§ £146,461, to complete the sum for Board of Trade.
§ SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
took it that upon this Vote it was open to hon. Members to say a word or two with reference to the reorganisation of certain Government Departments, especially of the Board of Trade and of the Local Government Board. Last year, upon the debate which took place on the subject, there was a very general opinion expressed that some changes were most desirable in the interest both of trade and commerce and of administration, and the Committee appointed, in its Report, had carried out in a very large measure that feeling. In some respects the Report was somewhat inadequate, but on the whole its main provisions would, he thought, reflect the views expressed in the debate last year, and would introduce a very valuable reform. In future, subject, of course, to legislation, which he hoped would be speedy, there would be a Ministry of Commerce and Industry instead of an obsolete Board of Trade, consisting of the Archbishop, the Speakers, not only of this House but also of the Irish House of Commons, and others who appeared never to have taken any practical part in trade questions, except, perhaps, once in 291 the early part of last century, when the Archbishop of Canterbury attended and made representations to the Board on the subject of the trade of Manchester. A Return which had been presented to the House showed that in the great majority of countries there were either divisions of more general departments or specifically existing Ministries of Commerce and Industry; and those who had been brought in contact in negotiations with foreign countries on the subject of treaties, tariffs, and the like, knew well the importance attached to the work of such Ministries. He was glad, therefore, that a recommendation came from a very strong Committee, before which he had given evidence, in favour of a similar state of affairs in this country. He knew that the feeling of the commercial community was that more might be done to foster trade and industry than had been the case in the past; and he thought, when they had a Cabinet Minister specifically representing trade and industry, whose emoluments were to he raised in the hope that his services would be of proportionately increased value, it would be somewhat of a stimulus and give increased status to the Department, though, of course, the result depended on what work was actually done. He ought, perhaps, to add that the Committee reported that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade and the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board both expressed a hope that in the reorganisation of their Departments their own salaries would not be increased, and judging from the value of their services that was a very modest expression of opinion. The Report also recommended a similar reorganisation of the Local Government Board and an increase in I its status; and, when they bore in mind the very material interests it directed, he did not think that recommendation required any additional support. What he thought was most acceptable was, that there would be more co-ordination of duties, or a more practical allocation of them, and that there would not be j those overlapping jurisdictions which in the past had prevented many important commercial and municipal reforms.
The Committee did not appear altogether to have approved of the suggestion, 292 which had strong recommendations, that the Board of Trade rather than the commercial department of the Foreign Office should be invested with more power and jurisdiction over the Consular reports. In many respects those reports were good, but there were many ways in which they were decidedly inferior to those of other countries, and he referred especially to the need, not merely for periodical reports, but for special reports in particular departments of trade and industry, speedily published and brought to the notice of the community. If something were done in that direction the labours of the Departmental Committee of last session on the Consular Service, before which he had been examined as a witness, would not be without good effect. On the whole they might express agreement with the Report that had been published. He had the honour of serving as a member of the Board of Trade Intelligence Committee, and in some respects good work had been done in the direction of obtaining commercial information upon a much wider scale than was given through the Consular reports, and in focussing it with a view to commercial action in the future. For instance, commercial missions had been sent to Siberia, Persia, and other countries, the fruits of which were of unquestioned value. Amid all the discussions they had heard on the subject of tariffs and treaties, he thought very useful work had been done by the Intelligence Committee in examining the tariffs of other countries, and in taking care that commercial views had been brought to bear upon them. It was very difficult to resist those imposts them and very often too active opposition only stimulated the desire to impose them; and he commended this Report to their consideration. Upon the subject of tariffs this Committee, which was composed of men of all political Parties and possessed strong commercial and departmental representation, expressed the strong opinion that such treaties and tariffs demanded most careful scrutiny, and that all possible practical and economic means should be adopted of preventing or reducing the effect of exclusive tariffs and high import duties, which undoubtedly operated disadvantageously to our commerce. 293 There would be no question as to their adverse influence upon our trade, though there might be a difference of opinion as to the means by which, this could be reduced; but he believed that in securing information at the earliest possible date and in some cases making representation and even remonstrances the Government could do a great deal, and he therefore hoped the President of the Board of Trade would be able to increase the ludicrously inadequate means placed at the disposal of the Commercial Intelligence Committee. By its means the Government could do a great deal for the trade of the country, but a dole of £500 or £1,000 was of little value and he therefore hoped his right hon. friend would make an increased grand for which the Committee asked in its Annual Report just presented to parliament.
There was one question on which he respectfully differed from the administration of tie right hon. Gentleman, and that was as to the lighthouse fund. Under the Act of 1898—an Act which some of them prophesied would not be altogether effective, and the prophecy had been fulfilled—the Board of Trade had the custody of the lighthouse fund produced by imposts on shipowners for the purpose of lighting our coasts. That was at variance with the practice of practically the rest of the civilised world. They did not think that these monies should be collected, merely for putting the lights in a state of efficiency, but also for the purpose apparently of being idly accumulated in the coffers of the Board of Trade. At this moment he believed there was in hand a sum of nearly£400,000, bearing comparatively small interest which belonged to the shipowners. Although his right hon. friend had reduced the light dues by 12½per cent., he trusted he would make some further reduction. Although he agreed that there should be some margin of reserve, they did submit most strongly that there should be something like a financial equilibrium established between the amount of the dues and the work to be done in order to place the lights on a thoroughly good footing, a duty, however, which ought to be done by, and at the cost of, the State.
§ MR. LOUIS SINCLAIR (Essex, Romford)
desired at the outset to point out that any criticisms he had to offer were not in any way directed against the President of the Board of Trade personally, for he had always keenly appreciated the co-operation and courtesy displayed by the right hon. Gentleman in all matters appertaining to his Department. But it was evident that the present administration which governed our trade and commerce was inadequate. It was now exactly what it was fifty years ago, although the trade of the country was three times as large. Not only was it utterly useless for the purposes of our trade, but in his opinion, it constituted a grave peril to it. They had at the head of the Board of Trade a Gentleman whom they all respected, but who had had no experience whatever in conducting big commercial questions. He was the sole member of the Board. What they required was not a gentleman like Atlas, who had to support the whole world at large, but an effective Department, efficient in every way. In 1620 it was first thought necessary to look after the trade and commerce of this country, and a Department was accordingly created. In 1860 it was found that the increased trade required that that Department should be divided into four, and in 1867 the four were further divided into twelve. Since that date nothing had been done. What he complained of was that we had not got an up-to-date system as compared with that which obtained in foreign countries. We were clearly far behind the times; small States; like Bulgaria had Ministries of Commerce, and little Japan was a long way ahead of us. Our Board of Trade, although it was supposed to govern our railways, had no effective powers to deal with overcrowding and like evils. When hon. Members talked about the fiscal policy of this country, why did they not set about the task of putting our administration in order? Let it no longer remain a by-word in other countries inducing them to seize our trade at every available opportunity.
He would like to point out one or two of the injustices under which our trade and commerce suffered at the present time. For instance, our canal systems had been 295 absorbed by the railway companies and competition by them stopped to the great advantage of the foreign producer. Hops were sent from Ashford to London at the rate of 35s. per ton, but they were brought over from the Continent and delivered at 17s. 6d. per ton. On other agricultural produce also there was a preference ranging from 40 to 50 per cent, in favour of the foreigner. French timber was carried on our railways for 1d. per ton per mile. English timber was charged 2½d. Then monopolies were allowed, and they found the London Brighton, and South Coast Railway paying the South Eastern and Chatham Railway Company no less than £24,000 a year on condition that they should not run into Eastbourne. Another matter which operated injuriously was the increasing cost of the promotion of Bills in Parliament, the result of which was that railways in England cost about £45,000 a mile, as against £8,000 in America, £9,000 in Germany, and £15,000 in Ireland. The Board of Trade might give every facility for fostering our trade instead of letting it be hampered at every turn. It cost 40s. per ton to send calico from Manchester to London for sale to the consumer; yet if it were only intended for export the charge was reduced to 25s. It was often cheaper to send goods to America and have them returned to this country rather than send them direct to London. The Irish people had a great grievance in this respect; the charges for the conveyance of live stock were so heavy that they rendered cattle breeding absolutely unremunerative. Bad administration was responsible for much of the dire poverty that existed. Our system fostered the rich and did not help the poor. We talked a good deal about barriers raised by foreign countries against our trade, but we made worse barriers ourselves by not putting into operation Acts which would place our traders on th same footing as foreigners. Look at our Patent Laws. Persons who took out patents ought to be compelled to work them, but they would not at times, and only very recently a gentleman had had to spend not less than £5,000 in order to be able to make an article which another man bad patented but would not work. The law failed to provide 296 that the Board of Trade should take action in such a case. It was left to the private individual to do that.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. GERALD BALFOUR,) Leeds, Central
Was that case under the old Act?
§ MR. LOUIS SINCLAIR
said he presumed that the gentleman to whom he had referred would not have spent £5,000 of his own money if he could have obtained the relief he desired from the Board of Trade. He would forward the facts to the right hon. Gentleman. Then there were the bankruptcy laws in this country; it paid a man to become bankrupt. The amount of which creditors were defrauded by means of these laws was increasing year by year. It seriously hampered trade and it was not conducive to honourable trading or straightforward dealing.
Order, order! There is separate vote for the Bankruptcy Department and it is not therefore in order to discuss it now.
§ MR. LOUIS SINCLAIR
said he would not, of course, press that point further. He would only add in conclusion that the Report on the constitution of the Board of Trade presented to the House by the hon. Member for Oldham was valuable, though disappointing in that it presented no general and comprehensive scheme. It was, however, a step in the right direction. He feared that the operations of the Committee had been too limited. We wanted in this country a Department that would be able to foster trade and commerce, and we required methods whereby we could deal both at home and abroad with questions affecting trade, without undue interference from that office. Only recently a merchant sent his clerk to examine a Consular Report affecting a trade in which he was interested. The official of the right hon. Gentleman's Department told him he 297 could read the Report but must not take any notes Surely information collected at the expense of the country should be at the service of those who had a right to investigate it. He would furnish the right hon. Gentleman with particulars of the incident referred to and he hoped such a thing would not occur again. He was pleased to see in the House administration of the matters of trade and commerce in the hands of a thoroughly effective Department headed by a Minister of Cabinet rank, and he was quite certain that this country could hold its own against foreign competition without resorting to much discussed measures of tariff retaliation.
§ SIR GILBERT PARKER (Gravesend)
said that in common with other hon. Members he had read with pleasure the Report of the Committee appointed to consider the Position and duties of the Board of Trade, but he was afraid he had not derived the same amount of satisfaction from its perusal as the last hon. Member who spoke. No doubt the Committee did all it could, but, after all what was the outcome of their labours—a proposal to increase the salary of the President of the Board of Trade.
§ SIR GILBERT PARKER
Yes and a change of name. He had no objection to the proposal to augment the President's salary and he had, therefore, intimated his intention to move the reduction of the Vote in order to have an opportunity of advocating an increase of the salary. That was one of the anomalies of the procedure of this House. It was like breaking a shop window in order to attract the attention of the shopkeeper. He had adopted that device in order to call their serious attention to the fact that there had been an agitation on this subject for years, and serious defects in the administration of the Board of Trade had been pointed out; they had not got a step further. He did not believe that by calling the Board "The Ministry of Commerce" and making the President a Secretary of State they would alter the present con- 298 dition of things or that it would tend to that co-ordination which the non. Member for Islington so much desired. Let them bear in mind the great variety of interests the Board of Trade had to watch—shipping, lighting, bankruptcy, arbitration, trade disputes, copyrights, patents, weights and measures, electricity, railways, and a host of other things. Until the whole scheme of administration was altered and enlarged there could be no further development in the direction of increasing the authority of the Board. He had noticed that much of the work done by the Board of Trade was not so effectively done as it might be. There was no doubt an enormous production of material, but the quality was doubtful. A great deal of the information which was given to the public by the Board required co-ordination and specialisation, and needed to be put in a form which the average reader could understand, He would give an illustration to show how inaccurate was some of the information collected. At one time when crossing the Atlantic they were compelled to give full particulars as to whence they came, who they were, and where they were going, and these were forwarded to the Board of Trade. Well, one day he saw the steward filling in the particulars for him, and an official of the Board of Trade was present at the time. He pointed out to him how inaccurate they were. In the first place he was described as a Scotchman—possiblv because he had a habit of asking so many questions. Then he was nut down as of the age of fifty-two—another slight mistake, and finally he was described as a banker. He pointed out these errors to the Board of Trade official—one of those gentlemen desirous of doing their duty, and laboriously attentive to their public work, and serving the Department as well as circumstances would permit it to be served—and he believed that the system had since been altered, but still there was an illustration of how for years information had been collected which could not be depended upon for accuracy the Board of Trade, above all things, ought to be accurate. He held in his hand a book "The Review of the World's Commerce," which enabled one at a glance to see the state of trade between particular countries, 299 and he would like to see the Board of Trade publish something of the same nature, with special reference to oar trade with our Colonies.
§ SIR GILBERT PARKER
said that, at any rate, was a step in the right direction. But he was bound to point out that the statistical information now published was in such a form as to involve immense labour on the part of those who wished for facts as to particular trades, or who desired to get some idea of the real state of affairs, and he therefore hoped the right hon. Gentleman would endeavour to give them some such compendious work as the book he had referred to. It might be objected to on the ground of expense, but there was such a thing as being penny wise and pound foolish. He was not advocating anything extravagant, but he would ask the right hon. Gentleman if three men already employed in the Department could not within one year produce a book which would give a clearer idea of the position in which we now stood. There was another question, and that was in regard to Consular Reports. A Departmental Committee had recently investigated the question of transferring the control of the Consular Reports from the Foreign Office. He did not know whether it had yet reported.
§ SIR GILBERT PARKER
Well, he had not read the Report but he thought he might urge that the commercial work of our Consuls should be under the direction and control of the Board of Trade, but their appointment and diplomatic work should be under the control of the Foreign Office. He thought that our Consuls were too often men with absolutely no knowledge of this country or of the trade of the country in which they were appointed to act. The Governments of Germany and the United States received elaborate Reports on the conditions of trade from their Consuls, and those Reports were supplied to the general readers and traders who wished to know what the conditions of trade were.
300 Before he closed he would like to say a word or two on the question of commercial attachés. A step had been taken in the right direction in regard to our system of commercial attaches, but it was only a preliminary step. How could an official residing in Paris report accurately on the trade of France, Belgium, and Switserland? How could a man living in Berlin cover the whole trade of Germany, Sweden, Holland, and Norway; or one in Vienna adequately look after the trade of Austria and Italy
The thing was monstrous. Why Canada kept commercial agents in the sister Colonies like Australia, and although he did not go so far as to say we ought to keep commercial agents in the Colonies he did say that the present system of commercial attaches was altogether inadequate. He had never ceased to believe that in this country we needed to be given far wider information generally on the commercial conditions in all parts of the world. He did not think the Board of Trade was, in itself, responsible for the backwardness of its administration in this matter. No Government could move very far ahead of the period, unless the community at large demanded certain information and certain kinds of information from the Government. A Government would only be criticised by the House for giving such information when not demanded. But, as was well known, all chambers of commerce in this country had passed resolutions for the better development of the Board of Trade. During the last ten years there had been a great deal more interest taken in commercial industry abroad. Commercial agents of other countries were found in the remotest parts of the world and we might be quite certain that the countries those commercial agents represented benefited in consequence. He believed the President of the Board of Trade and his coadjutors to be in favour of the demands which had been made upon them, and he hoped they would endeavour to see them carried out.
§ MR. CAWLEY (Lancashire, Prestwich)
said he was a little disappointed that the only outcome of all the talk about higher and technical education for the purpose of improving our trade should be that the President of the Board of Trade 301 was to be called the President of the Board of Commerce, and have his salary raised to£5,000 a year. He believed that that right hon. Gentleman had done as much as he possibly could for£2,000 a year, and he thought he would himself admit that he could not do any more if he had£5,000 a year. Our foreign commerce did certainly want a good deal more looking after, and the President of the Board of Trade should do everything in his power to foster our foreign trade, and should keep his eyes and ears open to every matter which would benefit the trade of this country. Everyone knew the patent law of this country, and the aniline dye industry was for years actually fostered in Germany by means of our own patents. The right hon. Gentleman certainly deserved a great deal of credit for what he had done, but in the opinion of many the operation of the Patent Law Registration Acts had been too restricted. What the country required was a Minister who would be employed exclusively in looking after our foreign trade and in supervising the Consular Service. And that Minister should have a board of directors under him of business men who would treat the trade of the country as a large going concern, and try to get the best of all our rivals. That would, he thought, be a great improvement. The present scheme of merely altering the status of the President of the Board of Trade and the President of the Local Government Board was totally inadequate to meet our requirements.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said he was entirely out of sympathy with what had been said as to the position of the Board of Trade. Our commerce, or trade, he preferred the old Saxon word, had grown up not only without the assistance of Ministers, but generally speaking, contrary to the desires of Acts of Parliament. It had flourished and a large portion of it still did flourish, not through any aid it got from the Government, but in spite of every successive interference on the part of the Government. He was, therefore, not prepared off-hand to vote in Committee for the increase of the salary of the chief of a Department which was chiefly mischievous and which when not 302 mischievous was useless. It was owing to the way in which the Board of Trade dealt with what were now called the Colonies, but what were then called the plantations, that the seventeen colonies, now the United States of America, were lost to this country. It was only justice to admit that the part played by the Board of Trade in modern times in the affairs of this country was a more useful part, but not so useful, in his opinion, as to warrant the doubling of the salary of the President. His experience of Consular Reports was not encouraging. He did not think any merchant had ever learned anything from a Consular Report. The Reports were of the most jejune character. They were attempts to teach British merchants business, and were most meagre and inadequate. He did not know any merchant who had ever learned anything from a Consular Report. So much for the Consular Reports.
What had been the action of the Board of Trade with regard to trade matters? It interfered more or less in trade disputes, in his opinion always mischievously. When a trade dispute did occur, his opinion was that masters and men should be allowed to fight to a finish. Then there would not be a dispute again in that trade for a long time. [Cries of "Oh!"] That was his belief; he might be wrong. The principal function of the Board of Trade seemed to be to worry shipowners and shipbuilders. Only the other day it claimed to make an examination—a perfectly ridiculous examination as it turned out upon trial—into the condensers of a ship, and to impose tests upon them that were not required. In every department shipowners and shipbuilders were interfered with without knowledge and without intelligence, and often in the most mischievous manner. So far as that trade was concerned, instead of having furthered it the Board of Trade had throughout hampered and hindered it. It had been so to a large extent with the railways. Did the Board of Trade think it was competent to teach trade to traders? Apparently it did; his own opinion was that it could not conduct any department of trade itself. Did the President of the Board of Trade think he could provide for the feeding of London for a single 303 day? It was because neither he nor the Government interfered that London could feed itself. If London were run by the Board of Trade it would starve. The Board of Trade was very useful for statistics. A most conflicting and most informing volume had been published by the right hon. Gentleman about the fiscal question, but which properly should be called the "tariff question." Anybody who had read the preface to that Report must have felt that the persons who, under the direction of the President, were providing these statistics, were dancing a hornpipe in fetters, and had been ordered to compile statistics on a basis incapable of a statistical answer. The result had been confusion so great that both sides appealed with equal confidence to those statistics. Trade in this country flourished best when the Board did not interfere with it. Let him recall another great man—Arthur Young—who was asked by a Frenchman why it was that we got on so much better than they did in France. The answer was, "Everything is done well in England except what is done by the Government." That was true to this day.
What was the Board of Trade? The Archbishop of Canterbury was a member of it and various other great personages. But the President of the Board of Trade and his predecessors for many years past had treated the Archbishop of Canterbury with the utmost contempt. They had never called him in on any occasion, and in spite of the long list of eminent personages, including the Speaker, there was only one person who was "The Board of Trade," and that was his right hon. friend who sat on the Front Bench. He was the last person in the world to depreciate the great qualities of his right hon. friend, but he did not think they lay in the direction of trade. He thought they lay rather in the direction of philosophy or metaphysics, or some of those higher regions that the trader was incompetent to fly to. But when it came to trade he really must doubt if his right hon. friend would succeed in any trade at all if it was to be carried on at a profit. As a sort of amateur trader he might succeed. The President of the Board of Trade said he desired a preference and a moderate 304 tax on food. That was a very dangerous frame of mind for a President of the Board of Trade, and it was no inducement to him to increase his salary that the right hon. Gentleman expressed opinions of that sort. Let the Committee think what this Department was which had been so much lauded by the hon. Baronet the Member for South Islington. The duties in connection with the registration of shipping were very large indeed. They were at present imposed on the Commissioners of Customs, and it had been suggested that they should be transferred to the Board of Trade. The Committee were against that and he quite agreed with the Committee. He thought the Commissioners of Customs were much more able to perform them. The proposal for increasing the salary of the President of the Board of Trade was no novelty in the House. It had been put forward from time to time, and on the last occasion he remembered that no sooner had a Gentleman on those Benches proposed that the salary of the President of the Board of Trade should be doubled than he was made Governor of Madras. He did not know whether his hon. friend the Member for South Islington looked forward to a governorship, but he could warrant that if he went on making proposals to increase the salary of the President of the Board of Trade it would be absolutely impossible for him to escape that fate.
The Committee said they could not suppose that in future the President of the Board of Trade would be out of the Cabinet. He could suppose it very easily. The Board of Trade was properly a statistical Department, and ought never to be anything else. It was a most excellent collector of statistics. He could perfectly well suppose that an official Minister might be omitted from the Cabinet. Cabinets were now too large, and they wanted to get back to the time when the individual members were of some importance, and when the Prime Minister had not become, as in recent times they had seen him, the absolute dictator to who were presumed to be his equal colleagues. The Committee pointed out that it was not the province of the Board of Trade to create or control commerce. The President of 305 the Board of Trade thought it was. He was always engaged in trying to control commerce, and that was exactly his principal complaint against him. Take the sugar question. If ever there was a question which was one of trade it was pre-eminently the sugar question, but the whole work in connection with the Convention was to be done by the Foreign Office clerks and officials. Under those circumstances, seeing that there was no increase, but rather a decrease, of the duties of the Board of Trade, if the term impudence were not entirely inappropriate to any Committee whatever, and if it were not, in addition to that, most un-Parliamentary, he should be tempted to use it on such an occasion as this. He gave warning that whenever the proposal came before the House it would find in him, and he believed in others, uncompromising opposition. If really the public welfare were at stake, he believed the situation would be best met by the complete abolition of the Board of Trade. If it were a question of increasing the honour, dignity, and status of what was really nothing at all, and ought to be nothing but a statistical Department, he would give the proposal his most uncompromising opposition.
§ MR. EMMOTT (Oldham)
said he intervened with some reluctance in this debate, but as he happened to be the only Member in the House who sat on the Committee which had been so severely blamed by the hon. Member for King's Lynn, perhaps he might be allowed to say one or two words in reference to the matter. A good deal of difference of opinion had been expressed, not only as to the Committee, but also as to the work of the Board of Trade. The hon. Member for King's Lynn thought the Board of Trade an utterly useless Department of the Government. Other Members thought, that the Board of Trade was not doing half what it should do, and seemed to imagine that it could create commerce and control it. It must be remembered that this was by no means a new question. It had often been considered in the House, and the House had practically always voted, if not unanimously, at any rate by a very large majority, in favour of increasing the 306 status of the President of the Board of Trade. And now that an increase of that kind was recommended by the Committee of which he was a member, hon. Members said that they were disappointed that more was not recommended, and disapapointed that the Committee had not recommended a total reorganisation of the Board of Trade and the imposition on them of new duties which hitherto they had not performed. He did not think the Committee were told or expected to make a complete study of the internal working of the Board of Trade, and to make wide and sweeping recommendations. While some hon. Members said that they wished that something more had been recommended, he did hope that commercial men who had pressed forward the view that the status of the President of the Board of Trade should be raised would remember that if they' desired to have something done, they should not ask too much at once. The essential point in regard to this question seemed to him that the trade of this country was so all important to the present and future prosperity of the country, that the Minister who had most to do with the trade ought to be one of the Ministers of the higher Governmental hierarchy. That was the main view which affected the Committee.
He would point out that those hon. Members who criticised this Committee had made suggestions which were not only inconsistent with each other, but were also very wide of the mark. His hon. friend the Member for Prestwich said that there ought to be a Minister to look after foreign trade alone. He thought that the general opinion of the House was that there was quite a sufficient number of Ministers already; and therefore that was a suggestion to which the House was very unlikely to listen. If the House thought fit, at some future time, to carry out the recommendations which the Committee had made, at any rate they would have accomplished, this much, that the President of the Board of Trade would be a Minister of the first rank, and that any man, however important he might be in the eyes of the country and of the House of Commons, might be ready and glad to take such a place. And it might be found that, in years to come, something more could 307 be done by the Government for the trade of the country, in ways, perhaps, which they knew little of now, and all that would be facilitated if the status of the President of the Board of Trade were raised. But he wanted to protest against the idea that the Board of Trade governed commerce. It did not govern commerce; and he was quite sure he expressed the opinion of the greatest commercial men in this House, with whom he had frequently talked over this matter, when he said that what they wanted was, as a rule, not to be interfered with. They did not want commerce to be governed for them by any Government Department. Another complaint was made by the hon. Member for Romford that the President of the Board of Trade was not a commercial man. As a matter of fact the President of the Board of Trade had very rarely been a commercial man, and it was not supremely important that he should be a commercial man. He (the speaker) happened to be in business to a small extent in connection with the cotton trade, and perhaps he knew something of his own trade. But he knew nothing of the coal trade or the iron trade, or of the 600 other trades in the country. No man could be an expert in many trades at the same time; and that being the case, it was much more important to have a man at the head of the Board of Trade of great natural capacity than to have an expert in one particular trade. One other remark he ventured to make, and it was this, that although they were vaguely told that the Committee ought to have suggested a great many more alterations than they bad made, he, noted a great lack of precision in these complaints. They were told that the Board of Trade was a by-word in other countries; but what kind of particulars were given in support of that statement? It was said that the Board of Trade did not interfere with the overcrowding; in railway carriages. Well, so far as his experience of travelling abroad went he had found much more overcrowding there than in this country.
§ MR. EMMOTT
said that that was a comparatively small matter. He was 308 trying to find what more the Board of Trade could do in a large way than it was at present doing. The hon. Member for Gravesend suggested that the statistics issued by the Board of Trade should be enlarged, and said that, in his opinion, the information the Board did supply was not assimilated. The hon. Member said that in travelling on an Atlantic liner he had been described as a Scotchman, over fifty years of age, and a banker. His only point in reply to that remark was that it was a comparatively small matter, and the hon. Member did not give the Committee any very clear idea as to what the Board of Trade could do that it was not now doing. As to the question of assimilating the information issued in such large quantities by the Board of Trade, he had a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's view. It appeared to be a tradition in the Government Departments that, although they gave all the information they could, they should not express an opinion. He was one of those people who desired that all the Government Departments should have an Intelligence Department, and that commercial men should get something more from the Board of Trade than mere statistics; that was to say, advice. The difficulty was the fear that the Government officials would become partisans, and that they would lose that character for impartiality which they at present possessed. Be that as it might, he believed that they ought to work in the direction of having an Intelligence Department connected with all the various Government Offices, and that the officials of the Board of Trade ought not to be quite so hampered as in the past by keeping to the strict line of impartiality, and should be able to issue reports in which they did express their own opinions. He, himself, had no scheme for such a change to put before the Committee at the present moment, but he felt that in regard to trade matters, as in regard to other matters, it was a pity that the House and the country did not get more than actual facts from the Government Departments, and more guidance than they were able to have at the present moment. This, however, was not a question for the Board of Trade, it was a question which 309 the House of Commons would have to discuss later if they were going to have a change in the direction indicated.
One word on the question of Consuls It was generally agreed that Consuls should be appointed by the Foreign Office. It was known that they had some commercial work to perform. He confessed that he wished that more commercial men were appointed Consuls; but he was afraid that there was a vague idea that their commercial and their diplomatic duties could be separated, and that one part should be under the Board of Trade and the other part should be under the Foreign Office. He was not quite sure that that could be done. He hardly knew enough to express a confident opinion, but he felt that in regard to the great question of foreign tariffs it was important that in negotiations between this country and foreign countries, this country should act as one man, and that the Minister who should act on our behalf was the Foreign Minister. It was not possible, in dealing with a foreign country, for the President of the Board of Trade to deal with the question of tariffs over the head of the Foreign Minister. He put forward, in support of the view which the Committee had presented to the House, that if the status of the President of the Board of Trade were raised, if he were made a first-rank Minister—as he maintained he ought to be—then in connection with those questions of foreign tariffs he would speak with all the weight any man possibly could to the Foreign Minister who was dealing with foreign Governments. That would facilitate the end which they all had in view, that we should speak strongly and unitedly, and that the opinion of commercial men should have the fullest possible weight in regard to these foreign tariffs. He had not troubled to make any strong defence of the Committee on which he sat. He did not think it necessary. They expressed their honest convictions. They carried out their duties according to the best of their abilities, and he had no apology to make. He was heartily in favour of the Report they had presented to the House, and if the House failed to carry it out he could not help that.
§ MB. RITCHIE (Croydon)
said that he wished to express general agreement with the hon. Member for Oldham. He was rather surprised to hear the various opinions enunciated in Committee that day in regard to the Report made by the Committee of which the hon. Gentleman was a member. It seemed to have been imagined by many hon. Gentlemen who had spoken that the duty of that Committee was to entirely revise the whole work of the Board of Trade—not only the work which was done at present but the work which would probably fall upon it, and which, in the opinion of some hon. Gentlemen, ought to be performed by it. No doubt it was a part of the reference in dealing with the constitution of the Board of Trade that they should take into account certain duties performed by other Departments, and consider whether there might not be some transfer possible from the one to the other. That duty, he thought, the Committee had performed, but if the Committee had had to go over the very wide field which a good many hon. Members thought they should have done, he was perfectly certain that a great deal of dissatisfaction would have been caused in the House and in the commercial community at the unnecessary delay that would have occurred in making a Report on the subject. What was in the mind of the House when this question was raised? There were two points raised in connection with the Board of Trade—one was its anomalous constitution, and the other one was the position of its President. They would all, he was sure, entirely agree with the Report of the Committee as to the alteration of the constitution of the Board of Trade. It was an anomaly which no one could dream of supporting at the present time and which everyone must be very desirous to get rid of. The question of the status of the President of the Board of Trade had been brought before the House of Commons on many occasions, and it had been under the consideration of chambers of commerce also on many occasions; and, although he did not think the House had ever been called on to come to a decision on the subject, chambers of commerce had again and again come to the conclusion that the status of the President of the Board of 311 Trade should be raised to an equality with that of any other Minister, and that his Department should be a first-class one. He could not conceive of anyone differing from the view that the man responsible for a great commercial Department of a great commercial country like this should be made to rank as a Minister of the first class. He was perfectly certain that the commercial community as a whole would come to the decision that that, at least, should be done. It was perfectly obvious why it should be. One reason was that while the Presidency of the Board of Trade was a second-class post, it was very difficult for the Prime Minister to make that arrangement among his colleagues which he might be able to make if it had been on the footing of a Secretaryship of State. The Minister for Commerce should be one of the highest Ministers, so that the Prime Minister should be able to ask any one of his colleagues, whatever the position he had he'd before, to occupy the position.
Something had been made of the proposal to increase the salary. He did not believe any Minister when appointed considered the matter of salary by any means of primary importance, but it was an impediment in the way of the Prime Minister making his choice of colleagues freely. The question of salary came in because of the status it was desired to give to the office. He did not think it would have been wise for the Committee to have gone so deeply into the duties of the Board of Trade as some hon. Members seemed to imagine they should. He believed there would be a progressive increase in the duties of the Board. He thought it ought to have a good deal more to do with the appointment of Consuls than it had at present. No doubt our Consuls had in a sense double duties to perform. They were representatives of commerce and they had to some extent diplomatic functions. Therefore he did not think the President of the Board of Trade should have their appointment entirely in his hands, but both with regard to the appointment of Consuls and their Reports there ought to be more action in concert between the Board of Trade and the Foreign Office than there had been, and in the appointment of Consuls great consideration ought to be 312 given to commercial fitness. One would imagine that nothing had been done by the Board of Trade to get into closer touch with commercial matters; but a great deal had been done by the initiation of a Commercial Intelligence Department, by sending agents abroad to make commercial inquiries, and by the appointment of commercial attaches. It was perfectly true, as had been said, that these gentlemen were appointed at present to districts so large that it was impossible for them to gain sufficient information; but they had been sent abroad as an experiment, and the Committee would understand that it was not desirable to go wholesale into the matter at once, but that the experiment should be tried in certain districts to see how it worked. His view was that the number of these gentlemen should be increased to a much larger extent, and that no stone should be left I unturned to secure that the commercial men of this country should be supplied with information which would enable them to compete in foreign markets. In his opinion any Chancellor of the Exchequer would be acting very unwisely if he refused any reasonable expenditure that might be necessary to equip our commercial men properly. If chambers of commerce were properly constituted and did their work adequately they might be of the greatest use to the Board of Trade; but the constitution of a great number of these bodies was altogether unsatisfactory. If it were not invidious to do so, he could name chambers of commerce in great centres of industry which did not represent the commercial community at all. It was most difficult to interest our great merchants and manufacturers in the work done by the chambers of commerce.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said that was exactly the point. As they were worked at present time was largely wasted in chambers of commerce; but he believed that if they made representations to the Government for greater facilities, even if it involved financial outlay, methods might be found by which the Government could render them more assistance. But, however 313 the Board of Trade was constituted, reliance must be placed mainly on commercial men for pushing the commercial policy of the country and the trade of the country, and he entirely agreed that they had very little to learn from any Government so far as the conduct of their business was concerned. What they wanted was that every engine should be used to supply them with accurate information upon all that was going on abroad—on tariff questions, on shipping and railway facilities, and matters of that kind. Holding that view, he was strongly in favour of a large increase in the number of commercial agents abroad, and of the Board of Trade having something to say in the appointment of Consuls and in the use made of the Reports they sent home. Whatever alterations might be desirable, he was satisfied that the Committee had acted wisely, and in accordance with public opinion in the country, with the opinion of the commercial community, and with the opinion of that House, in recommending that the great office of President of the Board of Trade or Minister of Commerce should be as high as any office in the Government.
§ MR. EVELYN CECIL (Aston Manor)
said he did not attach much importance to the particular suggestions of the Committee that the salary of the President of the Board of Trade should be increased and his title changed to Minister of Commerce. By themselves those proposals had not much to recommend them; the whole question ought to be regarded from a much wider point of view. The real function of the Board of Trade was not to govern commerce but to encourage it, and to equip British merchants with proper information and the material necessary to meet their foreign rivals. From that point of view it was very important that the President of the Board of Trade should be in an honourable and a highly responsible position. Trade was much more likely to be encouraged if in commercial centres it was felt that the individual at the head and the permanent officials of the Board of Trade inspired confidence and energy. The Board of Trade like other human institutions had its failings, but it also had its advantages. 314 The Department was sometimes intensely timid in its work, and a little more backbone was frequently very desirable. An instance on that point was afforded by the Report of the Eastern Mail Service Committee in reference to the introduction into mail contracts of a clause to prevent undue preferences being given to foreign traders. Quite apart from the special merits of that question, it was a characteristic of the Board of Trade frequently to be afraid of dealing with certain subjects which everybody else believed to be within its province. It was worth while reading a sentence of that Report: "We have to add that Sir Thomas Blomefield, the member of our Committee representing the Board of Trade, was instructed to dissent from the procedure for arbitration suggested in the above clause, but all the other members of the Committee felt that the matter is essentially one which ought to be taken up by the Board of Trade." On the other hand, the work of the Board of Trade was sometimes much under-rated and unfairly criticised. It was the fashion to say that the Department was not at all equal to the duties imposed upon it, that its influence was nil, and that it was of no practical value for pushing our commerce;. He submitted, however, that the Board had done a great deal in the past, and one had only to look back to the difficult situations with which it had dealt in regard to arbitration, or the shipping-, railway-, or labour-world, to see how much was owing to the discretion, patience and judgment of the Department. It was largely owing to the Board of Trade that a proper form of signalling on railways had been introduced. Every inventor naturally thought his own scheme the best, and the Board of Trade by bringing pressure to bear upon recalcitrant communities, had produced an uniformity which tended to public safety. The interlocking of signals and the adoption of automatic brakes in preference to chain brakes were other matters brought about by the intervention of the Board of Trade. Much also had been done in the question of railway rates, and the matter was constantly receiving the attention of the Department, but it must be remembered that the quantity of goods sent in bulk and the mode of 315 packing inevitably affected the cost of carriage. The hon. Member for the Romford Division had criticised the higher charge for the carriage of inland goods per ton per mile from, say, Essex to London than for foreign goods from, say, Antwerp via Harwich to London; but if there was competition between a line like that from Antwerp via Tilbury to London where goods were entirely water-borne, and one like that between Antwerp via Harwich to London, where they were partly borne by railway, the railway company must either give up attempting to get the traffic altogether or reduce its through rates. The hon. Member for the Romford Division had also suggested that the Board of Trade ought to bring influence to bear so as to reduce the cost of railway construction in this country as compared with the cost in America. The respective rates had been put at —45,000, which was rather understating the average, as against—8,000 per mile. The two cases, however, were not at all comparable. In America the cost of land and the methods of laying the rails were altogether different, the trestle bridges were much more unsafe, and there were no such stringent regulations as existed in this country. All these considerations made the cost much higher in this country than in America, and the Board of Trade were not really to blame in the matter. The Department had done much also in the matter of shipping. Shipowners were in the habit of saying that the regulations with regard to the Plimsoll line harassed them in their industry, but no one would say that the introduction of the Plimsoll line was not a good thing. It might possibly have been fixed a little too high, but certainly the country ought to be grateful to the Board of Trade for supporting its introduction and thus safeguarding the public. He warmly approved of the action of the Board in appointing a Committee to consider whether foreign ships could not be brought under the same regulations as were imposed on British ships.
As to the specific question under discussion, he was not at all clear that the present constitution of the Board of Trade was adequate to meet 316 the increasing amount of work that was constantly being thrown upon the Department. Labour questions and new inventions were continually being brought under notice; further, inspectors had to be appointed to deal with innumerable new subjects, as, for instance, light railways, electric railways, or tramways, and these constant additions to the work of the Department were such as to make one doubt whether the basis upon which the Board was organised was really sufficiently elastic, and whether it could be extended adequately to meet the circumstances of the time. Public opinion was growing more and more exacting in regard to commercial intelligence. That particular branch certainly required an increased and more responsible staff. With regard to the Consular Reports, they were sometimes excellent from a diplomatic point of view, but they did not always contain the precise information that traders required, or include the particulars that were commercially valuable. As to the suggestion that the Consuls should be partially responsible to the Foreign Office and partially to the Board of Trade, he thought that any such system of dual control would lead to great confusion, and from his experience of the Foreign Office he would certainly not recommend it. If the existing constitution of the Board of Trade was not sufficiently elastic he would be decidedly in favour of reconstituting the office on a broader basis. He suggested that some of the classes of subjects of Board of Trade work might be more sub-divided into separate Departments, each under a responsible expert, who should be always available to give advice to the President of the Board whenever it was required. Another point that he would press upon the consideration of the Committee was as to the desirability of constituting a Commercial Council of Defence somewhat on the lines of the Imperial Defence Committee. The recent Subsidies Committee recommended the establishment of a permanent Committee consisting of representatives of the Admiralty, the Board of Trade, the Colonial Office, and the Post Office to watch the development of foreign competition, and to consider 317 from time to time what steps were necessary to meet it. The Prime Minister in reply to a Question on the 24th of March, 1903, had stated that the formation of such a Committee was under consideration, but that he doubted whether it would be strengthened by the admission of representatives of shipping and commerce as had been suggested by the Committee. Personally, he believed that if a Commercial Committee of Defence was created, and one or two commercial representatives enabled to sit upon it, it would be of great assistance to the work of the Board of Trade. The President of that Department would naturally be an important member of the Committee, and, as he would be the conduit-pipe between it and the Cabinet, the opinion of representative traders upon commercial questions would be carried direct to the Government, and in that way the Committee might be of great value in developing and fostering British trade. What was wanted was not an obsolete Board, such as might have been suitable years ago, but a Department furnished with modern efficient machinery, which would march with the times, and cope with the growing needs of our Imperial commerce.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
said that while he was more in favour of money being spent on the Board of Trade than on the Military Departments, he did not agree that the interests of trade would be better looked after if the President of the Department were paid£5,000 instead of£2,000 a year. Too much importance was ascribed to salaries, and the taxpayer was too seldom thought of. He did not believe that a man would be more highly respected if he had a larger salary as the representative of the Department. He did not regard the President as very valuable now, and he would not regard him as more valuable, and he certainly would not respect him more, if he were paid even£50,000 instead of£2,000 a year. The Prime Minister had a large number of friends, and, as it appeared from the remarks of the right hon. Gentlemen the Member for Croydon, he wanted to give every one of them£5,000, but unfortunately there were not a sufficient number of offices with£5,000 attached to satisfy the greed, 318 ambition, or whatever it might be called, of his numerous friends. The right hon Gentleman had therefore to give£2,000 a year to some, and £5,030 a year to others. It was doubtless a very difficult thing for the Prime Minister to assess the value of his different friends. Human nature was the same in Cabinet Ministers as in other individuals, and the Ministers with£2,000 a year would infinitely prefer to have£5,000 a year. But if all were paid£5,000 a year what would be gained? He gathered from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Croydon that the difference in the salaries gave rise to certain jealousies, and that a Minister who received£2,000 a year was not listened to with the same respect as a Minister with£5,000 a year. Such an idea was perfectly absurd. He thought it would be desirable that all Ministers should have the same salary; all these terrible feelings of jealousy would then be avoided, and the Prime Minister would be saved a great deal of trouble. He suggested that all Ministers should receive£3,000 a year. That was quite enough. If the Prime Minister found any difficulty in getting men at that price, he would undertake to supply him with as many as he wanted at£3,000 each, precisely as good as any that could be got for£5,000 and£2,000. Why should there be any of these jealousies? Jealousies in Cabinets were most dangerous. When Ministers were not agreed, all manner of subterfuges had to be resorted to, and the discussion of most important matters forbidden. He thought, therefore, everything possible ought to be done to remove any causes of jealousy that might exist.
It was generally admitted that the Consular Service was not so good as it might be, but rather than the dual control which had been suggested, he would prefer that the system should remain as at present. The great mistake was that commercial men were not appointed as Consuls. Under the French Consular system a person began as a cadet, and then, after passing examinations, he proceeded to Vice-Consul, then Consul, and finally Consul-General; it was much more of a service than was the case in the British system, and that was as it should be. At present the Reports 319 were sent to the Board of Trade through the Foreign Office. He maintained that the Consuls should be either under the Foreign Secretary or under the President of the Board of Trade; they should be able to look to one Minister as their superior, with the knowledge that their fate depended upon him. It was doubtless a difficult matter, because the Consul had dual functions, having to act in some cases diplomatically and in others as a commercial agent, but the system would certainly not be improved by making half the business go to the Foreign Office and the other half to the Board of Trade. If good men were appointed, their duties increased, fuller commercial Reports demanded than at present, and answers required to all questions put to them by responsible bodies of commercial men, he thought it would be better to leave the service as at present organised, with the appointment of Consuls solely in the hands of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
§ MR. H. C. RICHARDS (Finsbury, E.)
desired to place before the Committee the views of a large number of his constituents connected with the City of London with regard to the absolute necessity of having a Minister of Commerce. He entirely demurred, however, to the proposals of the Report of the Reorganisation Committee. What business men wanted was not an increase of salary for the President of the Board of Trade, but a Ministry of Commerce consisting of officials with commercial training, and having at its head a commercial man. The Board of Trade as at present constituted did not command the confidence of the commercial community. With regard to the Consuls, he agreed as to the difficulty of the question of dual control. What the trading community wanted was something more definite, on a broader and more liberal scale, in the way of commercial Reports, In many places where German trade had gone up by leaps and bounds we were absolutely unrepresented. For instance, Aix-la-Chapelle had grown from the position of an old-world city with a gaming-table and some baths to be the Sheffield of Germany. British trade had practically been driven out of the place. Our nearest commercial or 320 Consular representative was at Düssel-dorf, and consequently British traders knew practically nothing of what was going on. There were Englishmen in business at Aix-la-Chapelle who for the smallest remuneration would be glad to act as commercial correspondents, but, instead of any such arrangement being made, commercial men had to rely upon a Consul in a City a two-hours journey distant. He protested against the confining of the Committee's Report to the question of salaries. What was wanted was a complete change of system. There ought to be a Department of commercial men, and he would go the length of suggesting that if a Ministry of Commerce were established no scion of the Peerage should be allowed there unless he [had first 0passed through a commercial training. Every body knew what had happened with regard to education. The complaint used constantly to be made that there was no representative of the Education Department in this House. Accordingly an alteration was made, and there had been a reduction of salary to the man who did the work, and a new office found for the man who did it not. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford University was paid less than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University, and a distinguished nobleman, whose only contribution to education had been the way in which he had always fought—
§ MR. H. C. RICHARDS
said he would not pursue the subject; he could quite understand why he was not allowed to illustrate his argument by referring to what had happened in another Department. There were many Consuls whose work in connection with commercial matters entitled them to promotion, and the commercial community would not be | satisfied with anything short of new men and new measures—a Ministry of Commerce in which they would be directly represented, and whose affairs would be controlled by men with commercial training. This was not a political question. The commercial men of the country had 321 long since made up their minds on the matter, and it was for the Government of the day to realise the fact.
§ MR. CHARLES HOBHOUSE (Bristol, E.)
said that if the theory of the hon. Member for Finsbury were carried to its logical conclusion, every First Lord of the Admiralty should be a sailor, every War Minister a soldier, every Chancellor of the Exchequer a banker, and every President of the Board of Education a national school teacher. Such a system would not necessarily secure able men; it would simply mean that men would be appointed not because they were able or capable of assimilating ideas, but because at some remote period of their lives they had followed a particular calling. What they did want at the head of the Board of Trade was not so much a great trade expert as a man who was capable of grappling with the problems put before him. He would rather have a man in that position who could approach such questions from an impartial than from a professional point of view. While a man might be familiar with the complexities of one particular trade he might be absolutely unfamiliar with others. Indeed his familiarity with one trade might hamper him considerably in dealing with other cognate trades. The hon. Member for Aston Manor had dwelt on the innumerable duties which were being accumulated by the Board of Trade. There was a Bill before the House, which if it had passed, would have added considerably to the duties of the Board of Trade. It proposed that the Board of Trade should attempt to control traffic. That was one of the things which, in the opinion of the President of the Board of Trade, it was not the duty of the Board to do. Capable as he thought the right hon. Gentleman and his Department to be, he was quite sure they were not capable of controlling the trade of the country. All it could do was to supervise it as best it could.
There was one point on which he should like to get a definite answer from the right hon. Gentleman. Two or three years ago he raised a question in the House which had been much discussed that day, namely, the position of the commercial attaches. He was told by the noble Lord who then 322 represented the Foreign Office that there were seven or eight commercial attaches scattered up and down the world. So little use had been made of them that the total amount of fees paid by the trading community was only £13 or £14. It seemed to him that the commercial attaches were either too few or too many; they were too many if they were not consulted by our traders; but they were far too few to carry out any real duties. It was quite clear that they did not necessarily want a trader for the post of Consul. His inquiries must be pushed almost more as those of a detective than as those of a trader. He would rather have an experienced civil servant appointed to the post than a man who simply had knowledge of one particular trade. In reply to the contention of the hon. Member for East Finsbury, he might say he was a representative of one of the great commercial centres of the country. But because he was not engaged in trade he did not think he had no business to represent, as he did, 100,000 people engaged in trade. He happened to be a purely honorary member of a chamber of commerce, and he quite agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Croydon that many chambers were not active bodies. Some were active and gave a great deal of aid to the Board of Trade. On behalf of the Chamber of Commerce of Bristol, he could say that that body received help, at any rate, from the Reports of the Board of Trade. Such really active chambers of commerce as those of Manchester, Liverpool and Bristol issued monthly reports on the industrial and commercial position of the town, the possibility of spreading the commerce of the town and giving to traders some acquaintance with opportunities for extending their trade. The town of Bristol had appointed to the Dominion of Canada a commerce agent, and it was within his knowledge that by that appointment a considerable amount of trade had been brought to the City of Bristol, and that the appointment had been of the happiest character. He wished to emphasise the point that while it was quite certain that chambers of commerce had got a useful sphere of influence and while it was most desirable that they should keep themselves in touch with the Board of Trade, it was 323 quite clear that if they did not do their duty by their constituents they must not only fail, but must hamper such efforts as were made by the Board of Trade in the interest of the commerce of the country.
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)
said that the Report before the Committee was the direct consequence of a debate in which the labour side played as great a part as the capital side of the question. It was pointed out in that debate that it was impossible to justify the present division of labour work in this country between the Home Office and the Board of Trade. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Croydon, who replied for the Government on that occasion, gave a most specific promise that the matter would be inquired into by the Committee to be appointed. Not one word had been said that afternoon upon the labour aspect of the matter. The special feature of the debate last session was the criticism of the present distribution of questions affecting I bour between the Home Office and the Board of Trade. Lord Jersey's Committee had given the subject the go-by altogether and had not said a single word in their Report about it. He could assure the Government that there was not the ghost of a chance of any Bill based on the recommendations of Lord Jersey's Committee passing through the House which did not face this question. When Members got up and said that the President of the Board of Trade should be a commercial man they meant someone representing the employers. The overwhelming majority of their constituents were engaged in trade and were interested in the labour side of the question. They must have their say in this question, and they had just as much ground for expecting that here, as in the Colonies, and to some extent in France and Germany, labour should have the control of this new Department as that Capital should have the control of it. This was a pressing question. It was no secret now that a course of labour treaties was being entered upon as a deliberate policy on the part of France and Germany for uniformity of labour legislation. An i international conference was to be called next year for the discussion of that sub- 324 ject. It would be called by Switzerland at, he believed, the instigation of France and Germany. Who was to decide upon the policy which was involved—a policy of the greatest importance to this country? Was it to be the Home Office or the Board of Trade? At first sight, one would say the Board of Trade, but the matters which would be brought before the conference did not come under the Board of Trade and did solely concern the Factory and Workshop Department of the Home Office. That was a practical illustration of the difficulty of the present situation —a situation which the Committee was appointed to consider, and which it had not touched. They had only made a recommendation in regard to the overlapping of work which was almost unintelligible. He had been familiar for years with the difficulty as between the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade, caused by the existence of the commercial department of the Foreign Office. This was a question most difficult to solve, and he made no complaint that the recommendations of the Committee on that subject were vague; bat he did complain that the Report had left entirely aside that question which they were deliberately promised should be dealt with, and on the strength of which the Motion and Amendment were withdrawn last year.
§ MR GERALD BALFOUR
said that the remarks of the right hon. Baronet undoubtedly raised a question of great interest and importance, but he could not help thinking that on the whole tie Committee were wise not to include it in the scope of their recommendation, because it was probably a far more controversial question than any with which they had actually had to deal. He would not attempt to go into the merits of the question. There was, as had been said, a division of work with regard to labour questions between the Home Office and the Board of Trade. In some ways he should be very glad if the share of that work which fell to the Board of Trade in connection with railways and shipping could be transferred to the Home Office, and if the whole of that work were under a single Minister. He had often wondered whether that 325 could be done, and, if so, whether it would be a good thing, but he was afraid his deliberations on the subject had always led him to the conclusion that it was impossible. The Board of Trade connected as it was with shipping and railways, was able to exercise a supervision which could not be transferred to the Home Office. If unity of administration were to be insisted upon, he was afraid it could only be by the Board of Trade taking over the work which was now discharged by the Home Office in connection with factory legislation and administration. If that were done, he thought it would be clear to the Committee that the Board of Trade would be hopelessly overweighted, it really could not undertake and discharge with efficiency such an addition to its labours.
Coming to the Report of the Committee, and to the question of the status of the Board of Trade, there had been considerable difference of opinion among the various speakers. The hon. Member for King's Lynn, who followed the lead of Mr. Edmund Burke, thought that a Board of Trade was mischievous rather than beneficial, that it could not touch trade at any point without doing harm, that it actually did harm in connection with the railways and shipping, and that the further it extended the sphere of its activity the more harmful it would become. He might set those opinions aside as extreme, as they had not been echoed by any other speaker in the debate. On the other side his hon. friend the Member for Romford, and to some extent his hon. friend the Member for East Finsbury, desired something like a revolution in the present relations between the Department and the commerce of this country. As to how that revolution was to be carried out they were rather vague, but he gathered that the hon. Member for Romford favoured a condition of things under which the Board of Trade should practically take over the management of the railways, and more or less the same with other departments of commerce, so that commerce and industry would be really controlled by the Board of Trade. For his own part he thought that would be highly mischievous. He was himself undoubtedly in favour of the view that the commercial and industrial prosperity of 326 this country must in the main rest with individual effort, and that all that a Government Department could do was to some extent to remove difficulties and to supply information. He did not think that a Government Department could do very much more than that, except, of course, in regard to the communications that took place with foreign countries over their tariffs, which was the work, not of the Board of Trade, but of the Foreign Office.
His hon. friend the Member for Romford seemed to think that a new era in the relations between a Government Department and the commerce of the country would best be realised by appointing a President of the Board of Trade from the ranks of commerce, and his hon. friend the Member for East Finsbury went a little further and suggested that the principal officials of the Board of Trade should also be commercial men. He remembered a story told by the late Lord Beaconsfield. When that statesman was urged to appoint a business man to the head of the Stationery Office, his reply was that such a man would either be a man retired from business or from whom business had retired. He ventured to think that if an attempt were made to appoint a President of the Board of Trade from the ranks of commercial men, still more the principal officials, they would only be able to get those commercial men who had not been successful. He entirely agreed with the hon. Member for Oldham that a commercial man would be a specialist, not in commerce generally, but in some particular line of commerce. Supposing, for instance, a great railway man were appointed. The Board of Trade had to deal with questions which arose between the railway interest and the traders, and how would it be possible for a man in that position, he would not say to exercise absolute impartiality, but to convince everybody that he was dealing with such questions impartially? The Board of Trade, as had been justly observed by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Forest of Dean, had also to deal with questions of employer and employed. If a commercial man were appointed he must often, nay, almost necessarily, be in the position of 327 an employer, and how could he be expected under those circumstances to hold the balance with absolute impartiality? On the whole, he believed that in the case of the Board of Trade, as in the case of other Departments of Government, it was not desirable, and was certainly not in accordance with the system which had been generally followed in this country, to appoint an expert, but rather to appoint somebody who possessed what he might call general administrative capacity. He made no personal claim to general administrative capacity, but he ventured to think that general administrative capacity could be learnt elsewhere than among experts. To carry out the suggested principle logically, it would be necessary to appoint a sailor to the Admiralty, a soldier to the War Office, and so forth, but that had never been done in this country, and he did not believe that efficiency and economy of administration would be promoted by such a system.
Passing from these more or less extreme views, he might say that he agreed generally with what had fallen from his right hon. friend the Member for Croydon and the Member for Oldham, who was a member of the Committee. He did not think that any extensive amelioration would immediately follow from the adoption of the Committee's recommendation in regard to a Minister for Commerce. He thought it was perfectly true that the influence which any Minister might exercise in the councils of the country did not, and could not, depend on his salary; it must depend on himself, but it remained true generally that a salary of £5,000 a year would command the services of a man more eminent, perhaps more capable, and certainly with a higher standing in political life than a salary of £2,000 a year. From that point of view he thought the great interests of commerce in this country would on the whole be more ably and capably represented if the office were made an office of the first class. He did not put it higher than that, and, so far as the persona] aspect of the question was concerned, he thought it might be desirable from many points of view that a change of this kind should not be made during the present occupancy of the office. Undoubtedly the 328 principal way in which the Board of Trade could assist our commerce and industry was by affording rapid and full information. His hon. friend the Member for Gravesend had complained that the Statistical Department turned out quantity rather than quality. He was himself disposed to think that our volumes of statistical abstracts for the United Kingdom, the Colonies, and Foreign Countries were more valuable than the United States volume, which reviewed the world's commerce.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
said that that was a matter of opinion. He thought that our volumes did afford more information as to the world's commerce than the United States volume. He was quite ready to consider any proposal, but all these matters were questions of expense. If the staff were increased, and more money spent, many more things could be done; but he could not help thinking that there were other statistical contributions to the commercial knowledge of the country which might be even more valuable than the abstract which his hon. friend desired. They proposed to add to the abstracts now issued an Imperial abstract containing all information regarding trade and navigation between the different parts of the Empire, which he trusted would prove a useful addition to the statistical work. Before leaving the question of the commercial part of the work of the Board of Trade, he ventured to say that very good work had been done by the Commercial Intelligence Committee. The Commercial Intelligence Department had been in existence for fifteen years, and had done very good work—work which had increased in importance year by year. The Commercial Intelligence Department, assisted by the Commercial Intelligence Committees had gone carefully through all the tariffs of Continental countries which had at present been issued. That was a very difficult work, and anyone who had studied their Report would agree that they had done the work extremely well, and that the thanks of the Board of Trade were due to the unofficial members of 329 the Committee who had contributed their labours to producing such a satisfactory result. In addition to that, the Intelligence Committee had lately added a new department to their other activities, for they had undertaken the work of sending out commercial missions to various countries. A commercial mission had been sent to Siberia and another to Persia. The Report of the Persian Mission would be published in a few days, and the Report of the Siberian Mission later. Both Reports would, he thought, be of great value. In addition to that, they sent last year a very important mission to South Africa, out of funds provided by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Committee would remember the Report of Mr. Birchenough, the representative of the Board of Trade on that occasion, and the general recognition which was given to it. Following up that, they had with the concurrence of the Colonial Office, appointed commercial agents of their own in all the principal towns in South Africa—Capetown, Port Elizabeth, Durban, Johannesburg, and Bloemfontein— who would be in direct communication with the Board of Trade, and would serve under no other Department.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
said he quite agreed; and he trusted that when the experiment in South Africa had proved successful they would follow it up by sending commercial representatives, in direct touch with the Board of Trade, to other colonies.
A good deal had been said about the Consular service, to which his noble friend the Under-Secretary for. Foreign Affairs would presently reply. On that question, however, he might say that the Board of Trade and the Foreign Office had been working in perfect harmony; but he agreed that it would not be a practical thing to put the Consuls under two different Departments. Such an arrangement would be certain to produce friction. The Consuls could not satisfactorily serve two masters; but the question was whether the Consuls, while remaining in the service of the Foreign 330 Office, could not be put into more direct communication with the Board of Trade. He should be glad to see that; but, as regarded information, the change had actually been sanctioned by the Foreign Office, and would be immediately brought into force. In future, questions would be addressed to the Consuls directly by the Board of Trade, and it would be their duty to reply direct to the Board, sending, at the same time, copies of such replies to the Foreign Office. He hoped that that arrangement would, to some extent, meet the universal desire for more direct communication between the commercial department of the Government and the Consuls, and a more rapid imparting of information to business men. Another change in the same direction was that before Consuls took up their duties they would have to pass a certain time in the Commercial Department of the Board of Trade, in order to become thoroughly acquainted with its methods. He thought the Committee would agree that that was an important change.
§ MR. LOUIS SINCLAIR
asked if no Consuls would be appointed in future who had not that commercial training.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
said he would leave his noble friend to answer that. As regarded a further grant to the Commercial Intelligence Department he sympathised with his hon. friend and he would be gratified if the Chancellor of the Exchequer saw his way to make it. He would assist in that direction as far as his influence went. His hon. friend thought that they had allowed the Lighthouse Fund to accumulate until the surplus at their disposal was unnecessarily large. If his hon. friend knew the figures he would modify that opinion. What had happened was that the actual accumulated funds last year amounted to £320,000. They made a rebate of 12½ per cent., and the effect would be, year by year for the next five years, to diminish the accumulated fund until it reached a figure of about £250,000. He was quite aware that Mr. Courtney's Committee had suggested that £100,000 would be a sufficient reserve fund. He had looked into the matter very carefully; and he was of opinion that £100,000 was not really adequate for the purpose. Good times might be followed by bad times; and he was sure 331 that his hon. friend would agree that it would be very undesirable to be continually altering the amount that ships had to subscribe to the fund. He calculated that a rebate of 20 per cent, instead of 12½ per cent, would wipe out an amount of nearly £200,000 in the next three years, leaving the fund with about £120,000. In making that calculation he allowed for an increase in the Lighthouse Fund at the same rate as had taken place in recent years; but if they had a period of bad trade, and there was no increase in the actual revenue, a rebate of 20 per cent, would completely wipe out the surplus in 1906. He could assure his hon. friend that if, at any time, they thought it safe to make a further reduction nothing would give him greater pleasure.
§ MR. RENWICK (Newcastle-on-Tyne)
asked why his right hon. friend wished j to retain £250,000. Could the shipping trade be worse than it was at present?
§ MR. GEKALD BALFOUR
said he had explained why he did not think it well to reduce the fund below £250,000. The total expenditure was about £500,000; and, therefore, the sum of £100,000 suggested by Mr. Courtney's Committee was really only two months expenditure or thereabouts. That would not be sufficient; and he thought he had shown that £250,000 was not an unreasonably large surplus to maintain. The additional rebate which he would be in a position to give at the present time was really a very small one. He certainly would not be justified in giving an additional rebate j of 7½ per cent, as suggested.
§ MR. RENWICK
said that the shipowners would be quite prepared to accept the additional rebate and take the risk.
§ MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)
said that apart from the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Croydon and the President of the Board of Trade the other speeches very largely answered one another. One set of speakers said that the Board of Trade was incompetent; and another that it was doing good work. The justification for the Report of the 332 Committee was to be found in the fact that the work of the Board of Trade was very heavy and was always increasing. So far as he had been able to ascertain, by far the most heavily worked Department of the Government at this moment was the Foreign Office, but he thought the Board of Trade was a good second. It seemed, therefore, only reasonable and natural that it should be put on a level with the other great Departments in regard to status and salary. That was true also with regard to the permanent staff. The impression left on his mind was that they certainly did not pay proper salaries to the staff. In this country it was not realised apparently that the best men should be obtained for the posts—he was speaking now of the permanent staff—but the time would certainly come when they would insist upon having the best men and paying them salaries which the scale of the permanent staff did not now permit. No one could have listened to a debate like this and to similar debates in past years without seeing that there was a certain amount of vague discontent in the commercial community in regard to the Board of Trade, as expressed by the hon. Members for Gravesend, Finsbury, and others, but he could not understand what they wanted, and he could only sum up the position of those who complained in these debates by saying that they did not know what they wanted, and that they would not be happy till they got it. The hon. Member for Finsbury said that they ought to have a commercial man at the head of the Board of Trade, which reminded him of Dr. Johnson's line "Who drives fat oxen should himself be fat," and he did not think there was much more force in the one theory than the other. People had a most mistaken idea about the Board of Trade and its work. When he went to the Board of Trade he was very uneasy because he was not a business man, and had not been even a director of a public company, but he had not been at the office many weeks when he discovered that the cases in which he felt the want of a commercial training were extremely rare. The Board of Trade was to some extent a scientific department, and a scientific man would have an advantage there; secondly, and to a far greater extent, it was a legal department; and, thirdly, it was 333 an economic department where one needed to know something about other countries besides one's own, and to have studied economic questions. But it was not at all a commercial department in the narrow sense of the word. And, therefore, with all due respect to the hon. Member for Finsbury, he confessed that he did not think, notwithstanding whit had been said by the hon. Member for Oldham, that the work would be improved necessarily by taking a man from a trade, such as the cotton trade, or the iron trade, and putting him-at the head of the Department. He was rather of the opinion that the head of the Board of Trade should be a neutral man, and not connected with any trade.
It had been said that the Board of Trade should do more than it now did for British commerce, but his opinion was that British commence had been made by British men and could not be helped by Parliament. It was part of the duty of the President of the Board of Trade to prepare legislation and pass it when he had the chance, and the right hon. Gentleman, he believed, would agree when he said the pigeonholes of the Board of Trade were filled with excellent measures, which there had not been time to pass. Its most important duties, however, were to try to adapt the statutes passed by Parliament in regard to such matters as railway and shipping to the actual needs of the case, and to make them work with as little hardship as possible to the industries concerned, at the same time that efficient administration was secured. That was nine-tenths of the work of the Board of Trade. He thought that those duties were discharged with efficiency. The question of aiding British commerce abroad was one largely of expense, and we might have more Consuls, more attaches, and more reports, which should give all the facts, but there let them stop. He demurred to the idea that these Consular reports ought to represent anything approaching a Party view. He was very clad to hear that the Foreign Office had agreed to adopt the Report submitted a year ago on the question of appointments to the Consular Service, but at the same time his impression was that British traders did not use nearly as much as they might the materials 334 placed before them by the Foreign Office. With regard to the redistribution of duties between the Board of Trade and the Home Office, it was very necessary that something should be done in that direction, especially with regard to accidents. In the case of an accident at the docks, if the crane which caused it was fixed to the dock side the Home Office would deal with the matter, but if a precisely similar accident happened and the crane was fixed to the deck of a ship, then it was a matter for the Board of Trade. These matters should certainly be under one control, and, and it could be arranged very easily between the two Departments. It was very desirable that this labour work, which was an increasing department of official concern, should be rearranged and given the best possible chance. He thought that as a result of the discussion the Committee would come to the conclusion that the Board of Trade was not insensible to the requirements of the commercial community, while, as regarded commercial intelligence, the record of the Department showed that it had been trying to do what it could in the interests of the commercial community.
§ MR. GODDARD (Ipswich)
said the acquisition of commercial intelligence was doubtless a most desirable object on which to spend money, but he could not see why money voted for that purpose should not be treated in exactly the same way as money voted for other purposes. For some years past. £1,000 had been voted as a grant in aid of the expenses of the Advisory Committee of Commercial Intelligence, and in the Appropriation Accounts the sum had always appeared as having been expended. As a matter of fact, that was not the cage, for at the end of the last financial year unexpended balances to the amount of £2,800 had accumulated in the hands of the Committee. He gathered that commercial expeditions to Persia and Siberia would cost about £1,250 and £500 respectively, but in view of the accumulations of £2,800, he failed to see any reason why another £1,000 should be taken this year. He did not complain of the cost of these commercial expeditions which might prove to be exceedingly useful, but he thought that the money, 335 if the unexpended balances were not surrendered in the ordinary way, ought to be paid through the Board to the Committee, and not allowed to accumulate in the hands of a body not responsible to this House. He asked whether there was any idea of spending the £1,000 in the current financial year. Another point to which he wished to refer had reference to the Vote for Law Charges. A distinct pledge was given in the Public Accounts Committee that that Vote should be reduced by £550. It was so reduced last year, but it had now gone up another £250. It was a small matter, but, as the Vote was never wholly expended, he thought some explanation ought to be given of why the pledge had not been carried out.
MR. SPEAK (Devonshire, Tavistock)
said he had been urged by his constituents to urge upon the Government the desirability of the establishment of a Ministry of Commerce. Traders did not require the assistance of Parliament in the transaction of their business, but they did ask that efforts should be made to remove unreasonable interference with the development of the trade of the country. The reason traders had the idea that the work would be more efficiently done under a Minister of Commerce was that at present trading matters were dealt with by different Departments, and it was felt that if the various interests were brought under one Department it would tend to greater efficiency. It was generally believed that under a Minister of Commerce causes of friction between traders and railway companies would be more easily and more readily arranged. Especially with respect to information i concerning trading matters with foreign countries would assistance be forthcoming which would tend to promote the development of trade in this country. He was sorry, however, to hear it suggested that the salary of the head of the office, be it called Ministry of Commerce or Board of Trade, should be raised from £2,0C0 to £5,000 a year. It would be both unjustifiable and undesirable at this time when expenditure was so very great, Any additional information which it would be necessary to present to the trading community could be produced by the employment of an extra clerk. 336 While acknowledging the sympathetic spirit which the President of the Boar of Trade had shown in his speech, h thought there was still further in formation which could be given to the trading interests without any increase of cost to the country.
§ MR. TENNANT (Berwickshire)
though the answer to the demand for a Minister of Commerce who should be a business man might be found in the statement just made, viz., that such an official would be able to arrange difference between traders and railway companies If the head of the new Department were a great railway king it was not at al likely that he would be able to do any thing of the sort. With a captain of industry, a man of power in the commercial world, at the head of the Department he believed there would be infinitely more friction between the various interests than existed at present. Certainly if a Ministry of Commerce were established a Ministry of Labour would have to follow, and that he did not desire to see. He believed that the Board of Trade held the balance extremely fairly as between employers and employed, but if a great captain of industry were placed at the head of the Department the public would get the idea that it was impossible for the Department to act fairly between the two classes. As to the question of salary, he had always held that it was ludicrous to ask a Cabinet Minister to serve for £2,000 a year. All Cabinet Ministers of first rank ought to have £5,000. Why? Because they were underpaid at £2,000. Men who managed City concerns received anything up to £10,000 or £12,000ayear, and it was ridiculous to pay the Minister in charge of the commercial Department of the State a beggarly £2,000. He desired to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to a matter connected with the transportation of fishermen from place to place in Scotland. The accommodation on the steamers in some cases was so bad that persons had actually died as a result of the exposure. He knew the powers of the Board were not very wide in the matter, but he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would use his influence with the shipping companies so that better accommodation might be provided for an absolutely defenceless class.
§ MR. AUSTIN TAYLOR (Liverpool, East Toxteth)
as representing a commercial community, joined in welcoming the Report which recommended that the President of the Board of Trade should be advanced to the dignity and the emoluments of a Minister of Commerce. He believed that in this, although it might appear otherwise, they were beginning at the right end of the ladder. Criticisms had been directed against the Committee for not having recommended a complete revolution in the constitution of the Board of Trade, but he believed that by having a Minister of sufficient dignity to represent the commercial interests of the country they would have a guarantee that with due initiative the necessary impetus to the commercial side of the Department would be forthcoming. It was not the function of the Board of Trade to create or to control commerce. In the history of commercial affairs we had passed the stage of the purely negative and laissez faire attitude, but the abandonment of the attitude of negation need not necessarily lead to any deviation from the fiscal policy of the country. In his opinion it was essential that the Minister who represented the commercial interests of this country should be as closely in touch with the commercial community as was the headquarters of the German Army with the great military organisation which it directed. He did not for a moment mean that there should be the same disciplinary powers, but he felt that the commercial community was looking for a change by which there should be at the head of the commercial Department of the State a Minister who would put his services at the disposal of the commerce of the country and lend it every stimulus that he possibly could without in any way interfering with, or hampering, its due development.
As a member of the shipowning fraternity he spoke rather feelingly on this point. Criticism had been directed against the President of the Board of Trade because he was not a commercial man. That fact, however, had compensating advantages. Some time ago the right hon. Gentleman addressed a meeting of shipowners and shipbrokers in Liverpool, and his audience were keenly 338 anxious to hear something about the future of the industry, its possible expansion, and the profits they were likely to reap from its development. The right hon. Gentleman, however, was far too careful to give any such information. Relying upon the other side of his mind, to which reference had been made, the right hon. Gentleman directed the attention of his audience to the classical side of shipowning. He commenced with the Phœnician trireme. By easy stages he led his hearers up to the battle of Lepanto; and finally brought them up to the year in which they were, having thus completed a most interesting, historical, and classical survey of the whole history of shipbuilding and shipowning from the earliest possible times. The assembled shipowners and shipbrokers waited for some gleam of light upon the future, but the right hon. Gentleman refused to gratify their curiosity. However, he did a most important service in educating the shipowning and ship-broking fraternity of Liverpool in the historical side of their industry; and upon the practical interests of the moment and the possibilities of the future he maintained an attitude of prudent reserve. Liverpool owed a debt of gratitude to the President of the Board of Trade for having given them something higher to think of than the immediate urgent necessities of the day, and he would regret the advent of a Minister to that high office who occupied himself too closely with the sordid details of a particular industry instead of enlightening and stimulating the minds of his audience by retrospective glances over many centuries of history. He congratulated his right hon. friend upon the prospect of advancing to higher dignity and emoluments. The country had everything to gain from adding to the status and dignity of the Minister in charge of its commercial interests, and he hoped that as a result of that policy there would be throughout the trading community an increased spirit of enterprise, an increased belief in the reliance to be placed upon and the help to be obtained from the great Department which the right hon. Gentleman so worthily adorned.
§ MR. SOARES (Devonshire, Barnstaple)
called attention to the composition of 339 Courts of Inquiry ordered by the Board of Trade into the circumstances of wrecks when accompanied by loss of life. When such inquiries were to be held, three naval assessors proceeded to a place near the scene of the wreck. These naval assessors were joined by the local magistrates, and a Court of summary jurisdiction was constituted. The Solicitor and the Standing Counsel of the Board of Trade appeared before the inquiry, went into the matter, and conducted the proceedings generally. The matters to be inquired into included all the circumstances in connection with the wreck, whether the ship was properly equipped properly manned, and so forth. Inquiry also had to be made into the efficiency of the coastguard service, and this involved the conduct of the men, the efficiency of the look-outs, the arrangement of the system of reliefs, and whether or not the commander of the coastguards had done his duty. Notwithstanding that these matters were involved in the inquiry, the naval assessors were all appointed, not by the Admiralty, into the conduct of whose servants they had to inquire, but by the Home Office. He urged that the President of the Board of Trade should promise that in every case of an inquiry into the efficiency of the coastguard service, at least one of the naval assessors should be appointed by the Admiralty. These inquiries ought to be thoroughly efficient, but they were of no use unless the Department concerned was represented and was enabled to take the steps necessary to remedy any defects that might be found to exist. There was one other matter to which he wished to refer. In reply to a Question with regard to accidents on railways in course of electrification the President of the Board of Trade recently stated that there had been two fatal and two nonfatal accidents, but that in all cases the sufferers were trespassers. He submitted that nobody had a right to kill a man for trespassing. The setting of man-traps was illegal, and he regarded these "live rails" as nothing more nor less than man-traps of the most dangerous description, and that a man who by any mischance trespassed on a railway should be liable to be electrocuted was a dreadful thing. He believed the President of the Board had power to protect the public, 340 and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would see that all proper and necessary steps for that purpose were taken.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
said that an inquiry had been ordered into the cause of the accident, but until he had read the report of that inquiry he could make no further statement. As to the other question raised by the hon. Member, under the law as it at present stood the Admiralty had no power to appoint assessors in the cases referred to. The assessors had to be appointed by the Home Office, who might appoint naval men, but the Admiralty as such had no power in the matter. When the conduct of the coastguard servants was involved he agreed that it was desirable that one at any rate of the assessors should be a naval man, and so far as he could secure that he would be happy to use his influence. The hon. Member for Ipswich had complained that the grant to the Commercial Intelligence Committee, when not expended during the financial year, was not returned as was the case with other moneys. His predecessor appointed a Departmental Committee in 1897. to inquire into the dissemination of commercial information. That Committee reported in favour of a grant of £1,000 a year for five years to the Commercial Intelligence Committee, and suggested that unexpended balances at the end of any year should be made available for outlay in other years, when greater expense might be incurred than in the average year. The Treasury assented to make the grant in the manner suggested by the Departmental Committee, and he might say that the arrangement had proved very useful, for the Commercial Intelligence Committee were enabled to spend more than a £1,000 in one year, and less in another year, according to circumstances. The hon. Member for Ipswich had asked when the term of five years would come to an end. It would come to an end in March next. With respect to the law charges of which he hon. Member for Ipswich complained, he present estimate had been based upon what the solicitor thought would be required for the year. He was obliged to take the opinion of the solicitor on that joint, and he generally based it upon his 341 knowledge of what cases were likely to come on.
§ MR. AINSWORTH (Argyllshire)
said he wished to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to a Bill, which was before the House the other day, prepared by the Board of Trade, embracing three Provisional Orders of an entirely different character. It must be obvious that it was almost impossible for those interested in the Provisional Orders to raise questions connected with them in any satisfactory way on the Second Reading. He hoped that in the future the Bills would be so introduced that each Provisional Order would be considered on its own merits. He was specially referring to the Provisional Order relating to piers and harbours in an Island in the Hebrides. He thought that the local authority should be consulted on the subject because it was obvious that the best way of dealing with the interests raised would, be to leave it in the hands of the county council. He also wished the right hon. Gentleman to undertake that the report of the officer who went down to Islay to make inquiries would be laid on the Table.
§ SIR CARNE RASCH (Essex, Chelmsford)
said he ventured to congratulate his hon. friend the Member for Romford on the fact that the Government seemed inclined to adopt the suggestion, which he was the first to raise, in reference to a Ministry of Commerce. He wished to call attention to the question of preferential railway rates in the eastern counties. Hon. Members would be surprised to hear that the Dutchman could send his garden produce—carrots, potatoes, and onions—from Rotterdam to London 20 or 30 per cent, cheaper than the Essex farmer could send his from Harwich to Whitechapel. He had no great dislike to the Great Eastern Railway. It had passed through many vicissitudes. He remembered when their carriages were in the hands of the bailiffs, and when a costermonger offered to race with his donkey-cart any of their trains. A great many improvements had taken place since then. He was not in their secrets, but this he knew, that Parliament would never have given these great railway corporations a 342 monopoly of the carrying trade of the country in order that they might bolster up the foreigner and oppress the home producer. The right hon. Gentleman had said that he did not see what the Board of Trade could do, but he thought that the Board of Trade might have done a great deal more than they had done in making the railway companies treat agriculturists more fairly with respect to railway rates. The railway interests were strong in the House. They all felt it. But the Government ought to be stronger, and he did not see why the Board of Trade should not undertake to block railway Bills if the railway companies would not consent to reduce their rates for agricultural produce. The agricultural interest was longsuffering, and it never complained. They were rather tired, and did not intend to take the treatment of the railway companies lying down much longer. They hoped that the recontituted Board of Trade, if reconstituted it was to be, would give them some little assistance.
§ SIR JOHN LENG (Dundee)
said that some years ago he was a somewhat pertinacious critic of the Department which was under the charge of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, with reference specially to the Patent Office. He had to acknowledge that recently there had been a steady improvement in the administration of that office, in the classification of patents, the publication of specifications and abridgments, the extension of the library and the reading-room, and the enlargement of accommodation afforded by the new Patent Office. All this had certainly been of more or less importance and all in the right direction. Some twelve years ago he had assisted in obtaining a very considerable reduction in the Patent Office fees, and he desired now to say a word or two with regard to the present position. The funds for the past year showed that the receipts of the Patent Office were just double the expenditure. The receipts were £248,923 and the payments were £124,054 and there was a surplus of £124,858. He wished to inquire what was the object of carrying on an administration from year to year 343 with this large excess of expenditure —making charges which were double the requirements of the office. He did this because, although the patent fees were more favourable in proportion than they were in the year 1890, when he first took up this question, it was still the fact that a patent for fourteen years cost practically £100, while the fees for four years protection were £5. What he wished more particularly to point out at this moment was that in order to obtain a patent which should run not only through the United Kingdom but through our colonies and great possessions, thirty-nine different protections must be obtained, involving a cost of £195, and if the full fourteen years term was desired £1,000 must be spent by the patentee. What, he asked, was the cost in America? There a patent running for seventeen years could be obtained for £8, as against £99 for fourteen years in this country. But that was not all. The population of the United Kingdom and its colonies and dependencies occupied by our own race, was only 50,000,000, and to obtain four years protection £195 must be paid. But the population of the United States now was 80,000,000, and a patent which was valid for a population of 80,000,000 cost £8 for seventeen years, while with our much smaller population it cost practically £100. We had been advised recently—and it was excellent advice, if it was intelligently followed—to think Imperially. He would like the President of the Board of Trade who is or may be, and the Board which is, or as it may become, to think Imperially with regard to this patent question so that one might have a patent which should run through the whole of our Empire. The President might say how was that to be done? The Dominion of Canada, the Commonwealth of Australia, and New Zealand all had their Patent Offices which required to be paid their fees, but at present the charges were so high and so excessive that they deterred many from applying for patents who otherwise would do so. But if one got an Imperial patent at a moderate price, there would be a much larger number of applications for patents running through the Empire. To give a practical application to the 344 figures he had presented, he said that if any indemnification was required by the Colonies for the loss which would be incurred, we had far more money already than was required to indemnify them in this surplus of £124,000. The present system of charging a patentee— those who took out trade marks in this country—such a sum as to yield a surplus of £124,000 more than was needed ought to be put a stop to. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would give careful consideration to this point. He was sure that those who were connected with the industries of the country, many of whom were comparatively poor men of ingenious and inventive talents, would be delighted if the President of the Board of Trade would adopt the idea of an Imperial patent. If he would cause communications to be entered into with the Commonwealth of Australia, with Canada, and with our other dependencies to bring this about, he thought that would be a useful and practical employment of his powers.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon Boroughs)
agreed with the hon. Member for Chelmsford that the Board of Trade could do a great deal more than they were doing at present. The question of patents was an illustration. With regard to patents they were undoubtedly charging too much or doing too little. The mere fact that a man had a patent in America or Germany had in itself commercial value, but that was not the case in regard to British patents. Here they must get the opinion of some well-known gentleman upon them in order to attach some sort of commercial value to them. The Board of Trade ought to reduce the fee—which he did not suggest —or employ scientific men to examine patents and give an opinion upon them before a patent was granted.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
pointed out that an Act was passed two years ago more or less on the lines of those of the United States and Germany. It had not yet come into force, but it would do next year.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
continuing, thought there was a great deal more to be done by the Board of Trade with regard to railway rates. It was perfectly intolerable that through rates from America to towns in this country should be cheaper than the rates charged by the railway companies between two towns in this country. Surely the Board of Trade could bring pressure to bear upon the railway companies. Wherever railway companies had a monopoly they charged rates to make up the loss incurred where they had to reduce them on account of competition. The only way of bringing pressure to bear upon them was through the Board of Trade. They could do more in the way of bringing cases before the Railway and Canal Commissioners, for it was quite impossible for small traders to compete with great companies when it came to employing counsel and expert witnesses. If the chambers of commerce and chambers of agriculture had a powerful combination for the purpose of fighting questions of that character something might be done. The Board of Trade might then go to a, railway company and say that, having satisfied themselves that there was a case, if the railway company did not meet it reasonably they would have to take it in hand.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
said they inquired into any complaint brought before them. It was open to the traders to bring cases before the Board of Trade under the Conciliation Act, and he might say that no cases of undue preference had been brought before the Board for the last ten years.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said that that was not the opinion of the late President 346 of the Board of Agriculture. He remembered the startling statement he made in that House. He had gone into the matter carefully, and that was not his opinion, and it was not the opinion of agriculturists in the country, There was not the slightest doubt that there were cases of preference, and the Board of Trade should do something. They could say that they would oppose the railway companies in getting enabling Bills through the House of Commons. Whenever there was a little seaside town served by a steamboat, the railway companies beat down the rates there, whereas the rates to towns where there was no competition by sea were kept up. Nominally, the rates were the same; but, as a matter of fact, they were different. The Board of Trade could do a great deal more than it did if it told the railway companies that obstacles would be put in the way of their Bills in the House of Commons. That was what happened in the case of the London and North Western Railway. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Croydon was at the Board of Trade the Welsh Members urged him to assist them in the redress of grievances by putting obstacles in the way of the railway company obtaining enabling Bills. They got his assistance in referring a Bill to a Hybrid Committee; the Bill was thrown out, and the result was that in the following year the grievances of individual traders were met and a considerable reduction of rates was made. That was not due so much to the action of the Welsh Members, but was due to the fact that they had the sympathetic assistance of the then President of the Board of Trade. The Board' of Trade might tell the possessors of these 347 great monopolies that unless they acted fairly the Board would put obstacles in their way when they asked for additional legislation. Not only agriculturists, but many little rural industries suffered from the effects of extravagant railway rates. What was wanted was not merely to put the people back on the land, but to get them back to the little rural industries which existed many years ago. He was sure the Board of Trade could give a great deal of assistance in the way he had indicated.
§ SIR JOSEPH LAWRENCE (Monmouth Boroughs)
said that with reference to the Patent Acts, which had been mentioned, there was in America and Germany not only an investigation with regard to anticipation, but also with regard to novelty. In this country, however, there was no investigation as regarded novelty. When the Bill to amend the patent law was brought forward two years ago, he objected to it; and it was only in deference to the view of the commercial Members that half a loaf was better than no bread that he withdrew his objection. That Bill was based on the recommendations of a Departmental Committee which, in his judgment, did not represent the commercial or scientific elements. That Committee objected to any reduction in the fees; and he concluded from that fact that there was a large Treasury element on it. He urged two years ago that a foreign manufacturer taking out a patent in this country should be compelled to work it in this country. Generally, he thought that the present position of the patent law deserved consideration.
§ SIR WILLIAM TOMLINSON (Preston)
said the Board of Trade should give 348 more attention to the complaints received from traders and others in regard to matters involving the trade interests of the country. He hoped that some better procedure would be adopted in future.
§ DR. HUTCHINSON (Sussex, Rye)
said he wanted to say a word or two with respect to preferential rates on railways. He rather wanted to come before the Committee as a supporter of monopolists. He thought the question of preferential rates on railways was not one where they ought to blame the railways quite as much as was the fashion. It was not possible for a railway company to carry one egg at the same rate as 10,000,000, and what they wanted was to get farmers to combine and co-operate. He expressed the hope that the Board of Trade might wake up the Agricultural Department of the State and get these men to form an agricultural committee in every county council. That was what they wanted, agricultural committees to take farmers by the scruff of the neck, and not the railways companies as his friend had said, because it was the fault of the farmers and not of the railway companies that these preferential rates existed.
§ Resolution to be reported upon Monday next; Committee to sit again on Monday next.