§ Order read, for resuming adjourned debate on Amendment [15th February] to 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 330 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 You" 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. ERNEST GRAY (West Ham, N.)
asked the Speaker, on a point of order, whether the action on the previous night on the Member for Oldham in objecting to his Motion for the adjournment of the debate on Mr. Asquith"s Amendment to the Address, and the action of the House in refusing leave to withdraw the Motion, had deprived him of the right to represent the views of his constituents on the Amendment.
§ MR. SPEAKER
pointed out that when the hon. Member moved the adjournment he was speaking on the Amendment, and his Motion being disposed of by the vote of the House, the Amendment again came under discussion, and the hon. Member could not speak upon it again. It was true that the hon. Member after-wards made some observations, and he (the Speaker) took some blame to himself that he was not strictly regular in permitting him to do so, but he had assumed—apparently wrongly—that the hon. Member was only occupying the few minutes that remained before midnight with a view to carrying the debate over to the next day in accordance with the intention of both sides of the House.
§ LORD HUGH CECIL (Greenwich)
asked if the hon. Member could not continue his speech by the general consent of the House, apart from the ordinary practice.
§ MR. SPEAKER
In the peculiar circumstances of the case if there was a general consent of the House I certainly should not consider it my duty to interfere.
§ MR. ERNEST GRAY
said he did not raise the point of order for the purpose 331 of gaining the indulgence of the House. His desire had been to remove a misapprehension which apparently existed in certain quarters as to what occurred on the previous night. He was fully sensible of the indulgence extended to him by the House, and he would endeavour to show his appreciation of their kindness by occupying as few minutes as possible in seeking to discharge the duty upon which he had received imperative instructions from the large working class constituency he represented. The Amendment before the House called upon the Government to make an appeal to the country and to cast aside the whole programme outlined in the King"s Speech in order to get the view of the electorate upon one single subject. It had been frequently alleged during the course of the debate that the attitude adopted by the Prime Minister was involved in obscurity, but he could not help thinking that that obscurity arose not from consideration of the plain statements made by the Prime Minister, but from the unauthorised versions, the free translations, the criticisms and the commentaries with which the right hon. Gentleman"s statement had been surrounded. They had an illustration of that in the course of the debate on the previous night, when the right hon. Baronet the Member for Berwick made" statement which created considerable astonishment. It was as well that that should be cleared up. He asserted that the statement of the Prime Minister that it was necessary for him to get the assent of the country before he could impose retaliatory duties was inaccurate, because the Government already had the power to impose such duties. If that were true it certainly would dispose of very much of what the Prime Minister had stated to the country. But was it true? Was it not very far from the truth? Was it not very seriously misleading? Was it not the fact that although we had not by any statute or by any formal declaration lost our right to impose duties for other than revenue purposes, yet we had by long disuse forfeited the right to exercise that power. Suppose the Government in its next Budget suggested that some duty should be imposed 332 not merely for revenue purposes but for the purpose of breaking down hostile tariffs. What would be the attitude of hon. Gentlemen opposite. What would be the attitude of the hon Member for Berwick himself? Would not one and all declare that such a departure from the practice of the last sixty years was one which ought to have the consent of the country, and that a proposal of that kind would be nothing short of revolution. He would have thought that nobody would more strongly condemn anything in the nature of a revolution in our practice without the assent of the electors being first obtained than the hon. Baronet. But he did not want to dwell upon that point. He did want in a sentence or two to discharge the very simple duty which devolved upon him as the representative of a large working-class constituency.
They had had a pledge given them that no change should be made in the fiscal policy of this country during the life of the present Parliament, and, indeed, no change would be made until a new Parliament had been elected. They were told with great confidence by hon. Gentlemen opposite that there would be no change made in the next Parliament because they would occupy the Benches now filled by the supporters of the present Government. Surely if that were the case, this striving for enlightenment in regard to a policy which, according to their own assertions, was not likely to be put into operation for many years to come, was hardly justified. There was surely more justification for the demand to know what policy hon. Gentlemen opposite intended to adopt when they got into power. The right hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment on the previous day gave not one iota of information as to the alternative which he had to place before the country. He did think that those of them who had pinned their faith to some reform in our fiscal procedure were justified in asking for some enlightenment as to the alternative right hon. Gentlemen opposite were prepared to put forward. It was admitted on all hands that the basis of taxation ought to be more widely 333 extended than it was at the present time, and, if the Prime Minister was not to remain in power, he would like to know what right hon. Gentlemen opposite would do to lighten the burdens in heavily rated districts such as the one he had the honour of representing. This was a matter which touched the people more closely than any other question. Financial burdens, central and local, were crushing the life out of many industrial centres, and if they were to get no relief from the present Government they ought to know what right hon. Gentlemen opposite were prepared to suggest as an alternative.
One of the objects of the Amendment was to angle for the support of certain Gentlemen sitting on the Ministerial s" de of the House, whose views did not coincide with those of the right hon. Gentlemen the Member for West Birmingham, or with those of the Prime Minister. He would like to remind them that there were great industrial communities demanding the completion of reforms before the Government made its appeal to the people. What was to be done for the workmen in the way of compensation for accidents? Were they to secure that protection which was foreshadowed in the-King"s Speech? Whit was to be done in regard to alien immigration, and what was to be done particularly with regard to the relief of the poor? Those who lived in districts which had not felt the strain experienced elsewhere during the last few months could not appreciate the intensity of feeling on that subject. With these people the fiscal question stood in the background when compared with measures which were intended to secure for them the means of living in the winter months, and he believed they would visit very sternly their dissatisfaction on the heads of those who 1ightly cast away the chance now offered of passing some ameliorative legislation. This was a question of supreme importance to the labouring community. The sentence "Give us this day our daily bread" was not to them a mere conventional phrase. It was a phrase of grim reality, and they asked that the fiscal question should not be allowed to bar the way to the adoption of reforms, which were immediately necessary. They agreed 334 that there ought to be inquiry to ascertain whether means could not be found for protecting the labour in which they had been engaged, but which they were losing by the stress of foreign competition. With them, however, the question of supreme importance was the relief which was outlined in the King"s Speech, which gave them some earnest of the intention of the Government to secure employment for the thousands now unemployed in the Metropolis and adjoining districts.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
Mr. Speaker, my name has been mentioned more than once in the course of the debate, and I should therefore like to say something about the Amendment and the questions which are connected with it. Yet, at the same time, I feel that perhaps I am less personally interested in the matter than most of those hon. Members who have hitherto addressed the House. The object of this Amendment is, of course, to turn out the Government, not for any special sin, not because of its views on fiscal reform, or upon any other individual subject, but because of the crime of its existence, because there are a number of Gentlemen in this House who think they could fill its place much better than it does itself. You may turn out the Government, but you cannot turn me out, because I have already relieved you of the trouble. The Amendment also points to a dissolution in the course of which, rightly or wrongly, hon. Gentlemen opposite appear to think that the proportions on the two sides will be reversed and that many Gentlemen now sitting in my neighbourhood will no longer be Members of the House of Commons. I think it is always bad to reckon your chickens before they are hatched. There again, so far as I am concerned, dissolution has no terrors. I am quite content to trust my political fortunes with the working men who for thirty years have given me their confidence so generously. I will go further than this. I have no fear of a dissolution, whatever its result may be. I have said in the country, and I have no objection to repeat the statement here, that so far as I personally am concerned, so far as my opinion goes, the sooner dissolution 335 comes the better. If I had to argue this question in support of the Amendment, I think I could put forward stronger and better reasons than any of those to which I have listened. In our constitutional system, which is a Party system, an occasional change is no doubt desirable. The Party with which I am connected has now been in power practically eighteen years. During the whole of that time it cannot be denied that it has done an enormous amount of work. Whether for good or evil, it will leave behind it a record which has not been paralleled by any other Party or Government [Ironical cheers] during the last half century. I am very glad to find that so far, at all events, I am in perfect harmony with the House. What has been the course of political affairs during that time? All this work, all this legislation and administration, has been opposed from the other side. It is the business of an Opposition to oppose. Nothing has been accepted. All that we have proposed has appeared to the Opposition to be bad, and in consequence there has been an immense advance in legislation during the eighteen years which cannot at present be called national, which is still a subject of controversy. If we have a dissolution, and, if, as hon. Gentlemen opposite believe, that dissolution brings victory to their side, all this legislation will come up for review, and we know what will happen. What they denounce in Opposition, that they will condone when they come into office; they will accept in office what they have execrated in Opposition; and we shall get, at all events, a very large body of legislation which will become national legislation, very much, I think, to the advantage of the whole population.
They have been boasting a good deal recently of by-elections. Well, they are quite entitled to congratulate themselves on the result of those by-elections; but, if they are candid, they will admit that a great number of causes have conduced to such success a, they have obtained. It has not been the fiscal question alone which has secured for them the result on which they pride themselves; it has been education, temperance, Chinese labour, and the price of sugar. I will not stop to 336 dwell upon the way in which these subjects have been represented, but I will only ask hon. Gentlemen opposite to bear in mind that when they come in they will have to deal with them. It is very easy in Opposition to denounce the measures dealing with these matters in language which would make it almost impossible for an honest man to bear with them for a single day after he came into office. We shall watch with the greatest interest how our opponents treat these subjects; at present we have no-idea; they have not condescended to give us any indication of the way in which they would deal with them. This, at all events, I venture very heartily to predict: they will find them very difficult nuts to crack, and will find it impossible at the same time to satisfy their ardent supporters whose votes they have won by their declarations and the people at large. That is one advantage of a dissolution—that it, as it were, consolidates the policy of the country; and a second advantage is that it enables us to ascertain, in the first instance, and then to test, the policy of the Opposition, Now by the necessity of the case we are always on the defence. I look forward with unmingled satisfaction to the time, whenever it comes, when we shall be in a similar position to hon. Members opposite.
I have read with the greatest interest the letter of recommendation which was published the other day by a distinguished Leader of the Opposition, in which was sketched, at all events, his personal idea of the policy which he and his friends would pursue. A close examination of that policy opens to me a vista which I confess makes everything now stale and unprofitable. I greatly desire, whenever the proper time comes, to exchange the responsibility of action for the joy of criticism. And now, speaking for myself alone, as a private Member, dissolution has no terrors for me whatsoever. If it comes in the ordinary constitutional way, I say again the sooner it comes the better. On the other hand, I deny absolutely the right of any minority, even so intelligent a minority as that which I see before me, to demand a dissolution on perfectly childish and fantastic reasons, on grounds which they never accepted themselves when they were in office, and which they 337 would always be the first in those circumstances to repudiate. No, Sir, if the Government acts as all Governments I have known have acted in the past, and as I believe they will act, they will, I trust, give no authority whatever to this new theory of the rights of a minority, and will not abandon their trust merely because the Opposition desires to be in office.
I have one word more to say on this question. I do not accept the standard of public duty which the Opposition set up; I do not accept their standard of a mandate, their new test of by-elections. It is absolutely unprecedented, and I think if it were adopted it would be found to be mischievous. Although I do not accept this standard, they will be the first to admit that they cannot complain if we apply the standard which they have adopted, at all events, to their own action. But I feel that this Amendment is not really intended to be treated seriously. It was introduced with a great nourish of trumpets. We heard that the walls of Jericho were to fall in the first days of the session; and it was considered of such importance that actually the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, dealing with the matter in a way which I believe is absolutely unprecedented, made a speech on the first evening of the debate on the Address which was almost wholly taken up in forestalling his right hon. friend. He painted the situation in broad and rather rough colours, and he left it to his right hon. friend to polish and complete the presentation. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Fife nearly threw away the whole case when he admitted, at the outset of his speech, that he did not expect that it would succeed or have any effect in disintegrating the majority, even although he must have known beforehand that he would have in the future the valuable support of my hon. friend the Member for Durham. No, Sir, there was in my right hon. friend's speech a great deal that was very interesting, and some things that were amusing, but there was no serious fight; and the condition of the House throughout yesterday shows that that was the view taken by his own friends. In fact, what we are engaged in is excursions 338 and alarums, as we so often see in the plays of Shakespeare.
Under these circumstances it is not necessary for me to deal at any great length with the merits of the case. We are told that fiscal reform has been fully discussed in the country. I take note of that admission. I have never received any admission of the kind before, and I think it is rather important. I certainly understood that one fear which the Opposition had was that advantage might be taken of their present weakness to rush a decision from the country which might afterwards be regretted; but up to the last moment they have been telling us that they have not the least idea what the proposals of the Government are. They have been complaining that discussion in this House has been burked; nevertheless they have now come to the conclusion that the matter is settled, that it is a chose jugée and not a chose disputée, and that there is nothing now but to go to the country and ask for judgment. It seems to me that we should be going to the country, in these circumstances, very imperfectly prepared, on the assumption that right hon. Gentlemen opposite are correct. It is quite true that they pay me the compliment to say that they understand what my proposals are. I am very glad to hear it. That is another admission, and I hope that in future they will not, unintentionally I am sure, so grossly misrepresent me. But I ask the House when in the history of Parliament there has ever before been a serious proposal made on behalf of the leaders of the Opposition that the proposals of a private Member, if they are fully discussed, are grounds for a dissolution of Parliament.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
The doctrine is entirely new. Let me state it again. Any proposal which has been fully discussed in the country, even although it is not part of any official programme, is at once to be submitted to the people. I say that is a new proposal. I myself have a sneaking kindness for it. It seems to me to approach to the system in vogue in the 339 United States of America, in Switzerland, and in some other countries—the system which is known as the Referendum; and if hon. and right hon. Gentle-man opposite are really prepared to carry into practical operation a suggestion of that kind, and to enable the people of this country to pronounce without Party pre-occupation and without the intervention of other and quite different subjects on any really important question submitted to their consideration, I for one should give them what assistance I could in order to promote such a system. But that is the last thing they desire. They want, as they say, to settle the fiscal question. I wish them joy of the attempt. They want to settle it. How! By mixing it up with every other political question before the country at the present time, and with all the political feeling and political recrimination which necessarily attends on Party Government. In these circumstances I can hardly conceive that they are serious in suggesting that under any other system than the one I have described the question can be settled whether my policy—the policy of the Member for West Birmingham with no official authority whatever—is so important, so extraordinarily out of the common way, has elicited so much attention and consideration, and has so large a support, that it is desirable that it should be immediately decided whether that support amounts to a majority. I have never had a compliment so great paid to me since I have been in the House of Commons. I am afraid it is much too good to be true. No, all these arguments may be put aside, and we may drop this pretence of a desire to submit this question to the country.
The real object of the Amendment, every candid man will admit, is an attempt—and, to my mind, a very foolish and ill-judged attempt—to induce on this side of the House a feeling which, if it existed, would soon make us the happy family which Gentlemen opposite have been for so long. How is this subject to be accomplished? It is a simple process, but "in vain is the net spread in the sight of any bird." The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Fife quoted a short passage of a letter written by me in which I say that as far as I can see there is no 340 difference in principle between the Prime Minister and myself, although there may be differences in methods and tactics. Then he proceeded to tell the House what my principles are. He said that—The policy of the right hon. Gentleman is in principle made up of two heads. In the first place the abandonment——I beg to call the attention of the House to one or two words in it—the abandonment in the interests of British trade of the antiquated system of so-called free trade, which he has told his audiences over and over again we alone persist in pursuing in defiance of common sense and the common practice of the rest of civilised mankind. In the second place, the creation in the interest of Imperial unity and strength of a preferential system based on the taxation of foreign corn and flour.He then said—I do not think the right hon. Gentleman will differ from me.Suppose I had assented to his proposition; then the argument is clear. He would say:—"You, the Prime Minister, said"—at Edinburgh, I think—" " I am not a protectionist." Here is the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, who says that his object is to abandon free trade, and he says that you agree with him. Do you agree, you who are not a protectionist, that free trade should be abandoned?" Now that is the point. When the right hon. Gentleman asked me whether I differed from him, I said I neither denied nor accepted what he said; and that gave great amusement to hon. Members opposite. I confess I have not yet risen to the height of the doctrine propounded by my right hon. friend the Member for Montrose, that however complicated a problem may be it can be got into a half-sheet of notepaper. I admit that my ideas are rather more expansive than that would suggest. But let me say, in passing, that it struck me what a compliment my right hon. friend paid to my hon. and gallant friend the Member for Essex, because, you see, it follows that if a great problem can be properly stated on half a sheet of notepaper, it is perfectly clear that it can be discussed in speeches of five minutes length. But it is not only that I think it undesirable to state one"s views in so short a space that made me resist the application of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Fife. No, 341 Sir, I am suspicious. I have had experience of this sort of thing before. I have again and again had extracts from my speeches flung across the House at me, and I have perhaps hastily accepted them only to find that something very important was omitted. The right hon. Gentleman, let me say with all respect, went further. After I had refused to give an answer, he said this was an evidence of the malaria of ambiguity which existed. Very good, and then he went on to say—If the right lion. Gentleman wants chapter and verse, I would refer him to the speech which lie made at Limehouse in December last. He said there. 'I am going to submit to the country two issues, and they are precisely the two issues I have described to the House.'I looked this morning at the Limehouse speech. What is the chapter and verse? That means verbatim et litteratim. What are the words which I actually did us? You will sea how near they are to the words used by the right hon. Gentleman, and yet how important is the distinction. I said—I will put before ray countrymen two questions. I will ask them in the first place whether they think that a policy which is sixty years old, which was based on promise that have never been fulfilled, which were conceived in circumstances that are altogether different from those in which we move, can be suitable to our modem conditions; Then I will ask them, in the second place, what are to be our future relations with the Colonies, what is to be the future of the great Empire of which we are a part? Now, in my opinion, there is be a reform both of our domestic policy and our external policy as far as regards the Colonies.Now, mark, I did not say that we were to abandon free trade. I did not mention free trade. What I did say was that we must reform our policy of free imports; and free imports are not free trade. They stand in the way of freer trade. We have never had free trade. Do you doubt that?
§ MR. ASQUITH (Fifeshire, E.)
It was for that very reason that I used the expression "so-called free trade" and attributed it to the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
But we have never had free trade at all, and "so-called free trade," does not appear in my speech, and it is not in chapter and verse. [OPPOSITION cries of "Oh."] I confess that I think there is a malaria of 342 inaccuracy which is much more dangerous to the public weal than a malaria of ambiguity. Let me say, in passing, so far as the language attributed to me in regard to the Colonies is concerned, I do not think there are two words the same. Still, I do" not seriously object to it, although it is not my actual language. Now take what I did say. I said that in my opinion the time had come for a reform in our present policy. I do not speak for my right hon. friend the Prime Minister. I speak only as I spoke in the matter to which reference has been made of my own thought on the subject, and I say now again that I think there is no difference between us with regard to the principle. And when I pointed to the importance of the consideration of the future of the great Empire of which we are all a part, there I think I know that there is not the slightest difference in the importance we attach to that part of the subject. But there is something more important, I think, than my opinion of what is in the mind of the Prime Minister, a subject more important than what the Prime Minister thinks of my proposals, and that is what I think of the proposals of the Prime Minister. Why do I say that? Because it is I who am speaking; it is I who say that I think there is no difference. I say it, and if there is a difference I should know it if it occurred in anything the Prime Minister said. Now, the Prime Minister has made three great, impressive, able speeches—the speech at Sheffield, the speech at Edinburgh, and the speech at Manchester, which included the four propositions on a half-sheet of paper. I am told these speeches are unintelligible. In the courteous language of the Leader of the Opposition they are metaphysical sophistications. I am grateful to Provience that I am not myself a metaphysician, but, after all, it may be supposed that I have ordinary intelligence, and I have read these speechcs—these mysterious speeches—and again I speak for myself, and I say that I think I understand every word of them. When speaking about the Prime Minister I was only in a position to say "I think," but when I come to say what I feel about his speeches I can say "I know," and I say that to the best of my knowledge and belief there is no single point of principle 343 in any one of those speeches from which I differ. I do not want to seem to have the slightest doubt or hesitation in regard to my own opinions if anyone has the slightest interest in them, and because of that, when the speech in Edinburgh was made, speaking at Luton almost immediately afterwards, I said that a question of method arose upon the last speech of the Prime Minister and I ventured to criticise that method, and to say that in my opinion if a conference were held such as the Prime Minister proposed, and if the results of that conference were satisfactory, it would be impossible to withhold those results from the consideration of this Parliament and from their action, if they were sitting at the time, and, if not, at the earliest possible moment. Very well, that is perhaps a difference. In any case it is a point of method, not a point of principle. I think the time to discuss" it will be after the principle is decided. The right hon. Gentleman—I think it was hardly worthy of him—actually made a point, and occupied the time of the House for two or three minutes, of the fact that I spoke afterwards at Gainsborough and did not repeat that statement. I appeal to him—he speaks a great deal more than I do—and I ask, does he consider it necessary in every new speech to repeat everything that he said in every past speech?
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I agree at all events with his intention. When I am speaking myself I do endeavour to vary what I have to say a little and to deal with different branches of the subject on different occasions. It is really childish to accuse me of having abandoned an opinion because I do not repeat it on every occasion. I repeat when it is necessary. I repeat it here in this House, but I certainly do not think it desirable to put this difference, which I postpone to the future alter the principle is decided, in the forefront of my argument.
I have one more point to bring before the House, and only one. We are told that it is necessary to settle this question of fiscal reform, because, as the right hon. Gentleman tells us, it is in the 344 highest degree prejudicial to British trade. Well, it has been going on for nearly two years. In what a terrible condition British trade must be! And yet the whole foundation of their argument is that it never was better. We are told that we are in the presence of record trade, record prosperity, and that no sensible man can doubt for a moment that we could not be better off, and that we may very easily be worse. [OPPOSITION cries of "No."] Ah! well, I know there is a little shyness on the part of some hon. Members in accepting that view. I observe when we come to the questions of employment, and the 13,000,000 of people, they are very glad to minimise it. But suppose it is necessary to settle it, is the right hon. Gentleman so unaccustomed to public life that he believes that a vote against fiscal policy in this House of Commons, or a vote against it even in a general election, would have the slightest effect in settling the question? I am bound to say I never was so sanguine as to imagine that a new proposal of this kind, which requires in my opinion a little more discussion than it has yet received—I never had an idea that such a proposal would be accepted offhand by the majority of this country, and I am perfectly prepared to be patient; and one defeat, and even many more defeats, would not for a moment prevent me from continuing to agitate for what I believe to be right. I am surprised to hear hon. Gentlemen opposite, who profess to be the followers of Cobden, talking in this way. Did one defeat silence Cobden? I think—I am not quite certain about my figures—but I believe he had against him three Parliaments and against him seven votes in Parliament, and in not a single one of these votes did he receive more than 120 in his minority.
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY (Montrose Burghs)
The Anti-Corn Law League set to work in 1839, and then there came the general election in 1841, in which Sir Robert Peel was returned by a protectionist majority, and in that Parliament free trade was carried.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I always yield to the authority of ray right hon. 345 friend in such a matter. Surely, however, Mr. Villiers in this House brought forward on two or three occasions proposals in favour of free trade, and afterwards, when Mr. Cobden came in, he himself introduced, or spoke in support of, several votes of the same kind. As regards the votes I am certain. As regards the number of Parliaments I admit I may be mistaken. I have taken account of the divisions in every case, and I say there were something like seven votes, and in none of them did he have a minority which was much, if at all, above 120. But he won his victory. Under these circumstances the idea that we, who sixty years later are reviewing his policy in the hope of amending it, are going to be disconcerted by one vote in this House or by one general election is really to do us a great injustice. We are much better placed than Mr. Cobden ever was. He had a small minority. We have, at any rate, the great majority of a great Party, and if it be true, as my hon. friend the Member for Durham said, although I think he exaggerated, that the minority in this Party is against us—the minority we know in this House—my own opinion is that it is a very much smaller proportionate minority in the country. If there be such a minority we shall make, it up, believe me, by recruits from the Party, which is now the Party of reaction, which can see no cause for change after sixty years experience of broken promises and unfulfilled pledges.
We have three things in our favour besides time We have, in the first place, the failure of free trade. No, I beg your pardon, free trade has not failed, because we have never had it. It has not been tried, but we have the failure of free imports to produce the result which was the great object of the free-trader. That is one thing we have in our favour. We have, in the second place, the growing seriousness of the problem of want of employment of the people of this country. [An HON. MEMBER: Due to the war.] That is to me a serious matter. Taking any reasonable period, it is the fact that, in spite of all our prosperity, which I have never denied, the amount of employment in our principal industrial enterprises is less in proportion to the population than 346 it was at the beginning of the period, and it has been continually reduced. There is an increase in certain favoured employments. There is an increase in distributive employments. That is true. But in the employment which makes for the character, the strength, and the power of the nation there has been a diminution. If hon. Gentlemen will study history they will see that all those countries that have once been powerful, and have become less powerful, have begun with this alteration in the character of their employment. That is the second thing in our favour. The third thing is the wish that I think is almost universal in this country, to draw the Empire closer together; the knowledge, which is spreading, that the Empire is as much to us as it is to the other portions of it, and that we depend on them, while they depend on us. I think the appreciation of what they have already done for us is constantly growing. The desire by any means in our power to unite in some more organised union is a desire which has spread very deep and very far, and which will, I believe, continue to increase. When we conic to them and say, as we do, "Here is your opportunity; here is a request, or put, if you like, a suggestion, from your fellow-subjects, from your own kinsmen, that you should proceed to secure this closer union by a closer commercial union;" when they offer, in the words of Sir Wilfrid Laurier himself—To make a treaty with you upon the basis of an increase of trade between the different parts of the Empire, upon a preferential basis as against the rest of the world.When these offers are made to us, and when it is suggested that a conference should be held in order to discuss details—no, Sir, I do not believe that my countrymen, when they understand what it is that is presented to them, will for a moment support those who would shut the door to such a negotiation, and shut the door at the time when they pretend that they do not know what it is the Colonies have got to give us. Let them wait for the conference and hear. Do not let them prevent a conference by telling our colonial friends beforehand that they may come here if they like, but they shall not be allowed to discuss the only thing for which they deeply care. 347 Last night was important for one thing, and with my observation upon this I shall sit down. It was important for the declarations of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Fife, and still more for that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Northumberland. Hitherto I have understood—it may have been my stupidity, but 1 have certainly understood—that the position of the other side was that under no circumstances would they listen to a conference unless those who were invited to that conference were informed beforehand the one thing which they proposed would not be considered by us. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Fife seemed to me to modify that opinion. He protested against that view of his opinion and intention. He said, "No, certainly not. They may come and discuss everything. I do rot object, certainly not; but we must give our instructions to our representatives," and we all know what those instructions are to be, "Under no circumstances, whatever the offer may be, shall you consent to putting even the slightest and smallest duty on certain articles of food." That any man should contemplate a conference under those circumstances is to me a miracle, or that men of business should support him, or that in a case of this kind we should make up our minds before we know what it is they have to give us. Do you mean to tell me that it would be absolutely impossible for the Colonies, even granting all that is said against the tax of 2s. on corn, to give us something of more value than that? And yet, although we do not know what it is they will give us, or whether it will be sufficient to overcome your objections to a small tax, you say, "No, under no circumstances will we touch the thing." That is plain. We now know what their position is. I predict they will not live many years longer with that conviction. But that is in the region of prophecy. What is not in the region of prophecy is the effect that this statement, made in your name, with your assent, is going to have on the Colonies. Supposing the right hon. Gentleman"s view is accepted. The Colonies are to be invited to come. Apparently they are to be told that they may talk as much as they like about anything. Nobody can pretend to have the slightest or remotest doubt what it is 348 that will be the first thing the Colonies will put before us.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
You expect these men to come and waste their time, to give up their own business at home, and come here and talk and talk until they are black in the face, knowing all the time that your representatives have got a mandate in their pockets not to give them anything they ask for. To my mind that is an insult to the Colonies. We now know what that modification of the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Fife amounts to. There is another right hon. Gentleman who went a good deal further. I should like to know how many friends he has on that side of the House. Here is what he said—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.[OPPOSITION cries of "Hear, hear!" and "By you."] That does not disturb me. Of course the point of difference lies in the words "summoned without prejudice." Can you pretend that you summoned them without prejudice when you are going to give a mandate to your representative, no matter what argument may be put forward or offers made——
§ SIR EDWARD GREY (Northumberland, Berwick)
The right hon. Gentleman has misinterpreted my meaning. What I meant by "without prejudice" was that the conference must be a general conference, and to summon a conference on the ground that unless it resulted in a system of preferential duties no conference was worth having at all, would be to prejudice it from the beginning.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I am very sorry to hear that statement from the right hon. Gentleman. I certainly believed and hoped, when he spoke of summoning a conference without prejudice, he meant that it was to be an open conference, open as to its decision, 349 and without instructions given beforehand to any of the parties that they were absolutely to preclude the possibility of what would be the most important subject of all those to be discussed.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
However, that only leaves me in this position. Under these circumstances neither the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Northumberland nor any other Member on that side is willing to hold a free and open conference summoned without prejudice to discuss this great matter. From to-day it must go forth, "You yourselves have proposed that this offer should be made to come to a closer commercial union. We have considered it, without hearing what you have to say, and we refuse it. Under no circumstances, whether you come here or do not, will we change—[An HON. MEMBER on the OPPOSITION Benches: No food tax.]—our decision. Under no circumstances will we admit that a proposal of the kind suggested is one which we can or will adopt." The right hon. Gentleman made one other remark, which I only note to point out its inaccuracy. He said—The Colonies have never asked that we should impose taxes to suit them. Some of them did suggest, if we were imposing taxes for ourselves, we should give a remission of those taxes in their favour. They have not asked that we should impose a tax which we had not sot, and which we do not need for our own purposes.Is that the general view? I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that, while he himself was in office, a conference was held in Canada. On the motion of Mr. Hoffner, of the Cape, a proposal was made that we should put on taxes in order to secure this preferential trade and this advantage as against foreign countries; and that proposal, made in a conference under the presidency of Lord Jersey, was rejected by Lord Ripon; and since then other proposals to the same effect have been made by other Colonies. So that the statement is not historically correct. My belief is that the conference will be 350 held, and that the Colonies will have a great deal to offer. I never contended we should make anything which anybody could think to be a concession unless in return we received reciprocal treatment. The whole thing turns upon a question which can only be decided by our Colonies. "If we agree to your pro posal, what will you give us in return?" My own belief, expressed more than once, is that they will have a great deal to offer, and that they will give us at least as much as they will desire to take from us. If that is the fact, the people of this country, I am firmly convinced, will not reject such an offer coming from their own kinsmen, and they will not lose a great opportunity which delay may make it impossible to be offered to them in the future.
§ LORD HUGH CECIL
said he listened to his right hon. friend and felt a very large measure of agreement both with the constitutional doctrines he laid down, which seemed to him very sound, and with his avowal that he was not opposed to free trade. He confessed he was a little suspicious of those declarations that free trade was not threatened. There really was no advantage in continuing a discussion if the discussion only turned upon disputes about words. He thought what his right hon. friend meant by free trade was something different from what he meant by it. If it were not so he would be obliged to suspect him of what he was sure no one would suspect him, of making speeches containing not only erroneous theories, but passages which were almost totally unmeaning. What would become of all those parts of his speeches which consisted in pointing out that America, Germany, and to some extent, even France, had done much better than this country. Was it that their fiscal system was, in some respect, better than ours? What would become of the interesting theories about the lack of employment but for the protectionist theory that by shutting out imports they could get better conditions of labour for the work men. The whole gist of the right hon. Gentleman"s arguments had been protectionist arguments. He did not doubt that, as some of his supporters openly avowed, the right hon. Gentleman was 351 seeking to do in this country what Bismarck did in Germany in 1879—that was to say, change the policy of the country from a free-trade system to what was conventionally called a protectionist system. He agreed with his right hon. friend that the Opposition were not entitled to dictate to the Government the time of their dissolution. He went further than his right hon. friend, for he did not desire that there should be a speedy dissolution. For reasons which he should make clear, he was quite content with the existing situation. As regarded the general fiscal question, he was anxious in more respects than one that the present Government should continue in office. He was anxious that they should remain in office for the sake of education. He believed the Education Act of 1902 was fast taking root and was becoming less and less unpopular, and he heartily welcomed the change. He deseed also to see the present Government continue in charge of foreign affairs, which they had conducted with exceptional skill and patience. Therefore, on general questions of policy, he was entirely opposed to the Amendment.
The question then arose, Was it necessary for the sake of the fiscal issue to subordinate these other considerations and to have an immediate election? It was said that an election was needed to clear up the misunderstandings which existed, and in order to make plain the policy which the Government was putting before the country so as to put an end to a situation of ambiguity. Now, he was one of those happy people who thought they understood the Prime Minister. He was quite prepared to make a friendly offer to him. If the Prime Minister would give him office, without portfolio, he would undertake to make his policy perfectly clear to every individual in the country. He was afraid his Ministerial career, though sensational and interesting, would also be brief, for by the time the right hon. Member for Montrose was beginning to get a grasp of the subject somehow or other the Government would be defeated. He thought he not only understood the Prime Minister, but also why other people did not understand him—which was a refinement of intelligence. It arose, first 352 of all, from the circumstance that the Prime Minister never expounded his policy in its relation to the policy of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham. He did not, as it were, state his geographical position according to the meridian of Birmingham. In particular, obscurity hung round two points. The Prime Minister favoured the policy generally called retaliation. About economic questions there was an unhappy custom of using names because they were polite and pleasing and not because they were accurate. Passing a shop window the other day he saw a garment displayed which was entitled "a gentleman"s anatomical belt." He inspected it and perceived it really was what were colloquially called stays. He discerned that the desire of the seller was to attract a purchaser who, shrinking from the imputation of a foppish desire to shape the male figure into super-elegant tenuity, might more readily adopt the idea that he was availing himself of a useful surgical instrument. This custom prevailed among those who called themselves fair traders. They were for ever using some other names, and amongst those names retaliation had been adopted, and this word was often used to conceal a protectionist policy. Even his right hon. friend the Member for West Birmingham did not always appear to him to use the word quite correctly, for he noticed m his speech at Preston an interesting passage dealing with the Swiss tariff and the policy of retaliation, and he told an antecdote about a Swiss gentleman who had said that he proposed to come and plant his business in England if the right hon. Gentleman"s policy Were adopted. Now it was quite certain that no Swiss gentleman would ever come and plant his business in England in consequence of retaliation. What would be likely to induce the Swiss gentleman to transfer his business to England would be a permanent tariff. On the face of it, no Swiss gentleman would expend a large amount of capital to erect a factory in England in order to get behind the duty unless, first of all, the duty gave him a closed market against the foreign competition of other countries, and unless the duty were of a permanent character and likely to continue. Retaliation was often used to conceal 353 a protectionist policy, and was confused with what might more properly be called reciprocity. Dumping, again, was constantly used to describe all cheap importations which effectively competed with the produce in this country; but dumping, as used by the Prime Minister, had a very limited sense. These confusions would not operate with anything like the effect they did were it for the fact that they very largely came from the lips of those who were supporting the policy of tariff reform.
He was afraid that this misunderstanding on the part of the members of the Tariff Reform League did not always and in every case arise from the fact that they really misunderstood the Prime Minister. He was afraid that they wished other people to misunderstand his right hon. friend, and they availed themselves of his reputation and position in order to recommend a very different policy. They therefore habitually used language which confused, and was intended to confuse, the public mind. But that being the case he thought the Prime Minister and his colleagues were not relieved of responsibility in the matter. It was not enough to say that "what I have said is really clear and is not understood. It is the fault of a misconception." It was the business of a politician to be understood. The proof of the pudding was in the eating, and the proof of the statement was in the comprehension of it. It was to throw up the sponge to say, "I cannot make myself clear," for it was part of the essential duty of politicians in a leading position to make themselves clear when the circumstances of the case made it necessary that they should be so.
But the third great branch of the policy of the Prime Minister was not misunderstood, because, from the protectionist point of view, there had not been the same effort made to misrepresent him; he meant the Colonial Conference. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham had said from the first that there was a difference between the Prime Minister and himself upon one point, a point which he (Lord H. Cecil) thought was of greater importance than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham seemed to imagine. There were really two proposals for a Colonial Conference. The first proposal 354 was put forward by the tariff reformers that the conference should discuss the whole question of the relations between the mother country and the Colonies, especially the fiscal question, and formulate a scheme of commercial union, and that Parliament should forthwith carry out that scheme. That was the proposal of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham. The Prime Minister's proposal was for a conference and full discussion, and when the scheme was arranged there should be a further stage of discussion in this country and the Colonies, that there should be a dissolution of Parliament and an electoral decision upon it. That was a proposal of a very different character. He had never understood and did not now understand why the Opposition had been brought to oppose that proposal. He could conceive its being said that these discussions might take place but that there was no prospect of coming to an agreement; that it might lead to ill-feeling and misunderstanding. But when a proposal of that kind was put forward by the Prime Minister it was too late to consider that point, because it would be a greater courtesy to the Colonies to reject the proposal of discussion altogether than it would be to have discussion and find no agreement upon it. He never had any doubt from the moment that the Prime Minister made the proposal that the wisest course was to support the right hon. Gentleman in that proposition, but he thought that they should also candidly say that the opinion of free-trade opponents of preferential tariffs would not be moved by any appeal to the Colonies. It would require argument much more weighty than the mere assertion of eminent Colonial Ministers sitting round a table that they wanted a particular proposal. The duty of the mother country was to decide in the interest of the whole Empire what was best; it would be a derogation of their duty to hand over the responsibility to the Colonies and to say, "You ought to decide it, and whatever proposal you make we will accept it." It made all the difference in the world whether they were to entrust this conference with the decision of the question or merely to entrust it with the task of threshing it out.
355 He did not believe that what was called colonial preference resting on the taxation of food ought to be or would ever be adopted in this country. There were two weak points in the proposal. First of all it ought not to be a bargain, the mother country professing to give something and the Colonies something else. The very idea of a bargain was in itself disruptive. It suggested that there were two parties with different and admittedly conflicting interests, who met in the spirit of negotiators with different points of view and who had different objects to attain. The mere fact of suggesting such a proposal must have a disruptive effect. All experience of nature, all history, went to show that discussions on the basis of bargains were always apt to end in disputes. Let the House look at the commercial treaties just concluded between Germany and Austria-Hungary. Had they produced union? It was notorious that they had produced great ill-feeling between the two countries. Commercial treaties were spoken of as if they were a unifying process, but in nine cases out of ten they had been—they had had the opposite result. The union of the Empire ought, he believed, to be sought for in a different direction. He did not believe that the present time was favourable for the suggestion to the Colonies that they should make great commercial or financial concessions to this country. To ask them to share in the duties and emoluments of the public service, to consult the Home Government on questions of diplomacy and national defence were not matters of bargain; but it was an advantage that they should be freely suggested to the mother country; and it was in these directions that he would seek to promote Imperial unity. He had tried to show that there was not a degree of doubt hanging over the Prime Minister's position, and he had tried to put what he believed was the true interpretation upon it.
There were two other points to be considered in relation to this Amendment. First, he was obliged to consider the effect upon those on the Government side of the House who maintained the doctrines of free trade and whose position was embarrassed thereby. He was afraid that it was impossible 356 to deny that the Government were continuing in office by a process of concealing their whole mind from the country and their supporters. There were limits to the legitimacy of concealment. If persons concealed their mind in such a way as to obtain support, and it resulted at the same time in hardships to those giving that support, then he thought that concealment was a very difficult thing to justify. After all, the Government had enjoyed a considerable amount of support from those who were convinced free-traders during the last year. There had been, for instance, the support of a great body of persons who acted with the right lion. Member for West Bristol, whose support had been essential to the Government. It was not legitimate to make use of support of that kind, nor of a very large body of opinion in the country corresponding with it, if as a result of concealment other free-traders were driven out of their constituencies or Parliament, and if great distress of mind was caused to a large number of persons of the same way of thinking. In saying this he was not urging his own case. He had nothing but a feeling of gratitude to the Prime Minister and his colleagues personally, for he had been treated with a kindness which was all the more graceful because it had been unsolicited. But there were others who had not publicly received any measure of support or assistance. He thought that if he were a Minister enjoying a position of authority and emolument by the very support which was necessary to the present Government, he would feel very uneasy indeed if any reflection could be cast upon him owing to the distress caused to others by a policy of concealment. He certainly felt it to be his duty to express in the strongest terms disapproval of any attack on persons who were suffering as the indirect result of the system of tactics now being pursued. It was perfectly easy to clear up the misunderstandings that existed, and if those misunderstandings were not cleared up then there was a strong obligation on the part of the Government to prevent the evil consequences to individuals resulting from them. If there was any obligation, however, there was a very special obligation on the part of his right hon. friend and of those who 357 were in substance free-traders, but who had felt it to be their duty to remain in the Government. They differed very little, if at all, from hon. Members like the hon. Member for Durham. They had not seen their duty in the same light as his hon. friend had done; but as honest men trying to do their best for the well-being of the, country, could they sit unmoved and see a gentleman with whom they had served, whom they knew to be perfectly honest and disinterested, who they knew had resigned office with a sublime disregard of all consideration of self-interest, attacked for holding opinions substantially the same as their own without stirring a finger on his behalf? We heard much of loyalty to Party. He did not attack the essential utility of loyalty to Party; it was a convention without which the Government of the country could not be carried on. But there were other loyalties. There was surely the loyalty of one honest man to another; the loyalty to those who were serving the public well in an unselfish spirit; the loyalty of the brotherhood of self-forgetting men. It was to that loyalty he made his appeal. He was sure it was forgetfulness rather than lack of chivalry which had led to the state of affairs he deplored. But he earnestly appealed to every one who in his heart was opposed to tariff reform to see that in such cases as that of his hon. friend the Member for Durham he was found fighting on the side of those whom he knew to be in the right, even if they had not chosen to remain in office.
But there were greater matters than these personal questions to be determined in connection with the Amendment before the House. He had to consider the effect upon free trade. He was convinced that he could not support the Amendment; but he was not quite certain whether it would be possible for him to support the Government. His only hesitation in adopting what he frankly admitted was the logical conclusion of his argument was his extreme reluctance to appear to co-operate in any degree whatever with those who were opposing his hon. friend the Member for Durham and others, whom he considered had been very badly treated. Whether he abstained or voted with the Government, the dominant consideration with him would be that of supporting the cause of free 358 trade. He did not believe that that cause was threatened by the continuance of the present Government in office. His view last year was not necessarily the same; but the free-trade propaganda or, rather, defence, had been so surprisingly successful that if the Government and his right hon. friend cared to spend another session in not availing themselves of the opportunity of debate in the House of Commons—it made them angry to say that they shrank from facing the supporters of free trade either in debate or in division, though it was the plain truth that they did so shrink—free trade would not suffer. If there were no question of Parliamentary loyalty involved, and every one could vote as he pleased, he believed the right hon. Member for West Birmingham and his friends would make a very poor show in the lobby. If his right hon. friend secured one vote in three he should be very surprised.
§ LORD HUGH CECIL
Yes, but he had the courage to face the situation. Mr. Cobden did not wish to tackle Parliament before he took its verdict. Another session like the last and even another recess would do free trade no harm: the verdict of the country would continue to be expressed with unvarying persistence against the right hon. Gentleman's proposals. He and his friends were quite satisfied with the way in which things wore going, and therefore it seemed to him that Unionist free-traders ought to go as far as possible in removing the difficulties between themselves and the Government, because, as the hon. Member for South-East Durham had said, they could do immensely more for free trade as Unionist Members than if they attempted to fight the battle of free trade in any other part of the House. He had never concealed the impossibility it would be for him to join the Liberal Party or depart from the principles of Conservatism. He thought his hon. friend the Member for Durham had been misunderstood on that point. What he believed his hon. friend meant was that if the Conservative Party adopted the protectionist policy he would be opposed 359 to that policy. But even in that event he personally should not cross the floor of the House. It was for those who had changed their opinions to change their sides, he had not changed his opinions, and why should he symbolise an attitude of mental stability by physical motion? But he did not anticipate anything so deplorable as the adoption of protection by the Prime Minister or the Government. Whether he and his hon. friends were able to defend themselves from attack in their constituencies or not, the future lay with them. They were the inheritors of the ancient Conservative traditions, they spoke the ancient language of Conservatism, and in their hearts the institutions which Conservatism had ever upheld stood enshrined. Those principles they would never abandon. He could not tell how long the struggle would last; if Members on that side would listen to him they might soon bring it to an end. Let them come and join him and his friends, give up the foolish dreams that had misled them and shut the door on the unwise connection of bad economics and good intrigue. He did not want to drive one protectionist or any other person out of the Party, but he wished to get rid of the evil spirit of protectionism which would cast Conservatism to the ground, and, rending it, sooner or later would be exorcised. At any rate the future lay with those who had not faltered in the day of difficulty in maintaining their principles, and who would maintain the whole fabric of the Conservative faith with the same energy and zeal that they had maintained the faith of free trade. With them lay the future; their courage was unshaken and their purpose was sure.
§ SIR E. DURNING-LAWRENCE (Cornwall, Truro)
thought there was one important aspect of the fiscal question which had not been in any way discussed. It was assumed that for the last fifty years the great trades of this country had been carried on free from protection, but he was prepared to assert that some of the greatest trades had prospered exceedingly for the simple reason that they had been fully protected. One of the greatest trades of the country 360 was the iron and steel trade, and the House might be surprised when he said that for forty out of the last fifty years that trade had been largely protected. For nearly forty years the iron and steel trade had been continuously protected by patents, and so far as the traders were concerned there was no difference whether the trade was protected by patent protection or any other form of protection. First of all there was the great Bessemer process, then the Siemens process, and so on; patent succeeded patent for nearly forty years, and the prosperity of the iron trade was largely due to the protection afforded by these various patents. It was idle to say these were only patents. Patents were in reality patents of protection. When it was desired to take out a patent, provisional protection was obtained in the first instance and later full protection under the Great Seal for a period of time. In a very large measure the present crisis had arisen because the iron and steel trades had suffered in consequence of the "dumping" into this country of enormous quantities of iron and steel which had been manufactured abroad under processes for which the English patents had recently expired. This was the reason why a great number of iron-masters were at the present time clamouring for protection. He was not advocating protection, but simply pointing out the fallacy that existed in the mind of the country and the House in believing that for the last fifty years this country had been free from protection. As a matter of fact, for nearly forty out of the last fifty years the iron trade had enjoyed a large measure of protection. Take another instance, there was close to this House a great picture gallery, given by the generosity of Sir Henry Tate, who had become a rich man. How did he become a rich man? By getting hold of a patent, and so long as that patent existed he had the fullest protection against any competition whatever. Under the protection of that patent no one could bring into this country a single pound of sugar made in France under his process. He did not contend whether that was, or was not, a good thing for the country as a whole, but he pointed out the fact in order to show that this 361 England of ours had not been free from protection, but, on the contrary, that many industries had been largely protected in the past. In regard to patents, this country had adopted a policy of its own, and had granted patents to men of other countries under which our own children were prevented from manufacturing their own products, because upon the foreigner had been conferred the privilege of dealing with those products. He had seen it stated that in consequence of the want of knowledge and enterprise of British manufacturers this country had lost the greater part of the aniline dye trade. That trade was, in its beginning, the result of the skill and the inventive faculty of a young Englishman, and so long as his patents subsisted the manufacture was done in this country; but we permitted some foreigners to patent improvements upon this patent, and under our Patent Laws those foreigners were not obliged to establish their works in this country. When the original English patents expired, the consequence of our extremely unwise Patent Laws was that the manufacture of aniline dyes, etc., from coal tar products practically ceased in this country, because under our laws there was no power to compel the foreign holder of our patents to grant licences or to work the patent here. As a result, we exported to Germany, etc., about £3,000,000 worth of coal tar, etc., and bought the same back when converted into dyes, etc., for £6,000,000, leaving in Germany some £3,000,000 for profit and labour. The present Government had recently made a small and inadequate attempt to force upon foreign holders of English patents the condition that they should grant licences under certain conditions in order that these goods might be manufactured in this country. Every country except England compelled every patentee, within a very few years of his patent being granted, to establish works in their country, so that the patent must be worked in the country that granted the patent, but it was left for England and England alone to grant patents under which our children were prevented from making use of the products of this country, because the foreigner holding an English patent preferred to import them and manufacture them abroad, and refused to grant any license to the English 362 people to work the patents in this country. That might be called free trade, but he did not think it was free trade, and at any rate it was not common sense. He thought the time had come when some of these matters ought to be revised and examined.
In his own constituency, under the Cobden Treaty, fish could be taken into France, and the duty was not to be more than 2s. per cwt. When the Cobden Treaty expired the conditions were changed, and he was informed that now a sum of 6s. per cwt. had to be paid when we carried our fish into French ports, whereas the French fishermen could bring their fish into our ports free. In this matter he wanted reciprocal treatment, so that if we took fish from the French without exacting duties they should take our fish under similar conditions. That was a very important matter to a constituency like his, and, therefore, he trusted that some attention would be paid to it. These tariffs affected great industries like the fishing industry, from which their sailors were largely recruited. In his own constituency there were large works which would be prevented from carrying on their industry unless measures were taken to put an end to what the noble Lord had justly described as "dumping." Dumping had been described as the placing of large quantities of manufactured goods upon the market under cost price, which competed with British made goods. It might be asked how it was possible to sell anything under cost price and yet make a profit. But yet this could be done. Supposing they made five articles costing £5 and sold them for £6, obviously they would make £1 profit. But if they were able to make ten of the same articles at a cost of only £8, as was often the case, the last five would only cost an additional "3, although as the production of ten cost £8 the real cost of producing five was £4, therefore, he did not think it was fair trading to bring those extra five articles, which could be sold at a profit under cost price, to the English market, for that had the effect of breaking down English works. He had been informed that at Gateshead there were works which cost £50,000 for the making of ships' forgings, but 363 foreign firms had been permitted to dump these articles in this country, which they did forthwith, in order to render the profitable manufacture of these forgings impossible in England, and so thoroughly had this plan effected its purpose that he was told that those works at Gates-head which had cost £50,000 had never been used, and could now be purchased for £5,000 or £6,000. That was one of the effects of dumping, and he thought the time had now come when laissez faire had ceased to be a possible policy. Capitalists, as they knew, could easily invest their money abroad, but workmen in this country were affected by English trade, and if their work was done abroad it was not easy for them to transfer their labour abroad.
The Motion before the House, as far as the fiscal question was concerned, was merely a sham. It asked for a dissolution of the present Parliament, and its object was to turn out the present Government. What had the Government done that they should be turned out? What had the Opposition done that they should be put into office? When he came to the House some nine years ago, the Government had to deal with what was called the Egyptian question. Some right hon. Gentlemen on the other side said at that time, when we declared that this country would no longer permit the policy of "pin pricks," that we had made France our enemy for ever. The fact, however, was that France had at present a more friendly feeling towards this country than at any time since 1800, and he could state on reliable authority that there was every day a growing desire among all classes of the French people that the relationship should be still more cordial. If the Government had done nothing else than bring about that state of feeling, they would have done a great and valuable work. Our relations with the United States of America had also greatly improved in recent years, and that result was in a large measure due to the successful manner in which the Government had conducted affairs. When a difficult situation arose in regard to Venezuela, our Government, with the late Lord Salisbury at its head, acted with calmness and firmness, and there was now a better feeling between this 364 country and America than had ever existed before. There was at present a great war in a distant part of the world, and foreign nations were looking on with great anxiety. At this moment hon. Gentlemen opposite were asking the British Government to abandon the task of steering successfully the great barque of State in these troubled waters, to run away from the helm, and to let unknown strangers take hold of it and carry the ship no one knew where. Was this Government to be put into the melting-pot to enable the country to see who was to take hold of the handle of the ship of State? He hoped the Government would not run away from their duty. He for one rejoiced very much that the government of the country was in the hands of the Party now in power. If hon. Gentlemen opposite were to come into office they could only remain there at the will of hon. Members from Ireland, who had declared that the interests of Great Britain were not their interests. When conducting negotiations with foreign Governments that was not a desirable position for our Government to be in. The destinies of the country should not be entrusted to a Party who, though they came into office, would not come into power.
The mover of the Amendment had stated that the trade and commerce of the country had been upset by the fiscal proposals which had been made. He thought trade and commerce had been upset by a Very different matter. In the autumn of 1903 the opponents of the Government assured them that before Easter, 1904, the Government would be driven out of power. That was what frightened the merchants of England, and it was not until they found that there was no fear of a dissolution that the feeling in regard to trade became better. The Amendment would be rejected by a large majority, and when the merchants of England had the assurance that there would be no dissolution this year, they would be inclined to embark in extended trade. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife had gone on to platforms and made speeches in which he had tried to instruct merchants and manufacturers as to the causes which had led to loss of trade, though they knew 365 very much more about these matters themselves. There was not a man of knowledge who did not feel sure that the cry of free trade was now being employed as a Party shibboleth. Hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House, who had realised fortunes under the protection of patents, were now the loudest in proclaiming their worship of the fetish of free trade. They had been protected, but did not want anybody else to be protected, and were indifferent to what happened to others. He believed that this Amendment, proposed, as it had been, at the very beginning of the session, would place the Government in a very assured position with a large majority. It would show foreign nations that this so-called discredited Government was not at all discredited.
Allusion had been made to two letters by Mr. Gladstone, one addressed to the late Queen, and the other to the late Lord Granville. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Rushcliffe scouted the notion as absurd that the latter was of equal importance to the former. He did not know whether that hon. Gentleman had ever had occasion to write a letter which had to be submitted to Her Majesty, or any other Royal personage. He himself had had that honour, and he knew that letters intended for Royal personages were not written in terms as free as those written to private persons. Therefore, he said, without fear of contradiction, that the letter addressed to Lord Granville was of far more importance than an official letter to Her Majesty, which ought never to have been published. The letter to the Queen would express, no doubt correctly, but not too freely, certain reasons why Mr. Gladstone wished to be relieved of office, but a letter written to a member of his own Government would be indited, not in diplomatic language, but without, restraint. Moreover, Mr. Gladstone had then no very large majority in the House, whereas this Government had still a majority larger than anybody until recent years had ever heard of. When he (the speaker) was a young man Lord Palmerston in a great Party division had a majority of only four and still hold office; and yet they were now told that this Government 366 with a large majority and a foreign policy singularly successful, ought immediately to dissolve Parliament and go to the country! The Government were serving the country by remaining in office, and therefore it was their duty to continue in power as long as they had a majority in the House. The interests of the country with foreign nations would be advanced if these had the assurance that the Government intended to hold the helm of State this year and the next. There was extremely good news from South Africa; but nothing would disturb South Africa more than if within a few days or months hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House were to change places to this side. The existing Government difficulties in South Africa would be multiplied ten-fold if that were possible.
This was a very important Motion and every Unionist should put aside personal predilections—whether he thought that protection was the worst of all things or that free trade was an unmixed evil—and vote so that the Government should remain in office. It should be remembered that neither free trade nor protection was before the House. He was sure that not even the hon. Member for Durham believed or could believe that it would be of advantage to the country that the Government should give up power in the State in favour of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the other side who, however high minded they might be, would be under the control of the hon. Members for Ireland. Under these conditions it was idle to talk of dissolution. So long as the great war in the Far East was going on they should keep that Party in office which would maintain the strictest neutrality and see to it that no other nation interfered. If a Government came into office without power what foreign nation would believe that they would dare to stand by their treaties and hold the balance of neutrality so evenly as to prevent any other nation interfering. He therefore appealed to his hon. friends who did not agree with the fiscal policy of the Government not to vote on this occasion for the Amendment. There were times when patriotism ranked above Party and this was one of them. They should be Englishmen first and partisans afterwards, and therefore the friends of this country 367 should not vote for a Motion brought in only for the purpose of discrediting the Government, because if the Government were discredited it would weaken the influence of the country abroad. Knowing something of what was going on in various parts of the world he said, without fear of contradiction, that there was not a friend of England abroad who would not be sorry if the present power of the Government were to be weakened by their obtaining a small majority; and there was not an enemy of England who would not rejoice if the Government had that evening only a small majority.
It would be impossible to establish any new trade in any country unless there was protection in some form or another. In this country protection was provided by patents; in other countries there might be a duty of 50 per cent., subject to gradual reduction. In that wav some of the largest industries had been established abroad. Were other countries altogether wrong? A short time ago England made 8,000,000 tons of steel and iron, and America made only 2,000,000 tons. Protection was introduced in America; and Mr. Carnegie reaped a large fortune, which was really the amount of the protective duties. Now America was, every year, making 18,000,000 tons and this country was making only about 9,000,000 tons. This country, which formerly made nearly one-half of the iron of the world, was now making only one-fifth; and that had been brought about by the fiscal arrangements of other countries, which were also looking after other industries as well as the iron industry. They were looking after the shipping industry. Many hon. Members were interested in that industry. Were they not a little afraid of the subsidies which were now being given to shipping abroad? And were they not aware that there was every probability of these subsidies soon being so largely increased as to seriously interfere with British shipping? It was impossible that this country could successfully face hostile tariffs by free trade. Every other nation was revising its tariff. In all the old speeches and articles in reference to free trade it was stated that all other nations would follow, and if not, that they would be 368 punished. They had not followed; and they had not been punished. It should also be remembered that Cobden, Bright, and Gladstone were against the Colonies. His own father-in-law stated that the sooner this country lost India the better. No Party in England now wanted to destroy India or to lose the Colonies. Therefore, this country ought to be willing to make some efforts to meet the Colonies, who were willing to make concessions, and should not be repelled. When this country was in distress, nearly every colony sent of its best to fight our battles, and the only regret of India was that she could not also send her sons. The late Colonial Secretary knew all this and believed that the country wanted a closer union with the Colonies. He would not detain the House longer, but he appealed to hon. Gentlemen opposite to strengthen the hands of the Government in the present difficult period by refusing to vote for the Amendment.
§ MR. ROBSON (South Shields)
said that the hon. Member would not expect him to deal in detail with his line of argument. Owing to the fact that he was obliged to leave the House for a short interval the hon. Member's speech appeared to him to have a rather disconnected effect. He would pass, therefore, to preceding speeches; and particularly to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. The right hon. Gentleman concluded his speech with some remarks of great significance and great importance upon the question of a Colonial Conference. He intimated in terms by no means obscure that it would be useless and mischievous to hold a Conference unless this country were prepared to consent to the taxation of food and not merely to discuss the taxation of food. In his speech the right hon. Gentleman also referred to a statement which he attributed to the Leader of the Opposition to the effect that there were 13,000,000 of people in this country on the verge of starvation. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to still further increase the hardships of the people who were now living on the verge of starvation; otherwise according to him they could scarcely 369 expect to maintain the Empire or continue in friendly and amiable relations with the Colonies. He believed that no more unjust slander on colonial loyalty and common sense had ever been uttered by a responsible statesman. The Colonies did not desire to increase the hardships of the people of this country in order to increase their own prosperity. Then, according to the right hon. Gentleman people should enter into a conference without instructions. He himself was not concerned to quarrel about that; but they ought to know something about the intention. Whatever the intention of the Government was as to the policy to be pursued at the conference there was no attempt to state it. He regretted that the right hon. Gentleman should have thought it necessary to drag colonial loyalty into the vortex of British politics, and to attempt to make a little Party capital out of that colonial loyalty which should be the property of all Parties in the state.
The right hon. Gentleman had not expressed himself as supporting the Amendment; he had perhaps discovered that, although he could convert the Party opposite to the policy of protection, he could not convert it to suicide, and that was his idea of what a general election would mean. The right hon. Gentleman believed at any rate that when the general election took place the Liberal Party would be returned to power, because he said he looked forward with pleasure to a period of cool criticism. But some of the right hon. Gentleman's other reasons for objecting to a dissolution were more remarkable. He said that all that had happened was that a private Member—himself—had laid certain proposals before the country, and he did not know that that was any reason for a dissolution. Was this the right way for the right hon. Gentleman to set forth his proposals? It was true they were the proposals of a private Member, but they were proposals which had been adopted by the Government. The right hen. Gentleman told the House his proposals were, in substance, identical with those of the Government. He had introduced those proposals as being a new principle to dominate the elections. The question 370 which was to dominate the next general election was not temperance, was not the War Office Report, was not even Chinese labour, but the fiscal question. The right hon. Gentleman told the country, on the 15th of May, 1902, that that was to be the dominant issue at the next general election. He told them that that was not only his view but the view of the Prime Minister. He had pledged the Prime Minister to that view, and it required more than ordinary courage to come down to the House now and say that these were only the proposals of a private Member. The House was bound to treat these proposals as the proposals of the Government.
The speech of the noble Lord the Member for Greenwich, who followed the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, no doubt answered that part of the case sufficiently, but it was to be regretted that the noble Lord had not gone further with regard to the policy of retaliation and informed the House what his attitude was going to be on that question. He had told the House that he understood that policy, but he had not said whether he approved or disapproved of it. He desired now to address himself to the policy of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister rather than that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, which he would only place by way of contrast beside that of the Prime Minister. The policy of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham had the advantage of being the more direct policy. It was not only intelligible, it was transparent. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham was all for protecting some English producers against all English consumers. That was not precisely the way in which the right hon. Gentleman put it; he appeared to speak of it as protecting the British producer against the foreign producer, but what really happened was that it was the English consumer that stood up to be hit. That was the true meaning of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham and the men of business who were associated with him in this controversy The right hon. Gentleman and his friends had spent all their lives in endeavouring to get all they could out of the British consumer; they had 371 struggled with, the wretched desire of their customers to get their goods as cheaply as possible—which was the English way of doing business—meeting their customers as well as they could, and now the right hon. Gentleman proposed to introduce Continental methods. Instead of meeting the consumer commercially, as heretofore, satisfied with what they made out of him, the right hon. Gentleman and those associated with him desired to insure that he should pay more for what he got than he paid before. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, however, thought the policy was somewhat too crude. He was not a man of business and did not like to put the matter in that way. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister said it was entirely to protect the consumer and to increase our foreign trade. He knew that if the exports were increased the inevitable result must be that the imports would be increased as well, but that was not the desire of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. That Gentleman desired to cut down imports. Did the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister believe the two policies were identical? Did his followers believe it? The noble Lord the Member for Greenwich had said in a speech that day that they had a situation absolutely unparalleled in the history of this nation or of any country governed by a Constitution. Here was a Government in power supported by two sections of a Party, because each believed the Government desired to deceive the other. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham was fairly comfortable so far as his attitude was concerned; he had claimed that the policy of the Prime Minister was identical with that which he had enunciated. He had placed that before the House as a challenge to the Prime Minister. The right hon. Gentleman did not reply to that challenge because, to borrow an humble phrase, "it was more than his place was worth" to repudiate it. The attitude of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister in this matter was very difficult to follow so they had to look at his motive. If they could judge of his motive by his conduct there could be no doubt about it at all. The right hon. Gentleman had rid himself of all his free-trade 372 colleagues and filled their places in the Ministry with—he had almost said the creatures—supporters of tariff reform. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife had asked various questions as to the policy of the right hon. Gentleman and its bearing on free trade, and had demanded an answer, because it had been authoritatively stated that the Prime Minister was in sympathy with the Tariff Reform League. If that were so, he could not understand any free-trade Unionist any longer supporting the Government. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham must have made that statement in perfect good faith as the result of communication between himself and the Prime Minister. But if he was mistaken, surely in common fairness it was the duty of the Prime Minister to correct his mistake. Not only the free-trade members of the Tory Party, but the whole of England had a right to complain if the Prime Minister deliberately and knowingly allowed a false impression as to his views to be disseminated amongst his followers and the electorate. Strangely enough, the Prime Minister did not seem to object to both sections of his Party disbelieving him in one matter or another. He knew that the protectionists disbelieved his allegations of free-trade motives, and that the free-traders disbelieved the sincerity of his protectionist methods; but instead of resenting support accorded on such terms he invited and lived by it. It might be fine strategy, but it was undoubtedly a course of conduct which cut at the very root of political honour as hitherto understood in this country, and was grossly unfair to the Prime Minister's followers, his opponents, and the electorate.
How did the free-traders stand in view of the Prime Minister's alleged motive? They believed that retaliation was not meant. "Retaliation" was a perfectly well understood word; there might be doubt as to the precise methods by which the policy would be put in force, but its meaning in the fiscal sphere was well known. Did the Prime Minister seriously mean this policy? His free-trade followers thought he did not, their view being that it was really a shelter from the fiscal storm, and that when he had 373 a suitable majority it would be dropped—in short, that it was intended for provisional Party use, just as old-age pensions were. It should not be forgotten that the right hon. Gentlemen the Member for West Birmingham and the Prime Minister were alike engaged in that contemptible imposture practised upon the poor of England. Within the last few days the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham had stated that he had never been able to see any source from which the money for old-age pensions could properly be drawn, and it was with that knowledge that he dangled that policy before the electors, took their votes, and then betrayed them. But the fact that both right hon. Gentlemen co-operated in that imposture, instead of putting free-trade Unionists on their guard, seemed rather to inspire them with hope; they hoped, prayed, and believed that retaliation was only one imposture the more. He thought they were gravely mistaken. If once the Prime Minister was returned with a majority in favour of retaliation, it was idle to suppose that that policy would not be worked in the direction of protection. Bluff was a very attractive policy; it sometimes succeeded, but sometimes, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham well knew, it failed. It was far more likely to succeed in military than in fiscal matters. Bluff in the sphere of international diplomacy might succeed, as nations had no desire to fight except in defence of some great vital interest. But that was by no means the case in the sphere of economics. In every protectionist nation there was ready to hand a fiscal war party in the manufacturers, who saw their chance of making a profit out of the business. That fiscal party existed in England; it was well organised in the Tariff Reform League, and had its staff in the Tariff Commission. The gentlemen composing the fiscal war party would jump at the chance afforded by bluff of plunging the country into a fiscal war. Mere threats would very soon become much more. The idea that we should be doing to foreign nations only that which they now did to each other was a most dangerous fallacy.
The policy of the Prime Minister had no analogy whatever in the policy of 374 protectionist countries. None of them would dream of adopting it. On two or three occasions they had adopted the policy, but with instant and lamentable results. The Prime Minister's contention was that, being a free-trade country, we had nothing to offer other nations, and that, therefore, we ought to have something to threaten; we were to tax their goods not for the sake of our revenue or trade, but purely to hit and to hurt them. What protectionist country would be so insane as to formulate a policy like that? The whole of their protectionist machinery was carefully devised and elaborated to prevent that appearance of hostility with which the Prime Minister would begin his so-called negotiations. They started with a general tariff, in many cases higher than they desired to maintain; then they approached the country they desired to negotiate with by offering certain remissions of the tariff in return for other fiscal advantages. If the offer was refused the ordinary law operated. There was doubtless some poor semblance of retaliation in that procedure, but how conciliatory it was in form, and form was almost everything in these matters. They proceeded by inducements; we were to proceed by threats. That was an enormous difference—the whole difference between proceeding as men of business and diplomatists would act—and merely showing one's teeth, especially when, as in this case, one had scarcely any teeth that could be used. We should therefore suffer all the detriment of provocation without enjoying the benefit of a successful attack. Protectionist countries had learnt from sore and sad experience how completely mistaken was the policy of threats. None know better than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham that if the policy of retaliation were adopted they must begin with a general tariff, and negotiate their commercial treaties on that basis. The right hon. Gentleman knew also that if threats were used without the basis of a general tariff having been adopted, the country would be instantly landed in fiscal war. The inhabitants of these islands were a fighting race; they would fight even with their bread and butter, and that was what the real leaders of 375 the Tory Party desired them to do. They knew that if they could once appeal to the national spirit they would be able to say. "Let us put economics apart; we are now engaged in fiscal war Let us begin at once with our most powerful weapon. If it be with America, let us place a tax on food." Thus the policy of retaliation would lead to taxes on food as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham clearly recognised.
Another fallacy was hidden in the use of the word "bargain." The Prime Minister regarded treaties as matters of bargaining, and said—You cannot do anything at bargaining unless you have something to give as well as to get.That sounded very plausible, but it covered a somewhat shallow fallacy Commercial treaties were not in any fair sense analogous to bargains. In a bargain the less one gave the better for him. Each party sought to give as little, and to get as much, as he could. But in a commercial treaty a country gave up something it was better without; they gave up a tax which hampered their trade; so that, if a bargain at all, it was one in which it was more blessed to give than to receive. Protection was built up of false analogies, and retaliation consisted in hitting our friends in order that somehow or other we might hurt our enemy. What was the spirit in which a protectionist entered into negotiations for a treaty? He knew that in his own country a selfish section would demand that their interests should be protected. Owing to the lower standard of wages in other countries, they were obliged to have recourse more to indirect taxation, but what was the protectionist's object? He desired to make more trade with England, and to take off all taxes he could; and he remembered that it paid his country better to trade with England than with any other country. That was the view of all the traders in his own country. There was not a single protectionist country in the world which did not prefer trading with England to trading with any other country. That was a rather remarkable circumstance. Talk about preference—that was the sort of preference they wanted, and that was a free-trade preference. How did that 376 preference work? The foreigner came to this country to sell his goods. If England was the best market for the foreigner to sell in, because of its freedom, it was equally the best market for him to buy in The foreigner knew when he sold his goods here that he must buy either directly or indirectly here, so that for both buying and selling the protectionist found that England was the best market in the world in which to do business. Let them compare that kind of preference with the preference which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham and the Prime Minister offered in its place. He did not wish to speak disrespectfully of the trade with the Colonies, but let them compare the free-trade kind of preference they were now enjoying from people in other countries, with the preference offered by some of our colonial fellow-subjects. What would be the attitude of foreigners when this country began to threaten them with retaliation? The result would be that they would have a fiscal war which would not only hamper but also destroy trade by millions sterling In his opinion, the policy of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham was far less dangerous than that put forward by the Prime Minister, because he put it in a way that one could understand, and one had some idea of the damage it would do; but they could not have a worse method than that which was suggested by the Prime Minister, which would destroy something like 30 per cent of our trade with foreign countries. That would be the result of a fiscal war. Imagine the state of employment in England after the inauguration of the policy of the Prime Minister with that destruction of trade as the inevitable result. If they were to have protection, they must be prepared to maintain no greater population than protectionist countries. The population maintained in this country was 588 per square mile, in France 230, and in Germany about 260. The policy of retaliation seemed to be spoken of as something that might be handled harmlessly, but in his opinion, it ought to be treated as a deadly danger to our trade. They had had a fair illustration of free-trade retaliation in 377 the Sugar Convention. There they saw how this policy of retaliation operated. The Prime Minister had challenged them to state what their policy was. Was the policy of freedom nothing? They had found freedom a wise policy in this country in the past, and were not going to give it up either for protection or retaliation.
§ MR. STUART WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)
said the terms of the Amendment claimed that the time had come when a dissolution of this Parliament should take place, and it made that claim on the ground that the fiscal question had been discussed long enough, having been before the country for fully two years. Perhaps the House would excuse him if he said that it seemed to him that discussions of fiscal policy were not very profitable in a Parliament of which one portion was clamouring and demanding that the Government had no authority to deal with any question at all, while the other portion freely admitted that, whatever mandate that Parliament had, they certainly had no mandate to deal with the fiscal question. He did not quite see what use it was, in a debate which demanded the dissolution of Parliament, discussing the merits of a question which had to be relegated to those from whom alone that and all Parliaments received authority. It was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Berwick the night before, as a reason for dissolution, that there was great uncertainty in trade, and that a dissolution was almost the only remedy. He thought that outcry was the same as the outcry on the religious question in education—a thing they heard nothing of in schools, but only on platforms and in the House of Commons. They did not hear of any outcry in banking and other commercial circles arising out of the fiscal question.
The claim for dissolution was really a Constitutional question. and it was as such that he proposed to discuss it. It was stated that the present Parliament was devoid of authority, and that it had no mandate. Those who remembered the history of 1900, however, were in a position to dispute the contention as to the want of a mandate. The Leader of the Opposition was somewhat startled on the first night 378 of the session when words were read from his address which showed that he, in 1900, repudiated the idea that that election was to be fought on a single issue. But what was of much more importance was the manner in which the electors approached the matter. He was in a position to show that not only in the election address of the Leader of the Opposition a general claim was put forward that the issue could not be restricted, but such a claim was also put forward by the late Sir William Harcourt in his address. The Leader of the Opposition went further, and warned his hearers against sham reforms to be looked for from Unionists, contrasted the legislation of Unionists with what might be expected from the legislation of Liberals, and said the general policy of the Unionists was one of always looking after the interests of a particular Party or a particular class. Lord Rosebery accused the Unionist Party of what he called scamping their legislation, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife jeered at its tinkering character. There were not only these general warnings, but there were particular warnings, and they related to the very legislation which this Parliament proceeded to pass. As to education the late Sir William Harcourt said that one of the greatest questions in such an election must be as to the Party not only most willing but most capable of providing for the education of the people. Lord Rosebery made it one of his principal complaints that the Unionist Party had abandoned the Education Bill of 1896. To summarise the result of all this he would say that language of this kind was indulged in by Liberal candidates all over the country, who followed the example of their leaders, and, therefore, the electors were warned of the kind of legislation that might be introduced by the present Government. With their eyes well opened they cheerfully took their chance, and it was on that ground that the full and ample authority of the Unionist Party rested. It was useless to quote implied promises that if the South African War were finished they would indulge in no legislation at all of any great importance. The electors might have thought, and probably did think, that even unsound Unionist legislation was better than another Majuba 379 settlement in South Africa, and nobody really supposed that the Unionists after such warnings would not attempt any legislation whatever.
What was the next Opposition plea for a dissolution? Parliamentary history afforded no instance of a Prime Minister dissolving Parliament because by-elections had gone unfavourably to him. No precedent had been cited, except one case in which Mr. Gladstone had given two conflicting utterances on the point. It was said that he wrote a letter on January 8th, 1874, and another letter on January 23rd, of the same year in an opposite sense. The explanation of that was that between the two dates something had operated on his mind which made him think that a dissolution was desirable though it had not presented itself in that sense at first. That something was well known at the time. The late Lord Selborne and others had left on record the true reason for Mr. Gladstone's action, It was not the course of by-elections that had so much dictated his action as the fact that Mr. Gladstone had accepted office, as to the legality of which there were grave doubts, without recourse to a re-election. He maintained that the general doctrine, apart from precedents, as to which there was a singular lack, the universal course of practice was to disregard by-elections, and for the Government to trust the House of Commons, on whom alone responsibility should rest. So long as the House of Commons supported a Ministry, so long as the House was undisturbed by the apparent hostility of constituents, the Ministry should trust the House of Commons. If the House supported them, Ministers should not act as if they knew better than the House. He held that it would be an evil day for the dignity and responsibility of the House if it were not accepted as the sole judge in the issue whether or not the time had come for a dissolution. It was for the House itself to judge of the strength and permanence of any manifestation of feeling outside its doors, and for Members to judge whether they were or were not in a position to say to their constituents, "You may think that we are wrong to-day—but before many years have passed you will know that we are in the 380 right." To act otherwise was to undermine the responsibility of the electors and the moral courage of their representatives. He submitted that no grounds had been shown, certainly in the present debate, for advising a dissolution of the present Parliament, which was asked for merely because the political appetites of hon. Gentlemen opposite were in an unmanageable state.
§ MR. BRIGHT (Shropshire, Oswestry)
said that one of the arguments of hon. Gentlemen opposite was that trade was not suffering owing to the dissolution of Parliament being postponed. He did not think that that was the case, for at this moment there were all the signs of a coming revival of trade, but that revival was kept back on account of the uncertainty of the political situation. Not only that, the programme of the Government was exhausted, for they had been elected on the purely South African policy of bringing the war to an end. Further, the country was ripe for a dissolution. It was impossible to take up a local newspaper without seeing reports of political meetings and canvassing in behalf of candidates on both sides. That showed that the country was ready to give its verdict, and that would be pronounced enough when the time came to record it. The fiscal question had been before the country for two years, and hon. Gentlemen opposite seemed to be carrying out the traditions of their Party and raising once again the cry for protection, which historically they had never renounced, although they had undoubtedly shelved it for a time. The main issue before the country at the dissolution would be protection versus free-trade.
Various arguments had been heard as to why there should not be a dissolution. They were told that many questions were unsettled, among them that of unemployment. It might justly be said that unemployment in its serious aspect at present was largely due to the policy of the Government, because unemployment always followed the close of a great war. It was so in the case of the Crimean War and of the great French War which ended in 1815. The country was simply reaping the results of the 381 Government's South African policy, and it was not for hon. Gentlemen opposite, who had created this great difficulty, to talk of the unemployed as a reason for postponing a general election. A great deal had been said about "dumping;" but, whatever might be said of its occasional disadvantages, it had also its advantages. Take, for instance, the tinplate trade, of which he knew something. Last year was the record year in that industry; and why? Because of the "dumped" bars received from Germany. If the raw material could be obtained at a cheap rate from abroad it could be worked out here in manufactured articles. Then, they had had experience of the benefits of securing cheap sugar; but by the Sugar Convention they had managed to damage flourishing industries such as jam-making and confectionery. That cheerful result had been brought about by trying to stop dumping." But there was something more than all that, if they were going in a country like this to limit the supply of corn and other food from every other source in order to give a preference to colonial products. That, he contended would create a position of danger, for it was impossible to suppose that there would not be times of scarcity in the Colonies, and then there would be a limited market on which to draw from our necessary supplies of food. They had such an experience recntly in the cotton trade. Cotton was mainely imported from America, and there was a limited market. The result was that a year ago thousands of men were out of employment. The same would apply to corn. There would be a limited market; there would be great differences in prices from time to time; and the people of this country would be damaged, because it was on cheap food the people lived. He could not imagine anything more unwise or more foolish. They on that side did not fear a dissolution. The by elections had shown what the country thought on the question of dear food. His own by-election was fought on the question of dear bread, the next would probably be fought on the question of dear sugar. This country did not want this doctrine of artificial dearness; it was ripe for a dissolution, and he hoped it would get it before long.
§ MR. AUSTIN TAYLOR (Liverpool, East Toxteth)
said he wished to direct a few observations to the terms of the Amendment rather than to the fiscal question. If the Amendment were a naked demand for dissolution on the ground of the general policy of the Government he should have no hesitation as to the course he should adopt. There was a large portion of the policy of the Government with which he was in absolute sympathy; moreover, he had been returned as a supporter of the Government; and if they were merely challenged on general policy, he should have no hesitation in giving them his support. But the Amendment was not so drawn. It was drawn in terms which did not raise the clear issue of dissolution on the general policy of the Government; or the clear issue as between the rival policies of free trade and protection. It demanded the dissolution of Parliament, and the termination of the trust which the Government had undertaken, on the ground that the fiscal question had been sufficiently discussed, and that the country was ripe for its decision. He was not quite sure whether the discussion of the fiscal question was really concluded. Judging by the speeches to which they had listened, there was still an ample desire in the minds of Members to discuss a policy which had now been discussed for nearly two years. It had been urged during the course of the debate that if Parliament were dissolved some good might result to the cause of free trade, but it should not be forgotten that during the lifetime of the present House of Commons they had the pledge of the Government that no change should take place in the fiscal system of the country. From that point of view the more prolonged was the existence of the present Government, the further was any change in the fiscal policy of the country deferred. From that point of view it might fairly be contended thatthe existence of the present, House of Commons was in favour of free trade. In addition, many Unionist and Liberal free traders thought that the longer the question was discussed in the country the more free trade had to gain. On the other hand, it was perfectly well known that there was going on, all over the country, a determined 383 attempt to capture the Unionist Party's machinery for the cause of a protectionist policy. No doubt the most drastic cure, bitter but salutary, for that process, which was gradually sapping the Unionist Party, and driving out all those elements which made for commercial freedom, would be a general election in which the Unionist Party on the question of fiscal policy received a shattering defeat. It was not perfectly clear therefore, on the terms of the Amendment, and on a review of the general position, whether it was or was not desirable, in the interests of free trade, that a dissolution should immediately take place.
He saw in the newspapers recently a remarkable illustration of what was really going on in the Unionist Party in Liverpool, one of the Divisions of which he had the honour of representing. In that city there had been recently a most regrettable vacancy, due to the retirement of Sir John Willox, whom he was sure they would regret to miss in the debates in that House. His successor in the candidature on behalf of the Unionist Party had recently been adopted, and at the time of his adoption he made a very remarkable speech to the Conservative Divisional Council of the Everton Division. While giving a general support to His Majesty's Government, he reserved liberty of action on two matters of supreme importance. The first of these was the question of Church Discipline, and to all who knew Liverpool that was not surprising. The Bill which he (Mr. Taylor) had had the honour of arguing in that House, and for which he secured a Second Reading, was dear to Liverpool. Might he say in passing that it was consoling to find the Liberal candidate was, strange to say, equally pledged to an ardent support of that measure, and indeed had gone further and had pledged a future Liberal Parliament to pass it without hesitation? That was a pledge which he (Mr. Taylor) would commend to the notice of right hon. Gentlemen on the opposite Benches, because if he was not there to remind them of it he trusted that other Gentlemen, would be there to insist firmly on those pledges given broadcast throughout the country being 384 redeemed. He hoped that when, in the hey-day of their prosperity, in the plenitude of their power, they occupied the Ministerial Benches they would not forget among other pressing reforms this measure on which their supporters throughout the country had pledged themselves with unhesitating alacrity. But the candidate who had been selected for the Everton Division of Liverpool to uphold the Unionist cause had made a further reservation on the subject of fiscal policy. These were his words—Under these circumstances whilst a believer in the policy Mr. Balfour advocated, he was prepared to go even further, and he declared that his ideas and aspirations tended towards the policy enunciated by Mr. Chamberlain in the direction he had indicated, namely, a united Empire, with the necessary consequences, Colonial and Indian preferences.Involving, of course, continued Mr. Taylor, the taxation of food, which had been explicitly excluded from the Government programme by the Prime Minister. The candidate went on to say—If, therefore, they had any doubt as to his suitability as a candidate on those grounds, he should prefer that they should tell him so frankly.Notwithstanding those explicit statements, for which he thought the candidate was to be commended by all outspoken and honest men appealing for the suffrages of their fellow-citizens, he was adopted by the Conservative Party, and would no doubt in due course receive Ministerial support and all the assistance which could be placed at his disposal. That was an indication of what he (Mr. Taylor) meant when he said that the Conservative machinery throughout the country was being captured, not merely for the policy of the Government, but also for that further policy which had been indicated by Mr. Chamberlain. By the making of these reservations on tariff reform the position of the Unionist free-traders was also incidentally strengthened, because if it was legitimate for a man to make a reservation as to the Government's policy by saying he was prepared to go further and possibly eventually in a contrary direction under the auspices of Mr. Chamberlain, surely Unionist free-traders were equally justified in claiming liberty of action 385 on the question of fiscal policy in the direction of free trade. If these candidates were able to go a little further than the Prime Minister then Unionist free traders were justified in saying that they could not go quite so far. He was quite clear that the Amendment involved the question of fiscal policy, and the division would to a very large extent be regarded by the country as one more trial of strength between the forces of protection and the forces of free trade. It was that consideration alone which would prevent him giving that support to the Government which, if it had been challenged on general questions of policy, he should have been most happy to do. Unionist free traders were placed in a position of peculiar embarrassment, and whether he abstained from the division altogether or went to the length, in the interests of free trade, of voting with the Opposition, he wished it to be clearly understood that it was not because he abated his sympathy with the general principles and policy of Conservatism, but because he was determined upon this one great issue of free trade—commercial liberty against monopoly and restriction—to cast in his lot with those who were the friends of free trade and to dissociate himself from those who were apparently its enemies.
MR. HUNTER CRAIG (Lanarkshire, Govan)
said he wished to call the attention of the House to an aspect which taxing the food of the people of this country would have, with reference to the wheat-producing Colonies, should a tax be put on wheat on foreigners and the Colonies exempted. Instead of this being an advantage to the Colonies, why the very reverse was the case. He spoke, on this subject after an experience of over thirty years as an importer of breadstuffs from foreign and colonial countries and he said that were this policy carried out the price of wheat would not only be raised against the British consumer, to at least the extent of the duty, but it would also be raised against the Colony which exported the wheat. To illustrate what he meant, take the United States and Canada as competing countries for the sale of their surplus wheats in the United Kingdom. In buying from Canada he could pay, say 2s. per quarter 386 more (if that is the tax on United States wheat) to the Canadian farmer than he could pay to the United States farmer, because of the exemption of duty on Canadian wheat. The Canadian farmer gets the amount of the duty over the price paid to the United States farmer. Consequently the local price of wheat in Canada is raised to the extent of this 2s. duty, and raised to this extent against the Canadian population. If the local price is raised in Canada 2s. (the amount of the duty) over the local price of United States wheat, the Canadian milling industry is no longer able to compete on all fours, as they are now doing, for the sale of flour in foreign countries such as China, with its 300,000,000, Japan, etc. They are handicapped by having to pay the same price as the British buyer pays to the Canadian farmer, and which is the amount of the duty more than he pays to the United States farmer, because on Canadian wheat there is no duty to pay on arrival in the United Kingdom. Thus the effect of a tax on wheat from aliens, with free imports to the Colonies, is raising the price to the colonial consumers and to the milling industry of the Colonies who can no longer compete on equal terms in foreign markets. The Colonial farmers are not asking for such a preference. They are a highly prosperous class and immigration to Canada is continuing to the extent of 90,000 per annum from the United States alone to settle on farms there. He had it on the highest authority that a preference to Canada would have the result not only of raising the price of food to the people of that country, but also of taxing the milling industry of Canada to a corresponding extent, and that that industry would be thereby handicapped in competing with the United States for the trade of other countries. When the shilling duty on corn was proposed three years ago he had cables from Canada urging him to endeavour to secure the exemption of Canada. Their view now was the very opposite, the millers urging that preference should not be given because it would handicap them in the flour-exporting trade. Not only would the people of this country be penalised by the adoption of such a policy, but the wheat-producing Colonies would be taxed, because the 387 price of wheat would be raised locally by the amount of the duty. He thought that this was an aspect of the question which ought to be borne in mind.
§ MR. REGINALD LUCAS (Portsmouth)
thought it only fair to say that, although a free-trader, he had no fault to find either with the Prime Minister, his colleagues, or the Party organisation in regard to his position in his constituency. Ministers or Party organisation could modify the views of constituencies no more than they could control the winds of heaven. To stand for a seat against the wishes of the Party organisation as the hon. Member for King's Lynn and others had announced their intention of doing, seemed an heroic attitude to adopt, while those who had determined to retire from politics altogether were sometimes accused of weakness. But there was something to be said in defence of those who had been driven into the latter course. It was quite true that one could, if he chose, stand at all hazards and refuse to be elbowed out, but he would not admit that he was open to the charge of undue subservience to Party if he thought it better to retire from politics altogether rather than incur a personal defeat, and, what was more important, break up the Party probably for many years to come. After all, there was a great deal of genuine principle in loyalty to Party. A man pinned his faith more to one set of political opinions than to another, and although he might differ strongly from his friends on one particular point, yet he might consider it better for the good of the country in general that he should refrain from destroying the Party, whose policy as a whole he supported. For this reason he had thought it better to submit to political extinction, rather than take the line to be adopted by the hon. Members for Durham and King's Lynn. As to the Amendment before the House, he should vote with the Government, who had repeatedly stated that nothing; would be done in this matter during the present Parliament. He was returned to support this Government, and as long as he was in the House he should do so.
And, it being half-past Seven of the clock, the debate stood adjourned till this Evening's Sitting.