HL Deb 10 August 1885 vol 300 cc1531-45

, in rising, according to Notice, to make a statement with regard to the proposed Royal Commission for inquiring into the extent, nature, and probable causes of the depression now or recently existing in various branches of trade and industry, said: Your Lordships are aware that it is the intention of the Govern- ment to issue a Royal Commission for the purpose of inquiring into the extent, the nature, and the probable causes of the depression now existing, or which has recently existed, in. various branches of trade and industry. Although no Questions have been put in your Lordships' House on the subject, still, no doubt, it is right that before the close of the Session the Government should state what is their intention in issuing this Commission, and what progress has been made in bringing it into existence. I notice that several Questions have been put in the House of Commons; but it has not yet been found thoroughly possible to give a full answer to them. I would now say, in the first place, that your Lordships are well aware that for several years—for the last 12 years, we may put it—there have been from time to time very heavy and serious complaints made from different parts of the country of the depression of trade; and not only have these complaints been made in different parts of the country, but the feeling has found expression in various ways in an authoritative form. More than once, Chancellors of the Exchequer, in bringing forward their Budgets, have referred, especially within the last two or three years, to the continued depression which has such a detrimental effect upon the Revenue of the country; and Motions have been made upon the subject in the House of Commons. Under the circumstances, it seemed to the Government to be a right and proper and desirable thing that an inquiry should take place to get as far as possible at the real facts of the case, and to ascertain what this depression is, and how it is working, and what is the probable outcome of the present state of things, if nothing is done. It may also be desirable that the various suggestions that have been made for meeting and remedying the depression should be examined somewhat critically; and for that purpose the Government thought it would be desirable to appoint a Commission of rather an extended character. It is not so much a Commission for the purpose of deciding or settling upon a policy, as a Commission for the purpose of ascertaining the facts, and collating and criticizing and examining them. The decision as to what policy should be pursued is a matter for the Government of the day and for Parliament. What is now principally desired is to obtain information which may guide any Government which may be in power in the formation of a policy. Of course, for that purpose it is important that we should get the assistance of men of the most different positions and different views and opinions in the country who might in any way assist us in obtaining correct and proper information. The first object we have in view, therefore, is to discover a sufficient number of men who would be willing and able to give us assistance in that direction. I may mention that before this Commission was decided upon a very powerful and interesting speech was delivered by a man of high position—I mean Mr. Goschen—at Manchester. Mr. Goschen entered largely into the question and the condition of trade; and it did appear to me, when I undertook, at the request of my Colleagues, to take the Chair on this inquiry, that it would be very much to our advantage if we could get Mr. Goschen's assistance on the Commission. I, therefore, addressed him, before anybody else, for the purpose of consulting him upon the subject. Mr. Goschen, however, on considering the matter for a short time, replied that, for various reasons with which he need not trouble me, he could not undertake the duties of a Commissioner. That sort of answer did not encourage me to proceed much further. I proceeded, however, to draw up the best list I could of Gentlemen to be asked to serve on the Commission, and when I had drawn it up I put myself into communication with some Members of the late Government, who had taken an interest in questions of this character, and who would, I thought, be willing and able to give assistance. I was particularly anxious to get the assistance of Mr. Shaw Lefevre and Mr. J. K. Cross, the late Under Secretary of State for India. I had several communications with Mr. Shaw Lefevre and Mr. J. K. Cross; but, unfortunately, I was unable to persuade these Gentlemen to join the Commission. Mr. J. K. Cross, I am sorry to say, besides other things, was prevented by the state of his health from undertaking the task; and I was unable to persuade Mr. Shaw Lefevre that it would be safe and proper for him and some of his Friends to join in the inquiry. Mr. Shaw Lefevre did not like some of the names proposed; he did not like the appearance of the Commission; and he declined, and other Members of the late Government also declined, to join in the undertaking. I very much regret that this is the case; because, whether it is on account of the action of the Members of Her Majesty's late Government, or for any other reason, I have certainly failed to obtain the co-operation of a good many Gentlemen whom I was earnestly desirous to enlist in this cause, and who I think would have rendered good service. I do not know that I should do any harm in mentioning the names of those to whom I have applied, but who are unable to attend. They are—Sir Hussey Vivian, M.P., who on account of other engagements was unable to serve; Mr. Slagg, the Member for Manchester; Mr. Hibbert, M.P.; Mr. Goschen, M.P.; Mr. W. E. Forster, M.P.; Mr. Shaw Lefevre, M.P.; Mr. J. K. Cross, M.P.; Mr. Courtney, M.P.; and Mr. Norwood. M.P. All those Gentlemen, many of whom would be of very great advantage to us in conducting this inquiry, declined to serve on the Commission, and I am extremely sorry that it is so. However, we have gone on as well as we could in the difficult circumstances in which we were placed; and I have now, I will not say absolutely completed the list, because there are still one or two from whom I have not yet received answers, and it is not quite fair to judge of the Commission unless you give their names as a whole. Still, I think I should be doing right if I were to give the names of those who have accepted. My noble Friend the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies (the Earl of Dunraven) has undertaken to serve with us on the Commission. I will take the others alphabetically, though they will come in rather a miscellaneous order. First, there is Mr. Aird, who is a partner in the firm of Messrs. Lucas and Aird, who are large employers of labour, and will have the means of obtaining a great deal of information. Then comes Sir James Allport, the late general manager of the Midland Railway, whose position naturally gives him great opportunity of affording us information, and telling us where we can find the right persons to examine out of the Midland district. Then there are Mr. Lionel Cohen, who is a Gentleman of large financial knowledge; Mr. Corry, M.P., a shipowner of Belfast; Mr. Jackson, the Member for Leeds; Mr. David Dale, of Darlington, who was strongly recommended on account of his connection, with the iron trade; Mr. Ecroyd, M.P. for Preston; Mr. W. Fowler, the Member for Cambridge, who has had large banking experience; Mr. Henry H. Gibbs, whom we invited on account of his financial knowledge, and on account of his services being especially valuable in connection with the possibility of the monetary question being one of those to be inquired into. We have, also, Mr. Houldsworth, the Member for Manchester (I should have taken the Liberal Member, Mr. Slagg, but find him unable to accept); Mr. Jamieson, the President of the Scotch Society of Accountants, a man who knows as much of Scotland as any man, and who rendered great services in the winding-up of the City of Glasgow Bank, has accepted the invitation; Mr. Neville Lubbock, who is connected with the sugar trade, and a brother, I believe, of Sir John Lubbock; Sir Louis Mallet—I think I may mention him as being likely to join, although he has not definitely accepted; Mr. Muntz, the Member for North Warwickshire; Mr. Arthur O'Connor, a Gentleman of great ability, as those who have seen him in the House of Commons are well aware; Mr. Pearce, of Messrs. Elder and Co., the Glasgow shipbuilders; Mr. Inglis Palgrave, who is, or was till lately, editor of The Economist, and has paid much attention to financial questions; Mr. C. M. Palmer, the Member for North Durham, who is a large shipowner; Professor Bonamy Price, and Mr. Storey, the Member for Sunderland. Those are the Gentlemen who have consented to serve on the Commission, and I will also endeavour to get one or two working men to join the Commission. Mr. Birtwhistle, Secretary to the Weavers' Association, will, I believe, serve, and I am endeavouring to get another. That is the position in which the Commission stands, and I have invited the Gentlemen I have named to meet me at a preliminary meeting in the course of this week in order to consider how we are going to work. I propose to lay before them a Paper which I am about to lay on the Table—it is a Memorandum upon the course of the inquiry, the objects we have in view, and the manner in which that inquiry can best be carried out. It will depend upon these Gentlemen how far it may be desirable to accept, and how far to modify, that programme. I believe, on the whole, it will be found most convenient to put out a well-selected body of questions, to have them distributed as widely as possible, and then, having received replies to those questions, and taken official evidence, we shall be much guided as to the nature of the rest of our inquiry. It seems to me there are large and important questions upon which we may easily do good work. Among others, it will be found that our information with regard to the home trade of the country is very imperfect, though our information with regard to foreign trade is tolerably good. I believe we shall be able to obtain considerable improvement as to the mode of collecting information about our home trade by the labours of the Commission. I hope the Commission will work in the spirit in which it is appointed. It is not appointed in any Party spirit to support any foregone conclusion. It is appointed for the purpose of investigating a state of things materially affecting the people of the country, which has now continued long enough to make it really a matter of importance that we should inquire how far it is possible to guide the course of events, and prevent disasters with which we are threatened. I believe we are taking the wisest course in entering boldly upon a formal, but a large and comprehensive inquiry. There is a sort of disposition in some quarters to cry out that we are interfering with the doctrines of Free Trade. What the doctrines of Free Trade or the nature of the inquiry may be—these are questions which I do not think it necessary to go into now. If those doctrines are as sound as I believe they are they will be supported, and will come well out of any inquiry which may take place, and be strengthened by it. But I do not think you will improve the position which Free Traders seem to desire to take up by declining to go into an inquiry lest it should disclose some inconvenient results. They cry "Great is Diana of the Ephesians," as if that were all that could be said, and as if we were to abstain from altering or interfering with the established state of things. I hope and trust that what I have said may be understood as intended to represent the spirit in which we shall proceed; and although we have not met with that support from our Predecessors which I think we might reasonably have expected, yet I hope we shall receive the assistance of all classes in this great national undertaking.


My Lords, believing that it is not desirable to appoint this Commission, and that it will lead to no actual or practical results, I entertain the same objections to its appointment which I expressed when the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Dun-raven), who was then sitting on the Cross Benches, brought forward the subject at considerable length at an earlier period of the Session. At that time I offered what I thought was a complete and conclusive argument against the appointment of the Commission; for all that part of my speech was almost a verbatim repetition of what the late Earl of Beaconsfield said when an exactly similar Motion was raised some years ago. That noble Earl then denounced the idea of such a Commission, on the ground that it had no specific object, and that its labours were not likely to lead to any practical result. The noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Iddesleigh) has certainly not given us any definite object; on the contrary, he deprecates its having any pre-arranged objects, and says that it is merely for the purpose of collecting information. I cannot, however, quite forget the line taken up by the noble Earl opposite the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies (the Earl of Dunraven). A personal and political Friend of mine said that the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Salisbury) would never consent to tax foreign manufactures. I am not quite so sure about that. As I understand the distinction, the noble Marquess would desire to tax foreign manufacturers, in order to use it as a weapon to obtain Free Trade from other countries. In that he differs from the noble Earl the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies, whose view was that we should have a new commercial system by which the Revenue should gain by the taxation of foreign manufactures. Of the two I rather prefer the view of the noble Earl the Under Secretary of State, because, after all, that is a new fiscal arrangement, which has some element of certainty about it; whereas the noble Marquess's plan has this great disadvantage, that it introduces uncertainty by its very character. It would create a new vested interest in this country, protected by the temporary means it proposes, which would have to be compensated when those means were withdrawn. With regard to the practical character of the Commission, the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Iddesleigh) has mentioned a vast number of important subjects into which the Commissioners are to inquire, and I can conceive that such an Inquiry will last one or, more probably, two years. But, on the other hand, I have read in The Standard of this day a letter which purports to be an answer by the noble Marquess to a congratulatory Resolution from the Conservative Working Men's Association of Kirkdale. In the letter the Association is informed that Lord Salisbury trusts that when the General Election is over, it may be found that the efforts of the Conservative Government to restore peace to their country and a more healthy and prosperous condition to its trade may not have proved unsuccessful. I will not go into the question of restoring peace; but with regard to the question of restoring a more healthy and prosperous condition of trade, if the noble Marquess has got in his pocket the secret for bringing about that beneficent result in three or four months, what on earth is the use of proposing a Commission of Inquiry whose labours may probably last a year or two? No doubt, we must allow for a certain amount of laxity and latitude before an Election in the assurances given to constituencies; but if the noble Marquess can assure the working men of Kirkdale of the restoration of a more healthy and prosperous condition of trade, the position of the Government really appears to require some explanation. With regard to the composition of the Commission, the noble Earl opposite spoke with the utmost courtesy of those Gentlemen—some of them of great eminence—to whom application had been made to servo, but who had declined to do so; but yet the right hon. Baronet the Chancellor of the Exchequer, at Bath, on Saturday, made something like a direct attack upon Gentlemen who had declined to serve on the Commission, and whom he accused of something like want of patriotic conduct, and of refusing to join because they did not believe that they could maintain those economical doctrines which they had supported all their lives. For my own part, I have no business to represent Mr. Goschen; but do your Lordships—does the noble Earl opposite—really believe that Mr. Goschen is a man who in any way shirks a public duty which he thinks he can efficiently carry out, or that he is a man who, at this moment, is likely to feel utterly unable to defend those economical principles of which he is one of the strongest supporters? As to Mr. Shaw Lefevre and Mr. J. K. Cross, can either the noble Earl opposite or any of your Lordships so think of either of those Gentlemen? I have had some communications with them on this subject, and so far from their having absolutely decided not to serve on the Commission, they were very ready to consider the question whether they should do so if they were asked; but they naturally wished to know what was to be the scope of the Commission, and, what they thought to be equally important, what was to be its constitution; and I think it is a source of some anxiety to them that they find it impossible to serve. I am talking rather offhand now; but I think these Gentlemen found that the list of names which the noble Earl submitted to them included seven or eight Gentlemen professedly Fair Traders, or, as I prefer to call them, Protectionists; that the large majority of them were Conservatives; and that the rest were composed of local Gentlemen representing trade and manufacture. I am not at all surprised that they did not think that was a right Commission, or one that would commend itself to the respect and confidence of the whole country; and I think they were equally right in thinking that the burden should not be thrown upon them of defending, whether they are right or wrong, the received and acknowledged doctrines which underlie our fiscal arrangements. I think they were right in the course they took; but, if it was not so, I should like to ask the noble Earl opposite to state how many Members of the present Government were asked to serve on another Royal Commission, with a very definite object, in reference to merchant shipping and shipbuilding, and how many accepted or declined the invitation? I must repeat that I am only concerned to show that no blame whatever attaches to those Gentlemen who, after a due and confidential consideration, determined that it was no part of their public duty to go into a Commission which they very much feared would not be satisfactory, and which would not command the confidence which it was so desirable such a Commission should enjoy.


My Lords, the speech of the noble Earl opposite (Earl Granville) would almost convey the idea that the question before the House was rather what my opinions were, than whether the appointments upon the Royal Commission were good. I am always much interested in and even complimented by any remarks of the noble Earl upon my opinions, although he may take objection to them; but I am bound to say I do not see what they have to do with the Royal Commission in question. I am not a Member of it, and I shall not have the slightest influence in guiding this Inquiry to its results. The noble Earl referred to something I said in a past debate. Now, it is a matter of perfect indifference to the objects of the Commission what opinions I may have expressed in some past debate. I may have expressed such an opinion as that to which the noble Earl has referred in some past debate. I do not remember it; but I gather from him that my offence in that debate was, that I recommended some measures which would have had the effect of causing a temporary increase in portions of the tariff, and, therefore, of creating a number of vested interests, and when that increase of the tariff was abandoned, those vested interests would, in some way or other, have claimed compensation. If the noble Earl is prepared to lay down, as a principle, that an increase of the tariff is always to be condemned, unless the Minister who recommends it will guarantee its permanence, I must leave him to settle his dispute with all the Ministers of Finance who have existed in this country during the present century. They have often made an increase of the tariff for a particular purpose, and with a definite, but limited, object, without any intention that the increase should be per- manent. I have never before heard that such a course was condemned on account of the vested interests which might possibly arise during the temporary existence of the tariff, which it was intended ultimately to reduce. There is another quotation which the noble Earl gave, I think rather laxly, from some letter which I was supposed to have written.


I have the words written here.


I do not remember the words. No doubt, what I was referring to, when I expressed a hope that the influence of the present Government might be beneficial to the recovery of trade, was the hope that the principles upon which we shall advise Her Majesty to carry on the Government would have the effect of giving that confidence abroad and at home which is the very life of prosperity and industry in this country; and, we believe, through that means, and not through any special legislative measure, very definite and real benefit may be conferred, by a new system of policy, upon the trade and industry of the country. That was the idea which I probably had in my head when I was writing the words to which the noble Earl refers. But it is really fatuous to occupy time in considering what influence my individual opinions may have upon this important Commission. I will only say a word as to what is really the main question raised before your Lordships, which is, whether we are to think that these Liberal authorities, who have come to a kind of agreement to "Boycott" this Royal Commission, have fulfilled their duty as statesmen in so doing. Of course, we could not take any one man and say it is his duty to serve upon a Commission, for he may have other engagements; but when we find a considerable number of distinguished men of the same political colour refusing to serve, and when we know, what is a matter of public notoriety, that the word was passed along not to go on the Royal Commission, I think we have a right to inquire whether such an attitude towards the inquiry is justified by principles which generally actuate English statesmen; whether it would not have been, perhaps, more patriotic if they had put into their pockets all consideration of the fact that this Commission had been set on foot by their adversaries, or contained people with whom they might not agree; and whether it would not have been better to have addressed themselves in concert with other men, not only politicians, but men of business, merchants, and manufacturers, and men of great authority, to find out whether all the sufferings our people have been going through are really unavoidable, or whether there is not in it some cause which we may discover and lay before Parliament, and for which Parliament may find a remedy. It seems to me that this is so great an object that, considering the suffering that has been undergone, and is so general, considering that the interests of this country which are jeopardized are so serious and enormous, all those petty considerations of what Party has set the Commission on foot, or as to what partizans were upon it, should have been rejected by men of the character and position alluded to by the noble Earl. T was surprised to hear the noble Earl give, as a reason for their refusal, that they found the composition of it was such that they could not serve on it with advantage. If I understood my noble Friend (the Earl of Iddesleigh) aright, I believe it is the fact that these statesmen were asked in the first instance, so that it was impossible for them to say what the composition of the Commission would be, and to give that as a reason. If, in consequence of their refusal to serve, there was a very small admixture of the Liberal element on the Commission, I cannot think that that is an argument to justify their own abstention. Is their own abstention a justification of their own abstention? The Commission does not contain a large Liberal element, because they insisted upon staying away. Then they point to the Commission, and say there are no Liberal statesmen there. I am surprised the noble Earl should adopt such an argument. The Commission contains many representative men of all descriptions, and it is a matter of regret that it does not contain Liberal statesmen to any extent. The noble Earl has stated, as some sort of reproach, that the Commission contains men connected with business in various localities. I should have thought they were the men most wanted on a Commission of this sort to investigate trade questions, and to tell us where the evil is. My Lords, I believe that the Commission is very fairly constituted. There are on it, no doubt, a certain number—a small number—of those who are connected with the opinions described as those of "Fair Trade;" there are on it some stout champions of the orthodox doctrine of Free Trade; and there are on it a considerable number of Gentlemen with regard to whom you cannot say beforehand that they have any strong or preconceived opinions, but who will give their judgment and verdict according to the facts which are brought before them. There are some of the most eminent mercantile and industrial men in the country on the Commission, and I believe that their names will attract the confidence of their countrymen, who desire that the Commission should consist, not of illustrious statesmen, but of men who are competent to examine into the matter which is referred to them, and who will give a true, a fair, and an impartial verdict, untrammelled by any preconceived opinion, on the facts laid before them; and that I believe they will do.


My Lords, in explanation, I would say that the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Salisbury) has defended the one-sided-ness of the Commission on the ground, among others, that Mr. Shaw Lefevre and Mr. J. K. Cross, when asked to serve upon it, refused to do so before they knew who their Colleagues would be. At that time, however, they had not refused; but they naturally wished to know what the constitution of the Commission would be, and a long list of 17 or 18 names, most of which have been just mentioned by the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Iddesleigh), was submitted to them, giving this enormous preponderance to Conservatives and Fair Traders on the Commission. The noble Marquess opposite is wrong in supposing that I spoke with contempt of the manufacturers of this country, of whom I am one; but it is the case that I have condemned the composition of the Commission as a whole; and even assuming that all the manufacturers on the Commission were neutral, there will still be an enormous preponderance of professed Fair Traders and of Conservatives upon it, for those who cannot be described as Free Traders may be assumed to come under one or other description.


I wish to make an explanation, in the first place, with regard to what the noble Earl opposite (Earl Granville) has said as to the composition of the Commission, when some of the Members of the late Government were asked to join it. They were at that time expressly told that no appointment had been made, and that no person had been spoken to on the subject, with the exception of my noble Friend the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies (the Earl of Dunraven). When this matter was so put before Mr. Shaw Lefevre and Mr. J. K. Cross, I explained to them, and they were told, that we had made no other arrangements, and that it was quite possible to discuss the matter freely. When the noble Earl says that all who cannot be expressly named as Free Traders are to be taken as Conservatives and Fair Traders, I do not know on what ground he makes that statement. As regards half the Members of the Commission, at least, I do not myself know at this moment whether they are Fair Traders or not. The Members of the Commission have been appointed because they can give good information as to the trade of the country. I do not know, for instance, whether Sir James Allport is a Fair Trader or not; but a man of his intelligence and experience will be of great use in an Inquiry which is to give us good information as to the facts. The noble Earl assumes that everyone who was not put on the Commission expressly for the purpose of fighting the principles of Free Trade and of cross-examining the statements on the other side, is to be reckoned as a Fair Trader. I think that is a great error, and I extremely regret it. I do not desire by these observations to throw blame upon anybody, but I wish to explain the peculiar and difficult position in which we were placed.


When the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Iddesleigh) first communicated with the two Gentlemen I have mentioned, it is no doubt true that the Members of the Commission were not actually appointed; but the noble Earl named those persons whom it was proposed to ask to join it, and I do not understand him to deny that that was so.


Yes, that was so; but they had not, either of them, been asked, and they knew nothing about it. If I had been asked to take off this Gentleman's name, for instance, and put on another, possibly I might have done so.


said, Sir James Allport was the only one of the Commission known to him, and no man had done more for the working classes; and as the Commissioners would neither be paid for their time, nor have their travelling expenses, their gratuitous investigations ought to be treated with respect, and not with icy coldness and contempt.

Memorandum for the Royal Commission on the Depression of Trade and Industry; ordered to be laid before the House.—(The Earl of Iddesleigh.)

Memorandum laid before the House (pursuant to Order of this day), and to be printed. (No. 247.)