§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [14th February], "That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth—
§ "Most Gracious Sovereign,
§ "We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—(Mr. Mount.)
§ Question again proposed.
§ SIR JOHN GORST (Cambridge University)
said he desired to occupy some little of the time that must necessarily elapse before the Prime Minister replied on the debate, in calling attention to a subject of immense national importance; a subject which was not in any way alluded to in the Speech from the Throne, and which had not been alluded to by the Leader of the Opposition when he addressed the House. He referred to the physical condition of the people of this country. Just before the House rose last year a Report was laid upon the Table, together with a large body of evidence, dealing with this matter. It was the Report of a Committee which had been sitting for about twelve months before that date, to consider the question of the physical 142 deterioration of the people of this country. The Committee took an immense amount of valuable evidence and reported unanimously, making many excellent practical recommendations, some of which might be carried out by administrative methods, but some of which required legislation by this House. He could not at the present moment go at great length into the Report of the Committee, though he hoped he would have an opportunity of doing so this session; but if he did not speak now, he might never have a chance of doing so.
The conclusion to which the Committee came was, that there were causes, most of them preventable and all of them capable of treatment, which resulted in an enormous amount of physical degeneration. The medical evidence given before the Committee showed that children were almost all of them born healthy, notwithstanding the privations which their mothers might have had to suffer, but that the moment the child was born into the world the deterioration began. The first thing modern society did was to separate the child from the mother. The exigencies of modern industry necessitated the mother going to work, and she was therefore unable to perform those duties to her child which it was necessary to perform if the child was to grow up into a healthy man or woman. Although this country joined in the Congress at Berlin it was far behind the other countries who had joined in that Congress in the measures taken to prevent physical degeneration. In this country we had nothing beyond the law, seldom put into force, which required a woman to abstain from labouring in a factory or a workshop for one month after her confinement. Apart from the fact that a mother was taken away from her child by the exigencies of modern industry, it was a remarkable fact that those who were the mothers of the present day had mostly been educated in our public elementary schools, and yet hardly any one of them knew how to manage a child. He could not help thinking that a little less grammar and geography and a little more attention given to this subject would greatly benefit the country. 143 But even if the mothers knew how to manage a child they were unable to get a good substitute for human milk. The best substitute for mother's milk was pure cow's milk, but it was almost impossible in many places for the poor of the towns to obtain pure cow's milk, notwithstanding the fact that there were powers vested in the Local Government Board which could compel a supply of pure cow's milk to the poor in towns. As a rule, however, those powers were not put into force, and the result was that children from their birth grew up imperfectly and improperly fed; subject to all diseases, notably rickets, and suffering all kinds of ailments brought about entirely by want of sufficient and proper food.
When these children were three years old they were invited, and when five, were compelled, to come into the elementary schools, and the public authorities became cognisant of their condition. But they did not take the trouble to have a medical examination of these children when they came to school, and the result was that they came to school suffering from all sorts of complaints which rendered them physically unfit to take advantage of the instruction they received. In his opinion there ought to be a power, vested in the Central Education Authority, enabling them to withhold the payment of a grant until it was proved that the child was fit to take advantage of, and profit by, the instruction given. When Minister of Education he had frequently to tell the House that the greater part of the money devoted to education would be thrown away because the greater part of the children were not fit to receive the instruction for which the House voted millions of money every year. He was, however, never listened to, but, in the evidence given, there was a concrete case brought before the Committee which could not be overlooked. There was a school in Lambeth, ten minutes walk from that House, every child in which had been medically examined for the purpose of that Committee, and the evidence given of that examination was that 90 per cent. of the children attending that school were unfit to receive instruction. That might be a very bad case, but in various centres in the northern 144 counties, medical examinations of the children had resulted in the finding of 50 per cent. of them being unfit to receive instruction. The most deplorable and melancholy fact about the whole subject was that while the child was still young and growing the mischief was done. If they could only ensure that at the time it was at school a child had its body well cared for, they could bring up a perfectly strong and healthy generation.
The remedy was so simple and so easy that they had only to adopt it, and in the existing generation they would have on the whole a greatly improved standard of young men and young women growing up. A great many admitted that it would be a most admirable thing, but said that they must not interfere with the liberty of the parents in this matter. His point was that as the law stood at present, although the parents were bound to maintain their children, no attempt was made to protect the child against its parents. The only society which was at present interested in these matters was a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, a very excellent society in its way, but the existence of which was a reproach to the State, which ought to be the society to protect the children. No new right for the children was asked for; they had now the right to be maintained by their parents in the first instance, and failing that they ought to be maintained by the State. All he asked was that this right should be made more effective, and that the State should perform its duties to the children as against the parents. When the children were under the control of the educational authorities, there was no difficulty in bringing pressure to bear on parents.
Upon the question of food the evidence before the Committee was that all the causes operating to produce degeneration in children paled before the one great cause of insufficient and improper food, and that it was of no use to remove other causes if this was not removed. There was no difficulty in ensuring that children attending school should be properly fed. It was not suggested that all the children in the country should be fed, but only those whose parents, after pressure, had been found to be unable to provide properly for them. He did not 145 believe that the percentage of such parents was very large, because he observed that, as a fact, the Jews, the poorest community in this country, never sent a child to school underfed or improperly fed. The fact was, it was part of the Jewish religion to take care of the children. The Jewish mother suckled her child, and the Jewish father, instead of drinking his wages, would rather go without food himself than see his child do so. If the Jews could do that, he thought with a little pressure Christians could do the same. If parents could not feed their children, it seemed to him only reasonable that the local education authority should have the power to spend some of its money in feeding the children preparatory to teaching them, because it was the greatest cruelty to make a child pass through this training unless it was properly fed. That was the part upon which legislation was necessary. It was recommended by this Committee that power should be given to the local authority, if it saw fit, to spend some of its own money, some of the school funds in feeding those children who the local authority were satisfied could be fed in no other way. He thought it was a question of great importance to the community—quite as important a question as that of the adulteration of butter. He should have thought that the Government might have arrived at the conclusion that a short and simple Act giving this power to the, local authorities would be beneficial to the Empire. How could they carry on this great Empire, if they allowed causes of this kind which affected the physical condition of the people to continue to operate, and thus prevent their having soldiers and sailors fit to serve for the protection of the Empire? He hoped some step would be, taken this session to carry out the recommendations of the Committee, and put an end to this thing which was a scandal to the race.
§ COLONEL PILKINGTON (Lancashire, Newton)
was of opinion that the parents were not altogether to blame in this question of underfeeding. The defect was mainly noticeable in half-a-dozen centres of population. No doubt the majority of parents in the United Kingdom did feed their children properly, and 146 in the case of the minority who were either too selfish or from some other cause did not provide their children with proper nourishment before sending them to school, the remedy, he thought, might be found in giving the children food and charging their parents with the cost. Wherever the race was found to be deteriorating, it was certainly the clear duty of the Government to take steps to stop the evil.
He congratulated the Government on their foreign policy, which had led to such friendly relations with the brave and plucky Japanese. It was a matter for congratulation that the foreign policy of the Government, in this respect at any rate, had been crowned with complete success; not that he liked to see a great nation humbled, but it was satisfactory that when attacked by an overwhelming and aggressive force our plucky ally had come out successful. Amongst the other matters referred to in the gracious Speech from the Throne he would like to point to the position in which we stood with regard to France. France was our nearest neighbour and he wished that in addition she were our warmest friend. It was difficult to see why she should not be. With so much in common, with institutions resembling each other so much, he looked forward to seeing the two countries bound together in bonds of closest unity.
He congratulated the Government on having at last recognised that the present arrangement of electoral areas required attention, and he trusted there would be such a Redistribution of Seats Bill as would deal justly with each part of the United Kingdom. It was not fair that in one district one man should represent 40,000 voters and that in another part of the kingdom another man should represent only 2,000. He trusted the Government would find time to deal effectually with this question. He rejoiced to find that the Aliens Bill was again to come before the House. It was of vital importance for the welfare of this country to exclude the inefficient, the immoral, and the diseased foreigner. This Bill, he trusted, would be dealt with in the House and not sent to a Grand Committee, where there was no machinery for dealing with obstruction. It was 147 gratifying to see that it was proposed to extend the benefits conferred by the Workmen's Compensation Act. The Bill of 1896, introduced by Mr. Chamberlain, had proved an excellent measure. Its provisions, however, were confined to certain trades, and he hoped to see these extended. The proposal to establish a Ministry of Commerce met with his warmest support. It was one of the best ideas brought forward for a long time. Whatever was said about the fiscal policy, one thing was clear, viz., the necessity for watching over our industries in foreign countries. The Prime Minister was to be congratulated on the measure he had indicated his intention of introducing, and he (the speaker) trusted there would be no obstruction. If all would put their shoulders to the wheel and try to carry through the programme placed before them he believed the country would be the better and the happier in the end.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said that, judging from the King's Speech, a younger, a more hopeful, and a more enthusiastic Government had never existed in this country. The session had been shortened by a fortnight, and, in view of the multifarious character of the work the House were expected to do and the number of Bills it was hoped they would pass, either the Government must be very full of hope as to the work to be done, or peradventure were looking forward to a dissolution and desired to place the country in possession of their programme for the future. His hon. friend who had just spoken had referred with delight to the prospect of a Redistribution Bill. But no such thing was promised in the Speech, nor did he believe there was the slightest prospect of such a measure being introduced this session—first of all, because the Government must be well aware of the difficulties of passing it, and, secondly, because there had been none of the precedent inquiries necessary. As one of the certain victims of any scheme which had been suggested, he would have to raise his voice in kindly but strenuous criticism, and perhaps less kindly and more strenuous opposition would come from the Nationalist Benches. If the proposal survived the opposition of the 148 representatives of those small constituencies which in former times had sent most illustrious Members to this House, it would be fortunate indeed. The Government, doubtless, intended to propose certain Resolutions, not to introduce a Bill; those Resolutions would have to-receive the most kindly and candid consideration, and he hoped they would get nothing more.
The inevitable allusion to the war between Russia and Japan prompted him to say that of the many lessons taught by the war—such as that the use of the sword and the bayonet was not at an end, that troops might still carry their colours into battle with advantage, and so forth—the greatest was that to-day, as of old, the sea was mistress of the land. It was to the acquisition and the retention of seapower the success of Japan was due; it was because Russia had lost the sea, although she retained the power of transport by land, that the course of the war had been such as it had, and, as he believed, would be to the end. He recognised that the Government had "been careful to observe in the strictest manner the obligations incumbent upon a neutral Power," but many of His Majesty's subjects, disregarding the strict injunction of His Majesty's Proclamation, had entered upon a trade in contraband of war which was the less creditable to this country, because engaged in for the advantage of the country not allied to our own. In August last he referred to the shocking and flagrant case of outrage on the British flag—the sinking of the "Knight Commander," without examination or trial, upon the mere fiat of the commander of the cruiser that stopped her, on July 24th. Cases long subsequent to that had been tried and decided in the Prize Courts, but of the case of the "Knight Commander" nothing had yet been heard. The Government undertook that proper reparation should be immediately demanded, and there was no matter more urgently demanding explanation. As to the North Sea incident, although at first very doubtful as to the effectual nature of the representations made by the country, he in the end was convinced and still believed that the arrangement arrived at by Lord Lansdwne was 149 a sufficient and proper one, that the tribunal to which the matter was referred was an admirable one for the purpose, and that we could await with confidence its decision to do justice between the parties.
With regard to Tibet, a certain disagreement had arisen. The Government had sought to abide by their undertaking that there was no idea of appointing a permanent Resident or annexing any territory, but Colonel Younghusband had departed from it, and had been censured for that. He still feared that it would be found impossible to continue a policy of abstention after warlike acts.
His belief was that when they went into a country like Tibet and destroyed the moral authority, the physical power of the Government of that country, and in fact the Government itself, they incurred a responsibility which in the end would force them to take further steps, and eventually to send a Resident and occupy territory. He did not wonder that a disagreement had arisen between the Secretary of State for India and, not Colonel Younghusband, but Lord Curzon. Lord Curzon was a very ambitious Viceroy, who, when he saw all the world annexing territory, said—"I will go one better; I will annex not territory, but the incarnate Buddha; I will have a divinity in my service. That is what I will do for my country." There was no doubt that it was with Lord Curzon's knowledge and acquiescence that this "defiance" of the authority of the Home Government by Colonel Younghusband had been carried on, and the attempt made to force down their throats a treaty, convention, or arrangement known to be contrary to their policy; and he thought that the hard words "defiance," "disobedience," and "disregard of authority," might more properly have been applied to the Viceroy than to the able and gallant officer who conducted the expedition.
According to the Speech, the Estimates had been framed "with the utmost economy which the circumstances of the present time admit." If that was so it would mean a saving of many millions. The finances of the country had got into such a state that if the expenditure went 150 on during the next ten years at the same rate as during the last we should be face to face with national bankruptcy. He had put down an Amendment dealing with this matter, and no one would be more pleased than he if assurances were forthcoming that an entire change of our financial system was to be entered upon, and some better provision made for our monstrous Debt, funded and unfunded.
One paragraph in the Speech troubled him much. The improvement of the status of a public department simply meant an increase in the Estimates for that department—an increase in the Minister's salary and an increase of expense. A brand new Minister of Commerce was also promised—he supposed with a seat in the Cabinet. One objection to that proposal would be that it would increase the already too large Cabinet. But what in the name of wonder was a Minister of Commerce going to do for commerce? Commerce had flourished in the past not because of Ministers, but in spite of them. The shipping trade had managed to drag out its existence, not because of the action of the President of the Board of Trade, but because that Minister sometimes forgot there was a shipping trade. There was nothing a Minister of Commerce could do for commerce that commerce could not do better for itself.
There were two matters not mentioned in the Speech in which his constituents took a great interest. One was the Undersized Fish Bill. He hoped its omission meant that the Government had given that subject up. The other matter was the question of whether we were to go on with free trade or to have imposed upon us a system of protection whereby £21,000,000 of extra Customs duties was to be levied, £6,000,000 remitted, and the remainder left as a charge, which it was fondly believed would fall on the foreigner. Personally, he thought the position had been considerably cleared. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham could see no difference in principle between the Prime Minister and himself. But there was all this difference in principle, that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham was for protection, while 151 the Prime Minister was against it. There had been too much ambiguity and uncertainty too long over this matter, but the Prime Minister's declaration at Edinburgh was plain and unambiguous that he was against protection and that he would never be the leader of a Party bound to protection. He (the hon. Member) congratulated himself upon that, because certainly if the Prime Minister were to become the leader of a Party by which protection was countenanced he (the hon. Member) would not have the advantage of being among his followers. But he took note of the Prime Minister's declaration and accepted it, as all were bound, to do. He would not now argue the merits of the questions but he would read a most interesting account of a personal experience—not an expression of opinion—related by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. In November, 1885, the right hon. Gentleman said—I will tell you something that I do not think I ever have told in public before—a very curious incident in my commercial experience. The Americans had a duty of about 100 per cent. upon screws to protect that poor industry, to keep it in the country for the benefit of the working classes. In spite of the duty of 100 per cent. we were able to send screws there, and we did send very large quantities. What happened? The American manufacturers came over here and they said, 'We are making 100 per cent. upon our capital. If you continue to send screws to America we should, of course, be obliged to reduce our prices. That will shut you out, but will reduce our profits. That will not be good for either of us. Now let us make a bargain. We will pay you so much a year to sit still and not send a screw to America.' Well, they did it, and my firm received a handsome income for years. From the American manufacturers, protected as they were by the folly and stupidity of this protectionist legislation, we received a very considerable income to sit still with folded hands and send no screws to America. But after a little while these American manufacturers went to Congress, and they said, 'Here is a native manufacture deserving protection, employing a lot of the working people, in danger of being ruined by competition from abroad. You must raise the duties.' And they did raise the duties to about 120 or 150 per cent., and then, of course, our income ceased and we Were shut out. But now I want you to see who are the losers in this thing. Not the American manufacturers, who were able to make 100 per cent. upon their capital and to pay a handsome subsidy, and not the foreign manufacturers who received the handsome subsidy. The only people who suffered were the working classes of the United States, 152 who had to pay more for every screw that they used, and every manufacture in which they were engaged. Hampered and trammelled by the additional cost that was put upon their materials, they, and they alone, bore the burden of this tax upon their industry and their labour. Well, if other people chose to cut off their tails, are you going to be so foolish? I tell you that any proposal to tax commerce [I think that word should be "corn"] is a proposal to put rent in the pockets of landlords, and any proposal to tax manufactures is a proposal to put profits in the pockets of particularly-favoured manufacturers. I do not think that you will be led away by these absurdities.The House would observe that that was not a question of individual opinion but a statement of fact in regard to certain things that occurred, and certain inevitable inferences to be drawn from them. Whatever the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman might be, unless he could explain away this story of the screws, it would remain as an object-lesson of the utmost importance in this question which was now before the country. Meantime, to this new religion of preference and protection and of duties which no one was to pay unless it was the foreigner, certain sacrifices were to be offered up. He was one of them. The noble Lord the Member for Greenwich was another, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University was a third. If they were sacrificed, no doubt others would be found, far more competent, to take their places, and do that work which they had tried to do. Yes, Sir, but they were not going without a struggle. Whatever might be the temptation to accept other seats, they could not abandon the people in their constituencies who had stood true to them. It would not be honourable to do so, and they did not mean to do so. They would not die without a struggle, and he was not quite sure that, as time went on, and the dissolution came about, their prospects might not change and the probabilities entirely alter. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham knew that his plan was rejected, not only by the people, but by the First Lord of the Treasury, in the most explicit terms, and it was because the First Lord had rejected it that he should continue to give his right hon. friend that support which he had hitherto given to him.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Mr. Speaker, I am sorry I was not able to hear the whole of my hon. friend's speech. Had I done so, no doubt I should have seen that he was gradually leading up to that promise of support with which he concluded his observations. The few phrases I heard before that did not seem to me to be enthusiastically in favour of the present Government, but I daresay—
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I agree that it is not fair to judge a speech from a few sentences, and I abstain from inferential criticism. I content myself with thanking him for the promise of support, his accustomed support, which I gratefully receive. I am sorry that, through exigencies of time, which the House fully understands, I was not able to rise immediately after the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and do my best to reply to the very numerous questions he put to me in his speech, but I do not know that any serious inconvenience has occurred to the right hon. Gentleman or the House through my observations being delayed. I am sorry I was not able, as it were, to give at once that meed of applause to the two speeches of my hon. friends who moved and seconded the Address, and that I am reduced to paying them a somewhat belated, but most well-deserved, compliment on the admirable manner in which they fulfilled their responsible duties. And, Sir, before I come to the necessarily controversial portions of my speech I should like to associate myself with the right hon. Gentleman in expressing on behalf of my hon. friends on this side of the House as well as on my own our regret on account of the departure from among us of one of the greatest Parliamentary figures that we have known in our experience. This is not the time to attempt any appreciation of the great Parliamentary abilities of Sir William Harcourt; but this I may say, with the assurance that it will receive the sympathetic support of every man in every quarter of the House, he was a vigorous controversialist; but in the utmost height of Party controversy, when feeling was running strongly, when he himself perhaps was taking, as was his 154 wont, a leading place in the fighting line, he never allowed Party differences to mar the perfection of personal friendship, and no dialectical display, no strength of Party attack, made him forget for one moment that native, and ineradicable kindliness which characterised the man. I am proud to say that he honoured me with his friendship for many years, and never was that friendship clouded even when our political differences were in their most acute stage. My experience is the experience of many men in this House; and the result is that I believe he is as much regretted by Gentlemen who sit upon this side of the House, and who throughout their whole political lives have differed from him in matters of public policy as he can be by those with whom he was politically associated.
Mr. Speaker, a very large number of questions were put to me by the right hon. Gentleman relating to many subjects, and touching upon many different parts of the world. He asked me about Tibet, and he seemed to indicate that in his view the Government at home should have passed a vote of censure upon the Government of India. I see no ground for that suggestion. The Government of India recognised, as I am sure they always will recognise, that the Government at home in these matters must be supreme, and they never for one instant departed from a correct attitude in regard to the policy to be pursued. On that, I think, I need say no more. With regard to Afghanistan, negotiations are now proceeding with the Ameer, and we hope that they will have a successful termination. The right hon. Gentleman indicated that in his view the Government were pursuing a provocative policy or something in the nature of a provocative policy in regard to Afghanistan. If that is, or was, his view, I can assure him that he is profoundly mistaken. It is a cardinal element, in my judgment, in any sound policy for the Indian Government that they should be on good terms with their neighbour on the North-West Frontier. That neighbour lies between them and a more powerful military empire. The friendship of the Ameer may do much for us; we can do still more for the Ameer. There is every motive, therefore, for a friendly relation 155 between the two countries; and that friendly relation it is the earnest desire of His Majesty's Government to maintain and, if possible, to increase.
Hurrying hastily through the list of points the right hon. Gentleman made I find that he asked me a great many questions about South Africa. He asked me, to begin with, why we had delayed giving constitutional government to the Orange Free State while we were giving representative, not responsible, government to the Transvaal. Well, I will venture to point out that it is a case of one thing at a time. It is no small matter to frame a new Constitution, a wholly new Constitution, for a new colony. The task has weighted—I had almost said over-weighted—the capacities of Lord Milner and his assistants; and it is premature, I think, even to suggest that we should deal with the Orange Free State until we have dealt thoroughly and satisfactorily with the more important and higher problem presented by the Transvaal. Then, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman asked me whether there would be an opportunity of discussing the Constitution which it is proposed to give to the Transvaal before any final step is taken. I do not intend to give any final answer on that point at present. My right hon. friend the Colonial Secretary informs me that, so far as he knows, there is no precedent for such a course; and in these circumstances I certainly should not bind myself by any premature and unnecessary pledge. Then the right hon. Gentleman asked whether any limit had been placed to the number of Chinese employed in indentured labour. No, Sir, no limit has been placed upon it; but the experiment of using Chinese labour is being most carefully watched by the responsible authorities on the spot, and if it should be found that the immigration of these labourers from any point of view was on the whole producing a balance of ill, the right hon. Gentleman may rest assured that we without hesitation should prevent any augmentation of their numbers. I may say—it is an interesting point—that the introduction of Chinese labour so far has been accompanied not only by an increase of white labour in the mines but by an increase of Kaffir labour.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
In the industries connected with the mines. The right hon. Gentleman further asked me whether we had heard any reports that the introduction of these Chinese labourers had produced any effects on the morality of the colony, or had indeed been associated with any manifestations of immorality. No such reports have reached us at all. He then asked me whether this was a permanent arrangement. Certainly I am not going to place a limit of time beyond which Chinese labourers should not be allowed to enter the country. But representative government is about to be given to the colony, and they will be able to give us most valuable advice upon the continuing need of these immigrant labourers. Then the right hon. Gentleman asked me whether the claims for compensation had been adequately dealt with. I am given to understand that the Commission which is dealing with these claims has nearly reached the term of its labours; but more precise information, I am sorry to say, I am not in a position to give him.
Then the right hon. Gentleman asked me one or two questions about the Sugar Convention. He asked me whether sugar from San Domingo is prohibited from entering the United Kingdom. It is not prohibited, because San Domingo has ceased to give a bounty. The second question he asked me was whether Russia had asked to be relieved from the penalty attaching to bounties under the Convention, and, if so, has this country supported that application. No application, so far as we know, has been made by Russia during the course of the last year, and there is no doubt whatever, according to our information, that Russia does give a bounty upon the export of sugar. I think the right hon. Gentlemen asked me about Brazil and some other countries. We have appealed against the decision because we do not think that these countries give too big a bounty. At any rate, we do not think it has been proved, and it ought to be clearly proved before 157 the sugar from those sources is prohibited in this country. These are the questions which the right hon. Gentleman asked me in the course of his speech.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
I should like to have an answer to the first question I asked the right hon. Gentleman—namely, why have we met so late?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I remember the question, but I was not aware that the right hon. Gentleman attached importance to it. There is nothing abnormal in the date on which we have met. There are plenty of precedents for a date of this kind. If a vote were taken by ballot as to whether we should meet on the 14th or the 7th or the 1st of February, I believe that the majority in favour of meeting on the 14th would be overwhelming, and I further believe that, if the secrecy of the ballot could have been broken, it would have been found that the right hon. Gentleman voted in the majority. As the right hon. Gentleman truly observed, the question which he has so good-naturedly interjected is not precisely germane to sugar. Let me go back to the Sugar Convention. It is a question which I think hon. Gentlemen opposite dwell upon with great pleasure. They think that this is a matter in which, to use the vulgar phrase, they have got the Government into a hole.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I think that is a more accurate way to put it. They think the Government, by endeavouring to abolish bounties, have got themselves into a hole; and they rejoice in seeing their opponents in that agreeable position. I take an entirely different view of the Convention, and if I wanted to show the absolute incompetence of hon. Gentlemen opposite to deal with an economic question, I should select the treatment of this question by the right hon. Gentleman and his friends, because I do not on this occasion dissociate them. The right hon. Gentleman evidently thinks that a policy intended to abolish foreign bounties for 158 imports into this country is contrary to sound national policy and sound political economy. I venture to say he has against him every authority worth considering, past and present, whether they be politicians or whether they be economists, whether they be men looking at this problem with the Impartiality of science; or men looking at it as a practical problem. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have against them the whole body of authority, and they have against them the authority of the right hon. Gentleman himself. I remember that the right hon. Gentleman made a speech in this House in which he told us that bounties were as bad as protective duties.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
That is not the view of the right hon. Gentleman. He said—These bounties appear to me to be bad; to dislocate trade, and so forth; above all, to punish the very nations who employ them.The nations who suffer most, of course, are the nations who impose the bounties. But they are not the only sufferers, and they are not the only sufferers according to the right hon. Gentleman, and according to every economist who knows his trade.
§ MR. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
The right hon. Gentleman did not deny that foreign bounties had the effect of cheapening sugar here.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Who ever denied it? But is the hon. Gentleman so ignorant both of what great men in whom he believes, like Mr. Gladstone, have said upon this subject, and of the elementary economic aspects of the case, as not to know that the temporary benefit which the consumer may derive from the bounties is held by favour of the country which gives them, and that the bounty has the effect of restricting the area of production? Is it not in the power of nations who have put on bounties to take them off, in which case the British consumer loses all the benefit he derived from the bounty and all the benefit he might have derived from the 159 increased area of production which would have existed if the bounty had not been imposed? I do not know, individually, that I rate the economic authority of Lord Farrer very high. He was, however, an able man, and he said what I have told you we all agree with, that these bounties are a shameful thing, and that they ought to be abolished, even though they raise the price of sugar I do not know that I should say that if the rise in the price of sugar was to be a permanent rise, I would not allow other nations to give us sugar permanently cheaper. But the argument turns on the word permanently. It is surely the poorest, kind of statesmanship which looks at the price of sugar in a given month or two months or three months, and does not look at the total production of the commodity, throughout the world, and does not encourage free trade in that commodity for the benefit of the consumers in this country; and those Gentlemen opposite—who are ready to encourage what the right hon. Gentleman describes as a fiscal expedient as bad as protection, who are anxious to see this kind of expedient adopted by foreign countries so that we may obtain for a few months or years benefit from it—call themselves free-traders! They do not know what free trade is. There is not an economist, from Adam Smith downwards, who would not repudiate with contempt and indignation, the doctrines I have heard put forth and cheered to-night from that side of the House.
Now I come to what is perhaps an even more important subject than the attack upon the Sugar Convention. It is more important because it touches upon what is or is not the sound constitutional practice of this country. The right hon. Gentleman has repeated in this House the accusations which he and his friends have gone about the country repeating almost ad nauseam through the whole recess. And what is the nature of the charge they make against us in respect of constitutional usage? It comes under three heads. In the first place, the right hon. Gentleman says that this Government is so feeble and discredited that it cannot carry out any effective policy. But how is that to be reconciled with the other 160 charges made against us—that we are always carrying out very effectively measures to which the strongest objection is taken by the other side? I quite agree that a Government which exists only by the sufferance of an Opposition, which dare not produce a measure which the Opposition does not approve of down to the last comma, can hardly be called a Party Government at all; and certainly I should never consent to be a member of a Government who depended, not upon the loyal support of their friends, but upon the grudging and contemptuous, assistance occasionally tossed to them by their opponents. But that is not the condition of this Government at present. It certainly was not its condition last session, in which, according to another portion of the diatribes of the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, we were constantly and tyrannically trampling upon the Opposition. That may show great wickedness, but it does not show great weakness. I therefore venture respectfully to submit that the charge of feebleness—immorality if you like—may be dismissed for the present. Then the second charge against us is that we are carrying on the Government while tin by-elections are going against us. I believe the by-elections have been going against us, and there is not the least doubt that we are carrying on the Government; so that the two propositions are quite accurate. But the question is, Are we in so carrying on the Government violating either the spirit or the letter or the practice of the Constitution? I do not think anybody who has considered the question can doubt what the answer should be. I will not discuss the Conservative Administrations. I will take my illustration from Radical Administrations. When Mr. Gladstone came into office in 1869 he disestablished a Church, he passed an Education Bill, he revolutionised the Army, and he did other things. I am not for the moment criticising or complaining of any of these measures. But in the years during which he performed these legislative and administrative feats he lost on the balance of elections no less than twenty-four seats. We have lost sixteen. Did Mr. Gladstone resign because he was losing by-elections? He 161 not only did not resign because he was losing by-elections, but he said that would be a most improper reason for resigning. We will skip over the next Tory Administration and go to Mr. Gladstone's next Government. [An HON. MEMBER: All wrong.] Well, I admit I have not checked these figures myself but I have no doubt that they are correct. But I go on to Mr. Gladstone's Government of 1880, which came to an end in 1885.
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY (Montrose Burghs)
I only wish to be allowed to say that the loss of by-elections was given to the Queen as a reason for advising dissolution.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I do not think that gets over the letter Mr. Gladstone wrote to Lord Granville, in which he said it was not a sufficient reason, and that it would be a bad precedent for a Government to go out simply because by-elections had gone against it without considering other motives. Now I come to Mr. Gladstone's Government of 1880, the last considerable stretch of power he enjoyed. That Government passed a Coercion Act, a Land Act, made the Kilmainham treaty, bombarded Alexandria, abandoned Gordon ["Oh, oh!"]—I am not attacking Mr. Gladstone. After all, why should I? I am narrating incidents which made that Government, for good or for evil—we need not quarrel over which it is—very remarkable in the history of the country. In the course of the tenure of office by that Government Mr. Gladstone lost on the balance nineteen seats at by-elections, and we have lost, as I have said, only sixteen. [An HON. MEMBER: But how many have come over?] Of course hon. Members may have changed their opinions though constituents have not. Some Gentlemen who have sat on this side now sit on that, and in Mr. Gladstone's time there were times when similar events, regrettable or not, occurred. But that is totally irrelevant to the constitutional question, Is a Government at liberty to go on while the balance of by-elections is against it? I say all precedent, all law, all common sense shows that it is for the House of Commons, and for the 162 House of Commons alone, to determine, whether a Government shall receive that measure of support which will enable it to carry out the duties entrusted to it by the Sovereign and expected from it by the country.
There is one further argument which has been used. We have been told we have no mandate; and by a mandate I understand is meant that some kind of bargain was made by the then Government that they would do nothing in the way of legislation—["Cries of No, no"]—then what is meant by it?—nothing in the way of legislation—and that they would only finish the war in South Africa, and as far as they could carry out a settlement there. We have been told that we went to the country on a single issue, and that we have no right to go beyond it. [An HON. MEMBER: Hear, hear!]. That is exactly what I say. Now really this argument transcends both common sense and history. In the first place, the election was in 1900, and I do not believe that you will find an instance of that argument being used until hon. Gentlemen came to express their dislike of the Education Act of 1902, and then they furbished up this strange weapon of political warfare. I have already said on another occasion that if this apocryphal bargain ever had been made between the Government and the country in 1900, the time to call attention to it was when, after the Speech from the Throne, business began; but, as I have already pointed out, the chief or only complaint was not that the legislative programme was too full, but that it was too meagre. Then I come to 1902, and refer to the right hon. Gentleman's speech in the discussion on the Address. He said of the Education Bill that it would lead to a great deal of controversy, but there was not a word about its being ultra vires, not a suggestion that we had no right to bring it forward. That you cannot bring forward an Education Bill without a great deal of controversy is quite true; but there is a total absence of any thought of this argument, which was not invented until some months later. But that is not all. The National Liberal Federation passed a resolution at the end of 1901, or early in 1902, complaining of the abortive Education Bill 163 of 1901, and saying there ought to be a big Bill passed. Really it is absurd in the face of facts like these to try to make out that there was a pledge between the Government and the constituencies. What did the right hon. Gentleman say in his election address? He said the question now before the electors in this Kingdom is not the narrow question which concerns the war, or the South African question; it is the question of the spirit in which the legislative affairs of the country should be carried on.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I do not wish to say who is the more important person. At all events, the right hon. Gentleman's words are worthy of some consideration—even he will admit that. I cannot hope that this absurd constitutional mare's-nest has been completely destroyed; no doubt it will appear in Liberal leaflets and Radical placards all over the country; but I think that any man who knows the constitutional history of the country for the last thirty or forty years will see that no more hollow pretence was ever made than this, that for the sake of the emoluments of office we are violating constitutional precedent and practice.
Then I come to what I suppose the right hon. Gentleman thought the main portion of his speech, that which dealt with the fiscal controversy. He fell foul of my two hon. friends the mover and the seconder of the Address because they did not anticipate his bad example, and drag quite irrelevantly into a debate on the King's Speech of 1905 what can, as a practical matter, only concern Parliaments to which that Speech is not addressed. If they had gone outside the four corners of the King's Speech and if they had anticipated the example of the right hon. Gentleman, and plunged into this subject, in my opinion they would have transgressed the practice and precedent of the House, and would have gone very far beyond what I think is relevant to our debates. I have protested more than once against this practice of dragging the fiscal question 164 into the discussions of a Parliament which is not going to deal with it, because quite obviously it is as utterly irrelevant as a debate, let us say, on Home Rule. Indeed, it is more irrelevant and for this reason. The right hon. Gentleman tells us, indeed it is the whole basis of his speech, that we do not in any sense represent the country, and that when the election comes he and his friends will come into office. Therefore, if we are to discuss any policy which is not to be dealt with by this Parliament, the policy we ought to discuss is not our policy but his policy. And while the right hon. Gentleman professed himself very much befogged as to what is our policy on the fiscal question, I truly and sincerely from my heart and conscience assure him he cannot be nearly so befogged as I am as to what policy of Home Rule is held by hon. Gentlemen opposite. I do not in the least know how that argument is to be answered. Perhaps the right hon. Member for East Fife will give me an answer. Why is it more relevant to the debate on the King's Speech in 1905 to discuss differences or supposed differences on the fiscal question on this side of the House than on the same Speech and at the same time to discuss Home Rule and the differences, real or supposed, that prevail among hon. Gentlemen opposite? There is absolutely no distinction of theory or practice between the two, and if one may be discussed so may the other. However, I propose to say a few words in answer to the right hon. Gentleman's observations on this question, though I think it necessary to put in this caveat as to their relevancy. They are not relevant, but I will deal with them. The right hon. Gentleman, I notice, does not say that he is unable to understand the policy which I have recommended to the country. He leaves that depth of ignorance to be professed by the right hon. Member for Montrose, whom I have never been able to enlighten, great as have been the efforts which I have devoted to the task. The Leader of the Opposition does understand, but he says my policy is a policy of aspirations. That is a very old criticism. Every policy is, I presume, a policy of aspirations until it is carried into effect. His policy as regards Home Rule is a policy 165 of aspirations. He does not agree with the Member for Fife that Home Rule is an academic question. He thinks it a vital and important question. Yes, but it is a question of aspirations, the aspirations, in fact, of the Irish Party and those whom they represent. What criticism of a policy is it to say that it is a policy of aspirations?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Excuse me. The right hon. Gentleman may not have intended to say so, but I can assure him that he did say so. It is the only thing in the nature of criticism of my policy that I can find in his speech.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to repeat the question, which I call a plain question, that I asked. Is it according to his idea of what is right that when an hon. Member or anyone else—when anyone who differs entirely from the principle of fiscal policy recommended by the Member for Birmingham comes to the right hon. Gentleman and imagines that he has found at his hands a policy of another kind altogether, does he think it right that he should allow him to understand that that is so, while practically and substantially the principle of his policy and that of the right hon. Member for Birmingham are identical?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I confess I should like to have that on half a sheet of notepaper. Can anything reasonably be asked of the Leader of a Party more than that he should, to the very best of his ability, explain, in the clearest language he can command, his own position? You may say that my language is obscure and that I indulge in metaphysics, but I do my best. Is it not extraordinarily inconsistent—when the gravamen of your charge against me is that I cannot explain my own position—to ask me to explain somebody else's? If my poor powers of expression are totally inadequate to the first task 166 how can you throw upon me the burden of the second? I really do not think that anybody, except the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose, has failed to understand what it is I recommended to the country. [OPPOSITION cries of "Oh, oh!"] At all events, having devoted much time to it, I am, from the lack of the necessary gifts, or the necessary education, or the necessary practice, incapable of putting it either more briefly, or clearly, or more precisely. I believe any man, with an impartial mind, can understand it without the smallest doubt.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I have given it you on half a sheet of notepaper. I cannot imagine any way of bringing it home to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen if the ways I have used are ineffective. If I had had time I would have put it in words of one syllable.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
"Yes" or "No" is not an answer to that question; and, failing that method, I entirely decline to attempt—although I admit it is my duty to explain my policy to the best of my ability, I do not admit that it is my business to explain anybody else's policy. Who are these gentleman who, in view of what is going to happen after the next election, are putting us through this course of cross-examination, and subjecting us to these inquiries? Why is the process not to be reversed? I have, at all events, honestly tried to explain my policy. Have you tried honestly to explain your policy? There was one happy period of about eight hours in which a rejoicing country thought they had the utterance of a Liberal Leader on this question. But the timid bathers withdrew their reluctant feet from the cold water and before the day was out there was a storm and flood of denial with regard to it from which we learned that that which everybody—including the right hon. Gentleman's best friends—had 167 blessed as an authoritative statement of Liberal policy was really no more than notes of undelivered speeches by a gentleman of position. If Lord Spencer's statements are repudiated as an authoritative statement of Liberal policy. [OPPOSITION cries of "No."] No? I thought they were—who was the man to whom it was addressed?—let somebody else with greater authority step into Lord Spencer's shoes and tell us what it is that the country, which they say is clamouring for their advent to power, wishes them to do. There are plenty of questions about which we are in doubt. You have not told us what you are going to do with the Education Act. You do not know, or at least you have not told us, what are your plans for dealing with the Licensing Act. I am sure you have made no plan as to what you mean to do in respect of Chinese labour. We have not the smallest conception whether you still think you ought to disestablish the Welsh Church which you tried to do before. You have not told us whether you still desire local veto, which you tried to pass. You have not told us whether you mean to pass Home Rule, with which you have wasted two Parliaments in trying to deal. This is a degree of ignorance which surely requires some illumination from some person, if there be such a person. I have put a few questions we should like answered. I believe half a sheet of note-paper would do it, properly applied. For my part, I entirely reject the idea that we stand here to be cross-examined as to what is to be done in the next Parliament, while hon. Gentlemen opposite are to sit there merely in the position of cross-examiners, and not in the position either of witnesses or criminals in the dock.
168 I have now, I think, adequately dealt with every part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, except one, and that was, as I thought, a most unnecessary and gratuitous attack upon my hon. friend the Member for Hampshire. My hon. friend has not been very long in an official position, but he has been long enough to show how valuable his great abilities and industries are and can be, to this country; and why the right hon. Gentleman, who has plenty of people to attack on this side—there is always my right hon. friend the Member for Birmingham—should have singled out my hon. friend for this most ungenerous animadversion I am unable understand. As I came into the House a friend of mine gave me a quotation from the late Mr. Bright which seems to me to be absolutely relevant to this issue, and with which I shall conclude my observations to-night. It runs as follows. He is dealing with an Opposition anxious to get into office and of whom the Leaders made an attack on one of the junior members of the Government. Mr. Bright said—If I were the hungriest of the hungry I would scorn to get into office over the prostrate body of the youngest member of the Administration.Motion made, and Question, "That the debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Asquith)—put, and agreed to.
Debate to be resumed To-morrow.