§ (TENTH DAY.)
§ Order read, for resuming adjourned debate on Amendment [8th February] to Main Question [2nd February],"That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:—
§ "Most Gracious Sovereign,
§ "We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech 1341 which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament"—(Mr. Hardy.)
Which Amendment was—
At the end of the Question, to add the words, But it is our duty, however, humbly to represent to Your Majesty that our effective deliberation on the financial service of the year is impaired by conflicting declarations from Your Majesty's Ministers. We respectfully submit to Your Majesty the judgment of this House that the removal of protective duties has for more than half a century actively conduced to the vast extension of the trade and commerce of the realm and to the welfare of its population; and this House believes that, while the needs of social improvment are still manifold and urgent, any return to protective duties, more particularly when imposed on the food of the people, would be deeply injurious to our national strength, contentment, and well-being.'"—(Mr. John Morley.)
§ Question again proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ * SIR HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)
said that in one respect he enjoyed an advantage in regard to the subject matter of this debate, and that was that there was no one in his constituency who had the smallest doubt as to his opinions upon this matter. To avoid any misconception as to the views he had expressed during the twenty years he had been a Member of the House, he ventured to claim for a short time the indulgence of the House. There was nothing new in the fiscal campaign in which they were now engaged, and he had long felt that this question would ultimately be taken up by a statesman of the first rank and the greatest ability, like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. Nearly a quarter of a century ago he had opportunities of seeing the terrible destitution and misery amongst the great mass of working classes in the East End of London and other great cities. From the seats under the gallery to which he had access he heard Mr. Wheelhouse in 1880 move for a Committee.To consider the commercial relations at present existing between England and foreign nations, especially with regard to the import of manufactured goods from abroad, as well as the effect caused by our system of one-sided so called free trade with a view, if possible, of ameliorating the condition of the wage-earning classes of this country.1342 Mr. Gladstone's Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget Speech in 1881, said—I wish Parliament to understand that we are not making ground at present, I speak of the last few years and without reference to Party differences I say we are rather losing than making ground.As the late Sir Stafford Northcote pointed out, this decline began in the year 1872. Then came Mr. Gladstone's failure to make a treaty with Republican France. A year passed and then came forward the real originator of the fair trade movement in this House. Hon. Members might think he referred to his right hon. friend the Member for Thanet, to Mr. Farrer Ecroyd, then Member for Preston, to the veteran Mr. Cunliffe Lester, now Lord Masham, or to his right hon. friend the Member for Sleaford. Not at all. He referred to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Croydon, the late Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was he who by his extraordinary recantation, last year, of his previous opinions and his refusal to let colonial wheat free into the United Kingdom, was the cause of all this turmoil. If he were to read his speech of 24th March, 1882, making the necessary alterations in the figures, to bring them up to date, it would be the best argument against the Motion of the Member for Montrose. On 24th March, 1882. the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Croydon, then representing the Tower Hamlets, moved unsuccessfully—That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the effects which the tariffs in force in foreign countries have upon the principal branches of British trade and commerce and into the possibility of removing by legislation or otherwise any impediment to the fullest development of the manufacturing and commercial industry of the United Kingdom.The right hon. Gentleman called attention to the increase of pauperism, to the increase of emigration, and said—The fact was that the country was going back and that retrogression had been attributed by large numbers of the people to the commercial policy of the country, and the want of confidence which it bad engendered, and which had not been diminished by the total failure of Mr. Gladstone's Government in the previous year, in the negotiations for a treaty of commerce with the French Republic. He felt certain that we could successfully compete with all the world if our manufacturers could secure a fair field and no favour. He denied that our progress was mainly attributable to our 1343 commercial policy. If the exports to foreign countries were separated from the exports to British possessions the diminution in the exports to foreign countries was very remarkable. Instead of decreasing 30 per cent. like our foreign trade, they increased in 1880 to £75,000,000 or 25 per cent. That increase would have been still greater if it had not been for a decrease of about 20 per cent. in our exports to Canada and 25 per cent in our exports to Victoria, which was an evidence of the effect of their tariff. Nothing could show more forcibly the immense value to us, as outlets for our manufactures, of our colonies and the great importance of doing-all in our power to draw them closer to us.There was nothing, said the right hon. Gentleman—Against the principles of free trade in retaliation, but there was, above all, the question of drawing closer together the bonds which united us with our colonies. If that were feasible he was sure it would meet with the assent and support of all classes in the country and of hon. Members on both sides of the House.What a change in the right hon. Gentleman. It is he who proposed this resolution who had turned round and become the great opponent. The Motion was strongly supported by the late Sir Stafford Northcote, and my friend, then Member for Preston, Mr. Farrer Ecroyd speaking for the North of England. But it was defeated by Mr. Gladstone's Government by a majority of fifty-one. The movement, however, went on under the auspices of the Fair Trade League and encouraged by the Imperial Federation League, presided over by Lord Rosebery, and founded by that great patriot and Liberal, the late right hon. W. E. Forster, who said to the hon. Sir Charles Tupper, High Commissioner for Canada—I am a free-trader, but I am not so fanatical a free-trader that I should not be perfectly willing to adopt the policy of fiscal arrangements by which the outlying portions of the Empire would be treated by the mother country on a different footing to foreign countries, for the great and important object of binding this great Empire together.In 1885, he the Speaker, was returned to this House, and had been four times subsequently, by Central Sheffield, to further this policy by all means in his power. Unfortunately, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Croydon was allured to the Treasury Bench and straightway dropped his previous convictions—for he was sure in 1882 he was sincere—but the movement went on. In 1887 the National Union of Conservative 1344 Associations at Oxford passed at his in-instance a resolution by 1,000 to 12 declaring—That the continued depression in trade and agriculture, the increase in the scarcity of employment and the consequent distress among all classes, render reform in the policy of the United Kingdom as regards foreign imports and the influx of foreigners a matter of vital necessity to the people of Great Britain and Ireland.Twelve times the Conference of the National Union had after full notice and deliberation endorsed that resolution and urged the Government to carry out to the full the views enunciated by the Colonial Conferences of 1887, 1897, and 1902 on the subject of preferential trade between all parts of the British Empire. The Prime Minister and his right hon. friend the Member for West Birmingham had only, therefore, tardily voiced the earnest wishes through many years of the great majority of the Conservative and Unionist Party throughout the country. It became of importance, therefore, to consider what was the attitude of the late Lord Salisbury, four times Prime Minister in the past twenty years, and for all time a beacon light in the annals of the Unionist Party. There had lately been some correspondence in regard to the late Lord Salisbury's view of this question. He had the advantage of having been in frequent communication with Lord Salisbury on this matter during the last twenty years, and he honestly believed that his Lordship shared in the main the principle-which were now advocated by the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. Perhaps the House would allow him to quote one or two expressions of opinion, and to refer to some of the Acts that tended to confirm this view. On 10th November, 1890, Lord Salisbury said in the City of London,—We know that every bit of the world's surface which is not under the British Flag is a country which may be, and probably will be, closed to us by a hostile tariff. It is to the trade that is carried on within the Empire that we look for the vital force of the commerce of this country.On 12th February, 1891, Lord Salisbury said—Whenever such a modification of English opinion takes place, so that the idea of discrimination of duties in favour of colonial 1345 produce shall be a fiscal possibility, I shall not oppose the wish to have the matter thoroughly discussed between ourselves and the Colonies.The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Thanet would remember heading a deputation that waited on Lord Salisbury on 19th June, 1891, with regard to the treaties which had been negotiated between 1862 and 1865. What was Lord Salisbury's answer to his right hon. friend and the representatives from all parts of the country who accompanied him? He said—Those who believe, as you believe, that you are the representatives of a rising movement in possession of a policy which only requires to be explained to your countrymen to be adopted by them, your duty is plain—spare no pains in the effort of impressing it upon your fellow men, you are invited to go forth and fight for it.That injunction was obeyed, and the United Empire Trade League was formed. Under its auspices meetings were held in all parts of the country, and in the large towns throughout the Empire. In 1897 they won their first rampart. After six years hard work on the part of the League, Lord Salisbury, as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, denounced the Gladstone treaties forbidding the Colonies putting lighter duties on British goods than upon foreign goods, and gave a year's notice to terminate them in order to enable the Colonies, if they wished, to treat British goods more favourably than foreign goods. On 1st August, 1898, the notices expired, and from midnight one-fourth of the Canadian duty was remitted upon—Articles the growth, produce, or manufacture of Great Britain and Ireland, of India, or any British colony, or upon goods in which at least 25 per cent. of the value was British labour.He could quote, if time allowed, numerous other expressions from the public speeches of Lord Salisbury in this connection such as—Under the present conditions of our tariff no one cares two straws about the commercial favour of England,And that—We are fighting with our hands tied against armed men.The long and short of it was that he was so convinced of the sympathy of the late Lord Salisbury with this movement, that, with the concurrence of his hon. friends who acted with him, 1346 he invited his Lordship, after resigning the office of Prime Minister, to become president of the United Empire Trade League. Lord Salisbury, who was usually very prompt in his replies, took a month to consider the invitation, and his answer was nearly the last holograph letter he wrote. In that letter he said—At this moment so many diverse questions are at issue that I should feel unwilling to accept the presidency you kindly offer me. I might find it difficult to express myself so as to avoid misconception. We do not yet precisely know the form which the discussion will take in our own ranks.The House would sec there was no refusal, only a desire to avoid any disagreement in the Unionist Party.
He would now ask the House to consider the present state of trade and employment, and to consider how much worse was the state of affairs since 1882—that was since this matter was brought before the House by his right hon. friend the Member for Croydon, then a private Member. He would ask hon. Members to consider the facts and to say whether they did not call for a remedy. There were many hon. Gentlemen opposite who not only in private but in public thought with the tariff reformers in this matter. [Cries of "Name."] Mr. Storey, President of the Liberal Federation. It was all very well for hon. Gentlemen to laugh at that name, but Mr. Storey had rendered yeoman service to the Liberal Party as President of the Liberal Federation. But that was the way the Liberal Party treated their old friends. The President of the Liberal Association of the Elland Division took exactly the same view. Another instance was that of Mr. Thomas Brassey, son of Lord Brassey. [Laughter.] They laughed at him, but they adopted him as a candidate. They spoke very highly of him at Devonport and elsewhere. They would find plenty of instances in constituencies represented by Liberals of men who were in favour of tariff reform. He was extremely anxious not to raise any controversial questions, and therefore he would not refer Liberals to old friends who had left them on this question.
If they would look at the matter dispassionately, they would see that the state of affairs during the last twenty-four, years had become much worse. 1347 The Board of Trade Blue-books showed that in the ten years, 1891 to 1900, the imports for consumption increased by £534,000,000, and the exports by only £55,000,000. There was an average yearly excess of £145,000,000 in foreign imports over our exports. Comparing the first ten years with the last, our exports of cotton manufactures fell by £60,000,000; our exports of iron and steel fell by £29,000,000; our exports of woollen and worsted manufactures fell by £23,000,000; of hardware and cutlery by £11,000,000; and of linen manufactures, leather manufactures, steam engines, copper and jute manufactures, over £12,000,000—a total fall of £137,000,000 in manufactured exports. Against that we could only set a rise of £34,000,000 in the exports of machinery other than steam engines; of £5,000,000 in apparel and slops; and of £10,000,000 in chemical products. Were we to submit to this loss of £87,000,000 in our exports of manufactured goods, coupled with a rise in twenty years in the import of foreign manufactured goods of £100,000,000, without inquiry or effort to remedy a state of things so disastrous to the producers of this country? Our exports to France fell in the ten years 1891 to 1900 compared to the previous ten years by £8,000,000; to the United States by £63,000,000; to Italy by £7,000,000. Our exports to some countries, it was true, rose, but while the imports from all sources into all foreign countries was increased by 11 per cent., our export trade to all foreign countries only increased by 4 per cent.; and Return 363 of 1898 shows that each £100 of English foreign trade in 1854 became in 1897 £253 19s. 9d., while each £100 of the foreign trade in 1854 of the twelve principal foreign nations under protection became £454 3s. 5d., or nearly double our progress. On 24th March, 1882, the President of the Board of Trade declared that "our imports of manufactures and half manufactures are only £35,000,000." Last year, 1903, the Trade and Navigation Returns for December showed that they were £134,659,090, or close on £135,000,000. This gain of £100,000,000 sterling of foreign manufacturers in our home market in twenty years was surely enough to make any man reconsider the position, and especially as 10,000,000 1348 more pairs of hands had been added to our population, they had lost the £60,000,000 which had been paid in wages to the foreign workman.
Now what had been the result of this state of affairs as regard the employment of the masses. The Labour Gazette for January showed that 37,500 trades unionists were out of employment, that 3,000,000 workpeople sustained decreases in wages in the last three years, that on a single day last December 370,469 were dependent on poor law relief, and that 261,363 English, Scotch and Irish, in despair of obtaining a living at home, had to emigrate mostly to protected countries, and give place to 80,000 aliens. He would bring the matter nearer home to his own constituency. Nearly every trade was falling. This was what the Sheffield Telegraph of that morning said—The claims on the fund for the relief of the distress in Sheffield are still very pressing, and in order to provide one meal a day for the penniless unemployed and their families further help is urgently required.They received only that morning from the Duke of Norfolk, on the occasion of his marriage, a contribution of £1,000, which was only another testimony of his Grace's great kindness to the people of Sheffield. The hon. Baronet the Member for Hallamshire, who generally sat opposite, and whose absence he was afraid was due to illness, said at a meeting in the Sheffield Town Hall on 9th February, that—He was afraid the present depressed state of trade would continue for some time, and that there would be no great improvement in business for a considerable period.This was a most lamentable state of affairs; and, if his view was not the right one, do let them have from hon. Members opposite some remedy. He did not see the hon. member for Carnarvon Boroughs, but he was sitting behind the Member for Forest of Dean when that right hon. Baronet said that this prosperity argument had been pushed much too far. The other day when he was banqueted by his friends at the New Reform Club. He said—Mr. Chamberlain was right in so far as he said things were not well in this country. They could not feed the hungry with statistics of national prosperity, and stop the pangs of famine by reciting to a man the prodigious number of cheques that had passed through the 1349 clearing-house. They had, therefore, got to propose something better than Mr. Chamberlain. They ought to do something to help the poor from the mire and the needy from the dunghill.And Mr. Pickersgill, who was formerly Radical Member for Bethnal Green, on another occasion said—We must meet Mr. Chamberlain with a policy at least as attractive as his own. It must be a bread-and-butter policy.During the ast five days debate there had been a score of very interesting and eloquent speeches from hon. Gentlemen opposite, but so far as he heard, and he had listened to nearly everything that had been said, not one single word of suggestion had been offered to remedy this condition of affairs. He had heard a great deal of abuse of the Prime Minister and of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham and those who had been acting under him, but if hon. Gentlemen opposite had a remedy, for goodness sake let the House and the country know what it was. He could promise for himself, and in behalf of everyone on that side of the House, that if they had a remedy for this unfortunate condition of things it would be impartially and thoroughly considered. But if they had no remedy, let them, at all events, give a fair consideration to the remedy which he and his friends suggested. That remedy was to do something to break down the tariff walls opposed to our trade, something to give confidence to labour-employing capital, to prevent British factories being removed to protected countries, to people and develop the Empire, and—that is to trade with those who trade with us, to develop trade within the Empire on mutually advantageous terms and on a preferential basis.
He regretted the depreciatory tone in which some hon. Members had spoken in regard to the great patriotic action of the Dominion of Canada. He referred to what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Forest of Dean. It was lamentable that the latter hon. Gentleman had upbraided and scoffed at the Canadian Government, which had endeavoured to give a preference to British trade. Let him quote from The Times 1350 of that morning the advantage which British trade had received from Canada—In 1897 the exports of British and Irish produce to the North American colonies had fallen to £5,476,161 from £8,141,586 in 1889. They immediately rose in 1898 to £6,154,773, and in 1900 to £8,126,710. Then the Canadian Government increased the preference from 25 per cent. to 33⅓ per cent., and in 1902 the value of the British exports to Canada amounted to £10,720,325, or very nearly double what it was in 1897. The Trade and Navigation Returns show that the improvement in 1903 is continued in almost every line. To take only a few instances, the Canadian purchase of British hardware increased from 4,003 cwt. in 1901 to 8,566 cwt. in 1903, and of galvanised sheets from 7,418 tons in 1901 to 10,900 tons in 1903. The importation of British piece goods also rose from 36,000,000 yards in 1901 to 47,000,000 yards in 1903, and that of British woollen tissues from 3,900,000 yards in 1901 to 5,225,000 yards in 1903.Again, last year, South Africa, under the auspices of the late Colonial Secretary, gave British imports a preference of 25 per cent. and the result has been that many orders have come to this country which would otherwise have gone to the fierce and state-aided competition of the United States, Belgium, and Germany. The Report of Mr. Birchenough, the Special Commissioner of the Board of Trade, holds out hopes of orders for £100,000,000 worth of goods in the next ten years. And then there had been the action of New Zealand under the ægis of Mr. Seddon. In proposing the Preferential and Reciprocal Trade Bill that great Imperial Statesman said—In the Bill we are making no distinction. Canada, Australia, India, wherever British rule prevails, all parts of the Empire are treated alike, and a British Zollverein with the passing of this Bill commences so far as New Zealand is concerned, and the increased duties are chargeable only as against alien countries who have fiscal barriers against us. I claim it to be our duty to alter our customs in favour of the mother country.and by more than a three to one majority the representatives of our brothers in New Zealand passed the Bill. And were we to sit still and do nothing while our kith and kin conferred these benefits upon us? But for the British possessions, which took last year £109,000,000 of our exports—a rise of £25,000,000 in fifteen years—we should be in a bad way. In 1869, as every one knows, the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest: of Dean wrote a book entitled "Greater 1351 Britain." There were many passages in it which he thought the right hon. Baronet must now greatly regret. He saw and wrote as a Radical in the anti-colonial Radical days of thirty-five or forty years ago. For instance on page 398 of the 3rd edition the right hon. Baronet said—With the more enlightened thinkers of England separation from the Colonies has for many years been a favourite idea.That was in entire accord with Mr. Cobden's view. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Montrose Burghs said the other day, what was perfectly true, that he was better acquainted with the "Life of Cobden" than he himself was. But on page 231 of the right hon. Gentleman's "Life of Cobden," Cobden's views regarding the Coloni s were given in a very notable letter to Mr. Ashworth. He wrote—The colonial system with all its dazzling appeals to the passions of the people can never be got rid of except by the indirect process of free trade, which will gradually and imperceptibly loose the bonds which unite our colonies to us by a mistaken notion of self-interest.That view might still be entertained by hon. Gentlemen opposite, but it was not the view which was entertained by any hon. Gentleman on those Benches or by their supporters in the country. Their desire was to do all they possibly could to draw the Colonies closer to the mother country and to recognise the magnificent services they had rendered to the Empire in recent years. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Forest of Dean was one of the most enlightened thinkers in England, and he would invite the attention of the House to a passage from the right hon. Gentleman's book "Greater Britain." On page 331 he wrote—It would seem as though we free-traders had become nearly as bigoted in favour of free trade as our former opponents were in favour of protection … protection is no mere national delusion; it is a system deliberately adopted with open eyes as one conducive to the country's welfare.Let them then deal with the matter not as bigots or fanatics on one side or the other but let them look at it as business men from a business point of view. The conclusion which he ventured to offer was that the best way to develop 1352 a business was to develop it on the lines which appeared most promising. The export trade between the Colonies and the mother country showed a return of £3 per head. It was surely better to develop trade in that direction than to endeavour to develop trade with foreign countries which only gave a return of a few shillings per head. The Duke of Devonshire was sometimes thought to be opposed to them in this matter; but he happened to have a prospectus of the British Empire League, of which the Duke was chairman, and of which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Berwick Division, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Poplar, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Haddingtonshire, were vice-presidents. The objects of the League were stated to be as follows—To promote trade between the United Kingdom and the Colonies and India, and to consider how far it may be possible to modify any laws or treaties which impede freedom of action in the making of reciprocal trade arrangements between the United Kingdom and the Colonies, or between any two or more British colonies and possessions.They were therefore all agreed, and what was the use in wrangling about details. Let the matter be argued without Party spirit, and let them do their best to devise the quickest remedy. Surely the Prime Minister was right when he said that the first step was to regain liberty of negotiation. The Prime Minister said—It cannot be right for the country with free-trade ideals to enter into competition with protectionist rivals, self-deprived of the only instrument by which their policy can conceiv ably be modified. The only alternative is to do to foreign nations what they always do to each other, and instead of appealing to economic theories in which they wholly disbelieve, to use fiscal inducements which they thoroughly understand.He appealed to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and also to his hon. friends who did not agree as to the details of the proposals now before the country, to follow the example of those who, although they might not have agreed with everything which had been stated from the Treasury Bench for twenty years, had always supported the Government to the utmost of their power for the sake of the great national issues which were involved. He appealed to his 1353 hon. friends, in this very serious crisis of the world's history, not to divide the Party, and not to support a Motion which was designed not so much with reference to the fiscal question, but in order to create confusion in the ranks of the Unionist Party. His hon. friend the Member for Exeter asked a question the other day which he would take the liberty of answering. His hon. friend wished to know to what port the ship in which he was serving was bound. It was bound to the port of National Prosperity through the channels of constant Employment and Good Wages. They had confidence in their captain the Prime Minister, and they had confidence in their pilot the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. If his hon. friend and others of his hon. friends would vote straight for the Party in accordance with the wishes of their constituencies they need not have the slightest fear that they would be left derelict at the next general election. His sporting friend the Member for South-cast Durham was also anxious for an answer to a question he put. He would tell his hon. friend that the horse they were running was the old horse which had been so unaccountably sold by his right hon. friend the Member for Croydon. It was the people's favourite, and was bound to win, although it might be hustled by jockeys whose licences had been withdrawn by the electors of England.
* MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said he congratulated his hon. friend on the day of his triumph. His hon. friend could scarcely have expected to see the day when he would hear a highly protectionist speech delivered by him, cheered from the Treasury Bench, not ironically, nor could he expect that he should occupy the proud position of answering for a Government which appeared incapable of answering for itself. The debate had been cheered and enlivened by the concatenation of quotations and figures which had been given by his hon. friend. But even before his hon. friend spoke the debate was one which was not unworthy of this House. They all indeed much regretted the absence of the Prime Minister, and he himself regretted that the debate had not taken place on a substantive Motion but on an 1354 Amendment to the Address. Nevertheless, in spite of the absence of the Prime Minister, the debate had been most illuminating and most sensational. The absence of the Prime Minister had deprived the House of an opportunity which sooner or later during the session must be given to it. Five Ministers had resigned and practically a new Ministry now ornamented the Treasury Bench. The concatenation of events by which that result had been achieved must have been of one of two characters. It must either have been characterised by falsehood, treachery, nepotism and jobbery; or Ministers must have left the Government on account of principle and must have left a chief who had treated them with full and frank confidence and to whom they owed the same confidence. They must in that case have left the Government to their own regret and to the equal regret of the Prime Minister; and his right hon. friend must have tilled up their places with a sole eye to the efficiency of the Government. He did not know which of those two accounts was correct nor could any man tell in the absence of the Prime Minister. In his absence a very serious doubt hung over those events and sooner or later answers to the questions raised by the resignations by ex-Ministers must be given and the doubt removed. The debate showed that nobody agreed with the Government. The protectionists did not agree with it because it did not go far enough, but they were most nearly agreed with it. Free traders did not agree with it because it, went too far. The Government did not agree with itself, but it was most nearly agreed on protection and he need scarcely add that that state of affairs caused most profound disappointment among those who were inelegantly known as free-fooders and who, in fact, did attach the greatest importance to the retention in this country of cheap and abundant food.
They expected, after the declaration of the Prime Minister at Sheffield, that this debate would be signalised by a complete and full renunciation by the Government of the errors of Birmingham. He thought they had a right to expect that, because to some extent the Sheffield declaration was ambiguous and he had confidently hoped that this ambiguity would be now finally cleared up. 1355 This expectation was confirmed by the speech of the President of the Board of Trade, after hearing which he had come to the conclusion that His Majesty's Government had at last come down on the right side, and he then determined, as had the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol, that he could not vote for the Amendment. But how the scene had now changed! The Secretary to the Board of Trade had spoken! The Secretary of State for the Colonies had spoken and disclosed quite a different attitude from that disclosed by the President of the Board of Trade. So had the President of the Local Government Board, and while the President of the Board of Trade had begun by declaring for free trade, these other three members of the Government had declared for protection and food taxing. This was what had so unexpectedly placed the free-fooders in antagonism to the Government. It would be hard for a conscientious Member to vote against the Amendment, because it was gospel truth. Every proposition it contained was undeniable, and the Amendment need not necessarily be considered a vote of want of confidence by the Government. It would have been a vote of want of confidence at the time when the Address in reply to the Speech was a recapitulation of the Speech paragraph by paragraph. Then if a paragraph were amended the whole tenour of the reply was changed But this Address was no more than a expression of thanks, and the addition of a further proprosition to it was not a vote of want of confidence in the Government, unless the Government were prepared to deny the truth of the proposition. But even if it be a vote of want of confidence, there were things even more important than the fate of Gentlemen sitting on the Treasury Bench. It was of more importance that the country should have free food than that it should retain the present occupants on the Treasury Bench. On the road leading to the taxation of food he for one would never go, whoever led. And who was leading in that direction? On what road was the Government walking, and to what did it all tend? What the issue before the country would be at the general election he did not know, but the issue now before the House was whether trade should be bond or free whether food should be dear or 1356 cheap, whether trade should be left to be conducted by men of business or be taken under the protection of a tariff-loving Government.
It was said that only men of business were competent to deal with the question. How many men of business were there in the Government? Except Lord Londonderry, who earned a precarious livelihood by selling coals, and who, by the way, was a free-trader, there was not on the Treasury Bench a single Minister who had so much as managed an apple stall or undersold a competitor to his destruction. Not one of them even thought himself a man of business except the Colonial Secretary, who supposed himself capable of earning £100 a year as a working man. Of the merits of free trade, protection, and preference he would say little, for they had been well nigh exhausted, but he would say that this country drew from the uttermost ends of the earth all that contributed to the wants of man; to his comforts and his necessities. And it kept them, for year by year it kept more of all commodities including even gold and silver than it sent away. That had been going on for fifty years. For fifty years we had been accumulating in this way all that man can desire and we might say in the beautiful words of the psalm—Our garners are fall, affording all manner of store. There is no complaining in our streets; happy is that people that is in such a case.That condition of things represented plenty, wealth, and prosperity; yet the apostles of scarcity complained and declared that the contrary was the case. Might he not add in the words of the psalmist—Rid me and deliver me from the hand of strange children, whose mouth speaketh vanity, and their right hand is a right hand of falsehood.The apostles of scarcity asked the country to believe that a full garner meant impending ruin, that the possession of all that men could pray for or want was the sign of poverty and disaster, that the nation was the loser when we sent out less than we received, better off if we sent out more than we received, and at its best if we sent out all and received nothing. They declared that if we must put up with the curse of imports it were better to take that curse from our 1357 cousins, whom it was our object to bind to us with links of affection. They called themselves protectionists and preferentialists, which meant much the same thing. By the protectionists we were asked to protect ourselves against the world to the ruin of our customers; by the preferentialists we were asked to prefer the Colonies to the rest of the world to our own ruin. It had been said, and it might, be that protection had succeeded in other countries, but this country was in such a position in the midst of the sea, at the crossing of all the sea roads of the world, as to be different from every other; nor was the example of any other country applicable to it. Our destiny was marked out as the carriers of the world, and our island as best fitted to be the one great, perpetual free port through which the trade movements of the world should take place. Since 1846 this country had been, on the whole, the freest market and freest exchange ever known in history. Protection and preference had been tried, protection was given up in 1846 and preference in 1860; they were both given up because both had been recognised to be a complete failure. Protection failed even for agriculture. In the years 1821, 1833, and 1836, when the corn duties were in force, people flocked from this country to testify to Committees of this House that agriculture was insolvent. A great agricultural expert, Mr. Bernard, in 1836 was asked—Do yon believe it possible that farmers cad go on at this rate? No. I consider the whole agricultural body is insolvent. On your conscience do you believe that to be true? I do, and consequently my belief is that the whole agricultural body, including all noblemen as well as farmers, is insolvent.That was in 1836, when we had a high protective tariff, and he was therefore justified in saying that the protective system was a failure. But if it failed for the landlord and the farmer, it failed worse for the poor. In 1801 wheat in this country was 120s. a quarter, which was 15s. a bushel. In that year the weekly wage of the Hertfordshire labourer—and he had not forgotten it— was 8s. In 1902 wheat was 28s. 1d. per quarter, or 3s. 6d. a bushel, while the Hertfordshire labourer's wages were 14s. 7d., and the labourer could therefore buy 1358 to-day four bushels of wheat instead of half a bushel a century ago. That was the condition of things to or towards which the protectionists would have the country return. The great missionary of scarcity had been going about the country preaching a return to a system of this kind. With false dates and falsified figures, he had drawn false pictures and had gone whining and whimpering of impending ruin in order to lure us back to the reconstruction of a false fabric which had starvation at the base and insolvency at the summit. The right hon. Gentleman had changed his mind often, but he had adopted frank protection by his so-called Scientific Budget and by that crowning travesty of a Royal Commission which would never have entered the mind of any one but a statesman who had been received in a civic hall to the strains of "God save the King." The right hon. Gentleman had now temporarily put off the ermine, and. presumably in order to avoid guards of honour and Royal salutes, the had gone. so the, newspapers said, under the incognito of "Mr. Richards," to Egypt where from the summit of the Pyramids forty centuries would contemplate him with some curiosity. [Continued cries of "Oh."] There seemed to be present the neophytes of some new religion who could not bear to hear criticised a person whom they regarded almost as divine. When the right hon. Gentleman reached Egypt and learnt what had occurred in Hertfordshire to his well-beloved and trusty commissioner he would probably revise his opinion and begin to doubt whether so much success was assured to his plan as he had formerly supposed.
So far as the Government was concerned, there had been a series of manifestoes from the First Lord of the Treasury. In his Sheffield speech he affirmed retaliation, but retaliation which was so limited as not to impose a tax on food or raw material, which was not to involve a high and a low tariff system. which was not to lead to a tariff war, and which was only to be carried into effect with the consent of Parliament. To such retaliation no man, free-trader or free fooder, could have the slightest objection. The rest of the Sheffield speech was a 1359 declaration against the taxation of food—and that speech, on the whole, was entirely incompatible and inconsistent with, and contrary to, the Birmingham plan. Since then, further light had been afforded. In October, a most interesting pamphlet, containing the Sheffield speech and other declarations of the Prime Minister, was issued. That pamphlet was preceded by an introduction, which had since been suppressed and withdrawn, and consequently was the more interesting at the present moment. In that introduction the following passages occurred—The Government is agreed as to the proposals which, as a practical policy, are to be put before the electorate at the next general election, i.e., fiscal reform is necessary, and carries with it the liberty, if the threat be unheeded, to effect retaliation. Neither the taxation of food, not any bolstering up of a home industry, which is failing through natural and legitimate competition, is included in the programme.That was the official introduction to the official version of the Prime Minister's speech. These words followed—… the chief Liberal attack is bound to be directed against those points which are now debatable amongst ourselves. Such attack is fair and to be expected. It can only succeed if we exhibit weakness and folly.That introduction fully reaffirmed and put the dots on the is of the Sheffield speech—but it was withdrawn. Why? Who could doubt that it was at the bidding of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham? Then came a change. There was the Bristol speech, in which the Prime Minister said there were to be profound modifications of our fiscal system, and called free-traders "our opponents." Finally, in December last, there appeared at Dulwich a candidate who entirely shared the views of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, who had even given £1,000 to the Tariff Reform League, and who yet received from the Prime Minister a letter with best wishes for his success. Thus the Prime Minister, who since his Sheffield speech had been expected to resist, had seemed rather drawing nearer and nearer to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. They must therefore ask was the Prime Minister for protection or for free trade. or did he aspire to found a matrimonial agency destined to bring about the union of the two? When in 1360 the great schism of the fourteenth century, Pope Urban was elected at Rome, and his rival, Pope Clement, at Avignon, the two Popes anathematised and excommunicated each other, and each called the other "Anti-Pope." Who was the Pope here, and who the anti-pope? Were they to pay their allegiance to Urban of Downing Street or to Clement of Birmingham, or were they to take refuge in some union of both in the shape of a mythical "Pope Joan"? The contradictory utterances of the Prime Minister were reflected in the Ministry itself. Lord Salisbury, who denounced "rash policies and doubtful statistics,"said—The Government will not be responsible for presenting such a remedy as preference.The Lord President of the Council stated that—He never would have subscribed to the Government policy if it had included a tax upon food.and the Postmaster-General had made utterances to the same effect. Yes: they made these statements now, but what would they say when "Mr. Richards" came back? Would not the right hon. Gentleman make short work of the free-traders, and be encouraged to do so by the knowledge that his adherents were in a majority in the Cabinet. Of the views of the Chancellor of the Exchequer there was no doubt whatever. He had publicly expressed his sympathy with the Birmingham plan "in all its branches," he launched at the free-fooders the choicest adjectives in the Birmingham armoury, and he had recently declared that—A time was coming when the country would insist upon the Government giving its attention to this matter.That time was no doubt coming, but whether the mandate given by the country would be such as the right hon. Gentleman expected was open to question The hon. Member for Central Bradford who was a poet as well as a statesman had compared the Chancellor of the Exchequer to Pitt, and had suggested that in him would be found the pilot that weathered the storm. If the hon. Member had contemplated the Member; for West Bristol, Ealing, and Croydon out in the cold, another verse by the same 1361 writer might have occurred to him, and he might have added—Praise to placeless proud abilityLet the prudent muse disclaim;And sing the Statesman all civility,Whom moderate talents raise to fame.The opinions of the President of the Board of Trade, of the President of the Local Government Board, and of the Irish Secretary were always interesting, but the member of the Cabinet whose opinions were of the most importance in this matter was the Minister who held the purse-strings—the Minister who, if any man, would so manipulate the next Budget as to leave the door open for the preference or protection which was to be the salvation of the country. The right hon. Gentleman would no doubt be heard on this occasion. His promotion had been a most encouraging recognition of unsuspected merit, paralleled only in the examples of Phaeton and Caligula, and doubtless his declarations on the question would not be lacking in positiveness. But what was the result of the debate? The President of the Board of Trade declared that the Government policy was not protection or the taxation of food—although the next day he said he would be glad to see a moderate tax on food—and he added—We are prepared to light for free trade.If the right hon. Gentleman was sincere in that declaration he would have to go and have it out on the Nile. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade was frankly protectionist, and the President of the Local Government Board had stated that he—believes in a scheme designed to draw closer the Colonies and the mother country,and that—it is in the main a question worth making considerable sacrifices for.But in the main this was a question of taxing food, and the right hon. Gentleman was in favour of it, and added that it was unbecoming for an English gentleman to remain in a Government when no longer in sympathy with it. Therefore both the right hon. Gentleman and the Government were in sympathy with a proposal involving the taxation of food. Finally the Colonial Secretary had brought matters to a climax by an academic 1362 speech on protection which it was unnecessary to recall; so that while protection and food taxes were tremblingly disavowed in one breath they were as tremblingly avowed in another. Those of the Unionist Party who believed in free food held still the views which the Conservative Party had always professed in the past. They were not the heretics; they were the orthodox members of the, Party. The Colonial Secretary had stated that the Government would support those who "honestly" supported the Government programme, and also those candidates who were—In favour of the Government policy even though their own opinions go further than it.that is to say, go as far as preference and food-taxing. The Government, therefore, were in favour both of those who opposed and of those who favoured a tax on food. But the right hon. Gentleman made a most offensive accentuation of the word "honestly," as though to suggest that in this matter some Unionists were honest and others not—an insinuation unworthy of the Minister who made it, and repelled by those against whom it was directed. What did it come to? Take the case of two Unionists standing again each other for one seat— as at Chippenham—one a food-taxer and the other a free-fooder. If the free-fooder was, in the opinion of the Government, honest, he would get Government support. The food-taxer would get it whether or no. Both would receive such assistance as the central office could give, and all the assistance of the local associations. Both would receive a letter from the Prime Minister wishing each of them success against the other, and, although there was but one seat and one vote, every loyal Conservative would be bound to vote for both candidates! Was ever anything so childish? He had used the word "Government," but was there a Government Could there be a Government with two contrary minds, unable to control its own members or to adhere for twenty-four hours to its own statements. Was there anything on the Front Ministerial Bench to inspire confidence at home and respect abroad? Could they view with complacency, in a crisis such as had arisen in the Far East, the prospect of the interests of this country being committed 1363 to a Government of settled contradictions and unsettled convictions? The Government had neither managed things, administered Departments, nor controlled events. Things had managed them, departments had administered them, events had smothered them. They had not been a Government but only a debauch of power. Therefore those who thought as he did had no choice. Those who felt for the needy to whom the price of bread was of vast importance could not do anything but vote for this Amendment. To vote against it would be giving a vote for dearer food and taxed bread. ["No, no!"] Whether His Majesty's Government might seek again to renew the assurances they had made and recalled and then made again he knew not. For him it was too late. He could be reconciled by no death-bed repentance, and because he believed in cheap and free food it would be his duty to vote for the Amendment. There was more at stake here than free trade or fair trade, or the binding together of the Empire, for beneath all this was the honour of public men and public life. Parties could only be formed by a common conviction, and could only be kept together by confidence on both sides, confidence mutual in leaders and followers. That confidence they had gone far to lose. It had been seriously impaired, and His Majesty's Government appeared to have entirely abandoned those Conservative principles which they set out with, and which he still believed in. The Government might triumph, they would triumph in the division lobby; but when the great appeal came, his belief was that an indignant and honest people would punish those who had abandoned their principles, and justify those who had stood fast to them.
§ MR. ELLIOT (Durham)
I shall not trespass for more than a very few minutes upon the time of the House. I wish to say that I left the Government because it was perfectly clear that, after the resignation of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, and the letter of the Prime, Minister, to my great sorrow, the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government was going 1364 to give his support, and was actually giving his support, to the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. After that, as an honest man, I could not remain on that Bench and be in any way responsible for the financial business of the country. Therefore it was my business to make room for someone else with honest convictions, no doubt able to further the policy to which I, at all events, was strongly opposed. The division we are about to take will be the first occasion when the Parliamentary forces come to a distinct issue upon free trade versus protection. We have been told that these are mere phrases used as battle cries, and they have not the precise meaning which ought to be attached to them, and we are told that we should be more particular about our terms. The Prime Minister also tries to rally the country in the cause of fiscal reform. If protection does not mean anything, then what has the right hon. Gentleman to say in regard to fiscal reform? What does that term include, and what does it exclude? My right hon. friend gives us good advice, but "he recks not his own rede." He is bound to be more definite himself in the terms he uses, and this is a matter of considerable importance. I cannot bring myself to believe that this question turns upon the meaning of a phrase. It is perfectly easy to find in the discussion which has been going on expressions and arguments used by the Prime Minister which are in antagonism to the theories and conclusions of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. I can find antagonistic passages, and I can set one against the other, but this is no paper war, no question between a pamphlet here and a speech there, but a question as to the action and conduct of the Ministers of the Crown, and whether that has been in support, substantially, of the views which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham has put before the country. No one regrets more than I do that the Prime Minister is not here. I regretted leaving the right hon. Gentleman's Government, because I was proud to serve under him. We know the great importance he attaches to Party discipline, and we know that he is actuated by no unworthy motives. But we have to look at the facts for ourselves, 1365 and we have to see where we stand. I was under the impression that this was a fiscal debate. When the late Chancellor of the Exchequer left the Government, and I regained my freedom, I had no idea that henceforth that great Department to which we had belonged was to remain silent in a fiscal debate. Why is my right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer there, and why is he silent? He is the Chancellor of the Exchequer ad hoc, and he was put there not only from the high esteem in which the Prime Minister held him, but because he was known to be in favour of the great scheme which his right hon. relative was laying before the country. We are told by the Prime Minister that that policy is not before the country. Why not? There has been a very important controversy throughout all the by-elections, and I refer to them not merely to mention the results of the poll, but also in order to point out what the country thinks is before it. Any hon. Member who has followed those contests will agree that what the constituencies believe is before the country is the question of protection. It is all very well for the right hon, Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham to tell Londoners to "think Imperially," but when an election contest is on. I find that it is a very long time since elections have been fought upon such parochial interests as those which have been before us at the last few by-elections. The right hon. Gentleman is a great Imperialist in the City of London, but at Birmingham he devotes himself to pearl buttons.
There are some great interests which deserve to be considered as Imperial factors. I will not go into figures at this time of the debate, but I will mention the great shipping and carrying trade. That is a business or trade which, if any business or trade in this country deserves to be called Imperial, is Imperial. Our flag is carried from one end of the earth to the other, and it is responsible for the terrible introduction of imports into this country. Here we see one of the three or four gigantic fallacies on which the proposal for a change in the fiscal system is based. It is a grand fallacy that this country is being ruined by its imports. We hardly need to look at the statistics to know this. We may 1366 trust, to a certain extent, to the evidence of our own eyes. For my part, I can only say that if any man looks on the magnificent fleets approaching the ports of London, Glasgow, and Liverpool, and pouring wealth into our docks and wharves from all parts of the world as an element of decay, and if he says that on this account British working men will have nothing to do and that they will have to twiddle their thumbs because of want of employment, then I say to my protectionist friend that he is talking nonsense, and culpable non sense, which is contradicted by experience and the evidence of his own eyes. Am I to be told that all this is disastrous to the trade of the country? Are we to be told that there is a toll to be paid before these ships come into our docks? Imports are merchandise brought into England because English men are in want of that merchandise. They are not brought in for nothing. I am unable to see disaster to this country in the fact that so much wealth comes in to us and comes in so cheap. I do not wish to go into the merits of a question which is not before us, but I would say one word on the merits of colonial federation. We are all in favour of it. The first essential is that we should build on some rather substantial foundation—something that will be durable. Now, is the putting of a duty on corn that stable foundation on which to build? The 1s. duty on corn was taken off a few months ago. We were told that the duty on corn was to be a fixed charge, and that it was not to be increased. What would happen here is what has happened in other countries. If it remains, it will certainly be increased. It is proposed also that there should be a tax on dairy produce. Can anybody seriously suppose that on such an uncertain basis as that we can construct a perfect system?
As to the position His Majesty's Government propose to take—because that is the real matter which makes our discussion and the vote which will be taken to-night of such great importance—I know that right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench have not held practically the same language. I know that the President of the Board of Trade has not held exactly the same language as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, and I 1367 know that an ardent supporter of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham said—We need not give any special attention to the President of the Board of Trade's speech because, after all, it amounts to nothing but an interim report.Some of us, I believe, on these Benchse were inclined to think that my right hon. friend gave solemn pledges for the Government, and said that the Government were not in favour of the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. I hope that any hon. Members who have doubts about it will remember how that speech has been described by a supporter of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, and how the Secretary to the Board of Trade has dissociated himself entirely from the language of the President. It is not only the language of members of the Government to which I refer but it is to their conduct as well. When contests have been going on in the country gentlemen have gone down as Government candidates with letters from the Prime Minister in their pockets giving them testimonials as representatives of the Government policy. I am informed that at the present moment a noble Lord who is standing for a seat in Birmingham is going down there to represent the policy of the Government. That noble Lord is a very strong advocate for taxation of food, and he is also, I believe, in favour of a 10 per cent. duty on manufactured goods imported into this country. If any one of the right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench gets up and says, "All this is a mistake, we took that line, but we are taking it no longer, and we are determined to dissociate ourselves from the policy of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham," I should in those circumstances doubt whether I should go into the lobby in favour of the Amendment moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Montrose Burghs; but while they are using their whole influence and power—because it is nothing less than that—to support the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham I shall certainly go against them in the lobby to-night. It is greatly to be deplored that the Prime Minister is not 1368 present, and that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham also is not here. I am not one of those who condemn the Front Bench opposite for sticking to its guns. Irrespective of anything they might have to tell us, irrespective of the details of the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, and irrespective of all the interest and importance of the two right hon. Gentlemen who are absent, I cannot forget that we are here as the House of Commons and that we have a duty to perform. Though we may deplore the absence of the right hon. Gentlemen we are not absolved and cannot be absolved from putting before the country the views which the House of Commons holds on the important matters now before us. It has had too little to say hitherto in this great controversy. If the debate which has been going on and which has brought out so much ability and eloquence during the last eight days could only have taken place last summer much misfortune would have been avoided, and the Government would have been in a stronger position than they are now. Owing to the absence of discussion they have been sinking deeper and deeper in the gulf of protection. I say it is their doings and they are responsible for this condition. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham has now behind him four-fifths of the Conservative forces. The Government should have dissociated themselves from a policy of which they did not approve. They are bound to have a policy on a question of such enormous magnitude. My right hon. friend the President of the Board of Trade said "Let it be an open question." I would ask my right hon. friend, if he were present, if he, as a fair-minded man, considered that that represented the situation. Suppose that the most powerful member of any Government next to the Prime Minister left the Government in order to advocate disestablishment, suppose that he won over to himself the caucus, and established a great organisation, suppose that he had been enabled to embark thousands of pounds in the cause and that he had gradually drawn to himself great support, and if the Prime Minister had allowed the regular Party organisation to be at his call, then what 1369 would have happened? Does my right hon. friend mean to say it would have been long before questions would have been put to the Front Bench. The Archbishop of Canterbury in another place, and the noble Lord the Member for Greenwich in this House, would have considered it their duty to compel Ministers to speak out, and to find out whether that policy had or had not their support. I believe the Chief Secretary for Ireland is likely to speak this afternoon. I implore him, for the sake of the House of Commons, to do violence to his own nature, and not to make a clever and ingenious speech. I ask that he should use a few simple, straightforward phrases. Do not let us have any more hovering over retaliation. He has got to deal with something other than retaliation. I know that my right hon. friend claimed, I think it was in a speech at Workington, that it is our duty to fearlessly resume our freedom of negotiation. That sounds very great. But, when one looks into the applicability of the circumstances with which we have to deal, we find that there is something less than courage in it. I hope my right hon. friend will not indulge in talk of that kind, but come forward and say whether he is for or against the taxation of food, and a 10 per cent. duty on manufactures, and whether he regards free imports as disastrous to the country. I have had put into my hands a leaflet issued on the authority of the Central Conservative Association deprecating free imports. It says it is a mischievous thing that there should be free imports, and it asks us to substitute a system of reciprocity. That is the way the electors are dealt with at contested elections. I want to know I what is being done by agents and candidates and newspapers, and I want to know whether what is being done is orisnot repudiated by the right hon. Gentleman.
I am told that the Amendment involves a declaration of want of confidence in the Government. I am bound to say with sorrow, but the most sincere conviction, that my confidence in the fiscal policy of His Majesty's Government is not unlimited. I have no confidence in the fiscal policy of the Government. I see that some of them appear to have no confidence in their own policy. One right hon. Gentleman watches 1370 another right hon. Gentleman, and I am told that statements have been made by active representatives of the Government which were in singularly unhappy opposition to each other. We know the position, and the position cannot be altered. It is not a question of words. It is a question of how we are to deal with the facts, and I, for my part, cannot understand how any man who calls himself a free-trader at all, who has any belief in the advantages of free imports, who has any dislike to the system of German and American protection—I do not understand how any such man can hesitate to go into the lobby with the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment.
§ SIR A. SEALE HASLAM (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
said he thought that in the regrettable absence of the Prime Minister this discussion might have been postponed with advantage to the Members of the House. They had been under very serious disadvantages. They knew generally what the views of the Prime Minister were, but they regretted that he was not there to make known his views and answer the arguments that had been put forward. He ventured to say that if the Prime Minister had been present some of the observations made in the House would not have been heard. Speeches had been delivered by politicians and business men, but he regretted that there had not been more of the latter. He had listened with very great pleasure and satisfaction to the speeches of the noble Lord the Member for Greenwich and the hon. Member for Oldham, although he did not agree with them. I hey were, he thought, not the most competent men to give the best opinion on the subject under discussion. He regretted that these two hon. Members, who were in political partnership, were not in some great business partnership, employing 5,000 men, with their own capital, called upon to compete in the neutral markets of the world, or where protection existed, and where they had no opportunity of trading, or where they would have to face the competition which was recently called "dumping" in this country. He admired the ability of the two hon. Gentlemen and their intellect, but they had not the experience of those 1371 who had been engaged in business thirty or forty years, and who knew something of the great trade problems and of the difficulty of finding work for their employees, who knew how men who were only half employed became demoralised, and how men who were wholly out of work-became dangerous to the community, how poverty, hunger, and distress roused the worst passions of men. He ventured to say that if all these things were realised by hon. Members they would strengthen the hands of the Government and enable them to do something to improve the state of the nation. If that were the results of the discussion he believed it would not have been in vain.
They had been told that the sum of the imports into and the exports from this country indicated great prosperity, and that these amounted to£900,000,000. They had been told that if our imports exceeded our exports that showed that it was all right. They were told that our imports were paid for either by the goods we exported, or by the sale of securities, or by the services we rendered abroad. But the affairs of a State were very much the same as the affairs of an individual. We had enjoyed in this country an apparent prosperity, and a great deal had been said about our home trade. But had it occurred to any of those Gentlemen that our imports might swell very largely when we were getting into debt on a large scale? He thought that those who compared the state of this country and our indebtedness must feel some curious alarm at the increase of the indebtedness of the nation, whether Imperial or municipal. That indebtedness had increased almost 62 per cent. in the last ten years. He himself could not see how we could reduce the expense on the Navy or the Army; but what was worse, our expense was growing in our municipalities. In Imperial expenditure there was charged to revenue in 1903–4 £144,000,000, and to capital £6,000,000, or a total of £150,000,000; and in 1893–4 the charge to revenue was £91,303,000; and the charge to capital £877,000, or a total of £92,180,000. In municipal expenditure in 1900–1 the charge out of income was £98,180,000; and out of loans £35,533,000, or a total of £133,713,000. In 1890–1 the charge out of income was £62,109,000 1372 and out of loans £8,528,000, or a total of £70,637,000; while the expenditure for 1903–4 was likely to amount to £150,000,000. What were they to learn from that? That they must raise their poundage rates and assessments. If this expenditure was going on the consequences must be serious. If anyone doubted that, look at the price of corporation stock! Some of these stood at 117 ten years ago and were now quoted at 90, and there was a difficulty in selling them at that figure. As our debt had grown our imports had increased. If our imports went on increasing over our exports it was impossible for this country to enjoy the prosperity in the future which she have enjoyed in the past. The existing extravagance must be stopped. There was no doubt that those who had given the closest attention to this subject were begining to realise that if we were to recover our position we should have to work harder and be more economical. A great deal had been said about dumping. He employed a large number of men, and he was bound to confess that dumping was at present an advantage to him personally. But be feared that if, in the future, dumping went on, our primary industries would be affected by the competition of the dumped goods. He was a free-trader, and had always been a free-trader, but not a one-shied free-trader. He believed that free trade, so long as it was mutual, was a profit to both sides and an advantage to and promoted the prosperity of each.
A few weeks ago the hon. Member for North-West Durham had come into his constituency and addressed a meeting there. He did not object to the hon. Member going there: it had been a distinct advantage to himself. But he would tell the hon. Member that there was a considerable amount of depression in his constituency, and that there was no use arguing that the state of things was the most perfect ever enjoyed in the country. There were manufacturers who had recently started businesses on the Continent, not because they wanted to do so, or to take work from their, workmen, but because the doors in these countries had been closed against their exports. Those were only a few instances of many which he could bring before the House; but they were sufficient to show that the industries which his friends 1373 had started on the Continent were distinctly disadvantageous to and would decrease employment in this country. The 60 per cent. duty which was imposed had put an end to trade with the United States, but the worst of it was that the country's best workmen were emigrating to the United States, and were carrying on industries which supplied all the requirements of the American market. The pottery industry was not perhaps one of the largest, but it was one of the most important industries in the country. Its total value was £3,500,000. The hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Durham said that imports had not seriously affected that industry, but the imports amounted to £750,000, which was a very serious matter in his constituency, as it meant a reduction of between £300,000and £400,000 per annumin wages. He could quote several other instances to show that the present system was not the best system for the country. With reference to Mr. Cobden, he did not think that anything was to be gained by sneering at him, or by endeavouring to depreciate the magnificent services which he had rendered to the country. He yielded to no man in his admiration of Mr. Cobden, and if he had been a politician at the time he would have voted for Mr. Cobden's policy. But a great many changes had occurred since then, and unfortunately the prophecies of Mr. Cobden had not been verified. Mr. Cobden said that probably within ten years the whole world would follow the example of this country; but, as they now saw, the situation was exactly the reverse. Who would have thought in Mr. Cobden's time that a steamer would carry goods across the Atlantic at 1s. per ton? All the changes which had occurred deserved the most careful attention. Hon. Gentlemen opposite said that the present position of the country was due to free trade, but he thought they ought also to take into account the British mercantile marine, the telegraph and telephone services, and the many other inventions which had contributed to the prosperity of the nation.
If the present free-trade system were continued, it would bring disaster on the industries of the country. He quite 1374 agreed that an inquiry was necessary, and an inquiry would shortly take place with the result that a large amount of information would be collected which would be useful to the Members on both sides of the House. But whether the inquiry would be sufficiently comprehensive was another matter. Hon. Members might recollect the great discussion which took place years ago with regard to a load-line for ships. As a result a load-line was established, but foreign steamers were allowed to enter British harbours without a load-line, and to trade under conditions which would not be permitted to British vessels. He hoped the Government would take a broad view of the situation, and especially consider the splendid British mercantile marine, which was the admiration of the world, and which had conferred enormous benefit not only on this country but on the world. The British people did not like change. They did not like anything that was new or too ambitious; but a great and mighty force had been introduced into politics, and the time had come when they ought to raise their voices and put forth their strength, and have the courage of their convictions, both in the House of Commons and the country, and make the truth known to people who might have been misled by incorrect figures. He had studied very carefully the speech of the Prime Minister and the pamphlet which he wrote, and he considered that the Prime Minister's views were very moderate. The Prime Minister had only one idea with regard to this question and that was to improve the position of the trade and commerce of the country. He thanked hon. Members very kindly for the manner in which they had listened to the imperfect remarks which he had addressed to the House. They might differ from him as to lines of policy; but his friends opposite respected his views, as was manifested by the manner in which they had listened to him.
§ * MR. ASQUITH (Fifeshire, E.)
We are now drawing to the close of a debate which, in many of its features, is, I believe, unexampled in the annals of the House of Commons. We are concerned —ostensibly concerned—with an Amendment to the Address on the King's Speech, 1375 and I believe it to be the opinion of all impartial onlookers that rarely, if ever, has there been a more one-sided discussion heard within these walls. Some of the ablest and most convincing speeches in support of the Amendment have come from the Government Benches. And what, Sir, has become of the propaganda which has been tearing like a tornado through the country during the whole of the autumn months? It has made a great deal of noise outside, but the air of Westminster, somehow or other, seems to have a sedative effect upon it, and we have heard nothing in the course of this debate but faint and halting and almost apologetic echoes. Still more noteworthy have been the performances of the Ministers of the Crown. Some of them do not seem quite to know their own minds. None of them, so far as I can discover, know the minds of their colleagues. And all of them, when they are hard pressed, to a man take refuge in the undisclosed mind of the Prime Minister. On the first night of the debate the President of the Board of Trade delivered himself of some sound and robust free-trade sentiments, accompanying them no doubt with a plea for the liberty of pious opinion, and a frank confession of his own personal hankerings for some system of preference. Next night he was followed by his subordinate—the Secretary of his own Department—who made an interesting speech. If I might venture, with great respect to the hon. Gentleman, to make one criticism upon it, it would be this—that I think he was unduly liberal in the exercise of a dangerous faculty with which he is endowed, the faculty of stating a fallacy as though it were a truism. However that may be, of one thing there can be no doubt, that the Secretary to the Board of Trade took up, one after another, almost all the most venerable and most vulnerable positions of the most antiquated protectionism. His arguments have been completely disposed of by subsequent speakers on both sides of the House, and I will venture to say by no one with more lucidity, more cogency, or more destructive force than by my hon. friend the Member for Come Valley (Sir J. Kitson), who, by the way, is, I believe, 1376 neither a lawyer nor doctrinaire. Well, the next figure in this strange procession was the President of the Local Government Board, of whom I will say with the utmost personal respect that at the close of his speech, when I tried to speculate upon the precise stage which his convictions had reached, I find myself, and still remain, in impenetrable darkness. Then came the turn of my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies, the tenor and effect of whose speech I am sure is fresh in the memory of the House. When my right hon. friend, in his picturesque way, compared the hapless British producer face to face with his tariff-clad competitors, to the undisciplined Gaul confronting Caesar and his legions, I think no one of us was in doubt as to the sphere of influence in which he moved. I shall have something to say in a few minutes in reference to one or two of my right hon. friend's contentions; but before I part company with him now in the most friendly spirit I should like to make one incidental criticism. In the graceful tribute which he paid to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham he told us that, the more he familiarised himself with the records of his own office, the more he was impressed, not only with the business capacity, but the splendid idealism of his predecessor. This was a very natural and appropiate expression of his feeling; but I could not help thinking that it would have been equally interesting to the House, and perhaps still more relevant to the issue of this debate, if the right hon. Gentleman could have told us that, while ransacking the archives of his Department, he had come across some trace of the missing colonial offer. Friday, so far as the Treasury Bench was concerned, was a day off; but, notwithstanding the absence of the Prime Minister, which we all regret, and whose return to our proceedings will be welcomed with equal warmth in every quarter of the House, there are still Ministers left on that Bench, Cabinet Ministers, whom we have not heard yet. We have not in this debate heard the voice of the Minister primarily responsible for the management of the finances of the country, and it is quite possible that we 1377 have not yet come to the end of the I process which is described, I believe, in nautical circles as "boxing the compass." He would indeed be a bold man who at this hour of the afternoon would predict with any confidence in what direction it will point at twelve o'clock tonight. Every one knows the lines which are to be found in the immortal description by a too candid friend of one of the greatest orators and thinkers who ever sat in the House—Though fraught with all learning, yet straining his throatTo persuade Tommy Townshend to lend him a vote.Men come and go—I do not see a Burke at this moment on the Treasury Bench—but Parliamentary necessities survive and recur. I cannot help thinking that, if we knew the whole truth of the situation, the real arbiter, more potent even than the Prime Minister, the hidden hand which holds the musical box and turns on the tune every night, is the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Patronage Secretary to the Treasury.
There is one figure, as almost every speaker has acknowledged, whom we miss from this discusssion hardly less than that of the Prime Minister himself—I mean, of course, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. In common with everybody, I deplore the cause, and perhaps I may venture to say I have special reason to regret the fact of his absence. Ever since the right hon. Gentleman inaugurated his autumn campaign at Glasgow I have been towards him in the relation of an anxious, pertinacious, and disappointed inquirer. I have respectfully put to him a number of questions—simple questions, direct questions, but questions to which, simple and direct as they were, not the semblance of an answer has yet been vouchsafed. I do not think his absence, much as we regret it, makes it incumbent on me and others to suspend the process of interrogation in this place, which is the only place in the country where antagonistic policies and their spokesmen can meet face to face. The right hon. Gentleman has been described justly as the protagonist of the piece, but he has many able "understudies" in and outside the Government, and there is special reason and special relevance for 1378 pressing one or two of these inquiries. Ministers who sit on that Bench may talk about retaliation until the crack of doom—which, I suppose, is another way of describing the next general election—though there does not appear to be a single man among them capable of defining it in intelligible language; but it is not retaliation, but protection; it is not the Sheffield enigma, it is the Birmingham policy which interests, and will continue to interest, the electors of the country. They care little or nothing what the policy or the avowed policy of His Majesty's Goverment may be. I will tell the Government why. Because they have the best reasons for doubting whether the Government as they sit on that Bench are strong enough to have a policy of their own, whether they are strong enough to adhere to it, and, above all, whether they are strong enough to compel the allegiance to it of the Party which sits behind them.
I am not going to rehearse the catalogue of my futile inquiries. I shall confine my interrogations to-night to two points, as to which it appears to me the policy of the right hon. Member for Birmingham and the avowed or official policy of His Majesty's Government rest on common ground. The first question is this. The common assumption which underlies both is that our trade, and especially our trade over sea, exhibits signs, not perhaps of immediate decay, but of imminent and serious danger. Every one knows the now classical phrase of the right hon. Member for Birmingham—the trade of the United Kingdom has been practically stagnant for 30 years. Now, the question I have to ask of those who entertain that view, and make it the basis of the various stages of the policy for fiscal change now before the country, is when and how was this discovery made? I am not going back to ancient history, I am not going back to 1881, to 1885, or even to 1896, I shall come to a date as recent as January, 1902—that is to say, sixteen months before the new crusade was started, and only two years from the time at which we are met here to-night—and I want to ask the attention of the House to some language which was used by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham himself in the city of Birmingham on 6th January, 1902. The House will see in a moment 1379 the relevancy of the question I put. The right hon. Gentleman said—I have lately seen a good deal of discussion in the papers about the crisis in British industry. Well, if the crisis means an imminent and pressing danger, I think the accounts are altogether exaggerated. I see no signs of any imminent or pressing danger to the prosperity of this country. During the last five years'—That is, within the thirty years—we have enjoyed an absolutely unparalleled condition of trade, and although we cannot expect that this will last for ever, although there are some signs that trade is not so brisk as it was, still, to my mind, the prospects are extremely good, and I am not at all disposed to take a pessimistic view of the situation.This, at the time when glass was gone, when silk had disappeared, when iron was going, and when wool was threatened! Yes, but the right hon. Gentleman does see some signs of possible danger, and how does he propose it should be met?—In order to keep the trade we have got, in order that we may develop in proportion as our population increases, employers and employed must do their utmost, they must not go back, ward, they must keep alive to the spirit of the times …. Employers have to bring to bear more scientific intelligence to the management of their business.That is the doctrine of the pedants and lawyers whose testimony is scouted, as we know, by the Secretary of the Board of Trade and other practical men of business. This is the despised Charlottenburg policy—The old rule of thumb methods will not last for ever; and in the presence"—Of what? tariffs? not at all.of the development of science abroad, it is perfectly certain that we shall suffer seriously, unless our manufacturers take advantage of the opportunities afforded to them to bring the highest theoretical knowledge into combination with practical experience.Then the right hon. Gentleman goes on to the workman's side of the question and makes a complaint of what he conceives to be the retrograde methods of trades unions. Here is the conclusion of the whole matter, which I adopt as part of my argument. It is the best statement of the case I have ever read—I have ventured to give advice to the employers to take advantage of the opportunities provided for them to develop their brains. I venture to advise the working classes of this country also to take advantage of their special opportunities to develop the product of their labour. If these two conditions are fulfilled. I for one am perfectly confident that there is no 1380 fear for the future, no fear that we shall take an inferior position to that of our ancestors, no fear that we shall not meet competition from whatever quarter it comes, that we shall not meet the rivalries of all the world.I ask the House, in view of these wise and weighty words, uttered not in a remote past, but two years ago, does not the whole of this movement, as far as it is put forward in the supposed interests of domestic trade, assume the aspect of a farce? What has happened since January, 1902? Two years have passed. The right hon. Gentleman himself said in his speech at Liverpool that 1902 was one of the best years British trade had ever known, and 1903 is now known as a record year in the whole history of the industry of this country. ["No."] I am speaking of the Board of Trade Returns, and yet we are now assured from the same quarter, by the same voice, that only by a fiscal revolution, and by a return to the stalest devices of protection, can we preserve our decaying trade, and what is more, our dissolving Empire. The right hon. Gentleman would say, if he were here, that he is entitled to change his views. But what we are protesting against is the assumption which underlies his speeches and those of many of his supporters, that because he has changed his views, therefore the facts of history and the rules of logic and the processes of arithmetic and the very laws of nature herself have undergone a simultaneous and corresponding change. At the Council of Constance the Emperor Sigismund, being pulled up for a false concord in a Latin allocution which he addressed to the assembled prelates, made a reply which is famous in history—Ego sum Rex Romanorum et supra grammaticam. I think that a somewhat similar claim is being made for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, only his superiority is alleged to extend over a far wider field than that claimed by the Holy Roman Emperor.
I come to the other point as to which I desire a little further light, and it relates to the proposed import duty of 10 per cent. on manufactures that come from outside. That was originally proposed, as we know, to fill up the hole in the revenue which would be caused by the suggested remissions of taxation on sugar and tea. But it was not a revenue duty. 1381 Why? Because, if it had been, a corresponding Excise duty would have been proposed on the same articles manufactured at home; in other words, it was avowedly a protective duty. If there is one thing that is axiomatic in fiscal theory and practice it is this, that you cannot combine in one and the same imposition a revenue and a protective duty. Just to the extent that it is efficient for one purpose it is inefficient for the other. If it succeeds in bringing in revenue, of course, it fails to protect. On the other hand, if it succeeds in protecting, it follows as a necessary consequence that it does not bring in revenue. Every; speaker on the other side has tried to run this duty of 10 per cent. both as one thing and the other. They have really got two horses running in diametrically opposite directions, and they must elect on which saddle they will sit. I was surprised that the Colonial Secretary, in the course of his speech the other night, suggested that the late Liberal Cabinet were prevented from protesting against the protective character of this proposed duty because we had assented to an import duty of 5 per cent. in the Indian tariff. Was that a protective duty? Had my right hon. friend when he made that charge, which is not very relevant to any question in this debate, read the despatch from the Government of India on 22nd October last, included in the Papers lately presented to the House? I will read the words of the Government of India—In respect of imports the Indian tariff, as you are aware, with one or two unimportant exceptions, imposes duties purely for revenue purposes. It is entirely free from any trace of preference and any protective intention.Neither in fact nor in intention is it protective.
§ * THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (Mr. LYTTELTON,) Warwick and Leamington
My statement was made entirely with reference to a remark made by the right hon. Member for the Montrose Burghs, that in agreeing with Mr. Charles Booth that an all-round 5 per cent. duty was a possible matter for discussion at any rate, I subjected myself to be called a protectionist. I said that inasmuch as that was the Indian fiscal system the 1382 right hon. Gentleman and all his colleagues were subject to the same imputation.
§ * MR. ASQUITH
That is exactly what is not the case, and this can be shown by a very simple test. Will Mr. Charles Booth, or my right hon. friend, in so far as he adopts his scheme, agree to the imposition of a corresponding Excise duty on all articles produced in this country on which the 5 per cent. import duty is imposed? That is a fair test.
§ * MR. ASQUITH
I recommend the hon. Gentleman to read the despatch; he will find all the information there. Cotton is the most important, but there are many others. I wish to ask one or two questions with reference to this 10 per cent. import duty. Is it intended to apply to colonial as well as to foreign products? Is it intended to be an equal preference for all industries here or a privilege only for some? Agriculture cannot gain any benefit from it at all. What about the cotton trade? We manufacture here every year, partly for export and partly for the home market. £100,000,000 of cotton goods. Our imports are £5,000,000. What about the shipbuilding trade, and the building trade, which employs 1,000,000 of workpeople in this country? No one of these trades can derive any advantage from import duties, while, on the other hand, there are ingredients imported which enter into their manufacturing processes, the cheapness of which is absolutely vital to the successful and profitable carrying on of their work. Iron, steel, leather, oil, and flour will all be increased in price. I say that this duty is unintelligent in conception, unequal in application; it protects one trade, and not only does not protect but penalises another; and, finally, as an instrument of revenue it can only succeed to the extent in which it fails as an instrument of protection.
I should like to deal now with a serious and interesting argument put forward by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. The Colonial Secretary suggested that our factory legislation—legislation for the protection of labour against insanitary conditions—is inconsistent with the 1383 doctrine of free trade, that it increases the cost of production here, and therefore justifies a compensatory protection as against other countries. This is a very important point. What I wish to make perfectly clear is our position in this matter. How does my right hon. friend attempt to show any inconsistency between the two things? Only by the assumption that our free-trade system is an affirmation and that our factory laws are a negation of some abstract doctriue of laissez faire. That is not the case. The people of this country became free-traders, and will continue to be free-traders, not through the preaching of dogma, but through the teaching of experience. I quite agree with my right hon. friend that some of the early free-traders did not recognise the fact (though it is a great mistake to suppose that Lord Ashley was supported by protectionists only); but the real fact is that our factory legislation and our free-trade system are the proper complements of one another. Why? Because both are necessary to prevent an uneconomic, which means a wasteful, application and distribution of the productive power of the community. Under protection we wasted labour and capital on making things which other people could make better; and under the old factory system of unregulated labour you wasted the lives and strength of the mothers and children of the nation, and by so doing you crippled its productive resources, power and contaminated the very springs of its industrial vitality. It was the part of wise statesmanship to get rid both of the one and of the other. But that is a question of principle. Let us look at the practical application. Does it, as my right hon. friend assumes, increase the cost of production? I absolutely deny it. On the contrary, I assert, and I believe it to be borne out by the experience of every civilised country, that the workman is a more efficient productive instrument, that he does a larger quantity of good work in a given time, if he works under sanitary conditions, with an adequate provision of light, air, and ventilation, and with proper safeguards against the risk of injury from machinery and oilier causes. I say that if the children are sent to school—as, thank Heaven, they are now—in their tender years, instead 1384 of being sent to the factory; if the girls and women who work are compelled to observe the special precautions proper to their sex—I say that the extra expense involved is more than repaid by a sounder, more robust, and more intelligent industrial population. My right hon. friend quotes a passage from a speech of mine in which I pointed out that the German workman works longer hours at lower wages, and with an inferior standard of comfort to our own population. That is perfectly true. [An HON. MEMBER: No factory system.] That interruption shows with how much knowledge the hon. Member speaks. The factory code in Germany is more elaborate than our own; and the real reason for the inferior position of the German workman is not a bad factory code, but protection—the shutting out of the free influx of imports and the partial closing of the door of the open market, which raises the cost of living, and therefore cuts down the real remuneration of labour. While I have listened to this discussion I have thought that there was a great deal of force in the suggestion put forward somewhere that we should put together as an enduring monument of the debate a short manual of protection for beginners, the first principles of which should be taken from the speeches of the Colonial Secretary, and the illustrations from the speeches of the Secretary to the Board of Trade. In odd moments I have endeavoured to construct for myself one or two pages of this imaginary catechism, and with the permission of the House I will give a few extracts—The first question is, "What is free trade?" And the answer is "A Shibboleth." "By whom was it invented?" "By one Adam Smith, a professor, who had probably never set foot in a factory in his life. A later writer, Carlyle, is a much safer guide." "How, then, did it come to be adopted as part of the policy of this country?" "Through the machinations of a middle-class conspiracy headed by one Cobdcn, whose main object was to lower the wages of labour." "How has the superstition managed to survive?" "Because there are people simple enough and short-sighted enough to imagine that in foreign trade it is well to receive more than you give." "Can you give a practical illustration of this?" "Since the year 18(50 the imports into the United Kingdom have exceeded the exports, according to the Board of Trade Returns, by no less than £4,000,000,000 sterling." "What does that mean? Translate it into terms of wages and employment." "Roughly speaking, the loss in wages to British workmen is £2,000,000,000 sterling." "How then have we 1385 escaped ruin?" "By the mercy of Providence." "And how are we to set ourselves right?" "We must wait for the Report of the Tariff Commission.I ask, is that a caricature of the arguments that have been used? [Cries of "No, no!"]
As to this topic of retaliation, there are some Gentlemen, I gather, who are going to absolve themselves selves from the duty of voting for the Amendment because they fancy that they can discern in the official policy of retaliation some form of fiscal change which would not involve a return to protection. The right hon. Member for Bristol said pointedly that he was going to support retaliation because it was a step in the opposite direction to protection. I fancy that nine out of every ten of those who support retaliation will be those who support it because they think it is the first and a long step on the road towards protection. We are entitled to come to close quarters with the Government on this subject of retaliation. Hitherto they have avoided all intelligible explanation on a two-fold plea—first, the absence of the Prime Minister, upon which I think no more need be said; and, secondly, the supposed example of Mr. Gladstone. Mr. Gladstone is said to have declined to disclose in advance some of the particulars in his Home Rule Bill, especially the position which the Irish Members were to hold. I can speak freely in this matter, because I was one of those who strongly urged upon Mr. Gladstone publicly that he should make the disclosure. But to compare that with the situation of to-day is to make an enormous draft on the credulity of this House. The real analogy would have been if Mr. Gladstone had asked for a mandate for Home Rule, without saying whether he meant to apply it to Ireland or to Scotland. I will ask the right hon. Gentleman who is to follow me two questions. First, what is the nature and what are the limits of the power which the Government are going to ask the country to confer on them? And, secondly, what is the kind of use which they contemplate making of the power so conferred? The first is a constitutional, and the second is an economic question; and a plain answer to both is essential to a clear understanding of the subject. First as to the power. 1386 It is a truism to say that any Minister may at any time come to the House of Commons to ask their assent to any measure, legislative, administrative, or fiscal, for which he has a producible and provable case. But it is said that this power is dormant or is unavailable in fiscal policy owing to inveterate tradition. But is it? This House was elected in 1900. Will anyone pretend that it was part of the mandate given by the electors in 1900 to make any change of any sort or kind in our fiscal system? But what have we done? In the year 1902, without any mandate or demand for further powers, we imposed what many of us believe to be a protective duty on corn, in direct violation of our fiscal traditions for many years past. And in 1903 we took the longest and strongest step that has ever been taken in the direction of this policy of retaliation in the shape of the Sugar Convention. In the face of these facts patent recent and notorious, how can, any one say—if a case can be made out to the satisfaction of the majority of the House of Commons; and I think a bad case was made out in both those instances—that the Government have not at this moment every power that any constitutional Minister could require? I must press for a more specific answer than we have yet got to the question put by my right hon. friend the Leader of the Opposition on the first night of the session —If you are not satisfied with that power, that is to say, the power of dealing ad hoc with the question as it arise;, subject to the assent of the House of Commons what is the character of the new powers with which you propose to clothe] yourselves? They must take the form of some kind of general legislation—it may be subject to restrictions; I do not know what—but that general legislation, if it is to be effectively and practically worked for the objects which the Government profess to have in view, will have, sooner or later, to take the form which it has taken in every foreign protectionist country—of placing in the hands of the Executive a maximum and a minimum tariff and allowing it to apply the one or the other according to the circumstances of the case. We want to know whether that is the proposal which the Government are going to submit to the House. The second question is. 1387 What use are you going to make of this power? I want to have presented, what we have not yet had, an actual concrete case. We hear a great deal of talk about conceivable cases, of outrageous injustice and so forth; I want an actual concrete case. Will the right hon. Gentleman give me such a case I Let him give me an outrageous duty in existence now. Tell me by whom it is imposed; whether it is directed primarily or specially against us, or only against us in common with all the other countries in the world with whom the country imposing the duty is in actual or possible competition. Tell me what is the line your reprisals are going to take? Are they to be only against the commodity which the duty in question favours, or are they to be against the whole import trade of the country imposing it?
There is this question of dumping. How are you going to deal with dumping? Take the case of iron, which was taken by the Secretary to the Board of Trade. Is it only against dumped iron—that is, iron sold here at a lower price than in the country of origin—that you are going to retaliate I If so, you may go great lengths; for let us never forget that it is of the essence of protection to sell dear at home and cheap abroad. How are you going to find out whether it is dumped or not? Are you going to put your retaliatory duty on all goods which are sold here cheaper than they are sold in the country in which they are produced? Are you going to put it on, even although the dumping may be the result of the temporary action of a syndicate or combination of producers, or are you only going to put it on when there is a direct bounty given in the country of origin? And in that case, let me ask, are you going to discriminate between our Colonies and foreign countries?
I apologise to the House for enumerating such a series of dry and technical questions, but they are the practical questions upon which the political wisdom and fiscal efficacy of retaliation really depend. I venture to point out once more—as has been pointed out by many hon. Members who have preceded me—first, that in point of fact the countries which 1388 have the power of retaliation, and use it, have not fared any better than ourselves in dealing with protected markets: secondly, that you cannot effectively carry out your policy of retaliation, as was admitted by the President of the Board of Trade, against our most serious competitors, or some of them—certainly not against the United States of America—unless you tax both food and raw-materials; and, thirdly, that, as all experience shows, the duty which begins by being retaliatory and provisional almost invariably ends by being protective and permanent. I should like before I conclude to give one illustration to the House of the spirit in which it appears to me this power of retaliation is likely to be used if entrusted to the present Government. I could take many, but I will take by way of illustration some words which fell from the Chief Secretary at Edinburgh in the month of November last, the most remarkable speech that I have read in the whole of this discussion. First of all—it is not exactly the point, but it is interesting to note—the right hon. Gentleman deprecated the magnitude of our foreign investments. He said that they were a sign of industrial decay. Why?In this country,he said,any man with £10,000 or £20,000 would hardly ever dream of putting it into any industrial enterprise at all.I wonder how we manage to live.What does he do? He invests it abroad, believing that it is not safe to invest it at home.That is pretty serious, but, serious as it is, it is nothing to the tragic consequences which the right hon. Gentleman has discovered to flow from the glut of imports. Let me read this passage—Great Britain, after sixty years of unmitigated free imports was a good place for drones, but let them not mistakeI ask particular attention to these wordslet them not mistake the contented lullaby of the surfeited consumer for the busy murmur of the working hive.Well, in all the rhetoric of the recess, copious and variegated as it has been, this sentence seems to me to be a gem that scintillates with unique and incomparable radiance. "The contented lullaby of the surfeited consumer!" Apart from 1389 the context the House might perhaps imagine that this was the picturesque description by a special reporter of the state of things which prevail when the loyal and patriotic toasts are proposed at the conclusion of a civic banquet. No, it is a description by a Minister of the Crown of the condition of British trade in the year 1903. "The busy murmur of the working hive!" It is to be found apparently only in countries with a scientific tariff, while we here, we poor Englishmen and Scotchmen and Irishmen, with our lamentable and pertinacious excess of imports over exports, we are a nation of drones feeding idly upon the honey which is benevolently and, I presume, gratuitously provided for us by the eccentric foreigner. What does it all mean? Is this House, is this country, going to put the weapon of retaliation into the hands of gentlemen like the Chief Secretary, who think our foreign investments a proof of domestic insecurity, and who regard the magnitude of our imports as the measure of our industrial lethargy? But every argument which the right hon. Gentleman and many of his colleagues have used, when it comes to be analysed and examined, is seen to be an argument not for retaliation, not for any halfway house, not for any intermediate step, but for full-blown and uncompromising protection.
This Amendment of my right hon. friend raises a clear issue. It condemns any return to protective duties, and, in face of the language of Ministers which I have read and criticised, can any one say that such a declaration by the House of Commons is not opportune and indeed urgent? For aught I know we are going to-night—I do not know whether the Chief Secretary or the Home Secretary is to be the transforming hand—we are going to have another tilt of the see-saw, possibly renewed assurances of the unshaken devotion of the Government to the principles of free trade. Sir, I venture to say to the House that the question whether the present Ministers are safe custodians of the citadel of free trade is a question which cannot be settled by the utterances of perturbed and bewildered Ministers in the throes of a Parliamentary crisis, 1390 You must look to their whole conduct and attitude since the controversy was raised nine months ago—the period of unsettled convictions, the so-called inquiry, the Prime Minister's benediction to the departing missionary, the open patronage which has been extended to the propaganda of the autumn, the promises which have been given even in this debate of electoral support to itsadherents. I submit to the House that it is not to such hands as these that the fortunes of free trade can safely be committed. For my part I think that the Government have been guilty of the vulgar error of being too clever by half. They have played, or tried to play, a game which in the long run never succeeds with the people of this country, a game of manœuvre and mystification. Ever since last May they have been trifling with the nation, just as to-night they are trying to trifle with the House of Commons. What up to now has been the result of a policy so alien to the best traditions of our public life? One has only got to look opposite to see—a discredited Ministry and a divided Party. The country is showing by evidence which cannot be misinterpreted—the last instalment came no later than two days ago from a hitherto impregnable stronghold of Toryism—the country is showing that it realises that in this matter there is one issue and only one, the issue between free trade upon the one side and protection upon the other. That issue is presented to this House to-night; let it by its vote anticipate the verdict of the nation.
§ * THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. WYNDHAM,) Dover
Before the speech was delivered to which I have to reply, a request was made to me by my hon. friend the Member for Durham with which I can very easily comply—namely, that I should not be ingenious and clever in my reply. I shall speak directly on the subject which I believe to be before this House, and I draw the attention of my hon. friend to the fact that, whatever else it may have been—eloquent and forcible as his speeches always are—the speech to which we have just listened from the right hon. Gentleman was chiefly characterised by its cleverness and 1391 by its ingenuity, with the purpose, ably followed from start to finish, of drawing me away from answering the request made to me by the hon. Gentleman, of distracting the attention of my hon. friend from the issue which is before the House, and of putting into everybody's mind the idea that we are debating the merits of protection against free trade. He dismissed the Amendment in the opening sentence, and towards the close of his speech he culled perhaps a too gaudy flower of rhetoric which decorated one of my own deliverances. I am not, however, going to be drawn into repeating or defending speeches which I have made [Ironical OPPOSITION cheers], and I am not to be deterred by ironical cheers from speaking as a Minister for my colleagues in definition and in defence of the policy of the Government. I repudiate altogether the absurd interpretation which the right hon. Gentleman has placed on my Edinburgh speech. Are we to be debarred from remarking on the emigration of British capital? Why, Mill himself puts it in the very forefront of his chapter on the taxation of commodities, and points out as one matter which ought to be considered in any inquiry into the working of taxation that with low profits the tendency of British capital will be more and more to go into foreign investments or to be swept away, and he prophesied that that would be the future tendency. I do not accept the interpretation placed by the right hon. Gentleman on my Edinburgh speech, or on many speeches which have been made in this House; but what has become of the anxiety of the mover of this Amendment for British trade? The right hon. and learned Member at an earlier period of his speech invited me if I followed him to defend, not only the policy, but the speeches of my right hon. friend the Member for West Birmingham and he quoted a speech of two years ago—I only touch upon these questions because he made it a point against the Government —and asked us, "When did you become uneasy over the state of British Trade?" will take up that point. I will give another quotation out of that speech, and beg my hon. friends to listen to it—We are face to face with a tremendous and strenuous competition; we have to hold our own against other nations, not too friendly; and it 1392 is for us a first necessity that we should find new markets and develop them, and that we should keep open old markets. If other nations were as liberal as we are in our commercial relations the burden would be much less.Is there, I ask, any justification for the view which the right hon. Member has tried to impose upon the intelligence of my hon. friends that we have raised this question as a mere electioneering cry, and that we are not deeply concerned for the future prospects of British trade? The policy of the Government—and I had better state it in a manner which I think befits the statement of a policy not before the country, but announced as being the policy which the Government will submit to the electorate, that is to say in its broad outlines, but without any doubt in the terms which I use or any possibility of the words I use being susceptible of doubtful interpretation. The Government does ask this country that we should resume the freedom of negotiation for the purpose of attaining commercial advantages, which as a matter of historic fact has not been in the hands of any Government since the year 1860. We say that, in the event of such negotiations proving abortive, there must he an effective sanction behind those negotiations, we say that that sanction ought not to be used and will not be used by us except subject to the effective control of the House of Commons over the financial policy of this country We also add that it should be liberated from the rigour of traditional restriction which has, as a matter of fact, strangled every diplomatic effort we have made and notoriously prevented a commercial arrangement with France, to effect which M. Léon Say came to this country as Ambassador in 1880. What ground have the Government advanced for asking that this new departure should be made? The first reason which we have advanced is that there is a growing uneasiness over the condition of British trade in relation to the trade of other countries. Are hon. Gentlemen opposite free from any anxiety upon that score? Why does the mover of this Amendment abide in this House by words which he has used in the country and still say, as I believe he does, that it is a matter of vital necessity to us that other countries should come round to the policy of the open door? Are we to attach no importance to the fact? I am taunted by the right hon. Gentleman who 1393 has just spoken with attaching no importance to the imports which come into Great Britain. There is no foundation for such a taunt, but if we are not only to accept the speeches made from hon. Members opposite, but to take note also of the reception with which certain remarks have met, we might say they think that exports from this country are of no value to this country. Look at the travesty of argument in which the right hon. Gentleman has thought fit to indulge. It is a fact that the average value of the exports per head of this country has not risen in recent years. It is a fact that by comparison with other countries, if we look more particularly to the export of manufactured articles, we can show for this country no elasticity at all comparable with that which has been exhibited by other countries. It is a fact, if we look at the distribution of the exports from this country, that they are suffering because of hostile tariffs. That is asserted in the Blue-book to which so much reference has been made. Upon page 16 of that Blue-book occur the words—There can be no doubt as to the effect of these hostile tariffs in checking the export trade of this country.The right hon. Gentleman declares that in my opinion imports are of no value. I have never said anything of the kind. Imports are of enormous value. In that very speech at Edinburgh I took pride in the amount of our imports, but what I did say was that if the amount of our imports continued to increase that was no consolation for stagnation and lack of elasticity in our exports. I held then, and hold now, and the Government hold, that it is not wise to look only to returns from your investments abroad, and because they are great, and you are glad they are great, to take no account of this lack of rebound and lack of progress in your export trade. Then it is legitimate, holding that view — the view which has been announced only recently by the Duke of Devonshire, who said—The existing tariffs of other nations have inflicted, and do inflict, great injuries upon some of our fellow-citizens"—to look for a remedy? Is the remedy which we advocate of too drastic a character for the difficulties with which this country is confronted? I recollect very well a 1394 significant criticism that was passed upon the late Lord Salisbury for having failed to protect the cotton trade of this country with Madagascar. At that time the value of our cotton exports to Madagascar fell in consequence of the French annexation from £116,000 to £6,000 worth. Lord Salisbury was criticised because that result had not been averted. How could it have been averted? By diplomatic representations? If they had failed the sanction in that case would be war. May not a similar object be sought by diplomatic negotiations, and must not those negotiations have a sanction—not the terrible sanction of war, but the sanction of imposing some duties upon imports from other countries which will make them realise that we are entitled to some consideration at their hands? I welcome this debate chiefly because it has revealed the fact that there is already a deep line of demarcation between hon. Gentlemen opposite and those of us who sit upon these Benches. What is their attitude towards the injuries which have been inflicted on the trade of this country, and what is their attitude towards the remedy we recommend to the country? Do they think it suitable to the occasion to call any Member who speaks from this Bench a protectionist if he recites the facts and the figures which could alone justify the pessimism of the right hon. Gentleman who moved this Amendment? They avoid, except in the concluding words of the speech to which we have just listened, any criticism of the policy of the Government, and almost exclusively confine their attacks to the policy which has been promulgated by my right hon. friend the Member for West Birmingham. I was asked in a speech delivered this afternoon to state categorically what are my views on a 10 per cent. duty all round, or an average duty of 10 per cent, That is no part of the policy of the Government.
Sir, almost the only speech which has in the course of this debate been directed to attacking the policy of the Government was the speech, the very able and witty speech, of the hon. Member for Carnarvon. It opened with a coruscating shower of jests, but it was the only speech really delivered against the policy of the 1395 Government, and it was not a criticism of the speeches of those who have left the Government; but when he came to the policy of retaliation his objection to it was this. If you bring any pressure to bear on Germany, for instance, Germany will hit us back. We now suffer, without naming any particular country, from hostile tariffs ranging from 25 per cent. in the case of Germany to 75 per cent. in the case of the United States and 131 per cent. in the case of Russia. We suffer from these hostile tariffs. We are being hit by them; and are we to be told that we are to make no diplomatic representations on these points? The hon. Member concluded that part of his speech by saying that the protectionists are the funkers. What is to be said of those who will not stand up for the interests of their fellow-subjects against another Power? Here is Germany who will hit back, and, indeed, I scarcely exaggerate when I declare that we are being warned off even looking into the damage inflicted by these hostile tariffs lest we should be seized with the temptation to deal with them. We are not to inquire. We are not to hit back. This country, in fact, is to be cast in the dignified role of playing in a sort of combination between running the gauntlet and blind man's buff. We alone are to wear the bandage, and we are to accept the stripes. I agree that the policy of retaliation would be futile in the hands of hon. Gentlemen like the hon. Member for Carnarvon or right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I agree in that because we can very well forecast the way in which they would use such a weapon from the speeches they have made in the course of this debate and from the reception given by them to other speeches. When my right hon. friend the Member for Croydon said that retaliation was not theoretically unsound, there was not a cheer from the Opposition, and when he went on to declare that the tin plate trade had been severely injured and for a time destroyed by hostile tariffs—dead silence. When he ventured to apply the epithet "barbarous" to a tariff of 131 per cent. ad valorem, against the exports of this country an uneasy expression of dissent began to make itself heard on the Benches opposite; but when he, or, more notably, the right hon. Baronet who sits for Berwick, went on to 1396 explain at great length that negotiations for the purpose of securing greater advantages were extremely difficult, that retaliation was a perplexing, a forbidding policy, why then our political antagonists cheered up, and when the argument was developed, and we were told that, even if we surmounted those difficulties and did apply retaliation, we should inflict a greater injury on ourselves than on the nation with whom we were negotiating, then they burst into transports of joy. Therefore I am justified in saying that such a weapon would be a somewhat futile equipment in the hands of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberdeen, in order to show how difficult such a matter would be of accomplishment, stated that no Government would, or should, move any duty up or down—and I mark that—without the authority of Parliament. More than that, that it would not enter into any engagements to move a duty up or down without the authority of Parliament. Then does the right hon. Gentleman condemn the Cob den treaty? I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that no Government ought to enter into any engagement which would end in putting a duty up or down without the authorisation of Parliament. Now that is a very important point, and I take it up because the question was put deliberately to me by the right hon. Gentleman who spoke last. Of course, a Government entering into diplomatic negotiations must be at liberty to state what it will do in certain events, but the treaty arrived at will be subject to the control of this House if the effective control of Parliament if the financial policy of this country is to be preserved. In the ease of the Cobden treaty the negotiations took place in the year before—1859—and in the "Life of Mr. Gladstone" written by the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment we read that there was some perturbation in the Cabinet over this project of entering into negotiations for altering certain duties without the knowledge of Parliament. But these fears did not weigh with the Cabinet of the day and the treaty was concluded, and what was the result? Why, in, I think, Mr. Gladstone's words, France was persuaded to lower her duties on a number 1397 of articles of British production and export, and more especially on iron, which Cobden called the daily bread of other industries. If it was legitimate— and it was legitimate—in 1860 for the Cabinet without the knowlege of Parliament to enter into diplomatic relations with another country and to state that it was the policy of that Government to alter certain duties and thereby get a reduction of duties on articles of British production and export, is it illegitimate to-day to do the same thing? [HON. MEMBERS, "No:"] It is not illegitimate. Then are we to understand that it was legitimate to repeal those duties and that it is not legitimate to say that unless you are met in a fair manner you will impose duties? Because that is what the policy of the Government proposes to do. We shall proceed with negotiations. I may say, in order to reply to the right. hon Gentleman, that negotiations are likely to be embarrassed if, before negotiation begins, Ministers are asked to state, step by step, all the arguments that will be used. Negotiations begin with nothing more than a bland smile and a warm welcome, and they are embarrassed if any further indications are given; and certainly, when I am sneaking for a Government which believes in a policy of retaliation and intend to take up that policy in earnest, I shall not be drawn away by the questions of the right hon. Gentleman, and unfold to him an imaginative forecast of the exact language which Lord Lansdowne may or may not use in three or four years' time with this or that country.
Either the House trusts the Government or it does not trust the Government. This is not a speculative debate upon the comparative virtues of free trade and vices of protection. It is a vote of no confidence. We should be going very far in a debate on the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech from the Throne if we came down to the House and stated what a policy will include which is only going to be submitted to the country at the next general election. Sir, is it or is it not desirable that steps should be taken to abate the hostile tariffs which are imposed against the exports of this country? Is that a matter of real neccessity or is it not? A great many 1398 of us are in agreement, in closer agreement than some suppose, upon many aspects of this problem. We are all agreed that this country must import every year a great deal of food and a great deal of raw material. We are agreed, not so closely, but still very closely, that, in addition to the enormous money value of food and raw material, we must import into this country many appliances for saving labour and many half-manufactured articles and so forth, and that we must pay for these imports. How are we to pay for them? Very largely by our exports, if not wholly. Then we have to place our exports, and having placed these exports, being obliged by the very geographical peculiarities of this country to place these exports in order to get the imports, is it or is it not a cruel disadvantage to this country that outrageous tariffs should be imposed against them? I know there are fanatics in this matter. I know it, because there are some people who seem to think that a very high tariff is an advantage to the country against whose goods it is imposed—that it does so much harm to the country which puts it on as to be comparatively an advantage to the country on which it is imposed. We all know that the exporting country has to pay a certain amount of these duties. I have said there are some fanatics. Will they accept "Mill's Study of Political Economy" in a matter of that kind? He says those are right who say that a portion of an export duty is paid by the country bringing in the imports. That was his opinion, and that is the opinion of the Government. In any case, we believe that a tariff of 73 per cent., or 25 per cent., or 30 per cent. against the articles we must export places a tax on the whole of our community. It cuts down the profits of our manufacturers, and tends to lower the wages of the working classes. That is the reason, the first reason, which we advance for asking the country to authorise the resumption of freedom in our commercial negotiations. But we have a second reason, also announced by the Prime Minister, and that was that the sense of our helplessness was being borne in upon our minds in the face of any repetition of such a menace as that which was 1399 directed to Canada at the hands of the German Government.
We held, and we do hold, that the right of retalaition will prevent the repetition of any such menace. I have said what the policy of the Government includes. I was invited by my hon. friend the Member for Durham to define our policy not only inclusively but exclusively and not to make a rhetorical speech, no one will accuse me of doing that—but to give a straight answer to the straight question which he has put. Well, Sir, the policy of the Government does not include taxation for the mere purpose of fostering home industries which are subjected to legitimate competition. I am asked what about dumping. Is that legitimate competition? I am not going to make a speech about dumping, we know that it inflicts a severe injury upon many classes in this population, we know-that beyond the injury it inflicts it aggravates the sense of injury; it aggravates the feeling of antagonism fomented throughout this country against the treatment which we receive from other countries, and we say, and we know, that the process of dumping is facilitated by the erection of high tariff walls, and therefore to those who complain, and naturally and legitimately complain, of dumping, we say that our remedy will, bring them some redress, that if retaliation leads, as we believe it will lead, to the lowering of tariff walls, then the evil of dumping will also be mitigated. And I will say no more on the subject of large taxes imposed for the protection of manufacturers. It is not part of the policy of His Majesty's Government. The policy of the Government does not include a preferential system of trade with our colonies involving the taxation of food or raw material.
§ * MR. WYNDHAM
I am not playing with words. I hear an hon. Gentleman say What about the Colonial Secretary" I am stating the position of the Government upon this matter, and I hold that the eloquent speech of my right hon. friend stands in no need of apology or of explanation. He says, as every man who has spoken from this Bench has said, that the policy of the Government did not 1400 include preferential trade with our Colonies involving taxation of food. This has been said by the Prime Minister again and again and by every one of his colleagues who has spoken from this Bench. But are Members therefore not at liberty to safeguard this country against the misinterpretation, for that is what it comes to? Having to define our policy I do deprecate the use of any language in this House which can be heard in our colonies and, above all, in Canada, to mean that we are insensible to what my right hon. friend the Member for West Bristol called the enormous value of the sentiment which underlies the idea of colonial preference. I deprecate the use of any such language, and I would even say to the right hon. Gentleman opposite that I was sorry to read his reference to the "so-called" preference in Canada. He ought not to look such a gift horse in the mouth.
§ * MR. WYNDHAM
I am not aware that the late Colonial Secretary ever applied the phrase "so-called" to the Canadian preference, and what I refer to is the application of this epithet to the colonial preference, which I regret, and which is liable to be misinterpreted by Canada. That preference has been of great value to trade. Sir, not only do I deprecate the use of language which might be misunderstood in our Colonies, but I say that we should also use language which will avoid any chance of misapprehension here, and if such a course was legitimate in a Member of the House it is above all legitimate in a member of the Cabinet who is pledged to exclude colonial preference not only as a policy for this year but as a policy which it will submit to the country at the next election. I am not therefore to be drawn into attacks made upon my right hon. friend for the speech which he delivered. We are concerned to lay down a policy which the Government will propose before the next election; that is our duty, and if I may say so, our attitude towards colonial preference, and our attitude also consists in not including in the policy of the Government, but in avoiding any language-which would give umbrage to colonial 1401 sentiment. Well, that Sir, again will bring us to the deep line of demarcation which now, as a rule, exists between the Benches opposite and these Benches, We do not make jokes and indulge in gibes about Imperial dumping; for my part if Canada places goods on our market in a manner that would be resented if so placed by another country; I would not look too curiously on that. I should distinguish between the blood relation and the keen business competitor. I should say that the methods of suasion which hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite advocate for all countries are appropriate methods for brother members in the British Empire; but that we at any rate, decline to regard the Colonies as in all matters upon exactly the same basis as foreign competitors. If we talk about the Throne and the Flag that is supposed to be high-falutin' and rhodomontade, but we have a Foreign Office for the Colonies as Well as ourselves, an Army and Navy; is it not absurd to incur those heavy expenses for these common services, and then to say that in matters of trade you are only entitled to treat your colonies as foreign competitors? No preference to the Colonies involving taxation of food or of raw materials, but I hope now and ever in this country the warmest possible feeling towards the Colonies, the greatest gratitude for the sacrifice they have made in a common cause.
Time presses, but if I may I would come for a moment to the Amendment which is before us in order to consider its real import. I hope I have been right in stating the policy of the Government; I have stated it with all the amplitude which can reasonably be demanded of me, when I am dealing not with the details of a policy which is not before the House, but with the broad outline and direction of the policy which will be submitted to the country. I have stated it with all the precision that can be reasonably asked for if I am not to embarrass the course of future negotiation and discount the value of the sanction which may be obtained for that negotiation. Consider what this Amendment is. Its first proposition is a vote of censure dressed up to make that fact appear less apparent than it is. The second proposition is a historical judgment; very interesting I daresay to 1402 historical societies, but not so interesting to us. The third proposition is a statement of economic belief. We are not the Cobden Club. The first proposition and the first alone contains a censure; it throws upon us the onus of destroying and impairing the value of contributions which hon. Gentlemen would otherwise make to the discussion of the Budget which they have not seen and which they know on the word of the Prime Minister will deviate by not one jot from the settled condition and practice of the last quarter of a century. It is absurd to ask us to consider that Amendment in any other light than as a blow aimed at the heart of the Unionist Party. Let my hon. friends really gauge the proposal, which is a most ridiculous proposal; we are told that only one of two courses is consonant with the honour and dignity of His Majesty's Ministers; the first alternative course consistent with their honour and dignity is to embrace in their official policy all the views, no matter how divergent, which have been expressed by any members of their Party on contingencies which have not arisen and some of which cannot be foreseen; and the other alternative, apparently consistent with honour and dignity, is to take the one definite issue and then ex-communicate by court-martial any Member of their Party who holds views in excess of that policy, believing in the desirability and feasibility of issues which are beyond and outside the Government programme. Sir, if that is the advice we ought to take, its inherent absurdity is heightened when we consider the quarter from whence it comes. It is offered to us by the only political Party which, so far as I know in the whole political history of this country from the days of King Edward I., has tried both these policies; they tried the first—the policy of the inclusion of divergent and incompatible views—when they hammered together the Newcastle programme, and we know the result. The second policy of unnecessary prescription was tried during the later phases of the late South African War, and they are now during this debate thinking to escape from the consequences of that policy by the transparent device of this debating society Amendment.
1403 We here as Ministers to-day accept, we endorse, we intend to prosecute, the Prime Minister's policy of resuming oar freedom of commercial negotiation. We insist that this country, with the greatest trade of any country in the world—I admit it, I glory in it—should no longer suffer herself to be ignored in the reciprocal treaties made by foreign nations, to the material advantage of their commerce and at the sole expense of her own. Our leader is not here; I do not complain that our opponents have been so impetuous as to bring on this Motion in his absence; his presence is not necessary in order that a clear declaration may |be made of the policy of the Government; but, as one of his followers who can speak for every colleague in the Administration in or out of the Cabinet, and speaking, I believe, at any rate for the great majority of those who, to use a time-worn phrase, "have acted with us" in recent years, in dark and difficult times during the war, in arduous Parliamentary struggles over the Education Bill—I say I believe the great majority of them will echo our leader's dictum, and so long as he will lead they will loyally follow. Though I have noted with party regret, and with infinite personal regret, that there are some Members on this side of the House who seem bent on action which may result in the irrevocable severance of ties which have long bound us and the obliteration of memories and obligations which we have all incurred in the service of a most kind, most candid, adroit, and courageous leader, who is not here tonight to speak for himself, the main body of the Unionist Party will, I believe, within the limits he has laid down, follow him in his fight for freer trade. I have not given way to a temptation to which many a man in my position might have yielded. I have not sought to prove there are no difficulties in the way of some of my hon. friends, but I do say that to my mind they are difficulties more apparent than real; no, I have stated the policy of the Government frankly, and have not disguised the fact that it involves a great departure—a great departure, not from the doctrines of free trade, but from the routine of Budget-making and the consequent futility of every 1404 diplomatic effort on behalf of the commerce of the country. The departure is a great one, great in itself and greater by contrast with the intrenched obstinacy of right hon. Gentlemen opposite. Its magnitude may be measured by the rigidity of all, the pedantry of some, and the fanaticism of a few, who cling to every defect and disadvantage of a system, not of theoretic truth, but of empirical tradition never enjoined by the founders of free trade, and incompatible with the changing conditions of the world.
§ * MR. REA (Gloucester)
supported the Amendment as a "hardened and convicted" free importer, although he was connected with an industry which, if it was not yet to be numbered with the British industries that had gone, was one of those which, according to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, were going, viz., the distressful industry of British shipping. To the Liverpool shipowners the right hon. Gentleman described the condition to which it had been reduced, and he asked in anxious tones—How long shall we keep it? How much shall we keep of it? Now ray case is that British shipping, admirable as its condition is in many respects, is not progressing so fast as foreign shipping, and I do not like that symptom at all.And what proof did the right hon. Gentleman give of his dismal description? The only official figures he quoted were these—that, while the tonnage of British ships had increased between 1890 and 1901 by 1,400,000, the tonnage of the rest of the world had increased by no less than 2,200,000. His case was that we had failed, not to hold our own, not that we failed to increase very greatly, but that in these years we had failed to accomplish so great an increase as that of the whole of the rest of the world put together. We had increased fourteen, and all the world beside us put together had increased twenty-two. Would this be a result to be ashamed of, if it were true even, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham stated it? But his figures required to be examined, for, though quite accurate, they were curiously misleading. In this single case the right hon. Gentleman suddenly substituted the whole British Empire for 1405 the United Kingdom. However much he might belittle these islands he was not in the habit of speaking disrespectfully of the British Empire—but suddenly in this case he substituted the term "the whole British Empire" for the United Kingdom, and said, "the total increase in the tonnage of the whole British Empire was only 1,400,000." What would anyone who had heard or read those words understand, except that the United Kingdom was going under so fast that even her young and growing Colonies failed to keep her afloat? But why did the right hon. Gentleman substitute "British Empire" for "United Kingdom?" Looking at the figures only one reason could be seen, viz., that he wished to conceal the real progress of the shipping of our country. The truth, on the authority of that same Blue-book quoted by the right hon. Gentleman, was that the increase of tonnage of this country, the United Kingdom alone, was not less than 1,400,000, but actually 1,629,882, and that he had slipped into his account to our debit, by a sudden change of phrase, a loss of tonnage by Canada of 300,000 tons, caused by the decay of her wooden ships. Such was the fact. The shipping of this country had increased in the years mentioned, not by 1,400,000 tons, but by 1,629,882. Then to deal with the other figure; the ships of all the rest of the world had increased 2,200,000 tons. That by itself was not quite true. The increase in the rest of the world was not 2,200,000, but a little over 2,100,000 tons. That, however, was a small point. Of more importance was the fact that in those years a new maritime nation—Japan—had been born, and included in the tables for the first time. She had created a mercantile 'fleet of nearly a 1,000,000 tons, not out of legitimate commerce, but out of her national resources. Take out Japan, which was a phenomenon apart, and what did they find? Why, that all the States of Europe put together, with the United States of America thrown in, had increased their ocean-going shipping by only 1,200,000 tons, while we had increased ours by 1,600,000, or 30 per cent. more than the lot of them put together. He had not picked out any years such as the year of glorious memory, 1872. These years were of the right hon. Gentleman's 1406 own selection. And yet in the face of these facts, to be found in the very same page of the Blue-book, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham asked—What is the use of saying that the house is still standing if you know that there is rot at the foundations? What is the use of saying we are doing very well, when you know we are doing comparatively worse every year?—when you know that behind you you have galloping up at a greater rate than anything you can command your bitterest and severest competitors and rivals?"Our bitterest and severest rivals!" How did we stand in relation to these? While our tonnage had increased by 1,600,000, that of France has not increased 200,000, and that of Italy by about the same amount. Norway, which, in the earlier year was the second largest ship-owning State, had decreased by 250,000 tons, and the United States of America by 50,000 tons. The only nation that could claim to be even a bad second to Great Britain was Germany, with her increase of 600,000 tons. Her increase was more than that of all the other countries put together. Why was this? Why was it that during the recent depression in Germany we were told by one of our Consuls that the shipbuilding industry was the last to suffer? The answer was that amid the and desert of German protection the shipping and shipbuilding industry was a little oasis of free trade. Free imports for the German shipbuilder was the law. From the laying down of the keel to the launch, and from the launch to the trial trip, from the first steel plate and angle to the chronometer and the table napkins—everything for a ship was free in Germany. Germany, so far as shipping and shipbuilding were concerned, made the best of both worlds, the free trade world and the protectionist world. He had stated these facts not for the sake of vulgar boasting, but that the House might consider how the position of shipping would be affected by a policy of national and systematic retaliation—by a policy of protection. The light-hearted manner in which members and supporters of the Government talked of an avowed policy of systematic retaliation was, to his mind, simply astounding. A policy of retaliation must be directed first and foremost against the United States of America, 1407 because they were the greatest offenders in the matter of tariff, and because then were the largest exporters to this country. Retaliation not aimed at the United States would be a policy self-stultified. But this was a game in which all the trumps were in the hands of the other party—for the simple reason that America could live very comfortably without us, but we could not live without her. How would America meet any act she considered hostile? We were not left in doubt; her weapon was already forged and tempered, and it was directed against British shipping. Revised Statute 2,502, passed by Congress on 27th August, 1894 (Section 14), was as follows—A discriminating duty of 10 per cent. ad valorem, in addition to the duties imposed by law, shall be levied, collected, and paid on all goods, wares, or merchandise which shall be imported in vessels not of the United States; but this discriminating duty shall not apply to goods, wares, and merchandise which shall be imported in vessels not of the United States, entitled by treaty or any Act of Congress to be entered in the ports of the United States on payment of the same duties as shall then be paid on goods, wares, and merchandise imported in vessels of the United States.We were at present in the position of being entitled by treaty to most-favoured-nation treatment. But if those relations were altered this provision would automatically come into play.
And, it being half-past Seven of the clock, the debate stood adjourned till this Evening's Sitting.