§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)
I rise for the purpose of moving: "That this House regrets that certain of His Majesty's Ministers have accepted official positions in a political organisation which has formally 285 declared its adhesion to a policy of preferential duties involving the taxation of food." Sir, in seeking to commend this Motion to the House, it will not be necessary for me to concern myself with the merits or demerits of the two fiscal policies between which the Government has fluctuated—one, the policy, so-called, of Sheffield, which they support, but, so far as we can observe, with no great degree of enthusiasm or real sympathy; and the policy of Birmingham, with which they do sympathise, although they protest that as a body they cannot support it. Which is the more powerful immediate political factor, their sympathy or their support, is an interesting question which cannot now engage our attention. But what we wish to do at present is to ascertain from the Prime Minister how he reconciles with his Ministerial statements regarding the policy which is avowed the action of certain colleagues of his, members of the Government, in giving their open support to the policy and propaganda which are publicly disavowed and disclaimed. The Prime Minister will not deny that the adherence thus given to the cause of the right hon. Member for Birmingham is a fit subject for us to interrogate him upon. There is surely something left, there is surely still some little force ill the recognised doctrine of collective Ministerial responsibility. It is true the doctrine has been considerably shaken of recent years. Taking one matter which is perhaps more a matter of taste than a rule of order, everyone has observed the growing tendency on the part of Ministers to supersede the personal pronoun plural by the personal pronoun singular. In all the statements that they make as to policy and administration there is much more of the "I" than the "we." It is a small matter, as I said, but it is indicative and significant all the same, and it shows that the same process is going on all over. The Government is nothing, if not an independent Government. It is trying, and has tried for years, to be, so far as it may, independent of the House of Commons. It boasts and acts, or fails to act in consequence of its boast, that it is independent of the electorate. And now, apparently, they are not satisfied without being independent of each other. These are all parts of the Same destructive and 286 unconstitutional process. But the theory, at all events, of collective authority and responsibility remains, and therefore my Motion is directed not only against the individual members of the Government who have hoisted protectionist colours, but against the Government itself, which has sanctioned, or at all events acquiesced in, such a proceeding.
How is the action of Lord Lansdowne and Lord Selborne and the Secretary to the Treasury held to be compatible with the official position and declarations of the Government? Of course we are here also led to consider the policy of the Government itself, as to which we are more than ever in perplexity after the demonstrations that have been made at the Empire Theatre and the Albert Hall. We want a clear statement which may enable the House and the country to understand the nature of the fiscal principles which have obtained the mastery of the mind of the Government, the principles upon which their convictions have, we presume, by this time been formed and settled, the principles which in a concrete shape they intend to lay before the electorate at the general election. And, even more, we desire to know whether the Government still regards its programme as distinct from and incompatible with the other programme which is actively and conspicuously supported by certain of its members, and which has the unabated sympathy of the Prime Minister himself. In that case it ought to be unnecessary, I should think it must be unnecessary, to point out that their assurance, if given in the affirmative, that there is still a clear distinction between the two policies, will have little weight unless the Prime Minister can tell us he has invited the resignation of their offices by those of his colleagues who differ from him on this vital point. The answer, in short, which we shall expect is one which will accord with the recent proceedings, as well as with the previous verbal pledges given by the Government.
Now let us examine the nature of the proceedings that have taken place. The Foreign Secretary and the First Lord of the Admiralty have accepted the position of high officials under the right lion. Gentleman the 287 Member for West Birmingham, in an association whose delegated members passed with acclamation a resolution in favour of preferential duties—that is, the taxation of food and raw material. [Cries of "No, no!"] I do not press the raw material point, because of controversy with the right hon. Gentleman; but, of course, we all know that there are countries and colonies with which you cannot have preferential treatment unless you tax raw material. I do not wish to go into the merits of this question at all. [MINISTERIAL cries of "Why?"] Because it is out of order to begin with. Lord Lansdowne says—"Why should they not do this? Why should they not accept these positions? Why should they not indicate their sympathy with something beyond the Government programme?" He talks of the new doctrine that the leaders of a Party have no business to take any part in the proceedings of their followers, if these proceedings carry them beyond the officially accepted programme of the Government, and he finds an example in the National Union of Conservative Associations, which repeatedly passed year after year protectionist resolutions, the meetings of which, notwithstanding, Lord Salisbury used to attend, and no one, he points out, was a penny the worse. Sir, there really is no analogy between the two cases. No one paid any attention to resolutions passed at the National Union of Conservative Associations. They were very interesting as an indication of the movements and feeling within the Party to those who cared to watch them, but they had no effect on the political situation at the time. Certainly Lord Salisbury never expressed his "unabated" sympathy with the resolutions, and with the cause which was in those days associated mostly with the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Central Sheffield. There was a Sheffield policy in those days as well as now, but it was a policy of a very different sort. Its ultimate end was probably the same; its ultimate consequences certainly were the same, and its ultimate intention may have been. Of that we cannot speak with certainty, but its method and its manner were entirely different. It was unambiguous, intelligible, straightforward. When I compare the Sheffield policy of the past 288 and the Sheffield policy of the present, am reminded of a passage in which Dr. Arnold describes his feelings towards members of the Church of Rome on the one hand, and towards members of the Church of England on the other hand, who, in his view, were engaged in aping and imitating the doctrines and the practices of that Church. He says—One is a Frenchman in his own uniform within his own principia; the other is a Frenchman disguised in a red coat and holding a post within our concilia, for the purpose of betraying.And lie goes on to say—I honour the first and would hang the second.Now, as far as Lord Salisbury is concerned, and as far as his influence was exerted, it was directed to damping down the protectionist tendencies among his followers and dissociating his Party from it. I am aware that is not the universal view. There was a shrewd observer who had his eye upon it in those somewhat distant years in 1885, and he said—I will say that Lord Salisbury does intend, he and his friends, to put a duty on corn, although he does not think it convenient at the present moment to say so, and although he allows some members of his Government to argue in favour of it in one place, he enjoins on the other members of the Government the duty of repudiating everything about it.It is almost prophetic, the personages and the circumstances being somewhat changed. That was the view taken by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, and he drew this final moral lesson from the contemplation of Lord Salisbury at these meetings of the Conservative Union—Remember this is rot a question upon which the Government can be allowed to have two voices.That is the right hon. Gentleman's view of Lord Salisbury, but I am bound to say that, although I never had such full opportunities of knowing Lord Salisbury as he had, this is not my view either of his conduct at that time or of his general character. I believe that Lord Salisbury certainly never endorsed any such resolution, and I very much doubt whether he ever knew of its existence. Contrast this with the circumstances in which the Prime Minister's colleagues, with his apparent sanction, have become associated with this organisation. 289 The circumstances are fresh in our memory. The Liberal Unionist Association, of which the Duke of Devonshire was president, suffered shipwreck on a question which had nothing whatever to do with Liberal Unionism. It split on the rock of protection, and when the right hon. Member for West Birmingham came forward and reconstituted the organisation he never disguised his intention—I will say that this is very much in the right hon. Gentleman's favour, and that he is not a man who deals in disguises—to identify it with the cause he has at heart. The Ministers knew perfectly well what they were doing, and what significance would attach to their action when they accepted positions as office-bearers directly this violent disruption had taken place. They must have known what conclusions would be drawn throughout the country. They must have known that the Prime Minister knew it would be inferred in the country that the cause of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham was winning with the Ministry, that the Birmingham propaganda and the Birmingham theory, that the Empire can only be maintained by preferential duties and that British trade depends on protection, was no longer ruled out of the official programme. The inference is not merely not unnatural; it is the logical and proper deduction based on the belief in the prevalence of the doctrine of Cabinet authority and responsibility. The general purpose, design, and intention of the new organisation is notorious. We might rest there. But I have more to advance. What was the resolution passed at the council meeting immediately before or simultaneously with the announcement that those members of the Government had joined? It was not the original resolution on the agenda paper; it was cut down and tampered with to meet the case of those new office-bearers. The excision of the President's name from the resolution appears to have removed whatever apprehension may have been originally felt. Here it is—That this council, believing that the time has come for a complete reform of our fiscal system, approves of the demands made by the Prime Minister for increased powers to dell with hostile tariffs and the practice of dumping "—[that is the orthodox policy of Sheffield]—" and further expresses its earnest hope that the ties 290 of sympathy which already unite the British Empire may be strengthened by a commercial union with the Colonies based on preferential arrangements between them and the mother country.There you have it, the fusion of the two policies—the official policy and what was supposed, down to the other day, to be the non-official, or quasi-official, policy of preference and food taxes. I say it was supposed, because after the unequivocal adhesion which the acceptance of office in the council of the right hon. Member for Birmingham involves, and after the message, ostentatiously public and openly conveyed, of the Prime Minister's "unabated" sympathy, how are we to know it remains the official policy any longer? Lord Lansdowne, indeed, disclaims identity, sees no modification of the Sheffield policy, no irreconcilable antagonisms between retaliation and preferences, points out that if you carry the practice of retaliation yon will destroy all opportunity of introducing preference. He disavows any intention on the part of the Government to put the issue of food taxes before the country. Of that I say, Que diable allait-il faire dans cette galère? If these are the principles, what is he doing as a member of this new council? Why did he become a vice-president under the right hon. Gentleman's presidency? These Ministers have not divested themselves of their Ministerial capacity by merely donning the uniform of the Tariff Reform League, and they cannot becomeanti-food and orthodox Sheffielders by merely taking it off again. Lord Lansdowne's arguments imply that this persuading to the accepted policy is fatal to the grander policy which, as vice-president of this preferential association, he hopes and trusts will be accepted by the nation. Neither the Prime Minister nor the right hon. Member for West Birmingham are troubled with these misgivings, and I think it would be more becoming when the master craftsmen have agreed that the pieces dovetail, if a mere journeyman artificer like Lord Lansdowne had submitted his judgment in this matter to the higher authority, We have to ask the Prime Minister to explain to us to-day—recalling and bearing in mind all the assurances that he and his colleagues have given—how it is that he has not asked his colleagues to 291 take their choice between the offices they hold under his control and the offices they have accepted in the Cabinet of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham.
One point we must always bear in mind is this—that this is not a matter which admits of long delay. It is an urgent and vital matter, The country is perplexed and disquieted by the enigmas of the Prime Minister's statesmanship. Let it be borne in mind that it is not a mere speculative, sentimental, academic, or partial question. It is universal; it is instant; it is intensely actual; and it is confusing and hampering the trade of the country. The men who carry on the commerce and the great industries in this country are entitled to some consideration at the hands of those who have proposed to save them from the horrors of free trade. They are entitled to know on which shore it is proposed to land them when they have escaped from drowning, and what will be the means employed for their resuscitation—whether the humble means of the Prime Minister or the more heroic processes of the right hon. Member for Birmingham. But the trade of the country cannot wait for whatever may follow upon the next election, or the next election but one, or the next election but two. Contracts are being entered into. Capital is being invested and business must be carried on. It cannot suspend its operations until the dialectical complications of the situation, so fascinating to certain minds have been made intelligible to the mass of the people. While politicians scheme and dialecticians refine, trade suffers.
But has the House observed another aspect of the case? The Prime Minister has proffered his sympathy, and certain of his colleagues have given more than their sympathy, their active co-operation. In what spirit has it been accepted? Does the president of the reconstituted Liberal Unionist Association take it as a contribution to his fund of ideals and aspirations, or does he seek something much more tangible? He acknowledges its receipt, not in the spirit of philosophic detachment, but as the president of this fighting association. He says—We, the Liberal Unionists of the country, appeal to our Government,292 and the word suggests a proprietorship which I daresay was not immediately intended—We do not dictate to them. We have no such presumption. We appeal to our Government, and we promise them our support if they will march in front of us to victory.But when is the march to begin? Is it to begin at the next election, or at an election further on? And where are they to be taken to when the time comes? Evidently one thing is certain—they must go. There is an old saying—and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not object to the comparison, which at least does full justice to his power—"Needs must when the devil drives." A few days later at Stafford House the right hon. Gentleman spoke again as president of the Tariff Reform League.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
Well, as one having something to do with the league. The league on that occasion was said to be engaged in perfecting the work of Mr. Cobden by bringing the Anti-Corn Law League up to date. Said the right hon. Gentleman—We are more fortunate than Mr. Cobden. We have always enjoyed the sympathy of the Prime Minister and his colleagues. I wish it had been a little more than sympathy; but everything comes to him who stands and waits.The right hon. Gentleman has his own ideas of standing and waiting. To the outer view of a plain person like me it seems that there is very little standing in it and still less waiting. It makes us wonder what the measure of the right hon. Gentleman's activities will be when something more than sympathy arrives from the Government, and he begins to get into motion. The right hon. Gentleman improved this placid interval for standing and waiting. The other day a dinner was given to him by his Parliamentary supporters. [MINISTERIAL cheers.] The Gentlemen who were present have such agreeable recollections of it that they cannot withhold a cheer. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Wigtonshire was in the chair, and he did a rather unusual thing—he proceeded to count noses—to count the heads of his guests, and to separate the sheep—that 293 is, those who were at the banquet—from the goats—that is, all the Unionist Members who happened to be dining somewhere else. He found 200 guests present, either in the body or in the spirit, leaving a balance, as he said, of 148. He omitted the Ministers. He was sure of them. There were 148 who, he said, were free-traders or sitters on the fence; and then at the meeting of the Tariff Reform League the right hon. Member for West Birmingham took full advantage of these figures. After dilating on the sympathy of the Prime Minister and his colleagues, the right hon. Gentleman said—We have the support of 200 Members of the House of Commons. We have the aid of the most influential portion of the Press. We have the enthusiastic approval of the vast majority of the Liberal Unionist Party.Why, what more need the right hon. Gentleman stand and wait for? No impartial person can doubt that he at least does not see any great difference between the support of the followers and the sympathy of the leaders. But then what becomes of the defence that the sympathy is only academic, and that office-bearing in the council of the Liberal Unionist Association is non-committal? At the next general election the right hon. Gentleman will set his forces in order to help forward his policy of food taxes and preferential tariffs, boasting of the Prime Minister's support, counting the Prime Minister's colleagues as his colleagues, and he will have his 200 Parliamentary supporters for his army. But, on the other hand, what have we? The Prime Minister dangling before the country his dilettante Sheffield policy, which no one understands, and which no one cares for, and making believe that that is the issue before the country, although, no doubt, he will be ready to send encouraging messages to the Birmingham candidates as he did the other day at Oswestry. Why, Sir, what difference can plain men find between sympathy and support when that day arrives? It will all be the same thing. The truth is that the Government's tenure of office has been, and is being, used for the purpose of sapping and undermining the fiscal system of this country. And the machinations and manœuvres and finesses of the session prove it. 294 On three occasions in this session we have tried to get a guarantee that the leaders of the Party opposite will abstain from committing their Party to protection and preferences. We had, first, the Amendment to the Address of the right hon. Member for Montrose, which talked of the removal of the protectionist duties being a great advantage to the country, and said that their restoration would be a fatal injury. Then we had the Motion of the hon. Member for Aberdeen condemning protection and preferential tariffs and blaming those Ministers who favoured them. Thus we tried blame. Then came my hon. friend the Member for Banffshire, who, thinking that praise might soften the Government, moved a Resolution welcoming the declarations of Ministers in a contrary sense. But what happened? The first was negatived by a point-blank vote against free trade; though there was no doubt the convenient cover of the Address; and any one who was in the least conscience stricken could say that he had voted against an Amendment to the Address and not on the merits of the question. As to the Motion of the hon Member for Aberdeen, Ministers refused to condemn preferences under a protectionist tariff. We had the episode of the Wharton Amendment, which approved of the explicit declarations of His Majesty's Ministers that their policy did not include either preference or taxation of food. But the Wharton Amendment was dropped at the command of the Government and out of deference to the protectionists. What did that mean? It meant that the Government would have been beaten if they had carried their explicit declarations to the length of the division lobby. Then we had my hon. friend the Member for Banffshire welcoming the assurance, and the Government themselves then moving a vote of confidence in themselves, and voting that discussion of the subject was altogether unnecessary. What weight attaches to assurances given in a free-trade sense when Ministers and their supporters follow them by giving votes recorded to all intents and purposes in favour of protection? What authority are we to assign to the declared policy of the Government when the most they do is to declare that it is inexpedient to discuss it? While they 295 have not hesitated to give their votes against any condemnation or repudiation of the Birmingham scheme, they have never yet come forward like men to carry out the Sheffield policy—though it happens to he the very policy which the Prime Minister informed the Duke of Devonshire in a memorable letter the Administration was constructed on purpose to carry out. The conclusion is that a thing so fragile as this Government's Sheffield policy, so fragile that it cannot be avowed or discussed, still less be put into operation, is not seriously put forward as a policy at all, but must be relegated to the category of political shams and fictions. Who could be enthusiastic over a policy of pretence? The Prime Minister himself professes no enthusiasm for his own policy. His sympathies are with the Member for Birmingham. He told us so long ago. He told us that he has only refrained from advocating it because his countrymen, in their dull, stupid way, were not ripe to receive it. He has never suggested that he would not be an unwilling worker in the field when the sheaves are to be gathered in, and the harvest is ripe.
I turn from him to his colleagues. One of them, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, accepts the Birmingham policy in all its branches. The Colonial Secretary said at Leamington on 26th January, we should sooner or later certainly come to colonial preferences: that is, if we began by revising our fiscal system on the Sheffield lines. Thirdly, the Irish Secretary on 28th October, insisted "that you must have that method or another method. The thing has got to be done." What is the thing? The thing is the fiscal unity of the Empire. The Home Secretary, on 19th January, says that he feels certain "that it will be possible, by an alteration in the duties imposed to get a solution of this question"—that is, the condition of agriculture—"which would confer benefit upon all classes in this country and which in the aggregate would not raise the cost of living to the citizens of this great country." We all know what that points to. It points straight to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham. That is the Home Secretary's view as an individual. 296 But for a short time he appeared on that Bench as the chosen representative of the Government, and in that capacity he told this House on the eve of a momentous division that the Government were opposed to food taxes and even to those particularly lucrative taxes which are to put money into the pockets of the consumer. The anthology might be extended to any extent. No one is called to account. It is perfectly proper for the men who said these things on platforms to repudiate them on behalf of the Ministry in this House. And if a Minister is opposed to protection and speaks out he is told, as the President of the Board of Trade was told by the Member for Partick, that his speech on behalf of the Government was a mere interim report and that it is not in the power—these are the words—" of any one to say what the issues of the general election will be, and that no declarations now made could hinder the Prime Minister or the Party from going to the country on the larger policy of Imperial consolidation and preference to the Colonies, if and when it seemed to them expedient to do so." So we are told that not only may the pledges and assurances of Ministers be cynically contradictory of each other, but, whatever they are, they are of no binding effect whatever. I say, enough of this pitable spectacle, for pitiable it is. This is playing with the country. It is treating the trade and prosperity of the country as mere counters in the squalid game of political ambition. It is destructive of the constitutional theory of Ministerial responsibility. It is degrading to Parliament. It puts an end to the old frank and candid relations which obtained when Governments avowed their policies and acted up to them. It is chaos and anarchy introduced into our public life. If ever censure was called for it is here; if ever a vote of censure was justified it is now; and I am happy to be the man to move it.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House regrets that certain of His Majesty's Ministers have accepted official positions in a political organisation which has formally declared its adhesion to a policy of Preferential Duties involving the taxation of food."—(Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman.)297
THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (Mr. LITTTELTON,) Warwick and Leamington
When I came down to the House this afternoon it was not in the anticipation of speaking, but my noble friends Lord Lansdowne and Lord Selborne are not present; they are office-bearers in the Liberal Unionist Association; and I do not wish to separate myself for one instant from them. If I had been asked to be an office-bearer in the Liberal Unionist Association I most certainly would have accepted. [OPPOSITION cries of "It is not too late."] Inasmuch as my noble friends are absent, I desire to say a few sentences in answer to the attack which has just been made upon them. I do not profess at any time to be able to rival the Leader of the Opposition in neat and pointed wit; but I listened for an argument in his speech directed against my noble friends and myself, and I trust that I do not err in respect to him when I say that the argument which he has addressed to the House leaves very little for me to say in reply. He has spoken of the finesse and the subtlety that it requires to maintain the position which His Majesty's Government have maintained through three or four votes of censure this session upon this subject. I confess that I must disown altogether such qualities myself, and that I can see absolutely no reason for their possession to defend actions such as were taken by my noble friends and myself, they in accepting the office and myself in speaking on the occasion of the meeting of the Liberal Unionists.
I have always taken this position for myself, and I think my noble friends have taken it also. We have said that we entirely agree with the Prime Minister's policy of retaliation, and in saying that we sympathise with the ideal of colonial preference. I would ask the House, is it seemly, is it fitting and right, that when the Colonies have gone the distance which they have gone—[Cries of "What distance?"] in according to us preferential duties and in actually carrying out the policy which they brought forward by formal resolution in 1902—would it be right to say no; although they, the great self-governing Colonies of the Empire, have come forward and not only approved 298 of this policy but given genuine earnest of their determination to carry it out—this Policy, advocated by a great Minister for Colonial Affairs, who knows the Colonies better than any man in this House, must be ruled out of the programme of the Party for all time, and that not merely at the present moment, but even after the next election we must say that our minds are not open even for discussion of the topic? 1 might have cited the most distinguished Member of the other side in another place, Lord Rosebery, as one who at this time, if he has not given a clear expression of sympathy with that policy, has at all events gone a very long way in that direction. [Cries of "When?"] I do not think I should be very far off the mark if I were to say that some of the right hon. Members opposite have also indicated leanings in that direction. If that is so, why should my noble friend and myself refuse to become office-bearers or to speak at a meeting where a resolution is proposed with every word of which we are in entire sympathy, simply because it is proposed by a body which has to deal with the question of the unity of the Empire at home? Why should not we go and do that which I now do for the last time this session, implore those on our side of politics not to shut the door to an aspiration which I have never denied from the first presented in carrying out great difficulties of method and detail, but which is a great aspiration and worthy of acceptance? The right hon. Gentleman has not read the resolution to which Lord Lansdowne and I spoke, but some other resolution.
§ MR. LYTTELTON
I daresay it was. It is remarkable that the right hon. Gentleman should select the resolution moved at the afternoon meeting, which was not attended by the Ministers who have been referred to, and should abstain from reading the resolution passed at the evening meeting, which they did attend. The right hon. Gentleman has endeavoured to extricate himself from the precedents afforded by the National Union of Conservative Associations, which passed resolutions entirely different from the policy which was the 299 immediate policy of the Party to which it belonged. I accept the right hon. Gentleman's description of the resolutions passed by private members of that association in the morning as evidences of the tendency of opinion. If the right hon. Gentleman considered that Lord Salisbury was right in speaking in the evening after resolutions in favour of protection had been passed by the union, how can be have the face to ask the House to censure men who went to an evening meeting of an association which had passed a resolution—
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to point out that he did not casually drop into the meeting in the evening? The Ministers of whom we are speaking were appointed vice-presidents of this association, and we know that the right hon. Gentleman claims it as the same continuous Liberal Unionist Association. Perhaps he will then explain why it is that the Duke of Devonshire left it.
§ MR. LYTTELTON
The right hon. Gentleman has not drawn a very effective distinction. Lord Salisbury was president of the National Union of Conservative Associations. I entirely fail to understand how he can possibly differentiate the two cases. [An HON. MEMBER: Lord Salisbury repudiated the resolution.] It has been said, or implied, that the action of the Prime Minister in this matter has been ambiguous. unintelligible, and unstraightforward. It is not necessary that I should say a word to those on this side of the House with regard to the straightforwardness of the Prime Minister. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite think they perceive a difference—and I admit that there is a difference of opinion on this subject among the supporters of the Government. They wish to widen the cleavage, and that is the reason of the step they are now taking. It is simply a move in the Party game. My right hon. friend's speech at Sheffield was perfectly clear. I ask any man not an imbecile to say whether it was not a perfectly intelligible and unambiguous statement. The Prime Minister stated his policy with regard to retaliation, and he stated his sympathy with the idea of colonial preference, but said he would 300 not pursue that policy during the present Parliament. He said, in perfectly plain English, that in regard to a policy which might involve the taxation of the food of the people he considered public opinion was not ripe, and that, as the leader of the Conservative Party, it was not his duty to go forward with that proposal. although in its main outline he expressed sympathy with it—an expression of sym pathy which was repeated by Lord Lansdowne on his behalf at the Albert Hall. Hon. Gentlemen cheer that statement very loudly. Is it an ambiguous statement? Is it unintelligible? [An HON. MEMBER: It is quite clear now.] How does that summary differ from the Prime Minister's utterance at Sheffield, of which the right hon. Gentleman, notwithstanding the manner in which he has characterised it, has not been able to read a single passage as being ambiguous, unintelligible, or unstraightforward. If objection is raised to my citing only Conservative precedents, I would ask what is the position of the right hon. Gentleman himself with regard to some very important questions of policy. The other day the right hon. Gentleman, after denouncing for many weeks a certain policy in Africa as slavery, or something akin to slavery, was challenged as to what he would do in regard to that question when he came into office, and replied, "Put me in and I will tell you." Can you imagine a better instance of the view that Ministers are concerned only with the policy which is declared to be theirs, and not with some indefinite future. Burning with indignation on this subject, the right hon. Gentleman is unwilling to pledge himself before the general election takes place.
§ SIR HENRY FOWLER (Wolverhampton E.)
Sir Robert Peel on one occasion said he would prescribe when he was called in.
§ MR. LYTTELTON
I think these two instances justify the course which the Prime Minister has taken. I would ask one further Question: What is the position of the right hon. Gentleman with regard to Home Rule? Is that a question which has or has not been amply discussed, and on which hon. Gentlemen opposite ought to be in a position to make up their minds? I think any 301 candid man would say that an hon. Gentleman ought to have a definite and permanent opinion on that topic now, when he might well be excused, having regard to the enormous complexity of the subject, if he said he approved of the principle of colonial preference. I admit that there are many points of detail and method which require most careful and minute examination. Of course the right hon. Gentleman has exhausted his speech; but I would have liked immensely if, after sixteen or seventeen years discussion of Home Rule, he would have got up in his place and given us definitely his opinion in regard to that subject. Possibly my curiosity in that respect might have been gratified by the right hon. Gentleman; but there are some of his colleagues whose opinions on that matter it would be particularly interesting to hear. If that were so—(I am not blaming hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite in the least—it would be impertinent for me to do so)—what I say is this: is it not rather remarkable, to put it no higher that those who differ fundamentally between themselves—as we all know they do, notwithstanding what they may say—on such points as that, should take up this attitude against the present Government, when we know perfectly well that the raising of that point, directly they came into power, would be a matter which would cause a schism in their ranks. [OPPOSITION cries of "No, no!"] I hear some not responsible Gentlemen say "No." Will any responsible Gentleman here, in this debate, get up and say that in any policy of that kind he would commit his Party to it? Notwithstanding what they may say, they have fundamental differences. I do not blame them for it. Any person who has acquaintance with the history of politics in this country in former times, as well as at the present moment, who asked himself this question and expected to receive a candid answer, would say, "Are there not many topics upon which it is impossible for any body of gentlemen to act together without very long debate on the subject, and unless, what everybody admits there cannot possibly be at present, the subject is ripe and fit to bring before the actual Parliament of the time?" There must be hundreds of such subjects. One such is Home Rule, 302 another such is Disestablishment, and I freely admit another such is that which my right hon. friend has proposed in regard to colonial preferences. These are subjects that must be before the country for some considerable time. You have to get them into the sphere of action; but until you can have that actual opinion upon them, it is absolutely vain and hopeless to suppose that there can be other than some degree of liberty, even for members of the Government, for expression of views on such a topic. I thank the House for having heard me so patiently. I ask the House to reject this Motion, and to reject it, I may say, as not a very serious Motion on the present occasion.
§ MR. ROBSON (South Shields)
said many hon. Members must have been astonished at the extraordinary speech they had just heard from the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary on the subject of colonial preferences. The right hon. Gentleman began by describing the distance that the Colonies had come in the direction of colonial preference. He observed a slight but very significant change of phraseology in relation to that mythical colonial offer. Now, the Colonies, at some distance, had power to make an approach to the mother country, but was that a distance which they traversed with any idea whatever of promoting protection, even in the mother country? It was perfectly well known to all who had watched colonial politics that the movement in favour of so-called preference to the mother country was essentially a free-trade movement. It was an endeavour by the free-trade Party in the Colonies, who, finding themselves unable to introduce free trade as a whole, hoped at least to procure some measure of it by the aid of Imperial sentiment. And what the right hon. Member for West Birmingham had done was to turn that movement—which was a growing movement, and which would have more and more increased the relations between the Colonies and this country on terms advantageous to both—into a protectionist movement. But the Colonial Secretary asked them whether it would he decent to refuse discussion of the offer which he implied that the Colonies had made. He went further, and 303 said that he himself approved colonial preference, and in another phrase, which he believed would be carefully noted, the right hon. Gentleman pledged not merely his own sympathy with the policy which admittedly involved the taxation of food, but pledged the sympathy of the Prime Minister to that policy. That was a statement which he had heard with surprise, because at the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary's own reelection—which was conducted on the general lines of the Party, and, therefore. his responsibility for what was done at it could not be wholly ignored, although, from circumstances over which the right hon. Gentleman had no control, he took no active part in it—was it not a fact that the right hon. Gentleman's constituency was placarded, and that every dead wall lived, with the assertion that it was a lie to say that he was in favour of the taxation of food. And was there anyone on the Opposition Benches who had not at one time or another been accused of misrepresentation, because they had said it was their belief—now apparently justified by the speech of the Colonial Secretary—that the Prime Minister, in spite of all the twists and turnings of his subtle speech was also in favour of the taxation of food?
Not long ago the Prime Minister, in a moment of inadvertence, referred to himself as being among those who favoured colonial preference. Perhaps there was a little inadvertence in the speech of the Colonial Secretary that afternoon. Blessed was inadvertence! It was the only thing, in certain conditions, which gave the truth a chance. They had got the truth at last; and they would not grumble at its having come inadvertently. This was another example of the danger of purely extemporaneous speech. The Colonial Secretary then referred to the attitude of the Leader of the Opposition with regard to Home Rule. Again hon. Members had heard that point brought up as if it afforded a complete parallel. He would tell the House what would be a complete parallel between the conduct of the Leader of the Opposition in regard to Home Rule and the conduct of the Prime Minister on the fiscal question. It would be a complete parallel if the Leader of the Opposition, when in office, 304 denounced Home Rule, and then sent two or three of his colleagues to make a bargain with the Irish Party in its favour or to join the Home Rule movement.
§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
Is the hon. and learned Gentleman going to denounce Home Rule?
§ MR. ROBSON
said that if the right hon. Gentleman would do him the favour to listen to his remarks, he was endeavouring to establish that it would be a complete parallel if the Leader of the Opposition approved Home Rule and then sent two of his colleagues to join the Liberal Unionist Association. But he would pass to what seemed most vital in this debate. The conduct of those Ministers who had joined this association was of minor importance, and its main interest consisted in the indication it gave of the views of the Prime Minister. When Lord Lansdowne and Lord Selborne joined the Liberal Unionist Association it was to be assumed that they did so with the assent of the Prime Minister. What did that assent involve? Did it show that he approved of their conduct? They knew that the right hon. Gentleman had encouraged the most diverse and contradictory views on the part of his followers in regard to his own convictions. Sonic of his followers would vote for him in that debate, because they thought that at least he had given assurances on fiscal freedom of trade adequate to satisfy the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol. Others would vote for him with better reason, because they saw him in active, avowed, and sympathetic cooperation with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham and the preference Party. The right hon. Gentleman said. "Never mind what my sympathies are; never mind what my intentions are in regard to the future of the country. You are only concerned with my immediate programme, and my immediate programme excludes the taxation of food and preference." But they were entitled to know from the Prime Minister whether he intended to exclude that programme from the consideration of the electors, when he again invited their confidence. Was it to be 305 the issue, the main substantial issue, at the next general election? The right hon. Gentleman indulged in a display of academic didactics; but the elections would not be academic elections. Were the by-elections academic elections? Why, not a single protectionist candidate had yet escaped the right hon. Gentleman's blessing; and a very unfortunate blessing it seemed to be in some instances. He would go further and say that the right hon. Gentleman was bound to tell the House in frank and plain terms what he meant to do at the next general election in regard to this question. He would remind the House that the right hon. Gentleman's partner in this combination in favour of colonial preference told the country what the right hon. Gentleman meant to do. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham at Tynemouth pledged not only himself but the Prime Minister to lay this question before the country at the next general election. He said—We claim that the matter must be discussed in all its branches; and therefore it was that Mr. Balfour, in making his speech at Sheffield, and I myself, in making a speech at Birmingham, pointed out to the people of this country what were the tremendous issues which were now placed in their hands, and implored them to consider them before the next general election.That was a very significant observation on the part of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, and one which had not yet received that attention it deserved. It made an end of all the talk about the fiscal question in this form being outside the range of practical politics. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister intended to bring it within the range of practical politics; and he had no right to evade discussion on it by treating it as if it were outside the range of practical politics. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham and the Prime Minister were at one in their determination to make this the vital question at the next election; how, therefore, could it be treated as outside the range of practical politics? Yet the Prime Minister at Sheffield excused himself for not dealing with the taxation of food, knowing, of course, that if he did it would bring him into controversial conflict with the right hon. Gentleman 306 the Member for West Birmingham. The right hon. Gentleman excused himself on the ground that it was outside the range of practical politics. He hoped the House would remember the Cabinet revelations of the noble Lord the Member for Ealing. The noble Lord told them that a few weeks before the Prime Minister went down to Sheffield to treat this question as being outside the pale of practical politics he had, in some mysterious document, submitted this very question to the Cabinet for practical and immediate consideration. There was only an interval of two or three weeks between the two events. He would ask the House and the country to note carefully the juxtaposition of the dates. How could a question which was worthy of immediate Cabinet consideration at the beginning of the month be, at the end of the month, merely an academic problem? If the closeness of the dates were considered, they would get some light on what the right hon. Gentleman's admirers were fond of calling his strategy. Strategy was a very fine thing, and it had its own legitimate sphere in political life; but this strategy, as applied to controversial arguments, was perilously near to what was popularly, usefully, and accurately described as misrepresentation. He did not like the use of the word strategy, nor was it very common in this connection. However, they must accept it. They knew what the aim of this strategy was. It was to lure free-traders into voting for a protectionist Ministry, who had devised a policy, protectionist as far as it went, in order to facilitate a further advance in the direction of protection. He did not like this kind of strategy. It seemed to him to cut at the very root of political argument, and the Prime Minister was one of the last which many of them would have expected to stoop to it. He wondered what would have been said by the right hon. Gentleman or his Party if any of the right hon. Gentleman's distinguished predecessors—Mr. Gladstone, for instance—had had recourse to this sort of device in order to facilitate the progress of a policy. Why, the Tory Party would have exhausted the English language for epithets; and the very worst epithet would have at least one merit, it would have been accurate.
307 The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham rejoiced in the sympathy of the Prime Minister. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol also rejoiced in what he believed to be the sympathy of the Prime Minister. Which of the right hon. Gentlemen was right? He thought they could decide that for themselves by the application of a very simple case. Let them suppose that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham was beaten at the polls, as he was fairly reasonably certain of being. Let them suppose—it was only a hypothesis—that the Prime Minister was successful at the polls, and that he brought back a majority of the House pledged to some measure of the policy of retaliation. What would happen then (and to this he would invite the attention of the free-trade Unionists)? The policy of retaliation was frequently referred to as if it were some sort of compromise. In the admirable speech to which they had listened with such delight from the Leader of the Opposition, his right hon. friend perhaps too readily accepted for the purpose of his argument the view that the policy of retaliation was a middle policy—something less extreme than the policy of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. He ventured to say it was a more extreme policy. It might perhaps be not so insidious; but it was far more dangerous. Yet, the Leader of the Opposition was right in treating it as a policy put forward as a halfway-house policy. That was the way it was desired by those who put it forward that it should be taken. But it was in fact a most dangerous policy. De Quincy started the autobiography of some imaginary criminal by saying—I began my career with manslaughter, of which I thought very little or nothing at the time.The Prime Minister now proposed to begin with a tariff war or two, of which he thought little or nothing. There was nothing more dangerous than a tariff war. It began in one country, but it was bound to be carried into other countries, because the susceptibilities and the alarm of other countries would be aroused. What he wished to discuss, however, was the way in which the policy of retaliation would be worked by the 308 right hon. Gentleman's majority. Who would dictate the spirit in which it was to proceed? They all knew very well that the Party the right hon. Gentleman would bring back would be in heart and spirit and belief a protectionist Party. The Tory Party had never been anything else. They had altered their policy during the last sixty years; but they had never for a moment altered their convictions. They were protectionists now, and they would be protectionists if they were again returned. They would try retaliation at once, but who would inspire their policy? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. He would see that the Prime Minister worked retaliation in a protectionist spirit. The position of the Prime Minister reminded him of the lines in "The Ancient Mariner"—Like one that on a lonesome road,Doth walk in fear and dread,And having once turned round, walks on,And turns no more his bead,Because he knows a frightful fiendDoth close behind him tread.The Prime Minister would have to march, and that was the spirit in which he would march. A great many free-trade Unionists hugged to themselves the belief that after all the right hon. Gentleman did not mean it, that he would drop retaliation just as he had dropped old-age pensions. It was comparatively easy to deceive the people; but it was not so easy to deceive the class the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham had gathered together, and from whom he had taken large and secret subscriptions—secret because they did not desire that the contributions which they gave for the taxes they were going to get should be known. Retaliation would not be dropped. He would do the Prime Minister the justice of saying that he did not think the light hon. Gentleman meant to drop it.
The vital part of this controversy was, What were the real convictions of the Prime Minister? The historic and now almost antiquated volume, "Economic Notes on Insular Free Trade," which the right hon. Gentleman published, ought in itself to enlighten every free-trade Unionist. They would discover there was not a single fundamental proposition of protection that the right hon. Gentleman did not hold, and they would also find there 309 was not a single fundamental proposition of free trade of which he did not disapprove. First of all, the Prime Minister treated as inadequate and incorrect the idea that it was probably better for economic tendencies to follow their natural course than to substitute for them a State-contrived scheme and artificial action by the Government. Economic tendencies were nothing but the tendencies pursued by men in their own interests, and in the view of the Prime Minister it was better that business men should not be allowed to pursue the search for their own interest with unfettered freedom but that the State should take it up for them. It would be better, in the right hon Gentleman's opinion, to leave their interests in the hands of a statesman, for instance, who placed a tax of 50 per cent. on the wholesale value of an article and declared that it would not affect the price. The right hon. Gentleman had also expounded the doctrine that to sell to our customers things which added to their productive power and capacity was a pernicious thing. There was no doubt that that was protection in its very essential conception. It was in the interest of every class of trader to make his interest universal. But the Prime Minister further suggested all he dared against foreign investments, in a way that he should like to place before the Stock Exchange. In short, the right hon. Gentleman wished to substitute for our present world-wide business some smaller area, while free-traders desired to have nothing less wide than the world itself. When protectionists talked about a self-sufficient Empire they were really proposing to destroy our national trade, without which our Empire would not retain its strength or integrity for twelve months. On each of these fundamental propositions the Prime Minister was at one with the protectionists. Now it was all clear. The Liberal Party would go to the country with the perfectly clear understanding that the Premier was in favour of a policy which involved the taxation of food.
§ *MR. CRIPPS (Lancashire, Stretford)
said it was very natural that the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down, as well as the right hon. Gentleman the 310 Leader of the Opposition, should in their addresses to the House attempt to make capital of the differences which, in their opinion, existed among the various members of the Unionist Party. Anyone must have noticed that, particularly from the latter portion of the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman. He did not say that the question of protection could be regarded as an irrelevant from the particular Motion raised by the right hon. Gentleman, but it only arose in the second degree, and it was going outside the terms of the Resolution to discuss at large words said to he used on various occasions either by the Prime Minister or the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham.
He did not appreciate what the hon. and learned Member had said on the question of protection; he did not agree that the selfish competition, as the hon. Member had called it, was the last word to be said either morally or economically, on any great trading question. He went so far as to say that competition in excess was morally wholly unjustifiable and economically wholly wasteful. The question had always been, and would always be, not a matter of mere abstract doctrine, but whether, under particular conditions, and having regard to the social conditions of the country, the Government was justified in interfering more or less with business relations. There was the illustration of the factory legislation which was intended to protect the children of this country, but which would have been entirely inconsistent with the only test the hon. and learned Member would apply, namely, the opinion of business men. It was a Whiggish archaism to go back and say that anyone who opposed the extreme doctrine of laissez faire, that anybody who admitted a policy of limitation on this question, had adopted either the theory of protection or some of the other reactionary theories that the hon. and learned Gentleman referred to. Free trade was founded on the doctrine of the whole world being one industrial entity, and if the whole world were one industrial entity it was to the interest of the community at large that the industrial powers in the aggregate should be utilised to the greatest advantage. If the premises of the 311 extreme view held by Mr. Cobden could be established, no one would be a more earnest supporter than he of the Cobdenite view; but it was best in dealing with a business matter to recognise that the Cobden doctrine had not been established, and that in place of one industrial entity we at present had separate industrial entities raising tariffs for the purpose of protecting their own industries and injuring the trade of this country.
He had no desire to dogmatise upon this matter, but supposing he could prove to the hon. and learned Gentleman, or any other hon. Member opposite, that under existing conditions we were not getting fair treatment as regarded our industrial interests in this country, would it not be only reasonable that we should insure, as far as we could, that our industries and our working men should not be unfairly handicapped? That they should have fair if not free competition, which was the nearest we could get to the ideal of Mr. Cobden? It was no good putting considerations of fact on one side; it was no use to talk of "natural conditions," which did not exist at the present moment. He could not agree with those who, as he understood, would, under the form of this doctrine, have us tie our hands and so restrain ourselves as not to be able to insist on fair competition in trade with other countries. Ha doubted whether the Unionist free-traders were really so much in antagonism with those who on this subject appeared to differ from them. Supposing they were satisfied that as regards one of the great industries of this country we were suffering under a disadvantage owing to the action of some foreign competition, and that we could get rid of that disadvantage by a system of retaliation, would they, under those circumstances, say "Perish justice to our industry, in order that free trade may be preserved." He could not imagine a more deadly way of approaching the industrial questions of a great country than to go on an abstract theory of that kind, hypnotising ourselves as to the actual conditions of everyday life, allowing industries to suffer under unfair conditions, and debarring ourselves from taking the natural way of devising a 312 remedy. This merely because there was brought forward an abstract theory, admirable in itself, but not applicable to the present conditions of industrial competition.
But what were the real issues raised by this vote of censure. He realised that a vote of censure was a Party move, and it would be quixotic in this House to blame people for taking advantage of Party moves of this description; but he did hold that whatever might be the result of immediate elections or of the next general election, it was far more important for a great Party to say what they thought was true and right on this fiscal question, than to be governed by such passing considerations as the results of the next division or the next election. It could not be held that the doctrine of the collective responsibility of Ministers was applicable to a question which, at the moment, was not within the purview or area of practical politics. Could there be a more fatal way of preventing some of the most acute and statesmanlike minds in the country from approaching the consideration of problems which must, in the first instance, be fought out in the abstract before they could be discussed in their practical bearings? Moreover, such a proposition was absolutely inconsistent with constitutional doctrine and precedent. Was Canning debarred from stating his views on Catholic disabilities by the fact that the Government with which he was connected was opposed to him? Was Lord Palmerston debarred from expressing his views on such questions as the ballot and the reform of representation at a time when a large number of his Government were avowedly working in the opposite direction? The constitutional principle was that in matters of immediate concern there must be collective Ministerial responsibility, but as regarded matters outside immediate practical politics there was and there ought to be no rule by which statesmen would be prevented from dealing with questions which were often more important than immediate politics, and upon which the future of the Empire might in the long run depend.
The Resolution submitted by the Leader of the Opposition might be divided into two parts: one dealt with 313 preferential duties, and the other with the taxation of food. It was true that as regarded the question of Imperial solidarity there might be two schools. There were those who believed that true political union was impossible without first establishing commercial union. That was the view expressed by the Prime Minister at Sheffield, and held, he believed, by the great majority of the Unionist and Conservative Party in the country. Starting from that premiss, what was the next question? He did not commit himself personally to the suggestion that the preferential duties necessary to constitute commercial union would necessitate the taxation of food. Taxation of food in one sense we had always had in this country; it was not to be connected with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, or with one particular Party, or with one particular Budget. The only alternative to some form of taxation of food was a graduated income-tax much larger than had ever yet been levied—a proposition to which no Party had ever committed itself. But that was not the question. The supporters of this view held that they could bring about this commercial union which they so ardently desired between the mother country and her colonies, without adding one farthing, either directly or indirectly, to the budget of the poor man. Supposing it could be proved beyond doubt that by a readjustment of taxation for the purpose of colonial preference the burdens on the poor man would be not greater than before, could the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite raise a theoretical objection and say, "However much I believe that commercial union is a condition precedent to closer political union, I would sacrifice the Empire rather than have any readjustment of the kind, although it might be a benefit to the working man."
§ *MR. CRIPPS
said that not only had he such a scheme in his mind, but it had been proved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham that by such a readjustment of taxation as would be sufficient 314 for carrying out the commercial union, the working man would be relieved to a certain extent from burdens which now affected him. He was rather surprised that the hon. Member for Oldham should be led away by prejudice upon a question of this kind. The proposition he had just put forward had been proved by statistics. And was not that what had to be done? If we were to hold out our hands to the Colonies, and the Colonies were to come into commercial union with this country, ought not statesmen to see whether it could be done without adding to the burdens of the people? It was no good falling back upon prejudice and appealing to the working man on topics of prejudice. He (the speaker) did not believe there was one word of truth in what had been said over and over again on that point. if there was one matter worth working for or one subject outside the ordinary run of political life it was the necessity of finding a permanent and solid foundation for the relationship between the mother country and the Colonies. It was upon those lines that the Conservative and Unionist Party were agreed. The question of means and methods was one upon which they might well differ. He found no fault with those who thought that at present the solution had not been found. But let them not go off the real point of the discussion. Let them realise where they agreed and discuss fairly and openly the points of difference which might arise.
With regard to the "free-fooders" as against free-trade Unionists, he understood that they concentrated their views upon the question of free food. Having assented to the taxation of sugar and tea, they could not object to the taxation of food. It was a mere commonplace to say that they desired to keep that taxation as low as possible. They objected not to the taxation of food, but to what they called the "protective" taxation of food. In other words, they were willing to tax sugar and tea, but unwilling to tax corn, because in the one case the theory of protection did not arise, whereas in the latter case it did. But what by itself was a protective duty was not a protective duty if a corresponding Excise was levied. They objected to protective 315 taxation on food because further taxation was not put upon the agricultural industry. If such a tax were put upon the agricultural industry, their objection, so far as protection, would go, and as regarded taxation on food, they had assented to it as one of the necessary methods for raising the enormous revenue which was necessary for the government of this country.
Let them discuss this question on its true lines, and make up their minds whether they wanted an Imperially consolidated Empire or not. If they were in favour of further colonial solidarity, and if they had a conference between British and colonial statesmen, could anyone doubt that it was within the power of statesmen to solve this question in a way which would throw no burden upon the working men of this country or those living in any other part of our Colonial Empire. Those who supported the present policy in its main lines as put forward by the right hon. Gentlemen the Colonial Secretary and the Prime Minister, thought they could not have an Empire upon a permanent footing unless they had commercial union. Let them, as a Party, work for that great ideal, and do not let them be frightened by mere abstract propositions and doctrines hurled at them from the other side of the House. He was considered to have taken rather a Tory view on many questions, but he was not so Tory as to bring forward a fossilised reactionary doctrine and attempt to hypnotise the country as to the real issue, and on those grounds to oppose every step which ought to be taken at this moment to promote some great scheme of colonial solidarity. They knew that they had the sympathy and loyalty of their colonial subjects at the prseent moment. He hoped that under the Prime Minister's guidance the result of this policy would be a work worthy of their Party and a great statesmanlike work which would put in the end our colonial dependencies on a solid and permanent basis to the benefit of the whole civilised world.
§ MR. ELLIOT (Durham)
said his hon. and learned friend had said that a great edifice was going to be constructed upon which a great Empire was going to be 316 built, but he invited the House to look at the foundations upon which it was proposed to build. When he did that he found to his astonishment that his hon. and learned friend would build this great Imperialism upon the taxation of bread in the United Kingdom itself, because a tax on corn was a tax on bread.
§ MR. CRIPPS
said that there must be a readjustment of taxation that would not affect the budget of the working man. He did not think that it would be necessary to tax either bread or food.
§ MR. ELLIOT
said that was not the policy which had been placed before the country by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. His hon. and learned friend had said that the differences between Unionists were only skin deep, but he viewed with the greatest dislike and absolute disbelief the financial principles upon which it was proposed to draw together the whole Empire, and to draw mighty revenues which would come from Heaven knows where. He confessed that he was a little disappointed when he heard the Colonial Secretary speak of what was happening that day as a mere move in the Party game. In politics there were always two Parties, and discussions would always assume a more or less Party aspect, but his right hon. friend would be woefully mistaken if he thought the discussion which was taking place not only in the House of Commons but in every town and city in the country was based merely upon Party considerations and Party lines. It was nothing of the kind. They had not been asked to insist that every Minister and servant of the King should have precisely the same views upon every question which might not be ripe for immediate settlement, and when the hon. and learned Member spoke of the open-mindedness of the present Government upon this question. where was the evidence of it? Where were the free-traders who were members of His Majesty's Government? It appeared to him that it was not open to a free-trader to be a member of the Government unless he chose to keep his free-trade principles to himself and advocate them only in the sanctity of his own bosom and the privacy of his own 317 room. Many members of the Government had given expositions of their views which would be extremely palatable to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birtnin4am. He had seen letter after letter written by one Minister after another urging the electors to support protectionist candidates, but he had not seen from any member of this open-minded Government any letters in favour of free-trade candidates. The Cabinet had been broken up upon this very question. Instead of treating this as an open question when it was brought before the House the first thing they experienced was that the Prime Minister treated it as a Party question; it was declared to be a vote of censure; they heat the Party drum and all the appliances were brought to bear to make this a Party question and nothing else. He was as strong a Unionist as anyone in this House and he was a Liberal Unionist a long time before a good many hon. Members who now boasted about being Liberal Unionists. He suffered in his early Unionist days by being turned out of the Eighty Club by his right hon. friend the present Colonial Secretary because he was a Liberal Unionist, but his right hon. friend afterwards saw the error of his ways. He did not yet despair that his right hon. friend the Colonial Secretary might join the Unionist free-traders, and do great service to that cause, as he had done good service to the cause of the Union.
They must keep their eyes open to what was going on throughout the. country. His hon. and learned friend did not make one single reference to the controversy which was raging throughout the country, namely, the controversy between free trade on the one side and protection on the other. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham and his supporters had been round the country and they had preached purely and simply the doctrine of protection. The supporters of this policy put forward the belief that it would be a very admirable method of improving our industrial position in this country to keep out foreign competition in order that our home manufacturers might get increased prices. That was part of the policy now advocated by 318 means of a vigorous agitation throughout the country. That was operating on the minds of certain interests and classes whose natural object and desire it was—they were men like other men, with more or less selfish interests of their own—to enhance the price of the goods they sold to the consumer. He believed that to be a mistaken policy. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition had said that it would be out of order to go into the great question of free trade and protection. To his own mind the interest and object of this debate was to enable His Majesty's Government to say in clear and unmistakable language what it was that thee held with reference to the policy which had been put before the country by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. His right hon. friend the Prime Minister had spoken and written often on this subject, but two sentences would make the whole matter clear. An elaborate policy had been put before the country by the late Colonial Secretary, having for its main incidents taxes upon imported manufactures, and taxes upon imported food. Did that scheme and policy recommend itself, or did it not recommend itself, to the mind of the right hon. Gentleman? The House of Commons and the country really had some right to know what was the view held by the leading statesman of this country at the present time on that subject. His hon. and learned friend said they must not deal with the politics of the indefinite future. Why! these were the politics of the moment. These were the questions upon which elections turned. It was no use to say that it was not before the country, because every elector thought it was before the country, and holding that view gave his vote one way or the other. Surely it was time that the House of Commons had a distinct lead on this matter from the right hon. Gentleman. If this debate passed over, as others had done, without any indication as to the view taken by His Majesty's Government as a Government what were they to do? Well, he was a Unionist free-trader. He was happy to say he was not the only Unionist free-trader in the country or the House of Commons, and he knew that Unionist 319 free-traders saw quite clearly what was ahead of them. They were not going to have their Unionism made a stalking horse in order to have that carried out which they believed to be contrary to the interests of the country and the Empire.
He must say a word or two as to the strange attitude of His Majesty's Government with regard to the Liberal Unionist Association. From the beginning he had been a member of that association. He hardly recognised some of his old Liberal Unionist friends tricked out in protectionist garments, which suited them very badly, and made them appear to be very different men from those with whom he was so long associated. The Liberal Unionist Party was being split from top to bottom, as the Liberal Party was over the question of Home Rule. What was meant by the appointment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham as leader of the Liberal Unionist Party in place of the Duke of Devonshire? Every man knew what it meant. It meant that the Liberal Unionist Association and the Liberal Unionists throughout the country were to be rallied as a Liberal Unionist Tariff Reform League, and at the very moment the rupture took place three of His Majesty's Ministers thought it suitable to go down to the Albert Hall and ratify by their presence, approval, and speeches the policy of the Tariff Reform League in calling for the support of the Liberal Unionist Association.
He could not tell, no one could exactly tell, what the main question at the next general election would be, but so far as their short sight could glance into the future, it did appear that there would be no greater question before the country than this fiscal revolution in the sense of departing from our fiscal policy of free imports, whether the goods were manufactured or not, and of imitating the system known in America, Germany, and Continental countries which, he ventured to say, had done those countries no good, and had done nothing toward promoting the welfare of the working classes in Germany or in any other country in Europe. Our own country afforded higher wages than other countries to the working classes of almost 320 every kind, while at the same time in respect of living, winch was as important a matter as wages, the articles of ordinary consumption were cheaper here than they were elsewhere. How could any man who knew anything of the subject at all compare the position of the working men in Germany with those of this country? Of course in America the case naturally was different. There was a demand for labour in that country, but he thought he had heard the hon. Member for Battersea in that House draw a graphic description of the sort of life the ironworkers led in that country. The hon. Member thought that even with the working classes of America our own compared very favourably. The matter they had now to deal with was this so-called reform. What they wanted above everything was frankness on the part of His Majesty's Ministers. Let the country understand how these matters stood. He knew the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government had an extremely difficult position. He thought the right hon. Gentleman was right to feel the great importance to the country of avoiding a disruption of the Party. He gave him credit for all that. But the rupture had occurred, and he hoped that before the debate closed the right hon. Gentleman would be able to say wherein he differed, if he differed at all, from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. If before the debate ended they had a frank expression of the right hon. Gentleman's policy, then he thought that, although at the eleventh hour of this session, the vote of censure would not have been brought forward in vain.
§ MR. EMMOTT
said the hon. Member who had just sat down in a speech of great ability had brought back the question which they were discussing from the region of fiction to the realm of common sense. As he entirely agreed with the main arguments which the hon. Member had used, he would not waste the time of the House in following his arguments in detail. But he wished to refer to two arguments used by the Colonial Secretary. When he was speaking the right hon. Gentleman asked whether the House considered that it would be right or decent for His Majesty's Ministers, having received so much in the way of preferential 321 treatment from the Colonies, to shut the door on the question of colonial preference. And he said that Lord Rosebery and some of those who had been associated with him had expressed themselves very much in favour of the same system of colonial preference. He did not know why Lord Rosebery had been brought in.
§ MR. EMMOTT
Shown leanings! Lord Rosebery and those who thought with him were as intensely anxious to bind the Colonies to the Empire as the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Gentlemen opposite. Lord Rosebery had shown leanings in the direction of binding together the Colonies and the mother country, but he said words to this effect, "As soon as they began to consider fiscal federation they immediately broke their teeth on the question of the taxation of the food of the people at home."
The complaint of the Opposition was that the Government were playing with this question and were not telling them their real belief. They were trying to make the Colonies think they could devise some scheme of colonial preference; but they did not say frankly whether they were in favour of the taxation of the food of the people, which was said to be a necessary part of colonial preference. To this question the House and the country were entitled to a reply.
Then the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary, in excusing the action of the Ministers who had become members of the Liberal Unionist Association, said there was no difference between their action and the action of Lord Salisbury in connection with the National Union of Conservative Associations. He could not conceive how the right hon. Gentleman attempted to prove that to himself. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham left the Government he deliberately broke up the Liberal Unionist Association in order that he might make it a branch of the Tariff Reform League. He did not think this was doubted. That being the case, two of His Majesty's Ministers im- 322 mediately joined the association as vice-presidents. Their action differed toto coelo from anything Lord Salisbury ever did in connection with the Conservative Association. Indeed on more than one occasion Lord Salisbury went out of his way to repudiate the doctrine of protection.
He thought too that it was a very unworthy charge for the right hon. Gentleman to make when he said this was a mere Party game. He admitted that Party tactics were necessary and that Party manœuvres were often indulged in. But this was not a mere matter of "outs" and "ins." If it were out of mere curiosity as to the attitude of His Majesty's Government that this Motion had been moved they might with some reason refuse to gratify that curiosity. It was not so much that they, on that side of the House, were wanting this information, as the country. He believed that this prolongation of silence on the part of the Government was of advantage to the Liberal Party; that if they could have no clearer reply from the Prime Minister than from the Colonial Secretary it would be of more advantage to them than to the Ministerial Party. But independent of hon. Members on that side of the House who supported free trade, there were many on his side of the House, for whom he might speak, who put this question as the first political question before the country. They felt that this was a great crisis in the history of the nation, and they were determined to fight all they could on this question, and to make sacrifices as regarded Party in order that the battle might be successfully won. They believed that if this question of free trade was lost and protection was to become the rule of this country, almost everything else they cared about would go. They believed that it would diminish the purity of political life. They believed that sane Imperialism would be a thing of the past. They believed that the old ties of affection with the Colonies would be superseded by a system of bargains, and bargaining with the Colonies meant retaliation in the long run. They believed that the social reform, which they wanted, would go. They believed that there was a great danger of a truculent foreign policy being introduced. And 323 believing all that, they believed that if the free-traders were going to lose this battle, steps would be taken from which the country could never recover, and that, as far as the Liberal programme went, it would be for generations a thing of the past. So, to all of them on that side of the House this was not a mere Party struggle at all. They were fighting for ideas in which they fundamentally believed.
So far he had spoken about his own Party. Let him deal with another class. Let him deal with the ordinary business men of the Conservative turn of mind. He knew numbers of them, men whose families had been Conservatives for generations. They did not care two-pence about Cobden or a farthing about theory. They would much rather have followed Mr. Chamberlain and thrown over Cobden if they could have convinced themselves that that was the right thing to do. What happened? The autumn campaign began. They looked forward to it eagerly, anxious to find excuses to follow Mr. Chamberlain, and they saw that intellectually the campaign was a failure. And, examining their own business, they had to come to the conclusion that as far as they were concerned they had to stick to free trade. Where were they now? They had had the first section of the Tariff Reform Committee's Report, which reminded him of the quotation: "Parturiunt montes, nascitur ridiculus mus" turiunt montes, nascitur ridiculus mus." This report again dealt with dumping; we were going to be ruined by dumpers. What were the facts shown in Government publications? The imports of pigiron from Germany for the first four months of this year were less than half what they were for the first four months of last year. What had happened in the United States? Were all their workers kept employed? Were they going to dump on us ten million tons of iron, as Mr. Chamberlain promised? Nothing of the kind! An enormous number of their furnaces were blown out, and the fear of wholesale dumping from the United States was stopped. Well, then, we were told that we had not got free trade now. If not we had at any rate got a system under which we tried as far as possible to raise taxes for revenue purposes only, 324 and we chose those subjects for taxation which would not, when taxed, give protection to manufacturing interests in this country. If it were argued we had not got free trade, it could be argued just as well that we had not got freedom. For example, the Prime Minister's motor-car, when it went too fast, was interfered with by the police. But at any rate the business man said: "I do not care about your words, but about your things; your plan is a plan which will make matters worse, and I do want to know what the Government really mean."
Take another point. The great manufacturing industries were in suspense, and must be in suspense until this question was settled. They were suffering from the after-effects of the war, and from the ordinary trade wave depression following the boom year 1900. Many wealthy manufacturers often used bad times for extension; but now think what any man would ask himself if he proposed extension. Take the cotton trade. He would look at the Tariff Commission Report on the iron and steel trades, and say, if those things were going to be taxed 5 or 10 per cent., there would probably be a tax on machinery; at any rate, it would cost more to make machinery, whether a tax was put on or not. And not only machinery, but every thing he built a cotton mill with would cost more. Bricks would cost more, because wages would be raised, they were told, to provide for the extra cost of food. The doors and windows would cost more, many of them coming in a half-made condition from abroad. His engines and gearing would cost more. Everything needed for building the mill would cost more. What was the result? He would say to himself, "To-day I can build a mill here in this country so much cheaper than the Germans, that when I have built it I can afford to pay every hand employed in it 10s. a week more and be as well off at the end as the German. I am going to sacrifice that if the principles of this iron and steel trades report are carried out in this country. And more than that, when I come to manufacture in that mill, all the stores I use are going to cost more, even if the cotton does not, the oil, and flour, and leather will all cost more, so my finished product must cost immensely 325 more. Where am I going to get it back. You can put 100 per cent. on my goods, it will not affect me. Out of every £10 worth I make, £2 10s. worth is used at home, the rest goes abroad. What does the foreigner send me? For every £10 worth I send him he only sends me £1 worth. I can tax his £1, and I might make some of those goods, but I cannot recoup myself by any system of Customs duties for the increases in cost that Mr. Chamberlain's scheme would add to the charges that I have to pay." That was the way the quiet business man was dealing with the matter, and he had a right to know what the Government really meant.
It might be said that the Government had put their programme before the country, but had it been put before the country in a way that any reasonable man could fairly understand? There was only one powerful man in the Government, the Prime Minister, and he seemed to believe theoretically in universal free trade; but he repudiated the idea that taxes for revenue purposes were necessarily to be non-protective. He thought we might use a system of retaliation, and that with regard to food it would not be wise to introduce taxes on food at present, though he would be willing to do something in order to bring about federation of the Empire. So the Prime Minister tied himself in this knot. He advocated retaliation, which would only apply to manufactured articles, and not food or raw material. In that case his scheme was unfair to agriculture, he could not retaliate successfully on Russia and the United States of America, and he could oily deal with countries like France and Germany, which treated us much better than Russia and the United States did. If the Prime Minister intended to start that system of negotiations. did he intend to have a general tariff or make a special tariff for each country, and in either case how could he prevent it slipping into a regular scheme of protection? The Secretary of State for the Colonies had quoted Carlvle in favour of food taxation, but Carlyle was a most bitter opponent of the corn tax in his own day, and thought anybody a considerable fool if he did not believe that the corn tax would soon be taken off. What Carlyle did say was that the 326 removal of the corn tax would not do all that everybody at that moment imagined it would do, that there were many other questions lying behind that; that, in fact, it was another version of what was said in the Old Book, "man doth not live by bread alone." In saying that he was perfectly right.
Lord Lansdowne seemed to be a retaliator because he wanted some weapon to negotiate with. But what was the remarkable phrase he used in the House of Lords? He said that crossing the fence after the manner the Member for West Birmingham recommended might break every bone in the body of the British Empire. There they had an important Minister, holding an important post, who was still in a state of frank bewilderment as to his opinion on the scheme of the Member for West Birmingham. In this extreme medley of opinions what was an honest politician to think, and what did the plain man think? The plain man knew that the country depended on trade, that trade was the life-blood of the nations, and that the fiscal system of any country depending on trade was the arteries and veins through which its life-blood flowed. He knew that the previous treatment of the country's fiscal arrangements had been right, and now he found his old doctors differing about his condition, some saying he was ill and prescribing new treatment, while others said that the scheme of treatment if carried out might break every bone in the body of the Empire. What did the Prime Minister, the head of the Medical College, say? He said he would tell them at the time of the election, and what he did not tell them then he would tell after the election. What was the use of all this extraordinary mystification? There was only one thing really before the country—whether they were to have protection or free trade. The country would think of nothing else. It would put it thus: "Are we to follow the Member for West Birmingham. or are we to follow those who approve free trade?" The country would make a comparatively simple question of it, and for the sake of the Ministry, and of the portion of the Party which followed it, and for the sake of the country, they ought to make it clear whether they were in favour of 327 colonial preference or not, and whether they intended to tax the food of the country or not.
§ *MR. CLAUDE LOWTHER (Cumberland, Eskdale)
said that the vote of censure was moved chiefly with the object of demonstrating a want of unanimity on the Government Benches. He listened very carefully to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, and he thought that the right hon. Gentleman had conclusively proved that unanimity on the Government Benches existed in a very marked degree. He would ask whether there was similar unanimity on the Benches opposite. Were the Labour Members, for whose ideals he had the utmost respect, going to support the Motion? [Several HON. MEMBERS: Yes.] Then he could only repeat the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and say "Que diable faites-vous dans cette galère." He had the welfare of the working men at heart; and hon. Members representing Labour would always find him with them in anything they proposed for the benefit of those classes. Were hon. Members representing Labour about to condemn a policy which was vital to the interests of the working classes? It was an incontrovertible fact that our fiscal policy was the only part of our national politics which had never been reviewed by the people. If a referendum of the people were taken upon fiscal reform alone, he would not pretend to say what the result would be; but if ever manhood suffrage were introduced—he assumed hon. Members representing Labour would not object to that—the first and immediate result would be the return of a protectionist Parliament. Protection and manhood suffrage were linked together in other countries. That was why he was anxious to see how the Labour Members would vote. They had been entering into strange alliances recently. Who would have thought two years ago that the hon. Member for Battersea, with his modern progressive ideas, would have welcomed the Duke of Devonshire as a partner, it was true only a sleeping partner. He could understand the Motion being supported by many Parties in the House. He could understand it being supported by those gingerbread Imperialists who had no use for the 328 British Empire except in perorations. He could also understand it being supported by that weird assortment of out-of-place young gentlemen and old gentlemen out of place, who, for some unaccountable reason, called themselves free-fooders; but if there was a Party which should not support the Motion, it was the Party representing Labour. Why did they support it? Was it because they objected to protection? Why, the Labour leaders were the greatest protectionists in the country. Protection was the quintessence of trade unionism. How was it that the Labour leaders strenuously supported protection for the British. working man against the British capitalist, but opposed protection for the same working man against the foreign capitalist? A free-trade trades unionist was a political anomaly—he demanded free trade for every commodity except his own—his labour; for that he demanded protection. There could be but one outcome—protection for labour at home against labour abroad, or else free trade in labour. He appealed to the Labour Members to reject this Motion. He recognised the power they had, and the influence they exercised over the great mass of trade unionists at elections. But to-day the country was confronted with a question of great complexity, on which, he admitted, there was a great deal to be said on both sides. It was a question which had puzzled the brains of the world's greatest economists; was it, therefore, reasonable to expect working men to be able to understand it, in all its details, in a few months? The working men turned to their leaders for advice and guidance; and on the shoulders of these leaders rested a grave and great responsibility. The time would come when the working men of the country would know the truth; and if their leaders gave wrong advice now, they would be held to account for having sacrificed their vital interests on the altar of political expediency. The British working man was a protectionist at heart, and never lost an opportunity of showing it. He would give an illustration in point. At Alston some Italian workmen who were imported into its mines were attacked and stoned by the. Cumberland miners. If these Alston 329 miners blindly followed the advice of the Labour leaders at the next election they would have the astonishing picture of seeing them voting for free imports in the abstract and stoning them in the concrete. The question was—Did Labour leaders in that House advocate the introduction of cheap foreign labour?
§ MR. CLAUDE LOWTHER
Did they approve of the introduction of workmen who worked at a lower wage for a longer time? If so, he challenged them to come to Alston, or, indeed, any other industrial centre, and proclaim these views from the platform. He would appeal to those who had the interests of the working man at heart to oppose this Motion and not to take a purely parochial view of a purely Imperial question. He asked them to look at the United States of America, at Australia, and all the highly organised States of Europe. There they found Democracy in possession, Labour paramount, and protection almost universal. Had hon. Members opposite a monopoly of economic knowledge? Both Germany and Canada had tried our present system, and with what results? Labour lock-outs, stagnation, industrial depression. Both countries returned to the policy of protection, and now they saw Canada flourishing and Germany advancing by phenomenal strides. He contended that this vote of censure was a veiled condemnation of the policy adopted in other countries. It could not be denied that it was the commercial and imperial policy of Bismarck that moulded the great German Empire of to-day. But his project of protection was far from unanimously received. Leading political economists were at first against it, but time had proved it the salvation of Germany. Germany's struggle was now our struggle, her crisis our crisis. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham had come forward to show that the future of our people lay in a future commercial and Imperial federation. The right hon. Gentleman had said there was no middle path between development and consolidation on the one hand, disruption and decay on 330 the other. Beyond the voices of those who would vote for this Motion of censure he seemed to hear another voice which more correctly expressed the sentiments of the democracy of the Empire—the voice of our Colonies appealing to the democracy of Great Britain to protect the labour of the Empire against the encroachment of the rest of the world.
§ LORD HUGH CECIL (Greenwich)
said that unless the Prime Minister, or whoever spoke on behalf of the Government, indicated that the Government had departed from the Sheffield programme it was his intention, and, he believed the intention, of a large number of other Unionist free-traders, not to take part in the division on the Motion. Such a course demanded a defence from many points of view. His hon. friend who had just sat down regarded the Motion as a declaration of disapproval of protection on the German plan. They should all vote in favour of the Motion if they took that view, and he was sure that many of the Ministers would also be found in the same lobby. But the speech of his hon. friend was very instructive. The hon. Gentleman, he noticed, observed that there was after all some object in the action taken by Lord Lansdowne and others at the Albert Hall. That showed that it was not only free-traders who had a difficulty in comprehending the meaning and intention of the spokesman of the Government. He thought they could not form a just estimate of the conduct of Ministers who had attended the Albert Hall unless they remembered the extraordinary circumstances that had led to that meeting—the reorganisation of the Liberal Unionist Party and the resignation of the Duke of Devonshire. All the analogies of the National Union of Conservatives and of the general duty of Ministers in respect to meetings of that kind were irrelevant unless that point was dealt with, because it was clear that that coloured the whole of the proceedings. It was not his business nor was it his desire to criticise any of the Ministers present personally; but he thought that if they were not in agreement with the right hon Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham—who, of course was justified in his action by a 331 strong sense of public duty—it would have been more in accordance with ordinary good feeling for those late supporters of the Duke of Devonshire to have postponed till another day their assisting at what was the festival of his deposition. But he did not share the view which had been expressed by many speakers on the Opposition side and said freely in the newspapers that the presence of Ministers at the Albert Hall meeting indicated a change in the policy of the Government. He accepted fully the statement made by Lord Lansdowne on the subject in another place. Lord Lansdowne had said that he adhered to the statement he made at the beginning of the year that the Government was opposed to the imposition of duties on raw material and food supplies; and, further, that their policy, instead of leading to the Birmingham abyss, tended in the opposite direction. As he had said, he accepted that statement. But it was strange that Lord Lansdowne had not explained to the audience at the Albert Hall that, although he regarded their "aspiration"—to use the word of the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary with approval and sympathy, he proposed to follow a policy which led in an opposite direction.
There was a great deal to be said for taking up a moderate position or a middle course. But the Government had not taken a middle course. They had taken an ambiguous course, which was an entirely different thing. One might agree or disagree with t middle course; but that was a thing fundamentally different to an ambiguous course, which some people understood in one sense and some people in another. For instance, there was the question of retaliation. They did not know, and he most keenly desired to know, whether retaliation would be used against one particular country by way of a penal duty against that country, or whether it would be used by way of a tariff wall against all countries, with particular exceptions in favour of countries which came to terms. Then they did not know whether when a retaliatory duty was imposed, and it was found ineffective for retaliatory purposes, it would he retained for protective purposes. His hon. 332 friend the Secretary to the Board of Trade said that that was a matter for the Cabinet to answer. Let the House observe how secret the Government kept their policy. It was a matter of Cabinet secrecy, so that even their own subordinates were in doubt as to whether the retaliatory tax would be a permanent equipment of our fiscal system or whether it would be taken off if, and as soon as, it had been tried and failed of its purpose. Then, taking the matter of preference, the Prime Minister said the matter was not ripe; but he had not told them whether he proposed to assist in ripening public opinion or in ripening whatever was unripe in the matter, or to operate in the contrary direction, or to take no part in the process one way or the other. In respect to dumping, there was a good side to dumping as well as a bad, and he did not dispute that on the whole dumping was nimical to the industrial system of the country. But there, again, they were not told what the policy of the Government was, or whether the measures to be taken were to be of a protective character or not. His right hon. friend was in favour of a 10 per cent. duty on manufactured and half-manufactured goods all round, and they had never been told whether the Government were in favour of that or not. Finally, on the particular occasion under discussion, they were told that the sympathy of the Government with the object of his right hon. friend was unabated. What was meant by sympathy? In a certain sense they were all in sympathy with his right hon. friend, they all admired his right hon. friend's devotion to a great Imperial idea, but was that the only sympathy which stirred in the breast of Ministers? Or did they mean by unabated sympathy active co-operation and support? No fair-minded man could deny that the decisions on the points he had named would make all the difference between a truly protectionist system and the system of free imports scarcely modified.
The ambiguity of the Government covered a range of the very widest character. Ambiguity was useful for only two purposes. It was useful for deception and for concealment. He was sure the Government did not intend to 333 deceive anybody; he had not the least doubt they desired to be as truthful as any other persons. But he felt some misgivings whether, with the most honourable intentions, they were not pursuing a policy of concealment in such a way that it was producing the hardship of dislocation and arousing the antagonism which naturally followed upon a system of deception. They all remembered the moral propositions inculcated almost in the nursery that it was possible to start with concealment, never to tell the slightest falsehood, and vet merely by pressure of outside circumstances to get into a position essentially deceptive. He should himself feel some uneasiness if he saw that people understood him in two different senses. He did not refer merely to newspapers, though oven when newspapers interpreted him in one sense over a great period of rime on a question exciting much public interest it was almost impossible for a public man in a leading position entirely to ignore the circumstance. But not only newspapers, but speakers and writers of signed articles in magazines—everybody understood the Government in different senses. That was producing disastrous consequences. They were told they ought not to shut the door upon colonial preference. What he wanted to do was to shut the door upon protection. He did not believe in colonial preference, and the more he heard the less he believed in it; but his great and principal objection which turned his opposition from a read criticism into an enthusiastic opposition was that it meant import duties upon food, which were indistinguishable in their results from protection. That being so, he thought they aright be told what the Government proposed to do in respect to their supporters' position and their relation with their constituents.
They were told this fiscal controversy was only an academic discussion to educate the public mind, and that was realty the attitude of the Government. Free-traders did not object to discussion; they only regretted that they were so seldom allowed to discuss this matter in such a way that they might express their opinions and record their votes without regard to the question 334 of confidence or otherwise in the Government. If they were only sitting round the fireside talking over the fiscal question it was not desirable that some of them should be violently taken by the shoulders and thrown into the passage. Such a proceeding interfered with that calmness of mind with which they would like to listen to his right hon. friend the Member for West Birmingham. He observed with very great regret that his right hon. friend the Member for Croydon, in consequence of division of opinion in his constituency on these academic matters, and because he did not feel himself strong enough to go through a bitter contest, was not going to stand again. He should not himself have taken the course his right hon. friend proposed to follow, but how was it possible to make relevant to this sort of discussion phrases about "not shutting the door"? The only person against whom the door was shut was his right hon. friend the Member for Croydon, so far as he could see. How were they to have a fair, open-minded discussion on a great Imperial question if the were not to be secure of their seats in Parliament while that discussion was in progress? What the Government were accused of doing—it was so base that he did not accuse them of it—was of keeping the matter nominally open while they allowed underground efforts to be made to turn their own supporters who did not agree with the new fiscal policy out of Parliament, and then, when that had been done, the machine would go on to carry out the dictates of his right hon. friend the Member for West Birmingham. He was quite honest in saying he did not suspect his right hon. friend the Prime Minister of any such intention. He was not quite sure that he did not suspect his right hon. friend the Member for West Birmingham. Of course his right hon. friend did not depend on the support of Unionist free-traders. In East Herts he understood that his right hon. friend had an interview with a possible Conservative protectionist candidate, and pressed him to stand against his hon. friend.
§ Loan HUGII CECIL
submitted that such action was not calculated to create 335 an atmosphere suitable for the discussion of this "academic" question with an open mind. Was it not manifest that while they were talking about discussion his right hon. friend was up and doing? The issue was now joined. Were the Government going to give no guidance as to what their decision was to be? See how they would be placed assuming their attitude was one of sympathy with his right hon. friend, but of disagreement on certain points. Suppose the free-traders won, evidently the Government would be left sympathising with his right hon. friend. If his right hon. friend won, they would be left disagreeing from his right hon. friend, but in either case their sympathy and disagreement would be of no importance because it would not have been effective in the time when the work was to be done. What was wanted was not a decision abstractly just in some future period but a decision on the present state of things. If the Government were against preference now they ought to say so. They might keep an open door for themselves and say that circumstances in the future might make judicious what was now injudicious, but that at present they disapproved of it and would give it no support: that would be a consistent and straightforward course, and if it was a true expression of their view he could not conceive why they should not take it. Therefore he was driven to the conclusion that they wished to help his right hon. friend, but would not publicly say so.
He submitted that the Ministers who attended the Albert Hall had been guilty of what in the old sense of the word was a scandalous proceeding. He thought. it gave an occasion of stumbling and was intended to mislead opinion. It created what was strictly and properly a scandal in the Unionist Party. The hon. Member for Norwich, in an interesting letter to The Times, suggested, as did also a phrase in the circular issued in the usual course from the Treasury Whips, that Ministers were entitled to every support because of the danger to the country from foreign complications. The hon. Member was entitled to use that argument, and he did not at all deny that it was a consideration which ought to be present to all of them on this occasion. But the Government were not entitled to 336 use that argument. What were they to think of the Foreign Secretary who, knowing as he must know, that foreign affairs were in a complicated and dangerous condition, went to a meeting and took a course which he must have known would be most gratuitously offensive to a large section of his supporters; and then afterwards told them—Oh, the situation is so dangerous you must not censure what we have done? What was that but an open, unconcealed confession of a gross indiscretion? It was nothing but saying that what these Ministers did was to jeopardise national interests. If it did not mean that it meant nothing. Then the final defence was that Lord Lansdowne would exert a restraining influence over his right hon. friend. "Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook? or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest down? Will he make a covenant with thee? Wilt thou take him for a servant for ever?"
He disagreed with the action of these Ministers, and he disapproved it; and in these circumstances he might be asked, "Why not support the Opposition in the Division Lobby?" He drew a distinction between this and the earlier divisions. This Motion did not directly raise the issue of free trade and protection; it raised only the indiscretion of Ministers on a particular occasion. But the main reason which determined him was that he thought they ought to put aside from their minds all considerations of irritation, and decide what was best in the interests of free trade, best in the public interests generally, and best in the interest of the many objects that the Unionist Party had in view. The general policy of the country appeared to him, as a Unionist, better consulted by the continuance of the present Government in power than by the substitution of the Opposition. That was such an obvious consideration that he need not dwell upon it. He thought that Ministers were a much more, competent Government than any Government, likely to take their place. Was this, then, in the interest of free trade, and that was the supreme question with him? He thought that it was. He believed it to be supremely in the interest of free trade that they should not widen the gap between free-trade Unionists 337 and the rest of the Party except when principle absolutely required it. A great many persons on both sides of the House said that his hopes were vain and delusive. They thought that the Party was absolutely committed to protection, and that it was only a question of time when the position of free-trade Unionists would become impossible, and that these hon. Gentlemen might as well recognise the facts now. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham thought that he possessed the majority of the Unionist Party and that the minority ought to give way to the majority. The right hon. Gentleman might or might not possess the majority now. It would not make any difference to him which way the majority thought, because he believed that there was no more ignominious form of idolatry than the worship of a majority. Whatever be the case now, he confessed that within the last few months he had felt a growing hope that ultimately the Unionist Party would return to free trade.
He was aware that the Unionist Party was an Imperialist Party, but he was convinced that the right hon. Gentleman's policy, from an Imperial point of view, apart from its economics, was a mistake. He believed that it started with the same mistake as the Manchester school made, namely, that it grotesquely exaggerated the importance of trade as a unifying principle. This unifying doctrine was one of the most difficult things to justify by any appeal to history. The English traded much more with the Germans than they did with the Italians, and yet they did not entertain warmer feelings for the Germans than were entertained for the Italians. It might be useful as a unifying element where, in the case of a great volume of trade, the destruction of it meant a grave commercial crisis, but it operated only to stop actual disruption. The establishment of a Zollverein would be a small matter politically considered; nor again, on the other hand, would a reciprocity treaty between Canada and the United States be the colossal danger which the right hon. Gentleman believed it to be. Canada would be just as loyal to us after such a treaty as it was now. Secondly, he thought that it was unproved that a Zollverein, in its general effect, had a unifying influence apart from the degree 338 in which it encouraged trade. The House was always pointed back to the example of Germany. Had those who quoted the illustration of the German Zollverein ever reflected on this single circumstance? Thirty-one years after it was instituted Austria and Prussia were at war, and the Prussian kingdom annexed several other kingdoms which were members of the Zollverein. The hon. Gentleman thought that the right hon. Member for Birmingham was going to unite the British Empire in the same way as Bismarck united the German Empire. He sincerely hoped not. Any one who had read German history must be aware that the source of German unity was the military power of France and the military power of Prussia, which drove the smaller States into union. The Zollverein was a subordinate matter. He believed a Zollverein to be impossible in the British Empire for this reason—that the Colonies were at present protectionist. They would never admit our goods perfectly free unless they became free-traders. If they were prepared to throw down their tariff barriers and admit our goods free, it was clear that they would first of all have abandoned the whole protectionist theory of the protection of commerce.
But whatever might be said about a Zollverein, preference was not a Zollverein. It was not like it, and he did not think that it would lead to a Zollverein. It was not a simple system of throwing down Customs tariffs within a certain limit; it was a capricious choosing of industries here and there for a special advantage. We were to pay more for everything, more, certainly, for corn for the benefit of the corn producer, while exporting more freely to Canada what we manufactured. A more capricious system, tainted with essential unfairness from top to bottom, he did not think could be devised; and he could not believe that it would have a unifying effect. It should not be forgotten, moreover, that it was for a great period of time the policy of this country. There was a differential duty in favour of Canadian timber as late as 1860. Timber was one of the great Canadian productions, but no one could suggest that Canada was more loyal or more attached to the Empire before 1860 than she had become since.
339 What, then, became of the unifying tendency of preference? We ought to turn our minds towards Imperial unity away from trade in another direction. if we were to use the illustration of German unity as a model, it should be a Kriegsverein, and not a Zollverein. Something of the kind was revealed by the war in South Africa, where we had a military union. It could not be a very difficult thing to carry out what had been done temporarily by a more elaborate and worked-out system. He respected the Government for having admitted to the Council of Defence a Canadian member. That had an ease and a simplicity about it which contrasted very happily indeed with the fiscal policy. It was a national step, taken when the time was ripe for it; it was not a policy thrust down the throat of the United Kingdom by agitation, meetings, excitement, Party splits, and electioneering devices. He would like to see the Colonies taken into much closer confidence in all diplomatic negotiations. so that they might know not only what it was possible to see publicly, but what was known privately as to the genesis of ally great war. The Imperial service should be much more widely thrown open to the Colonies. It was in that direction, and not in the direction of trade, we ought to look for Imperial unity. Therefore, he did not think that the Conservative Party, because it was an Imperialist Party, was necesarily a protectionist Party. It was possible to dissever Imperialism from protectionism, and it would be better for Imperialism when this was done.
The right hon. Gentleman would find, he was sure, that the Conservative Party was a bad instrument for revolution. It was a defensive and not an aggresive Party; and to use it for the purposes of revolution would he like trying to run a man through with a breastplate. Sooner or later he felt persuaded that the Unionist Party would return to its proper function of defending the great institutions that were threatened, the great interests that were threatened, against the most unwise attacks being made and that would be made. It would return to its proper enterprise and its proper tasks. Not to mention minor questions, there was the great growth of 340 the labour movement, which would necessitate a readjustment of the relations between labour and capital. When that time came many of his hon. friends who thought badly of political economy now would take a different view of that science hereafter. They would not call it a collection of ship-boleths when they were dealing with a proposal to fix wages by law, and possibly they would look with a brighter eye than now upon the despised school of laisser faire. Personally he would hold the same opinion as he did now. He would be the opponent of labour movements such as he had indicated, and he was the opponent of the protectionist movement. Each had something in common, and the fact that it was so did not increase his confidence in the one or the other. He and his hon. friends would abstain from this division with their eyes fixed on the future, regretting the present divisions in the Party and looking forward to a day of union. In the contests yet to be fought it would be no light advantage to the Conservative Party that those contests should be fought while the necessaries of life were still cheap, and that the arguments of questions between capital and labour should not be confusedly any distress caused by the cost of living. After much obloquy and pain, and after having, perhaps, been excluded from Parliament by the arts of hon. Gentlemen, he felt confident that nevertheless, by reason of their good cause and their faith in it, the ultimate victory would rest with him and his hon. friends.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
During the early part of this debate I thought it would be quite unnecessary for me to take any part in it, and that I might preserve a wholly detached attitude, because the object of the Leader of the Opposition was to show that His Majesty's Government was in entire agreement with me; and it was not to my interest to prove the contrary. If the right hon. Gentleman could convince me of that by evidence that I have not been able to discover, I could only be grateful to him. I should not have taken part in the debate, therefore, but for the very eloquent, moderate, and most 341 good-humoured speech to which we have just listened, and the appeal which the noble Lord made to me in regard to a practical aspect of this question. My noble friend desires to see reunion in the Unionist Party, arid he complains that his position and that of his friends is made difficult by the intervention of myself and my friends in the constituencies. Well, Sir, he put it to me that I had advised a certain gentleman to stand for a constituency now occupied by a Unionist Member. I do not think I need go into the details of a conversation which I thought entirely idle at the time; but I admit that I did advise and even encourage what I thought to be the gentlemanly, laudable intention. But if that was wrong on my part what is to be said of those who issue manifestoes praying all Unionist electors to withdraw the support from any Unionist Member who goes further than my noble friend in regard to fiscal reform? What is to be said of the Free Food League, of which I believe my noble friend is a distinguished member, which goes down to Birmingham and opens an office there with the express object of defeating, if possible, the present Member for South Birmingham who stood as a Unionist candidate?
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I do not care a brass button whether it acts as a body or as a part of a body. I know they went to oppose the Unionist candidate, though the eloquence seems to have had very little effect. I think my noble friend himself went to Birmingham to address a meeting.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
But what was the noble Lord's object? He is not accustomed to waste his eloquence on the desert air; and if he went there and made a hot attack on me and my policy, surely the only conclusion is that he desired to produce on the minds of the constituents of myself and my colleagues the impression that they would be wiser 342 not to return us again. All I wish to say to my noble friend is that it does not lie with him to throw stones. But do not let him suppose for a moment that I object to the course which he took on that occasion or to a similar course on the part of his friends. In his eloquent peroration the noble Lord must have convinced the House of the sincerity with which he holds his views. Will he not believe that those who differ from him hold with equal sincerity and earnestness their belief that the future of this country and of the Empire depend upon the adoption at no distant date of the policy which we advocate and at which we are aiming? So long as that is the case on both sides, I hope without any unfriendliness, we must carry our policies to their legitimate issues.
§ LORD HUGH CECIL
I said that the attitude which the right hon. Gentleman took up made the position of the Government a very unreasonable one.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
There is one thing I might add to what I have said. As far as I know, no association with which I have been connected has ever instigated opposition to any other Member on our side of the House. Perhaps instigated is not the word, and I should say has never initiated opposition. What we have said is that this is a matter for the constituencies, and of course for the Parties in each constituency. On the same evening that the Liberal Unionist Council passed the resolution to which reference has been made, another resolution was passed declaring that the whole support of the association should be given to any Liberal Unionist candidate who was duly selected by his committee to support the Government, without reference to his views on fisca1 reform. To that resolution I most cordially subscribe; but if a Liberal Unionist constituency, through its representative association, declares that it is wholly at variance with the sitting Member, and will not select him again, and desires that another candidate should be selected, then I say undoubtedly that we are quite prepared to give our support to the candidate so selected, and we shall not complain in the slightest degree if the same measure is meted out to us which we have meted out to others.
343 But the debate seems to have wandered from its original object, which was really a very narrow one. It was the desire of the Leader of the Opposition to identify the Prime Minister with my views on the subject of preference; and I understood him to suggest by that rather curious quotation from Dr. Arnold which he introduced, I thought rather irrelevantly, that it was his desire, if he could convict my right hon. friend of any special sympathy with me, at once to take him out and hang him. It is not for me to speak for my right hon. friend. Neither, perhaps, is it for me to accept a statement of his opinions which I do not believe to be accurate. If there is no difference between my right hon. friend and myself, why did I leave the Government? There was absolutely no necessity for my leaving the Government except this—that I held with sincerity the views which 1 have subsequently placed before the country. I recognised that my right hon. friend did not go as far as I wished to go, and that my continued presence in the Government would mean either that I should embarrass him or that I myself should be unable to speak freely. Therefore, I went to speak freely to the country on a matter to which I attached so much importance.
I hear statements about the ambiguity of the Government's position. If my noble friend means to say that he does not know at the present time the whole mind of my right hon. friend on a subject not before Parliament, very likely he is right. But what right has he to inquire? On what principle has any Member of this House the right to criticise His Majesty's Government as to what may or may not be their policy or that of their successors years hence? Again and again I have heard Liberal and Conservative Governments absolutely refuse to give any information as to their policy for the next session of Parliament. How much less are they bound to say what their schemes and policies will be not in a future session but in a future Parliament? What my right hon. friend has said is this. When the Colonial Secretary repeated it to-night there went up a shout from those Benches as if it were something perfectly new. What my right hon. friend said from the moment 344 I left his Government was that he sympathised with the great aspirations which I have put before the country; that he sympathised with the idea of preferential terms between the Colonies and ourselves, even though those terms may involve a slight addition to our duties on food. Have hon. Gentlemen heard that for the first time? Have they not read the letter which my right hon. friend addressed to me when I resigned? They will find it all there, as well as in the Sheffield speech and the Bristol speech. And now they have discovered this declaration apparently this afternoon, are they no longer going to say that there is any ambiguity about the position of my right hon. friend? He assured me of his sympathy, but at the same time he said that, in his opinion the policy was not at the present time a practicable one, or one likely to be accepted by the people of this country. There probably is the difference which existed then, and which I fear still exists, between my right hon. friend and myself. I myself think that this policy is ripe, at any rate, to be submitted to the people of this country. I do not say that the people of this country would accept it at the first offer. I have never pretended—I have been perfectly frank with the country and with my supporters—I have never pretended that a great change of this kind could be expected to be hastily accepted by a people who for sixty years had been going on under a totally different system. But that it will be accepted I am as certain as that I am standing here. As the consummation which I desire will come all the sooner the sooner the proposal is made to the country, for that reason, so far as I am concerned, the sooner the election comes the better I shall be pleased. Of course, if my late colleagues had accepted that view, which perhaps is a wrong one, there would have been no occasion for me to leave the Government, but as they did not accept it they are perfectly right in saying that they do not propose that policy to the present Parliament, and in saving that as to what they or any one else will propose to another Parliament is a thing which it will be quite time enough to discuss when that times come. In my own opinion, at any rate, that is perfectly 345 consistent, logical, and defensible, and there is not the slightest ambiguity about it. My right hon. friend, as I have said, sympathises with my policy of preference, but the noble Lord almost went as far as that. This at least I may say of him, that he sympathises with the ideal which I have in view.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
He sympathises with my object; it is merely as to methods or manner that he differs from me. Well, he has stated that in his opinion an arrangement such as I propose would not be a unifying arrangement, that it would be a capricious arrangement, and that the object should be sought by other means. A capricious arrangement! Then every treaty with every foreign nation for ally commercial arrangement whatsoever must be barred. I suppose the noble Lord, if he had been living at the 'time of Mr. Cobden, would have repudiated that great man when he made the French treaty. What was the French treaty? Was it not an arrangement ill which particular articles were picked out here and there and reciprocal concessions made? It was just as capricious as anything, and even more capricious than anything, that I have proposed. And if it is legitimate to make a reciprocal arrangement with a foreign country, why in Heaven's name should it not be proper to make an arrangement with your own kinsmen? Why are they the only people with whom you refuse to treat or make a two-sided bargain? My noble friend said it was not a unifying arrangement. He differs ill that respect from all those who ought to know. Who is it that wants this arrangement? The Colonies. Does anybody doubt that? [HON. MEMBERS: Yes.] What proof would satisfy hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite that the Colonies do desire such an arrangement as I propose Take Canada, I should have thought we had the most absolute proof that could be given, short indeed of an actual treaty. You have had statements of the Prime Minister of Canada, when, with the other Prime Ministers, he unanimously proposed to this country that they should undertake negotiations for the purpose of making such a preferential 346 arrangement. You had the Budget speeches of Mr. Fielding, the Minister of Finance. I myself quoted some time ago a letter which I received from him in which he said that all Parties in Canada were in favour of preferential arrangements. Although there might be difficulties, he for one did not believe that British and colonial statesmen, coming together, would not be able entirely to overcome them. Do you think that these gentlemen are not entitled to speak for their people? Will you take the boards of trade? They are precisely those representative associations where you would expect most opposition, because they generally represent the manufacturers. Yet there is not an important board of trade in Canada which has not passed a strong resolution in favour of preference. Are you doubtful about Australia? Will you accept the views of three successive Prime Ministers of the Commonwealth—Sir Edward Barton, Mr. Deakin, and Mr. Watson? Can you not see in all these declarations proof of what I assert—that they are favourable to such an arrangement, and that they desire that we should propose it? That, my noble friend says, will not be a unifying arrangement. To do something which the Colonies unanimously ask you to do will be to drive them away. To refuse to do what they ask and offer them something which they will not accept—that, forsooth, is the way to unite the Empire. I do not agree with my noble friend.
Now, I venture very seriously, not to put a Question, because Questions in this House are not answered if they are awkward to answer. The Opposition have shown themselves quite as clever in evading them as ever we have been able to do. But I put this question for consideration before the Opposition. You condemn the Government, not because they are doing anything, not because they are proposing anything, but because you suspect, or suspect, at all events, some members of them, of sympathy—of what you called concealed sympathy, although 1 think it is open sympathy—with this idea of preference. You can only do that by yourselves frankly and definitely declaring that you have no sympathy with it, and will not look at it under any 347 conditions. Now, is that your position? Is it your position as responsible people who may very shortly be occupying office yourselves, is it your position that, no matter what the Colonies say to you, no matter what offer they may make to you, no matter what advantages or concessions they will offer you, that you will shut the door in their faces and tell them, "No. We are opposed to preference? We wanted to hang one Prime Minister because we suspected him of it; and, of course, we should, ourselves, be ready to commit harri-karri if we had sympathy with it." Though I put the Question I do not press for an Answer, because I should be sorry to have it as positively given as I think it must logically be. But if you say, on the other hand, "No. We are prepared to meet an offer from the Colonies if it is good enough," then I should ask you another question—Will you agree to call the Colonies to your councils? I have been satisfied loyally to accept and support the position taken up by the Government in this matter. So far as their policy of retaliation goes, I entirely approve of it in principle. As to the details, I am content to wait till I see them. But I admit that, to my mind, the policy of preference is more urgent and important than the policy of retaliation. The policy of retaliation might, I think, be adopted at a much later stage, although, perhaps with less chance of advantage than at present. But the opportunity for the policy of preference is sliding away. If it be not accepted within a reasonable time, the offer will no longer remain open. I go, therefore, one step further than I have ever gone before in connection with anything that this Government may do, and I urge my right hon. friend the Prime Minister especially to consider whether, in view of the importance of this question, of the primary importance of knowing what it is that the Colonies really wish, and what is is that they are prepared to do, he should not ask them both questions, and should not call a conference from the Colonies, a conference of representatives to meet and consider this subject, in order that the House and the country may discover whether, in what I have said on this subject, I have based myself upon real knowledge and experience, or whether those are 348 right who from the first, almost before they knew what my policy could be, determined to oppose it on purely Party grounds.
§ *MR. BELL (Derby)
said when the Prime Minister was good enough to give the opportunity to discuss the question of free trade and protection before the country he should be prepared to take an active part in the discussion. The present issue before the House, as he understood it, was the neglect of the Government in not calling upon some of its members to give an account of themselves in associating themselves with an organisation, the ostensible object of which was to propagate the principles of protection throughout the country. He viewed this subject on lines on which he, among others, had been condemned at law for a great principle. The Government was the Executive of the Party in power, a great organisation, and the Prime Minister as the head was responsible for the action of his subordinates. Three years ago the decision of another House in the case of the trades unions was that those at the head of a union who associated themselves with the acts or action of the subordinate members or officials of the union who caused any injury to others, were to be held responsible. The union argued that this was not law, but was told in reply that it was common law based on common sense. If that was binding on a body of organised workers it was binding on any other organised body. The reason of that decision was stated by the Attorney-General, in the debate that took place upon it, to be the fact that the heads of the union had not taken the steps of calling upon the subordinate officials to resign, and he (Mr. Bell) maintained that, inasmuch as some of the subordinate colleagues of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had associated themselves with an organisation outside the Government which, in his opinion, was inflicting great injury on our trade and commerce at the present time, they ought to be called upon by the right hon. Gentleman to relinquish their positions in the Government or that the Government should be held responsible.
He admired the candour and straight-forward manner in which the right hon. Member for West Birmingham had 349 put before the House and country the policy in which he believed. Whether they agreed with it or not they knew from him definitely what he proposed to do, and those who did not agree could only fight him on that policy. The hon. Member for Eskdale called himself the friend of the working man, and they had a large number of friends of the same kind who were prepared to support legislation for the benefit of the working man, so far as they could understand them. The difficulty was to get them to appreciate, in the same way as the Labour Members, those things which were good for the workers. The Labour Members surely should know something of what was beneficial to the working man; of his surroundings, and the necessity there was for greater comfort and happiness. But the answer to the hon. Member for Eskdale had been given by the noble Lord the Member for Greenwich, who stated that the Conservative Party was a defensive and not an aggresive Party. And they had certainly defended themselves against anything which had been brought forward to benefit the working man. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham now based his policy on the great desire for unity between this country and the Colonies, but the original reason given by him for the tax on corn was that the revenue received should provide old-age pensions. Nothing was now said as to that. The right hon. Member had jumped from stage to stage, and his third plea was that it would save the ruined industries of this country. The right hon. Gentleman had now got beyond that to the unity of this country with the Colonies. He was as anxious for that as the right hon. Gentleman, but the means he would adopt to bring about that end would not be identical with those advocated by the right hon. Gentleman. It was for that reason that he supported this Motion. He was anxious that the Prime Minister should let the House and the country know what was in his mind. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister could not defend the action of members of his Cabinet propagating principles in the country at a time when he himself entertained something quite different. The country did not know what it was to look forward to. They wanted to know 350 what the Government policy was. So far every by-election had been fought on the question of protection versus free trade. If that was not the policy of the Government it was in the interest of the Government that they should declare that fact to the House so that the House might know what was the interest in this question. He and his colleagues in the House would fight this question for all they were worth; they would take part in every election where the issue was free trade or protection. He and all the Labour Members in the House would support this Motion, which they trusted would be carried.
§ And, it being half-past Seven of the clock, the debate stood adjourned until this Evening's Sitting.