§ Order read, for resuming adjourned debate on Amendment [15th February], to Main 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.)
Which Amendment was—
At the end of the Question, to add the words, "And we humbly represent to Your Majesty that, the various aspects of the fiscal question having now been fully discussed in the country for nearly two years, the time has come for submitting the issue to the people without further delay." "—(Mr. Asquith.)
Question again proposed. "That those words be there added."
§ MR. RENWICK (Newcastle-on-Tyne)
assumed the object of the Amendment before the House was to bring about an immediate dissolution on the ground, first, that the by-elections had gone against the Government, and second, that the proposed fiscal policy had been fully discussed by the country. In his opinion neither of these reasons were sufficient to advise His Majesty to dissolve the House. Everyone must acknowledge that the by-elections had gone against the Government, but such a thing was not unusual when a Government had been long in power. The Chief Liberal Whip had, he observed, at a recent meeting, advised his supporters not to take any notice of by-elections, and, for his part, he also was quite prepared to accept that advice. He ventured to traverse the statement that the fiscal policy had been fully discussed during the last two years, because the House knew that instead of allowing this question to be fully and freely discussed, hon. Gentlemen opposite had done their best to befog the electors and prevent 242 their coming to a decision. The Government had been attacked by the leaders of the Opposition with a virulence beyond all precedent. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife seemed to have forgotten that the right hon. Member for West Birmingham resigned his high office in the Government for the definite purpose of educating the country in regard to these fiscal proposals. It was admitted both by the right hon. Gentleman and most of his supporters that it did require a considerable time to educate the country in regard to so great a change, but instead of discussing that matter fairly, hon. Gentlemen opposite had gone down to the constituencies and endeavoured to draw the proverbial red herring across the path by discussing Chinese labour, the Aliens Bill, and the Licensing Bill. Many hon. Members opposite had never put forward this question of fiscal reform at all. During the whole of the controversy of the last two years, he had known of no fiscal reformer who had been weaned from his desire to bring about this great change by any of the arguments used by hon. Gentlemen opposite. The Leader of the Opposition had said that the Prime Minister still strutted the quarter-deck. That was true, and those who sat on the Government side of the House hoped he would continue to strut it for some time to come, and hon. Members would do well to think twice before they gave a vote which would prevent the right hon. Gentleman from continuing to do so. As an example of the way in which this issue was put before the country, he would quote from a speech delivered by the hon. Member for South Shields at Blyth. Instead of showing that the Government were proposing a moderate system of taxation reform the hon. Member said—If they excluded food in England the result would be absolute starvation for two-thirds of our people. If they hampered the importation of food they would have distress in proportion to the extent they hampered it, as seventy-eight loaves out of every 100 come from abroad. And, above all, he hoped they would not allow statesmen to gamble with the food of the people.No one wished to prevent the importation of food into this country, and it was by gross exaggeration of this description that the issue had been burked. And it was because still further time was required to put this great issue fully and 243 fairly before the country that it was the duty of the House to vote against the Amendment of the right hon. Member for East Fife. The right hon. Gentleman speaking at Inverness, said—In his many speeches on the fiscal question he had never spoken without pointing out that we were hard pressed in the race of industrial rivalry, and that if we were to hold our own it could not be by simple folding our hands and living upon the past.But that was exactly what hon. Gentlemen opposite wished us to do. We were Out-paced in the race; there was something that required consideration, and he confessed he was glad to think that the right hon. Member for West Birmingham had decided to call attention to this state of affairs and endeavour to find some remedy for the evil to which he had called attention. The right hon. Member the mover of the Amendment said at a meeting held in the Forest of Dean—The reason that exports had not increased in the same ratio as before is not because of hostile tariffs, it has nothing to do with hostile tariffs. It is because our manufacturers and those they supply are busy meeting the demands of the home market that they have not the time or the machinery to meet the demands from abroad.A more misleading statement had never been made by a responsible statesman. It was notorious that what we-had been suffering from for years in this country was foreign competition, which had de-pressed our Home Markets. Yet the right hon. Gentleman made that statement which proved, if it proved nothing else, that he did not know much of the commercial state of the country. Nearly all hon. Gentlemen opposite had admitted that these tariffs did us harm. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose at Arbroath, said—I am not prepared to dispute that the merchants of Dundee were suffering from these abominable tariffs.Another right hon. Gentleman at Bradford said—No one disputed the fact that tariffs had injured their trade with the United States.If that was true, was it not the duty of these right hon. Gentlemen to endeavour to get rid of the tariffs from which they were suffering. The Duke of Devonshire also said—I admit that the excessive tariffs of other countries have inflicted, and do inflict, a great injury upon some of our principal industries.244 He (Mr. Renwick) contended that the industries of this country could not be greviously injured without the whole of the country being affected, and that it was because our industries had been injured by these tariffs that so many of our people were unemployed. The right hon. Member for Berwick, speaking at Belford, said—He thought it very foolish of foreign countries to put high duties on our goods. It did harm to us but more harm to themselves.What did we care what harm it did to the foreigner. The foreigner could take care of himself. We were the only country in the world which was afraid to do anything to help our own industries. The same right hon. Member said at Carnarvon—The tinplate trade no doubt was injured by the McKinley tariff, but since then had been partly revived by opening new markets, partly by the increased home consumption due to the expansion of the jam trade.That was an extraordinary statement to make to the tinplatemakers of South Wales. The tariff had enabled the United States of America to manufacture their own tinplates and supply their own markets. One hon. Member opposite, the Member for Oldham, a would-be statesman, in a letter to the Daily Telegraph of 16th August, 1903, said—There was no doubt that the tariff walls which foreign nations put up against our goods did us a great deal of harm, and that, if they would, pull their walls down and do unto us freely and fairly as we did unto them, our trade would become much better, and so would their trade.The only remark that he would make upon that statement was that we could leave the foreigners to look after themselves, but that if we, by retaliation or otherwise, could get rid of these tariffs which were doing us so much harm, it was our duty to do so. He declared that since the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham two years ago, hon. Gentlemen and right hon. Gentlemen opposite had ceased drawing doleful pictures of our state of unemployment and pauperism, and had drawn glowing pictures of our great prosperity. By way of testing our prosperity he quoted figures showing the increase of pauperism in the Kingdom, and maintained that so long as we had an enormous amount 245 of pauperism, and so long as we had a great number of unemployed, there was ample justification for the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham calling attention to the state of things. It was time to do something more than fold our hands and live upon the memory of the past; and they were going to compel the country to face the question. ["When?"] When they got a fair and clear issue put before the country. Only a year ago the bad condition of the cotton trade was the subject of a reference in the King"s Speech; and whenever a shortage occurred the same condition of affairs would arise; therefore they ought not to be too elated by the state of that trade at the present time. As to the shipping trade, he was aware that a large number of new ships had been ordered recently, at which he was much surprised as there was nothing in the present state of the freight market to justify such new orders. At the present time Great Britain possessed only about 50 per cent, of the shipping of the world; consequently we could not be the carriers of the world. In 1893–4 the British share was 58.21 per cent,; in 1903–4 it was only 50.67, a decrease of 7.54 in ten years. That meant a considerable increase in foreign competition, while the evidence before the Steamships Subsidies Committee showed that foreigners were making more headway than we were with the provision of the fastest, largest, and finest-equipped ships.
What was the policy proposed by the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham? The Prime Minister desired to adopt the policy of negotiation in the endeavour to get rid of the present abominable, tariffs, and, if that was not successful, to have the power to retaliate. That was a very proper power to ask for. What, necessity was there for a foreign Power to pay any attention to Resolutions setting forth the injury that was being done to our industries by its tariffs? If, however, we had the power to retaliate, he believed foreign countries would soon be brought to their senses. The writings of Adam Smith, himself, bore testimony to the fact that retaliation would have the effect they desired. He did not 246 think there was the slightest danger of commercial war, inasmuch as our market was much more important to foreign countries than their markets were to us, and they would hesitate before doing anything to injure their entrance to this country. As to the colonial aspect of the question, he was entirely at one with the Prime Minister in desiring to provide some means by which the Colonies might be drawn into closer union with the mother country, and he welcomed the announcement of a Colonial Conference to discuss this great question, not with any preconceived notions as to 5 per cent, or 10 per cent, duties, but with free and unfettered hands to endeavour to find means by which the desired end could be achieved. The Colonies had shown by the preference already given, and by the Resolutions they had passed, that they were ready and willing to back this country in regard to the policy of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, and when he considered how hard run we were for markets for our produce, the state of pauperism, and the number of the unemployed, he said all honour to the statesman who had brought this issue before the country.
contended that unless hon. Members opposite wished to hamper and prevent the free importation of food they would not get the support of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford or of those who believed that by raising the price of corn they could increase agricultural profits. It was mere trifling with words to say that by taxing certain sources of food supply they would not hamper the importation of food. As to the taunt that the Opposition were not prepared to do anything to meet the industrial competition of foreign nations, they were prepared to do a great deal, but they believed that protective taxation was the worst possible means of dealing with the matter. Advocates of tariff reform apparently held the view that to impose taxation made a country rich, from which it would seem to follow that if a town was not prosperous all that was necessary was to put another 2s. on its rates. The State could do much to help industry, but protective taxes, so far from helping, tended to strangle industry, and brought 247 countless evils in their train. The Opposition were prepared to admit that foreign tariffs might injure the trade of this country, but what they wanted to know was how trade could be helped by retaliation without the gravest risk being run of doing infinitely more damage to the delicate fabric which had been built up under a system of free trade. How, when, and where were the advocates of fiscal change to apply the principle about which they talked so glibly? The hon. Member for Newcastle had made some extraordinary statements about the shipping trade. According to Lloyds Register, of the steam tonnage launched last year, Great Britain built and launched over 1,100,000 tons, while the rest of the world built and launched only 600,000 tons, so that this decaying industry——
said the exact expression was that the industry was in "a delicate state" so that last year this "delicate" industry launched nearly twice as much shipping as the whole of the rest of the world.
AN HON. MEMBER
pointed out that the figures quoted by the hon. and gallant Member referred to steam shipping launched and classed in Lloyds' Register, but a large number of ships were built by foreign countries and not so classed, and those were omitted.
said he was quite aware of that fact, but if they took as a test of the prosperity of the industry not only the steam shipping, but the steam shipping which was the most efficient, and which, therefore, had the greatest earning power, and then found that one country with 42,000,000 of inhabitants built nearly twice as much of that efficient shipping as the rest of the world, he submitted that to speak of that trade as being in a delicate state was to trifle with words; and to deny that by our system of free imports we had built up one of the most amazing systems of shipping the world had ever seen was the act of one who shut his eyes to facts and would deny anything. It was unfortunately 248 true that a large amount of unemployment and distress existed in this country, but it was also true, according to the last Blue-book, that in protected countries the unemployment and distress was as great as, or greater than, in our own. What he protested against was trifling with the people of the country by telling them that all their distress and unemployment would be swept away by the adoption of protective taxation, and then, by a series of Party dodges and Parliamentary manoeuvres, putting off the happy day when all their sorrows should be swept away. According to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, if the importation of foreign manufactured goods ceased and the articles were made at home, employment would be found for so many thousands of people at 30s. a week. But retaliation, if successful, would increase the importation of those goods and thus increase the distress and lack of employment. If, however, it were true that all this distress, sorrow, and hunger were caused by the importation of foreign manufactured goods, and that by a stroke of the pen, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer had declared, it could be put a stop to, and, further, that the foreigner could be made to pay the taxes, what was to be thought of a Government which, after the question had been discussed for two years, simply said they were going on very well as they were, but that in the dim and distant future they might possibly begin to relieve the distress? This was not a matter to be trifled with in that way. The sorrow and suffering of the poorest of the poor was real and great, and if it were possible—which he strongly denied—to relieve it by protective taxes let it be done at once, but let them be done with the farce by which the Government, through Party manoeuvring, stood between the people and the decision they wished to take.
§ MR. HERBERT ROBERTSON (Hackney, S.)
submitted that not a single remedy for the present state of affairs had been suggested by any Member on the other side. He disputed entirely the assertion that our shipping trade had been built up by the system of free imports. Its pre-eminence was first secured by the strongest system of protection the world 249 had ever known, viz., that under Oliver Cromwell and the Navigation Laws. The hon. Member for the Isle of Wight had stated that relation would increase the importation of foreign manufactured goods. [Major SEELY: If successful.] He failed altogether to see how the entrance into foreign countries of British goods or of more British goods would cause an increase in the importation of foreign goods into this country.
The Prime Minister himself has stated that retaliation would increase exchange, and therefore more goods would come from foreign countries to us and more from us to them.
§ Mr. HERBERT ROBERTSON
said there was not an hon. Member on the Ministerial side of the House who objected to a free exchange of goods between this country and foreign countries. If any foreign country would take English goods in free, this country would let their goods in free also. His argument was that in our threat to impose a retaliatory duty caused a reduction of the duties placed upon our goods by foreign countries then the trade of the two countries would be increase, and this country would send a larger share of goods to that particular country than we did before. The foreigner would be able to send us the same amount of goods as before, but this country, in consequence of the reduced tariff charged against us, would be able to send more goods over to them, and that would be a distinct benefit to England. If in addition to this the trade of both countries was increased so much the better. The Government desired nothing more than free exchange, and they were, really, the free-trade Party in this country. They were not free importers, because that Party was represented by hon. Members opposite. No one disputed that foreign tariffs were hostile to British trade. As to the suggestion which had been made of allowing a proper proportion of representation to the various Colonies according to their importance, that was a view which he felt sure the Government would be ready to take notice of. When the conference was held he did not think it would be right to give a very small colony exactly the 250 same weight as a large colony. With regard to what the hon. Member for Argyllshire had said, he wished to point out that no one on the Government side of the House had ever suggested that if the price of an article went down 50 per cent, duties should be imposed so as to allow home manufacturers to get the original price. They could not possibly do that, and it had never been suggested. They had never said that in cases where foreigners were clearly able to undersell us, or where the price had actually gone down through fair competition, that any duty should be put on to keep the price up. That suggestion was nothing less than a travesty upon their arguments, and they were not willing to do anything which would keep up prices to an abnormal level. The same hon. Member also asked why should they not treat a Scotsman who happened to be living in Patagonia in the same way as a Scotsman living in one of the British Colonies. He did not think there was a single Member of the House who did not desire that the trade between England and her Colonies should be encouraged, and the only difference of opinion was as to how this should be brought about.
The hon. Member for the Northern Highlands had given them a most cheerful view of the prosperity of the Colonies, and he was sure they were all delighted to hear it. The hon. Member had, however, read a letter which drew a somewhat different picture, and which appeared to imply that the New Zealander was a selfish person, with little or no love for the mother country. He would not believe that the New Zealander, or any of those living in our Colonies, had lost their affection for the mother country, It had been stated that under no consideration would our Colonies ever admit British goods in free competition with their own. Even admitting that contention, it should be borne in mind that the Colonies were now importing goods to a Very considerable extent from European countries, including the mother country. Under these circumstances would any hon. Member opposite contend that it would be no benefit to this country to have British goods admitted to their Monies at lower duties than those which were placed upon foreign goods? He 251 thought that a preference of that kind would be a vast benefit to this country.
The hon. Member for Oldham had complained that the Prime Minister had not stated what he would be willing to do in case the conference decided upon a policy involving the taxation of food. Had anybody ever heard before of a subject being submitted to a Committee for investigation, and the Prime Minister being asked what he would do in certain events? Such a proposition was preposterous, and the Prime Minister could not do anything of the kind. He was quite sure that the hon. Member for Oldham, upon further consideration, would see that it would be absolutely impossible for the Prime Minister to lay down any rule as to what he would do in the event of certain recommendations being made by the conference. It had been suggested that the conference should be started with tied hands, and that certain lines should be laid down beyond which they should not pass. Such a proposal was inconsistent with the practice of the House, for in every case where a Committee or a Commission were appointed it was left a free hand. To declare beforehand that they were not to consider a particular matter in a particular way was really to make the inquiry useless. He could not himself see why hon. Members opposite should object to the conference having a perfectly free hand, and being able to recommend whatever the members of the conference thought would be best under the circumstances. Whether the House should adopt the policy recommended by the conference was quite another matter.
In his opinion, there was also another solution of the problem altogether different to that which had been proposed for benefiting the Colonies. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham suggested that a tax should be placed upon corn, that the Colonies should be relieved from that tax, and in order to prevent the consumers in this country having to pay more for their food other taxes on food should be reduced. They all wished to know whether in time of war they would be able to obtain their supplies of food from their own Colonies. They wished to know whether if all foreign ports were closed against 252 them, they would be able to obtain a sufficient supply of the necessaries of life from their own Colonies. To ensure this it was necessary that their Colonies should grow corn to a far more considerable extent, and the conference might very well consider whether it would not be a wise thing for the British Empire to encourage the growing of corn by granting something in the nature of a bounty to those who grew corn in this country, and in our Colonies, and imported it into this country. The benefit of such a policy would be manifest to all hon. Members. In the first place they would be encouraging the Colonies to grow that supply of corn which they desired to ensure in time of war; and, in the second place, they would be encouraging in the same way local farmers in this country, and they would consequently have more men engaged upon the land. He was aware that the expense had to be taken into account, but the country would gain, because, instead of the price of corn going up, there would be a tendency for the price to come down, not simply by the amount of the bounty, but to a much lower extent, and so the consumer would, in this way, gain an advantage which would be an incalculable benefit to him. The difficulty, he was aware, would be the question of money, but, by what he preferred to call a policy of reciprocity, they might, by a tax upon manufactured goods from abroad, raise a sufficient amount to pay a bonus to those who grew corn within the limits of the British Empire. This was a question which he hoped would be considered by the conference. As for the Motion before the House he ventured to say that it was one which they ought not to accept.
§ MR. JOHN ELLIS (Nottinghamshire, Rushcliffe)
said that in some great public controversies there was an advantage in looking back over the road travelled and noting the principal milestones. It should never be forgotten that this subject was first raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, when he was still a member of the Cabinet, in a speech he made in Birmingham in May 1903. He ventured to say that they might ransack the history of Cabinets and they would 253 not be able to find a similar example of a man holding a high Cabinet position going down to his constituency and springing upon the country without notice to his Cabinet colleagues a great revolution in the accepted fiscal policy of the country which had been in operation for sixty years. Whilst still a member of the Cabinet the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham came to this House on 29th May, 1903, and in the course of his speech said—Therefore we come to this, if you are to give a preference to the Colonies—I do not say that you are—you must put a tax upon food.There had been various endeavours to do a way with the full effect of those words, but there they stood on record. He wondered how many hon. Members who were tariff reformers, up and down the country, had really stood by their guns before their constituents in this matter. That was the key-note and basis of the whole controversy. The right hon. Gentleman resigned his position in the Cabinet in a very remarkable way, and the letters which appeared in the Press from the Prime Minister and right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham would bear reading again and again. Both right hon. Gentlemen used very curious phrases. The Member for West Birmingham said—The result is that for the present, at any rate, a preferential agreement with our Colonies involving a new duty, however small, on articles of food hitherto untaxed is … unacceptable to the majority in the constituencies."For the present." Then the right hon. Gentleman indicated that he would go and preach the gospel. Later in the letter he said—I suggest that you should limit the present policy of the Government.In a manner he indicates again the word "present." The Prime Minister accepted that policy, and in his reply used curious words. He said—The loss to the Government is great indeed, but the gain to the cause you have at heart is greater still, and, therefore, what can I do but acquiesce?Therefore in the most public manner the right hon. Gentleman sent the Member for West Birmingham away with, his blessing on his labours, while agreeing "for the present" to restrict the policy of the Government. Thus they had the 254 basis of the whole policy of the taxation of foodstuffs, which the right hon. Gentleman acknowledged was unacceptable to the country, and he went forth on his efforts to win over the country to that. What had been the propaganda sine? In this House, in May 1903, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham used these significant words—I am prepared to go into any mechanic"s house, or any labourer"s house, or to address meetings of workmen or labour leaders, and, taking certain hypothetical calculations, for instance, that there was to be a shilling or two shillings on corn, say to them, 'Now this policy, if it is carried out, will cost you so much a week more than you are paying at present for your food. I set aside altogether any economical question as to whether they would or would not have to pay the whole of the duty that might be imposed; I will assume for the sake of my argument that you pay every penny of the duty, and having assumed that, I will tell you what the cost will be. I know how many loaves you consume, how much meat you eat, and know what yon take of this, that, and the other, on which it may be proposed to put a duty, and I will give you a table from which you can tell for yourself how much extra wages you must get in order to cover the extra expense of living.'It was perfectly clear, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman contemplated an addition to the cost of living of the workman. But the workman was very shrewd in that matter. He knew very well that his living would be increased in cost, but he knew that he would look in vain for extra wages. He was bound to say that the right hon. Gentleman had been as good as his word. He had been on many platforms, advocating his propaganda with sincerity and courage. The right hon. Gentleman addressed a meeting at Welbeck, in Nottinghamshire, primarily, he said, to the agriculturist. He was sure the right hon. Gentleman had not much practical experience in agriculture, and there were many ludicrous inaccuracies in his speech. He actually told them that the country was getting poorer in regard to stock, but in the figures given he forgot the distinction between sheep and cattle. There were more cattle, although there was a loss of sheep. He must say that if the right hon. Gentleman was well satisfied with his visit to Welbeck, free-traders in the county of Nottingham had no cause to feel aggrieved, and he ventured to invite the right hon. Gentleman to go there again. If the results 255 of the right hon. Gentleman's propaganda had been the same in other parts of the country as in Nottinghamshire, and in the parts with which he himself was familiar, he could not congratulate him. He believed as a matter of fact that it was pretty well accepted now that the thing had not succeeded with the working classes, who were perfectly conscious that their cost of living would be increased by the adoption of the right hon. Gentleman"s proposals. Would the right hon. Gentleman tell the House that he saw no difference in principle between his policy and that of the Prime Minister? The speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that afternoon was a proof that there was no difference of opinion. The position of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham was perfectly intelligible and clear. He understood that, neither the right hon. Gentleman nor his followers liked the word "protection," and he would not use it. At all events, what they advocated was an artificial enhancement of the price of food and other articles for certain purposes. The fact of the matter was that the situation was summed up by the leading organ of the Government when it said that the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham were a pair of consummate whist players, both of whom knew their game. The Prime Minister was watching and waiting until the country was ripe for him to take his stand side by side with his fellow whist player.
This Amendment had been termed a dissolution Amendment. He thought it was abundantly justified. The Leader of the Opposition had pointed out with the greatest force what had been the results of the by-elections, and the Prime Minister had replied by quoting what Mr. Gladstone said about by-elections in a letter to Lord Granville. He had been at some pains to look into this matter. It was perfectly true that Mr. Gladstone wrote the letter which had been referred to. It was dated 8th January, 1874, and contained the following sentence—The general situation being thus unfavourable, the ordinary remedies are not available. A Ministry with a majority, and with that majority not in rebellion, could not resign on account of adverse manifestations, even of very 256 numerous single constituencies, without making a precedent, and constitutionally a bad precedent, and only a very definite and substantive difficulty could warrant the resignation without dissolution, after the proceedings of the Opposition in March last, when they, or, at any rate, their Leaders and their Whips, brought the Queen into a Ministerial crisis and deserted her when there.Mr. Gladstone, with his chivalrous devotion to the Crown, had that "desertion" in his mind. He was casting about for reasons for not recommending a dissolution and not resigning, but he used further language in his letter to the Queen. They were very memorable words, and very much ad rem. In that letter to the Queen, dated 23rd January, which would be found at pages 486 and 487 of the second volume of "The Life of Gladstone." Mr.Gladstone said—When he had the honour of seeing Your Majesty at Windsor the course of the local elections had been more favourable and Mr. Gladstone had not abandoned the hope of retaining sufficient strength for the due conduct of affairs in the present House. On this question the events of the last few weeks and the prospects of the present moment have somewhat tended to turn the scale in his mind and that of his colleagues.It was evident, therefore, that the elections of the last few weeks had tended to turn the scale in his mind and that of his colleagues. But what was the House to think of the present Prime Minister, who, contrary to constitutional propriety, had put the letter of another Prime Minister to a colleague before the letter of that Prime Minister to the Sovereign. If the right hon. Gentleman treated his own letters to colleagues and Sovereign in such a way he was more unfit to occupy the position of Prime Minister than some people thought. After all, the present situation could not be judged of without taking the whole circumstances into account. Since the last general election they had a new Sovereign, a new Cabinet, a new Prime Minister, and a new policy. If, when all these things were put together, they did not constitute a demand for a dissolution he did not know what did. There never was such a conjunction of circumstances as these four, and if they wanted any additional reason for dissolution it was to be found in the condition of the House itself. It was like a man suffering from a stroke of paralysis. Members familiar with the ordinary 257 routine of the House knew very well that both as regards the House and its Committees Members could not be got to their places, and the benches were evidence how this Session was beginning. The pass to which things had come ought to be put an end to. The Government might be able to command a majority to-morrow night, but had they the constituencies behind them? Speaking on behalf of those who sent him there—and he would represent them if he was a candidate at the next election—he said unhesitatingly that the time had come for it to be dissolved, so that the House of Commons might be refreshed by contact with those from whom it alone derived authority.
§ SIR. THOMAS WRIGHTSON (St. Pancras, E.)
said he regretted the small attendance of Members on the Government side of the House, but if he were asked to account for it he would say that it was because the supporters of the Government knew what the opinions of their leaders were, while on the other side the Opposition refused to divulge what their leaders were going to do if they came into office. They had not heard any proposals made from the other side, although challenges had been thrown out to them to give assurances as to what they were going to do. The members of the Opposition said that, the fiscal proposals which had been put before the country from his side of the House would bring evils into existence which would be worse than those they had at present. It seemed to be overlooked on the other side that something like one-third of the population were suffering from want of labour. They did not deny that. [Cries of "Yes."] They would admit, at all events, that the air was full of reports as to the want of employment throughout the country. Why did that state of things exist? It was because our markets had been taken from us by the foreigner. If hon. Members would study the returns of the Board of Trade they would see that a large amount of merchandise was imported which could be equally well made in this country by our own workmen. He would like to direct the attention of the House to a matter—much more serious than the question of price, of which so much has been said in this controversy. The question he 258 alluded to was that of cost. The terms have been confused, especially by those consumers to whom price was the only consideration and cost of production nothing. Mr. Gladstone had stated years ago that so long as we could work cheaply we should maintain the supremacy of our manufactures, and he was perfectly right, but the way he looked at the question was simply in relation to our ability to buy cheap food. Another state of things had arisen. Owing to changes in the way in which industries were conducted, there was a far greater cheapening effect by keeping mills and works full of employment. Factories were laid out to produce a maximum of work, and it was under those conditions that production was cheap. If factories were worked only to the extent of half their maximum productive capacity, the cost of production would go up 20 to 50 per cent. Mr. Gladstone expressed his view at a time when cheap food was a much more important factor in the making of the cost of production cheap. Now we had a totally different state of affairs, and unless we remedied our policy with regard to foreign countries, and took some steps to oblige them to reduce their tariffs, we should get less and less volume of trade, and our manufacturers would thereby be handicapped and their industries eventually destroyed by the increase in the cost of production. He supported the Prime Minister, and should vote against the Amendment.
§ SIR EDWARD GREY (Northumberland, Berwick)
The hon. Baronet who has just sat down is a firm believer in a change in our fiscal system, which he says he understands. He is so convinced that that change, which we call protection, would bring increased prosperity to this country, that I am very much surprised that he does not at once give a vote in order to precipitate the election, until the advent of which, as he knows from the mouth of his own Leader, the change cannot take place. I am quite clear as to the nature of the hon. Baronet"s convictions, and the way in which ha arrived at them; but I do not get that clearness from his speech this evening, but from a letter which he wrote to The Times a year and a half ago. This letter was to the effect that, under this 259 change in fiscal system which he desires, our home manufacturers—I think, including himself—would get enhanced prices for what they produce, and so would be able to produce more cheaply for export. In other words, they would charge higher prices to their own fellow-countrymen at home, and then sell more cheaply to the foreigner. A few of them would reap large profits, but the great staple industries of this country would inevitably surfer.
SIR EDWAKD GEEY
I am perfectly willing that we should have a comparison with Germany; you will find constant complaints of the rings and trusts in Germany having killed promising branches of German industry, which have thriven in other countries which open their markets. But I do not desire to go at length into the arguments on the fiscal question. I want to examine a little some of the reasons that have already been given for the Amendment before the House; and I should like, to a certain degree, to pay attention—because the Prime Minister himself, I think, desires it—to the Prime Minister"s own policy. I cannot agree with an argument which I heard from the hon. Member for Hackney just now—that the election should be postponed because there are some hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House who have not yet made up their minds. There always will be a certain number of people who will not make up their minds till the election comes, and that argument will always be available, however long an election is postponed. But I think it is time that, at any rate, we were quite sure what the mind of the Prime Minister of this country is. The Chancellor of the Exchequer deplores the fact that the Imperial policy, as he calls it, of colonial preference, has become a Party question. We all deplore that fact. It was not a Party question two years ago; we all approved of the policy of the conference in 1902; we all approved of the policy of periodical conferences; and we all approved, at that time, of another conference being held at the date then fixed—namely, 1906. But, it has become a Party question since. 260 It is not we who have made it a Party question. It is the utterances of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham and of the Prime Minister, that have made it a Party question; and if we had accepted their utterances that would not have prevented it from becoming a Party question. They have made it a Party question on their own side. I think it a great pity; and when I hear it said that the policy of a Colonial Conference is the policy of the Prime Minister, some special policy of his own, I say that that is an entire inversion of what is the true state of the case. The policy of a Colonial Conference did exist. It is the Prime Minister who has spoiled the policy of a Colonial Conference. His policy is now that it is not worth while to have a Colonial Conference unless you are prepared to commit this country to a scheme of preferential duties. What, then, is open to the conference of 1906? We understand from the Foreign Secretary in another place that next year we shall be engaged with a Redistribution Bill, and we shall not have had an election. May I ask the Colonial Secretary, in the absence of the Prime Minister, if no election takes place this year, will the conference be held in 1906?
§ SIR EDWARD GREY
It will be held, but the question of preference, of closer commercial union, will not be brought before it; because, from the Edinburgh speech of the Prime Minister, we understand that this question of closer commercial union with the Colonies was not to be brought forward before the conference unless his Party was in power after an election. Well, then, in 1906, according to the Colonial Secretary, if no election has taken place, this Colonial Conference will be held under the understanding that its lips are sealed on the question of commercial union, but that another conference will be summoned after the election, which may take place at the end of 1906 or at the beginning of 1907. This is to reduce the conference of 1906 to a farce. It is not we who wish to muzzle that conference. It is 261 the Government who will be muzzling that conference. And this is the true Imperial policy! The Prime Minister admits that this matter is important, that things cannot go on as they are between us and the Colonies. That statement in Edinburgh must not be left in doubt; it was very important, but before a conference is held to deal with this question and to clear it up, an election must be held; and then the Prime Minister adopts the policy of postponing the election as long as possible. That is not an Imperial policy. That is a policy of Party convenience. The Prime Minister, no doubt, promises us more than one election. After that election, soon another election. [Ironical OPPOSITION laughter.] Well, that is his policy in regard to elections. We must not have an election now, but to make it up we are to have plenty of them at short dates at a future time.
I deplore what I am convinced is a misunderstanding which is being created by this between the mother country and the Colonies. I have no doubt the Colonies have left us in no doubt as to what their proposals were at the conference of 1902. Mr. Fielding, the Canadian Finance Minister, has told his own fellow-countrymen that at the conference of 1902 the colonial Premiers, certainly the Canadian Premier, assured the Imperial Government, this present Government, that as between the British manufacturer and the colonial manufacturer they had gone as far as they could, but that they were willing to increase the duties against the foreigner under certain conditions. If there is any colonial proposal at all, it is a proposal not to reduce the duties on British goods, but to increase the duties against the foreigner, and when you hear the colonial offer talked about, as it is so frequently on platforms by the other side, what is really in mind is not a colonial offer at all, but the offer which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham is understood to be making to the Colonies. And the impression which has got abroad of the offer which he makes is that, in his opinion, it would be fair that the mother country should impose, for the sake of the Colonies, and in their favour, taxes upon our food at home, while 262 leaving the Colonies free to impose duties still upon British goods, provided they still further increase the duties against the foreigner. That is where the misunderstanding lies. The impression that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham gives at home is that he is working for free trade within the Empire. The impression he gives to the Colonies is that he is going to leave them freedom to protect themselves against the import of British goods, while we tax our food in their favour. I deplore this on Imperial grounds. We know very well that the policy of holding the Empire together by force has been tried and has failed, and nobody would think of reverting to it. It is true that the present Government, at any rate, does not try the foundation of force. But now we have a new basis for the union of the Empire, the foundation of taxes. Next to that force, I think the foundation of taxes the most insecure on which the Empire can be based. When I hear it said that this is the Imperial policy, I should like to revert to the original policy of Colonial Conferences, held periodically, held freely, free to discuss whatever the Colonies wish to propose, we on our side to be equally free to speak what we believe to be the mind of the country. I believe a conference of that kind—ungagged, unmuzzled, summoned without prejudice, summoned on terms under which opinions may be plainly expressed on both sides, is the only way by which it is possible to remove the misunderstanding which has been created between ourselves and the Colonies. They have never asked that we should impose taxes to suit them. Some of them did suggest that, if we were imposing taxes for I ourselves, we should give a remission of those taxes in their favour; but they have not asked that we should impose taxes which we have not got, and which we did not need for our own purposes, in their favour. I believe that a conference, summoned on these questions, without prejudice, to make the Colonies understand what is the position over here, and make them understand that nothing short of free trade within the Empire would do, and that to remove duties would be anything but a barrier to unity—I believe that a conference of that kind would remove misunderstanding 263 and relieve suspicion between the mother country and the Colonies. So much on that point.
I return to the policy of the Prime Minister. He asks us why we do not discuss his policy. It is because he gives us nothing to discuss. What is his policy? Liberty to negotiate—retaliation as it is called sometimes. Who can discuss retaliation in the abstract? What does he mean by liberty to negotiate? He means liberty to retaliate, liberty to make commercial war. Who does he want to make war with? You cannot discuss war in the abstract. Does the Government ask for liberty to make war without telling you with whom they are going to fight, what they are going to fight about, where they are going to fight, and what weapons they are going to use? It would be laughed out of court. It is just as unreasonable for the Prime Minister to ask us to discuss retaliation when he makes no proposal to the House or the country as to how the retaliation is to be carried out. Of course the Government have power to propose retaliation now. They need have no election. Let us know whom the quarrel is with. Let us know the special taxation by which you propose to bring the foreign country to its knees. Make your proposal to the House and it can be judged on its merits. Why postpone that until after an election? Only, I think, for one reason, that if you make any proposal of that sort you would have to submit it to the House of Commons. Are you at the election going to ask for power to impose retaliatory duties without coming to the House of Commons? That question the Prime Minister never answered; and if that be in his mind, I admit, indeed, that there is need for appealing to the country before he proposes anything of the kind.
But, Sir, even retaliation, if we had the proposal before us, becomes very nebulous. You may impose a duty and call it retaliatory if you please, but after it is imposed it becomes a protective duty. If your retaliatory duty does not succeed in its object, in reducing the duty imposed by foreign countries, then it is a nuisance to ourselves without achieving the object that we wish; but if it does succeed, then it will have to be removed; 264 and to remove it you will have to destroy vested interests to which the hon. Baronet opposite has referred—vested interests which would plead, and, I think, plead with great force, that the Government which had created them could not justly undertake anything which would destroy them. We had an example in the corn duty. That was not a protective duty when it was imposed. It was imposed, we were told, as a revenue duty; it was not to operate in a protective sense at all. It lasted, I think, for a year, but within that year already it had come to have protective effect, and there were bitter complaints from the milling industry when it was proposed to remove it. This is the policy, so far as we know it, of the Prime Minister. But even about this he leaves us in doubt with regard to the future. At Sheffield he told us that he would lead the Conservative Party. There were some questions as to where he was leading them to, but I do not dwell upon that. He has spoken since at Edinburgh, and at Edinburgh he spoke more doubtfully. He was not then quite sure that he would lead them. On the contrary, if the Conservative Party adopted protection as a policy, he thought he would not lead them, but though he would not lead them, he would continue to support the Party not less zealously and earnestly than before. This is a great struggle, and I commend this to hon. Members on the other side of the House who are opposed to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, but follow the Prime Minister. In a struggle of this kind you must rely upon somebody on whom you can depend to oppose the policy in which you disbelieve; and if the Prime Minister is going to support the Party opposite not less zealously and earnestly than before after they become protectionists, what is the value of his opposition?
Now, Sir, I think in all this is to be found the reason of the ambiguity of the Prime Minister. Take what he has said sentence by sentence and I admit it is clear enough, but the meaning of the whole leaves everybody in doubt. He gives plain answers, but he never answers a plain question. He shows great ingenuity in giving answers to questions that have never 265 been asked, but he evades questions upon which it would be perfectly easy to give an answer if he has a clear mind. What, for instance, is his opinion with regard to the average duty of 10 per cent. on manufactured articles advocated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham? Is that or is it not part of the policy of the Prime Minister? That surely is a plain question. He has said, especially in regard to his Edinburgh speech, that nobody who is not stupid or malevolent—I think that was the phrase—can fail to understand it, and I want to ask him this. The noble Lord the Member for Ealing, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol, the noble Lord the Member for Greenwich, and others place one interpretation on that Edinburgh speech, but the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham places a directly opposite interpretation upon that speech; and I would like to ask the Prime Minister in this difference of interpretation who is stupid and who is right? That is a plain question that may be answered. I think I can tell hon. Members opposite one difference between the speeches of the Prime Minister and the right hon. Member for West Birmingham. The Prime Minister always says the same thing, but his meaning is always obscure; the meaning of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham is never obscure, but he does not always say the same thing. That reduces discussion in the country and in this House, so far as discussion is allowed, to a farce. You have the two protagonists playing this game, and the issue is admitted by all to be most important, and on this side we believe it to be vital to the 266 interests of the country. The game is not edifying politically, and it is bad for the country materially. You find it admitted everywhere that the suspense in which the question now rests is bad for the business of the country. The hon. Member for Newcastle spoke somewhat doubtfully of the revival of trade If encouragement be needed—and I think it is needed—for trade, surely one form of encouragement would be to let business men, at any rate for the next four or five years, know where they stand and what to expect. I think there is a moral obligation on the Government not to postpone an appeal to the country. The Prime Minister makes light of by-elections; he has cited precedents under which by-elections were held not to legitimately influence a Government in continuance of office; but the present is not a normal, it is an abnormal situation. The last election was abnormal. Never before was an appeal made by the Government of the day to a Party disagreeing with them on all subjects of home policy to support the Government for that occasion only. I will not dwell on the position, it is well put by the hon. Member for Partick sitting opposite and who is not suspect in regard to tariff reform. His words were—He did not think a general election was very far off, and the sooner it came the better. The time had not yet elapsed for which the present Government were elected, but still the circumstances had altered so completely, the questions now dividing men"s minds were so different from those of the autumn of 1900 that the time had come for a deliberate expression of the opinion of the country; it was not satisfactory to pass session after session in evading discussion of the subject uppermost in the mind of Members.Every word of that is true. The importance of the question to the country is admitted; it is a question the Prime 267 Minister thinks the present House of Commons is not fitted to discuss. The House is not merely a legislative authority and controller of the Executive of the day; it should be the guide and counsellor of the nation on a matter that intimately concerns it; and to have this propaganda instituted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, with the blessing and good will of the Prime Minister, to have it going on in the country, and at the same time to have it definitely laid down that the present House of Commons is not fitted to deal with it, not suited to its discussion, is to bring an air of insincerity into our proceedings, and to make them more or less a farce. That air of unreality hung over us last year, it has not been diminished by the lapse of time, and the Government contemplate its continuance, and I understand that we should, after that, have another session of Parliament in addition. I will conclude by quoting, in regard to the situation, words used by the Prime Minister himself with regard to a situation of ten years ago and somewhat analogous to this of to-day—I do not believe that in the whole of our Parliamentary history you will find a case in which the Government has deliberately come down to the House and said, 'We have a revolution' (that is not too strong a word for a change in fiscal policy that has endured for sixty years) 'in store for you, to be embodied in terms not yet decided upon, to carry out a policy on which we are absolutely divided, which we mean to put off for one month, two months, three months, so long as it suits us.' The House of Commons ought not to make itself a party to any such electioneering transaction as that.Now I will go on still expressing myself in the words of the Prime Minister—I think myself bound to dissociate myself from any manœuvres so utterly discreditable to the ancient honour and glory of this House.And I shall vote for the Amendment.
§ MR. LAMBTON (Durham, S.E.)
said he agreed with every word which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Berwick had uttered on the fiscal question, but he could not agree with him in his remarks about the other part of the Amendment relating to dissolution. The right hon. Gentleman, as a reason why the, House should agree to that part of the Resolution which referred to dissolution, quoted the opinion of his hon. friend the Member for Partick; but that opinion was, in his view, the very reason why they ought not to have a dissolution. The right hon. Gentleman, in the early part of his speech, had told the House that this was not a Party, but a national question, but the Amendment of the right hon. Member for East Fife had made it a Party question. He maintained that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife and the Opposition had, by this Amendment, committed a tactical mistake, and were making this question, as far as lay in their power, a Party question. He knew that on this point he was not agreeing with the speech made by the hon. Member for Durham. Hitherto that hon. Gentleman and himself had agreed in thought and in action, but he could not agree with him as to the action of free-traders on that side of the House crossing to the other side. He had always maintained in the past and had announced to his constituents that he could not follow with approval the fiscal policy of the Government; but to ask those on that side of the House who condemned a change in fiscal policy to say so was one thing; to ask them to vote for dissolution was asking them to go rather far. They disapproved strongly of the fiscal policy of the Government, but if they passed this Amendment, what 269 would be their position in the remaining months of the session? Were they to do their best in the future, and on every possible occasion, to turn out the Government? If the hon. Member for Durham voted for the Amendment and acted up to what he had said he would have to take every possible opportunity to turn out the Government he was returned to support. He himself had no intention to aid in turning out the Government unless it announced itself as a protectionist Government. The Prime Minister had told them that he was not a protectionist.
He knew that hon. Gentlemen opposite had told them that the policy of the Prime Minister was not understood in the country nor in this House: but the vast majority of hon. Gentlemen on that side said they understood the Prime Minister"s policy. There seemed to be very few of them present that night. He had expected that he would have got a cheer when he said that. He had hoped that perhaps he might induce those hon. Members to get up and tell the House what that policy really was. For his part, he confessed he did not understand it. The Prime Minister said he was surprised that hon. Members did not understand it. Hon. Members behind him said that they were also surprised. He himself confessed that he also was surprised. He thought it astonishing that anything obvious to the intellects of those behind him should be obscure to the intelligence of his friends around and below him. If that were the case, he submitted to the Prime Minister that they ought rather to be pitied than condemned. The right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Berwick, had just now stated that the Prime Minister had attributed this failing either to stupidity or to 270 malevolence. He did not attribute it to stupidity, but rather to ignorance and innocence. They were naturally ignorant because they had not been enlightened. The Prime Minister did not answer the simplest question put to him. Ignorance could be removed by enlightenment; stupidity was ingrained. He did not think that the Prime Minister gave sufficient attention to that combination of ignorance and innocence which affected some of his followers. One came across instances in which persons had been mistaken in regard to the commonest objects. For instance, he remembered once asking a lady—an elderly maiden lady—where she had been walking, and how far she had gone. She told him that she had been to Hyde Park as far as the statue of Minerva! He did not argue the point with her, because he was quite sure he knew what she meant, and how far she had been. He did not argue with the Prime Minister for the different reason that he had not the slightest notion of what he meant, or how far he meant to go. All they asked was that the right hon. Gentleman should give them a sound fiscal policy, with the genuine hall-mark of free trade—no Sheffield-plate or Birmingham brass.
He maintained that the present state of ambiguity which existed ought to advance, and would advance, the cause of free trade. That was one reason why he would not vote for the Amendment. The Prime Minister"s policy was not understood, and was not gaining adherence in the country, and every month that passed without a general election reduced the prospects of the Birmingham policy. Hon. Gentlemen might think that he was not considering this question seriously; there were, however, 271 so few of its protagonists present that it was hardly worth the labour to get up at all. Hon. Gentlemen might think that his hon. friends and himself were not in earnest, but he could assure them they were. They were fighting now with masked foils, but it might be war to the knife later. He maintained that Unionists were doing more in the permanent interests of free trade by voting against the Amendment on this occasion than by voting for it. He knew that many Unionists, in the country had changed their views with reference to protection; and if Unionists were to be hunted out of the Unionist Party or to be cajoled from the line they had taken up, they would not secure that permanent and emphatic national verdict which the country would give if the question was submitted to it as a national and not as a Party question. He hoped there would be no misconception as to his free-trade principles or as to his discouragement of the attitude of the Prime Minister and the Government in not giving them a free-trade lead in this matter; but he should not vote for dissolution because he believed that by so doing he would rather hinder than encourage the cause of free trade.
§ MR. LEVY (Leicestershire, Loughborough)
said that the Prime Minister led them to believe that his policy would improve the condition of the people, and would give employment to workers now out of employment. The fact was, however, that any system which would keep out of this country manufactured goods would be detrimental to employment. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman"s policy, instead of increasing employment, would reduce it. Immediately exports 272 and imports were cut down employment would decrease. During the last fifteen years them were two, 1893 and 1894, in which trade was more depressed than in any of the other years; and in these years both the, imports and exports were smaller; the number of unemployed was greater, the, number of paupers per head of population was greater, and bankruptcies were more numerous. At present an immense quantity of goods was imported into this country; but the fact remained that they had less paupers and less unemployed and a far greater export trade. What did the proposed Colonial Conference mean? They were told that the colonial representatives were to discuss whether this country should or should not tax the food of the people of this country. What for? Certainly not for the benefit of the people of this country, but in order that the Empire might be bound together. Surely there were other methods of binding the Empire together than by taxing the food of the people of this country. What about India? India imported one-third of the amount of manufactured goods which we exported to our Colonies and possessions and purchased but a trifling amount of manufactures from the protected countries of Europe and the, United States of America. What then could India give in return if the policy of the right hon. Gentleman were adopted? Absolutely nothing. If there were any attempt to add to the cost if manufacture in the cotton industry, which must inevitably follow retaliation or preferential treatment, the major portion of our export trade of cotton goods would disappear. He thought it would be admitted that the export trade to India was of vital interest 273 to the working people of this country, and of far greater importance than the export trade to any one of the Colonies. India would not gain by the right hon. Gentleman"s policy; but a very considerable hardship would be inflicted on the people of this country.
The idea appeared to be that more corn was to be grown in the Colonies and that a corn tax would not make much difference in price. But when hon. Gentlemen visited their constituencies they declared that the corn tax would be of considerable benefit, because it would raise the price and thereby bring more land into cultivation. If, however, a 12s. duty did not bring more land into cultivation in France, it was certain that a 2s. duty would not be effective in that respect in this country. How were the Colonies to be benefited? They could not be benefited by corn alone. Was this country to tax its raw material. They had the statement of the First Lord of the Treasury and of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham that they had no desire to tax raw material, but it was perfectly plain that if their policy were adopted raw material would have to be taxed. Would that increase employment in this country? Certainly not. Then it was said that this country could get its food supplies in time of war from the Colonies. Had any one considered what Navy would be required to convoy across the ocean vessels carrying food to this country. For all these reasons he supported the Amendment; and he hoped that free-traders opposite would also support it.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the debate be now adjourned."—274
§ MR. WINSTON CHURCHILL (Oldham)
said there was a quarter of an hour yet, during which the debate might be continued. To adjourn now would be an unthrifty way of using the time of the House. Under the circumstances, he hoped the House would not accept the proposal of the hon. Gentleman, and if necessary he would divide against it.
§ SIR WILLIAM TOMLINSON (Preston)
said that on the previous night the House adjourned early in order to enable a right hon. Gentleman opposite to speak to-day. He himself did not see the utility of proceeding at that hour; but, nevertheless, he hoped that his hon. friend would not persist in his Motion.
§ MR. ERNEST GRAY said (West Ham)
he was not quite sure whether he was in order; but he wished to state—
§ Objection being taken, the Question was put and negatived.
§ Question again proposed.275
§ MR. ERNEST GRAY
said he was surprised that the Opposition should insist on the discussion being continued, as they on that side had readily consented to the adjournment of the debate early last night for the convenience of hon. Gentlemen opposite. That courtesy might have been reciprocated. He desired to place a few simple facts in connection with the Amendment before the House. The Government were asked to resign, presumably in order that control might be placed in the hands of right hon. Gentlemen opposite. It might be that the attitude adopted by the Prime Minister on this question was obscure. He would not argue that. But one thing was perfectly certain, and that was that whatever were the views of his constituents on the fiscal question, there were several items in the social programme of the Government which they desired to see accomplished before the Government relinquished office. He would wish to point out to his free-trade friends that there was work which the Government had expressed its intention of accomplishing, but regarding which there was no hope from hon. Gentlemen opposite. The Aliens Bill was of extreme importance to his constituents. The recent election in the East End was fought on that issue. What hope was there regarding it from the other side? If the Amendment were carried they would have the criminal classes from foreign countries—[HON. MEMBERS: No, no!] He attached more importance to what went on in Committee last year than to shouts of "No."
§ MR. ERNEST GRAY
said he would not trespass beyond Mr. Speaker"s ruling, but he thought it would be within his province to show that work could be accomplished, by the Government which would not be attempted by the Opposition if returned to office. Apart from the Aliens Bill, there was the question of the unemployed. They had been told, again and again, during the debate that all was well with this country; yet tens of thousands of men were parading the streets of London and other large cities looking for work. How, then, could all be well? Reference had been made to the speech at Limehouse of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. The Leader of the Opposition also went to Lime-house, but before he was permitted to address the public he had to receive a deputation from the unemployed. Ha looked forward to what would happen next winter with reference to the unemployed. What would they be likely to get from right hon. Gentlemen opposite if they came into office? Towhom had the unemployed to look for assistance except to the present Government. There were also other questions in the social programme of the Government which should be considered before the dissolution.
§ And, it being Midnight, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.
§ Adjourned at one minute after Twelve o'clock.