§ LORD HENEAGE
, who had given notice, "To ask His Majesty's Government whether they will publish in a convenient form any information in reference to the hostile tariffs of foreign countries, or of the British colonies, which is of material importance to the consideration of the fiscal question now before the country, as well as any evidence of the increase or decrease in the volume of our trade in recent years, which may be prepared for the use of the Government in their present inquiry," said: My Lords, since I framed this Question some three weeks ago a good many things have happened. At that time anyone who had an open mind with regard to an inquiry was liable to hear himself called a protectionist or a traitor to free trade, but now I think everyone is of an inquiring mind. All free traders, as well as everyone else, desire that there should be an exhaustive 380 inquiry, and that every information should not only be obtained by the Government, but should be laid before the country. Public opinion out of doors has changed in this matter, but not more so than opinion in your Lordships' House, because it will be remembered that when this question was first brought forward by the noble Viscount opposite (Viscount Goschen) some weeks ago, he made a speech, and a speech was afterwards made by my noble friend Lord Avebury, which might very easily have been followed by a Resolution that everything was satisfactory under the present free trade arrangements, and that no inquiry at all was needed. But those noble Lords have advanced considerably since that time. The noble Viscount opposite in last Friday's debate on the question from the Indian point of view, was most anxious to obtain information in order that he might find himself fully equipped for the fray in October next, and my noble friend Lord Avebury made a very fair and well-balanced speech on the difficulties which free trade has had to contend with. My noble friend said, and said truly, that the discussions at successive Colonial Conferences could not be ignored, and he reminded your Lordships that the novel systems of bounties, cartels, and syndicates had raised problems which did not exist in the time of Cobden and Bright. My noble friend might have added that the prophecy of Cobden had not come true, and that other countries had not adopted free trade but were, every one of them, protectionist.
The question that we have to decide is whether, after all, we are free traders, or whether we are what the noble Duke called free importers. Cobden sixty years ago said, even when he thought all nations would follow our example, that the time would come before long when we would have to have a revision of our fiscal system, and I think that time has already come. I approach this question as a free trader, as one who is not at all satisfied with the present state of things, and I am most desirous that full inquiry should be made into the present position of free trade and the conditions of our free trade policy. I also desire that inquiry 381 should be made which may lead to some idea of what is likely to be the outlook in the future, which I think is far more important. I am most desirous that not only the members of the Government and the Leaders on the Opposition side of the House, but the nation as a while should take part in this inquiry, that all the information collected should be given to the nation, and that all those who have a practical knowledge of the various trades which are now subject to hostile tariffs should have an opportunity of going into the figures and facts laid before His Majesty's Government.
We must recollect that two generations have grown up since the last protection election in 1851; they have grown up to manhood and to the franchise. Education makes the artisans of the present day very good judges of facts and figures, and I think that anyone who has addressed them in recent years must have recognised that they are far more intelligent than the farmers and the shopkeepers of forty years ago. What they are all desirous to know is, what is all this free trade controversy about? Have we really got free trade, and why are other countries protectionist? They are constantly being told that other countries are far better educated than themselves, and the artisans are desirous of knowing why those who are more educated should prefer protection, and why we alone of all the countries in the world remain free traders. Then they are desirous of knowing whether what they are told on being thrown out of employment—viz., that the hostile tariffs and bounties of other countries are preventing their employers from giving that employment to the workers at home which they would desire, because they cannot sell their goods abroad, is true. Most men of business will, I think, understand how much easier negotiation with other countries is carried out if both parties have something to give as well as something to take. The other day my noble friend Lord Welby asked for a Return of hostile tariffs, and other details, existing in England before 1842, and the noble Duke the Lord President of the Council decided that that Return should be given.
§ LORD HENEAGE
At any rate, the noble Duke did not object to the Return being granted. I want information about what is going on now in the year 1903. I think that is of much greater importance. I do not think you will find that the electors of this country will be put off by the tales of their grandfathers. I think it most desirable that practical men of business and experts in all trades should consider this question with every information. I am perfectly well aware that the Question on the Paper is in somewhat vague terms, but that is not my fault. I have endeavoured during the last fortnight to draft some form of Return which the Board of Trade would be willing to give, but I have always been met with one of three answers—either that they were too busily occupied in providing material for the inquiry by the Government to devote any time to anything else; or that the particular Return I wanted would be misleading; or that they could not give it. In these circumstances I fell back on the information which the Government are having prepared for themselves, and I thought that at any rate the publication of that could not be objected to, and that the facts and figures upon which the Government formed their decision would be exactly the facts and figures which the country would like to see.
For my own part, I may say that the information I should particularly like would be a list of the chief products of this country with the hostile tariffs of other countries in tabular form, so that they might be easily known. I should also like to have some Return showing the volume of trade of this country at the present time, and the increase or decrease in that volume of trade during recent years, so that by a little trouble it could be easily ascertained how far that was the effect of the hostile tariffs or bounties of other countries. I should like also some information with regard to the income tax Returns. We are told that this is the wealthiest nation in the world, and the income tax is pointed to. I should like to know how much of that income tax revenue is derived from outside 383 this country, how much is derived from capital paying wages to foreigners and from capital paying wages at home. It is well known that many trades have ceased employing hands in all parts of this country, and have set up trades in France, in the United States, and in other countries. That is information I should like to have. I should also like to know how many of these firms have set up factories in other countries. I have not put these requests on the Paper for the simple reason that I thought objection might be raised to them in form or substance, and therefore I content myself with asking the Government to give the country, in a convenient form, that information which will have been prepared for their own use.
§ THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
My Lords, my hon. friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs stated on Friday last that the Government were willing, indeed anxious, to supply to Parliament any information which they may be able to collect for their guidance, and which would be for the public advantage to present, and I do not know that I can do more than repeat that intimation, with the addition that it is our desire to lay this information before the House in as convenient a form as possible, and at the earliest possible date. With regard to the specific Question which the noble Lord has placed on the Paper, he has, I think, supplied me to a very large extent with the answer. It appears that the noble Lord has already been endeavouring to arrange with the Board of Trade—the Department which probably would be most qualified to give this information—for the preparation of certain Returns, but that he has been informed by that Department that for various reasons it would not be possible to give the information in the form in which he desires it. I therefore should be rather imprudent if I undertook, in answer to the Question of the noble Lord, to promise that we would supply him with a Return of the exact nature that he asks for. As to what he designates the hostile tariffs of other countries, I conceive that the tariffs of all foreign countries, whether hostile 384 or not, are accessible in documents already before the House. Whether a summary can be made of such tariffs in a convenient form I am unable to say, but it appears that the noble Lord has hitherto been unsuccessful in arranging with the Board of Trade the form of such a Return as he desires. I can only repeat that the Board of Trade is at present extremely busily engaged in obtaining information on all these points primarily for the consideration of the Government, But, so far as we think it is desirable in the public interest and will conduce to a better understanding of this question, it is our desire to lay all this information as early as possible before the House.
§ House adjourned at five minutes before Five o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.