§ MR. SCOTT (Ashton-under-Lyne),
in rising to move, "That in the opinion of this House, it is expedient to withdraw from the Sugar Convention," said there had been many reasons given for the result of the general election, and those who sat on the Liberal side of the House had been taken to task for the many promises which they made during the election campaign. He thought the House would agree that there was not a single Member who sat on that side of the House, who did not promise and pledge himself that when returned to this House he would do his best to alter the legislation of the late Government. He ventured to think that of all the follies associated with the late administration, nothing was quite so silly as the Brussels Sugar Convention, to which he proposed to draw attention. Since he had given notice of this Motion he had read the speeches delivered in this House in the debates upon that question, and to those who held the views he held on this matter it was very gratifying to find that the right hon. Gentlemen who sat on the Front Government Bench had been the strongest in their denunciation of the Brussels Sugar Convention. All he was anxious about was that there should be consistency of policy, and that now a Liberal Government was in office they would not find right hon. Gentlemen on the Government Bench advocating views different from those they expressed when sitting on the opposite side of the House. It was interesting to find, when this question first came before the House in November, 1902, that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham described the Convention, in the most flattering terms, as a free-trade measure. He did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman did not then speak as a disciple of Cobden, and a great advocate of free-trade principles. The right hon. Gentleman the junior Member for the City of London, when the question came up on the second occasion, told the House that the result of the Sugar Convention would be to lower prices, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member 1150 for West Birmingham at the same time prophesied that we should see no advance in the price of sugar. When the prophecy was made, they in Lancashire invested largely in sugar, with the result that many of them made sufficient out of the increased price of sugar to pay the increased expenditure they were called upon to pay as the result of his influence on the policy of the Government. He had looked through the speeches delivered in favour of the measure, and found, when they dismissed all this talk of Empire and came down to facts, that the Sugar Convention was to benefit two classes of individuals and two classes alone. In the first place, it was to benefit the West Indies. The competition to which the West Indies had had to submit had had one very good result. In the last twenty years it had brought down the cost of the production of sugar to one half, and he ventured to think that with a sound system of finance and proper machinery the West Indies could produce sugar to-day more cheaply than it could be produced anywhere else in the world. It was singular, in view of the recent agitation, to realise, if they could assume—and the assumption was a great one—that hon. Members opposite had been returned by a majority and had put their fiscal policy into operation, that the West Indies would have been absolutely excluded from preferential benefits, whilst since the Convention they have had to submit to the serious competition of Germany, Austria and France in the market of the United, States, "the natural market of the West Indies," and from which Bounty-fed sugar is excluded. The refiner, who was the other person who was to benefit, was in a position totally different from that of the producer in the West Indies. The refiner wanted his raw sugar as cheap as he could get it, but wished to get as big a price as possible for the refined article, whilst the producer in the West Indies wanted the highest price for the raw material. The refiners in this country were nothing like so badly off as people had been led to believe. Up to date the refiners had made more money than any other class in this country, with the exception, perhaps, of the brewers. Where they had considered and kept to the requirements of the consumers they had 1151 made a great success of sugar refining. But where men refined sugar with antiquated machinery, and turned out a product which the retailer did not want, and which therefore had to be sold at a reduced figure, they were not likely to be prosperous. Even with the Sugar Convention one of the biggest sugar refiners in this country had just gone into liquidation. The foreign refiners and producers in their desire to secure the English market had entered into a policy of such senseless competition that they had brought the price of sugar in England down to 6s. a cwt. Supposing that insane policy had been continued, and we had had sugar brought into this country for nothing, would that or would it not have been a benefit to this country? There were nine producing countries and one consuming country entered the Sugar Convention. We were the largest consumers of sugar in the world. We consumed four times as much as any European nation, and yet we, occupying the position of consumers and buyers, entered into a Convention with those whose interest it was to get the best possible price they could for their produce, and thus stopped the insane competition that existed among them. The interests of the buyer and the seller were totally different. If those responsible for the Sugar Convention had ever attended an Irish horse fair and tried to buy a horse or to sell a horse they would have realised there was all the difference in the world between the buyer and the seller. We entered into this Convention. What was the result? No sooner did the Brussels Convention become law than the price of sugar went down in all producing countries and up in England. The consumption of sugar increased on the continent 54 per cent., while for the first time in England it decreased 3 per cent. The increased consumption on the continent was largely responsible for the increased cost in this country. It was said to have been due to the dry season, and all sorts of figures were brought foward to indicate that nothing connected with the Brussels Convention was responsible for it. It was nothing of the sort. Without the Brussels Convention there would possibly have been a rise of 9d. or 1s. a cwt. The great advance that took 1152 place would never have taken place at all but for the impetus given to Germany, Austria, and France, when the consumption in France went up nearly 100 per cent. There could only be one result of such a state of things. Figures had been given to him that day by some interested society showing that sugar to-day was at the average price at which it had stood for the last ten years. Yet it was said to be a record crop. Did anybody ever hear of a record crop that did not bring down prices? Here was this society, speaking in the interest of this absurd Convention declaring that while the production of sugar was greater than it had ever been in the history of that commodity the price only came down to the average price of the last ten years. He said unhesitatingly—and he did not speak without knowledge—that if to-day there had been no Brussels Convention the price of sugar, instead of being 8s. 4½d. per cwt. would be about 5s. 6d. or 5s. 9d. He did not want to give the House exaggerated figures, but a great authority had stated that in sugar-using industries 50,000 persons had been working half time through the action of this Convention, whilst 12,000 had been added to the number of the unemployed. He would give the House one incident to show how serious was the effect of this Convention on the trade and on the manufactures of this country. Let the House take a busy man who saw some fifty or sixty travellers in the course of a morning. He probably wanted to see thirty or forty, because he had orders for them, and twenty or thirty he desired to dismiss as easily, nicely, and as courteously as he could, but he did not wish to see their samples. Among those travellers there had been in times past travellers from Switzerland, Germany, Austria, and other foreign countries, who had not found an opening to any extent. Directly this Convention came into operation they came and said—Now we can show you something. It is not a question of artistic taste. We can show you a cheaper article than you can buy from, your own peopleThey could point out that their sweets were made from bounty-fed sugar, which the people of this country were not allowed to use. Having 1153 interested the buyer and obtained an opening and having been given the opportunity of having their goods shown in the stores, what was the result? In one shop alone, where practically no trade was done in foreign confectionery, a trade had grown up in these few years to such an extent that a large percentage of the trade done in that shop was done in those goods. When he took out those statistics before the election he was able to point out that what was being sold over the one counter was responsible for four British workmen being thrown out of employment. He was not experienced in the manufacturing confectionery trade, but he gave those figures to a large manufacturing confectioner. He pointed out the amount of trade that was now done and the demand made for the class of goods, and that gentleman said—Mr. Scott, you are not right. There are six men thrown out of work, if that is the quantity being sold at that store.In spite of such things as that the country were told that the people responsible for such legislation as this Convention were always considering the interest of the workers. A prominent supporter of the other side, speaking to those interested in the West Indies, pointed out that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham had been responsible for raising the price of sugar from £6 to £16 a ton. He wondered if the right hon. Gentleman, when he fulfilled his great desire to address the working men of this country on this subject, would make that the text of his address. Nothing in all the legislation of the past could equal the Sugar Convention for the interference with trade and the disaster it had brought about. He would not detain the House at greater length. He had seen since he had been in the House the folly of long speeches such as they heard on Friday last, when an important Bill had not time to be sent to Committee because of the long speeches of its supporters, and he could promise the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite that if he got an opportunity of bringing in a Bill to shorten speeches, no Government Whip would prevent many Members on the Ministerial Benches from following him into the lobby. The Government on this question held, he 1154 hoped, the same opinions that they held when in Opposition. He wanted the people of other countries to realise that a new Government had come into office — a Government which was not to be influenced by colonists, nor favoured industries who made no efforts to improve and restore their industries, but relied on Government assistance rather than their own energies, but a strong Government had been returned whose interest was that of the great mass of the consumers of' this country. He begged to move.
§ MR. IDRIS (Flint Boroughs)
said he wished to second this Resolution, because he thought the House ought to let it be known to all those who were interested at home and abroad that they were opposed to the policy of the Convention and that they intended to terminate it at the earliest opportunity. An American statesman of long experience recently told him that it was an indisputable fact that protection was was always a selfish scheme for the benefit of a few people who intended to make something out of it at the cost of the many and the right hon. the Prime Minister said on February 14th, 1905—The Convention is a microcosm; it is an express image of the policies of Mr. Balfour and Mr. Chamberlain.The Sugar Convention was a clear illustration of the objects, the methods, and the results of protection. It was a picture of protection, of preference, and of retaliation—of protection of the planters in the West Indies, and of the sugar refiners in this country; of preference, not to the foreigners who helped to give us cheap sugar, but only to those who would agree to make sugar dearer for the people of this country; and of retaliation in its most effectual form, amounting to absolute prohibition of the importation of sugar into this country from foreign countries that would not obey the dictates of a Commission consisting mainly of foreigners sitting in Brussels, and those foreigners consisting of producers who imposed their will on the consumers of this country. The object of the Convention was to make sugar dear. It was idle to deny that that was the object. It could not be of any possible use to the West Indian planters if it did not effect that 1155 object. The complaint of the planters was that sugar was so cheap that they could not produce it profitably at the price. The complaints were mainly those of absentee landlords and planters who could not manage to make their industry pay, and who thought that on that account they had a right to be relieved at the cost of the State, although they knew that there were plenty of poorer people in this country who had a better claim to public relief. But this state of mind was far too common amongst the landowners at home as well as abroad. Their claim was listened to; they were subsidised largely, and in July, 1902, the hon. Member for West Birmingham stated, in granting them a farther £250,000, that it was—to tide over the interval which must elapse before the Convention signed at Brussels comes into force.And in a Government despatch to the British delegates at Brussels it was stated—That their (the Government's) main reason for desiring to terminate a system which has tended for the time to cheapen the price of sugar to consumers in the United Kingdom, has been their conviction of its injurious effects on their sugar-producing Colonies in the West Indies.The right hon. the Leader of the Opposition said on June 26th, 1903—If it were not for the case of the West Indies, there is no conceivable reason why we should not allow the foreigner to tax himself, for the benefit of the consumer in this country,and on August 6th, 1903, he said—It was true, and the Government did not deny it, that the effect of a foreign bounty must be to benefit the consumers in this country.The effect of arise in the price of sugar was fully pointed out a hundred times in this House, and to the Members of this House, by constituents outside. It was clearly shown that not more than one-twentieth to one-thirtieth of the sugar consumed in this country could come from the West Indies, and that for every £20 extra paid by the people of this country for sugar not more than £1 could possibly find its way into the pockets of the West Indian planters. This was exactly what had happened. As to what the hon. Member for West Birmingham expected the rise in price to be as a result of the Convention, they 1156 might learn from a speech made by him in the House of Commons on July 1st, 1902, when he said that the disadvantage of the foreign bounty system to the West Indian planter was "at least £5 a ton." It followed that in order to overcome this disadvantage the price of sugar would have to be raised "at least £5 a ton," and this effect of the Convention was for a time more than realised. Sir Alfred Jones claimed that the hon. Member for West Birmingham had been instrumental in raising the price of sugar from £6 to £16 a ton, and this was substantially true at the time the statement was made. During the last two years the people of this country had paid at the very least £10,000,000 more for sugar as a result of the Convention, and as last year only one-twenty-fifth of the sugar consumed in this country came from the West Indies it followed that at least £9,500,000 out of the £10,000,000 went into the pockets of the European producers. It seemed clear, therefore, that the authors of this Convention were the friends of every country but their own. They had impoverished our land, and increased unemployment. He could vouch for the fact that in the industry with which he was connected thousands have been thrown out of work and some were now walking about starving, partly no doubt as a result of the sugar tax, but still largely as a result of the Convention. The authors of this Convention had depleted the scanty board of the very poor of our land for the enrichment of the foreigner. They had heard a good deal lately in this House of the posters used in the recent election, but leaflets were issued containing far more distinct perversions of fact than could be conveyed by means of any pictorial poster. He had one issued by the Conservative Publication Department headed "The Sugar Convention" and in large print, "The Hollowness of the Radical Agitation," "Sugar is cheaper than before the Convention." The Convention was signed on March 5th, 1902, and it was ratified on August 6th, 1903. When it was signed the price of 88 per cent. beet sugar, free on board at Hamburg, was 6s. 4½d. per cwt., and the price of the same sugar at the same place at the time of the ratification by Parliament was 8s. 6d. per 1157 cwt. And although, the price had gone considerably higher and been lowered again, this increased price of about 2s. per cwt. was maintained now. This increased price of 2s. per cwt. meant a continued and present loss of £3,000,000 a year to the people of this country as a result of the Convention. The price of sugar was steadily going down before the Convention, and it is fully believed by the best judges that if the Convention had not been signed, the price of raw sugar would have gone down below 6s., and would have remained about that figure.The Unionist Government entered into the Brussels Sugar Convention in 1902. In 1903 and 1904 the price of sugar rose owing to the shortage in supply caused by drought.The drought was so slight that the amount of shortage caused by it was counterbalanced by the larger crop of cane sugar. In France, where this drought was said to have occurred, the price of sugar was lowered as a consequence of the Convention, whilst at the same time the price of sugar in this country was increased in consequence of the Convention. The shortage was caused mainly by the increased consumption in France, as a result of cheaper sugar in that country. The retail prices per lb. of sugar previous to the Convention were:—England, 1½d.; Germany, 3⅝d.; France, 4¾d.; Belgium, 3¾d.; and on March 1st this year, after making allowance for the sugar tax in England, the prices were:—England, 1¾ Germany, 2½d.; France, 3d.; and Belgium, 2½d. These figures showed that while the retail price of sugar in England was now ¼d. per lb. higher, the price had fallen in Germany 1⅛d.; in France, 1¾d.; and in Belgium, 1¼d. This increased consumption in France, amounting to no less than 54 per cent., had enabled speculators in France to corner sugar in a way which otherwise they would not have been able to do. There had been in Paris sugar kings, sugar queens, and sugar suicides. The Conservative pamphlet said—The Radical Party at once fastened upon the rise in price, conpled it with the Sugar Convention (with which it had no connection), and started an agitation against the Government on the ground that its action had given the country dear sugar.1158 It was dear sugar that the planters wanted, it was dear sugar that the Government wanted to give them, it was dear sugar that the Convention succeeded in causing. In trying to understand why an apparently sane Government committed this folly they were driven to one or two conclusions. Either they were so stupid as to be incapable of appreciating the fact that as only a small fraction of the sugar consumed in this country could come from the West Indies, only a small fraction of the increased amount we should pay for it in this country could possibly go into the pockets of the West Indian planters, or they were so selfish and reckless as to be utterly regardless of how much our people put in the pockets of foreigners, if only a small fraction of the amount found its way into the pockets of their friends. He had read in ancient literature that whom the gods wished to destroy they first made mad. The madness of the authors of this Convention was evident; their political destruction was equally clear. It was the duty of those who opposed the policy of the late Government to declare to everybody concerned that they did not intend to continue this madness.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That, in the opinion of this House, it is expedient to withdraw from the Sugar Convention."—(Mr. Alfred Scott.)
§ MR. MITCHELL-THOMSON (Lanarkshire, N.W.)
said he could lay claim to a certain knowledge of this subject. He had been in the majority of the sugar-producing countries of the world, and had been personally connected more especially with the sugar industry in the West Indies. He had listened with the greatest attention, and he admitted with some disappointment, to the speeches of the mover and seconder of the Resolution, because he anticipated, having regard to the present state of the sugar market, that the House would hear some new development in the argument, but the hon. Members had only given a rechauffé of the old arguments which had done duty on many a previous occasion. The only variation which had been introduced was that both hon. Members insisted with the utmost vehemence that it was to the wicked 1159 Sugar Convention that the rise in price during last year was due. He would only put this question to the hon. Members—if the Sugar Convention caused the rise in the price what was it that caused the fall? What had occurred in the interim to suspend the operation of the Convention? [An HON. MEMBER: A record production.] Did hon. Members seriously mean to contend that were it not for the Convention the price of sugar, instead of being 8s. 6d., would be 1s? That was a reductio ad absurdum, but it was the logical conclusion of the hon. Member's argument. If he were to argue the question on purely Party lines no course would be more simple. He might have come armed with a whole ream of pamphlets, and he might have quoted from Hansard previous speeches of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite as to what the course of the sugar market would be. Hansard was full of prophecies, but when they came to be considered in the light of events, it would be found that those prophecies had not been borne out. Hon. Members prophesied that there would be a permanently increased cost to consumers in this country. He did not blame them. They were full of the spirit of prophecy and no doubt their prophecies would have gotten them a certain amount of political gain. He did not say that that was the object of their prophesies. That was a purely fortuitous circumstance, but still that unearned increment would have accrued if the general Providence which ordered the affairs of all men had not decreed that there should be a bounteous harvest of beet on the continent, and if the particular Providence which directed the affairs of this House and nation had not decreed that the general election should be postponed until December. He did not want to raise unhappy memories in the minds of hon. Members opposite, but he did want to say that he viewed with a certain amount of astonishment the position of a large number of Members on the other side of the House. He did so because they were never tired of declaring how much reverence they attached to the doctrines of Mr. Cobden. They never seemed to be out of the influence of that great man. Ever since his death Mr. Cobden had exercised a sort of mental fascina- 1160 tion over them. [An HON. MEMBER: And so he will.] Yes. but when this question of sugar came up hon. Members stopped their ears and would not listen to the voice of the charmer. He had always understood that Mr. Cobden advocated the exchange of commodities at their natural prices. He was confirmed in that view when he came to look at what Mr. Cboden had to say on the subject. On the subject of natural price Mr. Codben said—We do not seek Free Trade primarily for the purpose of purchasing at a cheaper money rate; we require the natural price of the world's market. Whether it becomes dearer with a Free Trade or whether it becomes cheaper matters not to us, provided the people of this country have it at its natural price.And yet hon. Gentlemen opposite, who were followers of Mr. Cobden, were quarrelling with those who desired to get a system of procuring commodities at their natural prices, because they said it involved loss and ruin to consumers in general, and in particular to the confectionery and jam industries. He was somewhat of a doubting Thomas in this matter. He was confirmed in his doubt when he referred to the list of dividends paid by various confectionery and jam companies during the past few years. He observed that one company in particular—he admitted that it was exceptional—was paying as the average of the last three years the substantial dividend of over 20 per cent. That was quite satisfactory as things went, but he was told that while that was all very well in the home trade the foreign trade was being ruined and ground to powder by foreign competition. That was discounted when they came to look at the Chamber of Commerce Journal for November this year. He found that duringthe eleven months ended November, 1903, 1904 and 1905, the quantity and value of the exports of confectionery, jams and preserved fruits was higher last year than in any of its predecessors.The exports were in 1903, 294,886 cwt.; in 1904, 289,841 cwt.; and in 1905, 315,478 cwt. The values were in 1903, £743,718; in 1904, £750,870; and in 1905, £824,221. The same journal said—Moreover, what is more satisfactory still, there was no doubt that there was even greater improvement in the home trade.1161 In the face of these facts he must say that the remarks as to loss and ruin seemed to be somewhat inaccurate. The hon. Member for Flint had referred to the tremendous increase in the consumption of sugar on the continent as if it were some great wrong inflicted on the industries of this country. He would point out that the hon. Member's figures though correct did not represent consumption. They represented warehousing as well as consumption. When foreign merchants realised that the Convention was coming into effect on 1st September, 1903, they started and sold out until they had nearly cleared their warehouses. It was not for some time afterwards that they commenced to buy in again. In the case of France alone that mistaken proportion was something like 185,000 tons, and if the figures for the whole of the continent were taken it came to about 300,000 tons. After all, this cry of loss and ruin was only the ordinary cry which was always raised in these circum stances. He never knew a 'short' interest yet which did not cry out when the market went up against it. If, as a matter of fact, the sugar industries of this country were suffering from foreign competition, that competition must be either fair or unfair. If it was fair and inflicted injury on British trades it would be the most absolute protection to interfere with the Convention. How such a policy could commend itself to the party which boasted of being the free trade party was a thing that passed his comprehension. If the foreign competition was unfair, by all means protect the home manufacturer. That, however, should not be done by taxing the legitimate producers of the raw material, but by taxing those who produced the foreign manufactured article under unfair conditions of competition. He would now say a word as to what the Convention had done. He confessed quite frankly that he did not think that what had been done by the Sugar Convention could not have been done equally well and just as effectively by countervailing duties.
said that as a matter of fact the Convention was a concession to free trade prejudices. It was a free trade device, and if there was 1162 anything wrong with the machinery of the device all he could say was that he should have infinitely preferred the device of countervailing duties. But the Convention had broadened and was continuing to broaden the area of sugar-production, and in doing that it was providing the best guarantee against such fluctuations as had occurred in the past. It was impossible for the Convention to prevent fluctuations altogether. There would always be fluctuations according as the crop was lean or fat. If a device of this sort broadened the sources from which supplies were drawn it minimised the risk of the failure of the crop in all of them simultaneously. Beet supplies were drawn from a comparatively limited area, and the House could imagine what would be the result of a disastrous drought in that area. There was a drought which caused a deficiency of 19 per cent., or over a 1,000,000 tons. He believed that the effect on the market of that drought would have been greatly increased if, in the absence of any such instrument as the Convention, they had been rendered still more dependent for sugar than they were at the present moment on the beet supplies of the continent. Cane supplies were drawn from almost every tropical country in the world, and the risk of a simultaneous drought affecting those supplies was a risk hardly worth taking into their calculations. It ought to be a source of satisfaction and pleasure to hon. Gentlemen opposite that cane sugar was ousting beet sugar from the markets of the world in the way it had done during the past few years. Hon. Members would remember that for a long series of years there was a gradual building up of the beet sugar industry, until the production of beet sugar far outstripped the production of cane sugar, but there was now an approximation to equality in the production of continental beet and cane. In the three years from 1899–1900 to 1901–1902, the average quantity of continental beet produced was 6,076,813 tons, and the cane produced averaged 3,511,213 tons; in the years 1902–1903 to 1905–1906, continental beet amounted to 5,862,946, and cane 4,800,000; and for 1906–1907 the estimated amount of continental beet was 5,650,000, and of cane 5,500,000. He thought these figures proved conclusively that a change was taking place in the 1163 world's supply of cane and beet sugar. He believed that change would continue, and that there would be a sugar supply which would be more independent than it was at the present moment of the fluctuations due to weather causes. He did not say that the present price was the natural price. He did not know any factory in France which could produce beet sugar on a large commercial scale under 9s., and few in Germany could produce much under 8s. 6d. to 8s. 9d. In many the present price did not meet the cost of production. That was borne out by a petition which was presented at the beginning of this month to the Reichstag. The petitioners said—The situation of the German export trade is rendered more serious than ever by the growing competition of cane sugar, the fall in market prices to a point actually below the cost of production places it in a situation of great peril.It should be remembered that the beet sugar industry had had every advantage which science could expend on its development, and at the present moment the last ounce was got out of the beet. The same was not true in regard to cane sugar. Cane sugar had not yet come into its own, and yet it was produced in some parts of the world at prices with which beet sugar could not compete for a moment. It was produced in Peru at something like £6. That was due to the fact that there was irrigation there. Java was often held up as an example for cane growers. The production there was in the neighbourhood of £7. They had cheap labour there—coolies who lived in compounds, and who, he had no doubt, got beaten when they deserved it. They were often told that the West Indies were behindhand and were not benefiting by the present Convention. On the contrary, he maintained that the West Indies had derived genuine benefit from the removal of the continual uncertainty which formerly existed. Now there was security for the investment of capital, and the cost of production was being lowered by leaps and bounds. Time and capital were, however, required for this purpose. When land had gone out of cultivation, at least an interval of three years and a great expenditure were necessary before a crop could be obtained. There was a great deal of talk about antiquated machinery. Machinery was the smallest part of the matter. It could be provided 1164 in a year or six months if the conditions were secure and capital could be attracted. He felt that many hon. Gentlemen opposite who had, perhaps, made up their minds on this matter, had done so without apprehending the true state of things. The continuance of the Convention, or some such device, meant a continuance of security, and that meant cheap sugar to the consumer, less violent fluctuation and a fair profit to the producer. He would add a plea for justice to the West Indies. Hon. Members opposite might say that this was special pleading. That might be so, but think of the circumstances! In the West Indies they were dealing with three distinct classes of people—the white population, the coolies, and the negroes. In regard to the white population, he submitted that this country was bound, if not by legal, by the highest moral obligations to realise that it owed them a large amount of consideration and a certain amount of justice in view of their passionate and intense loyalty, and the extent to which that loyalty had been tried. For two successive periods the people of this country had been taxing the West Indies in order to get cheap sugar here, by allowing bounties, and by failing to continue the differential duty on sugar produced by slave labour. The West Indian producers bore that without complaining, it was true, but always in the hope that the old country would do something to help them. In the meantime these West Indian sugar planters could not have gone on without the assistance of America. But with the abolition of the bounties that support from America ceased. Consideration was also due to the coolie population on much the same grounds. These coolies had been imported to further the sugar industry, and if that industry which was, for many, the sole means of their livelihood were taken away, large numbers of them would have to be repatriated. Then there was the third class, the negro population. It must be remembered that they were not an indigenous population. They were brought to the West Indies with the connivance and by the authority of the British Government, under the abominable and horrible system of slavery. When the people of this 1165 country abolished that system, they could not rid themselves of the obligation laid upon them to continue to do something for the negroes. He appealed to hon. Members opposite and to the Government to entreat the hon. Member for Ashton not to push his Motion forward at the present moment, and not to place a definite bar against the prosperity and the future hopes of the West Indian Islands.
§ MR. PAUL (Northampton)
said he was sure that if this debate required any justification, besides its intrinsic importance, it was to be found in the speech of the hon. Member for North West Lanarkshire. It was a pleasure to listen to such a speech and an honour to argue with a Gentleman animated by the fervour of conviction. The hon. Member had assumed that, because there were other factors which affected price besides taxes, therefore, taxes did not affect price at all. He asked the wife of a working man in his constituency whether the price of sugar had gone up since the autumn of 1903—the date at which the Convention came into force; and she asked him if he took her for a fool. She might have asked him, indeed, a much more disagreeable question. The hon. Member had quoted Mr. Cobden as saying that everything ought to be sold at its natural price. Mr. Cobden was so much of an internationalist that he desired the prosperity of all other countries equally with his own; but he would ask the hon. Member whether Mr. Cobden had ever suggested such a Convention as that under discussion, or countervailing duties which the hon. Gentleman said he would prefer. Mr. Cobden's opinions should be taken as a whole, and not one or two isolated sayings. It was very difficult to make any man who was not either a student of economic science or a practical man of business understand why free trade gave us an advantage over protectionist countries in neutral markets; but there was one glaring example which anybody with eyes in his head could see, and that was the effect on this country of the bounties given by foreign countries on the exports of their sugar. About 1890 a Sugar Convention Bill was introduced by an Austrian nobleman who repre- 1166 sented the Board of Trade—the late Baron de Worms. That Bill was defeated by Lord Farrer, of whom the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London had once said he did not think much as an economic authority. It was possible that the reputation of Lord Farrer would survive that obiter dictum. At that time he was a Member of neither House of Parliament, but, as Sir Thomas Farrer, by letters addressed to the working classes through the Liberal Press he made it impossible for the Government to go on with that Bill. The policy of the Bill was revived a very few years ago. The Tariff Reform League or Gentlemen who held the same opinions, were determined, if he might borrow a phrase from their somewhat limited vocabulary, that they would not any longer "take it lying down"—they would not allow the brutal foreigner to perpetrate the dastardly outrage of flooding our markets with cheap sugar. They concocted this precious Convention. The result had been to turn many a man out of work, as the hon. Member for Ashton had stated, and to send up the price of sugar. It had been, no doubt, a great advantage to the countries which gave bounties. The people of Germany and Austria were getting a little restive. They did not like being taxed for our benefit, and His Majesty's late advisers, true Imperialists, the friends of every country but their own, got France and Germany out of a very awkward strait at the expense of the people of this country. They talked lightly in this House about the price of sugar; they did not feel it. What did the Tariff Reform League care about the price of sugar? The price of champagne or motor cars affected them more. This was a mean and a cruel Convention, because it pressed hardest on the industrial classes of the community and with real and crushing severity on the poorest of the poor, and he hoped that some authoritative spokesman of the Government would announce that as soon as possible this Convention would be denounced—a Convention which put us in a humiliating position at the mercy of envious foreigners, which laid a burden on that part of the community which could afford it least, and which made this country, which in most other 1167 respects was the envy of surrounding nations, the contempt and the laughing stock of the world.
§ MR. R. DUNCAN (Lanarkshire, Govan)
said he must say something on one part of this subject to which he had given much attention—that was the question of our Imperial position and our responsibilities for the weaker part of our fellow-citizens in the West Indian colonies. We would not be worthy of our position if we did not try to defend them when they had been suffering from a system which was not fair trade. He did not envy the feelings of any man whose spirit did not rise to the support of those fellow-citizens who had toiled in vain for many long years hoping for the support of the mother country.
§ SIR J. DICKSON-POYNDER (Wiltshire, Chippenham)
said that in moving the Amendment which stood in his name he did not disagree, but rather agreed, with the views of the mover and seconder of the Resolution. He did not in any way withdraw from the position he took up last year when he seconded an Amendment to the Address in regard to this question; but he did not think that this was an appropriate moment to pass the particularly drastic Resolution moved by the hon. Member for Ashton. The view he held last year had been strengthened by everything which had taken place since with regard to the Sugar Convention. The desire of the promoters of the movement which resulted in the Sugar Convention was to help the sugar refiners and the cane sugar growers in the West Indies. The result had been merely to give large facilities to the producers and capitalists in a group of foreign countries at the expense of the consumers of this country. There was a peculiar irony in the fact that those hon. Gentlemen who for the last two years had been proclaiming loudly from protectionist platforms that certain countries were damaging us in the markets of the world should by their Convention have given the greatest possible help to that group of foreign countries. Germany, France, Austria, Belgium, and Holland had all largely benefited by the Convention, increasing their consumption by 50 per cent. Germany was the greatest 1168 gainer with an increased consumption of 400,000 tons at a lower price than ourselves, whose consumption had been decreased by 300,000 tons, while we paid something like £5,000,000 more for our decreased consumption. Here was an opportunity for the right hon. Member for West Birmingham to use his retaliation plan and get a quid pro quo; but our consumers had lost all down the line. The effect in the West Indies had been to increase the export of cane sugar to this country to a comparatively small extent, while their trade with the United States had had to face competition from other countries formerly debarred from sending sugar to the United States. If we had now a protectionist majority, a scheme of preference and protection would be unfolded; but a singular feature in one article of the Convention was that a colony coming under it was not to enjoy any preference from this country, so that the one country debarred from such a scheme would be the West Indies. He moved the Amendment because the time was inopportune for passing such a Resolution. It could have no effect, because this country was chained to this "blessed" Convention until September, 1908, and a year's notice would be necessary. He hoped the Amendment would be accepted or the Resolution withdrawn. Our representative would then attend the next meeting of the Convention Powers untrammelled by a Resolution that could have no effect. He begged to move.
§ MR. WHITLEY (Halifax)
seconded the Amendment. However strongly they might feel that the Convention was an evil thing for this country, they were all able to see that a decision on the question of its denouncement could not be come to for eighteen months.
To leave out from the word 'That,' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'inasmuch as the Brussels Convention is binding on the contracting Powers for a period of five years, and that any notice on behalf of a contracting State to withdraw is subject to twelve months' notice, to be given in September 1907, it is inexpedient for this House to announce any decision at this moment.'—(Sir John Dickson-Poynder.)—instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ EARL PERCY (Kensington, S.)
After the admirable speech delivered from this side of the House by the hon. Member for North West Lanarkshire—a speech which, I think, emphasises the great advantage which any Member has who speaks from knowledge at first hand and not from mere theories—I should not have risen were it not for the extraordinary attitude adopted by the Government. We have been discussing a substantive Motion for an hour and a half and no Member of the Government has risen to give any guidance to the House as to the view we should take of it. I can only infer that they intend either to advise the House to accept the policy embodied in the Amendment just moved, or to advise the hon. Member who moved the original Resolution to withdraw it. To neither of these courses can we offer any strong objection. But the Government will be placed in the same humiliating and absurd position which they have occupied in regard to Chinese labour. Their endeavour to reconcile their present policy with election pledges and platform speeches reminds me of nothing so much as a host attempting an air of hilarity while aware that his guests are suffering from an acute attack of indigestion. A few months ago the Home Secretary declared that as soon as the Government came into office this insane Convention would be denounced; but the other day the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, in answer to a Question put by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Forest of Dean, said that no decision taken before September, 1907, could be effective and the matter had not yet been considered. The truth is, that the agitation against the Sugar Convention having served its immediate purpose, the Government are becoming conscious of the fact that the case against the Convention is a very thin one. [MINISTERIAL cries of "No."] The arguments against the Convention have been practically reduced to two. There is, first, the argument that by adhering to this Convention we have tied our hands and made it possible for a majority of foreign representatives to decide British policy in 1170 regard to an article of general consumption. From the point of view of mere abstract theory I admit that is a plausible argument, though in so far as it is a valid argument against the Brussels Sugar Convention it is equally valid against the Berlin Act and the Brussels Act, by which we bound ourselves not to impose import duties in excess of a specified limit on goods coming into British colonies. But what we have to consider is not a question of theory, but of practice. Has the fact that we have made ourselves a party to this Convention led to any practical inconvenience, or is it likely to cause any serious embarrassment in the future? I have heard nothing in this debate to justify an affirmative answer to either of those questions. We have always the right of appeal, a right which we have successfully exercised hitherto, in cases where the decisions of the Commission seemed to us to be based on insufficient grounds—and in the last resort we always have it in our power to denounce the Convention. With regard to the confectionery trade, the two principal States, practically the only two of importance, which export confectionery to this market are Switzerland and the United States. The latter use for confectionery nothing but by-products of sugar which are not affected by the provisions of the Convention, and Switzerland, while it imports sugar which has already paid duty, never grants a refund of that duty on exports. Therefore there is no reason why the confectionery makers in this country should be injured. [An HON. MEMBER on the Ministerial benches: They are.] If they can prove injury the Commission has declared its readiness to take up the matter. But even if the Commission declined to do so we still have it in our power to take independent action, and as long as the late Government remained in office the Convention could not have caused them any embarrassment, whatever embarrassment it may occasion to a Government which has pledged itself, most unwisely, against the policy of retaliation or prohibition under any conceivable circumstances. I will not deal with the argument that the Convention is an invasion of the principles of free trade, which has been denied by the Prime Minister himself in a speech in this 1171 House on June 15, 1899.† The second and real argument against the Convention, such as it is, is not an economical argument at all, but a social argument drawn from expediency alone, the argument that the Convention tends to raise the price of an article of almost universal consumption among the great masses of the working classes. Even supposing that the Convention has been responsible for the rise in price, it by no means follows that if we denounced the Convention we would necessarily secure the restoration of bounties and a reduction in price. If the working classes are paying too much in respect of their sugar the proper course is, not to denounce the Convention, but to reduce the sugar duty. And what is the obstacle to doing so?—the fact that the Government has not only pledged itself to a large additional expenditure on every kind of project, but have also debarred themselves from any comprehensive scheme for broadening the basis of taxation. They have pledged themselves to maintain, in all its unbending rigidity, a fiscal system which prevents them from raising any substantial amount of indirect taxation except from the one or two articles which are practically necessaries of life. I do not wish to deny for one moment that the Convention may, to a certain extent, have been responsible for some of the increase in price that has occurred in the past. But I do say that the effect of the Convention in raising prices has been, and could only have been, infinitesimal. That is proved by the fact that the lowest price was touched after the Convention came into operation, and that, at the present moment, the price is at least 1s. below the average price of the ten years before the Convention was signed. I agree that you can prove almost anything by figures, but it is no more absurd to attribute the present fall exclusively to the Convention, than it is to attribute the rise in price to the same cause. The truth is that there have been many causes which led to the rise. The chief one was the shortage which occurred on the Continent, which amounted to considerably over a million tons on the normal output. It was also due partly to the† See (4) Debates, lxxii., 1307 et seq.1172 increased consumption on the Continent consequent on the abolition of the bounties, which must lead to increased supply, and an eventual cheapening of price, and partly to the diminution of the area of beet cultivation, which showed how precarious was the basis on which such cultivation had rested. I will not allude to the causes of the subsequent fall more than to say that it was due partly to the passing away of the effects of the temporary shortage, partly to the release of invisible stocks, but also, to a very substantial extent, to the great increase in the growth and importation of cane sugar from the British West Indies. Precisely the same effect as regards cane cultivation is following on the present Sugar Convention that followed upon the imposition of retaliatory duties in India. But, assuming that the argument of the hon. Member is true that the Convention is responsible for the entire increase in the price of sugar in this country, is that a conclusive argument against the Convention? I think not. Pushed to its logical conclusion, that argument means that the interests of the consumer are the only interests we have to consider and that, provided the consumer gets his sugar cheap, it does not matter what loss or ruin is inflicted either on the manufacturers at home or on the sugar producers in our Colonies. Is that a possible position for those to take up who support the Excise duties on cotton imports into India? No one pretends that we enforce the Excise duties on Lancashire goods going into India in the interests of the Indian consumer. We enforce them in the interests of the Lancashire employee. We support a policy of protection here because it happens to benefit the British consumer, and a policy of free trade in India, although it hurts the Indian consumer, because it benefits our producer. But it is unnecessary to argue the case as between the consumer and the producer. The consumer himself gains by the Convention, for a cheapness dependent on the bounty system is artificial and uncertain and must have been temporary. If my interpretation of the policy of the Government is correct, whilst I will vote for the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wiltshire, I consider that the position 1173 of the Government will be an unsatisfactory and an undignified one. If their intentions are to be held indefinitely in suspense, the effect will probably be to paralyse the enterprise of the sugar planters in our own Colonies and gravely to abridge our power of influencing the decisions at Brussels. I am afraid that such a course is likely to make foreign countries think that whatever other departments are efficient in this country, neither the Board of Trade nor the foreign Office have a thinking department at all. I hope we shall not have to wait very many months before the Government has arrived at some settled convictions on so important a branch of our fiscal policy.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
The speech to which we have just listened is one we are accustomed to from those Benches. Gentlemen on those Benches, having got their country into difficulties in all parts of the world, and having left us to extricate them, in a way which is consistent with the obligations they have entered into, make those difficulties greater by taunts and jeers and by endeavouring to induce us to take a course which they in their own hearts know to be absolutely wrong. The noble Lord who has just spoken said he regarded the appeal for the withdrawal of the Resolution as a sensible course, and at the same time he said it was an undignified course.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
It is not part of our past pledges to break a treaty, and that is the question at the present moment. I wish the noble Lord had read the Resolution before he made his speech. It is a Resolution calling on us to denounce a treaty from which we cannot withdraw for some time. If he wants to argue the merits of the Sugar Convention, that is a totally different proposition which is not before the House. A member of the late Government is the last man in this House who should have the coolness, the audacity, to taunt us about efficiency and thinking matters out. The noble Lord said we had not considered what we were going to do. We never said we had not considered the 1174 merits of the Convention. The only thing my right hon. friend said he had not considered was the question of withdrawal. Why? Because that is a question you need not consider till next year. A member of a Government that took action without ever considering taunts us because we have not considered eighteen months in advance a thing which we need not consider till next year. The proposition before the House is perfectly clear. Is it desirable at the present moment to announce a decision which we could not possibly carry out until next September twelve months? In the meantime our delegates would be embarrassed at Brussels when dealing with very important questions. I say it is the duty of those who landed us in this mess to assist us to make the best of the circumstances until we can consider what has to be done. With regard to the merits of the question, the noble Lord's figures were absolutely wrong. The noble Lord seemed to think that this Convention had steadied prices. He really could not have studied the volume of prices during the last two or three years since the Convention and compared it with previous prices. As a matter of fact, it was very steady before the Convention. ["Oh!"] I will give him a few figures. Take the year before the Convention. The figures are 6s. 5d. in January, then it remained at 6s. and then came down to 5s. 9d. in July. There is not much fluctuation there.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
The right hon. Gentleman is not accustomed to have his figures minutely examined. He considers it a ludicrous precaution. In the following year the prices ranged somewhere around 7s. and 8s.—a fluctuation of 1s. or 2s. What was the fluctuation immediately after the Convention? It was a fluctuation which ran up from 8s. until in January you landed in 16s. Now, that is what I call a fluctuation; it is the highest figure we have had for ten years. Yet the noble Lord says the fluctuations since the Convention have been infinitesimal. I do not think any one who pays 8s. per cwt. more for sugar would regard that as "infinitesimal" 1175 It is just doubling the price in the course of a few months. Who was it spoke about prophecies? The prophecies were, "No more fluctuations." We were to have a fixed—a scientific tariff. What has happened? In 1901 the crop of the world was over 10,000,000. Our price went down to 5s. 9d. The fluctuations then undoubtedly depended on the crop. We have had fluctuations in crops since, and it is true that when we have shortage the price goes up to 16s. Yet when we have a good crop of 11,000,700 our price is 8s. 6d. We do not get the benefit of good harvests. We do not get the benefit of natural price. We are excluding all the produce of a country like Russia—something like 1,000,000 tons a year. And yet these gentlemen who have got us into this pickle want to taunt us into the position of going to this Convention in May by first of all announcing that the Convention should be denounced. That is their notion of diplomacy. That comes from the noble Lord who used to represent the Foreign Office. The other prophecy was that the Convention was going to restore the West Indies—to transform a wilderness into a paradise. What has happened there? The noble Lord quoted figures to show that we were now paying bigger sums to the West Indies. Of course we are. If you enter into a convention to run up prices you naturally pay bigger prices to somebody. That is the policy of retaliation and fiscal reform, which has been so much belauded. In 1901–2, the year before the Convention, we got 62,000 tons from the West Indies, for which we paid £736,000. Last year we were to get a bigger production from the West Indies, for this Convention was in the interests of the West Indies, and to increase their cane production. Well, now, what has happened? We have had two years of a Sugar Convention which was to regenerate the West Indies. The export to this country has gone down from 62,000 tons to 55,000 tons. But here come the figures of the noble Lord. The figures of the cost have gone up from £736,000 to nearly £900,000. We are paying more by nearly £200,000 for 7,000 tons less. This is the great policy which was to regenerate the West Indies and give cheap, certain sugar without fluctuations. I heard the noble Lord ask for the total figures of production. 1176 Those are very interesting. We heard a good deal about cane and beet sugar, and we have been told of one result in a very able speech, if I may say so, by the hon. Member for Lanarkshire. We were told that one result of the Convention would be that beet sugar would go down and cane production would go up. But they did not tell us that cane production was going up steadily before the Convention, and there has not been the slightest change in the ratio and increase since. One reason why the cane production had gone down previously was the devastating war in Cuba. But since then Cuba has been gradually developing. The same thing applies to the Philippines, and Java also has been increasing its supply. But take the British West Indies. In the year before the Convention the total production of cane sugar in all our possessions in the West Indies was 253,000 tons. In 1905–6, it went down to 228,000 tons. That is the result of the Sugar Convention on the West Indies. Cane sugar has increased throughout the world except in the West Indies. Exactly; this Government, which wants to protect the British consumer and the Colonies, brings in its first great scheme of fiscal reform, which benefits every foreigner in Europe, benefits every colonial possession except our own, and actually reduces the production of our Colonies by 20,000 tons. What a great scheme of fiscal reform that is. Now let us see about beet sugar. We heard that beet had gone down. Beet has not gone down. It is true that for a year or two it went down. In 1903, which was the year of the Convention, the beet production of the world was 5,500,000, roughly speaking. Last year it was 6,800,000. Now, that is not going down, at least according, to the usual methods of computation. That is going up by 1,300,000. But the worst of it is that while cane production is growing in every colony except ours, and beet production is growing enormously, we are not getting the full advantage of it. Why is that? We are told that the Convention did not interfere. What did interfere? [An HON. MEMBER: The war.] Well, that has done a lot of mischief I know, but it did not interfere in this particular instance. The Convention must have 1177 had the effect of arresting the decline in the price of sugar which had been going on steadily. Let any one examine the figures. In the last few years sugar was steadily going down. That was the tendency. It might be 9s., and the next year 10s., but the following year it would drop to 6s. That is not the case at the present moment. You run up to 16s.; you go down, it is true, to 8s. 9d.; but you do not go down to the old figures of 5s. 9d. and 6s., which you reached before the Convention. I would not have gone into these questions had it not been for the challenege put to me by the noble Lord. But the point before the House is a different one. The question is whether it is desirable at the present moment to announce our intentions with regard to the Convention—intentions which one cannot possibly carry out for two years and a half. It would undoubtedly embarrass our representatives at the Conference, and I would appeal to my hon. friends who moved and seconded the Motion to be content with having called attention to the subject. I think it is a very good thing to call attention to the subject. I do not deprecate it for the moment. My hon. friends can see from the mere uneasiness which it has created on the other side that they do not want to be reminded of these prophecies of prosperity in the West Indies, of "no more fluctuations," and of a decrease in the price of sugar. But I would ask my hon. friend not to embarrass our delegates who must go to the conference in May by forcing any premature announcement when no effect can possibly be given to it until September next year.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I think the President of the Board of Trade has made a mistake, as he often does, in exaggerating his case, and using superlatives where they are quite unnecessary and often inaccurate. He has a way of getting a temporary success in what we may call the dialectics of Parliament by putting the case of his opponents with the greatest possible unfairness by exaggerating anything that his opponents have said, and then answering the artificial case that he has set up for the purpose. After all, I looked upon this Motion as 1178 one very properly put down on behalf of those who during the election had seriously held and had frequently represented that the Convention was a most injurious agreement for the British people, and also that it was an example of what might be expected from fiscal reform. Yes, that is very good; and at all events it is a conceivable argument, and one to which those who differ are bound to oppose a serious answer. But will any one say that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was a serious answer—that it either put the case seriously or the answer seriously? What the right hon. Gentleman did was to go into the most essentially controversial and polemical statement of the case and then to introduce a certain number of figures than which nothing more unfair has ever been put before the House of Commons. Let me say that I have been attacked and sneered at for saying openly—for I do state most things that I believe pretty candidly—that figures alone are very dangerous arguments. That is true, and I am perfectly ready to admit that, while I recognise the grotesque unfairness of the figures, which the right hon. Gentleman has produced, it is perfectly open for other people to say that the figures which I have produced in regard to this or other matters have also been selected for the purpose. I hope it has not been the case either with the right hon. Gentleman or with myself.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
Wait a minute and I will show you. I claim for myself what I yield to the right hon Gentleman—that by mistake, quite as much as by deliberate purpose, figures may be chosen which are unfair for the purposes of comparison. One thing at all events is clear — that when you pretend, as the right hon. Gentleman does, to draw important conclusions from figures, you must not take a short period. And when he tells us of the fluctuations since the Convention, month by month, I say it is an absurd and grotesque comparison; and the proof of it is that if I were to take for my purpose, as the right hon. Gentleman has done for 1179 his, the fluctuations in one year alone I could show that in 1889 those fluctuations had been something between 12s 6d. and 27s. 6d. That is before the Convention, and since the Convention there has been nothing like it. Again the right hon. Gentleman chose to give the House a comparison between the price of sugar in a year of drought and the price in subsequent years, and even in years of plenty. That is not a fair comparison. If you are to compare any individual trade or the whole trade of the country you must take long periods. It is the safest thing to do, or at least you must compare a year of plenty with a year of plenty, and a year of famine with a year of famine.
§ MR. LLOYD GEORGE
I beg your pardon. I did actually give two years of plenty. I gave one year when the production was 10,000,000 and the price 5s. 9d., and I gave last year, when the production was 11,000,000 and the price 8s. 9d.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I entirely disagree with the right hon. Gentleman; and I do not think that he will find many statisticians engaged in this subject who would confirm his views of the figures. But I ask the House to go back to the Resolution of the hon. Member who introduced this Motion. I hope that the decision will not be affected by purely Party considerations, but I venture to say that the right hon. Gentleman who was so anxious in his reply to attack his predecessor and actually had the pretension to state that we had left the country in a mess—in a tremendous complication of difficulties, and in a great mess from which the President of the Board of Trade alone can extricate it, will appear to most of us to have advanced a contention which was absolutely ridiculous. I can understand hon. Members opposite differing from our domestic policy. They may think that in this respect we have 1180 been wrong and that they can improve upon it. We wish them the greatest possible success, but what they say now with regard to our relations with other countries is absolutely inconsistent with their earlier declarations. From the beginning they declared that they were not prepared to alter the foreign part of our policy in anyway. It is too monstrous now in the course of a debate to bring up as though it were a contestable subject a question decided by their own confession. They were in no difficulty with regard to the Sugar Convention. Do hon. Members think that the Convention is as bad as the right hon. Gentleman pretends? I do not believe it. If they do, they are absolutely inconsistent, for if it is as bad as they pretend, what objection can they have to the Resolution of the hon. Member? The Resolution is not likely to have much effect either way, but honest expressions of opinion from the Benches opposite have always been found to be indiscreet by the Government. They are perfectly willing to support these too indiscreet and too candid expressions of opinion as long as they have no responsibility, but now that they are in office those expressions of opinion are extremely inconvenient. They are trying to ride two horses at once, but the attempt will not satisfy their extreme friends below the gangway, and at the same time hinder them from the effects of committing themselves to the indiscreet promises they have made. They please nobody, for they take the worst course of giving a sense of insecurity to everyone who is interested in the maintenance of this Convention, whether it be the workpeople employed in the Colonies or in this country, or the people who have to find the capital in order that this industry may be carried on. Do you consider that it is not a good thing to maintain the position of insecurity in these matters? If you desire to restore the bounty, why do you not say so plainly? A state of things like the present cannot but be mischievous in a grave degree, but it would still be better than a perpetual threat on the one hand and a refusal to declare your policy on the other hand. After all, I thought that we were to have a serious discussion on the merits of the Convention, and not a purely Party attack from the 1181 right hon. Gentleman. What is the complaint of the Convention? Would not the House think from the statements made, uncorrected by the President of the Board of Trade, to a certain extent supported by him by his selection of particular figures, that the country had almost been ruined, and that a tax of an enormous amount had been put on the poor? We all know those ridiculous exaggerations which were current during the election, according to which this country had paid £10,000,000 a year for the benefit of somebody else. To all that kind of grotesque and ignorant exaggeration I give the flattest possible contradiction. There has been no such loss on the part of this country, and there has been no benefit to other countries in consequence of the Convention. Anyone would think who heard the speech of the hon. Member for Ashton that we had lost money, and that it had inured to the profit of some other country. Nothing can be further from the truth. ["Oh!"] In the first place, they have not lost at all, not one penny, by the Convention, and, in my opinion, we have greatly gained. We have not lost, because the price of sugar has not been raised. The average price of sugar taken over a period of years has been no higher after than before the Convention. I say we have gained, because we have secured an additional supply. We have brought into the market an additional production of cane sugar, and consequently we have done what everybody knows will tend to equalise the price in future, and will render such fluctuations as have been experienced in the past less frequent and less serious. That foreign countries have to some extent reduced the duties upon sugar, and thereby led to greater consumption in those countries is made a matter of derision by hon. Members opposite, as though they thought we had a right to complain because other countries now consume more sugar. It is continually made a matter of criticism against foreign countries that, owing to their extravagant financial policy, the consumption of sugar in those countries is very much less than in ours. Their consumption of sugar is now approaching more nearly to ours, and a very good thing it is for 1182 those countries, and no harm to us. It is no part of our policy to keep down the consumption of the necessaries of life in foreign countries, and it cannot be considered as a loss to us that their prosperity enables them to consume more of those articles than before. I maintain that the Convention has amply justified itself. We never made any of those extravagant statements attributed to us by the imagination of the President of the Board of Trade. What we said I maintain, and I am perfectly ready to say again; I am not ready to accept the descriptions of my speeches or of my colleagues' by the right hon. Gentleman, who never quotes us exactly or correctly represents the true spirit of our speeches, and thereby does us a great injustice. After all, while I maintain most strenuously that this Convention has been no disadvantage to the people of this country, it is not merely with regard to questions of pecuniary or immediate, or temporary advantage that I ever advocated it or continue to support it. Mr. Gladstone, who was never afraid of the conclusions to which his arguments might lead, made it perfectly clear in discussions that have taken place with reference to foreign bounties that in no circumstances could he regard bounties as beneficial or just, even though they brought some advantages to consumers in this country. Do the new free-traders differ from what Mr. Gladstone and, indeed, Mr. Cobden laid down in regard to bounties? If they do not, then let us look not to the immediate advantages of consumers in this country, but to the question of justice, which affect not merely the consumer but the producer of sugar. My interest in this question has been greatly exaggerated. I mean, that more credit has been given to me than I deserve. But my peculiar interest in the matter was derived from the fact that I was Colonial Secretary at the time the discussions on the sugar bounties arose; and as my right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Duchy once said in regard to his post as Indian Secretary, the Colonial Secretary is required to pay particular attention to the interests of the Colonies, and not to forget, at the same time, that he is a British Minister, who has the interests of his own country at heart also. Take the case of the 1183 Colonies. The President of the Board of Trade is not connected, of course, with the Colonial Department. But I would undertake to say that the Under-Secretary to the Colonies, if he studied the question, would find that for the last year or two the condition of the West Indian Colonies has most materially improved. Their plight was one of the great difficulties with which I had to deal when I went to the Colonial Office. The present Foreign Secretary very kindly presided over a Commission which went out to inquire into their condition, and the Commission reported that unless the bounties were done away with the West Indies would become a constant charge upon the mother country. That state of things has disappeared—temporarily at all events—and, as I believe, entirely as the result of the Convention. Even if we were to accept the view that the Convention has increased the price of sugar—a result which I do not at all believe has followed—would it be anything more than common justice that we had given up illegitimate profits obtained from bounties in order to give fair play to our Colonies? Take the case of the refining industry. Here also there has been improvement. As you give this trade security you may rest assured that, so far from losing employment, there will be a great addition to the employment of the people of this country. The statement has been made that thousands of workmen have been thrown out of employment in the confectionery trades as the result of the Convention. While accepting the sincerity of the hon. Gentleman who made that statement, I say there is no foundation whatever for it. [MINISTERIAL cries of "Oh."] All the statistics show that, on the contrary, those trades have, on the whole, greatly increased [MINISTERIAL cries of "Oh"] both in amount and in value. But even if it were true that there has been this loss of trade, it would be the loss of a trade that must be artificial so long as it depends on the aid of bounties. As I understand, the Government have asked the movers of the Resolution to withdraw it, and no doubt they will be agreeable to that suggestion. Then the Government propose to support the Amendment. I do not think there is any objection to the Amendment, though there is great ob- 1184 jection to the speeches which were made upon it, speeches which will get the Government into more difficulties than the Amendment will get them out of. I cannot compliment the Government upon the position they have adopted of trying, once more unsuccessfully, to avoid responsibility, but I am quite prepared to join with them in supporting the hon. Member for Wiltshire if there is any division.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that there is no desire on our part to avoid responsibility. The right hon. Gentleman has taken a somewhat singular course in the last sentences of his speech, for he has indicated what the Government desire the House to do. Perhaps if he had left that to me—
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I did not know you took a different view from the President of the Board of Trade—
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
I do not take a different view in any respect. But the right hon. Gentleman has made a speech of his usual kind. Having created the impasse in which the country stands—
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
Having himself more conspicuously, and more really than any other Member of the late Government, been responsible for this policy, having carried it out, and fastened it round the neck of the country, he now comes and taunts us—who opposed that policy to the best of our power, and who have not changed one atom of the opinions we held—with not immediately annulling that policy.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
Then what does he taunt us with? Does he think that when, a year or two ago, this policy was introduced which we objected to entirely, we should have humbly acquiesced in it? If, on the other hand, we were then doing our 1185 duty in expressing the strong opinions we held, why should he throw them at our heads now, when, owing to his arrangements and the international obligations which he has placed upon us, we are unable to act so freely as we should like? That is what the right hon. Gentleman thinks is fair dealing, and also clever tactics. I do not believe it is either the one or the other. What would be gained by our making a public announcement at this moment of our intention ultimately, when the time comes, to denounce the treaty? What would be gained? ["Nothing."] This would be gained, which apparently hon. Members opposite think desirable—that our delegate at the Conference would be hampered and embarrassed at every step, and his power would be weakened in the efforts he makes, not, perhaps, to secure any great advantages for this country, but to see that the disadvantages put upon us are as small as possible. That goes for nothing if the right hon. Gentleman sees his way to a little Parliamentary advantage, a little Party capital—he needs all that he can get. It is not that of which we need be afraid. And when on one of these subjects after another, which are all of the same character—when the right hon. Gentleman and his friends have committed the country in this direction and that direction, and to a policy to which we entirely object, and of which if we were free we should make short work, he asks us prematurely, from the blue sky, with no reason whatever for doing it, to make a public announcement of our policy.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
Well, he thinks we ought to respond to the question. I entirely understand the action taken by my hon. friend and the strong feelings which we expressed, but I think he will see that however useful this debate will have been—and it will have been useful in calling the attention of the country to the position in which we stand—my hon. friend will appreciate the fact that nothing would be gained, in the interests of the country, 1186 and with a view to putting an end ultimately to those evils of which he complains, by the adoption of his Motion and therefore I trust that he will withdraw it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.