§ Order read for resuming adjourned Debate on Question proposed [21st February]:
§ "That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:—
§ "Most Gracious Sovereign,
§ "We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—[Mr. Illingworth.]
§ Question again proposed. Debate resumed.
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
moved as an Amendment to add, at the end of the Address:—
"But humbly represent to Your Majesty that this House views with anxiety the state of trade and employment in this country and the failure of Your Majesty s Ministers to recognise the nature and gravity of the situation, and regrets that there is no mention in Your Majesty's Gracious Speech of any proposals for enlarging the market for British and Irish produce and increasing the demand for labour by a reform of our fiscal system, which would promote the growth and stability of our home trade, provide means for negotiating for the mitigation of foreign tariffs, and develop our oversea trade, through the establishment of a system of mutual preference between the different portions of the Empire."
There was one observation of the Prime Minister's on the first day of this Debate which has not received, within this 215 House at any rate, the attention which I think it merits. We heard a great deal at the close of the last Session of Parliament and during the progress of the election about the financial chaos which would result from the action of the House of Lords in deferring their final decision upon the Budget until the people of this country had been consulted upon it. We pointed out at the time that the Government had it in their power to make that chaos as large or as restricted as they chose, and by the simple method of regularising the collection of the existing Customs Duties and of other non-contentious taxes they might secure the smooth collection of the revenue whilst the opinion of the people was being taken. They declined to take that course. Happily by the admission of the Prime Minister himself very little chaos, nothing that can be called chaos, has resulted from their action. Thanks to the good sense of the traders of the country, aided, I must say, by the declarations of the Opposition, the Customs and Excise Revenue has been collected with very little difficulty and has come in almost as fully as if the tax had been collected with the authority of the law, and the whole of the confusion that exists at present, and the whole of the financial trouble with which the Government are faced arises from the non-collection of the greater portion of the Income Tax. What, under these circumstances, would any business-like Government, seeking to carry on, as the right hon. Gentleman says, with credit, the Government of the King now do? Surely the first thing they would do would be to legalise the collection of Income Tax, to begin at once to collect those sums which are already overdue, and to relieve the Exchequer by the immediate inflow of this large revenue which is waiting for them.
But we learnt from the declaration of the Prime Minister that the Government have decided to take another course. They are going to postpone the introduction of the Budget Resolutions, and still further to postpone the passage of the Budget to some uncertain time beyond the expiring of the present financial year for reasons which he did not explain, but which, I suppose, all of us can guess. This is part of the obscure game which is now being played between the different sections of the coalition upon which the Government rely for a majority. It was said long ago that England does not like coalitions. Do 216 you think it will like them better after witnessing the transactions of the last few weeks—the hectoring and bullying to which the Prime Minister and his colleagues have been subjected—the comings and goings between Dublin and Downing Street—the issue of bold manifestoes on Friday, to be meekly withdrawn on Tuesday? Do you think they will like a coalition Government better when they find that the business of the country is to be sacrificed, that the revenue of the country is not to be collected, that the traders of the country are to be left in uncertainty while the higgling of political parties goes on, while the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond) offers the support of himself and his friends at a price, and the Government consider whether they will pay the price or not? Meanwhile, while this bargaining is being carried on across the floor of the House, or more actively behind the scenes, the House of Commons for all useful purposes is reduced to a nullity, and we are presented with a King's Speech more barren of promise than any Speech that has been read from that Chair for many a long year past. The hon. Member for the Blackfriars Division of Glasgow (Mr. Barnes) said yesterday that he regretted that there was no promise of social reform in His Majesty's Most Gracious Speech. What would he have, and what does he expect? When constitutional revolutions are in progress social reform stands still, and if you embark on a vast scheme of constitutional change this House will have neither the time nor the temper to consider those questions which affect most closely the wellbeing of our people and the prosperity of our nation. We cannot carry on revolution and reform side by side.
We, at any rate, on our side ask the House on this the earliest opportunity to turn its attention to one of the gravest of those social problems to which the hon. Member for Blackfriars referred. It is nothing less than the condition of our people, which is raised by the Amendment which I have now the honour to move. I know in the first place that it is left to us on this side of the House to raise that question, and to raise the question of Tariff Reform. Four short years ago that Government, returning to this House with an overwhelming majority, thought it worth while in the first weeks of its first Session to interrupt Government business in order to lay before the House of Commons a Motion that the country had shown their unqualified fidelity to the principles 217 and practice of Free Trade. Why do they not make the same Motion now? We have been discussing for two days for what questions the majority exists in this House—what mandate the country has given to them. What mandate has this House to express on behalf of the country unqualified fidelity to the principles and practice of Free Trade? I know not what will be the fate of my Motion. The Motion of the Government in the last Parliament was carried by a majority of 478 to 98. Do you think you will get similar figures now? I do not suppose that I shall carry my Motion, but on its merits you cannot get a majority of Members of this House in favour of our present fiscal system. Is there an Irish Member, of whatever section of political opinion, who will say that Ireland, which has not reaped the benefit which we once did from our present system, and which has suffered more than we suffer now from that system, who will assert that the Irish people are not, by an overwhelming majority in favour of a change of that fiscal system? [Interruptions by Liberal Members.] I will take the expression of Irish opinion from Irish Members. I say again that our present fiscal system, on its merits, has not a majority in this House. If we could take a Division on its merits it would stand condemned. I think there is in our history no movement that can show so great and so rapid a progress as has been achieved by the Tariff Reform movement in the last six or seven years.
In making my Motion I have but one regret. This Motion, by every right, ought to be in the hands of the great champion of the cause, who placed it in its present position, and was the pioneer of its success. He is still a Member of the House, but he is not able to be with us to-day. The hereditary principle finds little favour in these days, but I think the House will think that it is not altogether unfitting that, in his absence, I should move the Amendment. I hasten at once to anticipate what I think may be an objection taken to my Amendment. It may be said, "You move your Amendment in exactly the same form in which you moved it last year, though the situation of trade and the conditions of employment are not the same now as they were then." That is perfectly true. It would be a lamentable thing, indeed, if the extreme depression which was upon us twelve months ago when we last discussed a similar Motion bad continued without any amelioration or relief in the interval. But even to-day 218 is not the situation sufficiently grave? Are we not all conscious that the problem of unemployment is facing us as one the gravity of which no public man can afford to underrate and which hangs like a black shadow over the life of the working classes of the country. I say that the condition at this moment is bad enough, though apparently a little better than it was twelve months ago. But I and my friends have deliberately chosen to move our Motion in the same form because we did not base our case last year upon distress that was temporary in its nature. We did not base our case upon features that were fleeting, but we based it upon permanent and continuing conditions which, whether they become a little better or a little worse, remain with us, and become more and more serious over an average of years as time proceeds.
Let me state very briefly, I have developed it on previous occasions—what, in my opinion, the root evil is. It is not that we have fluctuations of trade. There must always be fluctuations of trade. It is not that a boom is followed sometimes by a period of depression. It is not that you have hard seasons, or that at particular moments in given trades there is distress and unemployment. It is that unemployment is now a chronic and a continuous symptom of our social system, that it is with us whether trade is good or bad, and that in the most prosperous of the years through which we have recently passed unemployment was present with us to as large an extent as in the preceding ten years—good, bad, and indifferent all taken together. Why is that? In my opinion, and the opinion of my friends, it is because the demand for productive labour in this country and the production of the country have not kept pace either with the increase in the world's demand, or with the growth in our own population.
The world grows richer. We grow richer with it. And are we content with that? The Chancellor of the Exchequer boasts that we are the richest country in the world. I doubt it. I doubt whether that is any longer true, and whether that the wealth of the United States must not be greater than our own. But if it were true is that all that the House has to look at? Is that all that the country need care about? The test of a fiscal system is not merely whether it succeeds in producing the greatest amount of wealth. The real test of a successful fiscal system is that it should provide comfortable subsistence for the largest number of people within the 219 country; and judged by that test our system fails. It does not maintain in productive labour the same proportion of the population either in agriculture or in our great industries as it did twenty years ago, and though everywhere the demand is growing, the demand of the world, yet our people are thronging your labour exchanges in search of work, which they cannot find, whilst our soil does not produce nearly as much of the food we require as it might, whilst the vast natural resources of the dominions over seas are undeveloped, whilst our industries fail to absorb the natural growth of our population.
The hon. Member for the Blackfriars Division of Glasgow (Mr. Barnes) made one observation yesterday with which I had some sympathy. He said that the establishment of labour exchanges by themselves did not improve our condition in relation to employment. You must find, he said, more employment if you are to make an improvement; and the creation of labour exchanges, he added, has rendered the problem more urgent. I wonder why it renders it more urgent? It is because it renders it more visible. Do not let it be thought that I am a critic of labour exchanges. Neither inside this House nor out of it have I a word to say except in praise of that measure as far as it goes. It is a necessary development of our industrial system. Neither do I criticise or present myself as in any way hostile to a scheme of insurance against unemployment, which has been adumbrated from many quarters in this House, and still more quarters outside it. Those things are good in themselves, but at best they are but palliatives of a disease which already exists. They are no remedy for that disease itself.
If you want to find a remedy you must go deeper. You must deal with the question of unemployment itself. You must find more work on which our people can be engaged. That marks, I think, the great difference between the Gentlemen who sit on these benches and the Gentlemen who sit below the Gangway, and I think a great number of the Gentlemen who sit above it. They are concentrating their attention on a redistribution of the wealth of the country. They think that they can secure that object by taxation. It is much more easy to talk about than to secure. Capital is shy and capital is mobile, and if it is made 220 known that capital is to be hunted from here, that investments in this country within the reach of this House are insecure then capital will go elsewhere. It will go where it already finds a higher remuneration, where it has been going for months past—I hope in a large measure to British colonies, yet in part to foreign countries—but, at any rate, to places where it would get a remuneration not less than it gets here, and where, if these views prevail, it will get a security which it can no longer expect in this country. I think that a disastrous policy, disastrous for every class in the country, but most disastrous to those who are dependent upon daily employment for their daily bread. And I set against it the policy of Tariff Reform, which seeks, not a redistribution of existing wealth, but to increase the wealth of the country, an increase in which all may share, from which each may derive more advantage, and from which, under present conditions, the largest share must go to the largest class of the population—those working classes whose interests are so often on our lips but are not always to be found in the legislative projects upon which the heart of the House of Commons at the moment is most set. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Balfour) said some time ago, and said with perfect truth, that you may approach this Fiscal Question from many points of view, but they all lead you to the same conclusion. You may approach it from the Imperial standpoint, from the point of view of one desirous of cementing our interests in peace as we are endeavouring to unite and cement our interests in war, from the point of view of those who desire that the capital and the labour of the men of our country should go rather to the development of the British Empire than to develop foreign and rival nations. You may approach it from the point of view of revenue. We offer it as a means of raising a great new revenue urgently needed, and of raising that revenue without injustice to anyone and with benefit to the whole community. We offer it, as it is described in my Amendment to-day, as a means of dealing with the problem of unemployment, which lies at the root of all other social problems, and the relief of which would make every other social problem easier to deal with. Let me clear the way, if I may, of a couple of misconceptions with which Tariff Reform is often met. It is not our desire to establish monopolies or to create prohibitions. We wish to give the preference to home production 221 first of all, and to British overseas production next. But we do not desire to establish for either one or the other a monopoly in our own market, or to prevent such reasonable and fair competition as may regulate prices properly as between buyer and seller. It follows that we do not desire to create, and we are not going to take measures which will create great trusts or corporations. It was once said by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Balfour) that if the prices of commodities are to be regulated in this country by trusts, he would sooner they were regulated by British trusts than by foreign trusts. We should find British trusts easier to deal with; they, at any rate, would be within our own jurisdiction, and the problem of trusts is one with which the House and the country may have to deal, whatever the fiscal system under which we may be. All I say at the present time is that such moderate duties as we propose would not encourage the establishment of trusts or make that establishment possible which is not possible without them.
I notice that the case of the United States is constantly alluded to in this respect. They have duties out of all comparison with anything that has been suggested in this country. I do not know whether hon. Members have realised yet, but in course of time we shall hope to make them realise, that the difference between a low duty and a prohibitive duty is not merely a difference of degree it is a difference of kind. But even in America I will undertake to say that what has preserved the trusts, in so far as they prove harmful, has not been the American tariff, but the weakness of the central authority in America, the great divergence, complexity, and contradiction of the state of jurisdiction, and the inability of any public authority to bring the law successfully to bear upon them. As long as we remain under a united Parliament we shall have no such state of jurisdiction here, and that difficulty will not threaten us. There is one other objection I would like to remove. It is sometimes said—and I am bound to assume that it is said in good faith, for it is said by serious people—that our object is to diminish our overseas and our foreign trade. Our object is nothing of the kind. It is not the amount of our overseas trade of which we complain, or, if we complain of it, it is only that it is not large enough; it is of its character, and of the change in it which has taken place and is taking place. When our present system 222 was established, and for long afterwards, our import trade was mainly the import of foods and raw material, to be consumed or worked up by our own people. Our own export trade was mainly a trade in manufactured articles, upon which British labour found full employment. That is no longer so. Our great commercial rivals have altered the character of trade to our disadvantage. And that is not an accident. They have set themselves to do it. They deliberately framed their tariffs in order to produce that result. That result has followed. Our statesmen watched them doing it; they said, "They were fools for their pains." But the late Lord Playfair did not hesitate, when the McKinley Tariff was passed, to say that if America were not proved wrong, if ruin and disaster did not follow on the adoption of that tariff, then we must reconsider our whole position and our whole policy. Has America been proved wrong? No man in America will say that. Has Germany been proved wrong? The expansion of her industry dates from her adoption of her tariffs.
I saw in the report of one of the workmen's deputations to Germany, of which there have been several—I wish there had been still more of them and that workmen inquired for themselves—I saw an the report of the Batley deputation an account of their visit to a cloth-working district, where they found a statue of Prince Bismarck, as what, Sir?—not as the founder of the German Empire, but as the founder of a German industry, as the creator of the German woollen industry. And the mayor of the town told the deputation that this statue had been put up out of the pockets of the working classes, and that they could well have afforded to put up a statue of the great man at every street corner out of the increased wages which they earned in the industry. I say that these things are not an accident. Other nations, our great competitors, have framed their tariffs in order to secure for their own people the greatest amount of employment. They encourage the importation of raw material and discourage the importation of finished goods. They tax most heavily the things which they can produce themselves, whether agricultural products or products of manufacturing industry, instead of doing as we do, and taxing only the things which we cannot make, and which do not come into competition with British labour at all. What is the result? What must be the result of such 223 a system? Subject to conditions which are present to the minds of all, no doubt the imports must be paid for by exports, but exports equally must be paid for by imports. But that does not mean that goods are necessarily paid for by goods, and still less that the exchange is equally favourable to both sides. The profit may or may not be equal. But for the country it is the amount of labour which is exchanged, the amount of employment which has been found or which has been taken away, that is the most important consideration. If we take payment, as we do, from all the world in whatever it best suits the world to send us, whereas other nations insist on being paid in raw material and unfinished goods, why, then the result must follow, and has followed, and will follow still more as the years go by, namely, that those who make it the object and purpose of their fiscal system to get the raw materials that they want will get them before we do, and we, who are equally content to take our payment in fully manufactured articles, will receive our payments increasingly in those same manufactured goods.
We propose to use our fiscal system as our great rivals use theirs and give the preference in our own home market to our own people, to secure that our own home people shall at least compete on fair and even terms, and if the scale is weighted one way or the other that it shall be weighted in their favour rather than against them. We propose to use it, as other nations have used their fiscal system, to consolidate an Empire greater than any other in the world. We propose to use it to rearrange our present fiscal duties, to transfer part at least of those which now fall on articles which we cannot produce to articles which we might produce, and so at once to relieve the consumer, and to equip him better to bear the burdens which will fall most heavily upon his shoulders by finding him the employment upon which his ability to bear those burdens depends. I know the answer that is made, "How are you to do this without a general rise in prices." I think there is another objection, a favourite one of the Prime Minister's, that you cannot ride both Revenue and Protection. He says that you cannot both exclude an article and collect the revenue on its admission. That is perfectly true. It is so obvious that it did not require the Prime Minister's authority for the statement. But you can exclude a portion of an article and collect 224 duty on the portion which still comes in. You can still maintain the competition between the foreign and the home supplies. That competition itself will achieve that other wonder which the Prime Minister cannot understand, and will place, as only economic causes can, part of the burden of this new taxation upon the foreigner who produces the article.
The Prime Minister says, and I have studied a good many of his speeches, for the last few weeks, if you do not raise the price what benefit do you do to the home producer? I think that is a complete fallacy. Take the case of an individual who is doing a certain trade and receiving a small but reasonable profit. Tell him, "I cannot increase your profits, but I can double your turnover," and will he tell you "that is no use to me?" The statement that you cannot improve the condition of the English people and English trade without raising prices is one that would never have come from anyone who had ever been engaged in trade. [HON. MEMBERS: "Question."]
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
The right hon. Gentleman is wrong. I think the Prime Minister himself has said it in the course of his election speeches. The fact of the matter is it is just in that advantage in the preference for trade at equal prices, not in enhanced prices, that the greatest advantages of Tariff Reform lies. What we have the opportunity of cultivating is our goodwill as a Nation or as an Empire. We have the opportunity of cultivating trade with people who, not only on even, but on slightly better, terms will do that trade with us rather than with our rivals. Is not that the most valuable goodwill that any business can have in the ordinary business relations of life? Is there any business man who would not jump at the opportunity of cultivating such a preference among his customers? Cannot we, as a nation, be as wise in our national trade as individuals among us are in the pursuit of their own individual interests? This has a still greater importance at the present time than it used to have in past years.
No one can watch the development of trade and commerce without being aware that the skill and regularity with which you can carry on your production has now become both one of the principal factors in the price which you have to charge in order to recoup yourself, or to obtain a profit, and also one of the most 225 important factors in increasing or decreasing your competitive power in the world. Our manufacturers are suffering from having too small a market in comparison with their rivals and from that market being too insecure. They are checked from expansion and prosperity upon which their rivals fearlessly embark, and at present in bad times the position is aggravated by the sale of the surplus products of the expanded works of their competitors. I do not believe that in the long run that works for cheapness. I am certain a temporary cheapness at particular moments is dearly bought by the sufferings, by the misery and permanent loss which falls on our people. For throe or four years past this House has voted money year after year to be spent through the local authorities in employing men at work, which is not always urgently needed, which is not always of much use when it is done, for which the men themselves are often unfit, and which, again, unfits them for their proper occupation, because the skilled labour on which they ought to be employed is in no demand. The market for the goods which they might produce is stagnant or we supply our wants from elsewhere. Would it not be cheaper to spend the money, if we must spend money, in having men at their own work by paying a little more in times of depression for some of the goods that those men might make and so keep the capital of the country together. By capital I mean not merely the money capital, the dead capital, but also the living capital embodied in the men who form the bulk of our skilled industries.
I have tried to answer one or two of the objections which I traced to the speeches of the Prime Minister during the present election. I know it is not serious arguments of this kind which play the greatest part in the electoral campaign of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. Those are the methods of the Prime Minister, but they are not the methods of his party, and he is not the hero of the fight which has been fought. The coarser methods of the Chancellor of the Exchequer appeal more readily to the followers of the right hon. Gentlemen, and have been exploited by them to their utmost. The Chancellor of the Exchequer fixed upon food, saying that you cannot secure this preference in the Colonial market, you cannot give this assistance to our own home producers if they are agriculturists without some duties on food. So said the Chancellor of the Exchequer—
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
And so said I. So said the member for West Birmingham. We have all said it. Thereupon the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer denounced us, and he and his friends by speech described us as Food Taxers. "Keep your hands off the people's food." Look at your own hands, be honest in this matter. Will the Chancellor explain the share he takes in the famous plum-pudding? Let him tell the people that they drink not a cup of tea, that they consume not a lump of sugar without his taking toll. [Several HON. MEMBERS: "Who put it on?"] [Other HON. MEMBERS: "Who kept it on?"] Do hon. Members gain anything by these interruptions? You are food taxers. Then the Chancellor of the Exchequer says, if you allow these Tariff Reformers to have any hand in fiscal policy they will give you black bread—carrion and offal, stuff we would not give to tramps. Protection, he says, brought black bread to Germany. I invite the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I think I might almost say, to prove any single statement he made on the fiscal question in the course of the election. When were the German people a white bread-eating people? Protection did not bring black bread to Germany. There is more wheat-flour consumed in Germany under Protection than ever there was before. [An HON. MEMBER: "Per Head?"] Yes, more per head. I confess that I read with amazement the reckless statements of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That his account of the way in which German working men live should be believed by poor people in this country who have never had a chance to travel through Germany even in a motor car, and have little means of getting first-hand information, is not surprising, but that such statements should be initiated and repeated by a responsible Minister is a thing unheard of. What is the truth about the way in which the German working men live?
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
Yes, ask the social democrats. They are laughing at you. And well they may laugh, and laugh twice over, for the ignorance of our people as to the condition of their working men is being used to maintain in this country those open markets by which the German working men profit. Their fiscal system gives them free trade in our market 227 and protection in their own, while it refuses us protection in our market and does not secure us free trade anywhere else. What is the truth about the way in which German working men live? On carrion and offal? On food that you would not offer a tramp? Does the Chancellor of the Exchequer mean that that is a description of the ordinary bread of the German workingman's household? Happily we are not left altogether to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's imagination for the facts of German life. We have reports from independent sources. Let us take one or two of them. Our Consul-General at Frankfurt, Mr. Oppenheim, says:—In Frankfurt life has been raised all round. Food has improved, clothes have improved. Germany has become a rich country, without the lowest grades of poverty which prevail elsewhere.Without the lowest grades of poverty which confront us at every street corner in our great industrial towns, which are themselves alleged by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as the reason why he must refuse the advances of the Colonies towards mutual Imperial preference. Yet no man has spoken more strongly of the benefits which preference has already achieved and the still larger benefits that must be achieved by such a mutual scheme than the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He said that such things were worth concerted effort and sacrifice. Why did he refuse to make that concerted effort or that sacrifice? Because, in his own words,We have here a poor population that you know nothing of. Numbers of our people are steeped in poverty.The Chancellor of the Exchequer's reason for refusing Colonial Preference is a condemnation of the fiscal system which he supports. The worst enemy of the fiscal system of Germany will find in the German Empire no parallel to these millions steeped in poverty and squalor, even though he searches the whole year through. From every source there comes a consensus of opinion—from the Board of Trade and from every observer—that the Germans have made since the establishment of Prince Bismarck's tariff enormous strides, and that their advance in wages has been greater than ours; while every deputation of working men who have visited that country, whatever their fiscal or political views, have come back expressing their astonishment at the comfort and well-being which prevail. Take the account which the Birmingham brass-workers give of their visit to the brass-workers 228 of Berlin. [A laugh.] Does the hon. Member object to my calling Mr. W. J. Davis as a witness? [An HON. MEMBER: "He is a Free Trader."] Yes, he is a Free Trader, and he is the secretary of a great trade union. Would you reject him as a witness on that account? He is a better witness than the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because he tells you what he has seen, not what he has imagined. What did that deputation say? That in all their visits they saw not one case of underfed children, and that the people were unmistakably better nourished than they are with us at home. They made a comparison between food prices in Berlin and food prices in Birmingham. For the purposes of comparison they took the prices at the great Berlin Hospital and the prices at the Birmingham General Hospital. They examined fifteen articles of common consumption; seven were dearer in Berlin, seven were dearer in Birmingham. [An HON. MEMBER: "In what year?"] 1904, I think. One article, butter, was exactly the same price in both cities. Amongst the articles which were cheaper in Berlin than in Birmingham were milk, eggs, fowls and meat; and that in spite of the fact that all the meat used in the Berlin Hospital was home-grown, slaughtered in the municipal slaughterhouses, where I suppose they do not pass offal, while the Birmingham supply was chilled meat imported from overseas.
I do not care to which of these deputation reports you choose to go. You will find variations in prices according to the year in which the visit was made; but every one of them speaks of the comfortable appearance and the well-nourished condition of these people, who are said to live on nothing but black bread and carrion. In the brassworkers' report they give an account of the ordinary food of a Berlin brassworker. I invite any hon. Gentleman to read it out to his Constituents. In the Board of Trade Blue Book on the cost of living in France there is an account of the ordinray style of living of a French workmen from Marseilles. I invite the Chancellor of the Exchequer to read it out to his own Constituents, and then to ask the working men whether they live better than either the German or the Frenchman? The Chancellor of the Exchequer will, I am sure, be glad to have this opportunity, because he will be able to point out, on the authority of the Board of Trade itself, that not only do foreign working men eat 229 black bread, but that in France it is customary for them to drink black coffee. Let me give one further quotation. Chemnitz was singled out by a Radical journal, and followed up by Radical speakers as a town of Germany where the consumption of horseflesh was extravagantly high. Let us call an independent witness, namely, the United States Consul at Chemnitz. This is what he says:—The German working man lives well and is the best patron of the market hall, insisting on having fruit and vegetables with his meat.…In this district wages have risen steadily.That is the difference between them and us. Food in recent years has risen in both countries. Where is the big loaf that you promised four years ago? Where is the cheap food you promised the people, when you thought you could command not merely a majority but the seasons? [An HON. MEMBER: "The season?"] Why did you not think of the seasons before the General Election? I do not say that the price of food has risen owing to the action of the Government. My complaint is that a part of the rise has taken place owing to their inaction. What can a Government do to keep food cheap? [An HON. MEMBER: "Tax it."] They can do one thing and one thing only, and that is—encourage the production of new supplies. You have got vast resources within your Empire, aye, and within the United Kingdom. Give them a little more encouragement and you will have done more to keep food cheap than by any scheme of constitutional change. You have not been able to keep food cheap. The prices of almost every ordinary article of consumption have risen since you came into office. Is it not time that you ceased to bolster up your case by assertions which you cannot make good; by statements and by pictures that you know to be false, and to argue this great Question on its merits? [Interruption.] I am surprised at those interruptions. Hon. Members have repeated these misstatements on every platform on which they have stood when there was no one to answer them. Now they are impatient by being confronted with an answer in the House of Commons.
§ Mr. THEODORE TAYLOR
On a point of Order, Sir. Is it in order for any hon. or right hon. Gentleman to say that other Members of this House have made statements which they knew to be false?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I do not know whether that was intended to apply to any hon. Member sitting opposite to the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
I am within the recollection of the House, but I do not think that I made use of any such language. [HON. MEMBERS: "Known to be false."] I thought I said that they had repeated these misstatements. [An HON. MEMBER: "No, you said more than that."] Of course, I am not entitled to say that hon. Members of this House made statements which they knew to be false. [An HON. MEMBER: "Then withdraw it."] I ask your leave, Mr. Speaker, to withdraw the expression. They made statements which a moment's inquiry would have shown to be unfounded. I ask: Is it not time now that they devoted a little attention to ascertaining the truth; that they ceased to meet the case for Tariff Reform by these misrepresentations; that they devoted themselves to serious argument about that which is a serious proposition? We are in need of a great revenue. We are in need of more employment for our people. We are in need of every means that may restore prosperity to our agriculture and which may develop new agricultural as well as other new industries amongst us. We are in need of that which may secure to us in the future a share in that Colonial market which is open to us now, but which is being eagerly sought by our competitors and rivals. Even the events of last year show how urgent this Question has become. When the representatives of the self-governing Dominions were here we banged the door in their faces. Whilst we refuse to have any commercial or fiscal negotiations with them, others are not so squeamish. If we refuse their advances there are plenty of other suitors, and as time goes on, with the best will in the world to us, and with the best will to the British Empire, they will be irresistibly drawn by the force of events into making commercial treaties with those who are willing to make commercial treaties with them; into making them with foreign Powers if they cannot make them with us. If you will make those treaties with them you have open to you on favourable and preferential terms markets which have the largest power of commercial expansion in the future, and who are already, per head of their population, your best customers. [An HON. MEMBER: "No, no."] You have the opportunity not merely to sell the goods which you produce, but to encourage and help them to produce the very things that you need. You have the opportunity of strengthening by one and the same stroke the Dominions over the seas and 231 the Old Country, and finding a closer bond between all parts of the Empire, and a better outlook for the masses of our people.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Sydney Buxton)
It is only two or three days since I took up the responsible duties of my office, responsible duties which the Prime Minister has been good enough to impose upon me, and I venture to ask the indulgence of the House on both sides in that which I have to say on a question that everybody appreciates is not only of the utmost importance, but of the most gigantic dimensions. We have a Motion put forward this afternon by the right hon. Gentleman in identical terms to the Motion that he put forward last year. If he will allow me to say so, though I admit that there was more heat and passion in his speech, engendered no doubt by the General Election, that speech was practically on the same lines last year. That is to say, so far as I was able to follow it, it leaves us in exactly the same position in our knowledge as to how it is exactly that the right hon. Gentleman desires, or intends, or is able to bring about the earthly paradise that he pointed out. Though the purpose of his Motion is the same, three things have happened since last year. In the first place, the right hon. Gentleman took credit for his party that they are all Tariff Reformers—because they have managed to drive out all the Free Traders! Since his Motion of last year the Leader of the Opposition has been either coerced or coaxed into calling himself a Tariff Reformer, and has declared specifically for the first time that he is in favour of a tax on corn. I admit that he left the rest of the question as before, somewhat nebulous. He was unfortunate in the course of the election in not having time to refer to the subject in detail. We hope in the course of this Debate that he will do so, for the House will be glad to give him the fullest possible time to develop what he means by Tariff Reform. The second point in which I think our position is different is one which the right hon. Gentleman has already referred to, namely, that we have had a General Election. The right hon. Gentleman said that in that election we did not use any serious argument against Tariff Reform. The position at the election has not, I think, been altogether correctly stated, and I should like to translate into General Election terms the terms of the 232 Motion that he is now asking the House to accept. What I think the House and the country had put before them was this: In the first place that Tariff Reform was to be the absolute alternative to our Budget by means of protection and preference, and that the £20,000,000 deficit and many other taxes were to be met from a system of Tariff Reform. The right hon. Gentleman has ignored that branch of his subject. Then in each particular district where there was a particular industry, that particular industry was going to be benefited by Tariff Reform. In Bermondsey it was leather. In Northamptonshire it was boots. It was wire in Warrington, and wire manufacturers in Norwich. That so far as we are concerned, as Free Traders, we believe to be absolutely inconsistent. Of course the foreigner is going to pay the tax! You are going to put a tax on food, but it was not going to raise the price! Above all there was going to be work and wages for most people, if not for all. [Several HON. MEMBERS: "All, all."] Well, certainly as far as some of the cards went, work for all. Like the right hon. Gentleman I do not want to exaggerate what was said outside. The third point, and to my mind the most satisfactory point which differentiates the present Motion, or the position in the discussion of the present Motion, to what it was last year is this—that, as the right hon. Gentleman himself had to confess, trade has improved. His Motion last year was this:—That this House views with anxiety the state of trade and employment in this country, and the failure of Your Majesty's Ministers to recognise the nature and gravity of the situation.That was the Motion last year, and, while I fully admit the gravity of the matter last year, I venture to deny that the gravity is nearly so great on the present occasion. I do not quite know whether to congratulate or condole the right hon. Gentleman on the fact that the trade of this country is progressing, because, if he takes such a gloomy view of the outlook, I do not think that any congratulation is likely to be accepted. In fact, so far as I am able to judge, these fiscal reformers, the better trade is, the more they shake their heads and say it is going to the dogs. The right hon. Gentleman, in his speech this afternoon, attributed the improved trade—though I admit it is not so good as it might be—solely to Free Trade. I venture to point out to him that last year, when he was moving exactly the same Motion, he did not attribute the position to Free 233 Trade, but to the iniquities of the present Government. He pointed out that the trade was bad, and that 9 per cent. of skilled labour was out of work. He says: Have the Government any responsibility for this? They, he says, have attacked property, disturbed trade, alarmed capital. They have done all that a Government can do by legislation and by their speeches to aggravate a situation already sufficiently serious, and increase distress which it is their business to alleviate. Last year he attributed these disasters to the Government, and I would venture to point out to the House that the statement made last year to the effect that these disasters were due to the Government was not accurate. They were due to two things, one of which was that we had a very good year the year before, 1907, and the second that we had the American smash in trade. At all events, I am glad to have it from the right hon. Gentleman that last year trade was bad before the Budget was introduced, and before the Limehouse speech was made, because of the action of the Government and of the speeches of Members of the Government, but that as soon as that predatory Budget was introduced, and as soon as we had the Limehouse speech, trade at once revived. I would venture to give the House a few figures in this connection, because I should be sorry if hon. Members went away under the gloomy impression left by the right hon. Gentleman that the trade of this country was really falling off. As a matter of fact, since last year the trade of this country has been increasing. Hon. Gentlemen opposite do not like imports and therefore I will only take exports. The turn in the percentage of the exports began last June, but it was only slight. In December last the increase was 15 per cent., and the last month for which we have the Returns the increase of exports for this country was no less than 20 per cent. I would draw the special attention of the two right hon. Gentlemen opposite who have been the special exponents of Protection in the country to this fact—that the general increase last month of exports was 20 per cent., and the increase in British manufactured goods exported was no less than 24½ per cent.
The right hon. Gentleman made a statement which I agree, if founded on fact, would have been a very serious one. He said, as I understood him—and the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bonar Law) had repeated it more than once—that in the last decade or two we have been receiving from abroad in the manufactured articles a 234 larger portion of finished goods, and that, so far as our exports were concerned, the proportion of finished goods to other manufactures had been diminishing—that is to say, that there was less labour employed in the goods we sent out and the larger amount of labour employed in the goods we imported.
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
What the right hon. Gentleman is quoting from are observations of mine directed to trade with our great commercial competitors, not to our home trade. I do not want the right hon. Gentleman to answer my case under a misapprehension. When I spoke I did not refer to our trade with Argentina and other non-protected countries. I was referring to our trade with great commercial competitors like the United States and Germany.
§ Mr. BUXTON
I have not the details of exports and imports as to those particular countries. What matters to us after all is the total volume of trade. I might point out, in answer to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, that if you take the years 1880 and 1890 and last year, I find that the percentage of finished goods in the total imports is about the same, but in the least finished the percentage of importation has considerably increased; and as regards our exports, while the percentage of finished goods in 1880 was 29.2 per cent., last year the figure was 35.5 per cent.; and while the percentage of least completed articles in 1880 was 13.5, last year it was only 12 per cent., showing that as regards our volume of trade the right hon. Gentleman's argument, at all events, falls to the ground.
Then the right hon. Gentleman dealt with the question of unemployment. I desire in no sense of the term to minimise the present condition of unemployment in this country. We all regret it very deeply and we are anxious, as far as we can to find a remedy for it. I venture to say that the right hon. Gentleman in his speech did not point out any remedy to diminish the volume of unemployment. I am glad to say that, as regards the question of unemployment, it stands in the same condition in the last year as that of trade. Trade has been improving, unemployment has been diminishing. When the right hon. Gentleman spoke last year he said that the percentage of unemployment was 9 per cent. At the present moment for the same months the percentage was 6.6 per cent., instead of 9 per cent. I have had the figures analysed, and I find this. 235 These figures are taken from certain specific trades whose trade unions retain them to the Board of Trade. The trades representing a large proportion of the whole of this unemployment are the shipbuilding trade and the building trade. In the case of the shipbuilding trade the average percentage is no less, I am sorry to say, than 16 per cent., and in the case of the building trade it is between 13 and 14 per cent. What I want to emphasise to the House is this: If you deduct these two trades the percentage of unemployment would be very much lower than 6½ per cent., and this is really an important point. These two trades, the shipbuilding trade and the building trade, in which the percentage of unemployment is at present the highest, are the two trades above all returning figures which would benefit least from Tariff Reform and which would be most injured by it. Therefore, to suggest Tariff Reform as a remedy for unemployment in the face of these official figures, which cannot be contradicted, is rather strange. I venture to say to the House that the introduction of Tariff Reform would increase the percentage of unemployment in these two trades, in which unfortunately it is so high at the present moment.
The right hon. Gentleman was very angry with the Chancellor of the Exchequer for some remarks he had made in regard to the condition of the German working men. I am not going into the details given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I am going into the details of the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, for, after all, they have more to do with my argument. He was very angry with my right hon. Friend for making what I might call a variegated statement, but I want to assure the right hon. Gentleman, if he will allow me, that he seems to be in the position of Satan correcting sin. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the report which had been sent out by the Birmingham brassworkers and others who had visited Berlin. He said that the result of these inquiries went to show that the condition of the workmen in Berlin and other German towns was as good, if not better, than other working men here, and that, having regard to the majority of the prices of the staple articles of consumption, that these prices were cheaper there than they are here.
§ Mr. BUXTON
That was what the right hon. Gentleman said the Birmingham brassworkers reported. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman accuses us of not having given a moment's inquiry before making our statements, but I wonder whether he made any inquiries before he made that statement, because I find this—that the Birmingham brassworkers visited Berlin before the new German tariff was put into force, and the result is that his comparison is entirely vitiated, because the conditions then are quite different from now.
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
Was not Germany Protectionist at that time? Protection duties were in force at that time. They had a scientific tariff.
§ Mr. BUXTON
No doubt, but may I say incidentally that that interruption of the right hon. Gentleman destroys, I think, fundamentally a very large proportion of his argument in regard to what he and others propose with reference to Tariff Reform. He said that both in character and degree you could have a much milder Tariff here than that which existed in Germany and America. That was exactly what was said in the case of America by the Austen Chamberlains of the time when Tariff Reform was introduced first, and in Germany they said we only propose a small tax upon food and a small import duty upon manufactures, and we guarantee it shall never be increased.
§ Mr. BUXTON
I have not the quotations by me, but I have little doubt that with a little research I could find them, but whether they said it or no they did start with a small tariff, and they have now increased it substantially, and the right hon. Gentleman admitted that they increased it a year ago.
I should like to say this also, that the prices which these Birmingham brassworkers were comparing were not retail prices over here, but contract prices, which is quite another thing. I should like to quote some figures from the official document of the Board of Trade, and I am bound to say the Board of Trade in these matters has no prejudices, and I must tell the House, and I told the officials of the Board of Trade this morning, I think they are much too honest for my purpose. I have here official figures dealing with 237 wages, hours, and prices. If you take the British workmen at 100 the German weekly wages are 83 per cent. only, but the hours are longer, and wages per hour, compared with 100 English, are only 75, and the cost of their articles of consumption is not less than one-fifth more.
Now I venture to take as shortly as I can the right hon. Gentleman's points in the reverse order in which he put them. He ended by an eloquent peroration with regard to the Colonial preference. I would like to say that we, on this side of the House, equally with the right hon. Gentleman opposite, appreciate the action of the Colonies in offering us a preference; but it does not, of course, follow that we are bound to reciprocate. We are not in any way endeavouring to minimise their generous offer, because we are in a very different position. Having a protective tariff, they are offering us a rebate which does not affect them very much, and they are asking us to meet that rebate not only by altering the whole of our fiscal system, but by putting a tax on the food of the people. That is a matter into which I need not go at the present moment, as it has already been fully discussed. The right hon. Gentleman dealt with some violence with the Question of the taxation of food. He called us food taxers, and said that we, at all events, had no right to accuse hon. Gentlemen opposite of desiring to tax food. I do not think he did it in any invidious sense, but he admitted that he was in favour of the taxation of corn. If you are going to tax corn, the whole point is whether you are or are not going to increase the price of food and the price of bread. In one of his last speeches the Leader of the Opposition said two things. He said that, as far as he was concerned, he was in favour of a tax on corn, but that in his opinion it would not raise the price of corn; in fact, he thought it would reduce the price, which, of course, is the same thing as the price of bread.
§ Mr. BUXTON
As a humble consumer of bread I should have thought, if the right hon. Gentleman put a duty on wheat, that my baker and my miller would put up their price. I think that is common-sense. The Leader of the Opposition made the specific statement that, in his opinion, the price of corn would not go up if a duty was put on wheat, and he said there was no justification 238 for the statement made by my right hon. Friend that substantially in a country like ours and a country like Germany, where a large proportion of wheat is introduced, and where there is already a home supply, in a case of that sort, in the long run and on the average, the consumer would pay the import duty on corn. I have looked at the official returns, and I find, taking the Gazette average price of wheat in England and the mean Prussian price in Berlin, on the whole that is actually the case. I wanted to be clear on this matter, and I asked my Department to obtain two things for me. In the first place I asked for the latest comparative quotations between the price of wheat here and in Germany, and also to see what is the price in the free ports of Hamburg and London. The figures are very remarkable. The average price of wheat imported into the United Kingdom in December—the latest date I can obtain—was 38s. 5d. per quarter, while the Gazette average price was 33s. In Germany the price in December for good average native wheat was 47s. 2d., and for imported wheat 50s. 10d. per quarter, as against 38s. 5d. in England. The duty is 11s. 10d. a quarter, and the figures I have given will show the House that the excess of the German price over the English price for imported wheat was 12s. 5d. per quarter, and for the native wheat 14s. per quarter. That means not only that the consumer in Germany paid on the imported wheat rather more than the duty in December last, but also paid a considerable sum in excess of that duty on the corn grown in the country. The next figures are for the 14th February. As the House is aware, Hamburg is a free port, and so long as we are in office London also will remain a free port. I find that, taking three classes of wheat, the price per Imperial quarter of 480 lbs. was 37s. 3d., and it was within a penny or two the same in Hamburg as in London. So long as you have no duty that is the international price, but as you put on the duty it has to be paid by the consumer. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wimbledon may argue as much as he likes that he is not a food taxer, but if he puts a tax on wheat he will unquestionably increase the cost to the consumer and to the working man.
I will now say a word or two in regard to the right hon. Gentleman's remedies. I have already said that he has not entered into sufficient detail to enable us to criticise his speech and show what his remedies will lead to. We have asked more than 239 once are these import duties proposed for revenue purposes, or for protective purposes? The right hon. Gentleman says they are for both. That being so, I should like to ask any hon. or right hon. Gentleman opposite to show us in figures how they are going to obtain the revenue for their alternative Budget? There are three matters of vital importance upon which we have had no light and leading. The first is whether it will raise or will not raise the cost to the consumer and the cost of production. The right hon. Gentleman seems to think that is a matter of very little importance, but surely anyone connected with trade who has had anything to do with business is aware that if the cost of production is increased consumption must be reduced, and trade suffers. I have not time now to develop that argument, but it would not be difficult for me to show absolutely that if you do put on an import duty you will in no sense get the foreigner to pay, but you will raise the price of the goods coming in and increase the cost of production of the goods produced in this country.
A second point of great importance is as to what is or what is not a raw material. The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have always told us that they are not going to tax raw materials. I have never been able to understand that argument. If it is true that their proposal will not increase the cost here, and that the foreigner is going to pay the whole or a large proportion of the import duty, why cannot we get sufficient revenue from him by taxing the raw material? It seems to me that the whole point turns upon the extent to which you are going to put on your import duty. Everybody admits that in this matter there is a very small proportion of the manufactured goods coming into this country which do not form directly the raw material of some industry. If you do this you are bound to injure other trades by increasing the cost of production. I could give many instances of this, and I will give one case. At the present moment there is what are known as blooms and billets, which form the foundation of the tinplate trade, which, by the way, six years ago was said to be gone. In the tinplate trade a number of factories have recently been opened, and I venture to say that if there had been a tax on blooms and billets not a single one of them would have been open to-day. What we want to know is: What are the proposals of the 240 right hon. Gentleman in regard to this? The general question of Protection and Free Trade is a very large one. I have ventured to trouble the House with some observations in regard to a certain portion of it, and I have dealt with the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. May I say that hon. Members on this side of the House and the Government resist a Motion of this sort because they believe Tariff Reform, if carried, would not in any sense of the term increase employment, extend trade, and give higher wages and more work. If I could be made to believe that Tariff Reform would do those things I should be the first to embrace it. We believe that exactly the opposite will occur, taking example from other Protectionist countries. For these reasons we have not thought it worth while to put down a Motion affirming our allegiance to Free Trade, because we knew the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends would give us an opportunity of doing so. We are ready again, and we shall be prepared to defend our Free Trade principles. No Free Trader would say that Free Trade is the beginning and end of all things. The party on this side of the House have done something to meet the social evils of this country. We do believe as between the two policies that the policy we have had in this country for the last 40 or 50 years has been shown by experience to be the better, and that the new found zeal of hon. Gentlemen opposite is really one founded more or less on fallacious statements and fallacious foundations, and it is one which we believe would be fraught with a serious danger to our trade and to labour in this country, and would certainly not tend towards the welfare of the Empire as a whole.
§ Mr. T. M. KETTLE
In view of the present position of parties in this House it is perhaps desirous that on behalf of those sitting on these benches I should state the view and position we take on this most important Question at an early period in the Debate. That is all the more desirable because the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire (Mr. Austen Chamberlain) especially asked that Irish Members should tell them what Ireland thinks of the problem. Before I proceed to that, there are, however, one or two preliminary points which have to be made. We have all been compelled to deplore the grammar of the King's Speech, and for my part I am also compelled to deplore the geography of the 241 Opposition Amendment. I observe that the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment refers in one clause to Great Britain and Ireland, and in the second clause to this country. I have been sent over from Ireland to propagate perhaps a mistaken belief that Ireland and Great Britain are not one country, but two countries, and I may say that, when I crossed over the Irish Sea the other night, judging by its somewhat turbulent condition, it seemed to me to possess the same separatist tendencies that it ever did. I venture to say that, in spite of the great constitutional fight in which we are engaged, there is gradually developing a case for a new compulsory Education Act, retrospective in character and personal in application.
Of course, we all know that Ireland does not really matter to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Tariff Reform party. This Amendment is not aimed at us. I do not believe it is even aimed at the Government; it is aimed at the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. The business of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire is not to nail his colours to the mast, but to nail his captain to the mast. I do not think, in spite of the General Election, that the faithful of Birmingham are entirely content with the attitude of their leader. They do not quite believe that he quite believes what they believe. The Amendment was introduced last year, of course, as a trap to catch the right hon. Gentleman. They captured him then, and they stroked him down and petted him, and they thought he had become a domesticated Tariff Reformer. I suppose he has, but I do adhere to the belief that this reference to Ireland is not sincerely meant, and that this Motion was introduced entirely for the purpose of finally committing the Tory party to the policy of Protection. We on these benches say to the Unionist Tariff Reformers that we do not follow their arguments and we do not admire their methods. As far as I can judge from their election literature their case is this: They are going to put a Protective Duty on everything, and they are going to raise the price of nothing. They are going to protect Irish agriculture, and they are not going to raise the price of food in English industrial cities. They are going to protect the steel industries, and they are not going to raise the price of raw materials of shipbuilding. They are going to develop the growing of flax in Ulster—I may say 242 they raised this Tariff Reform point in my own Constituency, and the result was to multiply our previous majority by six—but they are not going to raise the price of raw flax to the spinning mills. They are going to protect the spinning mills and at the same time they are not going to raise the price of yarn to the weavers. We in Ireland are simple people and we cling to an ineradicable belief in the principles of logic. We do not think a thing can be obviously black and obviously white at the same moment. For a case so stated we have only to say that it is intellectually disreputable.
There is a case for Protection. The Protectionists might have said with Adam Smith that they preferred defence to opulence. They might have said with the German economist List, the real founder of the German Protectionist movement, that immediate exchange values were less important than the development of the productive powers of a nation. They might have said it was well in the interests of a nation to sacrifice one region to another or one industry to another. That case might have been unsound, but at any rate it would have been respected. But for the case put forward, and for the terms in which it was put forward, we in our simplemindedness and adherence to the plain rules of logic can have nothing but contempt. I listened with great interest to the denunciation of trusts by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire; and may I say at this point that I rather regret, having invited an expression of opinion from these benches, he did not wait to hear it. I think the incident is an excellent illustration of the importance he attaches to the reference to Ireland in his Amendment. He said that capital is mobile. I agree. A good deal of capital that has been invested in the Tariff Reform movement was mobile enough to find its way into Ireland, even into the remote Constituency which I represent. We have this criticism to make. Not in our recent experience has there been an occasion on which all the forces of capitalism have been so rapidly and thoroughly mobilised for the advance of any movement as for the advance of this Tariff Reform movement. The right hon. Gentleman does not like trusts. I would attach more importance than I do now to his declaration against trusts if he published the Budget of the Tariff Reform League.
Our case with regard to Tariff Reform and Tariff Reformers is this: We do not 243 believe in their good faith as regards Ireland. They say their scheme is going to benefit Ireland. If they do Ireland any good they will do it by accident and not by design. They will do it by chance, and perhaps, when they have found that they have done it, they will blush so much that they will hasten to conceal their own generosity. We have not had one single word from the Mover of this Amendment with regard to the special economic conditions or problems of Ireland. Being, like my countrymen, of a simple mind and a trusting disposition, I wrote to the Tariff Bye-form League not very long ago to ask them what was their Irish policy. I got back a very polite letter, in which they said they regretted to say that up to the present they had not formulated any special policy for Ireland. As soon as they do formulate it, this Debate and this Amendment will assume a reality for my Friends on these benches. We can, however, arrive by a process of observation at what their programme is. They have promised, and this is the point of their programme which has obtained some support in Ireland, protection to Irish agriculture. Irish agriculture means the production of food, and unless you raise the price of food you cannot offer protection to Irish agriculture. The right hon. Gentleman tells us he is going to put a tax on corn and a tax on meat. May I be permitted to say, on this point, to some of my hon. Friends who have a somewhat superstitious attachment to Free Trade, that there are cases in which you may bring about a balanced development of a nation by taxing prime and necessary articles of food? I am, however, only dealing for the moment with the special application of the Tariff Reform policy to Ireland, and I say unless you have dearer food and dearer food markets you cannot offer any protection to Irish agriculture upon the lines you are proceeding. The right hon. Gentleman's whole case was that he was going to tax food, but that he was not going to raise the price of food. His whole case was that butter and meat and poultry—the three chief things we have to send to the English markets—carry exactly the same prices under the German Tariff as they do under the English system of Free Trade. Then what has he got to offer us? Of what use is his tariff to Irish agriculture if it is not going to improve the markets or increase the prices at which Irish farmers can sell the articles of food 244 in the production of which they are engaged?
I come to another special point. I take one industry in Ireland capable of great development—the textile industry. The position with regard to the textile industry in Ireland is very curious and very interesting. It is our largest export of manufactured articles, and it is our largest import of manufactured articles. You have got a most singular example of a bad adjustment of trade relations. We make woollens in Athlone and sell them in England. We import woollens from Yorkshire and wear them in Ireland, and in each case we are the losers by the cost of carriage. The woollen industry is one that has been long established in Ireland. It is one for which the people have shown that they possess every aptitude. It is capable of the greatest possible development. What I want to know is this: If Protection is given in order to develop an industry, which is already fairly well established, in order to capture the hone markets for the products of that industry, will the right hon. Gentleman give us a protective tariff of 10 per cent. on English manufactured textiles coming into Ireland? That is the case for Protection in Ireland. That is the method by which you can stimulate the productive powers of Ireland. My own belief is that this is too early a stage of the development of the Tariff Reform policy for such an offer to be made, but I do not despair of getting something approaching it in the not very distant future.
There is another point we notice with regard to Tariff Reform which was repeated by the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon. Tariff Reformers are exceedingly strong on history. They are all agreed that their ancestors who shaped the economic policy of England in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries were all, as far as Ireland is concerned, the most abandoned scoundrels. I agree with them. I agree that in the old days of Protection—the old brand of protection—every interest in Ireland was strangled and sacrificed to promote the development of this country. As I have said before, indignation is really too valuable an emotion to waste on history. Why not direct it against the present condition of fact? The ancestors of these gentlemen no doubt strangled and sacrificed Irish industries, but there is no use in deploring their action unless you are ready in your generation to offer amends. I am afraid if 245 you go into Irish economic history neither English Free Traders nor English Protectionists, if they happen to be possessed of anything in the nature of a rudimentary conscience, could find either comfort or support. I do not know whether it may be thought proper in a new House dealing with such a subject to lapse into poetry, but there was an Irish poetess—not a political friend of ours—who recently summed us the case of English economic policy in this quatrain. Miss Emily Lawless writes:—Your decreesBade all her budding commerce cease.You drove her from your subject seasTo starve in peace.That was the economic policy of Great Britain. One consequence of that development in Ireland was the problem of unemployment. Remember that what is called emigration in Ireland is really a by-product of a special form of unemployment. You exported your problem of unemployment to the United States, and America to-day shows its gratitude to you by helping the party with which I am associated at a General Election, in spite of the sneers of certain gentlemen, even from Ireland, who, in the past, were not unwilling themselves even to go out as ambassadors for that purpose. Your exported unemployed from Ireland are helping us to continue this struggle for the prosperity and advancement of our country. The simple truth is this: Irish economic history offers no reason why we should support either English Protection or English Free Trade. The interests of Ireland were in one period sacrificed to the selfishness of Protection. They were in the next period sacrificed to the superstitions of Free Trade. The Navigation Acts, the legislation for the suppression of the woollen industry, indeed, all the laws of that period were active factors in Irish decay, while the famine of 1846 was a passive factor.
There are certain views continually put forward on behalf of the Tariff Reform party with regard to the recent economic history of Ireland, which I think ought to be corrected. It is constantly stated that the famine and the consequent decay of Irish agriculture were due solely to the policy of Free Trade. I for my part do not accept that view. I say there were other factors, and many other factors, which were working to that end besides the policy of Free Trade. There was landlordism, for instance. There was the most cruel and oppressive system of landlordism that any West European nation has ever 246 seen simultaneously in operation with the policy of Free Trade. There was, too, the competition, probably inevitable, with the great wheat fields and food-raising fields of the United States. A rough generalisation of our economic history amounts to this, that for the first eighty years of the eighteenth century Ireland was politically subject to this country—totally subject—without any vestige of self-government. She lived under a policy of what one may call inverted Protection, and she decayed. In the last twenty years of that century she had her own Parliament, which kept in operation a system of very mild Protection, and she prospered. Then you destroyed her Parliament. You gave her fifty years of Protection, and she continued to decay. Then you gave her fifty years of Free Trade, and the decay did not cease.
What is the moral of all that? The moral I draw from it is that the fundamental factor in the life of a nation is not the particular type of economic policy which may from time to time be adopted. The economic policy of any nation must always move within the limits of common-sense. What is fundamental in the life of a nation is this, that she should have the right and power to frame and direct her own economic policy for herself. We say to the Tariff Reformers construct and declare your Irish policy. Your writers in the Press have already begun to do it. Mr. Ellis Barker, who is your chief advocate in the Press, published an article in last month's issue of the "Nineteenth Century" which was not only interesting, but which may fairly be called sensational. I ask the attention of hon. Members to the following quotation from Mr. Ellis Barker's article. This is the alternative policy which that true-born Englishman offers to this country:—While the Liberal party offers Ireland once more the barren and worthless promise of an impossible Home Rule which is not in its gift, the Unionist party offers Ireland peace, prosperity, and independence.I invite Tariff Reformers to say, Do they offer us independence? If so, that creates an entirely new political situation. Then, again, I come to another article, published simultaneously in the "Fortnightly Review," by another true-born Englishman called I wan Muller:—The alternative—to Home Rule—is complete and absolute separation, not granted as a boon or a sop, but dealt out as a stern punishment for incurable ingratitude and secular disloyalty.Here there is a threat that if we continue to agitate for Home Rule separation will 247 be forced upon us. I invite hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway to tell us whether these separatist and disintegrating views are shared by their colleagues. What is the policy of the Tariff Reform party so far as Ireland is concerned? They had better hasten to discover some policy. I will tell them why. I understand that they expect to win the approaching election, whether on black bread, or black coffee, or a black list of the House of Lords, I really do not know, but, at any rate, they expect to win it. Have they looked forward to the Parliamentary situation that will follow a Tariff Reform victory at the polls? You will not get a big majority, for, after all, there are eighty votes or thereabouts representing Irish constituencies. Have you considered that point at all? If in the absence of the Home Secretary I may use a phrase with a Hibernian flavour in it, I will ask: Have you considered at all that the only thing that can defeat Tariff Reform is victory? Start to frame your tariff, and then trouble will begin. You have promised protection to every interest, and every interest will hold you to your word. When the Lobbying begins, when you have your dinner parties and your private conversations with regard to the framing of the Tariff Reform Budget, then it will be found that eighty Irish votes are a considerable element in the framing of The economic policies of this House. For that reason I would suggest to Tariff Reformers that, before this Amendment goes to a Division, they should try to work out their Irish policy. We shall be glad to hear from them to-morrow. By that time they will have had ample time to think it out. They cannot have put this mention of Ireland into this Amendment without some serious definite purpose. In the meantime, I can only say I hope when they come to frame their Tariff Reform Budget we shall not have so flagrant an example of shameless hypocrisy as is exhibited with regard to Irish interests in this year's Budget. I am opposed to the Free Trade Budget because it increases the over-taxation of Ireland. The Opposition deny that there is such a thing as the over-taxation of Ireland. During the ten years the Opposition were in power—the Opposition which now has its own economic policy and its own Budget to save Ireland—during the ten years following on the publication of the Report of the Financial Relations Commission that party increased the annual taxation of Ireland by more 248 than two millions sterling. I say their attitude up to the present, and I expect their attitude at present, is one of shameless hypocrisy. This Motion offers to Ireland a choice which is no choice at all. You do not offer, by this Amendment, to us a choice between an Irish economic policy of Free Trade directed from Dublin and an Irish policy of Protection directed from Dublin. You asked us to choose between the Birmingham school of Protection and the Manchester school of Free Trade. Neither Birmingham nor Manchester happens to be in Ireland. This is a choice for us, not between two remedies but between two diseases, and we choose neither. It is a choice that reminds me of a story I heard last summer in the Irish-speaking portion of the Glen of Antrim. There was at one time a Scotchman there—a princely Scotchman named Alastair Mac-Donnell—who came over to Ireland, and, like so many Scotchmen, forgot to go back. And after a rather successful career of piracy and depredation he was captured by the local Irish chieftain—alas! it cannot always be thus, but in this particular case he was—"And now," said the Irish chieftain, "you are a brave man, and I will give you an honoured choice." He then bared his sword, which was an extremely sharp and effective weapon, and he said, "Do you choose to be cloven in half, lengthwise or crosswise." We are asked by this Amendment whether we choose to decay under English Protection or English Free Trade. We choose neither.
We tell you fresh from our Constituencies, which have given the same verdict as has been given ever since you gave the ballot to the people of Ireland—we tell you that you can have no settled peace or stable prosperity in Ireland until the laws of Ireland are made by the people of Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman is concerned about the Colonies and about colonial opinion. Why does he not act upon colonial opinion with regard to Ireland? There stands to-day in the journal of the Dominion Parliament of Canada a resolution asking on behalf of Canada that you should give the same self-government to Ireland as that upon which the greatness of Canada has been built up. There stands in the journal of the Parliament of your great Australian Colony a resolution to the same effect. Why will you not concede to Ireland as a basis for her own economic development the same right, the same generous measure of justice which you have conceded to your Colonies? The 249 choice is yours, and I tell you that you will never have an empire founded on justice or linked together in friendship until you have set free in Ireland the same spirit of self-government and of self-direction which has made the greatness of your Colonial Empire. The choice is yours. For our part, whatever flag goes down in this constitutional struggle, it will not be the flag of Ireland. Governments come and Governments go, majorities crumble away, Parliaments and Ministers pass into oblivion. We in Ireland stand where we have stood. We are willing as regards this country to offer and accept friendship founded upon international justice, but so long as you maintain the present system which sacrifices Irish interests to English ignorance, so far as you deprive Ireland of a voice in the shaping of her own economic destiny, so long you will have the undying hostility of the great part of the people of Ireland.
§ Mr. R. THOMPSON
As the representative of a great industrial constituency, and as being connected with the industries of my native city, I would like to say a few words in support of the Amendment before the House. I am free to admit that in years long past Free Trade did a great deal in developing and enriching this country, but the conditions have changed, and we have not changed. At that time to which I have referred we were the manufacturers to the world. To-day the world wants to manufacture for us. Richard Cobden said that we would manufacture for the world and let the world feed us. To-day the world wants both to feed us and clothe us, and leave us no employment for our working population, but to provide them with unemployment, starvation, and pauperism. During the late election campaign, a Free Trade opponent of mine issued leaflets, in which he stated the wages paid to the working men in Germany and in France and in England, and he drew the inference from them that the English workmen were better off under Free Trade than the working men were in either of those protected countries Analysing those figures I find in round numbers that the hours of labour in protected countries were 12½ per cent. longer and the rate of wages practically 12½ per cent. lower than in England, which makes a difference of 25 per cent. in the cost of production of goods, and the inference is then clear in our minds, that we are undersold in our own markets, and these goods are dumped down at our doors at rates and 250 prices at which they could not be produced in this country. In 1898 and 1899, after the American panic, I regret to say the Belfast mills were then obliged to run short time to prevent a public catastrophe. The working people were reduced to twenty-seven hours per week, although their employers, with generosity, paid them for thirty-two hours. But during that same period tons of yarns made in foreign countries were "dumped" on our quays and introduced into the market. Surely that was very cruel to our working population, and yet at the same time these foreign countries were building their walls of protection higher and higher.
It is only about a year ago, as soon as the Germans increased their tariff, that the Board of Trade wrote to us in Belfast and asked us what we should do, and gave us particulars of the advances. We replied that we thought these unfair and unjust, but we felt that there was nothing to do, because we had nothing to offer in return. These advances were carried out notwithstanding the protests of the Board of Trade, who very properly protested, and no doubt showed very considerable activity in looking after the interests of Belfast and other manufacturing centres all over the country. The American Government about a year ago introduced a measure by which they said they wished to revise and reduce their tariff. They did revise it, and they reduced it in regard to a few things of which they hold a clear monopoly, but they advanced it on some goods which I manufacture by 15 per cent., and that is the revision and reduction that took place. France has at present under consideration in the Chamber of Deputies another advance in their tariffs. The Board of Trade very kindly gave us particulars some time ago, and the change has not yet been brought into active operation, but no doubt it is on its way. It is to defend ourselves against these things that I personally support the Amendment which is before the House.
Some years ago, when the first international Paris Exhibition was held, I was one of the jurors on behalf of Great Britain to help in awarding the prizes. We had a number of foreign gentlemen assembled on the occasion, and I told them—there were some members of the French Chamber of Deputies among them—that if they continued to twist the British lion's tail as they had been doing by building their tariff walls, John Bull would some day wake up and retaliate. A 251 large manufacturer from Switzerland—Zurich—followed me, and he said, "When England puts on a tariff on foreign silks I will be in London the following day to build a new factory for their production." That is what we want for our unemployment. Unemployment is the canker-worm which is eating out our life. We may have the establishment of Labour Exchanges, and I do not object to them in their proper place, but they do not provide employment. It has been said on the other side of the House that they have had a great many entries, and I was anxious to know on which side the entries were—whether they were entries of men wanting employment or entries of employers seeking labourers. I happen to be Chairman of the Docks and Harbour Board in Belfast, and during the past winter we inaugurated relief works to give employment to enormous numbers of working men whom we knew to be in idleness and practically starving. Morning, noon and night those men were with me at my place of business to get letters to introduce them to this work. They were not satisfied to wait for information through the ordinary channels, but they came to me soliciting my influence and telling me details of how long they had been unemployed, the misery of their families, and tales of starvation. It was difficult to listen to these tales without a tearing at the heart-strings.
It is for this reason that we ask for Tariff Reform, and we protest against the importing of goods into this country when our own workmen are there to manufacture these goods. I cannot think that this House will turn a deaf ear to the Amendment proposed by the right hon. Gentleman. If it does it is clear to my mind that more manufacturers will go to foreign countries and build mills. A good many have gone already, but more will follow. I paid a visit to the United States during last summer, and when I saw the extraordinary state of prosperity there behind the high tariff walls I confess I could hardly refrain from undertaking to build a mill in America for the extension of my own industry. It is therefore on behalf of these unemployed working men in the City of Belfast that I appeal to the House to accept this Amendment which has been proposed to-night. I believe that we have in Belfast one of the most industrious, loyal, and devoted set of workpeople in the world. I wish to do all I can to benefit them, and feeling that 252 I have been largely sent here by working men's votes, I wish to use any little influence which I possess in their interests so that they shall be continued in their employment in the City of Belfast.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
I rise to offer a few words on behalf of the Labour party in opposition to the Amendment. I think it will be almost unnecessary to follow the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Austen Chamberlain) through all the extraordinary economic arguments which he used in the course of his speech. He began, however, by informing the House that the King's Speech was nearly barren. The only contribution he made to the barrenness was to put a morass in the middle of it. But with certain economic generalities to which he gave expression, and which show very considerably the influence of Socialist theory and opinion, I, for one, have no cause to utter complaint. For instance, when be told us there was not a sufficient number of people upon the soil we perfectly agree, but why are not people upon the soil? We have been told that if you are going to start a system of Protection which will bring people back upon the soil it is not enough that you should put a shilling or two shillings a quarter on wheat, but something like ten shillings or more. Does the right hon. Gentleman mean to tell us that he is prepared to impose that impost? If he is not, then, according to the authorities upon his own side of the House, his proposition is not sufficient to bring the people back upon the soil. If he is, I should be exceedingly obliged if he would make it perfectly clear. But why are not the people upon the soil? Perhaps if he will go to the chairman of the agricultural section of the Tariff Reform League he would get the information. That gentleman would describe to him the process of the Kildonan clearances when the house of Sutherland cleared the glens and valleys of the people then living there. If he wants further instances he has only to go to certain estates in Aberdeenshire and take the history of them during the last three or four years, and then he will find, in case after case, cottars and small tenants, whose people have been there for generations, cleared out because these lands were required for the extension of shooting estates. I am delighted that at last he has come to apply his mind to the very important national problem of the paucity of people upon the soil and the overcrowding of the people in the towns. He will discover 253 that that is owing to the system of landlordism which he is attempting to bolster up.
From that he went on to bemoan, and I join with him most heartily in bemoaning, the fact that no sooner were labour exchanges open than large crowds of decent and honest workmen went to register their names there. I wonder if he has ever seen the operations of a German labour exchange? The last time I was in a German labour exchange I went across the courtyard to see the skilled labour exchange, and I found that there was such a block of people registering their names in the books on the various floors of that exchange that I could not conveniently get up the stairs until the block was cleared. The English side of the picture is perfectly true, deplorably true. As a matter of fact, if the right hon. Gentleman had cared to make it blacker he could honestly and truly have made it blacker. The only thing that I and my colleagues complain of is that he did not give us the other side and paint precisely the same picture for Germany and America. He then went on to tell us that investments were going. I am not so sure about it, but might I suggest to him one reason why investments are going—the absurd criticisms which have been recently made from these Benches opposite about the designs of his Majesty's Government. Hon. Gentlemen scoff. They are scoffing at the very arguments used by their own leaders. Their leaders are always telling us that there is nothing more sensitive to the expression of public opinion than the capital of this country. I agree. I have been one of those who have listened and watched events during the last two or three years with a great deal of trouble and pain. A month or two ago a member of another place confessed that when a would-be investor came to him and told him doleful stories about British credit, he gave us to understand that he never put in a good word for British credit. What would anyone who has capital to invest do under such circumstances as these? Hon. Members, knowingly or unknowingly I do not know, wittingly or unwittingly I am not going to say, during the last five or six years, throughout this Tariff Reform campaign, have done more to damage British credit, to lower British prestige and to hamper British trade than the most Socialistic Budget that could possibly be introduced. I am not talking about things I do not know anything about. I have heard expressions of opinion in places as far removed 254 as New Zealand, Australia, India and Germany. Men of business in New Zealand and India, trading with this country, have asked me whether it was true or not, as had been said by Tariff Reformers, that British credit was on its last legs, and that British industry required something special to bolster it up. If the argument, and I agree with it, is sound, that industry, capital, and credit are the most sensitive things of our social organisation, I think they might just draw the picture a little less dolefully, and they might just remember that their partisan criticisms are having a very damaging effect upon British trade and British credit.
One further point. The right hon. Gentleman has been very profuse in telling us about his desires. He says "we do not desire to hamper British trade, and it is not our object to raise the price of food." I am not in the least interested in his desires or in his objects. I am just as much interested in the desires and objects of Halley's comet as in the desires and objects of His Majesty's Opposition. You can do anything you like with any desire you like, but the important thing is the doing of it, and not the desire that you have in your mind. I may have a great desire to go across the Floor and, say, remove the right hon. Gentleman's head, and assure him at the same time that I have no desire to terminate his life. I am afraid if I removed his head my other desire would not count for very much in face of the laws of nature. If they propose taxes upon food and raw materials I do not care what their desire is, but I will tell you what the result is going to be. The result is going to be that the prices of food and raw materials are going to rise, and the consequence of that is that the condition of our people will be worse than it now is, and British industry will be more limited in its operation. Finally, in a general way, the right hon. Gentleman apparently quite seriously looked across to us and smilingly said, that the German social democrats are laughing at us because we are in favour of Free Trade, and are actually using us to play the game of the German manufacturers in keeping an open door for themselves in this country. I do not quite know how to criticise it.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that they were in league with the German manufacturers in egging us on to remain in the darkness of Free Trade in order that the doors of Great Britain might be open to their produce. If that was not the case I will not develop the argument. But even in the amended form of the statement there is not a single member of this party who has said anything about the condition of German working-class life who has not got his information directly from some trade union official or Member of the Reichstag belonging to the Labour party. Take, for instance, the statement that the German Labour party is in favour of Protection. We received a special letter from the Secretary of the Federation of German Trade Unions upon Free Trade, and that letter stated most distinctly that the German working classes were not in favour of the Protection that is being practised in Germany at the present time. This, also, is an official statement, not the same to which I have referred, but one that has also been circulated. The "Vorwaerts" of 16th December, 1906, just before the election, made a long statement, from which this is a sentence, and, curiously enough, the things recited in the sentence are precisely the things that the right hon. Gentleman himself referred to, I think, in connection with the Brassmakers' Report:—Not only meat, but bread, butter, eggs, and above all milk, the principal food of our children, have risen greatly in price already, and the leaders of agrarian organisations are already considering how they can further take advantage of the situation in order to make life still harder for the poor and the very poor in town and country.That is the German official working-class opinion, so far as that opinion can be given officially. We are very much obliged, however, to the right hon. Gentleman and the party opposite for raising this question straightaway. I admit perfectly freely that they played a pretty good card at the election. They raised the question of unemployment—an excellent card—only when they criticise His Majesty's Government for following in our footsteps again will they please remember that the best card they played at the election was taken from us. What did they say about unemployment, and, after all, this is the great point of this Amendment. They started the election by making themselves responsible for the statement that Tariff Reform meant work for all. They will not say that now. They cannot say it here. [An HON. MEMBER: "It was repudiated."] Yes, they repudiated it after a very convenient 256 time had elapsed, during which it had fructified and its work had been done. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where was it?"] It was placarded in every constituency I visited. It has been in the forefront of one of the largest circulated newspapers which advocates the policy of the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. Practically every paid agent of the Tariff Reform League who addressed open-air meetings in the country—and I heard a good many of them with my own ears—made the statement. Then it was contradicted, and the fact that it had to be contradicted showed that it had been used.
Then there was a magnificent poster, full of human sympathy, which depicted the terrible condition of an unemployed workman, and that was labelled "Free Trade." I venture to say that there is not a single hon. Member on the benches opposite who does not know very well that that picture could be reproduced in France and in Germany, and with emphasis and added darkness in America. [OPPOSITION cries of "No."] Hon. Members know it perfectly well. Why, we could have photographs produced depicting the actual condition of things in those countries. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the Chinese labour poster?"] Hon. Gentlemen objected very much to that poster, and I am bound to compliment them on the apt way in which they became pupils of what they called a vicious political method, when they placarded the constituencies with the poster to which I have referred. What right had they to use that poster in the way they did? The only right they could have had for using it would have been if they had put on it the words, "Tariff Reform would blacken the picture rather than lighten it."
There is one thing certain to follow upon Tariff Reform. I heard the President of the Board of Trade say this afternoon that one of the peculiar methods of the Tariff Reform agitator is to take a particular constituency, like Bermondsey, and to say, "We will give you 25 per cert. upon your leather," and then to take another constituency, like Leicester, which I represent, and to say, "Oh, no, leather is raw material, you are interested in the manufacture of boots and shoes, and, therefore, we will say nothing in Leicester, or as little as we possibly can, and only so far as we are compelled to do so by opposition candidates, and when we are compelled we will say that we will impose about 5 per cent. at the outside." I heard a Tariff Reform lecturer in Sheffield say that 257 25 per cent. was the minimum duty which would be levied on leather, and I heard another lecturer in Leicester state that on no account would Tariff Reform impose more than 5 per cent. on leather, which is the raw material used by boot and shoe operatives. If they had come to London to appeal to the professional and business classes I suppose they would have said that boots and shoes are a raw material for stockbrokers and clerks, and that they would only impose a duty of 5 per cent. One thing comes clear out of the world's experience of Tariff Reform. I do not care whether if is Colonial experience, which is different from European experience, or American experience, which again is different from Colonial experience. The one thing that comes clear out of it is that Tariff Reform or Protection is an essential condition of the successful operation of monopoly. The right hon. Gentleman said, perfectly truly again, that one of the conditions under which trusts in America have developed their present colossal proportions is, first of all, the weakness of the central legislative authority. I am not quite sure that he had in his mind the weakness of the legislature in relation to the judiciary. I think he omitted that. But he made mention of the weakness of the Central Federal authority in relation to the State authority in applying the laws which the Federal authority has passed for the purpose of dealing with trusts. That is only stating half of the case. These unfortunate political conditions in the American Constitution are operating under economic conditions which exaggerate them in the worst way they can possibly be exaggerated. A bad political constitution is worked alongside of a bad economic constitution, and the result is that you have such places as Pittsburg and the Steel Trust, the Beef Trust, and various other trusts.
From monopoly what follows? The first thing is that prices increase, and not that wages increase. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer used words outside with which I disagree when he likened the taker of economic rent to a blackmailer. I think the word was unfortunately chosen. We cannot blame the man who is in a position to take economic rent. He always takes the maximum he can get, and the maximum goes up and up as economic monopoly becomes more and more perfect, and consequently the first result of Tariff Reform would be to increase the rent-roll of this country. One naturally expects to find the large landowners, 258 representative here, or non-representative in another place, voting in favour of Tariff Reform, and, moreover, one expects to find a certain class of capitalists voting in favour of Tariff Reform—men who are in a financial position to corner particular industrial interests which can be easily formed into trusts, and which they can operate for their own advantage, provided that they are protected by a tariff wall. Therefore, higher prices and higher rents are, first of all, essentially and absolutely certain results of a policy of Tariff Reform. I have very often asked the Tariff Reform League to publish a list of their subscribers, but they have never replied. [An HON. MEMBER: "And the sums subscribed."] No, we do not want the sums; we just want the names of the subscribers. It would be one of the most illuminating documents ever issued by the League. The fact of the matter is that a large number of capitalists who are subscribing to that League are simply making investments of their money. The success of Tariff Reform will mean that they will get back the bread which they are now casting upon the waters. So far as landowners are concerned, and particularly landowners about towns, they know very well that the first effect of Tariff Reform will be to raise the monopoly potentiality of land, and that by raising the monopoly potentiality their rent rolls are going to be increased. I do not blame these two classes of persons for being handsome subscribers to the League.
I heard the Leader of the Opposition refer in his speech to the uncertainty of Parliamentary government and to certain peculiarities of this Parliament. There is just one little question I would like to ask. What is the price of each man's place in this House? That is a very important point, and it is very germane to my present argument. We have had a great deal of outside agitation and expenditure of money. Every man in this House during the last few days and during the next week or two will be, I suppose, with the conscience of a gentleman, and I hope also the honesty of one, subscribing his name to a document declaring to the best of his belief that the statement of his election expenses contains a full record of every penny spent in advancing his candidature. It is absolutely impossible for 75 per cent. of the Members of this House to make that declaration in a spirit of honesty. [An HON. MEMBER: "Speak for yourself."] I hope it is perfectly clear that I am not standing here as a sort of spotless angel 259 in this matter. If there has been misunderstanding about this, remove it straight away from your minds. The conditions under which elections are conducted have become such that practically every man in this House has been aided in his candidature by outside expenditure, and he knew it perfectly well. The Free Trade Union, the Free Trade League, the Tariff Reform League, and other agencies less reputable and desirable, have been spending money on his behalf. There is not a single man in the House who went through a contest who does not know it. There is not a single man who went through a contest who does not know perfectly well that these expenses have not been included in the document to which I refer. According to the letter of the law they do not require to be included, but according to the spirit of the law they ought to be included in order that we may know how much each man spent in obtaining a seat in this House.
I will leave other speakers to deal with the Colonial side of the question of Tariff Reform. Do not let anybody labour under the misapprehension that Colonial preference as stated by Colonial Preferentialists in this country is accepted by any substantial body of public opinion in the Colonies. First of all the Colonies have made it perfectly clear that they do not want to force our hands. Sir Wilfrid Laurier and leading Ministers in Canada have said over and over again that they repudiate the assertion that they want a bargaining with this country. Surely if our Colonies are embarking on a method of Protection the least thing they can do is to give us preference under that scheme of Protection. Are we going to encourage them to think that there is no advantage whatever in keeping up the Imperial tie? I have never said there is no advantage in that, Little Englander though I may be called.
There is an enormous benefit to our Colonies in the simple fact that the Imperial tie is there. They get cheaper money and cheaper credit. They are protected, and in a thousand and one important and insignificant ways all along the gamut the Imperial tie is a benefit to our Colonies. Therefore if our Colonies are going to depart from the system of Free Trade surely the very least they could be expected to do would be to give us a preference under their protective schemes. 260 But when that is done do not let us imagine for a single moment that the Colonies are going to hamper themselves to the extent of a brass farthing in order to give us a special preference against themselves. Go to Canada and see that. Go and preach that doctrine, say, in front of Mr. George in Toronto. Go to New Zealand and preach it to Liberal, Conservative, or Labour audiences. Do the same in Australia. Why they would laugh at you. If some of the speeches which we heard this evening, or which we hear delivered on Tariff Reform platforms in this country, were only delivered by word of mouth in the Colonies the Colonial Press and Colonial public opinion would very soon enlighten the gentlemen who use these arguments and would let them know that they did not understand what the Colonies want.
Take the case of Australia. When Australia introduced an Imperial Preference Bill in September, 1906, I took the trouble to analyse the effect of the Bill, and if the House will pardon me for quoting something which I have written myself, I will do so because the point is put more briefly than if I were to restate it in fresh language. On 2nd May, 1907, I wrote a letter to "The Times," in which I analysed that Bill, and this is the conclusion:—It thus appears from a detailed examination of the so-called Preference Bill that it gives a real preference in respect of goods valued at £226,000 a partial preference on goods valued at £174,000, and it actually raises the duties mainly in favour of the Australian manufacturer on goods valued at £468,000.This Imperial Preference Bill actually meant that the duty was raised against English produce on goods amounting to £460,000, and that English produce was only benefited on goods amounting to £226,000. I do not want to say anything more about it, but that simply illustrates the method of the Colonies. They are going to develop themselves first and foremost, and they are perfectly right in doing it. A friendly Government, friendly, public opinion on our side, a careful use of the Imperial sentiment, and some high sense of public responsibility on our part will induce the Colonies to give us that preference which it is perfectly proper and perfectly possible for them to give us, because they have adopted a system of Protection, but it is idle to begin to talk about bargaining, to talk about obtaining the best bargain, and about giving in order that we may take, and about tying them up and fixing them up. Why, in Canada the very first thing would be that you 261 would begin to drive the Canadian farmer of the West against the Canadian manufacturer of the East, as has happened already. Winnipeg and Toronto are taking up two absolutely different points of view in Imperial Preference. They are constantly discussing this question, and the more we talk about it and the more we fight about it the more danger there will be to Canadian loyalty. The same thing will happen in New Zealand and Australia.
On the point of unemployment, which, I understand, is the main reason for introducing this Amendment, I notice that the right hon. Gentleman, waving his arms around him with very justifiable pride, said, "You will not get such a majority in favour of Free Trade now as you got four years ago." In all parts of the country, save in one or two striking, because so exceptional instances, every industrial section of the country is firm for Free Trade, as firm as it was four years ago. Scotland is even firmer, Lancashire is firmer, Yorkshire is as firm. The North East Coast is practically as firm; Birmingham remains true—it must be a source of great personal pride to the right hon. Gentleman—Birmingham and the adjoining district remain true to Tariff Reform; but further south in the Midlands we are as sound as we were before. We are as firm as we were before, and we are going to remain as firm so long as this is an issue before us. London has disappointed your expectations. You have got the constituencies where it is perfectly plain the plural voter has determined the issue. Well, there is the issue raised—the plural voter against the industrial voter. If we had two votes to compensate us for the labour for which we were never paid, then I am afraid we should have shown a totally different result in the last election. But those who have two votes to express profits which they never earned are, of course, in a position of political superiority, and I am perfectly certain that the right hon. Gentleman will quite understand, remembering his own Radical days, that we somewhat discount the influence of such a verdict. But, again, I come back to this point: "What is the use of describing our evils alone?"
The hon. Member who delivered that interesting speech, which preceded my own (Mr. R. Thompson), very eloquently and feelingly referred to those ills. But what is the use of that? The world is not Great Britain. We have other places from 262 which we can take our experience. Take Germany. The figure of 2 per cent. was worked out on the English basis by one of our very best authorities on economics, who proved that the 2 per cent. represents 8 per cent. on the English basis. Yet even last year the unemployed percentage here was only 7.3. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who is the authority?"] The authority is Professor Chapman, of Manchester. Have hon. Gentlemen forgotten such demonstrations as the demonstration of Corey's army of unemployed in America? Have they forgotten the time when Chicago Town Hall was crowded out by men who had nowhere to lay their heads, and they had to leave the Town Hall open in order that they might manage to have a night's sleep on the bare stones of the pavement of the hall? Moreover, might I just quote something a little bit more recent than that? There was a Member of the other place who came back from America the other day and made the astounding statement that he did not see a single idle man in America. I am not quite sure where that gentleman spent his time, but a very eminent American publicist writes as follows. Commenting on that, he says:—If he had put a two line advertisement in any of the New York dailies offering employment to, say, a carpenter, he would hare had ten out-of-work applicants coming to his door. If he had advertised for a competent salesman or clerk or for a skilled girl typist, he would have been amazed and heart sick to find how many he would have had to turn away… In the mining regions and the mill and factory centres, he would have learned, if he learned the truth, that even in times of feverish activity—The very case that was put by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. A. Chamberlain) this evening, when he pointed out that there was unemployment even when trade was good—employers could pick and choose out of the numbers asking for employment, and that the men above forty are neglected or discarded for the younger ones… If he had gone to the Departments of Public Charities, he would have seen an increasing number of applicants for aid, and reference to the latest report of the private and voluntary Charity Organisation Society of New York, would confront him with the fact that 8 per cent. more persons asked for private aid this year than last year, although last year was a very bad year. These are not casual happenings, but common facts to any but the purblind… Go into the public schools and see the increasing number of children that have to be given a breakfast out of public or private charity—a thing unknown in the nation but a short time ago.Will hon. Members, in pursuing the study which the right hon. Gentleman said so truly we all should pursue a little further, kindly give their attention to Germany and to America? I venture to say that, when they have done so, they would discover this, that precisely the same evils of unemployment that are troubling us here are showing themselves 263 in Germany and America under different conditions and possibly in a different form, but they are creating exactly the same kind of problem, at any rate, which the unemployed here have created for us to solve. Moreover, the people of Germany do not want Protection. Why is there so much bloodshed in the streets of the larger Prussian towns at the present moment? It is not because of any alteration of the franchise. Everybody who knows German politics knows that. Everybody knows perfectly well that the whole system of German constitutional government is based upon a special Prussian franchise, and that that franchise has got direct economic consequences. That franchise established the Junker régime. That is the régime that keeps Protection in its present form in Germany. The Prussian Junker knows perfectly well that when the existing classification of the franchise disappears in Prussia, then you are going to have for the first time in the history of the German Empire a real democratic Government of Germany. He knows that perfectly well, and one of the chief reasons why he is opposed to the introduction of democratic government, as Dr. von Bethman-Hollweg candidly confessed the other day in introducing his Bill, is that he is afraid of the economic changes that will follow. Take America: The right hon. Gentleman must know when he talks about America to-day that the three serious candidates for the Presidency at the last Presidential election all committed themselves to a substantial reduction of the existing tariff.
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
None of them would have anything to do with our system of free imports; and the same applies to Germany also.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
That is a matter of one's own experience and knowledge; and the information that one can draw from one's own knowledge of the German Empire, and more particularly the German people, leads me honestly and candidly to say this, that in Germany you would have Free Trade within a very short time if you had democracy in Germany. I have been at conferences in Germany attended by representatives of electors who numbered at the last election over 3,000,000, and every one of those gentlemen was in favour of Free Trade.
My Friend the Member for Norwich just reminds me that seventy of them attached their names to a manifesto in favour of Free Trade. I quite admit that not one 264 of the three candidates for the Presidency committed themselves to Free Trade, but they confessed that Protection was not doing for America what they hoped that it would do. They all confessed that Protection, as it is now working out in America, has hampered American industries, and that if America is going to capture some of the neutral markets of the world she must have the benefit of freer trade; by that I mean freer imports, because until she has that benefit England can cut her out on all the neutral markets. It is a very curious thing that, although so much is said by Tariff Reformers as regards the beneficial influence of Tariff Reform on unemployment, there is not a single Labour party in the whole world that takes up that attitude. Sometimes we are delighted, we are immensely amused, by manifestoes issued by the Tariff Reform League signed by trade union leaders. Those of us who know the trade union ranks have a very high respect for many of those gentlemen, and we always desire to speak respectfully of our confrères, but their utter inability to speak for anybody has been one of the most extraordinary characteristics of those trade unionists who have signed Tariff Reform appeals. We have heard a great deal about the Australian Labour party and Protection. I believe that hon. and right hon. Members opposite really believe that the Australian Labour party gives countenance to their propaganda. Really that is not so. The Labour party in Australia has deliberately by resolution, year after year, rejected the Protection that the right hon. Gentleman wants to impose upon us, and so much is that the case that they refuse to call themselves Protectionists, and they refuse to call their policy Protection, because they are very anxious to differentiate between themselves and Protectionists here and in America. Therefore they call themselves the New Protectionists and their policy the New Protection. That is perfectly true. [Laughter.] I hear that my hon. Friend opposite is laughing because, I suppose, he knows what a ridiculous thing the New Protection is. I am perfectly sure he will agree with me. The New Protection is this: The Australian people say, "We are going to keep out English goods." Let me say parenthetically that nine times out of ten, when you find that goods are to be kept out they specify English goods. Candidates at the election talked to their Constituents over and over again about English engines and English 265 machines coming in. They say, "By all means keep out English goods, but if you only do that you raise rents, you increase profits, and you raise prices."
They say, "That is European Protection and American Protection, and that is no good." Then they say, "We will establish a Wages Board, so as to get something like a legislative decree that the men who produce shall also benefit by the increased prices." Having done that, however, they say further, "But that is not satisfactory," because, after the experience of ten or twelve or more years they discovered—as one of the ablest Labour representatives of the Upper House of New Zealand expressed it the other day—that it did not seem of economic advantage to them because prices were going up, and even their higher wages are lower in value than wages used to be. So they are going to supplement the scheme—they are going round the circle. Now they are demanding that a "Prices Board" shall be created, so that a trade union official, sitting alongside a member of the masters' federation, or a judge, shall be able to say, "Here is a pound of sugar, it cost so much to produce, so much to transport—there shall be a fair profit on the capital sum expended over the whole process, and that, added together, gives the cost, and we shall prosecute and fine anybody who sells it above a certain figure." That is Protection. It is just the sort of grandiose futility that marks all Tariff Reform schemes. What is the reason of unemployment? It is perfectly simple. First of all we produce for a limited market, not for all time, but at the moment, and for that limited market we have a practically unlimited producing force. You have John Smith and Tom Brown, and all the rest of them producing, and producing without regulation, without consultation, without common knowledge of what they are doing, and all assuming that each one is going to capture the whole of the market. For a certain time it goes on all very merrily, spirits are buoyant, credit is good, and nobody is frightened. Somebody comes and makes a Tariff Reform speech, and everybody becomes frightened, and there is immediately a shock to credit. One of the most fruitful causes of trade depression is psychological and not economic, and when everybody becomes afraid they put their hands in their pockets frightened that the last sixpence will go. Tariff Reformers have contributed more to that state of things than has any other cause.
266 Then what you have got is that the productive machinery is kept working on the assumption that there will be employment for everybody irrespective of the possibility of consumption falling. For instance, during the cotton boom manufacturers advertised for hands in Liverpool, Norfolk, and the Midlands, and brought them all in, and they all produced. Then suddenly people, in a curious, mysterious, and miraculous way, all made up their minds that the market was over-stocked, and depression came. When that state of things exist the machines are thrown out of gear, the factories become silent, and as the workpeople are no longer making wages, they do not consume, and the depression becomes deeper and deeper. It is not the volume but the intermittent nature of trade that is at the bottom of our unemployment difficulty. Tariff Reform, according to the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment, is going to affect the volume of trade. I listened to his speech very carefully, because I had this point in my mind, to see if he had any glimmering of the fact that the regularity of the flow has just as much to do with unemployment as the shallowness of the stream itself. He had not. The only point he made, and which he emphasised over and over again, was that Tariff Reform would increase the volume, whereas, as a matter of fact, you may increase the volume as much as you like, but the volume, by being merely increased, will never solve the problem of unemployment in this country. My second point is this. A redistribution of wealth is required, and that is the very foundation of the whole business. What happens is this. When trade depression comes along a large number of people are put in the position which makes them incapable of consuming. A man with nothing in his pocket can be of no economic benefit—I am simply talking of the time being. He can become hungry, but he cannot employ anybody. He can become naked, but the cannot employ anybody. He may have nothing to sit upon, nothing to eat, nothing to lie down upon, but he cannot employ anybody to minister to his wants. Surely it stands to reason and to common-sense that whatever party is going to deal with the unemployment problem with that thoroughness which the right hon. Gentleman claims to deal with it, must deal with the question of the redistribution of wealth, because, whilst you have large classes of the community, as it were, put out of gear, outlawed, put out from the economic market, I argue 267 you will have facing you, under whatever form of Protection you adopt, or Free Trade, all the fundamental problems of unemployment.
You have to get the people on to the land; you have to get an increased share of wealth for the people; you have to increase their wages; you have to knock off the non-producers in society; in other words, the time has come when the Tariff Reformer must recognise—he will recognise it if he pursues the study so admirably begun by the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon—the time must come when the Tariff Reformer, pursuing and applying himself to the general principles of ethical economics, will arrive at the conclusion that one of the fundamental problems of unemployment is the problem of the man who, when he has work, has not enough to provide for tiding over a rainy day and a period of unemployment. The first step is to carefully differentiate between the people who possess because they have earned, and the people who have because they own monopolies enabling them to take from the community values that the community have earned. Then, again, what can Tariff Reform do to meet that part of this unemployed problem which is caused by local displacement of labour? Take the case of Leicester again. In Leicester we have undergone during the last ten or fifteen years an industrial revolution. Machinery has been introduced, and a local displacement has taken place. I am not one of those who say that machinery displaces labour in a general sense, but it does locally for a time. Change of labour takes place, women do men's labour, and child labour takes the place of adult labour. All that would go on under Tariff Reform precisely as now. Intermittent industry will be experienced under Tariff Reform, and you will still substitute boys for men and girls for women. You will still have to face every particular aspect and characteristic of the unemployment problem that presents itself to you to-day, even if you have Tariff Reform to-morrow, and were able to enjoy it for fifty years in succession. You have got to come back to the Labour party's view. The Labour party's Right to Work Bill is, after all, the one substitute for the Amendment which has been moved this afternoon. You have to get the people back to the land. You have to develop the idea of afforestation. 268 Afforestation alone in ten years would do more for unemployment than Tariff Reform would do in fifty years. I will tell you why. I have figures here—I give them with all reserve—which come from a very great authority on the subject. The hon. Member for Leith Burghs (Mr. Munro Ferguson) who, as a practical sylviculturist, I think, is accepted by all the people of this country, has given these figures, that in the deer forests you employ one man for every 4,000 acres. If those forests are turned into wood forests you employ one man for every 100 acres, coming down to one man for every twenty-five acres, as the forests mature. That alone would be a bigger contribution to the problem of unemployment than Tariff Reform would make in fifty years. You have also to insure the unemployed as the Government propose to do. You have got to deal with your permanent unemployed, our old people, as we have been doing at Hollesley Bay with the small holdings attached to it. I hope the hon. Member, who laughs, will just pay a visit to Hollesley Bay and see the magnificent work that is being done there at the present moment on the small holdings there. When you have done that with your land, redistribute your wealth by a more scientific system of taxation than you have now got—a system which has been begun in the Budget. When you are able to make steady the consuming capacity as well as the producing capacity of the people then you will have begun seriously and earnestly to face the unemployed problem. Tariff Reformers are laying down the proposition that you produce more if your raw material becomes more costly, that you will get more work if you limit the markets that are open to you, that you will have more comfort at home if you depreciate the purchasing power of wages, and that you will have more freedom for the worker under an economic system under which capital and monopoly would be able to threaten trade unionism more successfully than they can do now. I say that is an absurd string of opposites to which the Tariff Reform advocates are absolutely and hopelessly committed. I have the greatest pleasure in saying that the party to which I belong will heartily and unanimously go into the Lobby against this Amendment.
§ Mr. A. D. STEEL-MAITLAND
Perhaps I may claim that indulgence of the House which, I am told, it always accords to any 269 Member who ventures to address it for the first time. I am quite sure that the more that any new Member realises either the condition of this House or the new problems that are brought before it the greater must be his reluctance to address it because of that fact. At the same time may I perhaps lay a special claim for the indulgence of the hon. Member for Leicester, who has just spoken, as well as some other hon. Members opposite. The City of Birmingham, for which I am one of the Members, has been singled out by the hon. Member for Leicester, and, if I may say so, by other hon. Members, even in the very highest quarters, for expressions of indulgence, almost amounting to pity, because of the exceptional position and economic opinions which that city holds. I am afraid that that particular city does not need the indulgence or the pity, and perhaps does not fully appreciate it either. So I would only ask the hon. Member kindly to transfer the same indulgence to its junior representative.
I think that the House will perhaps agree that many of the statements we have just heard are statements which have been made without the facts or the arguments to support them. One statement made by the hon. Member for Leicester was that he believed in any constituency he visited the walls had been placarded with the placard, "Tariff Reform Means Work for All." The constituency that I represent was honoured with a visit by the hon. Member, and I challenge him to find or to give proof of one single placard having been exhibited throughout the constituency. I challenge him to give proof that, at any rate within my knowledge, that statement was ever made in the constituency. I can only assert to him that at any of the meetings at which I was present while I definitely stated our belief that the policy of Tariff Reform would mitigate the problem of unemployment, we never, any of us, pretended either that it was a full measure of remedy for unemployment or that it should be taken without any of the other measures of which the hon. Member himself approves. I think the same criticism might apply to one or two of the other statements which were made by the hon. Member in the course of his speech. We were told that a Tariff Reform was the pre-essential to monopoly. We are inclined perhaps to ask the treasurer of the Free Trade Union whether such is the case, or, on the other hand, we would be inclined to ask any economist who has really dealt with 270 the question of monopolies, whether a low tariff as distinct from a high one is ever likely to lead to an extension of the monopolistic principle?
It was stated that under a policy of Tariff Reform it was intended to tax raw materials and cause a rise in prices. I would like, and perhaps some other hon. Members on this side would like to know what responsible member or candidates of the Tariff Reform party ever proposed to tax raw materials as such. In many articles there is a certain proportion, if I may say so, of manufacture, and just as in other countries duty may be put on in proportion to the amount of manufacture already expended on them; but that raw materials as such should be taxed with the consequent enhancement of price has, I believe, never been advocated by any member of the Tariff Reform party. May I say that the hon. Member himself distinguished between raw materials in the manufacture of food, and we were distinguishing between those on the same principle as he did himself. With the indulgence of the House I may be allowed to go into two points that are mentioned in this Amendment. The first relates to an enlarged market for British and Irish produce, and the increased demand for labour which those on this side of the House trust may follow from a policy of Tariff Reform. We heard the statement just now that a policy of Tariff Reform must inevitably lead to an enhancement of prices, and, if I have read the speeches of hon. Members on the other side aright, both previously in the old House of Commons and also in the country, I believe that in those speeches Free Traders would deny either that there will be an enlarged market for produce or that there will be really an increased demand for labour under a measure of Tariff Reform.
Their reasoning seems to be that there will be an enhancement of prices under a new fiscal system, and that that enhancement will lead to a burden on the consumer, whether he be a private individual consuming the goods, or whether he be a manufacturer using them in his production, and that consequently though some trades may benefit, yet, taking the country as a whole, there will be rather a restriction in the market than an enlargement—rather a decrease than an increase in the demand for labour. That seems to be one of the fundamental arguments, if I have stated it clearly, of the whole of the Free Trade party at present. Those 271 of us who have given our best time to the subject venture to say we believe that that argument is entirely devoid of foundation when it is tested under the analysis of modem conditions and of economics applied to modern conditions, whether viewed from a business point of view or the point of view of theory. It has been stated in many speeches throughout the election by the Prime Minister, and by the Home Secretary, and others, that either under a Tariff Reform system we shall get our protection or we shall get our revenue, but not both on the same goods. It stands to reason, if the goods still come in under a moderate system of tariffs, that at any rate we shall get our revenue. But supposing that a moderate system of tariffs operates protectively, and causes the goods to be made in this country, instead of abroad as heretofore, the Home Secretary in his speeches has said that in that case no doubt you may get the goods made here, but at the same time while you do not get your revenue you do get an enhancement of prices.
What is the actual result of goods being made here instead of abroad? You get the employment, as the Home Secretary in his speeches in Lancashire admitted, but you get the revenue as well. If anyone will examine the branches of the national revenue, the great bulk comes from the Income Tax and the Death Duties, both of which are derived from profits on manufactures in this country. From what source are the great bulk of the consumed commodities derived but from the employment of men and from their weekly earnings in the manufactures that are carried on in this country, or by the distribution that depends on them. Consequently, if a moderate duty operates protectively in order to get manufactures carried on in this country which was not carried on here before, we shall not only get employment, but, indirectly though not directly, we shall also get the revenue just as surely and just as readily as if it had been collected by Customs Duties on goods coming into the ports. It may be argued that it is all very well what you say, that it is too vague, that it sounds well in theory, but can you put your view of it in a Treasury Estimate? To a certain extent that is almost possible. In the calculations made by statisticians on the other side of the House you will find that, 272 roughly speaking, a shilling's worth of British manufacture is the cause of an addition to the national revenue of a sum between 1½d. and 2d. What is the obvious inference? It means that under a system of moderate duties, even though there be an enhancement of prices not exceeding, or ranging from, 12 to 16 per cent. on the price of the article on the average, yet at the same time the loss so caused to the consumer in this country, be he a private individual or a manufacturer, is more than compensated for by the addition caused to the national revenue, which will enable either existing taxes to be taken off, or prevent the imposition of further taxes, which are just as much a burden to him as the price he pays in the shop for the articles he has to buy. I trust that the House will pardon me for going into detail as to one of the points, but I can only urge as my justification that it is one of the fundamental points on which the whole of the present Free Trade system is constructed, and for which, on analysis, we believe there is no foundation.
Incidentally, the same considerations, whether from a business or from a theoretical point of view, afford an answer to the conundrum sometimes put by speakers on the other side of the House. The conundrum was brought forward by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board in a similar Debate to this in the spring of last year. Roughly speaking, what he said was this: If a 2s. duty is likely to make corn cheaper, how big a duty will enable it to be given away gratis? The same question has been repeated freely with regard to manufactured articles. Perhaps the argument I have already adduced affords an answer; but an even easier answer might be given by way of a parable. I noticed the same hon. Member coming down to the House wearing an overcoat and a hat. In this February weather the possession of an overcoat and a hat appeared to afford him a moderate degree of comfort. By the same parity of reasoning the hon. Member might have been thoroughly luxurious, and by wearing three overcoats derived a treble amount of comfort, from them. But the horrid suspicion crosses one's mind that had he done so he would have laid himself open to the charge at the hands of the hon. Member for South Salford (Mr. Belloc) of belonging to the Anglo-Judaic Plutocracy; and that had he adopted three hats it might have led the same hon. Member to believe that he had clothed himself according to the traditional 273 method of the lesser lights of the Anglo-Judaic Plutocracy. The answer, however, is the same in both cases. There is a degree in the matter of tariffs at which the advantages given by a tariff are at their maximum, or, to put it the other way, when the burden imposed by the tariff is at its minimum, while above that level, with regard to either the consumer or the producer, we are at a disadvantage in precisely the same way that we are at a disadvantage under the present system without the benefits of the tariff at all.
I would also support this Amendment because of the regret that we feel that no mention is made in the Speech from the Throne of the extraordinary important announcement with regard to a new development of the commercial relations of one of the most important Dominions of the Crown. Great attention has been given to the declaration against the power of another place. The battle against the House of Lords has been proclaimed by hon. Members opposite with all the confidence and determination with which we are told Ghantecler proclaimed the rising of the sun; and, if one may be forgiven the analogy, the confidence and determination with which that clarion call was issued appears to have completely won the affections of the Hen-Pheasant upon the Labour Benches. I must confess personally, whether as a student of Mendl or as a student of political philosophy, one is a little doubtful about the ultimate results of such an arrangement, whether it be a permanent union or a more temporary connection. At the same time, as benevolent onlookers, we are rather inclined to deplore the family jars introduced by the unpleasant utterances, witty though they may be, of the hon. Member for Waterford. But while all this time is being taken up by references to the squabble that is coming in regard to another place, no mention is made in the Speech of a much more significant fact, namely, the pronouncement of the Finance Minister in the Canadian House of Commons in December last as to the financial policy that that great Dominion is likely to enter upon. No mention whatever has been made, and apparently no action is contemplated, with regard to the removal of the German-Canadian surtax. But much more important than the removal of the surtax is the treaty adumbrated between Germany and Canada on lines of reciprocity, to be followed, we are told, by other Canadian treaties with Italy and Belgium. No mention 274 is made and no action is contemplated with regard to these matters; and yet there is no denial whatever by Members opposite of the benefits conferred upon British industries by the Canadian preference. The extent of the benefit was fully and freely acknowledged by the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the last Colonial Conference. Equally truly, there is and can be no denial, by anyone who has been to the Colonies or studied their growth, of the rapid increase that is certain to accrue in the value of the Canadian and other Colonial markets for British produce in the near future. It cannot be denied that successive reciprocity treaties of this kind are calculated to impair to a most serious degree the benefits to British industries of the preference they have already given us. We, however, have no ground of complaint—no one would ever dream of suggesting it—with regard to the Canadian attitude in this matter. The warning was given to us in sufficiently succinct terms. If, as junior Member for the city of Birmingham, I may be allowed to quote the words of the senior Member for Birmingham, that warning was given distinctly seven years ago in these words:In pursuance of the policy of Free Trade you wilt lose the advantages of the further reduction in duty which your great Colony of Canada offers to you, the manufacturers of this country.And we may lose a great deal more, because in the speech which the Minister for Finance made to the Canadian Parliament the other day he said that if they are told definitely that Great Britain, the Mother Country, can do nothing for them in the way of reciprocity they must reconsider their position and the preference they have already given. The words of the senior Member for Birmingham, which I have quoted, are being fulfilled to the very letter. It is not as if one could hope that the Franco-Canadian treaty, for reasons which one can well understand, might be an isolated incident in a perfectly justifiable financial policy on the part of Canada. Recent events make it quite clear that the Franco-Canadian treaty of preference is only the first of a long series of preferences, all of which are likely to damage the outlet for British goods in the Canadian market in the near future. Anyone who has been through Canada must realise most keenly the future value of that market, and, further, that in the commercial relations, as also in the political relations, this question as regards some of the great British dominions is absolutely 275 insistent, critical, and vital at the present moment. No man, whatever his fiscal opinions may be, can go through Canada without coming to that conclusion. It may be said that much British capital is being expended in Canada. That is quite true. But the expenditure of British capital in Canada has not the same effect as regards the political connection as the capital from the United States and elsewhere. British capital in Canada goes into municipal loans and similar enterprises, which do not involve the presence in the Dominion of British influences or British opinions. American capital, on the other hand, goes into the country in the form of businesses or branch businesses which need the presence of American salesmen or American managers; and although it may be said that the immigration of foreign elements into Canada may be without danger to the British connection, yet the permeation of the whole of the Canadian business system with foreign methods, foreign capital, and foreign goods, is without question at this moment the most serious existing menance to the Imperial connection.
We are therefore entitled to ask why there is not some mention in the King's Speech as to the line the Government are prepared to take in reference to this most important and new departure—a new departure such as has never before been witnessed in the policy of any of the great Dominions of the British Crown. The Under-Secretary for the Colonies has stated that it is unwise for the State to interfere in matters of trade or commercial development. The hon. Member was talking to Canadians at Oxford at the time, as though the existence of the Canadian-Pacific Railway was not a standing disproof of the whole of his contention. We are sometimes told that it is unwise to interfere because we have not sufficient knowledge to make that action successful. Such a defence may have been perfectly justifiable in the time of Adam Smith. It is quite possible that a physician is more than justified in not recommending some drastic treatment when he knows there are no adequate means for diagnosing the complaint. But that same defence does not hold good to-day. One who studies some of the official documents on the fiscal question is somewhat surprised that the information leads him up to a certain point, but curiously stops short at giving certain 276 items that would throw much further light upon the matter. At the same time, that information exists to enable Government action to be taken wisely if need be.
In conclusion, is it not almost absurd at this time of day to say that laissez faire, the old policy of doing nothing, is to be allowed to continue in the policy of international trade alone when it has been given up in every other department of public life in this country? The Members who support the contention that the Government cannot interfere in matters of trade are the same Members who subscribe to the Minority Report of the Poor Law Commission, often, I think, with the faith that is attached particularly to things unseen. Into all other great departments of public life the State is entering, and in this rather difficult period of transition and change in regard to political thought and action the one great outstanding question is how far the State is to have a greater share in determining the life of its individual citizens. Members on these benches may differ from Members on the Labour Benches as to the exact degree and kind of action that the State should undertake. We may think that the Right to Work Bill and some others of the proposals emanating from those benches are unwise, and may cause greater economic evils than they set out to cure; but one fact stands out quite patent, that all parties in the House are agreed that at any rate it is a fact that, whatever the action of the State may be, yet there will be a greater State action in the life of individuals, and in economic life in the near future. If that is so, might I just urge in support of the Amendment that no one who has really studied the critical position of the Colonies at this minute can help but see that we wish to have some course of action clearly made out and understood as to what this country is to do in view of the Canadian problem. Lastly, may one urge, for no one at any rate on this side of the House can but deplore that whereas so much attention has been paid to other subjects that often possess a degree of unreality when one goes into the calm air to consider them—that here is a problem that, if one may say it again, is absolutely insistent, critical, and vital, and yet no mention is made of it in the King's Speech. At the same time no action is shown with regard to it, such as we believe to be necessary. For that reason I wish to support the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. IGNATIUS LINCOLN
I desire to apologise for rising to address the House for the first time, but I do so for three reasons. First of all, I have fought an election in one of the North-Eastern constituencies on Free Trade and the House of Lords, and my presence here is a victory for Free Trade. The second reason is that former speakers have referred to Germany, France, and other Protectionist countries. I am in the fortunate position of knowing these Continental countries very intimately. I have made investigations in most of these countries, and my knowledge is first-hand knowledge The third reason is that it is easy even for a young member to refuse Tariff Reform. The right hon. Gentleman's statement regarding Germany to the effect that Germany's industrial prosperity dates from the introduction of Bismarck's Protectionist policy is not quite in accordance with the experience of Germany. The industrial and commercial prosperity of Germany is due in the first instance to the confederation of the German Empire. Whereas before 1870 the present Germany that we now know as Germany consisted of many independent States, in 1871 there came the United German Empire. The second reason for Germany's industrial and commercial prosperity is the five milliards of war contribution paid by France to Germany. Thirdly, the commercial and industrial prosperity of Germany is due to the good technical and elementary education of the German working classes. But while we are speaking of Germany it will be perhaps of benefit to us to indeed look at Germany, and compare it and certain conditions there with those of Great Britain. I was rather struck with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman on account of its lack of figures. His Amendment reads:That this House views with anxiety the state of trade and employment in this country—I beg to submit that the easiest way, when speaking of Tariff Reform or Free Trade, to prove one's case is to do so by quoting figures. Trade is a question of statistics. Comparing some of the conditions of Germany with those in England, let us take for instance the question of wages. We find that a bricklayer in Germany earns 25 per cent. less than he does in Great Britain. A painter earns 22 per cent. less in Germany than in Great Britain. A fitter in the engineering trade in Germany earns 15 per cent. less than in Great Britain. Altogether, for the 5s. that the British working man earns, the 278 German gets only 3s. 9d. Further, if Protection is really a cure for all these social and economic evils which we all deplore, why do hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite refer only to Germany? There are many other Protectionist countries. There is Russia, Spain, Italy, Austro-Hungary, and France. You never hear anything of these countries. But if Protection is really the remedy, which we are told to believe it is, surely we ought to find the case of Protection proved by the experience of these countries!
I am in the fortunate position of being able to travel in these countries, and speak to the people in their own tongue. Just a few weeks ago I delivered a lecture in Hungary—a Protectionist country. The references to Free Trade and my advocacy of Free Trade were parts of my lectures which were most cheered, and which evoked the greatest unanimity amongst my audience. That was in a Protection country. Further, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite constantly point to the fact that these Protectionist countries levy upon our goods a tariff, a tax, and they want us to believe that by the imposition of tariffs they are enabled to keep out our goods. Here, again, we can use official facts to see whether that is so or not. Take, for instance, the year 1904, the year after the birth of Tariff Reform, and 1908. I purposely do not take 1909, because, as we know, and notwithstanding the Budget, there was considerable improvement in the trade of the year. I take 1904 and 1908, and I would compare our exports for the two years to certain Protectionist countries. To Russia, which country, as we know, has a heavy tariff upon English and all other goods, we exported in 1904 £8,000,000 worth of manufactured articles, and in 1908 £12,000,000 worth. To Spain in 1904 we exported £4,000,000 worth of manufactured articles; in 1908 £5,000,000. To Germany in 1904 we exported £25,000,000 worth; in 1908 £33,000,000 worth. To the Argentine Republic in 1904 we exported £11,000,000 worth; in 1908 £16,000,000 worth. To France in 1904 we exported £15,000,000 worth; in 1908 £22,000,000 worth.
Surely Tariff Reformers cannot uphold their argument that by the imposition of tariffs our goods are kept out of other countries, because, as I have shown by a very few figures, they are buying from us a constantly increasing quantity of manufactured articles. These figures do not include ships of which we in 1908 exported 279 £11,500,000 worth. I was struck by one statement of the right hon. Gentleman He said that he was very anxious to point out that the tariff to be charged was only a very moderate one indeed. Why was he so anxious to point that out if, as it has been stated broadcast throughout the country, the foreigner is going to pay it? If the foreigner is going to pay it, why is the party opposite so anxious, in explaining to the electors, to say: "Ladies and gentlemen, do not be afraid, we are only going to put 2s. a quarter on corn. It is not 10s., or 15s.; it is only 2s. Do not be afraid, we are not going to tax raw material; we are not going to tax bacon, we are going to put on a moderate tariff." If the foreigner is going to pay, why are hon. and right hon. Gentleman opposite so anxious to explain that it is only a moderate tariff? It reminds me of a very good story. There were two tramps, and one said to the other: "Jack, if you go into a certain village (naming the village), don't you forget to call upon a certain lady. She is sure to give you two coppers, because she always does to everyone." Jack called upon the lady, and received his two coppers. The lady, in handing him the two coppers, said: "Now, my dear man, do not think I give you the two coppers because you deserve them. Nothing of the kind. I give you them simply to please myself." Jack thereupon said: "To please yourself, my lady, thank you. Then won't you give me a shilling, and thoroughly enjoy yourself." That applies to this taxing of the foreigner. If the foreigner is going to pay, why charge him 2s.? Charge him 15s. or 20s., and then we can thoroughly enjoy ourselves! But, of course, the very fact that Tariff Reformers advocate only a very moderate tariff is a convincing proof that they do not believe it themselves. The Germans, under Protection, are working under a deficit, while Free Trade England is paying off debt—when the Liberal party is in power. In this connection I may quote what Germans themselves say of their financial situation. I quote the "Berliner Tageblatt" of May, 1908. It says:—If it is desired to plane the finances of the German Empire upon a sound basis—Are the finances of the German Empire not upon a sound basis?one must get a clear view of the causes of the perpetual deficit, and remove those causes, instead of always inventing new taxes from every corner, and laying up further burdens upon the shoulders of the German people—280 That is the opinion of a German newspaper. Furthermore,There can be no doubt that the reason of the evil lies in our fiscal policy—That comes from Germany.Our Customs Duty and indirect taxes have necessitated a gigantic army of officials; have increased the price of everything, and have added enormously to the expenses of the Empire.Again, to quote from the "Börsen-Couirier" of Berlin, also in 1908:—All attempts to reform the finances of the Empire will fail unless it is realised that our Empire fiscal policy is wrong. Free Trade England has an enormous surplus every year, and pays off its National Debt at such a rate that in 1909 it stands in much the same position as it stood in 1889. No lasting reform of our finances is possible till we adopt the same Free Trade principles.That is what Germans say themselves. We are asked to pass this Amendment because it says that the state of trade and employment in this country is viewed with anxiety. It is very easy indeed to see whether our trade is in such a deplorable condition as hon. Members opposite want us to believe it is. First of all, if I compare the United Kingdom with Germany and other protected countries, I find that in 1903, when the Protectionists' agitation was started in this country, our exports amounted to £229,000,000 worth of manufactured articles. In 1908 they amounted to £286,000,000 worth. Now, the Germans exported in 1903 £161,000,000, and in 1908 £213,000,000, while we exported in that year £286,000,000 worth. If we take France, we find that our exports are more than £170,000,000 worth over hers. Between the United States, with a population of 85,000,000, and the United Kingdom, with a population of 45,000,000, we find that there is a difference in our favour of £130,000,000. We lead the whole world in trade and commerce. If we come to specific instances—take cotton goods—we find that in 1909 we exported more cotton goods than the whole world put together, which speaks rather well for Free Trade. In iron and steel manufactures we exported more than the United States and Germany put together. In that year we exported £100,000,000 worth of iron and steel manufactures, whereas Germany and the United States together exported only £95,000,000 worth; and, if we take machinery, we exported £31,000,000 worth, whereas Germany altogether exported only £19,000,000 worth, so that it is not a fact to say that we view "with anxiety the condition of our trade employment."
281 Furthermore, if we look more closely into Germany and examine the conditions of the working classes, the high rents, and the increase of at least 50 per cent. in the revenue in the past fifty years, the high prices applying to all kinds of commodities and necessaries of life, and if we consider that the working classes of Germany, 3,000,000 in number, cast their votes always solidly in favour of Free Trade, then indeed the whole case for Protection is done for. We are invited, in order to produce revenue, to tax foreign manufactures. Now, first of all, the German Protectionists cannot procure sufficient revenue by Protection. They have to invent new taxes every year, and, nevertheless, they are working with a deficit.
During my election leaflets were distributed inviting the electorate to vote for Tariff Reform because we were told we could then raise revenue, as enormous quantities of foreign manufactures come to England and rob the poor Englishman of his work. If you look into the matter you will find these terrible and enormous quantities of foreign manufactures are like the phantom airships that came to conquer England, but were nowhere to be found. Let us take, for instance, the case for railway engines. We exported, 1908, £2,000,000 of railway engines, and we imported £6,357 worth. That is about three engines—I suppose they came here by mistake. If you put a tax of 10 per cent. on these you will get £635, which will cost £250 to collect, so that hon. Members opposite will have about £400 for building "Dreadnoughts" and for curing unemployment. We exported steel chairs and sleepers for railways to the value of £543,000, while we imported not a single penny's worth. We exported £2,466,000 worth of railway trucks while we did not import a single one. Take another instance of passenger carriage. We exported £750,000 worth while we imported absolutely not one. The cost of production under Free Trade is very much lower than the cost of production under Protection, and that is one of the reasons why we can beat our competitors in neutral markets, and that whatever happens, whether we take the case of iron and steel or engine or cotton goods, or any other trade, whatever manufactured articles you take, you will find we export considerably more than we import, and that in every instance we lead the whole world as regards manufactured articles.
We are invited to look at the terrible evil of unemployment which we all deplore, 282 but we do not believe that you can settle the question of unemployment by the imposition of tariffs. We do not believe that we can make the life of the poor easier by taxing their food. If Tariff Reform is a cure for unemployment we ought to find that in Germany there are no un-employed, because there you have the protective tariffs, and there are labour exchanges there. The whole purpose of labour exchanges is to deal with the unemployed, and now that the Liberal Government, in their concern for the welfare of the unemployed, desire to establish labour exchanges to what country did they go to make enquiries? To the very countries which had Protection, such as Germany. Was it 200 or 1,000 or 2,000 labour exchanges they found in Germany? No, Sir, they found 4,000 labour exchanges in Germany—apparently, I suppose, doing nothing. The German Government, I suppose, had too much money. They did not know what to do with it, and they said, "Let us create labour exchanges." Well, I do not believe that. If the German Government had to go to the enormous cost and trouble and expenditure in organising the enormous number of 4,000 labour exchanges and keeping them up, there must be a tremendous amount of unemployment in Germany. So it is in Austria-Hungary, in France, in Russia, in the United States, and in other countries. There is unemployment, and it is not due to Free Trade or Protection—they have something to do with it—but it has to do with other causes which the party opposite would never cure in their endeavour to remedy unemployment. But, speaking of America, where there are high tariffs, and where, according to hon. Members opposite, we find a paradise for the working man, may I quote our Consul's report of Boston? He said this:—The general cost of living in Boston has increased 42 per cent. in the last seven years.The Leader of the Opposition stated that a tax on food would not increase the cost of living, but the experience of America is that for the past seven years the cost of living has increased 42 per cent.No permanent rise in earnings proportionate to the above has taken place. Wages have not increased 42 per cent.That is Tariff Reform. I remember the story of a Highlander who came to London, and, having seen a doctor, he was told he must prepare for death, as he would die the next morning. The Scotsman said, "I will get ready all right, but before I die I should like to hear the music of my 283 native country, the bagpipes." The doctor said, "It will not do; you cannot leave the hospital." "Well," says the Scotchman, "cannot the bagpipes be brought here?" "No," said the doctor, "you cannot have that because you are not alone in the ward; there are other patients as well as you, and some of them are seriously ill." However, the Scotsman persisted, and earnestly desired to be allowed to have his will. At last the doctor agreed, and left the hospital. When he came back the next morning he asked the nurse, "Is the Scotsman dead?" "Oh, no," said the nurse, "he is well and hearty, but all the other patients are dead." That is the case of Tariff Reform. It will benefit the manufacturer and the landowner, but it will kill the general body of the consumers. It will benefit the landlord, because there are two kinds of farmers—the farmer who farms the land and the farmer who farms the farmer, and the farmer who farms the farmer will come to the farmer who farms the land and will say: Under Tariff Reform you are selling dearer, and hence I must raise your rent. All these taxes under Tariff Reform will go into the pocket of the landlord. We want to abolish all existing taxes upon food, because by the Budget which has been thrown out by the House of Lords last year, by the passage of that Budget, we shall open up new sources of revenue, and instead of taxing the bread of the poor, we shall tax the wealth of the rich—instead of taxing wages and industries, we shall tax unearned increment, land values, etc., and therefore it will not be necessary to go to the poor and ask them to contribute any more than they do at the present time.
It cannot be doubted that the middle and working classes are already far too heavily taxed, so that Tariff Reform is not only economically wrong, it is useless. We know where to find the money without adopting Tariff Reform, and now, in this twentieth century, when Tariff Reform countries like Austro-Hungary, and Germany, and France, and the United States, where the general bulk of the consumers and the working classes are in open revolt against this system, shall we revert to a policy of Tariff Reform, which wrought such havoc in England and in other countries were it obtained. We oppose Tariff Reform tooth and nail, and we can claim, whatever other interpretation may be put upon the result of the General Election, 284 that this, at any rate, is perfectly clear, that Tariff Reform has received a fatal blow in all industrial constituencies, and that Free Trade came out triumphant. I need not point to my own Constituency of Darlington. That Constituency was represented by a Protectionist for ten years. I have won it now. At Middlesbrough, South-East Durham, Bishop Auckland, Newcastle, and Northumberland we have swept the board. In the two northern counties of Durham and Northumberland we have gained six Liberal seats in the last election.
In the North of England we have fought the election on Free Trade, and without any doubt some of the most intelligent men of England have absolutely refused to have anything to do with a system of Tariff Reform. It is now our duty to defend Free Trade and to repel all these endeavours to force upon us Tariff Reform. We have far greater questions to settle, and the democracy of England is busy with greater problems which are far more urgent than Tariff Reform. As we said at the last election, and as we said in 1906, we do not want to tax the food of the people, but we want to pass our Budget, and we want it to become law, because we believe that that will effectively kill Tariff Reform.
§ Mr. SAMUEL ROBERTS
My hon. Friend who spoke last from these benches made a very eloquent speech in this House, and I congratulate him upon his speech. My hon. Friend finished his remarks by making a very eloquent allusion to the relations between this country and the Dominion of Canada. The situation between the Mother Country and her Colonies at the present moment is very serious. My hon. Friend told us quite truly that Canada is making her arrangements, that she has already made a treaty with France, and arrangements are now in progress between Canada and Germany. If this goes on we shall gradually lose the valuable preference which our Colonies have already given us, which have been of vast benefit to this country. Since the first preference was given us in 1905 our export of manufactured goods from the Mother Country to our sister States beyond the seas has doubled in value.
There is another matter which is also pressing at the present moment, and it has been named by one speaker this afternoon, but he dealt with it very briefly. I am glad to see the Parliamentary Secretary to the 285 Board of Trade (Mr. Tennant) in his place. The question I allude to is the new French Tariff which will be before the French Senate in a short time. The hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) told us this afternoon that the democracies of the world were turning round to Free Trade. Now, if there is a democracy in the world it is France; but what is she dome at the present moment? She is actually proposing a new tariff, which is going in many respects to damage our trade with that country, and, as I shall be able to show to the House in a few moments, it is going to annihilate our trade. I represent a city which is interested in iron and steel. This new French tariff is going to affect the trade between Sheffield and Birmingham and France that the manufacturers tell me it will practically stop their trade altogether. Representations have taken place between the Chambers of Commerce in this country and the Chambers of Commerce in Paris, but, so far, they have been of no avail. What I wish to ask the Secretary to the Board of Trade is, what steps are the Board of Trade taking to induce the French Senate to, at all events, modify the proposals which are going to be put forward. I know the hon. Member's hands are tied behind him by our present tariff system, and he can do nothing effectual. I know he can beseech, but he has got no weapon by which he can deal a blow if his negotiations are not successful.
What are these proposals? The first damaging proposal is that there is to be an analysis taken at the French Customs House of the ingredients with which the steel is made. A classification is also to be made of the percentages of certain metals which form the ingredients of the steel. This will involve an analysis of the steel at the Customs House in France, and I am informed that it will lead to endless disputes and confusion, and even if you get past the Customs House the duties are to be so raised as to practically annihilate the trade with this country. The kind of steel which is going to be so very much affected is the high-grade steel. The present duty on these steels is 15 francs per hundred kilos, and the new tariff proposals raise that duty to 50 francs per hundred kilos, or over three times the old rate. Upon engineers' tools the present duty is 22 francs per hundred kilos, and the proposal which is going to be made raises that duty to 150 francs per hundred kilos, or seven times the old rate. The new duty will represent from 20 to 50 per cent. of the actual value of the tools. If 286 the proposed duties are adopted they will be the highest imposed by any foreign country and higher even than those imposed in Germany. In addition to this the duty on plated goods is going to be trebled, and this will very greatly damage the trade between Sheffield and France in this respect. Under our present fiscal system we have no weapon with which to fight these imposts. I wish to allude to the new Payne tariff, which has been adopted in the United States. I am aware that it only came into force on August last, and it may be a little premature to judge exactly what its permanent effects will be. One thing, however, we do know that it has very greatly affected the amount of cutlery sent to the United States. The effect of the tariff has been that there are now only one or two houses, or very few houses, in Sheffield that have been able to survive this enormous tariff, and they have only been able to do so by a great pressure on profits and wages. I hold in my hand a beautiful little razor, which is a cheap and excellent one, and the House will be surprised when I state what the net price of this razor in the United States is nine shillings per dozen. Under the new Payne tariff the duty on this razor will be raised 100 per cent., and before this particular article can get into the United States the whole value of the razor will have to be paid over again. It is impossible to forecast the result of this tariff, and we cannot say whether the Sheffield houses will be able to survive this enormous impost. It is feared that one result will be that Germany will set up manufactories in the United States in order to make these goods there. The gentleman who sent me the razor which I have shown to the House sent me a letter with it, and I will read to the House a paragraph from his letter. He says:—The United States is the best cutlery market in the world, but this continued high protection on rates that are prohibitive, except on the comparatively few goods that are sold on the reputation of the name, is having a wearing down effect, and I believe we all find it increasingly difficult every year to meet the growing and improving American competition, but hope to pull through till such time as we have a tariff here. A weapon to fight with so that when our trade is hit we can hit back harder. We shall then find our trade rivals anxious to make peace on fair trade lines, and as many politicians in the States have told me, they would all be on their knees to us.I can quite believe that. The House knows that the English market is the best market of the United States, as it is the best market of France, and depend upon it, if we had a tariff in order that when these questions arose we could negotiate 287 with our rival competitors on equal terms, that is the only effectual way to meet the growing competition of the world. Under our present system a transfer of labour is gradually going on which employs the foreigner in his own country, leaving the Englishman unemployed in this country, and this process is swelling the ranks of our unemployed. That is the process which is going on. It may be gradual, but it is sure, and if this process goes on we may possibly become a more wealthy country, but we shall occupy the position of being a country of non-production and unemployment. The instances which I have given to the House to-night show that the American workmen are going to be employed making goods which ought to be made in Sheffield, and the workmen in France are going to be employed under the new French tariff, if it is adopted, to make the high grade steel which is of so much value in Sheffield manufactures. That is the process which is going on. What can you do under your present system? You can do nothing; you must take it lying down. I venture to think these arguments alone are sufficient to convince any reasonable man our present system is wrong. The hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) this afternoon said the world was going to come round to Free Trade. Let him make a tour round the world and convert it to Free Trade first. Do not leave us the only free importer to be competed with by every nation in the world under the present system. No, the English workman is every day becoming more convinced that our present system cannot last, and that the only way is to have a scientific tariff arranged like our competitors. If you do that, you have something to bargain with, and you have also a weapon to stop the unfair competition which results from the dumping in our markets of goods made under sweating conditions which hon Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite would never permit to obtain in this country. I can never quite understand their attitude. They protect their own labour, but they refuse to protect the products of their labour. It is not logic. These goods compete with the working people actually in the same way in which the workman who receives wages below the trade union rate competes with the trade unionist.
I should like to make one more appeal on behalf of that very important branch of this question, namely, our relations 288 with our sister States beyond the seas. Their markets are still available. They have imposed a tariff against the Mother Country, but it is a low tariff, and it gives the Mother Country a preference which we value, and which will be valuable in the future. Are we going to lose these markets, or are we going to let foreign countries make treaty after treaty with our Colonies till gradually our trade has to find markets elsewhere? At present we are shut out by every foreign country by tariffs which it is almost impossible to get over. The Colonies are willing and anxious to give us even a greater preference than they are doing at the present time because we are the Mother Country, if only we can come to terms with them by giving them a preference on what they are able to send us. They are able to send us food and raw material. We do not propose to tax raw material. We propose to tax the food coming from the foreign countries and to let in free the corn and other food which our Colonies can send us.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. H. J. Tennant)
I understood the proposal was to diminish the duty and not to let Colonial corn in free.
§ Mr. SAMUEL ROBERTS
That is not my proposal or that of a great many of my Friends, although I know it is the proposal of some hon. Members on this side of the House. There are vast corn districts in Canada and Australia which are able to supply the whole of the corn which the world requires to consume. There are vast tracts of Australia which are only waiting development. That most eloquent statesman who came over to this country from Australia told us that there are great belts of virgin soil there suitable for growing corn, and absolutely certain on account of the climate to grow corn, waiting for the opportunity. A good deal has been said this afternoon about food taxation. Our policy is simply to get a cheap supply and a constant supply of food, and in return for that our Colonies say they will take our manufactures. That is the policy of Tariff Reform, as I understand it, from the Colonial point of view. I thank the House for listening with such very great kindness to the remarks I have made. I have great pleasure in supporting the Amendment of my right hon. Friend, and I congratulate him on the eloquent speech he has made this afternoon and on the way in which he has put our case, and I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the 289 Board of Trade if he will be so good as to reply to the question I have put with regard to the new French tariff.
§ Mr. JOSEPH KING
I have only sat in this House for two or three days, but I have already become conscious that the light in which Members regard the burning questions of the day is somewhat different from that in which they are regarded outside. I cannot, for instance, imagine so much excitement being created in an ordinary assembly of either Liberals or of politicians of various kinds by the question which excited this House on the two previous days, and which has caused so much comment and discussion in the Lobbies—a mere question of the tactics which are to be observed and followed by our leaders in attacking the one question on which undoubtedly the great majority of this House is absolutely united, namely, that before we can proceed to business of a practical and useful kind, and before any legislation such as is demanded by the people is really passed, we must first deal with and limit the unjust veto of the House of Lords. There are different lights in which the outside public and the House here regard the political questions of the day, and I find in this Amendment a very striking illustration of that fact. Surely if there was one question in connection with Tariff Reform which was universally discussed at the recent elections, except possibly in those industrial districts like Sheffield, where the subject was judiciously kept in the background, it was the effect of the proposed taxes on food upon the cost of the living of the people. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, when challenged upon this subject, gave us the very interesting information that he for one was against all taxation on foreign wheat or flour, and he warned the House that there were many others beside himself who shared that opinion.
§ Mr. KING
That only strengthens my argument. These Gentlemen from the manufacturing districts want Tariff Reform for the benefit of their manufactures, but they will not have it at any price when it is at all beneficial to the landed interest. I venture to express the opinion which I frequently expressed on public platforms during the course of the General Election, that the Tariff Reform policy is one of intellectual poverty and moral perversion. 290 It is an intellectually poor policy, because it cannot yet convince the representatives of the working classes that it is going to do them any benefit whatsoever. I am sure if any speech profoundly held this House to-night it must have been the masterly speech we had from the hon. Member for Leicester. I had been acquainted beforehand with the lines on which the Labour Members treated the Fiscal Question, but I must confess I was surprised, delighted, I might even say inspired by the eloquent treatment the hon. Member meted out to this Question from the point of view of the Labour party.
I desire to call attention to what seems to be a very significant omission in the language of this Amendment, which, I suppose, has been borrowed from the Amendment to the Address proposed last year by the same right hon. Gentleman. Why should he choose again to put forward exactly the same words on this occasion? Circumstances have altered a good deal, as he himself has admitted, but in one respect, surely, the Tariff Reform policy has advanced. It is now absolutely pledged by the words and promises of the Leaders at any rate of the party, to a tax upon food. But the probable and promised effects of such a tax find no place whatever in the language of this Amendment. I venture to suggest that that is a very remarkable and very serious omission. It is remarkable for this reason, that the right hon. Gentleman who comes down to this House and proposes the Amendment says nothing in the Amendment about the important problem which, I venture to say, has exercised the thoughts and attention of more members of the electorate than any other single aspect of this Fiscal Question during the recent election. We must remember that during the election the Leader of the Opposition issued a letter to very many Conservative and Unionist candidates, and, although this letter was couched in personal and almost intimate terms to the individual candidate, it was circulated throughout the length and breadth of the land, and it was, in fact, a stereotyped document distributed broadcast over the country. I would venture to call the attention of the House to the words which the Leader of the Opposition used in encouraging and helping his supporters by this circular letter. They were:—I am not surprised that your Radical opponent is attempting to raise the old and often contradicted misrepresentation as to the effect of Tariff Reform on the cost of living of the working classes. I have frequently and explicitly stated that no increase will take place.291 It seems to me that that is rather audacious language even for the very agile, and I think I may say versatile politician who leads the Tariff Reform party. I ask the House to notice especially the form in which this pledge and promise is made, for it is both one and the other—nay, more, it is a pledge, a promise, and a prophecy that, under Tariff Reform, there will be no increase in the cost of living. It is not that there will be no increase, relatively, in the cost of food. I take it the cost of living covers not only the cost of meat and drink consumed, but also that of clothing, furniture and all the other necessaries of life. I assert that the pledge, promise and prophecy of the Leader of the Opposition is that Tariff Reform is going to make no increase in the cost of such living, and I repeat that that is very audacious and extravagant language. Indeed I am not surprised that in the few remarks which the proposer of this Amendment offered on the subject of food taxes he avoided anything like a recurrence of the pledge or promise made by the Leader of the Opposition. It is apparent to anyone who takes a broad view of the course of events, not only in this country but throughout the world, that the cost of food has risen, is rising, and is likely to me still further. And it is likely to rise still further independently of tariffs, for certain well-recognised reasons. There is, for instance, a great disinclination on the part of people all over the world to live in the country so long as they can live in the town. There is a disinclination on the part of capitalists to embark upon large methods and schemes of agricultural production so long as they can get outlets for their capital and energies in industrial, manufacturing, and commercial occupations. Then there is this great fact, the significance of which is only just beginning to be recognised. Ten years ago we were almost being fed by the United States of America. At the present time we are receiving from the United States practically no wheat at all, and in a few years we shall probably see the United States not only ceasing to export food stuffs of any kind, but themselves becoming importers of food stuffs from other countries. That is a remarkable and significant fact and it is one which leads to this conclusion, that, at this time, for us to embark upon a policy which means restricting the markets in which we may buy the food of our people is a bad and foolish policy. I say that any wise and far-sighted statesman looking out upon the facts and 292 looking out upon the general tendency of trade and commerce and the development of agriculture all over the world, would naturally be led to the conclusion which is the conclusion of Free Traders, at any rate, that we must preserve the right to buy food for our people in any market the world offers us.
I venture to call the attention of the House to two further facts of great importance and significance in this connection. One is this, that the great progress and development of the Eastern nations of the world, especially Japan and China, means that those countries are living at a higher standard and taking on the ways of living and the higher living, such as we have hitherto associated only with European countries or their colonies. For instance, China and Japan are now ceasing to sustain their working classes purely upon rice, and are adding meat and cereals—wheat and other food, in a way which, it is agreed, was quite unknown to them two or three years ago. That is another significant fact, and all these facts tend to the conclusion that the price of food will rise not only in our country but all over the world. It makes me wonder still more at the audacity—I will say the reckless audacity—of the Tariff Reform party who not only in the rank and file of the irresponsible members of that party, but by the leaders of that party have given the pledge which they have done, that Tariff Reform will cause no increase in the cost of living of the working classes.
In view of the reckless, illogical and unwarrantable nature of those promises I am not surprised that much which we have seen upon the hoardings and in the literature during the recent election has been entirely dropped in this Debate by Members on the other side of the House. I had the honour of fighting and holding by a substantial majority a seat which runs into the great city of Bristol. I am glad to say that in Bristol and the surrounding constituencies we held our own with somewhat reduced majorities, and the representation of that great industrial area is the same in this Parliament as it was in the last. We can number five Liberal and Free Trade Members against one Conservative and Tariff Reformer, but in every case in every fight in that district we had to contend with placards, posters, statements, leaflets and speeches asseverating that it was due to the Liberal policy that the price of bread had increased, a statement which the right hon. Gentleman 293 who proposed this Amendment was very careful to go out of his way entirely to deny. Such is the difference between Tariff Reform in the constituencies and Tariff Reform on the floor of the House of Commons. It is just the same, of course, with their naval scare. Their naval scare shows Tariff Reform Unionists or Conservatives, or whatever other alias they may call themselves by, in just the same light. We were actually warned that, it might be before Parliament met, an invasion would appear, and I was expecting, when I came down to this House on the first day, that there was, at any rate, one subject, at all events, upon which I should hear some enlightened opinions and some valuable suggestions. I anticipated that there would be, at any rate, a demonstration in force from Members opposite to secure if possible that before one or two days had passed at least a dozen "Dreadnoughts" should be laid down.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Emmott)
I am afraid I must remind the hon. Member that we are now on an Amendment and the question of the Navy does not arise on that Amendment.
§ Mr. KING
I am very much obliged to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for your timely warning, and that is a subject which we may be able to refer to on another occasion. I will not detain the House much longer, but I should like just to quote some significant words which would seem to me to apply with extraordinary appropriateness at the present time—words which came from an authority the bona fides of which no one in this House will deny—I mean the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bordesley (Mr. Jesse Collings). Writing now some eighteen years ago, he used these words:There are signs that the advocates of Protection will be to the fore with elaborate arguments to prove that a duty on corn would benefit the farmer, the labourer, and the nation; in other words, to show that a country can, in some mysterious way, be benefited by raising the price of food. Discussions of this nature will be a sheer waste of time, inasmuch as it may be taken as an absolute and settled fact that the people of this country will not submit to any tax whatever on foodstuffs imported into this country.I commend those words to the House, because I believe they sum up in singularly forcible language the present position. Spoken though they were eighteen years ago, they ought to be borne in mind, and they convey a warning, and a serious warning, too, to those who come forward at the present time and tell us that a tax on food 294 will increase the prosperity of this country and reduce its cost of living. We have seen during the last two days in this House how a Minister with one clear, definite object in view before him, can be pestered, or at any rate perplexed, by a variety of councillors, admittedly his friends and supporters, yet declaring that success in the great object in which he and they are united can only be obtained by one definite or particular line of action. If that is the case with regard to the policy which this House is going to pursue in reference to the one object to which this Session is to be devoted, what will be the state of things if in an evil day—an evil day which I do not anticipate—the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition crosses over with a variegated party behind him, yet united upon one subject—that, they want Tariff Reform in one form or another? How is he going to square the interests which are represented by the speech we have just listened to with the interests which will be voiced by the Member for that very agricultural constituency Wimbledon? Their point of view with regard to Tariff Reform is entirely different. It cannot be squared, and, as a warning and as a very cogent argument against this Amendment, I cite this fact, that the Tariff Reform party are not united in their policy, they cannot be united in their policy, and they will, if ever they get into power, be still less united in their policy than they are at present. It is with this firm conviction that Tariff Reform is not only a futile, but an impossible, a reckless, and an unwise policy, that I have great pleasure in opposing this Amendment.
§ Mr. H. S. FOSTER
I have desired to take part thus early in this Debate because it is upon the subject of Tariff Reform that I determined to re-enter public life. Upon that subject, above all others, I obtained the support of the electors of North Suffolk, and I desired, at the earliest moment when the subject was brought before the House, to lend my voice and my vote in support of a policy which I believe is destined to remedy, in a way that no other policy can remedy, the evils of unemployment from which all men acknowledge the working classes are suffering, and for the purpose of refitting us as a commercial nation with those weapons which were discarded sixty years ago at a time when they were not needed, but which have become necessary for us to-day under the entirely changed industrial conditions of the world. The hon. Member (Mr. King) referred to a statement of the 295 Leader of the Opposition and commented upon the fact that that statement had not so far been referred to in the Debate. For the purpose of satisfying him and preventing anyone hereafter from saying that that statement has not been specifically referred to, I will refer to it now, and I will endeavour to justify to the full the pledge and the statement of fact contained in that pledge of my leader and of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chamberlain), who joined in that pledge. Here it is. It is dated 14th January last:—Tariff Reform will not increase the cost of living of the working classes nor the proportion of taxation paid by them, but it will enable us to reduce the present taxes on articles of working class consumption and will lessen unemployment and develop our trade with the British Dominions beyond the seas.That statement is signed by the Leader of the Opposition and by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chamberlain), and I believe every word of that statement to be absolutely literally accurate and true. Although I know how difficult it is to persuade men to see who will not see—for there are none so blind as those who will not see—yet I will ask hon. Gentlemen opposite, notwithstanding their preconceived views and notwithstanding their declarations, to try and believe that there is another side to the Question, and that there are those who differ from them who hold, as I do, honestly the conviction that this statement is true, who at least have something to say in defence of our own opinions and views. All the monopoly of wisdom is not even with the Labour party. In the first place, I would put it to the House that the question of fiscal reform ought not to be a question of party politics. It is purely a business matter, and it ought to be regarded apart from party prejudice and party passion as a business matter. It is not the fault of Tariff Reformers that this has been made a party question. When the right hon. Gentleman first brought forward this Question he besought his countrymen not to make it a matter of party politics; but no sooner was that policy adumbrated than the party opposite at once pledged themselves in opposition to it, and, having taken up that attitude—as I think, most inadvisedly and prematurely—and having declined to discuss or examine for a single moment any of the arguments which had induced the right hon. Gentleman to come to the clear opinion which he had come to, of course they felt bound to stick by it, and they had to find grounds and arguments for 296 justifying themselves and their followers in maintaining their opposition.
For myself I was brought up in the straitest sect of the Cobdenite school. I was taught, and for many a long year believed, that this country had prospered because of her adoption of what was called, and I believed was, Free Trade, and it has only been within the last few years, and largely by reason of following the studies of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chamberlain), that I came to the conclusion that the policy recommended by Mr. Cobden 60 years ago under totally different conditions from those which exist in the industrial world to-day, even if that policy had been adopted and carried out, as it is not being at this moment, even then that policy would have been unsuitable to the changed conditions of to-day. What was the policy so glibly described as Free Trade which Mr. Cobden recommended? I have been addressing mixed audiences, and I find that there are few who have really mastered the initial recommendations of Mr. Cobden himself. What was his definition of Free Trade? It was given by him at Covent Garden Theatre as long ago as 28th September, 1843. He said: "Free Trade! What is it? Why, the breaking down of the barriers that separate nations." But has that ever been done? Have we broken down the barriers that separate nations? Have we got to-day Free Trade as defined by Mr. Cobden? Hon. Gentlemen know quite well that we alone among the nations of the world have broken down our barriers to admit the goods of every other nation, while every other nation in its turn has raised barriers against the admittance of our goods. [An HON. MEMBER: "To their own injury."] According to the hon. Member these other nations have been doing this to their own injury. But if that is so, they ought to be commercially in dust and ashes, and commercially ruined, instead of which we know quite well if we take the two most prominent nations—Germany and the United States—that the industrial progress of those nations, the conditions of their people, the amount of their accumulated wealth, and the marvellous growth of their industry and commerce to-day are the wonder of the world. [An HON. MEMBER indicated dissent.] The hon. Member shakes his head as if I were not stating that which is common knowledge all over the world. So far from nations having commercially disarmed, how was the position described eighteen years ago by the then great Leader of the Conservative party, the late 297 Lord Salisbury? Speaking with the great responsibility which attaches to the position of Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of this country on 18th May, 1892, he said:Foreign nations are raising one after another a wall, a brazen wall, of protection around their shores which excludes us from their markets, and so far as they are concerned do their best to kill our trade. And this state of things does not get better; on the contrary, it constantly seems to get worse. We live in an age of a war of tariffs. In this great battle Great Britain has deliberately stripped herself of the armour, and the weapons, by which the battle has to be fought. You cannot do business in this world of evil and suffering on those terms. We begin by saying, 'We will levy no duties on anybody,' and we declare that it would be contrary and disloyal to the glorious and sacred doctrine of Free Trade to levy any duty on anybody for the sake of what we can get by it. It my be noble, but it is not business.These were the words of Lord Salisbury eighteen years ago, and that wall of tariff to which he referred then has grown higher and higher with each succeeding year.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. H. S. FOSTER
Has the hon. Member compared the growth of our trade comparatively with the growth comparatively of our rivals? If he does that, he will see that our position is by no means so satisfactory as it was eighteen years ago. While we show an increase, we show nothing like the same percentage of increase as Germany, France, or the United States of America. The policy which Mr. Cobden described, as I have shown, was a policy of breaking down the barriers that separate nations commercially from one another. That policy has never yet been carried out. Mr. Cobden persuaded our forefathers to begin by opening our ports, and he said that so great and manifest would be the advantage that in less than five years every country in Europe would follow our example. That was one of the many prophecies of Mr. Cobden which have never been fulfilled. The House knows that we have made great progress in the matter of treaties of arbitration with other countries. We have offered to enter into mutually obligatory treaties with other nations so that matters of dispute, instead of being referred to the arbitrament of war, shall be referred to arbitration tribunals. If Mr. Cobden sixty years ago had carried out that policy in connection with Free Trade, and if he had said, "Let us offer free ports to every other nation which will enter into agreements with us," then would have 298 been carried Free Trade as defined by Mr. Cobden, and we should not be in the difficult position we are in to-day.
I wish to point out to hon. Gentlemen opposite that although other nations did not follow our example, we did not at first, or for thirty years, suffer from the fact that they did not offer corresponding advantages. We prospered greatly. Was it because of Free Trade? By Mr. Cobden's admission, before the adoption of his policy of free imports, "England is and ever will remain the workshop of the world." That statement was true then, but is it true today? We know it is not. Sixty years ago England was the workshop of the world, and because she was we did not suffer by reason of hostile foreign tariffs. Our people got all the benefit of free imports without having any of the disadvantages of hostile foreign tariffs. We got the benefit of free imports in untaxed food supplies and untaxed raw materials for feeding our manufactures. We got no disadvantage of hostile tariffs because we were the workshop of the world. Mr. Cobden said our manufacturers at that time were unrivalled in the world. On October 24th, 1844, he said that was the position of England's factories, and that was before we adopted the policy of free imports.
The reason we did not suffer from foreign hostile tariffs was because foreign nations needed British-made goods, and therefore it was not their policy then, any more than it is now, to keep goods out of their market which their people needed. Therefore where they did tax the British manufactured article they taxed it for the purpose, not of keeping it out of the market, but of raising the revenue required in these countries for carrying out their own government. Those taxes, of course, fell upon the consumer and not upon the producer, because the foreign-made article sent into that country, and taxed in that country on its entry, did not meet there with the home-made, untaxed, competing manufactured article. In other words, the experience we have got to-day in this country, which we have had for sixty years, the only experience we have got of taxation, was the experience of those foreign countries. How is it with ourselves to-day? If we tax any article of consumption to-day the tax, of course, is paid by the consumer, because we only tax those articles which our people need, which we cannot produce here, and which have therefore to be brought from abroad. Where that is the case, of course the consumer 299 must pay the tax. There is nobody else to do it. We have only got to follow out the operation.
As every Member of the House knows, we tax tea, coffee, cocoa, sugar, and tobacco. We grow none of those things. They have got to be brought from abroad. Our people need them, and there is no home-made, competing, untaxed article in our market. We have got to pay the tax in the price of the article. In the case of tea we have got to pay the planter for growing it, the shipping company for carrying it, and 5d. per lb. duty to the Customs House officer; and then the merchant and the grocer must have their profit. We have got to pay the 5d. tax. Under Tariff Reform it will be different. We have the practical example of Germany. I give the case of my own Constituency, Lowestoft, where they do a very large business with Germany in the herring industry. Germany at the present time, and I say at the present time only, is gracious enough to allow the Lowestoft fishermen to send in fresh herrings untaxed. There is no duty on fresh herrings, or, as they are called, sprinkled herrings, as they are just sprinkled with a little salt to preserve them from the beginning of destruction until they are landed at the German ports. Germany does that because at the present moment the catching power of the German fleet, although, of course, it has access as much as we have to the North Sea, is not sufficient to supply the needs of the German market. But the moment we begin to put any labour upon the herring Germany steps in at once and says, "If there is labour to be done on any raw material coming into our market that labour shall, as far as we can do it by legislation, be preserved for the benefit of our own people." Therefore, the moment we try to cure herrings in which the trade really exist in Germany, Germany at once puts on a tax of 3s. a barrel on cured herrings in order that the labour and the wages earned in curing the herrings for the German market shall be in German hands, rather than in the British hands.
The result of that is either to exclude from the German market the cured herring, while encouraging the import of the fresh herring untaxed, or, if we still send on the cured herring notwithstanding the tax, then to compel us to contribute to the German revenue for the share we have in the German market in cured herrings. At 300 this moment Germany is largely increasing her catching powers, and in pursuance of her traditional, and I venture to say her wise policy in the interests of her own people, the moment the German catching power is adequate to supply the needs of the German market at that moment, a tax will be put on fresh herrings, as it is put on at this moment on cured herrings, unless in the meantime we have Tariff Reform, because under Tariff Reform our Government will have power, which they have not got to-day, to negotiate with the German Government. If to-morrow the German Government, in pursuance of their traditional policy, put a prohibitive duty on fresh herrings, what is the good of my appealing to the Foreign Secretary in this House to use his influence with Germany? His answer would be, "This is a matter of business. Germany is not doing this out of spite. She is doing it because, like every other nation, she has got the right to impose such a fiscal system as she considers best suited to the needs of her own people, and in pursuance of that policy Germany has put on this duty." Unless we have got some corresponding advantage we can offer to Germany commercially or unless there is some taxation of German goods which we can lighten in exchange for the abandonment of this tax, all we can do is to ask Germany to be good enough for the sake of the Lowestoft fisherman not to put a tax on fresh herrings.
For thirty years we did not suffer. We prospered greatly, not because of Free Trade, but in spite of Free Trade, because so long as the other nations of the world were content that we should be the manufacturing centre of the world, so long as they were content to depend on us for the supply of those manufactures which their people needed, so long it did not matter to us what their tariff position was. They bought our goods which they required, and therefore our trade expanded. But what I venture in all earnestness to ask the hon. Gentlemen opposite to consider is the entire revolution, industrially, that has taken place. Industrial conditions have changed in this sense, that the various nations which were our customers for these goods, and which kept our factories going, and employed our hands and so paid our workmen, have now erected, within their own borders, factories for supplying the needs of their own people in respect of which they had previously looked to us, and as one by one those nations have created those industries themselves, to supply the needs of their own 301 people, so it has been the duty of each one of those Governments in turn to create such a fiscal system as shall, in the first instance, give their own people the best chance in their own home market; and I think they were quite right. The result of that has been that they have created a tarriff for the purpose of protecting their own industries, and by those tariffs their system has been to allow their own people, untaxed, to manufacture and supply the needs of their own market, and to give their own people protection in the home markets from the foreigner.
Of course, as everyone admits, as the leaders of the Free Trade movement freely admit to-day, the existence of these foreign tariffs has injured, and does injure, British trade. That is a self-evident fact which even the most bigoted Free Trader, reluctantly perhaps, has to admit. The mischief does not end there. These former customers of ours have not only created their own industry, and so obviated the necessity of our supplying them, but they have become our competitors in our own home markets by reason of the facilities we offer them, and they have also become our competitors in the neutral markets of the world. Is it not about time that Great Britain, which stands absolutely alone to-day in her fiscal system, and which offers, alone amongst the other nations, free entry, and therefore the free right of foreign factories, after having supplied their own home demand, to dump the surplus in this country, thus flooding our market, mark you, under such commercial conditions that they can afford to undersell British labour and British manufactures—is it not time, I ask, that Great Britain should take some action? Every man knows that foreigners are able largely to increase the output of their factories by that very process, decreasing the cost of production. They have got a ready home market secured to them, a good market to stand by when times are bad, and they can afford to sell their surplus manufactures at a lesser price for the purpose of keeping their plant running and employing their hands year in and year out. The result of that is that we have got manufactures, which could well be supplied by our own people, sent in here by foreign nations who are not required to pay a penny piece towards our taxation nor a single penny of market toll for the privilege they enjoy of entering the finest market in the world. We are the best customers of the United States; and I 302 think I am correct in saying that we bought last year something like £150,000,000 worth of manufactured articles from abroad, a large part of which could at least have been quite as well made by our own workpeople as by the foreigners—but with this sad difference, that instead of the wages expended in the manufacture of these goods coming into British homes they have gone into the pockets of foreign workmen. We have been helping to bear their burdens of taxation, and we have not required from them a single penny piece towards our own taxation. Every pound that we spend falls on British shoulders, is a pound spent in favour of foreign workmen and foreign manufacturers, for this reason, that British industries have got to bear the disadvantage of the burden of taxation, while our ports are free to foreigners without their bearing any part of the burdens imposed upon our own people. That, I say, is in fact a subsidy for the foreigner against the British workman.
We say that the effect of Tariff Reform will not add to the cost of living or of the general necessaries of working people. I tell hon. Gentlemen frankly that if I believed there was going to be one penny added to the cost of living I would not be in this House to-day advocating Tariff Reform. [An HON. MEMBER: "Oh, oh."] I am content to say that for the quarter of a century I have been in public life I have always had the honour of getting and retaining the confidence of the working classes of my Constituencies, and I repeat that if I believed for a moment there was any risk of adding to the cost of living of working people I would not be here advocating it. But there is a much higher authority than my own or any I could quote. I point to the example of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, who during the whole of his public life has been the friend of the working classes. There is no living man who has done more in the interests of the working classes of this country than the right hon. Member for West Birmingham. Do you believe that he, with his great record, would have sacrificed his high position, would have sacrificed his health, aye, almost life itself, for the purpose of bringing home to his countrymen the wisdom of his policy if he were not convinced it is in the interests of the working people? Does not that count for something? And ought it not to be worth something? [An HON. MEMBER: "What about South Africa?"] The hon. 303 Member had better settle that point with the Prime Minister, who justified the South African War as necessary; he had better settle it with the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary for War, who both said that the South African War was a just and necessary one. No; I believe in the policy of Tariff Reform because I am persuaded that under such a policy, not the policy of Protection for the purpose of bolstering up a weak industry, but a policy under which those foreign goods which our own people can make would be displaced by those made at home, so putting our workpeople in a better position than the foreigner in making them and selling them. I want to say one word on the question of food taxation. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have been exceedingly keen, and always have been, ever since I can remember, to try and fasten on us and link our name with food taxation. What is the fact as to food taxation as between the two parties? To begin with, the right hon. Gentleman who moved this Amendment pointed out that at present both parties in the State are large food taxers. One would not imagine that to be so, judging from the placards on the other side. Is it a part of the policy of Tariff Reform to tax food? [An HON. MEMBER: "To tax the food of the poor."] That is the old cry, "taxing the food of the poor." I venture to say that greater claptrap was never heard. What are the three points of Tariff Reform. The first is that we should compel the foreigner to pay a fair market toll or tax in respect of any article that he manufactures and brings into this country, in competition with the articles supplied by the people here. [An HON. MEMBER: "How can you make them pay?"] In one of two ways.
The policy of Tariff Reform is to put a moderate tax upon the manufactured article coming in from abroad in competition with the home-made untaxed article. I do not mind what name you call it by; I am not at all afraid of the word Protection. I am glad to be able to protect my own workers. I think it is the first duty of the Government to protect its own people and its own workers. If by Protection you mean to put a heavy duty on an industry or article for the purpose of bolstering up that article which otherwise could not exist, then I am not in favour of that. But if you mean what I have endeavoured to define, the effect of that will be one of two things, either the manufacturer from abroad will still continue to send in his 304 goods and to pay a 10 per cent. ad valorem duty and sell his goods in competition with, the untaxed English article, or he will say, "In consequence of the 10 per cent. it is no longer worth my while to supply the English market," in which case the goods will be made by British workmen instead of by foreigners. The second point, as I understand it, in Tariff Reform is, clothe our Government with the power to retaliate upon any foreign nation which will not treat British goods fairly in their own market. [An HON. MEMBER: "Has it ever succeeded?"] We never had the power to treat with other nations. [An HON. MEMBER: "We have it now."] For sixty years, we have not had it. We know that in the case of other nations this power of retaliation, or of threatening retaliation, has led invariably to some understanding between the two contracting parties, and I need only give the most recent instance of this—the case of Germany and our Colony of Canada. The third point of Tariff Reform, as I understand it, is to give a preference to our Colonies in our markets for such things as they can produce, and which our people require, in exchange for a larger preference given by the Colonies in their markets to British goods, which we can produce and which their people require. As part of that policy our Colonies, and notably Canada, say: "Give us a slight preference over the foreigner in the wheat we produce," and for the purpose of giving that preference to Canada we propose, and it is proposed by Tariff Reform, to levy a duty, and here is the sole foundation for the cry of food taxation, to levy a duty of 2s. a quarter upon foreign corn, but not upon British-grown corn or upon Colonial corn. That is what. I understand the proposition to be.
§ Mr. JOHN WARD
The Tariff Reform-Commission recommended 1s. on Colonial corn and 2s. on foreign corn.
§ Mr. H. S. FOSTER
I only know the policy which I mention is that which the Member for West Birmingham recommended to the country, and I believe that is the policy which will be adopted. If hon. Gentlemen think they can make any capital out of 1s. a quarter on wheat, they are welcome to all the capital they can make out of it. Inasmuch as our Colonies will be satisfied by that slight preference over the foreigner of 2s., I hope and believe that that is the policy which Tariff Reform will adopt. What is the effect? Is there the slightest justification for telling the working classes we are 305 going to tax the bread of the people? Not the slightest. Who will pay that tax? In answer to that there is a parrot-like cry—the consumer. But the consumer will not pay it. Will any hon. Gentleman tell me why, if we can get all the corn we need from our great Colony of Canada, and produced in the Empire, untaxed, with the free use of our market, why should our people pay any more for the same quality of corn because there happens to be a duty levied upon the Argentine wheat which is not levied upon the Canadian wheat? Obviously if the Argentine—[Laughter.] I daresay it is very amusing. I am only too delighted to afford any amusement, but I do venture in all seriousness to put it to the hon. Gentleman, Why should we pay more for foreign wheat when we can get it from Canada? Apart from that, the mere fact of our stimulating the production of any article is, as any gentleman engaged in business knows, to increase the supply and make the article more abundant and thus cheapen it.
In a return from the Agricultural Bureau from America three or four years ago it was stated that the wheat-bearing lands of Canada are sufficient to grow enough wheat not only for the needs of Great Britain, but for those of the whole world. Apart, therefore, from the question of toll and from the question of the increasing quantity, I put it to hon. Gentlemen whether upon national grounds and upon Imperial grounds it is not better that we should be able to look to our own Empire for the source of our food supply for our people rather than to be dependent on the foreigner for any of it? Therefore I venture to say that upon that ground it would be to the advantage of this country, recognising the enormous change and the revolution in the industrial conditions of the world, to range ourselves alongside all the rest of the world, alongside our own Colonies, and to adopt a wise, sensible system of Tariff Reform, under which we shall find larger employment for our people, under which we shall increase the food supplies of our people, and, as with regard to wheat, by stimulating the supply we shall tend to abundance, and by tending to abundance we shall cheapen the cost to the consumer with regard to all the needs of the working man. If under Tariff Reform you give encouragement to Home industries you will stimulate the production in your Home industries, and in the same way by increasing the output of your factories you will cheapen the cost to the 306 producer and therefore cheapen the cost to the consumer.
The hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald), in an extremely eloquent speech, said: "Look at our Colonies," and he cited in particular the cases of Canada and Australia. It is marvellous to me that the hon. Gentleman can take such a one-sided view as to cite the cases of the Colonies without seeing the real moral of the lesson. The whole of Australia for the last seven or eight years, the greater part of Australia for the last thirty years, and the whole of Canada for about thirty years, have abandoned our one-sided system miscalled Free Trade, and adopted a wise policy of Tariff Reform. What are the facts to-day? They ought to appeal to hon. Members representing Labour interests in the House. The whole power in Canada and in Australia is in the hands of the working classes themselves. They have now had twenty or thirty years experience of Tariff Reform. Will any hon. Member opposite tell me that if they had found that Tariff Reform meant to them "making the rich richer and the poor poorer," or making the conditions of life harder for the worker, they would not long since have thrown it over? What they have found, as a matter of fact, is that Tariff Reform has meant more employment, better wages, a higher standard of Comfort in living, more power to save money, and greater prosperity to the community. If any Free Trade orator were to go to Montreal, Toronto, Sydney, or Melbourne, and address to working-class audiences the kind of speeches which have been thought good enough for English and Scotch electors, he would be laughed off the platform and out of the town.
I am grateful to the House for the indulgence with which they have listened to me. If I have spoken with any heat it is-because I feel strongly that the cause I am advocating is a right cause. It is the cause which has brought me back into public life, and I confidently believe that before long we shall see adopted a system of Tariff Reform which will benefit all classes, and, above all, the working classes.
Mr. LLEWELLYN WILLIAMS
I attended most of the Debates on the fiscal question in the last two Parliaments, and I was always struck by the air of unreality which characterised them. I thought that to-night that air of unreality would be absent, because everyone agrees that we 307 are probably within measurable distance of another General Election, when, I suppose, Tariff Reform will be one of the main issues. If the party opposite come back to power with a small or large majority I have no doubt whatever that the Leader of the Opposition will not be labouring under the disadvantage which he professed the other night of not knowing what the pronouncement was. The right hon. Gentleman delighted us two or three days ago by saying that since the Government had a majority of 124 the country must have pronounced upon some-something, but he had failed to find out what. If he comes back after the next election with a majority of fifty or sixty, as he and his friends anticipated would be the result of the last election, he will find no difficulty whatever in saying that the verdict of the country has given him a mandate to bring in a scheme of Tariff Reform. Yet although we are within measurable distance of that critical General Election, there is the same air of unreality about the Debate to-night.
Why is it that whenever the fiscal question is raised in this House the Debate is so academic and so unreal? One reason is that the very premise which the right hon. Gentleman has laid down is wrong. He says that the state of trade in this Kingdom is such, the gravity of the situation is so great, that it is imperative that there should be some reform in our fiscal system. One would have thought that this country was decadent and degenerate beyond all other countries in the world, that our trade was going, that our prosperity was a thing of the past, and that our Empire was a dream of the past like the Empire of Rome. But what are the facts? If you look at the latest Board of Trade returns, what do you find? Take, for instance, the exports of this country as compared with the exports of America and Germany for the four years ending 1908. The United States of America have a population of 85,000,000; Germany has a population of 62,000,000; this country has a population of at most 44,000,000. I submit that a right comparison is the amount of exports per head of the population. Applying that test, the exports of Great Britain during those four years were £6 13s. per head, while those of Germany and the United States combined were only £4 13s. per head. Therefore this little country of ours "dumps" 308 more of our manufactures upon other countries than Germany and the United States combined. That is one reason why there is an air of unreality about these Debates. No fiscal reform is required so far as the volume of trade is concerned.
Another reason is that, grave and serious as all of us admit the state of unemployment in this country to be, and always has been, and, I am afraid, always will be, to a certain extent—[An HON. MEMBER: "No."] Does the hon. Member think, after the admissions of the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, that unemployment can be done away with by any fiscal system? It is impossible. But, though the state of unemployment is admittedly grave in this country, it is no graver than in protected countries, and it is slightly better to-day than it was twelve months ago. I hope that now a new system of organising our labour market has been initiated by the late Government in the labour exchanges, and developed, as I trust it will be in the near future by another Liberal Government by insurance against unemployment, the undoubted evils of unemployment will be more certainly and thoroughly alleviated. There is another reason why I think there is an air of unreality in this Debate. That is this: That no hon. and right hon. Gentleman opposite, nor the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, have ever yet tabled a scheme of Tariff Reform. Never. And that is the difficulty. I remember when I was an undergraduate attending one of the few Conservative meetings it has been my lot to attend. The great Lord Salisbury, the greatest Leader that the Tory Conservative party has had in modern times, attended that meeting, which was in 1877. In the afternoon there was a great conference of delegates from all parts of the Kingdom. The late Sir Howard Vincent induced the conference to pass a resolution in favour of what was then called fair trade, an alias under which tariff reform was masquerading at that time. There was great curiosity evinced all over the town and amongst the delegates as to what the great Conservative Prime Minister would say in regard to this question of fair trade. I remember well how Lord Salisbury dismissed the question, and I cannot help thinking that if the right hon. Gentleman's relative had followed his example he would not have been in the cold shades of opposition quite so long or quite so hopelessly as he has since been. Lord Salisbury said, parodying 309 an epigram of, I believe, Dr. Johnson:—There are some things upon which fair traders are precise, and there are some things upon which fair traders are agreed. But on those things upon which they are agreed they are not precise, and on those things upon which they are precise they are not agreed.And that is the position to-night.
Note the speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. He does not believe that we ought to put any tax on Canadian corn. That is as I understand the position. The hon. Member for Stoke says that is not the position taken up by other Tariff Reformers. They advocate sometimes a two shilling duty on Canadian corn and sometimes one shilling. [HON. MEMBER: "No, no."] I do not konw what the state of opinion is at the present moment. It varies with every passing breeze. It is everything by turn, and nothing long. I should like to be instructed upon that point. I do not profess to know how the matter stands now. The hon. Gentleman said that if you put a tax of one shilling or two shillings—he did not care about the shilling one way or another—no Tariff Reformer ever does—if you put one shilling or two shillings tax on Canadian corn, said the hon. Gentleman, following, of course, his right hon. Leader—
It was said it would not make any difference to the price of food. That is not the opinion of two of our Tory Chancellors of the Exchequer. Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the 1900 Government, in a weak moment put on a shilling duty. What was the result? The following year he said that he had put that shilling duty on because it was so small that he did not think it would affect the price of the food of the people of this country. He found, he said, that he made a mistake. The following year we had another Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Ritchie. He took away that small duty. Why? Because he had found that it did make a difference. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."] He said so here.
I have not seen Lord St. Alwyn's most recent statement. I remember his statement in 1901 or thereabouts. I will not trouble the House with 310 the actual words, but I am perfectly certain that I am fairly stating the matter.
I want to ask the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bonar Law), who, if I may say so, is recognised on this side as one of the few intelligent Protectionists of the Tariff Reform movement, what he means by raw material? I heard to-night the hon. Gentleman who described himself as a junior Member for Birmingham—I believe he is a very distinguished member of the Tariff Reform League or Commission—that he does not think—and that therefore the Tariff Reform League does not think—that our raw material, as such, ought to be taxed or a tariff put on it at all. For personal reasons I would like an answer to my question as to what raw material is, because I sit for a Constituency which has very many different grades of industry, though of a cognate character. What, first, is raw material with the steel industry? Is iron ore? We import a great deal of iron ore from Spain. That is raw material. It is true we get some from Middlesbrough, but for our steel works we have to import a great deal from Spain. Is it proposed to put on a tariff to prevent the importation of iron ore from Spain? Is it a raw material or not? [HON. MEMBERS: "Of course it is," and "Yes."] Therefore it will continue to come in, as I understand it, without a tax. Very well. Therefore the steel trade is saved from the imposition of a tariff on its raw material. What is the next step? The finished article of the steel works are steel bars. Steel bars are the raw material of the tinplate works. Is the hon. Gentleman going to put a tax on that raw material?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Obviously the question of the hon. Gentleman is too large to be answered off-hand. But undoubtedly we shall treat the matter in precisely the same way as other countries have treated it. They all draw distinctions between manufactured articles and the raw material. Why does the hon. Gentleman suppose we are incompetent to do the same thing?
I am perfectly willing to allow that if it is possible to do this in other countries, the hon. Gentleman's ingenuity will be able to do it here. I quite admit that. The tinplate trade is the staple industry of my district, but I quite agree with what the hon. Gentleman has said that it is impossible for him to give a complete answer when questioned across 311 the floor in this way, and if he says he will give a clear and distinct answer to that question before this Debate comes to an end I shall be satisfied. All I want to point out to the House is this—that this finished article of the steel trade is the raw material of another trade. Now what has been said by followers of hon. Gentlemen opposite who are Tariff Reformers? Take the Tariff Reform candidate for Swansea at the last election, a gentleman who is greatly respected in the neighbourhood. All his cry throughout the election was that he wanted to have such a tariff placed upon steel bars as would prevent what he called the "dumping" of German or Hungarian steel upon the English market. I want to know, are Tariff Reformers going to ruin the tinplate trade in order to benefit the steel-bar trade? I go further. After the tinplate worker has finished his operation, after the steel bar has been worked out into a thin sheet of iron, then it has to go to be tinned, to have a thin coat of tin placed upon it. Tin is brought into this country from the Straits Settlements. There is no tin brought into my Constituency from anywhere else except from the Straits Settlements. There are tin mines in Cornwall that used to be worked at a profit years ago. Some of them may be worked at a profit to-day if a 10 per cent. tariff is put on in order to prevent the importation of Straits Settlements tin into this country, and therefore employment will be increased according to the assumption of Tariff Reformers. Put on a Tariff of 10 per cent. and you will give more employment to the tin workers in Cornwall. Are hon. Gentlemen opposite going to put a tariff on tin? [HON. MEMBERS: "No, it is the raw material."] Then Cornwall will be left out in the cold.
Let us go a step further. After the thin iron sheet has been coated with tin it becomes the finished product of the tin worker. What becomes of it then? It is sent on to the tinplate stamping works across the street. Is that going to be treated as raw material or as a finished article? It is the finished product of the tinplate workers, but it is the raw material of the tinplate stampers. What is it going to be treated as under the scientific tariff of hon. Gentlemen opposite? I hope the hon. Member for Dulwich will deal with the whole of these questions, because they are important not only to my Constituency but to many others. I only use the tin-plate trade as an illustration, but the very 312 questions arise in every industrial constituency in the country.
The hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) instanced one. Leather in Bermondsey is a raw material. In Leicester the boot is the finished article. It is the same question, except that in my Constituency, as it happily happens, the question arises about these various grades of cognate industries in the same town. In other cases, such as Bermondsey, the district deals with one particular branch, and another deals with another branch. Therefore it is an important question and I hope the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dulwich, to whom we look for light and leading—we do not look to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, for he has never given any light or leading either to his own followers or to anybody else on this subject of Tariff Reform—we look to the hon. Member to give us an answer. He has been perfectly frank upon every occasion, and I do hope now, when we are reaching a time when Tariff Reform may, for the first time, become a living, real issue, the hon. Member will deal frankly with the matter and let us know what we are fighting about. Let the hon. Member put his cards upon the table. Let him deal frankly with the House and honestly with the country, as I know he will. Let him throw the trammels of party on one side, and let him appear here not so much as a party man, but as a Tariff Reformer.
Another question I should like to ask is about another matter that affects my Constituency. In the words of the Amendment, Tariff Reform is required in order to mitigate the hostility of foreign tariffs. Well, of all the constituencies in the country there is none that has suffered so much as in my Constituency from the hostility of foreign tariffs. I will tell the House very briefly what has happened. The tinplate trade started in this country practically about forty years ago; for all practical purposes that was the date. It increased by leaps and bounds until the year 1890, when the output was something like £5,000,000 every year, nearly all of it coming from this town, and of the £5,000,000 £4,000,000 worth of the product was sent to the United States of America. In 1890 the McKinley Tariff was passed, and it was aimed almost directly at this prosperous industry in South Wales. They put on 75 per cent. ad valorem duty against Welsh tinplates, and I venture to say, if the hon. Gentleman opposite and 313 his Friends had come down to my Constituency in 1891–2 and succeeding years, they would have found a fruitful field for preaching the gospel of Tariff Reform. Some of the greatest manufacturers in the town went off to America and started works there; scores and even hundreds of working men were deluded into following them there. Whole districts in the town and other contiguous towns were devastated as if by a war, and for years the tinplate industry which had given employment to so many people, and had been so prosperous, became what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Joseph Chamberlain) called it when he started his Tariff Reform propaganda," a ruined industry." It was a ruined industry to all intents and purposes for years. What happened since? The manufacturers determined to find new markets, to better their machinery, to exploit their home markets, to cater more for the needs of the home market, and what has been the result? I have got the figures, but I will not go through them now. The result is that to-day this industry, which was struck to the ground twenty years ago by a hostile tariff, is more thriving and more prosperous than ever. During the last election I asked if any one knew of a single man who was unemployed in this town. I was unable to find a single man unemployed, and even the Tariff Reformers admit that. Why is it that America, in spite of the hostile tariff, is the best customer that we have got. The Leader of the Opposition started on his downward slope of Tariff Reform by advocating retaliation. He was in office in 1890 when the McKinley tariff was passed, which had this disastrous effect. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, supposing he had then had a mandate for Tariff Reform, how could he have stopped the Americans from passing the McKinley Tariff? Is there any weapon in the Tariff Reform armoury which would enable him to say to America "You shall not do it." If a decree went from this House that orchids should only be grown on Plinlimmon, or that grapes should only be grown on Snowdon, do you imagine that people would be so foolish as to go to such an expense. There is no power on earth to stop a great and prosperous country like America, self-contained, from passing the McKinley tariff if it chooses to do so. If ever the hon. Member for Dulwich has the power or the mandate given him to start Tariff Reform, he will 314 never be able to stop any hostile or foreign country from passing such tariffs as these. If it is possible to stop them, does the House not think that Germany would get better treatment from America than we do; but she does not. Does the House not think that if Tariff Reform or Protection is such a powerful weapon as has been suggested for bettering our condition in foreign markets, America would get a better chance than us? Nothing of the sort. We get the most-favoured-nation clause in every country, and we are as well off in the German market as the United States of America. We are also as well off in the United States market as Germany. In face of these facts, what becomes of all this talk about the loaded revolver?
There are certain industries in America, such as the great Standard Oil Trust, and the canned meat industry, which require tin plates. We find that they come to England for these goods, which the hon. Gentleman opposite has said is the best market in the world. The rich people of America find the English market a very desirable thing, because they very soon found, after the McKinley tariff was imposed, that the consumer had to pay. They found they had to pay 70 and 40 per cent. more than the fair market-price for their tin plates when they re-exported their oil and tin plates, and they discovered that they could not hold their own in the neutral market of England because they had to pay too much for their tin plate. Consequently Protectionist countries had to alter their law, and they passed the drawback system. What does that mean? That for every dollar that has been paid in duty a large portion has to be given back to the importer as a rebate when he re-exports the tin plates in another form. Ever since the drawback system has been passed Welsh tin plates have held their own in the American market, and not a single contract has gone out of this country since that time. That is effective retaliation. We sell to reluctant America nearly £1,000,000 worth of goods every year because we are a Free Trade country, and once we cease to be a Free Trade country our trade with America will go. Can the hon. Member opposite suggest how my Constituents will benefit by Tariff Reform? Can the hon. Member suggest any other market my Constituency will get to the extent of £1,000,000 a year if we lose the American market by Tariff Reform? What benefit are my Constituents going to get 315 out of Tariff Reform? In 1903 I was appointed a trustee by a relative of certain investments in the tin plate trade. In that very year the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham started his Tariff Reform propaganda, and he called the tin plate industry a ruined industry. I then began to make inquiries into the stability of that trade; I was quite satisfied with it, and the result has more than justified what the trustees did. There is no industry in this country to-day that is so prosperous as the tin plate industry. What is more, there is no industry where there is so little unemployment, and this has been done in spite of all the hostile tariffs which have been brought against us. Every bogey conjured up by the imagination of the hon. Gentleman opposite as threatening the future prosperity of this industry has been met and conquered in my Constituency. I thought, therefore, on an occasion like this, when the Debate, although academic, may be fraught with great and critical changes for the future of English history, it only right, fair, and just that I should give my experience to the House.
§ Mr. H. J. MACKINDER
As anew Member of this House, I would not have ventured to address it thus early in my career, but for the fact that I have noticed to-day the exceeding courtesy of this House to those new Members who have preceded me. I am not going to follow the last hon. Member into the interests of his constituents, nor am I going specially to deal with the interests of my Constituents, because I believe that if the country, as a whole, is prosperous the chances are that my Constituents will be prosperous. There are one or two points of view with reference to this Question which have not been dealt with to-day, at any rate at any length, and I would venture to draw attention to them. We have already heard to-day the often quoted idea that imports must pay for exports, and vice rersâ. There is one very great export of this country which, it seems to me, is always omitted in that statement, and that is the export of men and women. You may assess that export in various ways. One way is obvious. I suppose that each young man and woman of adolescent age living in this country can hardly be put down at a less capital value, at a less cost to the country, than, let us say, £200. An hon. Member whom I heard speak from the Irish point of view 316 this afternoon drew attention to something parallel in the case of Ireland. According to the statistics which have just been issued there were 150,000 more British and Irish subjects who left this country last year than people who came into it. That would represent, at £200 per head, an export of £30,000,000, and an export of capital. If machinery can help in the production of wealth in the future, and is therefore capital, surely 150,000 of educated, adolescent human beings are an export of the finest, and most cherished, capital of this country. We have been told to-day that unemployment is not greater here than in certain other countries. But if you come to apply any of those remedies which are suggested, amongst others, by hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway on the other side of the House, you will begin to find that your unemployment problem in this country is unlimited in this sense, that the moment that you attempt to put in force such a measure as the Right to Work Bill those 150,000 who are now driven to leave would claim their right to work, and the wages attaching to that work. In other words, you would very quickly have a position similar to that of a trades union in which the number of unemployed—of men on the idle list—becomes so great that the levies are raised to a point under which the union breaks down. So it would be with the whole country. You would have these 150,000 candidates for this relief to be given by the State, and in a few years the accumulation would be so great as to become an oppressive burden on the country. All attempts to deal with the unemployed problem are rendered vastly more difficult in this country because you are not limited to that form of unemployment which we on these benches fully recognise as a real problem—i.e., seasonal and occasional unemployment due to the fluctuations of trade. You also have chronic unemployment, which to a vast extent at the present moment is relieved only by this export of our population to foreign countries.
The Prime Minister has, I believe, on many occasions referred to the export of dead capital as a matter for congratulation. I fancy he has since limited the rather large phrases he used in that connection, and I will therefore only quote from his speech of 22nd December last, when he said:—What is the truth about the exportation of capital. The truth is that it is one of the best and surest indications 317 of the prosperity and productiveness of British industry. It is by the exports of British capital that you have developed India, that you have helped to develop your Colonies, and that you have made the British Empire what it is.May I add that by it you have made foreign countries—your rivals—what they are. From the capitalist's point of view of course it matters comparatively little whether the capital is here or elsewhere. But surely the problem has only to be indicated to be answered. If a machine tool is manufactured here does it matter to the worker whether it is kept in this country or whether it is sent abroad? Is there not a bench for a workman here in the one case; is there not a bench for the foreign workman in the other? Is there not a bench for the young British subject educated here in a civilised sense and presented free gratis to a foreign country against no balance of imports? I noticed that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade told us this afternoon that one of the two trades specially affected in this country at the present time by unemployment is the building trade. But it is a characteristic of that trade that it prospers when capital is being invested in this country. The building trade exists for the expenditure of capital—exists for the construction of those buildings in which the wealth of the country will in future years be created. Is not that, in itself—that very confession made this afternoon—an evidence that things are not what they should be in this country in that respect. If we distinguish among the trades in which there is unemployment, is there any trade which would be more significant in regard to this very point which I want to make in regard to the export of capital than the building trade?
I want to deal with this matter not from the point of view of pounds, shillings and pence, so easily and so frequently quoted, but rather continuously from the point of view of the human beings who constitute the real nation. There is a competition at the present moment among the nations of the world for this live capital. We have now a condition of things vastly different from that of the times of Adam Smith. Capital of this kind as capital of other kinds is to a large extent capable of being placed where you will. It is not "script of the glebe" as it used to be said in old mediaeval phrase. It is not tied to any particular region, owing to modern conditions of communication. Let me explain what I mean. If you go through that great Canadian 318 West, of which we hear so much at the present time—through the great prairie provinces—you see there wheat being grown to an extent of at least 100 million bushels. About a million people, there or thereabouts, grow that 100 million bushels; that is to say, a million people are growing the food of nearly twenty million people in respect of bread. I turn to the Blue Book on the supplies of food in this country in time of war, and I find there figures which enable us to assess as regards this country what proportion of the food of the people is in the form of bread. I find figures varying with different counties, but I think it is fair to say that about one quarter of the expenditure on food is expenditure on bread. For rough purposes, sufficient for the purpose of my argument, I think it will be admitted that we may say that about four million people can grow the food of twenty millions of people. The food of the sixteen millions of people is at the present moment, so far as Canadian wheat is concerned, so far as the beef of Argentina is concerned, and so far as regards the dairy food of neighbouring countries is concerned in fact, is capable of transport at negligible cost. The difference between the sack of flour in Chicago and in the Liverpool market was represented in January of this year by the price of 27s. on one side and 28s. on the other.
Therefore, you have food at the present time, and the same thing holds with regard to a great quantity of materials detachable from the region in which it is raised. In other words, you are able to carry it as easily to the population as you are able to carry the population to it. The situation has vastly changed owing to the modern means of communication, and countries like Germany, who make a scientific study of their tariffs, have realised this crucial fact, and are bidding for the population, or, in other words, for the most vital form of the capital of the surrounding countries. I hear statistics with regard to the state of employment in Germany and in regard to the character of the food and other conditions of the German people, but surely the proof of the policy is in the success of it. Instead of taking these disputable points—we all know how you can dispute with regard to minute statistics—why not take the great and broad fact that Germany used to export people. There are great regions in the United States where, I believe, German rather than English is the tongue commonly spoken, and Germany now, 319 though she produces, as the difference between births and deaths in the country, nearly a million new people a year, is no longer an exporter of people in any serious sense. Are not the German people free to go? Are not they the best judges of what suits them rather than hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House? I say it is evident that they are, because, if you take the year of the financial crisis in the United States, was it not the case that on that occasion the people of Europe ceased to go to the United States and even came back? Were they not quick judges the moment there were conditions turning the balance against the United States and in favour of their own country? And if that be the condition of things, then why need we go into these minute and disputable questions of partial statistics relating to particular portions of a country, to particular trades, when we have the sum total weighed up for us in the broadest and most unmistakeable form in these great solemn statistics to be compared with our own, where we produce from our forty-four million people less than half a million new souls a year, and of those we export 150,000?
If you tell me that we are now densely peopled, and that it is natural that our people should seek to escape, I say the German population is rapidly rising to a density equal to ours, that there is another country, little Belgium, in which you have a density of population not far from twice the density of ours, and yet, according to the statistics published in our own statistical abstract relating to foreign countries, Belgium is rather a small importer of population than an exporter. In these days you may move the food and raw materials, and the problem is to find where you have, owing to State policy, the most favourable conditions for the establishment of industries. I find these facts are beginning to affect even the fourteen professors, who, only some seven years ago, made themselves famous by a certain letter in "The Times." I find that one of these professors, and certainly not the least distinguished of them, Professor Nicholson, of Edinburgh, has recently published a book, "A Project of Empire," which is from beginning to end a commentary brought up to date of the old master, whom Gentlemen on the other side of the House like to quote, Adam Smith. I find notable phrases in the introduction of 320 that book. I admit that Professor Nicholson does not for the present, at any rate, cross all his t's and dot all his i's, and seems a little afraid to draw all his conclusions, but this, I think, may be said, that he is alive, as Adam Smith was alive, to the importance, to the deep human significance of this export of capital. Take this reference to Adam Smith.
"Of the lost ideas of Adam Smith two may be here cited. One is the importance of the local habitation of the capital during the process of consumption and reproduction. The popular idea that the employment of capital that is most profitable to the individual, whatever the mode or place, is of necessity also the most advantageous to the nation, is utterly opposed to the central doctrine of Adam Smith." The whole object of our tariff is to make the interest of the individual coincide with the interest of the nation. Then he says: "From this standpoint it is only the surplus of the nation's capital that can be exported with advantage to the nation." You are exporting 150,000 people when other nations are holding their people. Are you, then, under such circumstances, exporting the surplus capital of a country?" He emphasises more than any subsequent writer the importance of the Home market and the advantage of the employment of the capital of the country within the country. Well, so much for the fourteen professors, or, at any rate, one, and not the least distinguished of them.
I venture to say that this export of that form of our capital which is population has a bearing on Free Trade in regard even to Lancashire. I take it that hon. Members will not contest this, that the wealth of the country requires the labour of the population to maintain it. The Fleet can be maintained only ultimately by adequate population, and adequate population producing adequate wealth from which only a certain percentage can be spared, even in the greatest crisis, for the equipment of the nation in the way of defence. An hon. Gentleman opposite just now compared our exports per head of the population with the exports of certain other countries more populous than ourselves. When we come to the solemn day when the "Dreadnoughts" are ranged side by side on the sea, with shotted guns, will there be at that time any handicap for small countries? You cannot in the long run hold the position of a great Power in the world unless you are reasonably equal 321 in resources to the great Powers with which you are competing. We have two methods of maintaining our human equality. We may maintain the population by supplying employment here, and we may ask the Colonies to join with us in forming the basis of the great fleet which is to enable us to hold our place in the world. But whichever of these methods you take I suggest that in the long run you must do it by means of a tariff. That, however, opens up a long discussion. It is a matter that has often been discussed, and I want at the present moment rather to refer to its bearing on the Lancashire trade of which we have heard so much in the recent election.
It is said to be in the interests of Lancashire, because her staple trade, the cotton trade, is an export trade, to maintain the present system of free imports. We were told just now by an hon. Member opposite that in the particular industry in which he was concerned it was useless to hope for much from retaliation or negotiation, and that that particular industry had flourished notwithstanding the duties against it. It seems to me that there is a great object lesson at this moment before us as to the value of retaliation and negotiation. Has not little Canada brought great Germany to her knees in an economic sense? But just because we in this country, great though we still may be, have no means of negotiation, for that very reason we have by our own methods induced the present deplorable competition of the fleets of the world. How have we held the markets of Lancashire and our chief foreign markets, including China and India? By force. You could not negotiate. You allied yourselves with Japan. What value was your alliance without a fleet, and without an adequate fleet? We hold the road to India by fleet power, by adequate fleet power. We hold the markets of Lancashire at the present moment, not by one form of Protection, but by another, and at least as costly. You tax the country in order to build a fleet, in order that you may throw the power of that fleet into the scale when you go to negotiate with the other Powers of the world for the maintenance and retention of your markets.
Hon. Members opposite confine this Question to a mere discussion of tariffs. I venture to suggest that the question of a tariff and the question of the Navy are one and inseparable, and I would ask hon. Members, who ware criticising 322 just now, or, rather, who were trying to draw from the right hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bonar Law) his precise views with regard to Tariff Reform, to remember that Tariff Reform is a business policy and Free Trade is a doctrine. The object of our policy is to accumulate within this country the greatest quantity that we can of that human capital to which I have referred, and any method which on examination will accomplish that is open to us to adopt under the head of Tariff Reform. But unless you can here and in your Colonies obtain adequate human power upon which to base the Fleet which by silent victories is to win and to hold your markets in future, then there will come a day when this country will either fight and lose what is built on her big fleet, or she will refuse to fight and equally lose, because she has had to surrender the advantages which hitherto she has obtained. It is because we cannot bargain with other countries, as Canada bargained with Germany, that we have had to maintain a powerful fleet, and that other countries, knowing our method, have now determined that they will play the same game, and will throw into the scale, when it comes to negotiations, equal fleets. Hence the competition at this moment in fleet building—a direct result, I suggest, of our system of so-called Free Trade. Mr. Cobden said, if we were threatened with too great fleets from France, he would spend a hundred millions in building an equal fleet, but what he forgot was to provide the basis of taxation which would give that hundred millions. We have heard we are wealthy. Our forefathers have handed down the wealth to us. I do not know whether hon. Gentlemen opposite think that they have made it all themselves. [An HON. MEMBER: "We have not any."] The question is whether under the present conditions of the world this country, becoming a small country, will long retain that wealth which she has. We cannot depend alone on the Imperial sentiment that has been handed down to us. We want a basis of common interest. At the present time democracy itself is at stake, and the question is whether democracy, with the kind of arguments supplied to it by hon. Gentlemen opposite, will be able to take a forward view, to look into the future, and do as other countries are doing, notably those where there are bureaucratic and undemocratic Governments, whether we shall as a democracy be able to hold our owe 323 with the results of those scientific policies which are possible in countries in which parties matter little, even the Social Democratic party, with which hon. Members below the Gangway opposite are in touch, and from whom they obtain their evidence. The question is whether we can look to the future, regarding human life as capital for fighting for work, and for creating wealth.
§ Mr. ALFRED MOND
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has made a very interesting speech, and certainly, as far as Tariff Reform is concerned, a very remarkable one. Apparently Tariff Reform does not mean what it meant in 1902, and does not mean what it meant even at the last election. In fact everything is covered by the convenient formula of Protection, and you are enabled to travel from China to Peru and all over the globe, you are enabled to discuss the balance of power, and you can bring up remarkable theories about Continental Powers. We have the knowledge that with the scientific methods of Germany, and with the agrarian party raising the taxes on bread, the Social democratic party has grown from hundreds to thousands, from thousands to millions, and to the people rioting in the streets. Anyone who knows anything about German tariffs knows only too well as to the negotiations between the great steel magnates, and they know how those tariffs were arrived at, not for the benefit of German industry, not for the benefit of the German people, but for the benefit of powerful interests. The great German navy could not be built until the agrarian party got the extra corn duty put on. That was the scientific tariff—no more duty on corn, no ships. It was only when they got the duty on corn that they got this fleet—that wonderful measure of negotiation. Apparently you negotiate now by threatening European wars, and when you have destroyed labour and capital, on the ruins you try and carry on commerce. I can only say I dread the day when the business affairs of this country will be put into the hands of those who make such wild and ridiculous statements as to how commerce should be carried on.
The hon. Gentleman I knew could not avoid the temptation—I am astonished he did not—of referring to the tariff war between Canada and Germany. I make a present to hon. Gentlemen opposite of that eminent instance, one of many thousands. It shows that after many years 324 of injuring the consumers, the two arrive at exactly where they started. That is no new discovery. Sir Robert Peel discovered that long before the hon. Gentleman was born. He stated on the floor of this House that after long experience of those negotiations which hon. Gentlemen opposite are so anxious to resume, he had deliberately come to the conclusion that the policy of negotiation led to no result. That conclusion has been arrived at by almost every statesman in Europe. I would like hon. Gentlemen opposite, if they wish for information, to read some of the reports of the Berlin Chamber of Commerce, a body, I may say, although it is in the capital of the scientific tariff, is composed almost entirely of Free Traders. One of their chief complaints is that all the export markets of Germany are being closed by the high tariff, whilst this scientific tariff and retaliation is causing the German manufacturers to transfer their works and capital into Austria and Russia. The United States of America are held out as a country against whom we could retaliate. I believe I am accurate in saying that the United States have never altered a single stamp or a single schedule of their tariff because of the retaliation of any Protectionist country in the world. Retaliation is not an integral part of Protection. As a matter of fact, retaliation is the death of Protection, and any Tariff Reformer who is a retaliationist is cutting his own throat. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham early in the controversy laid it down with no uncertain voice that retaliation was no part of the policy of Tariff Reform. Retaliation is not a policy; it is an expedient. Show me against whom you are going to retaliate, show me how much it is going to cost you, show me how you are going to gain by it, and I will consider it. The hon. Gentleman said that Tariff Reform was a business policy, while Free Trade was a doctrine. I say Tariff Reform is a fallacy, while Free Trade is a fact. We have asked for that business policy now for many years. Will hon. Gentlemen kindly produce one single schedule of this great tariff, which they are always asking us to adopt? When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham started his campaign—and nobody regrets more than I do that he is not able to conduct it further, because, at any rate, he has had a business training and experience—the first thing he did was to outline, 325 not in vague language, not in windy terms, not in perorations, not in geography, but in prosaic pounds, shillings, and pence the duties he was going to put on and the articles he was going to exempt. Whether we were Free Traders or Tariff Reformers we could understand the effect of his policy on the people of this country. What has become of the policy of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham? It has been repudiated by the Tariff Reform Commission. Maize and bacon, those two sacrosanct articles, excluded by the High Priest from taxation as the only articles on which the foreigner would not pay the tax, have been, by the sacrilegious hands of the Tariff Reform Commission, restored to the duty list. What is the reason for that? Has the discovery been suddenly made that the duty on bacon will be paid by the foreigner? Has some mysterious inspiration shown that the duty on maize also will be paid by the foreigner? Or do they no longer care whether the foreigner or the Britisher pays the tax provided they can get a duty on everything?
When the campaign was started these duties were to be used to remit duties on tea, sugar, and tobacco. In the middle of the campaign the "Birmingham Post" came out with a new, elaborate, and apparently authoritative programme. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire endorsed that programme. That programme has dropped out the remission of taxation. He would have a duty on corn, and duties on meat, vegetables, and tea.
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
I endorsed no programme. The only programme I endorsed was the one I put forward myself. I commended certain articles in the "Birmingham Post" for consideration.
And it being Eleven o'clock the Debate stood adjourned.
Debate to be resumed to-morrow (Thursday).
326 Resolved, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Master of Elibank.]
House adjourned accordingly at Eleven o'clock.