under a system of protection, and that wages there are rising. The House must be cautioned not to believe these things without examination Those Members who have inquired into the circumstances for themselves, those who have taken the trouble to test the figures, know how little truth there is in them, and what an enormous amount of exaggeration there is in the argument put forward on these grounds. With regard to our trade as a whole, I may point out that our foreign trade at this moment is equal to that of the United States, Germany and France put together. Our trade with Germany, where the system of protection is most strongly enforced against our goods, is still an increasing trade; its total is greater than it was six years ago. Yet, in spite of these facts, we read in the papers reckless assertions on the subject which will not bear the test of examination, as I am sure the financial advisers to the Government will tell the House. Why, Germany, which is supposed to be making such advances under the system of protection, has not even been able to get into our markets in South America Therefore I say, when we are told that protection is such a success throughout the world, we must take the trouble to examine the facts for ourselves. With regard to the United States, considering the stupendous natural advantages of that country, it is only marvellous that it has not attained the first place years ago. I am convinced, whatever may be the opinions of a small and infinitesimal minority of this House, that the overwhelming majority of the House and of the people of the Empire will, if they will only take the trouble to examine the facts, arrive at the conclusion that the advance in the trade of the United States has not been due to protection, but that, on the contrary, it has been retarded by it. What the House wants to know, however, is when we are to have an opportunity of discussing this policy of the Government. The question has not been raised by us, and it is for those who have raised it to permit the House to give the country the advantage and assistance of its enlightened judgment. We are placed in a humiliating position by being refused a chance of stating our views and of backing them by our votes, and I repeat that we ought to have an opportunity given us by the Government for placing on record the judgment of the House on these questions which have been so rashly raised.

MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)

The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has referred to those who have recently had courage enough to avow protectionist views. I do not think I am one of those to whom he was alluding. It is twenty-two years since I was returned to Parliament as an avowed protectionist, and I have never swerved from my opinions—opinions the holding of which had I been an ambitious man, might not have contributed to my advancement politically. With regard to the comparisons with the United States, I should like to ask the right hon. Baronet how many steel rails and ships' plates would have been forged in America without the influence of protection? The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that Cobden's idea was that the United States would confine themselves mainly, if not entirely, to the production of the food products for the artisan population of this and other countries, but they evidently thought differently, and determined to become a great manufacturing power, and have recently amply succeeded in their object. As to the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it seems to have been made from a document purloined from the recesses which contain the notes of the speeches delivered by right hon. Gentlemen opposite last year. Those speeches did not convince the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time, because he then voted for the proposal which he so strongly condemns this year. Fortunately the right hon. Gentleman has colleagues who take a wider, more patriotic, and more Imperial view of their duties. [Cries of "Name."] One must have some sense of proportion, and not confuse Chelsea Hospital with a sentry-box. We are in this position: that the Chancellor of the Exchequer differs from the views of his predecessor in office in regard to this corn tax, while he also differs from the action he himself took a year ago. A Member of great experience and ability, the right hon. Member for Cambridge University, has condescended to retail some of the stalest platitudes which have discredited the leaflets of the Cobden Club for the last half-century. I am sorry to see such pabulum served up by so many in the course of this debate. An orthodox free trader of the highest repute, Sir Robert Giffen, has admitted that all these theories should be considered in the light of the circumstances of the hour, and not dealt with on the Sermon-on-the-Mount principle, which Lord Rosebery has so properly described. Those who have studied this matter have been driven to the conclusion that, however desirable the old-fangled fiscal arrangements may have been fifty years ago, they are not up-to-date, and that, with our growing Empire, we are bound to consider these matters in a practical light. I trust that the House will not be deterred from that anxious, full inquiry which has been suggested by the Prime Minister and some of his colleagues, and I hope that they will look into this matter free from bias and prejudice and shake off the old bogey of the clap-trap tradition of free trade, falsely so-called, which has never really ensured free communication amongst the nations, and has absolutely ignored our Imperial responsibilities.

MR. BLAKE (Longford, S.)

This day twelve months I said a few words to the House in opposition to the imposition of this corn tax, and upon that occasion I ventured to give some of my principal reasons for that proposition. I pointed out— That as this corn tax would open the door more than any other to the agitation for protection in this country, and also to the scheme for preferential tariffs, hence it followed that the question of the permanence of the tax was a very serious thing. I accepted absolutely the declaration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that this tax had not been proposed by the Government in view of protection or of preferential duties. But when the tax was once put on it would give the greatest facilities to them or their successors for introducing these schemes, and when they came to consider the possibility of that danger the thing became serious indeed. Time had always made very quick changes amongst politicians as well as other persons. Still the tendencies that produced those changes were frequently manifested long before the change occurred. Changes themselves took place more rapidly in these days than formerly. And while he gave the Chancellor of the Exchequer full credit for what he said and for being determined that this tax should not be utilised in the sense and for the purpose suggested, he was not at all so sure that at some future day the tax would not be employed for the purposes which had been referred to. I deprecated a view which had been presented by the hon. Gentleman who was lately admitted to the Government, and I said— The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down rather deprecated the idea of a plain expression of opinion in Parliament on this subject before the Conference, and thus before there was any committal by the Executive Government. But I wholly differed. They ought to have plain expressions. I insisted even then that it was a paramount duty of Parliament to speak and make plain its opinion and position upon this question. Upon that occasion I concluded my statement of objections to the tax with this declaration— It was because I felt deeply with regard to the impolicy and misfortune of this tax, in the burden it laid on the poor and on trade, in the dark example it set to the world, in the evil hopes it produced here and abroad, and in the leverage it gave for its own application and extension that I should vote against it now and on every future occasion. Having stated those views to the House, Mr. Speaker, you will easily judge that I came down to the House of Commons yesterday still in opposition to the retention of this tax, the imposition of which I had objected to on this day last year. I had hoped that I should have been able to give in full the reasons for objecting to the retention of this tax which I gave last year against its imposition. It appears, however, that I cannot do so, and it is only to a very partial extent that I can touch at all upon what is the real question that is in the mind of every hon. Member in this House. I shall not follow some examples set me under these circumstances, and I shall obey your ruling, Mr. Speaker, not only in the letter but in the spirit.

I wish to say that I believe that this House of Commons could not more degrade itself or lower itself in the estimation of those to whom it is responsible, and to the world, than by accepting a view of its duty and of the responsibilities of its leaders which would be consistent with any lengthened delay to a full, free, and exhaustive discussion of this question. I heard with an admiration which, I am sure, was shared by everyone who heard him, whether he agreed or differed, the speech of extraordinary ability delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol yesterday, and I believe the view he stated that the situation which had been shadowed forth was an absolutely impossible one. We should be beneath contempt if, while entrusted with the destinies of this country, we permitted this question to remain in its present position. When speeches of more or less importance are made, and when letters are fired off every day in the newspapers; when not merely unauthorised programmes by a Member of the Opposition, but a programme is put before the country by a leading member of the Government; when working men are to be appealed to to reverse the fiscal policy of the country, and all this under the ægis of an Administration which is keeping an open mind upon the subject, it is an absolutely impossible situation. I feel that the position is so impossible that if it is continued much longer it will be disastrous. Of course wish the present Government to continue in office, at any rate for some time; and it is because I feel that the continuance of the Government in office even for that time is being rendered impossible by this situation that I do protest against any suggestion of that kind, and I do earnestly beg of hon. Gentlemen and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to take up a position more worthy of themselves and more worthy of the House and the country. I say it is the duty of the Government and the Leaders of the House to arrange that the House of Commons shall not be gagged, and that hon. Members shall have a full and free opportunity of discussing that which, more than any other question in the whole arena of politics, engages its hopes, fears, and anxieties to-day, and that upon that occasion they themselves will give us the advantage of the counsel and advice, not of men who differ amongst themselves and keep open minds, but of a united Cabinet.

*MR. ARTHUR LEE (Hampshire, Fareham)

I agree with the hon. Member opposite that this debate is a very unreal one. After the speech which has just been delivered by the right hon-Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean, I am in still greater doubt as to what is in order and what is not in order upon this occasion. I have listened attentively to almost every word in this debate, and I have endeavoured to extract from it some light and leading to guide me in giving my vote upon this Amendment. As a private Member I have a right to expect that definite light and leading, but hitherto I have certainly not received it. Consequently, I am placed in the very undesirable position, so abhorrent to Whips, of having to make up my own mind and to think the matter out for myself. I deeply regret to find myself in disagreement with the Government on this question of repealing the registration duty on corn. I regret this especially because I most heartily support the suggestion put forward by the Prime Minister and the Colonial Secretary that we should reconsider and look into the whole of our fiscal system, not necessarily, with a view to resorting to protection, but with a view to finding out whether, after all, the present system is the best system for this country. With every desire to understand the Government position in this matter, I must say that it seems to me that the two policies of remitting the corn tax and reconsidering our whole fiscal position, are diametrically opposed to one another. Their very atmospheres are irreconcilable. The one redolent of the Central Office and the Whips' Room, and the other breathing something of the spirit in which a great Empire thinks out its own changing problems, and does what it thinks best, regardless of party manœuvres or vague threats of foreign retaliation. Under these circumstances I am compelled to fall back upon the advice I receive from other sources, and I refer particularly in the first place to the speech of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer. To my mind he defined the issue beyond all doubt. First of all he demonstrated quite clearly that this tax was a desirable tax to retain from a fiscal point of view, and he said that the reasons which he put forward last year in proposing the tax were still perfectly sound reasons, and that it was a tax which it was eminently desirable to retain. I heartily agree with him, but he went on to say that he would nevertheless support the remission of the tax because its removal would constitute an absolute bar to the adoption of any such policy as was outlined by the Prime Minister and the Colonial Secretary. That makes my course very clear. The only other authority I would quote is that of a journalistic cherub who sits up aloft on behalf of a leading Radical organ and who, in a serious letter to The Times newspaper a short time ago, stated that protection was a necessary consequence of Imperialism, whether Liberal or Conservative.

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

And conscription afterwards.


I hope the Liberal Imperialists in the House will appreciate that remark. He further said that the only alternative to the Colonial Secretary's policy was Little Englandism. That view is apparently endorsed by a distinguished Gentleman on the other side of the House, and therefore I do not make any further apology for quoting it. That seems to me good advice from a very unexpected source, and having thus gathered that a vote given for the continuation of the corn tax is a vote given for the Colonial Secretary's and the Prime Minister's policy, and that a vote given for the Colonial Secretary's policy is a vote against Little Englandism, then my last doubts are removed as to which way I should vote in this matter. I am anxious that my motives and position should be quite incapable of being misunderstood, and I therefore wish to state unequivocally that my chief objection to the remission of this tax is because I am an ardent believer in the greater policy foreshadowed, and because I believe the two things to be absolutely incompatible. I am in the fortunate position of having never professed to be an out and out free trader, and, therefore, I do not feel it necessary in passing to bow the knee to Baal, as most other gentlemen have been compelled to do. At the same time I do not call myself a protectionist. I prefer the name of Fair Trader, and for this reason: fair trade is the direct antithesis of the foul trade which is causing us so much injury at the present time. I do not think it is necessary to explain why, after a good many years residence in a protectionist colony, and in the greatest of protectionist countries, the United States, I should not be frightened by any bogey cry of protection, or that it would spell ruin to a great country like this. I may be perhaps allowed to quote a saying of a very distinguished scientist, who was also a distinguished Liberal, Lord Playfair, who, in 1891, in reference to this question of protection spelling ruin said— If the American system of protection was successful in practice"— I do not think the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean would say that it has not been successful in practice.


My argument was that the natural resources of the United States accounted for the prosperity there.


But protection developed those resources, and Lord Playfair said— If the American system of protection was successful in practice, the whole policy of the United Kingdom is founded on a gigantic error and must lead to our ruin as a commercial nation. That is, I think, an opinion which ought to command respect from the other side of the House. At any rate I think it is worthy of consideration. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Forest of Dean also stated that he had heard no arguments on the other side of the House in the course of this debate in favour of protection. This debate has not been a very simple and straightforward one, and, owing to Mr. Speaker's ruling, a great many hon. Members, including the mover of the Amendment, did not have an opportunity of defending their position. The extreme free traders have on the whole had a better opportunity of putting forward their side of the case, and perhaps on that account they may think they have had things a good deal their own way. But I cannot congratulate them on having put forward as yet any well reasoned arguments in support of their position. What we have had has been mostly old catchwords and generalities, and mere bold assertions, without any attempt to prove them. We have had the old appeal as to what Cobden or Adam Smith, if they had been alive and in active politics at the present day, would have done. I do not think I need say much on that point beyond reminding the House of an answer once given by a candidate at a military examination. He was asked one of the usual fatuous questions as to what he thought Napoleon would have done if he had had the command of the French Army at the battle of Wœrth. His reply was that if Napoleon had been present at the battle of Wœrth, he would have been such an extremely old man that he would have taken no interest in the proceedings. The application of this story to the cases of Cobden and Adam Smith is, I think, sufficiently obvious. I quite agree with the right hon. Baronet that there must be another occasion when this whole question can be discussed, and when the reasoned arguments and figures, and facts for and against, can be brought forward. We know this is an occasion when that cannot be done, although the right hon. Gentleman did manage to work in a few figures—I will not call them facts—which I believe to be entirely inaccurate, with regard particularly to the trade of the United States of America, of which I do know something. And whilst I should not be permitted on this occasion to refute these figures, I hope that on some other occasion I shall have an opportunity of dealing with them. I would only remind the right hon. Gentleman of one thing. He suggested, that the prosperity of the United States and Germany was not relatively greater than the prosperity of this country. I would ask him to glance over the last thirty years, and he will find that during that time the export trade of the United States has trebled, and that of Germany doubled, while our export trade has been practically stationary, if not actually declining.

I do not suggest, as regards this very unsatisfactory debate, that the free traders are all in the wrong, or that the fair traders are absolutely right, but I do contend that there is room for a good deal of calm, scientific discussion of the whole problem, though I think it is extremely unlikely we are going to get it, and I must say that I think the Prime Minister's forecast, or hope, was almost pathetically optimistic when he said that the country would ruminate over this question for two years and then come to a decision. I could not wait so long. I am in a position which I think few Members of the House are in. I have consulted my constituents on this question, so far as has been possible in the very limited time and so far as I could gather their opinions in a fortnight's hard work among them, I found that there was not the slightest fear on their part of any re-examination or overhauling of our fiscal system, even if it should lead to the adoption eventually of a fair trade policy. I should have liked to have dealt with one or two assertions put forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Aberdeen last night, because he speaks with great authority on everything connected with the United States of America, and if his remarks are allowed to pass unchallenged now, their accuracy might never be questioned. I must call particular attention to one remark he made. He said that "the prosperity of the United States was a testimony to free trade rather than protection." I do not pretend to know so much about the United States as he does, but surely he will have noticed that there has been an enormous and surprising increase in the commercial prosperity of the United States since 1891, when the M'Kinley tariff was introduced. It was almost a prohibitory tariff on all imports. In that year the exports from this country to the United States were valued at £32,000,000, while the American exports to this country were £97,000,000. Now, after twelve years of that tariff the figures have changed, and we only export £18,000,000 worth to the United States, and they export £108,000,000 worth to us, amounting to almost an absolute transference of trade. I do not see how, that being so, he can claim that the prosperity of the United States is a testimony to free trade rather than protection.

MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)

What I did dwell upon was that as far as regards food the United States was in the position of a free trade country, because she gets all the food she wants without any protective tariff, and that the cheapness of food has been a powerful factor in the prosperity of the United States.


The right hon. Gentleman cannot deny that the general cost of living of working men in America is at least 20 per cent. higher than in this country.




Then he rejects the report of the Royal Commission on Depression of Trade in which figures were quoted to show that the cost of living for American workmen was 20 per cent. higher, and that their wages were 80 per cent higher than in England. That shows that the argument is on the side of those who claim that an increase in the price of food leads to an increase in the rate of wages. Could any one who has lived in the two countries deny that the general condition of the working classes is infinitely more favourable in America than in this country. I think it is obvious that the American workman is better clothed, better lodged, better fed, and better off in every way, and this in spite of the fact that he has to pay a much higher average rate for his living. I could quote in further proof of that the Report of the Moseley Commission, which states that the American working man is at least 25 per cent. better off than the British working man.

I will conclude by returning for a moment to the specific question of the registration duty on corn. In giving my vote for the Amendment I wish to say that I have the opinion of my constituents behind me. They are in the same position that I am—they are quite unable to understand the Government's change of front in this matter. Nor can they understand why a tax which was advocated on broad financial grounds in 1902 became unsound, oppressive, and unnecessary in 1903. I confess that I cannot, nor do I think they can, further follow the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his reading of political economy as given in his speech yesterday. He then pointed out, contrary to the whole of the Government's arguments last year, that this tax fell entirely on the consumer, but in the same breath the right hon. Gentleman declared that the increased tax on tea did not bear on the consumer. It is a little difficult to understand why the political economists are so uncertain as to the effect of this tax. I agree with the late Chancellor of the Exchequer that this tax does not fall on the consumer in this country, and therefore the right hon. Gentleman's professed object to remit indirect taxation concurrently with the reduction in the Income Tax will not have that effect.


I was explaining the difference between the duties on tea and flour. The price of flour had risen to the full extent, and more, of the duty, but that is not the case with tea.


I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman's political economy is beyond me. I supported the Government last year in putting on the tax because I thought the arguments used by the right hon. Member for West Bristol were sound, logical, and statesmanlike. I believe them still to be so. Indeed, they have been proved to be so, and under those circumstances I find it quite impossible to execute the somersault required by voting against the tax this year. We are told that the reason for remitting it was due to the misrepresentation it had caused, but that excuse has already been ridiculed out of court. The remission of the tax has pleased nobody, not even the Opposition, and has certainly mortified and stultified a great number of the Government's loyal supporters. It has further thrown away two and a half millions of revenue, which could have been applied to a very useful purpose, even if it had not been used as suggested for reducing the tax on tea. Another and final reason for voting for the retention of the corn tax is that the Opposition are against it. Being a good Party man I have always understood my duty to be to oppose the Opposition. I have also been informed by old Parliamentary hands that when the two Front Benches are agreed on any particular policy that policy should be regarded with more than ordinary suspicion. Under all these circumstances, believing as I do in the wisdom of the suggestions put forward by the Prime Minister and the Colonial Secretary that we should re-discuss our financial position and inquire into the whole question of fair trade and preferential tariffs, and realising that if they are to be encouraged in this course, they must receive a mandate from the constituencies, I venture to assure the Government that my constituency, at any rate, is ready to give them that mandate, and is not afraid of an examination of the whole question. Under those circumstances I am anxious to encourage the Government in this wise course by voting for the retention of the only one of our existing taxes which could form a proper germ or basis for the new policy.

*MR. JOHN ELLIS (Nottinghamshire, Rushcliffe)

Many of us will sympathise with the singular position in which the hon. Member who has just sat down finds himself. He is where some of us have been in the past, not being able to support the Government whom on ordinary occasions we follow. He commenced his remarks by making the same plaintive request which fell from the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight, who moved the adjournment of the debate last night, viz., that as a supporter of the Government he desired to have some light and leading from the Government. Now there is no more wearisome person in the world than the leader who will not lead. [Great laughter, during which the Prime Minister entered the House.] I will take advantage of the right hon. Gentleman's re-appearance to repeat my remark, and I hope he will not consider it in any way personally disrespectful. There is no more wearisome person in the world than the leader who will not lead. I think the right hon. Gentleman heard what fell from the hon. Member for Fareham in his pathetic request for light and leading, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give it to the hon. Member and to the House before we arrive at a decision to-night. I wish to devote my remarks to considering two aspects of that subject now before the House. In the first place, the very great and alarming increase in the national expenditure; and in the next place, the fiscal policy of the Government so far as it hangs on to, and is raised by, the shilling duty on corn. I shall endeavour to walk very warily so as to keep, so far as I can, within the limits of your ruling, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member who has just sat down says that this has been a very unreal debate. On the contrary, I think it has been very interesting, and as it has progressed the matter has opened out, and I believe it will only be the precursor of a great deal more useful discussion on the same topic.

The most important incident in our proceedings yesterday was the reappearance of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol. That right hon. Gentleman is a great ornament to this Assembly. He combines in a most unique manner many elements which give him a position and an authority in the House which everyone acknowledges. He is the oldest Member of the House; he is the father of the House. He has by practical service on Committees in the House at large, and in high office, acquired a knowledge of the procedure and practice of the House second to none. We heard you, Sir, last year very gracefully acknowledge the paramount authority of the right hon. Gentleman in a matter of procedure. A number of us have seen the right hon. Gentleman lead this House with general acceptance when he had not at his command a majority of the House—a most difficult position. In the days when the Colonial Secretary was doing good municipal service in Birmingham, when the present Prime Minister was one of a band of four below the gangway, the right hon. Gentleman was a Minister of the Crown. Again, the right hon. Gentleman has filled the position of Chancellor of the Exchequer longer than any one man consecutively for generations. It is these considerations which give such special weight and unique authority to his opinions. In the speech which he delivered yesterday with such unique authority, the right hon. Gentleman drew attention in the most forcible manner to the leaps and bounds with which our national expenditure has mounted up; he pointed to the fact that it was increasing to a far greater extent than the automatic increase in the revenue. To illustrate this I will take a few figures from four years—the last two years for which the Liberal Government were responsible, and two first years for which the Conservative Government were responsible. They are to be found in the Return moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton. The net expenditure for the year ending 31st March, 1887, was £78,000,000, and for the year 1896, £85,000,000, or an increase of 10 per cent. in the nine years from 1887 to 1896, the expenditure for the year 1899 was £94,000,000, and for the year 1904, £128,000,000, or an increase in the eight years, from 1896 to 1904, of 50 per cent. I may say that there is not a penny in these figures arising from the war in South Africa. These figures tell a tale. We all know the increase arises almost wholly from one item—the expenditure on military and naval armaments. In 1887 the expenditure on armaments was £32,000,000, and in 1896 £38,000,000. In 1899 the expenditure on armaments was £44,000,000, and in 1904 £69,000,000. The increase for the period of nine years, from 1887 to 1896, was 20 per cent.; and the increase for the eight years, from 1896 to 1904, was 81 per cent. That is an appalling increase. It cannot go on. No one recognises that more strongly than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol. We heard a most significant statement last night—a statement the like of which is not often heard in this House. It was that if his protest as to expenditure in the Cabinet had met with more sympathy he would hardly be speaking from the seat from which he spoke last night; his resignation would not have been necessary. Then the right hon. Gentleman went on to say that— The Estimates this year have shown an increase which is not justified by anything within my knowledge. These are words of great gravity coming from a man of his experience. Expenditure depends on policy. Mr. Disraeli emphasised that over and over again. And in this connection nothing has been more marked than the change of policy in respect to territorial expansion, in respect to armaments, in respect to the attitude of the mind of the country and of Ministers here towards that blessed word "peace," that has taken place during the last twenty years. Lord Aberdeen was Prime Minister during the Crimean War, and he left it on record that he did not think it right to erect a church for the worship of God on his estate because, almost unwillingly, he had drifted into that war. What a contrast to a man who does not hesitate to say that if he had any share in bringing about the Boer war, it would be a feather in his cap. There you have, in a nutshell, the difference between the two epochs; and I say we must return to the spirit which animated Earl Grey, Lord John Russell Lord Aberdeen, Sir Robert Peel, and Mr. Gladstone with respect to peace and our foreign relations, and we must depart from the spirit of the long-spoon speech and retaliation.


The observations of the hon. Gentleman do not appear to me to be relevant to the particular Amendment before the House.


I thought, Mr. Speaker, that we were allowed to discuss the Finance Bill with the Amendment. I beg pardon; I was led away unwittingly.

Now I turn to my second point, which I think is raised distinctly by the proposal in the Finance Bill to withdraw the corn duty, and the proposal in the Amendment to retain it. Of course, the corn duty itself is not a very large matter. It does not raise a great amount of revenue. It is only really important when it becomes the battle-cry and flag between the opposing forces of protection and free trade. In so far as it raises that very great issue, it is an extremely important matter. It is in vain, I venture to say, for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford—though he does it, of course, with the utmost good faith—to say that this tax has no element of protection in it. We welcomed yesterday the speech of the Secretary to the Treasury, which had not much flavour of what is called the Front Bench about it. He distinctly declared that the Members of the great deputation to the Chancellor of the Exchequer had, as was evident, something else in their mind than mere fiscal revenue. They had looming in their minds a change in our fiscal policy. That is an enormous issue. It is a fundamental revolution. I suppose after what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol, we may drop the word "misrepresentation." But there has been, not only in regard to this particular duty, but in regard to the whole question of free trade to protection, an amount of misapprehension and misunderstanding which is almost inconceivable. The name of Mr. Cobden has been very freely used. Mr. Cobden was not the only free trader, although, of course, no one can deprive him of the great glory of making a free trade policy inevitable. But Sir Robert Peel was the Prime Minister who carried these things through the House. I invite any hon. Member to look back on the slow and sure steps by which Sir Robert Peel—that most sagacious, high-minded, and able statesman—passed from protection to free trade. The resistless force of logic and circumstance brought home to his mind the fact that free trade was the only policy for this country. Sir Robert Peel, even before 1841, professed that he had a general conviction of the truth of free trade principles, and the great tariff reform of 1842, which was the greatest work, Mr. Gladstone said, he ever had to perform, was based on the policy of removing restrictions. Here, again, there has been a great fallacy. It has been said that we entered upon a free trade policy because other nations were about to adopt it. Nothing of the kind. We did it despite other nations. Sir Robert Peel told the House of Commons that he had no guarantee to give that other nations would follow our example. We did it for reasons of our own, and simply in our own interest. The matchless Budget of 1853, brought forward by Mr. Gladstone, and the Budget of 1860, which I well remember hearing from the gallery of this House, were saturated with free trade principles. The right hon. Gentleman opposite spoke of a vital change, and referred to the fiscal policy which had been accepted by this country for fifty years, and which had also been accepted by his own party. That is perfectly true. We want to discuss this matter free from party. Free trade and protection have ceased to be party matters. I noticed the usual opposition to this declaration from the Member for Bristol, from the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Central Sheffield, but he has not read his history. The question of free trade and protection was settled in this House in November, 1852. Mr. Villiers brought forward a Resolution affirming the adhesion of the House and the country to free trade. Mr. Disraeli was then Chancellor of the Exchequer and was unwilling to accept the precise words of Mr. Villiers. The Resolution was defeated by 256 votes to 336. Lord Palmerston moved a Resolution also affirming a free trade policy, which Mr. Disraeli accepted on behalf of the Government. The whole of the free traders, Liberals and Tories to the number of 465, supported it. The protectionist minority was fifty-three, a figure which I do not suppose will be reached to-night. The question was then absolutely and finally settled and removed beyond Party. It is not a Party question, and it will not be our fault if it becomes one. I am not speaking from mere reading in this matter. One of my immediate forefathers, whose name I bear, sat on these Benches during the struggle, and well do I recollect hearing from him a few years after of what took place at that time.

I turn now, in conclusion, to a matter which I wish to press on the attention of the Prime Minister. Does the right hon. Gentleman really think that he can, in this great matter, maintain the position he has taken up? He is Prime Minister of these realms. The country has a right to know, I was going to say the world has a right to know, but certainly our colonies have the right to know, what is the mind of the Government on this subject. We owe the whole position to the masterful impulses of one Minister and to the terrible nonchalance of another. The right hon. Gentleman owes it to the country that, before this debate closes, he should, so far as he can, make the position of the Government absolutely clear. The hon. Member for the Fareham Division said he had his constituents behind him. Well, that has to be proved in the case of each of us. So far as I am concerned, the sooner the test comes the better. Some of us will disappear from this House for ever. Some of us, if we desire it, will come back again. But I am convinced there are only two roads in this matter. One road is the road of protection, which will involve suspicion, distrust, and dislike abroad; and, at home, poverty, discontent, despair, possibly something worse, and above all a turning away from those things which are vital to the real welfare of the country. But if we take the road of the fiscal policy to which this country has adhered with most satisfactory results for fifty years, and lay aside this restless spirit of recent years, we may go forward in the path of progress at home, paying attention to those much needed social and industrial reforms, which, when carried into effect, will build up our nation. Abroad, we will resume our place among the nations without suspicion and without any idea of retaliation; and we will make the name of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in association with the free commonwealths of Australia, South Africa, and Canada, respected and beloved throughout the world.

SIR J. BLUNDELL MAPLE (Camberwell, Dulwich)

I have listened to-day to a great many speeches, and I listened to many yesterday, but very few of the speeches I have heard in the course of this debate touch the subject matter before the House. The subject we have to discuss is the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford. I have no intention of dealing with the great fiscal policy of the country, upon which my opinions agree entirely with what I understand to be the opinion of the Colonial Secretary. I believe in free trade if we can have it in every nation on the earth, but I do not agree with it if we are to have free imports coming into our ports and paying no share of the taxes of this country. I was delighted when I found the Chancellor of the Exchequer was able to review in a satisfactory way the possibility of taking taxes off, and specially upon food. There is no doubt the late Chancellor of the Exchequer when he put on the tax last year was wise in putting it on. I believe that very little of this tax was borne by the consumers. A great deal of it was borne by the consignors of corn to this country. The whole question for the Cabinet is which is the best thing to do. Whether they should tax other things to be consumed or take the tax off wheat. We all recog- nise that whatever we do we must not make it more costly for the working classes of this country to live, but we are also aware of the fact that we are exacting £31,000,000 a year by the duties on sugar, tea, tobacco, and other exports coming into this country, which are paid by the consumers of this country. If you remove the tax on tea, which means a saving of 3d. a week to the working man's family, and that tax is put upon corn, which is equivalent to an increase of 2d., the working man would gain by the operation. He would therefore have nothing to complain of if he gained 1d., and if by an operation of this kind we were brought into closer connection with our colonies, he would be a greater gainer because more work would come into the country, by which he would benefit. The right hon. Member for Sleaford is of opinion that there are many who think with him that the Government would be wiser to take off some of the duty upon tea, and leave the duty on corn, but the Government have decided not to do so, and, they having done so, we cannot help ourselves.

I know that my right hon. friend intends to divide the House upon it, and I am sorry for that, because I cannot vote with him on this occasion, although my feelings are entirely in accord with his views. I feel that the Government have made a mistake, but I cannot vote for my right hon. friend upon an Amendment which, if successful, would only result in turning out the Government. The whole question of fiscal policy will be dealt with very soon, and I am sure when we review all these great questions it will be found to the advantage of the Empire if we can arrive at a fiscal policy which will suit the fiscal policy of our colonies, and which will not make it more difficult for the working man to live. The cheaper the labour and the cheaper the raw material the cheaper can the working man live. The Colonial Secretary said recently that we might have to tax raw materials. If we had to do so it would most surely follow that when we exported the finished article there would be a drawback upon it, and therefore the material would not be dearer. That brings me back to the case of bread. Biscuits are exported in large quantities, and on those biscuits exported the tax paid on the corn would be equalised by the allowance or drawback conceded. The study of the whole of the fiscal policies of the world points to the fact that very great success attends those countries where a system of protection is in force, or which, in other words, protect their workpeople, and if we adopt such a system, and at the same time do not increase the cost of living, our workpeople will be better off than they were before.

*MR. ASQUITH (Fifeshire, E.)

I gather, so far as I am able from the speech of the hon. Baronet who has just sac down, that he finds his reason and his feelings in conflict one with the other, and, as it not infrequently happens when a conflict of that kind takes place in the human bosom, reason goes to the wall, and the hon. Gentleman proposes to follow the guidance of his feelings. That is a matter which he has to settle with his own conscience, and perhaps with his constituency. But my object in rising is to ask the attention of the House for a few moments to the situation which confronts us—a situation more grotesque, and, I venture to say, from a Parliamentary point of view, more indecent, than falls within the experience or the memory of the oldest Member of Parliament. How do we stand here? We have been engaged now for the best part of three sittings nominally and ostensibly in discussing the continuance of the corn tax; but, as a matter of fact, during the whole of that time every one has been thinking, and almost every speaker who has taken part in the debate has been talking, about something entirely different. I shall endeavour to keep strictly within the ruling which you, Mr. Speaker, have laid down. It is true that everyone prefaces his remarks with the expression of that pious intention; but, at all events, I will say this—that I will, so far as I can, avoid dealing with any topic which has not been the subject of reference or discussion in the course of these debates. More than that I am unable to promise.

As regards the corn tax, which, as I have said, is the immediate and ostensible subject of debate, it is to me at this moment—as I venture to think it is to ninety-nine out of every 100 Members who sit upon either side of the House—an unsolved and undecipherable mystery either why the Cabinet, as a Cabinet, imposed it last year, or why the Cabinet, as a Cabinet, are dropping it this year. Upon a simple question of fact, I have never known in this House such a multiplicity of irreconcilable versions from the persons, and the only persons, who are qualified to speak. Was the tax imposed last year mainly and primarily as a war tax, or was it imposed mainly and primarily as a first instalment in the process of enlarging the area of indirect taxation? I cannot say. But, Sir, the problems connected with the imposition of the tax are simplicity themselves compared with the problems connected with its abandonment. Why has it been abandoned? Is it because, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer told us yesterday, and I entirely agree with him, because it falls on the consumer — because, in other words, being a tax on the first necessary of life, it is an unnecessary burden which ought to be lifted at the earliest possible moment from the shoulders of the poorest class of the community? That is one theory of the abandonment of the tax which I can understand, follow, and appreciate. But is it being abandoned because, as the Colonial Secretary says, in a letter which he has recently addressed to a correspondent, and which is public property— It does not fall in any way on the consumer, and because— It has been met by a reduction of price and freights in the United States of America."? In other words, is it being abandoned as a magnificent piece of international altruism, as a fresh demonstration of our love for our kinsmen across the Atlantic, to whom, according to this theory of the abandonment of the tax, we are going to make, out of the British Exchequer a present of £2,500,000? I should like to know which theory of the abandonment of the tax is the theory of His Majesty's Government, and particularly the theory of the Prime Minister. Those who, like myself, and like my right hon. and hon. friends who sit on this side of the House, opposed the imposition of the tax last year, naturally have listened not without complacency to the course of this debate. Every single argument that we used lsat year by way of prophecy, either as to the incidence or as to the effect of the tax, was last night demonstrated from that box by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with the aid of carefully sifted and digested official figures, to have been absolutely justified by the event. Never, I venture to say, in Parliamentary history has an Opposition, small in number, impotent in the division lobby, been so rapidly and so completely vindicated out of the mouths of its opponents.

I am not going to trespass on the patience of the House by travelling again over this too familiar ground. I wish to refer to two larger questions which I hope, in accordance with the narrowest interpretation of the rules which govern our proceedings upon this very anomalous occasion, will be found to be strictly and even necessarily relevant to the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. The first question is this—and it is a question which I now address to His Majesty's Government, and as to which I hope before the debate is over we shall have an authoritative answer. Whatever may have been the motive, what is the intention of the Government in dropping this tax? Is it to be abolished or is it to be only hung up? It is dead; we all know it is dead. We are performing its funeral rites. But what is the word that you are going to carve on its tombstone? Is it Requiescat or is it Resurgam? That is the first question as to which I want an answer from the Government to-day. There is a second, and a still larger and more important one, and that is this. This is a tax on imported food, and upon that class of imported food which constitutes a staple of the first necessary of life for the bulk of our population. It is a sample, a type of a whole class of taxation, and you cannot, I venture to submit to the House, discuss the expediency or policy of the abandonment of this particular sample without considering the whole question as to whether or not it is a class of taxation which, in the opinion of His Majesty's Government, it is politic or permissible to make a permanent part of our fiscal system. These are both questions as to which I venture to tell the Government the House of Commons cannot and will not be content with the confused and warring dicta of individual Ministers. They are entitled to, and they intend before the debate is over to get, the collective judgment, if there be one, of the Cabinet as a whole. Upon both the points to which I have referred, the Chancellor of the Exchequer last night made, if not wholly satisfactory, at any rate very reassuring declarations. He means, I gather from what he told us, to bury this tax beyond the hope or chance of resurrection; he is opposed to protective duties on foods in any shape or form. Very well; so far so good. But are these, or are they not, the views of His Majesty's Government? The right hon. Gentleman yesterday, in the earlier part of his speech, produced at that box and read to the House a very remarkable document. I have not seen it, of course; but so far as one could judge at this distance it appeared to be a record, I will not say of a treaty, but at any rate of a truce. But when the right hon. Gentleman came to the end of his recital I confess that for once—I think it is the first time in my Parliamentary experience—I shared the views of my hon. and gallant friend the Member for Central Sheffield, because, like him, I felt in a state of complete bewilderment and doubt as to what was the precise point in that document at which the right hon. Gentleman ceased to express his own personal views and began to express the collective views of his colleagues in the Cabinet. I listened most carefully, and I shall be very glad if even now he, or any of his colleagues, will supply the defects either of our hearing or our understanding and tell us exactly how we stand.

The bulk of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech was an elaborate, and I confess I thought a cogent and convincing refutation of the fallacies which the Colonial Secretary has recently been spreading abroad, not only about this corn tax, but about the whole class of taxation to which it belongs. I do not see the Colonial Secretary here now. [At this point Mr. Chamberlain entered the House, and took his place by the side of the Prime Minister.] I am glad to see the right hon. Gentleman has come in now. I think he was present last night during the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—a compliment which I observe Ministers do not always pay to one another — and I see the right hon. Gentleman—and I am glad to see it—still sits on that Bench. What are we to infer? The right hon. Gentleman heard a speech of his colleague, who, I must beg leave to remark, as Chancellor of the Exchequer is the person primarily responsible for the finances of this country, and, according to constitutional and Parliamentary usage, the authorised exponent of the fiscal policy of His Majesty's Government. The right hon. Gentleman heard that speech, and, as I say, he still sits on that Bench. Is he a convert to the views of the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Do we witness the always grateful spectacle of a brand plucked from the burning?—a backslider brought home again by the gentle and persuasive influence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the old fold from which, in days gone by, the right hon. Gentleman put forward such loud and edifying professions of the true, economic faith. If that is the true explanation of the phenomenon which we witness, I congratulate the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon the unexpected success of an unusually arduous effort in the field of missionary work. But perhaps that is not the true explanation, and if not, I ask again how do we stand? The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us yesterday that some Ministers—I think that was the phrase he used—had been expressing individual opinions of their own in relation to this matter. Among the "some Ministers" to whom the right hon. Gentleman vaguely, I will not say contemptuously, alluded, I think the Prime Minister was included. This is a matter which goes far beyond the subject before the House of Commons—the removal or the continuance of the corn tax. Here we have two Ministers of the Crown seated at this moment upon that Bench, separated the one from the other only by the intervention of the Prime Minister himself. One of them, the Colonial Secretary, is the Minister who is constitutionally responsible for the management of the relations between this country and the outlying parts of the Empire; the other, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as I pointed out a moment ago, is the Minister responsible for the fiscal arrangements of the United Kingdom and a great part of the Empire. These two Ministers, if we are to abandon the genial, but, I am afraid, the not very probable hypothesis, which I ventured to put forward a few moments ago, of secret recantation and reconciliation—if they still remain of the same frame of mind in which they were two days ago—are here propounding fundamentally and irreconcilably divergent views in a matter which affects more vitally than any other matter in the whole range of politics the unity of the Empire and the fiscal arrangements and prosperity of the country.

We were told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday—and the Prime Minister adumbrated at any rate a similar view in a speech he made in this House just before the recess—that Ministers are entitled to hold and express independent opinions on questions of public policy. So they are. There is a large number of matters as to which, without any want of loyalty, without any breach of the obligations of Party, without any want of allegiance to the public duty which this country requires from its statesmen, Ministers may hold and express divergent views. And there is a number of other questions as to which they may invite discussion and inquiry, either by Committee, Commission, or any other instrument you please. If it is a question of the speed at which motorcars shall be allowed to travel along the highways, or if it is a question of the number of decimals of an inch to which the linen collar of an officer may be allowed to be exposed by the War Office—that is a very fit subject for discussion and inquiry, and as to which Ministers, and Members of Parliament too, may very well claim to have an open mind. But we are not dealing with matters of that kind here. We are dealing here with a question which goes deep down to the very root of our national and our Imperial existence, and I say that it is not only without precedent or example, but an entire departure from the conditions and rules of our public life that in a matter of this kind important and responsible Ministers—the Ministers immediately and directly concerned—should be allowed not merely to emit on public platforms discordant opinions, but that they should pose as propagandists—that is what they do—of two wholly irreconcilable views of public policy, which one of them at any rate, declares he intends to make the cardinal issue at the next general election. That, to my mind, is the real significance of the situation, and I have risen for the purpose, in these few words, of uttering a protest not only on behalf of the Opposition but, I believe, on behalf of the vast majority of Members on both sides of this House against a practice which if it were once allowed would put an end to Ministerial responsibility and Cabinet Government.

MR. SEELY (Lincoln)

While I congratulate the Government upon the courage they have shown in taking off this tax, I desire to put forward a few views on the situation which its imposition has produced. The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down said, and truly said, that this duty has shown more than almost anything in modern times how right were those who opposed its original imposition. It has borne out in every respect the opinions that were formed of it. I do not wish to go into a long controversy, which I thought had been settled, as to whether the tax is borne by the consumer or the producer. The figures given last night by the Chancellor of the Exchequer proved that; but we have had to-day and we shall have again, no doubt, assertions from one man or another that taxes of this kind can be imposed without injury to those who pay them, and that they will be borne entirely by the foreign producer. I should like to point out the history of this tax and how it has borne out what we said. We said it would make no alteration in the consumption of corn or in the production of corn in this country, and therefore it would make no alteration in the demand for foreign corn in this land. It has made no difference in the supply of corn to us. Even the most rabid protectionist has not asserted that this duty has affected the atmospheric conditions in the United States. For that reason it has made no difference whatever to the price of corn in our land, and the whole of that shilling, so far as we can understand, has been paid by the consumer of corn in this country. Although the facts have shown that we were correct on that point, that was only a small part of our objection to the tax. Our real objections were far greater, and the history of it has shown most conclusively how right we were in opposing it. In speaking on this question I would do so as a free trader and as one who has nothing to explain, one who has not to explain his past history in voting for a tax on food as a war tax, and should like to point out what are the principal lessons that we learned from it. The first lesson we got from this tax was the hostility of the people of this country to a tax on corn. We heard from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton last night the effect of it on by-elections, which to those who studied the subject showed that the people of this country objected to its imposition; and the objection was shown in the only manner open to them—viz., in an election. They clearly proved that its imposition, and still more any increase of it which would be the result of its maintenance, would meet with the most determined hostility from the people. How is the position of the Government affected by the imposition of this corn duty? How has it been affected by the proposal which we feel certain will be carried?

I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife, or with those who have spoken from that bench, and many who have spoken on this side of the House, that the position of the Government is—I think the right hon. Gentleman said—grotesque and indecent. I cannot help feeling that, grave as is the position of affairs, difficult as it may be for individual Members of the Party and for Members of the Government, it is a position which, under all the circumstances of the case, is a reasonable, a possible, and a proper position. In opposing the tax last year one of the greatest objections made to it was that it would raise hopes and anticipations, not only in this country but throughout the world, with regard to alterations in our policy. I felt that it would raise hopes in the minds of our colonial brethren in every one of our colonies that they would get some personal advantage from the alteration in our policy, and there fore I was not surprised to find that the evils I feared have come to pass; although I did not expect they would come in so serious a form as they have come before the country. We have to take the facts as we find them. We have the one fact that the great industrial classes of this country, like the great industrial classes all over the world, are hostile to taxes being imposed on their food. I have seen it stated in the papers that other countries pay food taxes cheerfully. In France and Germany those interested in the production of food have a majority in the electoral machinery of the Government, and the industrial classes are hostile not only to that particular policy but are hostile largely to the whole constitution of society. You have in Germany taxes on food. In that country two-thirds of the industrial voters are socialists, and hostile to the whole conditions of society. Do you think it would be wise to risk the raising of the same frame of mind in the great industrial classes which form the vast majority of the population of this country? That is one thing you have to remember. Then you have the vast complexity and size of your foreign trade. You have the fact that numbers of your population are dependent upon it, and that makes it most undesirable and most objectionable for any sudden change to be made in your fiscal policy. What have you on the other side? For good or evil you passed this tax last year. You passed it in spite of the opposition of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and against the advice of many Members on this side of the House. It is done, and you have to face the effects of it. You have received from the colonies—not altogether definitely, but to a sufficiently large extent to enable you to understand it—a demand that through the medium of this corn tax they shall be given some advantage over their competitors in the production of corn and food. And what makes it still more serious is that you have had a declara- tion from the Colonial Secretary—the Minister especially in touch with those colonies—that in his opinion that demand is entitled to receive the careful consideration of the country. And you have had further the statement that in his opinion—so far as it goes—that policy would have his support.

Now, what policy are we to adopt? We have before us to-day the policy for the remitting and abolishing of this tax, and we have the policy of keeping it on. I feel confident that the policy which the Government are adopting in taking it off is the correct one, and I shall vote against the Amendment of the right hon. Member for Sleaford with the greatest pleasure on that ground, and also on the general objections I have always had to the tax. To-day we have a demand from the right hon. Member for East Fife, and from other hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who sit on that Front Bench, that the Government should make a definite declaration almost at the moment as to what their fiscal policy is to be—not with reference to the removal of this tax, but with reference to the future. I hope the Government will not accede to that demand. I feel positive—I am a free trader and I have no fear whatever as to the results of any inquiry as to the question of free trade—that in our trade with our colonies, in our trade with foreign countries it is our system of free imports and our system of free food that we depend on, not only to feed our people, but also for the maintenance of our manufacturing supremacy, and I feel confident that whatever feeling has arisen it is largely due to misconception and mistake both as to the forces which govern the distribution of goods, and as to the facts of the matter concerned. I would suggest to the Government that there should be some inquiry into the real position of our trade with our colonies—into the real question which has been and is the main element in what has been raised by this tax—viz., the question of giving them a preference as against foreign countries. What is the present state of our trade? Is there anyone in this House who can confidently believe that he can say what the present state of trade with the colonies is?


Order, order. The hon. Member is not in order in referring to that question.


I have endeavoured to the best of my ability to remain within the bounds of order. I hope that His Majesty's Government will maintain the attitude they have adopted of declining to allow themselves to be led into maintaining the imposition of this corn tax, and I shall give them in repealing this tax my cordial support; and I am sure they will also have the cordial support of the vast industrial population of this country. I hope the Government will not be led away into giving a premature decision upon a question which is so grave and the importance of which everyone can realise. As to the result of an inquiry I have no doubt whatever, but I do not think a preliminary decision ought to be given without any inquiry, and without that knowledge which will come by the lapse of time in regard to taxes on corn and other matters connected with it, and in regard to the trade with our colonies. Such a decision I am sure would be fraught with evil to the Party and to the country, whose trade, and commerce, and people are committed to our charge.

MR. SHACKLETON (Lancashire, Clitheroe)

I feel some diffidence in rising this afternoon as a representative of trades unionists after what I read the other day in the letter written by the Colonial Secretary. I know that the opinion among the working men in Birmingham has changed, and upon the question of taxing the food of the people the labour party in Birmingham will give the electors an opportunity of declaring whether they will change their fiscal policy or their representative. We hail with pleasure the opportunity of fighting the next election upon the question of taxing the food of the people. Something has been said as to who pays this tax. Coming from Lancashire I can assure this House that nine-tenths of the common food of the people is baked by the wives in their homes, and on the admission of all hon. Gentlemen and right hon. Gentlemen in this debate there is no dispute that flour has increased in price; and if nine-tenths of them have had to pay the increased price of flour they must have paid something towards that £2,500,000. Take the increased price of bread. I notice that reference is always made to the 4 lb. loaf, but the 4 lb. loaf is scarcely ever seen in Lancashire, and what is seen is nominally the 2 lb. loaf. The figures given last night by the hon. Member for Bury show that in no single instance has there been a decrease in price, but in several instances there has been an increase, and those statistics were given by the Board of Trade Labour Department. I will give another instance to show that an increase in price can come about without the Board of Trade knowing anything about it. It is a case which occurred in my own district. It is a well-known fact that bakers need not say how much bread they are giving for the price they charge. All they need to do is to hold the scales in such a position that the purchaser can see the weight. In case of dispute all the seller needs to show is that the scale was open to the eyes of the purchaser. In one case a boy was sent to purchase a loaf, and he stood at the counter with a row of bottles in front of him, and he could see the end of the scales with the loaf on it but not the end where the weight was. On that point alone the seller was fined heavily for deceiving the public. It is altogether forgotten that the baker has a light to take off two ounces in the weight, and that is done to a large extent in many Lancashire districts. There is no sum payable in the coin of the realm small enough to represent this tax on bread, but the baker gets the difference in other ways. Something was said by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon this matter, and I made an audible smile when he referred to 30 per cent. of the workers living below the living wage limit. I did not smile at that statement, because I have lived too long myself near the border line to laugh at that, but what I was laughing at was the remedy of tightening your waist belt for the hungry belly. That is not the policy working men will accept, but it is the policy which my hon. friend supports when he votes for a tax on bread. When this matter is thoroughly understood by the working men of this country they will want something different to a policy of tightening up the belt.

Something has been said in this debate about the condition of labour in America. Upon this question I speak from investigations made by myself and six other gentlemen representing employers in Lancashire. At their invitation I went as a representative operative to consider the conditions of the cotton trade in America. Just twelve months ago to-day I returned, and the facts I obtained there along with my colleagues are fresh in my mind. I would sooner deal with this question of the condition of labour abroad from what I have seen myself than from statistics quoted in this House. I will take the cotton centre of the Northern States of America. There the wages are higher but the hours are longer, and that fact never seems to be mentioned here. The hours of labour in Lancashire are fifty-five per week, but in Rhode Island they are sixty per week. Again, the piece-work rate paid by employers in America is less than in Lancashire, and the reason why they earn higher wages in America is on account of the longer hours and other circumstances of a technical character which I should not be permitted to go into now, and which only those closely acquainted with the cotton trade can understand. It is sufficient to say that the actual piece-work rate paid by the American cotton manufacturers is lower for all general goods than the price paid by the Lancashire employers. But that is not the worst aspect of the case. Hon. Members must remember that there is a Southern State in America as well as a Northern. One thousand miles lower down in the country, many miles nearer the cotton, mills have been built, and there, instead of receiving wages equal to the Lancashire operatives, they receive less wages and work from sixty-nine to seventy-two hours per week. I came back from my visit to America content to remain a Britisher. My advice to working men is that we can give you better conditions of labour in our own country than you will find in America in the cotton trade.

The hon. Member for Newcastle asked me if I should be prepared to consider this important question of a tax on food if the facts given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University could be substantiated. In reply to that I would say that we have not had the opportunity of putting before the House some of the remedies that we desire as a Labour Party, and after we have tried these and find that we have no other remedy left, then we will consider how far it will affect us to adopt the suggestion which has been made. I may say that some of the moves we have made have been checkmated by monopolies, the result of cheap trains has been increased rents, and the result of cheap trams established by the London County Council has been increased rents. We have to deal with the monopolists in these cases, and we want a Government which is willing to support such things as the municipalisation of artisans' dwellings. When we have tried some of the sensible schemes to improve the condition of our people, then we may consider such propositions as have been put forward to put a tax on the food of the people. During the last three years in Lancashire the cost of living has gone up 10 per cent., and not a single penny has come to the operative in the shape of increased wages. I can prove this statement by figures from private traders, co-operative societies and other classes, and I can show that at the same time not a single penny has been added to the wages of the workers. You must prove to us that an increase in the price of food is followed, or rather preceded, by an increase of wages. What are some of the reasons why the conditions are not operative? If the hon. Member listened to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University, he will have noticed that he cut the community up into different portions. First there were those above the working class scale—persons receiving incomes from other sources than labour, namely, from the investment of capital. Then there were those receiving above the limit of the standard wage. How did the right hon. Gentleman explain that they were receiving above the limit. He said it was due to organisation. You find those above the limit of the standard wage to be among the class who have had an opportunity of organising and getting from their employers a standard of living above those who are not organised. Do you think that the dock labourers would work for 19s., 20s., or 21s. a week if they had full opportunity of organisation? Nothing of the kind. It is a well-known fact that in the naval department these men are not allowed an opportunity of organisation, which is the first effective condition for the improvement of the people.


The history of the corn tax reminds me of those persons in former times who, after brief and inglorious careers, became celebrated from the funeral orations pronounced over them. The general characteristic of these orations was that they contained very small mention of the merits or defects of the deceased. I think that is the character of many of the speeches we have heard. The story of this tax is particularly curious. It was created through a misapprehension to meet the necessities of an expenditure which never occurred. As soon as it came into the world it was stolen from its free trade authors and brought up in the protectionist camp. I think it has brought nothing but embarrassment to its parents, confusion to its sponsors, and disappointment to those who were foolish enough to believe in it. The debate has been remarkable. It is a debate which will be long remembered, more particularly on account of two declarations of the highest importance we heard yesterday. I venture to congratulate the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon the firmness which he has shown in insisting upon the repeal of this tax, and still more upon his clear declaration in favour of Free Trade. I venture also to congratulate the late Chancellor of the Exchequer upon the courage which he showed in sacrificing his own child in order not to associate himself with those whose fiscal policy he detests. I hope the intervention of the right hon. Gentleman will be followed by vigorous and persistent action, and I can assure him he will find on these benches many who welcome his lead on financial subjects with enthusiasm and confidence. I hope he will succeed in making his voice heard in the direction of sound finance and economical administration to a more successful extent than it was apparently heard during his tenure of office.

I have heard with some surprise, in the course of this debate, that the imposition of the corn tax, which has brought £2,500,000 into the Exchequer, has made no difference in the retail price to the consumer. I should like to ask those Members who support this contention whether that is due to something special in the nature and character of corn, or whether it is not more due to the fact that the duty only represents a charge of 4 or 5 per cent. upon the prime cost. If there is nothing special and peculiar in corn, then it appears to me that what applies to corn also applies to every article of large and general consumption. If the registration duty on corn is justifiable why should we stop at corn, and not advocate a registration duty all round, upon meat and provisions of every kind? If this article is not affected by the import duty, because the duty is only 4 or 5 per cent., I would ask to what extent can you tax an article imported into this country without altering its price to the consumer? Inquiry is surely of the very essence of a proper comprehension of the very elements of financial administration, and if 5 per cent. duty is not a burden upon the consumer, what would be the result of a duty of 10, 15, or 20 per cent? Would the whole of it be paid by the consumer, or would he only pay the balance after the deduction of the £2,500,000, which it is contended comes out of the pockets of the foreigners? It is not sufficient to assert that the consumer pays nothing, merely because we desire him to consent to the imposition of a tax. You must construct some logical system that applies to all cases, and show reason why this money which comes into the Treasury is not paid by the consumer. It amounts to this, that if you multiply a duty without bringing in new classes of contributors to the taxation, you are making an unnecessary increase to the fiscal arrangements of the country. It has been often contended that this corn tax is to be advocated on the ground that it largely increases the area and basis of taxation. It appears me that if we go beneath the sound of words and look into their real meaning, it will be found that the cry of the desirability of increasing the area of taxation rested upon no solid foundation, and was very much like clap-trap. Is it contended that, under present circumstances, any class of the community escapes contribution to the national revenue to an undue extent? I have not seen that view put forward except anonymously, and I have not seen it supported by figures or anything but the most fantastic classification of our taxes. If by adding a new tax you leave the burden on precisely the same shoulders on which it lay before, you have not increased the area or efficiency of the fiscal system. It may be asserted that by adding corn you have brought into the fiscal net certain persons who would not otherwise have been laid under contribution. Who are those persons? It appears to me to be shown absolutely beyond dispute that they represent the poorest class of the community, those least able to stand the new charge. It means that you duplicate the machinery in order to grind closer, and by grinding closer you press more severely upon the poorest, and those least competent to bear taxation. Quite apart from any result you might arrive at from a study of the probable effect of the tax, it seems to be open to some suspicion on account of the character of its supporters. There is another section perhaps less inclined to make themselves heard, who advocate any measure which will maintain a high level of national expenditure. These two groups will be often found working hand in hand. It is of the highest importance that those who take a more sober view of our national policy should not allow the public to be misled by the catchword of this confederation. It is their duty to probe their theories to the bottom and not allow them to affect the legislation or the policy of the country, unless their arguments will stand the strictest and most business-like analysis.

*MR. MCCRAE (Edinburgh, E.)

Some years ago an historic encounter took place across the floor of this House between the late Lord Randolph Churchill and the present Colonial Secretary, and Lord Randolph Churchill congratulated himself on his success in drawing the badger. Well, it appears to me that during these sittings the majority of hon. and right hon. Members who have spoken from both sides of the House have been engaged in the same occupation. The cry for more light is not confined to members of the Opposition, but is heard also from the Government benches, and I think we are entitled to know the position of the Cabinet in regard to this matter. I congratulate the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the remission of the corn tax. I think I may say that when his appointment was made it received the unanimous assent of the House, and those on this side of the House looked forward to his promotion to his high position with hope and expectation. That expectation has not been disappointed; but I think there was one sentence in the speech which the right hon. Gentleman made in introducing the Budget—a very significant sentence, which has not received the attention which it has deserved. It is a sentence which might have been supplied by the Colonial Secretary, or the Prime Minister; and it is to this effect:— I do not think the corn tax can remain permanently an integral portion of our fiscal system, unless in connection with some radical change in our economic policy, or with some boon much desired by the working classes. We want to know whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer in speaking thus was merely "blowing off steam," whether it was mere rhetoric, or whether there was behind that statement preferential tariffs, and old-age pensions, however inconsistent it might appear with the speech which the right hon. Gentleman made yesterday. The proposal before the House is for the repeal of the corn tax, and the House and the country are entitled to know what is the fiscal policy of the Government. We have asked that over and over again in the course of the debate; but it is evident that theirs is a policy of the open mind and the closed lips. This tax was proposed by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer only a year ago to broaden the basis of taxation. We on this side of the House admired the splendid courage and rare ability with which the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, under circumstances of unparalleled difficulty, fought his battle. He elicited the admiration of his opponents. He asserted, and no one doubted his sincerity, that this corn tax was put on for revenue purposes, that there was no protection in it. I think that even the right hon. Gentleman himself must be convinced now that he was wrong. In proposing the tax the right hon. Gentleman denounced in the strongest possible manner, even the possibility of its being used for the purpose of preferential tariffs, and how strong his reasons are against the policy which he now sees foreshadowed is evidenced by the fact that yesterday he declared that he was prepared to reverse his own well considered and clearly defined policy. Now, we on this side of the House welcome the reversal of that policy. We support the remission of that tax on the food of the people. We believe that it was an unjust and mistaken departure from the principles of sound taxation; and in supporting the Government, as we are prepared to do, we are entitled to ask whether the Cabinet have finally made up their mind on its abolition; whether they are going to stick to it as a settled policy?

In spite of the limitations of the debate, we are, after all, during these two days making history, although the Government are apparently unconcious of it, and the Prime Minister knoweth it not. In this Finance Bill we are settling the fiscal policy of the country. We know how important it is that we should have continuity in that fiscal policy. We are often told that it is of great importance to have continuity in our foreign policy, but it is quite as important to secure continuity in our fiscal policy. We cannot play fast and loose with it. Any attempt to re-introduce this corn tax on any pretext whatever is bound to disorganise our trade, to hamper our industry, and to dislocate the money market. It has been asserted that this tax has not been paid by the consumer. Ask the housewife who bakes her own bread in the north of England; ask the housewife in the poorer districts of the city of London, where to this day she pays a halfpenny per loaf more than before the tax was imposed. Where the margin has been the smallest, there has been the biggest increase, and the sufferings have been the greatest. The laws of political economy as well as common sense prove that a tax on food must increase its price. But the Colonial Secretary has said that if we pay more for the means of subsistence, it will be more than counterbalanced by the rise in wages. His words were— But even if the price of food is raised, the rate of wages will certainly be raised in greater proportion. I admit that the Colonial Secretary has the support, for that doctrine, of certain political economists who have declared that that is so under given conditions; but does the history of this country support that contention? No, it does not. If the House will allow me I will make a quotation from a speech made by one of the greatest, if not the greatest Finance Minister this country over had, Mr. Gladstone. I regret that my hon. friend the Member for West Islington taunted a right hon. Member on the other side of the House for quoting Mr. Gladstone; I think right hon. Gentlemen should rather be commended for so doing. The more hon. and right hon. Gentlemen read and study the speeches of that great statesmen the more hope there will be of their political salvation, even on Home Rule. What was it that Mr. Gladstone said?— I had occasion," he said, "to refer to this subject recently, and to state that in the year 1812, when there were protective duties upon foreign corn, the British workman paid for the bread, on which he depended for the subsistence of his wife and family, five times the price which of late years he has paid for it, and the wages out of which he paid that price, strange as it may appear, were, I believe, half, or less than half, of the wages he now receives. Now the lesson of history has been, so far as this country is concerned, that dear food means low wages. But I rejoice at the proposal to repeal the tax for another reason. The importance of free imports into this country can hardly be overestimated, even for political reasons, reasons of high politics. I do not refer to the fact that freedom of trade between nations is in the interests of peace; but take our position with the United States of America. Our imports from the United States surpass those of any other country. They are a fourth of our whole import trade, and food stuffs bear a large ratio to the whole. Last year, I find from the Blue-book issued the other day, that the flour and wheat imported into this country amounted to 108,000,000 cwts., and if maize, barley, and oats are taken, it amounted in all to 200,000,000 cwts., and of this amount 65,000,000 cwts., came from the United States. Now let the House consider what would happen in the case of a great European war. I have great faith in the solidarity of the English speaking race, and in the cementing of the two peoples by ties of blood; but, after all, self interest plays an important part in national policy. Can we doubt that the more trade there is between this country and the United States the more likely will the material interests of the United States affect her policy and determine her attitude, should there be a great European war? How vital this would be to this country in a great crisis need not be pointed out.

There is another argument I would urge in favour of the repeal of the tax and against the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford, and it is this. Some of those who are against the repeal of this tax, wish to retain it so as to enable us to give a preference to our own colonies. Now, the Liberal party have a paternal interest in our colonies. When the Party opposite, whose views were at the time expounded by Lord Beaconsfield, then Mr. Disraeli, declared that our colonies were "a millstone round our necks," the Liberal party stood by our colonies, and we are now prepared, nay, are bound, to give them moral and, in the last resort, physical support. There are some statesmen who seem to be in a high state of colonial fever at the present time, and, as not unfrequently happens under such conditions, they see visions and dream dreams of a new Jerusalem, where the laws of political economy and of supply and demand are of the earth earthy. But the average citizens who walk in a humbler sphere, and do their daily work and earn their daily bread, are much more prosaic, and have not yet attained to those giddy heights. I am pretty sure that the British people will make short shrift of any statesman who, with free trade on his lips, and protection in his heart, is prepared to experiment with the great fiscal system of this country. I appeal to the Prime Minister to declare as to which of the two voices he is going to listen. It was said that in the wash-tub of democracy the colours were inclined to run; but I think that even the great Unionist colours are not quite fast. The party is divided in opinion on this great question. I remember the Prime Minister two years ago taunting my right hon. friend the Leader of the Opposition with having two voices. Where did the two voices come from now? Surely the House and the country are entitled to have a clear statement from the Prime Minister. Does he, or does he not, support the policy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer? The Government have taken a new departure in repealing this tax. We hope they have taken it after deliberation, and that they are prepared to adhere to a policy of free trade. We hope the Prime Minister will make that perfectly clear when he replies. Any other course would be a repudiation of Cabinet responsibility. It would reduce Parliamentary Government to a farce and put the Prime Minister of this country in a position of the greatest possible humiliation. No, Sir, we cannot hang this question up. That would be a proceeding most disastrous to our commerce. It would sterilise our trading position in the markets of the world. The Government are hopelessly divided on a question of principle which is vital to the prosperity of the nation. The discussion yesterday showed that on a most important public question the two most important members of the Government are in a position of splendid isolation. I think I see the two right hon. Gentlemen standing on the sea-shore, a barque waiting for them, and hear them humming Tennyson's beautiful poem:— Sunset and evening star And one clear call for me, And may there be no moaning of the bar When I put out to sea. Twilight and evening bell, And after that the dark, And may there be no sadness of farewell When I embark. If they want to cross the bar, why do they not do it? I am perfectly confident that the people of these Islands will not entrust the treasure of the British Empire to the frail and rotten craft of protection.


Like every other speaker who has ventured to address the House in the debate, I find myself in a position of the greatest difficulty. We are discussing a question which is important in itself, but which absolutely pales into insignificance compared with the much greater question about which we are all thinking, and which we are endeavouring not to talk about. For my part, Mr. Speaker, I shall endeavour to conform to your ruling both in the letter and the spirit. I said we were in a difficult position. We heard just now a very remarkable speech from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife. I do not often agree with that right hon. Gentleman; but I am bound to say that this afternoon I agreed with the greater part of his speech. He told us that the position was a grotesque position. It may be a grotesque position for him and right hon. Gentlemen opposite; but for hon. Members on this side it is an absolutely harrowing position. I do not say that we do not know where we are; but we do not know where the Government is whose followers we are. We see a policy enunciated, a policy which, for my part, I entirely and enthusiastically agree with—a policy of preferential tariffs; and we see the one tax which now exists, and which may be used for the purpose of accomplishing Imperial tariffs, thrown away at the very moment when a new policy is inaugurated. The Government are abandoning the one weapon they possess of making Imperial tariffs a possibility. We do not in the least know, when we are told that there is to be an inquiry, whether it is one which is to be gone into with the honest and straightforward desire to find out the truth, or gone into, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer seems to suggest, with preconceived opinions and with the idea that the result is already known. We cannot for the life of us reconcile the opinions expressed by the Colonial Secretary with the opinions expressed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and we cannot reconcile the policy of the Government this year with the policy of the Government last year. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife said he could not, for the life of him, see why this tax was put on, and why it was now taken off. I certainly did think I knew why it was put on. I have long been a follower of the right hon. Gentleman the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I believe the tax was put on as a permanent addition to our basis of taxation, and for the permanent broadening of that basis. I remember in Committee on the Finance Bill last year, the hon. Member for Northampton moved an Amendment which proposed to limit the tax to one year. What was the answer of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and of the whole Government? It was that it would be most absurd and most detrimental to trade to put on a tax of this nature for one year and limit it to one year. The then Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the tax was intended by him not merely in order to make a contribution towards the war expenditure of the year, but also in order that there should be a permanent widening of the basis of taxation. What is the position of hon. Members like myself who have gone about the country defending the Government and defending this tax? We have said that the tax did not fall on the consumer. I do not believe it does. Now, the Chancellor of the Exchequer says that it does; and that for that reason he has taken it off. We have talked about the heads of indirect taxation as being too few; and we said what a splendid thing it was to make this permanent addition to these heads. Now, when we have successfully taken that view in the country, we are thrown over; and this tax which was put on to be permanent, and a Motion to restrict which to one year was defeated by the whole force of the Government, is to be repealed. I confess myself in the very gravest difficulty.

I supported this tax last year for many reasons. The principal reason, I candidly admit, was that I did regard it as the first stepping-stone towards preferential tariffs: and I defended the tax because it was not, in my opinion, and I think also in the opinion of the Government then, a tax which would fall upon the consumer. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer now says that the tax does fall on the consumer; and that he must take it off because he must remove something paid on the necessaries of life by the great masses of the population. Whether the tax does in any degree whatever fall on the consumer is exceedingly difficult to say. But the matter is even more difficult, because Government statistics on this very point differ in the most extraordinary manner. I have here two documents which I commend to the attention of the Government. They are copies of the Labour Gazette for December, 1902, and January, 1903. The price of the loaf is given in both. In April, 1902, shortly before the tax was put on, the price of the loaf is given at from 5d. to 5½d. In December of that year it is given at 5d., which showed that there had been no serious rise in the price of bread. Apparently the statistician of the Labour Department, either anticipating the extraordinary change of front on the part of the Government, or for some other occult reason, changed his opinion between December and January. In the January Gazette he put the price of the loaf in April of last year at from 3½d. to 4½d. and he put it in January of this year at from 4½d. to 5d.; therefore showing that although there had been no rise between April and December last year, there was an enormous rise between April of last year and January of this year. In the two issues of this Government publication the price of the loaf in April of last year was changed from 5d. to 5½d. to from 3½d. to 4d. Under these circumstances it is almost impossible for any private Member, or, indeed, any Member of the Government, to ascertain what is the incidence of this tax. For my part, I regard it as merely a registration duty. It was a registration duty in the palmy days of free trade, and was far too small to affect the price of the loaf at all. Our market being a neutral market into which foreign growers wished to pour their supplies every year, the tax was paid by the foreign producer or by the foreign railway company or steamship company. In any case the increase in the price of the loaf has been so absolutely trifling as to render it quite unnecessary for the Government to make this extraordinary change of front, thereby putting themselves and their supporters into a most difficult position, and interfering with trade in a manner which, I think, no Government has interfered with it for very many years.

I am told — I do not believe it—that this tax has been taken off because the Party wirepullers found it was unpopular. I hope there is no truth in that; but if there is the slightest truth in it, I would venture to make one remark regarding it. If the repeal of this tax is an electioneering matter, it is very bad electioneering. It will not gain the support of a single man who opposed the tax, and it will lose the support of every man who approved of it. I go further. This is a tax which, say what you will, brought into the Treasury £2,500,000 a year. We live in times of very high expenditure. I do not care whether it is for the Army, or the Navy, or education, expenditure is going up. Here was a tax producing £2,500,000 which it is impossible to prove was paid by consumers in this country. Is it wise to throw it away? Would it not be wiser to retain it for Supplementary Estimates; or, if it were not thought necessary or right to keep such a large sum in hand, how much better it would be to remit the duty on tea, or some other article, paid by the working classes, the effect of which would be felt. They will not benefit by the repeal the of corn tax; and I do not understand why it is to be taken off. I venture to make one last appeal to the Prime Minister. We have introduced deputations to him and have presented testimonials—perhaps that is not quite the proper word—we have presented memoranda to him and we have endeavoured by every legitimate means to persuade him to reconsider his decision. I venture to say he finds the difficulty he is placed in infinitely greater than it would have been if he had listened to us. The great question of preferential tariffs has been raised and the position of the Government has become illogical. Once more I would make an appeal to the Prime Minister, and if that is unsuccessful we are once more placed in a difficulty, for if we vote with the Government in this case we vote for the repeal of a tax which we think ought not to be repealed, and if we vote for the Amendment we vote against a Budget in which we believe. The Prime Minister must see that we are placed in a most difficult position, and, loyal as we are, our loyalty is confused by the fact that we do not know to what part of the Government our loyalty is mostly due. One Member in the lobby asked me if I was going to support the Ministers. I said I was going to support some of them because it was quite impossible to support some without condemning others. I hope the Government will reconsider this question.

SIR EDWARD GREY (Northumberland, Berwick)

I am very conscious that, though I differ from the hon. Member who has just spoken with regard to his general views of fiscal policy, I rise, in the first place, to otter him my sympathy in the situation in which he finds himself and to join in the appeal which has been made to the Government to clear the situation up. The situation, which is harrowing for him, is inconvenient for all of us. We have got a very simple issue before the House. One hon. Member has said that the debate has been unreal, and another hon. Member said that it had been interesting. I agree that it has been an interesting debate and also that it has been an extraordinary and perilous debate. Why? Not because the actual issue is simple, but because the situation which the Government have created is so impossible and intolerable. It has been said over and over again that we have one issue before us, though all of us have the larger question in our minds. I will endeavour, as we have all endeavoured, to succeed in making all I wish to say relevant to the simple issue. Let me begin first of all by saying that I shall not spend much time on the smaller points connected with it, and upon whom the corn duty has fallen. If we are honest in our own minds we must admit that whatever may be the temporary incidence of a small tax for a short time—the Government are not agreed about the temporary incidence of the tax, though the last and most official figures show that it has fallen on the consumer—in the long run it must fall on the consumer. To suppose that a shilling tax is not going to affect the price of bread, to say that it cannot affect the price, is one of those quaint dialectical conceits which it is impossible to pursue. I therefore support the repeal of this duty because it must fall on the consumer; but I do not wish to argue my case on simple doctrinaire grounds. An hon. Member opposite complained that those of us who supported the repeal of the duty, and in consequence were in opposition to the larger proposals of the Colonial Secretary, were bringing forward doctrinaire arguments without proof. The onus of proof is on the other side, on those who state that a tax on food which is liable to raise the price of food will yet bring higher wages. The onus of proof is on those who make that statement, and not on those who, like us, adhere to the principles of free trade. We adhere to free trade not because we are doctrinaires. My attachment to free trade is not due to a belief in the superficial virtue of the doctrine, but because of my intense belief in the mischief of any other system, a mischief which threatens to be greater now than ever before. Conditions of trade have changed in the last fifty years. Trade is done in larger quantities with smaller margins of profit, and the danger of disturbance and collapse by arbitrary interference is greater now than ever before.

The right hon. Member for Cambridge University last night more than once referred to the danger to the condition of the people created by a tax on food, and I agree with him that the condition of the people from that point of view should be one of our first considerations. The right hon. Gentleman dwelt with great emphasis on the mischief and the suffering which might be caused by even a small rise in the price of food. That is true, and I think the right hon. Gentleman put it also on Imperial grounds. It is most emphatically true on Imperial grounds. This country is the heart and centre of the Empire, and if you are going to embark on large changes, if you are to continue in the policy which we have before us at the moment, you are, in my opinion, going to engage in a wild and vague attempt to increase the vigour of the limbs by depressing the vitality of the action at the centre. If we want a serious argument on this point it is to be found in what has been said as to the effect on the condition of the people in connection with this particular tax. The right hon. Member for Cambridge University, in emphasising this point last night, used some strong language to the effect that if the House really knew the condition of the children in our schools it would be apprehensive of real degeneracy, physical and moral, setting in in the population. That is a very serious statement. There, if you like, is a fair case for inquiry. When I hear statements made by one possessing the knowledge of the right hon. Gentleman, I ask myself is that result due to the congestion of our great towns and the depopulation of the rural areas? It is a very serious question, and when hon. Members opposite, representing a section, at any rate, of the agricultural party, acclaim a tax of this kind, on the ground that it is to be a benefit to the rural districts, that it will help to bring the people back to the land to continue such a tax, they would have a much stronger argument than any they have adduced. It might be possible to bring the people back to the rural districts by a tax on corn, but the tax must be so high as to affect the price of food to a degree which would work incalculably greater mischief than the advantage you would derive from the comparatively small return you would obtain. I have long dwelt on the subject and I believe the real remedy is in the direction of such small holdings as those which the hon. Member for Bordesley has indicated, and not in tampering with the fiscal system. I mention that point because I would not have it supposed that any of us who object to the imposition of such a corn duty as this are indifferent to the larger question of the condition of the people, which is possibly bound up with the depopulation of our rural districts. We are asked now to support the repeal of the duty on corn. Last year we opposed it. I for one opposed it last year specifically on the ground that, apart from the mischief it might work, it was bound to lead to a demand from the colonies for preferential tariffs, and that it would be very difficult for the Government to refuse. I remember arguing that this duty might be represented in the colonies as being for the first time a differential duty in favour of the British producer and against the colonial producer, that this tax was certain to lead to a system of preferential tariffs, and that it would change the whole of our fiscal policy. I did not get very much sympathy from the right hon. Member for West Bristol at the time, but I should like cordially to say that, though I opposed him at the time, I infinitely prefer the manner in which he proposed this tax to the House to the manner in which the Government are now engaged in repealing it. The right hon. Gentleman did not endorse our apprehensions with regard to preferential tariffs, and he considered it to be a safe tax to impose. He put it before the House as a revenue duty solely, a legitimate, useful, permanent source of revenue from his point of view. Why does he now support its discontinuance? Because he has come to see that he cannot trust his late colleagues.

The issue is, or ought to be, simple—whether the tax shall be discontinued or not. We ought to have to vote simply on that, and there would be the end of it. But is that to be the end? Or is it to be the beginning of something worse? The Secretary to the Treasury, in an earnest speech last night besought us to concentrate upon the extreme simplicity and straightforwardness of the Budget. I was struck by the extreme simplicity of my hon. friend He spoke as if there were nothing but the Budget in his mind. We cannot keep other things from our minds. He spoke as an out-and-out free trader, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke as a "convinced free trader." But what is their position as free traders? Are they comfortable in the overnment? Are they to sit by announcing their adhesion to free trade, while some of their most important colleagues are parading free trade with a halter round its neck up and down the country? Is the Chancellor of the Exchequer to stop at the declaration which he read to the House yesterday? Is he—if I may carry further the metaphor of my right hon. friend the Member for East Fifeshire—to confine his missionary enterprise to his colleagues and to sit still while his colleagues, or some of them, go about arguing strongly against free trade? Is he to be content with the declaration which he made to the House, or is he to go into the country and argue on the other side? Ministers have not merely to express their own opinions; they have to educate the country. The Colonial Secretary, from his point of view, is not backward. The Chancellor of the Exchequer cannot rest content with a simple declaration; he must embark in argument on the other side.

There is to be an inquiry, it is said. We get no answer to the question; by whom is the inquiry to be made, and what is its nature to be? It is not a dignified position for the Cabinet to say that they have no mind on a question of the kind until they have had an inquiry. Before they raise an issue like this they should have their inquiry, and then speak in public when they have a mind. But are they waiting for the mind of the country or for their own mind? One form of inquiry is debate in this House—a most educative process. That it is impossible to have at the present moment, or to have at all unless the Government will give facilities. Another form of inquiry upon a matter of broad principle is a dissolution and an appeal to the country. But I understand that the Prime Minister deprecates either of these as being suitable methods of inquiry. The hon. and gallant Member for the Fareham Division of Hampshire asks for calm and quiet discussion. Debate in this House is not always calm and quiet, and a dissolution is never calm and quiet. But is the inquiry which the Colonial Secretary is instituting calm and quiet? It is not an inquiry; it is a crusade—a crusade in which we now understand that the members of the same Cabinet are to take different sides. This duty is to be dropped; but it is made perfectly clear to us that important Members of the Cabinet are not going to let the matter rest there, but are going to do their utmost to get from the country its sanction to the imposition of duties of this kind on a much larger scale. The seriousness of this is that if you depart from your present fiscal policy, and if the Government gets a majority to sanction the policy of preferential tariffs, a few years after that has been done, you will have taken an irretrievable step. If the preference for the colonies is once given and withdrawn, then you will indeed break up the Empire. Establish these duties, call them "retaliatory" or "preferential," and in a few years they will become protective duties. This duty has already become protective, so we are told, as far as the milling industry is concerned, and what has happened on a small scale in twelve months shows us what will happen on a much larger scale in a few years. I would join in the powerful appeal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol. Is this situation which the Government have created fair to themselves as a Government or as a Party? Is it fair to the country as a whole? Is it really possible that the Government can go on as a Government engaged in this crusade to educate the country in different ways? Is it possible that the Prime Minister does not see that to have agreed to one of his colleagues—and such a colleague as the Colonial Secretary—stating publicly that it might be their intention to make this the issue at the coming election, is to have made an impossible situation? I fully admit that the Government were entitled to raise this issue. But, having raised the issue, they are not entitled to hang the issue up. As a Party, we on this side of the House suffer less from the situation than hon. Members opposite. But if we feel it inconvenient, and if they feel it harrowing, surely then we may join in an appeal from the whole House to the Government that they, having raised this issue, will not longer leave it in suspense, or, at any rate, will not leave their own mind as a Government in suspense?

MR. CRIPPS (Lancashire, Stretford)

I agree that the question of fiscal policy which has been raised is one of the most important matters that possibly could be raised. As regards the corn tax, I feel that so much has already been said that I need say only one or two words. I am one of those who supportod it because I thought it was not inconsistent with the principles of free trade—and I still hold that view—to propose such a tax for revenue purposes although incidentally it might have a protective result. What we have to look at as regards a proposal for revenue is whether the tax is one which can be raised with a minimum of industrial dislocation, and of which the burden in the case of a war tax should be distributed as widely as possible. On that basis I think the corn tax did comply with all the conditions which we ought to consider when treating with a new tax for revenue purposes, and that it was more than justified on free trade grounds by what was said by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer. As regards the repeal of the tax I am in favour of it on two grounds. First of all, when a very large amount is taken off the Income Tax there ought to be some corresponding remission as regards indirect taxation, and I think it would have been a matter of deep regret—I speak as an economist—if when we all want, if possible, to reduce the amount of public expenditure, a tax of this kind had been left as a margin for the Government to play with, instead of being taken off as one of the best guarantees of economy. Of course, it is for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say whether or not he has left a sufficient margin. From my point of view I think the margin ought to be kept as narrow as possible, because when you have a narrow margin it is a great incentive to economy, and I do fear, in spite of the efforts of the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for West Bristol, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, there will be a constant tendency to increased expenditure which is one of the worst injuries which in the long run can possibly overtake a great industrial country. As regards the question of the remission of the tax, therefore, if the question was between taking off the tax on tea and the tax on corn, I am bound to say that in my view the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government were right in choosing a prime necesssity of life, and on the first opportunity taking off an indirect tax which more or less, must necessarily affect the consumers of that commodity. It is because it would affect a large number of the people of the country that I thought it was proper to impose it in war time, but one of the first remissions which ought to be made, and which I am glad to see has been made, is that of a tax on a prime necessity of life which affected the poorer classes.

Looking at the matter from the economic point of view, I entirely agree with the right hon. Baronet opposite that in considering whether any financial proposal is likely to be beneficial or not, we ought to consider how it affects the condition of the artisan and the working-class people of the country, and those who are earning what may be called an average wage. Many members of the community will be above any question as regards a tax of this kind, but others may be in such a poor condition that you would want some very different remedy from this to alter their conditions at all. If, however, you take the average artisan earning an average wage, you ought to be most careful that in any financial proposal you safeguard his position, and see that no undue burden is put upon either the food he eats or the raw commodities in which he is interested. From that point of view these economic questions are not to be decided as merely economic questions, but rather as a subordinate part of our social science, and that is a mistake which has been made by various hon. Members opposite. They push the mere economic question too far, and leave other considerations alone. It is perfectly possible that an increase in the price of goods might be caused under such conditions as would give more than a corresponding increase in wages, with the result that the condition of the working classes would be better. No one who has considered these economic questions can deny that conditions of that kind might arise, and I say if they do arise I shall never be overruled by mere cheapness of imports and cheapness of production, but shall go more into the true conditions of the people, and if a tax of that kind would conduce to their benefit it will have my support. Free trade, after all, in only one branch of free competition, and whatever economists you may refer to, from Adam Smith downwards, everyone admits that social science demands certain limitations with regard to free competition. I would ask, Why should free competition be unlimited in our foreign relationships when it has to be limited as regards our domestic industrial conditions? There are wider considerations to be taken into account. It would be more than a misfortune if, without due inquiry into detail, proposals came from the Government which might tend to upset the fiscal policy on which we have had such a large measure of success in the last fifty years. Primâ facie no one would propose to alter our fiscal free trade policy unless it were shown on careful detailed inquiry that it would operate for the better. We should have to take into consideration large questions which are not truly economic. We cannot enter upon them now. The solidarity of our Empire and the solidarity of our Colonial possessions are to my mind far more important than any mere question of cheapness based on mere economic grounds. It is far too early to make any dogmatic declaration on a policy of this kind. I am not aware of any statistics of a sufficiently minute character since those collected by the Royal Commission on trade depression in 1885. I shall rejoice, for my part, if this inquiry to be held is held by the Government itself, and not by an outside body. I quite agree that they are responsible in the matter; they are responsible for leading the House and their Party, and for leading the country. What is more important is, I think, that they ought not to go in any precipitate fashion, and they ought not to commit themselves, as a Government, without they feel that after inquiry there is a real chance in changing our fiscal policy either of putting the Empire in a better position or improving the social condition of the working classes. Until that inquiry has been made, and in sufficient detail, it is quite impossible for any private Member to make any dogmatic assertion on a question of this kind. We cannot go into the wider questions on an occasion of this sort, but I do protest against the view that no inquiry may be necessary, and against the view that there should be any precipitate disclosure by the Government until that inquiry has been fully held, because the fiscal policy of this country is far too important a matter to be dealt with on any experimental basis.

*SIR WILLIAM HOLLAND (Yorkshire, W.R., Rotherham)

The hon. and learned Member who has just sat down, whilst expressing a preference for an inquiry by the Government, wisely refrained from indicating the particular Member of the Government to whom he would entrust the labours of the inquiry. If he had looked at the Government Bench, he would have found some of its occupants who held a foregone conclusion in one direction, and others who held a foregone conclusion in another direction, and that the Prime Minister was the only occupant with an absolutely open mind. I notice that many of those who are supporting this Amendment have declared themselves to be fair traders. For myself, I am a sort of fair trader in that I believe in getting a fair share of the trade of the world. I wish to express my cordial appreciation of the conduct of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in taking off this corn tax. As a result of its removal, some in the country will be better fed than before. But I desire still more to express my warm appreciation of the conduct of the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the very brave stand he made yesterday in this House against the disintegrating proposals of the Colonial Secretary. I am glad to know that not only the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, but his predecessor also, are men of strong backbone and conviction with regard to the fiscal system of this country which ought to prevail; and that they have resolutely refused to put our whole system into the melting pot at the bidding of the Colonial Secretary. Although this corn tax is not in itself a very big affair, yet we are glad for it to be removed because we are thankful for small mercies, and we return the Chancellor of the Exchequer our thanks accordingly. Although the corn tax is not big in itself, it is big in its potentialities. We are glad the tax is repealed, because with its repeal a standing temptation to return to protection will be removed, and for myself I am not tired of the system of free trade which we have here. I think amongst other testimonials to the value of that system, I can quote the splendid way in which the cost of the South African war was borne by the taxpayers at home. The way the country was able to bear that burden showed that it had not altogether gone to the dogs. I dissent entirely from the theory that dearer food necessarily will bring in its train higher wages. On the contrary, I hold that wages are influenced not by the price of food, but by demand for labour. If two masters go after one man, wages will rise; but if, on the other hand, two workmen go after one situation, wages will fall. I can testify that the bare suggestion of a possibility of retaliation threw a feeling of consternation over many responsible business men in the north, and, therefore, the sooner this question is threshed out the better. I trust the Prime Minister will be able to indicate a very early day when this question can be fully discussed.

We have had the question raised as to who pays the corn tax and import duties in general. I know how it works in some of our large industries in the North. Let me take an illustration from the Manchester Exchange, where thousands of buyers and sellers congregate every market day. When a salesman goes there to sell his cotton wares he is asked his price, it may be by merchants from Germany, China, Brazil, or Australia, and he quotes the same price irrespective of the market for which his goods are required. And the fact of his quoting absolutely the same price shows that the tariff or duty must be paid by the country to which the goods go. I am in favour of free trade being maintained in this country quite irrespective of what other countries may do, because I believe that is the best policy for this country to pursue. Surely each country should be the best judge of the particular fiscal system suited to its own needs. Under free trade I hold employment is more regular, for where you have a market limited by protection you have great booms on the one hand and frequent crises on the other. It has been pointed out that protection has done something to establish the iron and steel trade in America. By a protective tariff you may stimulate the establishment of industries in any country so long as the home market can take off the production and the consumers are willing to pay the price. But in the United Kingdom production has attained such colossal proportions that we are dependent upon our export trade to provide employment for the inhabitants of this country, and therefore the importance of free trade increases in proportion as we depend on foreign markets. Those countries which have adopted protection have favoured the accumulation of fabulous fortunes in a few hands. But I put it to the House as to whether it would not be better for the stability of those States and the happiness of their people if wealth were more widely and evenly distributed. It was argued by the hon. and learned Member for the Stretford Division that although free traders seemed to favour free competition and free imports they did not favour free competition in domestic affairs, and he mentioned the case of the Factory Acts. I wish to point out that by those Acts the good health of the workers is secured, and in proportion as they do this so is their work likely to be efficient, and in proportion as it is efficient so is it likely to be economical.

Another objection to this corn tax is that it was liable to be used as a step towards preferential tariffs. Recently I read the Blue-book containing the Report of the Conference of Colonial Premiers when they were in this country, and I know that they had an eye on the corn tax when they passed the Resolution urging the expediency of the mother country giving an advantage to the colonies by exempting them from existing duties. If the corn tax had been so utilised it would have promoted grave discontent, because some colonies would have benefited and others would not, and thus jealousy would have been promoted. If the corn tax which was put on last year, and which has been taken off this year, were to be put on again in a very short time, would it not make this House of Commons a laughing-stock, not only in the eyes of our own country, but in the eyes of the other nations of the earth? I feel quite sure that the Colonial Secretary had his eye on the corn tax when he wrote to the colonies "egging" them on to support his views. And in a very few days we had the Prime Minister of New Zealand presenting a pistol at our heads. I question the wisdom of inviting the self-governing colonies to interfere at all with the tariffs of the mother country, for if we fail to accept their suggestions ill-feeling will be likely to result. I am in favour of the colonies having an absolutely free hand to frame their tariffs in accordance with their own needs, and I am also in favour of our having an equally free hand. I know that the mother country is not in any sense behind in her anxiety to show goodwill and gratitude to the colonies for the preferences they have given and the services they have rendered, but that goodwill, in my judgment, cannot be shown by the mother country by the imposition of taxes on corn. It may be shown in another, a wiser, and a better way, namely, by a very liberal treatment of the colonies in regard to the colonial contribution towards Imperial defence. I am, therefore, against the Amendment now before the House, and I hope the Government will be supported in the repeal of the corn tax.


From the course that the debate has taken it is clear that the path along which Chancellors of the Exchequer have to travel, who have not only to provide abnormal revenue, but to maintain a somewhat high level of expenditure, cannot be a smooth one. I am one of those referred to by the hon. Member for Exeter who believe that a high level of expenditure will have to be maintained in future. The reaction caused by abnormal expenditure gives rise very naturally to a demand for retrenchment. The late Chancellor of the Exchequer, who referred to this question yesterday, said that the policy of both parties was retrenchment. But it is the conviction that the policy, not perhaps of parties, but of the people, is even now, not for reduced, but for con- tinually increasing expenditure, that inclines me to criticise the proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer from that standpoint. Retrenchment is a very good word for the platform, like the "Big Loaf" and other things. It is a good article to put in the shop window, but in practise it is not kept in stock. There is no dealing in it. The people of this country have no use for it. I would adduce in support of my argument the position taken up by the hon. Member for Woolwich. Efficiency is what every one desires in his own household and business and estate. Efficiency in public Departments is, of course, desirable, but that there can be any serious retrenchment in our national finances I no more believe than I believe there can be in the expenditure of the London County Council. Whether Greater Britain may be called upon to contribute or not, in my view there can be no serious retrenchment in our military and naval services. The people are making greater demands on the Exchequer year by year. They are advancing to a higher standard of requirement altogether. Let us hope that it is proportionate to their rise in the plane of civilisation. Social reform is demanded and with justice, but retrenchment and reform cannot go hand in hand. With the demands made for education, Irish land pensions, housing, and other things in prospect, how can there be any possibility of retrenchment? It appears to me that Chancellors of the Exchequer will more and more in the future have to exercise their wits and their ingenuity in providing a permanently larger revenue. And why not? Retrenchment, I submit, is one of the surest signs of decay. This country is not yet in its old age, its destiny is not yet in the maturity, perhaps only on the threshold of its fulfilment, and to talk of cutting down expenses when a business is growing and prospering, is to admit that the managers have no faith in its soundness and stability. I confess that I have that faith, and believe it will be better to devote our energies to the provision of a permanently larger revenue rather than to the dispiriting task of cutting down expenditure which is not in accordance with the view of the great majority of the people of this country.

The fiscal conditions of this country are peculiar and indeed unique. The late Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the revenue did not increase proportionately to expenditure. But surely we can find many sources of revenue in a country whose imports last year amounted to £530,000,000. With this huge foreign trade, in a country that derives so small a proportion of its revenue from external taxation, from Customs, the difficulties of internal taxation must indeed be great. Then we come to a system of preying upon our neighbour, and an instance of this is a petition which was recently presented to the Chancellor of the Exchequer by hon. Members representing labour, claiming that the proportion of the expenses of the country which labour pays should be remitted, and should be borne by the Income Tax payers instead. I freely admit that taxation is felt much more severely by the poor than by the rich. In the case of the poor man, his contribution may go to increase a domestic deficit, but in the case of the rich man it may be paid out of a handsome surplus. The equality of sacrifice is not the same. I agree most thoroughly with the contention that taxation should be paid by the rich on a higher scale than by the poor, but I cannot agree that, under normal conditions, the well-employed working class are amongst the poor. I think we ought to be thankful that that is so. But the last half century has witnessed a great improvement, an improvement which is still going on, in the lot of the working man, not only as regards wages and employment, but also in his personal comfort and the conditions under which he works, and I cannot believe that, under normal conditions, the working classes of the country are unable or unwilling to bear their share of the burden of national expenditure. That would be opposed to the principles of that socialistic philosophy, of which hon. Members representing Labour are usually, I believe, disciples. There are, however, we must with sorrow admit, many very poor classes in this country, and that something should be given back to them will be the desire of every Member of the House. There are many very poor people amongst the Income Tax payers: it is not only amongst those who work for daily wage that the burden of poverty is felt, and what indirect taxation we have is, in my opinion, fair taxation. As compared with other countries, the amount is small, and the principle on which it is imposed is socialistic and scientific. It is in view of the social reforms which are demanded that I regret the abolition of the shilling registration duty on corn. I do not wish to repeat the statements so frequently made in this debate as to those upon whom it falls. If it does fall on the working classes in any degree, it must be a very small degree indeed. It seems to me that to do away with a tax which is not oppressive, and which is felt so slightly, if at all, cannot be sound national finance. But it cannot be denied that there is in the country a strong sentimental objection to the tax. The people have been taught that their bread has been made dearer and their loaf smaller by it, and therefore they may be content to do without it, even if they have in consequence to go short of some of those many other things that are required. The Chancellor of the Exchequer very truly said that this tax was subject to misrepresentation. That may be in itself a sufficient reason for giving it up. It will be well, when the next General Election comes round, that the issues should be true, clear, and well-defined, and if the abolition of this tax has abstracted one false issue, one fraudulent cry from the stage properties of the electioneerer, it may have done the country more good than its retention would have done. But I must confess that the privilege of being able to quarter my political escutcheon with a big loaf does not seem to me sufficient compensation for that set-back to social reform, which, by exaggerating and emphasising the difficulties of obtaining revenue, the abolition of this tax will, in my opinion, directly and indirectly involve.

I have only one other point to urge. In my view, if these social reforms are to be carried out, we shall have to look to an extension of our system of indirect taxation. I do not see why hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite should object to this, for I have a recollection of India having been introduced several times in the debate, and I can remember that the last time hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite sat on this side of the House, ten years ago, India was in need of money, and had a yearly deficit. What did they do? They put on duties all along the line, and with great success, for India has had a handsome surplus ever since I make no complaint of this, but I do complain that they removed the protective effect of these duties, which they had imposed, from the goods of Lancashire, while leaving them in full force on those of Leicestershire and Northamptonshire The difference in principle between the imposition of duties in Great Britain and in India, when money is wanted, has still to be explained to the people of this country. I have looked for an expression of opinion on these duties from the Cobden Club, which suggests that the shilling corn duty is protective, but I have looked in vain, until I am forced to the conviction that the principles of the Cobden Club, like other economic fallacies, can only flourish on false suggestion and truth suppressed. I have in my constituency a preponderance of working-men, most of them members of trades unions, well organised, taking a keen interest in the affairs of the day. Some of their leaders are travelled men, who have seen the condition of trade in other parts of the world, and whose opinions are therefore entitled to respect. Now the floor of this House is the only opportunity we have of discussing these matters face to face, and what I would respectfully ask the leaders of labour is (and I ask it in no carping or critical spirit, but in the hope that they might help in the solution of these most difficult problems)—what I would ask is, if pensions and other social reforms are to be carried out, how they would suggest that, say, £20,000,000 a year additional revenue is to be obtained, if the members of trades unions are not to contribute; and even if they do contribute, how then would they raise it? And I would respectfully suggest that in the consideration of these matters we should only advance proposals which are practicable and possible, and put forward not so much our individual opinions of what ought to be, but rather what in this imperfect world may be and can be. I agree thoroughly with the principle that taxation should be obtained, where it can be done without oppression, in substantial amounts from a few people, such as the Death Duties, but it must also be levied by duties, small and inappreciable in amount perhaps, on articles in general use throughout the country. It is the combination of these two which seems to me the scientific system. But I cannot conceive any system possible under which three-fourths of the community are to escape any contribution whatever. That would be opposed to the Socialistic ideal, and to the principles on which a true Commonwealth should be founded. I do not believe that the great numbers of those who work for daily wage are less loyal to the State than any other class. Recent events have proved this; and I can only hope that they are able, and that with that fuller employment which peace and commercial revival should bring, they will be the more able, as we know they are willing, to share in some degree with other classes in the expenses of the upkeep of the nation, even if in the future those expenses may have to be increased. The settlement of these matters cannot be arrived at by parties nor by sections, but, as the Prime Minister said, by the heart, and the conscience, and the intelligence of the people as a whole, and I think that in their discussion mementary political considerations should not and ought not, to find a place. In the long and brilliant career of this country, with all the sweeping changes of its past, but still unbroken record of advance, the fate of a Government, of any Government, can be but a matter of minor and subsidiary importance while the nation as a whole is imbued with the sentiment, the patriotic sentiment, that the continuity of our history, the advancement of our people, and the progress of our race, can only be furthered and promoted in the future, as in the past, in a degree perhaps by the brain power of some and the bravery of others, but mainly and chiefly, and perhaps wholly, by the patient help of all.

MR. BUCHANAN (Perthshire, E.)

I cannot help thinking that, remarkable as the debate yesterday was, the course it has pursued this afternoon is almost as remarkable. I am quite conscious that the House of Commons this afternoon has no desire to hear me, nor have I any desire to address it. I do not think the House wishes to hear any further expression of opinion from these benches, nor from the opposite benches. What we desire to hear, and what we have desired during the whole course of the afternoon to hear, is an expression of opinion from the Treasury bench. I believe it is wholly without precedent that a debate of this importance should have extended over two days, and that during the whole of an afternoon not a single right hon. Gentleman has risen from the Treasury bench to take part in it. It is now nearly four hours since the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife made a most vigorous and trenchant speech, in which he urgently appealed to the Prime Minister or some other occupant of the Treasury bench to give the House leading on the subject, and especially leading on the most important point of all, namely, what is the real settled opinion of the Government as a Government on this most important question? But the Prime Minister and other right hon. Gentlemen on that bench have sat dumb. The Prime Minister has now left the House; but there are other Members of the Government present from whom we should like to get an expression of opinion. The Secretary of State for India is present. India is a most important part of the British Empire. India is a free trade community; and the views of the Secretary of State for India on this subject are certainly second in importance to the views of no other Member of the Government except the Prime Minister. Yet there is no sign that the Secretary of State for India has any intention of vouchsafing to us his opinion on this subject. If my memory does not fail me, the noble Lord used to be a free trader, and a pretty decided free trader; and we shall be glad to hear, and all interested in the prosperity of India will be glad to hear, that the noble Lord still remains attached to his former convictions. But his silence, and the silence of the whole Government, only shows still more fully the awkward position in which, not only this House, but the country is placed by the diverse utterance of Members of the Government on the fundamental principles which have guided our fiscal policy in the past, and must guide it in the future. I will give way to the Secretary of State for India, if he now chooses to address the House. I would urge upon him that it would be of great importance that we should get an expression of opinion from him before the debate ends.

There is the question of the inquiry; and, if I remember aright, the statement about the inquiry was part of the written document read by the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday; and we may presume, therefore, that it was the settled opinion, not merely of the right hon. Gentleman but of the Government. We may go a step further and assume that the written document was agreed upon, if not formally at any rate informally, by himself and his colleagues. [An HON. MEMBER: The right hon. Gentleman denied that.] The right hon. Gentleman did not deny that; but he said he spoke for himself in some respects, and for his colleagues in other respects; and he declined to tell the House in what part of his speech he spoke for his colleagues. I think we may assume that this proposal of an inquiry was adopted by the Government as a kind of makeshift, as a means of getting over the difficult and awkward dilemma in which they are. In that case we ought to have, during this debate, some further particulars as to the means and methods by which this inquiry is to be undertaken, if it is to be undertaken at all. I do not believe in the reality of this proposal. I believe that after the Finance Bill is got through we shall hear no more about it. It is put forward to serve a temporary purpose; and when that purpose has been served it will be dropped.

As the noble Lord shows no sign of taking part in the debate, I may be allowed to say a few words on one or two of the issues which have been raised. I do not think the debate has been wholly useless. I think we have had some good results from it. We have had at least a downright straightforward speech from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and another from the Secretary to the Treasury. These Members of the Government spoke most categorically, clearly, and vigorously, in favour of free trade; and we all welcome the uncompromising way in which they expressed their adhesion to that guiding principle of our commercial policy. We had a most interesting speech this afternoon from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Exeter, in which he also spoke out with great clearness in the same direction. I think I am within the mark in saying that on the other side of the House the preponderating opinion is in favour of free trade; and if there are hon. Gentlemen opposite who favour protection, and, still more, favour the proposals of the Colonial Secretary, they have been very backward in giving expression to their opinions. I believe the expression of opinion we have heard on that side of the House in the course of these debates is the fundamental opinion of the country. In the most powerful speech of the right hon. Member for West Bristol yesterday, there was one part to which the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer made no reply. The right hon. Member for West Bristol dwelt on the rapid increase of the normal expenditure of this country, and the absence on the part of the Government of any great effort to restrain it. As an illustration he pointed out that we still had, in spite of the repeal of the corn duty, the extra duties on beer and spirits, and an income tax of 11d. in the £. It is a great matter for regret that the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not deal with this, and it is also to be regretted that in no speech, neither his Budget speech nor since, has he taken any strong line showing that the Government has some fixed idea of adopting strong measures of retrenchment. I think they should endeavour to stop the rapid growth constantly going on in our normal expenditure. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had a great opportunity this year at the end of an expensive war, on which we had been spending money lavishly, and for which we had been taxing freely. He would have had the country with him if he had said we must make a strong effort to get rid of the increased war debt as soon as possible, and do something to check the constant rapid growth of our normal expenditure. It is not too late, even now. If he were to take that stand now he would have the opinion of the country behind him. I was astonished to hear the hon. Baronet who has just sat down express an opinion in the contrary direction, and I do not think he is a true interpreter of public opinion. It has been said that economy has a future and no present. I believe the future of economy is dawning now, and it will be one of the most important issues placed before the country at the next general election.

I do not think it is to the credit of the Government, and still less to the credit of the Prime Minister, that in the whole course of the debate to-day no attempt has been made to reply to the speeches on this side of the House and of the Government's own supporters. It is not fair to those Gentlemen, to the House of Commons, or to the country. It is impossible for the principles which guide the fiscal policy of this country to be left suspended in the air. The House of Commons and the country must insist on getting a clear and categorical decision from the Prime Minister as to what the real opinion of the Government is, otherwise I am certain he will soon cease to be Prime Minister and his colleagues will cease to have the direction of the affairs of the country.


I wish to explain why I am unable on this occasion to follow the Government. I confess there is a certain amount of personal feeling in the matter. Last year I voted for the registration duty on corn, because it was proved to my satisfaction that it was not a protective duty, and that it would produce the maximum amount of revenue with the minimum of disadvantage to the working classes. Armed with the arguments adduced by the leaders of my Party, I went to my constituents and explained that I was convinced that those arguments were sound. They were good enough to accept my explanation, and now I have been made a fool of—not by hon. Gentlemen opposite, but by my own Government. The arguments which last year they adduced in favour of the tax remain the same to-day, and, having voted last year for the imposition of this duty, it would be impossible for me now suddenly to turn round and vote for its remission. One of the reasons given for its remission is that it is open to misrepresentation. A tax is naturally misrepresented by hon. Gentlemen opposite. They are perfectly within their rights in endeavouring to persuade the country that any taxes we impose are injurious, while any they might impose would be beneficial. Therefore I cannot apply that salve to my conscience. I regret to differ from a Government which up to the present I have always believed to be in the right, but although I heard the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer I have heard no reasons given in favour of the repeal of the tax which outweigh those which were given last year for its imposition; therefore, I have no option but to vote in favour of the Amendment.

*MR. MANSFIELD (Lincolnshire, Spalding)

Having the honour to represent an agricultural constituency mostly contiguous to that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford, I have endeavoured, during the whole of this debate, to discover some reason why I should support the Amendment. The reasons given in its favour have been very few. One was, that it produced £2,500,000 per annum. But as the Gentlemen who put forward that reason are not conspicuous by their desire for economy in the spending of money, I look with the greatest suspicion at their contention, because it would provide more money to be extravagantly expended. The real reason seems to be that the tax is capable of enlargement, and tends to open the door to other taxes of a similar description, which would result in burdening the food of the people. The only classes that seem to be anxious for the maintenance of the tax are the farming and milling classes. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford, speaking as an agriculturist, has moved this Amendment against its repeal. But in agriculture, as in all other industries, there are various interests involved, and we are too apt in this House to forget that there is such a being as the agricultural labourer. He was forgotten when the Workmen's Compensation Act was passed, and was remembered only on the eve of an election. We are too apt to think that agriculture is exclusively represented by the landlord and the large farmer class. In my constituency, the small holder and the agricultural labourer form by far the greater proportion of the people; and I desire to speak on their behalf, and it is in their interest I shall vote against the Amendment. The effect of a tax on the majority, rather than its effect on the minority, should be considered, and the policy that dictates a tax should be measured by its operation on the many rather than on the few. What is the policy, and what is likely to be the consequence of maintaining this tax? I affirm that if the tax is left on and the door kept open for its enlargement, the men who will be the hardest hit are the agricultural labourers, who are the poorest paid, the hardest worked, and, I might almost say, the most deserving class in the country. Certainly they are the least organised, and when one considers that any increase in the price of food represents such a large proportion of their small earnings, it must be conceded that their case is a very hard one and ought to be considered. If this Amendment is carried food will be dearer. There is no doubt about that now. We have got into the daylight with regard to that fact. Last year when we on this side declared that the imposition of the tax would mean dearer food, we were assured on the authority of the Government that that was not the case, and that the foreigner would pay, while now we are told that the foreign railway companies have paid. Our experience of railway companies in this country and of the railway trusts in the United States convinces us that the railway companies are very well able to take care of themselves, and that they do not go round on philanthropic missions, trying to find out how they can pay the taxes put on the food of the people. What we had previously stated is now conceded.

The hon. Member for Tonbridge told us that according to statistics the loaf has not risen in price, and he gave as an instance that in March of last year the loaf in London was 5d., and at the end of the year it was the same. If the hon. Member will look at the statistics he will find that he referred to household bread which is a rather better class than that eaten by the very poor. The second class quality of bread fetched in the early part of the year from 3½d. to 4d., and then it went up to 4½d. and 5d. So there was a very decided advance in the price of bread which the poor man had to buy. The late Chancellor of the Exchequer practically conceded the differences in the price of corn early in the history of the tax, because when the cab and omnibus drivers complained to him of their difficulties, because of the price of corn he advised them to raise their fares. It is now conceded by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer that the poor had to pay this tax on food, and as a matter of fact the people who now say that the poor do not pay are practically confined to the few who have brought forward this Amendment. The right hon. Gentlemen the Member for Sleaford and the hon. Member for Sheffield make a very charming duet if it were not that in this matter, at any rate, they are like "the voice of one crying in the wilderness," but they will not be heard. The hon. Member for South Derbyshire stated in the constituency in which I live that he would pay £1,000 to anyone who could prove that the poor had to pay the tax. I commend that to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There is a fine chance for the Revenue. In the interests of the country, and in the interests of the Revenue, why cannot the Chancellor of the Exchequer claim that £1,000. There is a fine way open to some hon. Member to defray the expenses of an election, which cannot be postponed very long, and which may come upon us at any moment.

In 1794 corn was 94s. per quarter, and wages were so low that the magistrates had to fix a minimum wage that should be paid to the workers of the country, and then make up from the rates enough to feed and keep them in decency. The effect of that was that whole parishes were pauperised, with corn at 94s. per quarter. The Colonial Secretary said that if they raised the price of food wages would go up in proportion, or rather more than in proportion, because there would be something left over. What are the facts with regard to that? The Government Returns show that that was not true; and these Returns are not compiled by the War Office, so they can be taken as correct. They were taken for the years 1840 (before the repeal of the corn tax) and 1894. What was the condition of things when food was high? Because what has been may be again, and although it is not safe for me to prophesy what may happen in the future, the facts may be used as the basis for forming an idea as to what will happen if food is raised. In London in 1840 the average carpenter (according to the Government Returns) got 27s. per week; in 1894 he got 35s.; in 1840 the bricklayer got 27s., and in 1894, 38s.; in 1840 the ordinary town labourer got 18s.; in 1894, 25s.; in 1840, the provincial town labourer got 14s.; in 1894, 25s.; in 1840, the cotton weavers averaged 12s. per week; now they averaged 15s. 2d.; in 1840 in the iron trade the fitter got 21s., and he now gets 32s.; in 1840, his labourer got 15s., and now he gets 21s. The agricultural labourer before the repeal got 10s. 6d. per week, and he now gets 16s. on the average. A careful study of these figures will show that the agricultural labourer is the most hardly hit class of any in the community. In 1840 he earned 10s. 6d. per week, which enabled him to purchase five pecks of wheat. In 1885 he got 16s., and that enabled him to purchase sixteen pecks of wheat. These figures show what an alarming state of things may be in front of the agricultural labourer and the poorer class of the community if this tax is continued or made the machinery through which a larger tax may be put upon the community. Dear food is not accompanied by higher wages; it is calculated to bring about a lower standard of living and vitality, and a largely increased lunacy and mortality. It is altogether against the interests of the workers that the food stuffs of this country should be high in price.

And, it being half-past Seven of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned till this Evening's Sitting.