§ *THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
My Lords, I rise to call the attention of the House to statements made by the Prime Minister and the Colonial Secretary, and to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs when His Majesty's Government intend to lay before Parliament their proposals to induce Germany to modify her tariff regulations with the Dominion of Canada. In doing so I must direct attention to statements that have been made by certain eminent men in regard to this matter. The Prime Minister stated a few days ago—I have not hesitated to say that if other methods failed I do not shrink from retaliation.And the Colonial Secretary stated, at the same time, in the House of Commons—If there had been nothing in the condition of our colonies which justified allusion to this matter, I agree in that case there would have been no immediate urgency — immediate urgency not arising. But is the right hon. Gentleman (Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman) so behind the times that he knows of no urgency?Now, we have got a statement which, I think, is of considerable importance, that this question of the tariff arrangements between Germany and Canada is one of urgency. We have been told, and I do not wish to quarrel with that statement, that the general question of our fiscal policy is one which cannot be decided at once, but ought to be left for an open investigation for several months. But then, my Lords, a debate was initiated by a noble Earl in this House. Lord Camperdown, on a question to the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for 725 Foreign Affairs, and whilst I am sure that was not the intention of my noble friend, yet certainly the effect of his speech was to imply that in this matter Germany had acted in a way which was unduly and unnecessarily hostile both in spirit and intention to the Dominion of Canada. I am confident that there is not one of your Lordships who does not desire to cherish and to strengthen the ties between this country and Canada; but while I would wish to do that, and to do justice in every sense to our fellow-countrymen in Canada, I think it would be very mischievous if a wrong impression got abroad in regard to the conduct of Germany in this matter. The feeling that Germany had been behaving in a rather high-handed manner, to say the least of it, was rather emphasised in the speech of the noble Marquess the Foreign Secretary. In reply to the question and the speech of my noble friend Lord Camperdown, the noble Marquess rather compared the position of this country to that of an unprotected person in a lawless country. He said—To my mind the present position is almost intolerable. If we take the opportunity of supplying ourselves with a revolver, and let it be seen by everybody that we have got one, and that it is rather larger than anybody else's, my own impression is that we shall find ourselves carefully let alone.Certainly, the effect of those words in the country, whatever may have been the intention of the noble Marquess, was to emphasise and to give force to the view that in this matter we had a reasonable ground of complaint against the attitude of the German Government.
Let us examine shortly, but carefully, the history of this matter. Before 1897 the treaty between this country and Germany was in force which had existed since 1865. That treaty contained a stipulation that there should be absolute equality of treatment between German and British goods in British Colonial markets. In 1897 Sir Wilfrid Laurier changed that policy by giving to this country a preferential tariff in respect to goods sent from this country as against Germany. The result of that was that a correspondence arose between the German Government and our Government, and Lord Salisbury, who was at that time Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, 726 gave notice that he desired to terminate the existing treaty. The treaty was terminated, and Germany declined at the time to enter into a new treaty because she said her whole tariff system was going to be overhauled in 1903. And here I may venture to say that I do most earnestly trust that in any future arrangement with Germany the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs will be able to secure the best treatment that can possibly be obtained for Canada. However, the new treaty was, as I say, declined by Germany, but in the meantime a modus vivendi was arrived at between the German Government and the British Government by which the most-favoured-nation clause was retained to this country, but, of course, Canada was exempted from it. The gist of the whole controversy depends upon the answer to the question whether or not Canada has been and is a fiscal unit of the Empire. It was maintained by the Canadian Government that Canadians had a right to be treated in precisely the same way as the States of the German Confederation, and as France, Spain, and Belgium treat their colonies. But, my Lords, the great difference between the two cases is that the colonies of France, Spain, and other European nations are answerable for the fiscal policy of the mother country without their consent. It has always been the policy of this country—I think I may say the admitted and the wise policy of this country ever since we lost the greatest colony we had in America through adopting a different policy—that the colonies should be perfectly independent and free in regard to their fiscal arrangements.
But apart from this general theory and this general practice, I would remind your Lordships that the Prime Minister of Canada, Sir Charles Tupper, contracted a commercial treaty on behalf of Canada with France only a few years ago—namely, in 1893, and that treaty was ratified by Her Majesty by and with the advice and consent of the Senate and the House of Commons of Canada but not with the advice and consent of the Legislature in this country. Again, Lord Salisbury himself, in a despatch in reference to the treaty of 727 1865, which was being discussed in 1897, said that—For many years past the self-governing colonies have enjoyed complete tariff autonomy, and in all recent commercial treaties concluded by Great Britain it has been customary to insert an article empowering the self-governing colonies to adhere or not at will.At that time, and when Germany declined to make a new treaty, the matter dropped. Mr. Buxton was told in the House of Commons that no correspondence passed between the Governments of this country and of the Dominion of Canada, or between this country and Germany, on the subject for 1900, 1901 and 1902. Well, in 1903 came the Colonial Conference, when we all most heartily and cordially welcomed the Colonial Premiers to this country. In the Report of the Colonial Conference, page 39, will be found these words—In connection with the discussion of the question of preferential trade the Conference also considered the point raised by the Commonwealth Government as to the possibility of the colonies losing most-favoured-nation treatment in foreign countries in the event of their giving a tariff preference to British goods. As, however, the exports from the colonies to foreign countries are almost exclusively articles of food, or raw materials for various industries, the possibility of discrimination against them in foreign markets was not regarded as serious, and as the exports from foreign countries to the colonies are mainly manufactured articles it was recognised that if such discrimination did take place the colonies had an effective remedy in their own hands.Now, inasmuch as this matter was allowed to drop for several years and is stated in the Report of the Colonial Conference of last summer not to be serious, I cannot understand why now we are told by the Colonial Secretary that this is a matter of urgency.
I should like also to call your Lordships' attention to another aspect of the question. I am sure that the impression is very largely entertained abroad that the effect of these preferential tariffs is very considerable in regard to our trade with Canada. Sir Wilfrid Laurier started his policy in 1897. The preference that was then given to this country on goods amounted to 12½ per cent.; that, again, was raised in 1900 to 33 per cent., and yet, as I shall be able to show your Lordships, the trade between this country and Canada has 728 diminished since these preferential tariffs were in existence. One fact goes, perhaps, some way to explain that, and it is this, that the Canadian Government, before giving us these preferential tariffs, raised the duties on cotton goods and lowered the duties on raw material, which, of course, are the great American imports into Canada. The Canadian tariff rate on printed cottons was raised 30 to 35 per cent. before the preferential tariff came into play. Inasmuch as half the Canadian imports from this country consist of textiles, your Lordships will see that that was retaining the protection to the Canadian manufacturer as against the Lancashire manufacturer. What has been the practical result? Whereas in 1896, the year before the preferential tariff came into force, the percentage of imports from Great Britain into Canada represented 31 per cent. of the total imports, in 1902, that is two years after, the preferential tariff had been raised and we had been given a bonus of 33 per cent., the percentage had fallen to 25 per cent., whilst the percentage of imports from the United States into Canada had risen in the same period from 51 per cent. to 58½ per cent. Or to put it in another way, the average Canadian duty on English goods in 1901, which is the last year I could get at in order to make the calculation, was 18 per cent., whereas the average duty on American goods was only 12 per cent. Do not let it be supposed that in quoting these figures I have any grievance whatever against Canada. Canada has a perfect right to deal with these financial questions and to work out her own financial policy as she pleases; but what I do wish to bring out is this, that we are not gaining under the preferential system, and that Canada, I think most wisely, has taken the precaution in her own interest to do nothing to interfere with or to prevent imports from the United States.
Let us, on the other hand, compare the trade of this country with Germany. I take my figures from the Annual Trade Statement. In 1902 our imports from Germany were £33,500,000, and our exports £33,000,000. But we must remember that in connection with this trade we ought to add, if we want to arrive 729 at the profit to this country, the profit which we make in freights, because almost the whole of the trade is carried by English shipping. I do not want to unduly weary your Lordships with figures, but I should like to remind you that of this £33,500,000 of German imports, about £4,000,000 is represented by cotton and woollen manufactures and machinery. It might be said that we might retaliate upon Germany by putting a heavy duty on those goods which we ourselves are highly interested in, but I find that we export to Germany £9,500,000 of precisely the same class of goods. I want to ask another question with regard to this proposed retaliation on Germany. Is Holland to be included? A very large amount of the goods that come from Germany come through Holland, and it seems to me, on the face of it, rather unreasonable that Holland, with whom we have no commercial quarrels, should be included, and yet, if we do not include Holland, we shall have to resort to a sort of investigation as to origin, and every one connected with trade knows that these vexatious and inquisitorial proceedings hamper and are highly detrimental to general trade.
Let me, again, ask your Lordships to consider what are the facts and figures in regard to the trade of this country and Canada. I will not occupy your Lordships' time by statements of a general character, but will give you facts and figures, which are unanswerable, from the Statement of Trade of the United Kingdom. We import from Canada, annually, goods to the extent £18,000,000, which I believe represents approximately about half the total export trade of Canada, and we receive these £18,000,000 of Canadian goods without asking them to pay one penny of duty. On the other hand, what is our export trade to Canada? We export to Canada goods amounting to an annual value approximately of £8,000,000. But, my Lords, what is £8,000,000 compared with our exports to India, which amount to £40,000,000, and as compared with our exports to foreign countries, which stand at £178,500,000? In short, our export trade to Canada, having regard to the total export trade of this country, 730 represents but 3 per cent. of our total trade. Again I say no one desires more sincerely than I do to encourage trade between this country and Canada in a natural and legitimate way; but, dealing with figures—and this question must be decided upon economic grounds—I do not see how you can treat this Canadian question as apart from the general interests of the Empire at large.
The total export trade of Australia represents about £56,000,000, of which customers in this country take about £36,000,000. Therefore, in addition to half the export trade of Canada, we take two-thirds of the export trade of Australia, and we take all that trade absolutely free from a single sixpence of duty. When people talk of free trade within the Empire, it should be remembered that we have already free trade with a great part of the Empire, with India, with Hong Kong and with Singapore, while the duties at the Cape are very small; and, therefore, if we are asked to change our policy, it must be in the endeavour to tax the food of this country, because that is the only advantage we can offer to Canada and Australia, as opposed to the interests of the Empire at large. I have no doubt your Lordships have read the interesting letters which have been published in The Times newspaper, written by a gentleman who signs himself "Economist." I am rather surprised that he should have assumed that title, because the arguments in favour of his views are always on political and not on economic lines. But in those letters there are two very considerable admissions, which I do maintain go to the root of the whole question. In one of those letters—I think the first—"Economist" said he did not agree with the methods or views of Viscount Goschen, but at the same time he entirely agreed with him that a tax on food was the key of Mr. Chamberlain's policy; and again, in the second letter, he said—Do not let us be deluded by the idea that the British Empire can for a great number of years depend upon its own production.That is to say, "Economist" admits that the keystone of Mr. Chamberlain's policy is taxation on food, and he also admits that it must be years and years before, under any system of protection, the 731 people of this country can be supplied with cheap food by and through the colonies. That seems to me to strike at the root and at the heart of the whole matter. I do not for one moment wish to say a word which can give offence to the colonies; but the colonial problem and our problem are totally different. We have to feed, and they have to build up, a population, and that central fact must never be lost sight of and can never be burked.
I confess that I entirely endorse the expression of opinion which fell from the noble Duke the Leader of the House that this policy—if it is a sound policy—must be decided on economic grounds. What is economically true in this matter is politically right, and what is economically false is politically wrong. We have tried a contrary policy in Ireland with regard to Irish land, and we have had to pay the penalty for our sentimentality and our folly in that respect. If this question is to be decided on political grounds—and that, I believe, is the way in which it will be put before the country—rather than on economic grounds; if Mr. Chamberlain's scheme is to be considered on political in preference to economic reasons I do not see myself how the British Empire, which is a democratic Empire, is to be strengthened or increased in force or in cohesion by such a policy. I am afraid that very awkward Socialistic questions and other questions dangerous to property will be raised if we adopt a policy—for that, after all, is what it would mean—of making this country a land of protective interests and privileged classes. There are vast masses of the people of this country who do not belong to any particular interest that can be protected, and I maintain that the position would be a serious one if the masses of the people are to be told that in order to maintain the Empire their food must be taxed, and that if they object to their food being taxed they must go elsewhere and emigrate either to America or to the Colonies. That is the way in which it will be put to their minds, and that is the way in which I should like to see it answered to-night. It is for these reasons that I do raise a very strong objection to the re-opening of this question, be- 732 cause I believe it may revive a great many controversies which we had hoped were settled once for all. I believe a cause of quarrel between the mother country and the colonies will be introduced, and not a bond of cohesion, if there is an attempt to elaborate in this Empire, with its divergent and different interests, one hard and fast fiscal policy.
My Lords, I also beg permission to ask a Question of which I have given my noble friend the noble Marquess private notice, and which I think legitimately arises out of the larger part of the subject with which the noble Earl opposite has dealt, although it does not, I admit, directly arise out of the particular Question he has asked. In the course of the debate on the new fiscal policy raised by the noble Viscount on my left the other night, several speakers referred to what they called the remarkable prosperity of the country during the last fifty years, and I do not think I should be using too strong an expression if I said that the general tone was that the progress had been unparalleled. But in the course of the last thirty years, under the system of free imports, one industry has been very nearly ruined. I think it is hardly reasonable to suppose that those who have suffered should look back with complacency to that period as one of unparalleled prosperity. In order to see the effect on a country of a system, one should leave it for some years. I left this country for five years, and when I came back I was able to detect certain changes in the people. I admit at once the folly of attempting to argue from the particular to the general. I am simply giving my experience of my own neighbourhood—a purely agricultural one. I found that the poorer classes—the labouring classes—were undoubtedly better off. There was no question about it. The children were well clothed and shod and looked well, and one could not help being delighted at seeing such a change. I do not mean to say that at the beginning of those five years they had been in a miserable condition; far from it, but there was a distinct improvement in their appearance.
733 But, on the other hand, I found that a generation of farmers had been swept out of existence. There were, in fact, no farmers for miles around. So, too, the yeomen's property was absorbed in larger properties in the neighbourhood, or purchased by people of some wealth coming from the towns who might in the course of a generation or two become yeomen themselves, or what we used to regard as yeomen. But the class for the time had disappeared. Large numbers of landowners, in endeavouring to maintain their properties properly, to keep up the buildings, to provide decent lodgings for the poorer classes who lived on those properties, had failed and gone down in the struggle. I do not think there is any stronger Radical than I am on the subject of land. I do not think anyone who cannot do his duty by the land is worth having on it. I prefer to see an old family go if they cannot keep up their property properly, if they cannot keep up their labourers' cottages to that condition which improvement in education requires; but I can imagine those families not regarding the system under which we have lived for fifty years as one of unparalleled prosperity. Therefore I think that when the system of free imports is held up to our admiration as it was the other night by my noble friend on my left, and when we are warned of the danger of taxing the food of the people, we are bound to remember that the one effect of very cheap food has been to seriously impoverish several classes of society; and it has had this additional effect, which I think is far more important, that it has reduced the number of people in certain areas whom the land at one time employed. When I came back after an absence of five years I found thousands of acres in grass, and not good grass at that, where once the plough was at work. The land in the eastern counties to which I am referring is regarded by the expert farmer as good for the grazing of sheep only. A good deal of it is not fit for keeping more than one sheep for every acre, whereas before the days of very low prices each acre used to produce four quarters of wheat, which supports a man for a year. Therefore, land which formerly maintained a man now only 734 maintains a sheep. That is not progression. It is retrogression. And when we contemplate the effect of free imports we are bound surely to have regard to the incontestable fact that many thousands of acres of land which used to provide work for the plough, and therefore for a number of men and horses, have gone back to a pastoral condition, and are unable to provide as much food as they used to when prices were better.
We are promised an inquiry into this most important subject. What the character of that inquiry is to be seems still somewhat vague. From the speech of the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs the other night, I certainly did not infer—it was possibly my fault—that it was simply to be an inquiry within the Cabinet, with the presentation from time to time of Papers to Parliament; but I gathered from the speech of the Prime Minister, made a short time after the debate in this House, that that is to be the form of inquiry. I am perfectly certain that His Majesty's Government are most anxious to give all the information they possibly can in order to enable the public to make up its mind on this important subject; and it is very important, I need hardly say, that this information should be given as soon as possible. As your Lordships are aware, the autumn is an important time to agriculturists. It is the time when meetings of agricultural societies and of farmers and landlords are held. I am sure it is the desire of the Government that, before that time comes, those whose business and whose duty it is to address their neighbours on public subjects should be in a position, so far as possible, at any rate, to make up their minds upon some of the points that will have to be decided. As has been already pointed out by the noble Earl opposite, and by the noble Viscount on my left, in its initial stages this controversy will centre on the price of corn, and the agricultural labourer you may be certain has got his ears open, and will want to know how his wages and the price of his food are to be affected. Many of your Lordships are anxious to give your neighbours as clearly as possible your ideas of the 735 effect of the proposals that have been made by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and I do hope that the Government will endeavour to give us as much information as they can and as soon as possible in order that we may be able to discuss with intelligence these questions at such meetings as I have suggested. I am personally not very much alarmed at the idea of an import duty on wheat—I mean an import duty of any reasonable amount. Your Lordships will remember that, when Sir Robert Peel's Bill came up to this House for the abolition of duties, the question was whether an Amendment should be introduced, and the maximum amount discussed was 5s. We know now what amount of revenue a 5s. duty would bring in at this time. I am not suggesting for one moment that His Majesty's Government have any idea in their heads of any such import, but giving that as a possible figure, I confess I am not very much alarmed at the idea of an import duty; and for this reason, that the average effect of an import duty on wheat would be infinitesimal compared with the fluctuations in price brought about by natural causes. In one of the articles in The Times to which the noble Earl referred, reference is made to these variations. The writer points out that the average price of wheat in the English market for the twenty-five years preceding the repeal of the Corn Laws was practically the same—57s.—as that of the early seventies, and that the great fall from 1877, when the price was 56s. 9d., to 1894, when it was 17s. 8d. in October, and, for the year, an average of 22s. 10d., was very remotely connected with the repeal of the Corn Laws. He gives tables showing the price of bread between 1893 and 1898. In September, 1896, the average price for the 4 lb. loaf was 4.22d.; in May, 1898, the average price was 6⅙d. This is a rise of very nearly 50 per cent. brought about by natural causes; and that is the reason why I say I am not very much alarmed at the effect of an import duty. I cannot conceive it possible that the whole of the charge would fall on the consumer.
What I have quoted leads me to the Question which I wish to put to His 736 Majesty's Government—namely, whether the Government can give us some information which will enable us to estimate what has been the effect of freight on the market prices of some of the largest articles of import in the last twenty-five to thirty years. As has been pointed out by the writer in The Times, the principal fall in the price of wheat did not take place in the first twenty years after the abolition of import duties, but only from about the seventies to the present time; and therefore it is obvious to most thinking people that the main factor in producing cheap bread to the people of this country has not been the opening of ports, but the increased supply plus reduction in freight. After the noble Lord opposite [Lord Avebury] had spoken the other night on this subject, I took the liberty of going across and asking him whether he thought it would be possible for the Government to give some information to Parliament on this subject, and he replied that he thought it would be possible. He said he believed that the reduction in the price of the transport of wheat from Dakota to England was no less than 21s. per quarter. The total fall in the last thirty years is only some 30s., and if 21s. of that fall is to be assigned—
§ *LORD AVEBURY
I certainly did in conversation give those figures to my noble friend, and believed them to be correct, but if I had known he was going to use them in your Lordships' House I should have verified them.
I was careful to say that the noble Lord stated that he believed the figures he gave me were correct. I am using them to show how important it is that the public should understand that the main cause of the fall in the price of bread is not the opening of the ports but the reduction in freight, plus, of course, the largely increased area of supply. I think it would be extremely useful from their point of view if the Government could show that one cause of this remarkable fall in prices has been the improvement in the machinery of steam-going vessels. I was told the other day that another reason for steam vessels being able to reduce 737 their freights so largely was the introduction of compound engines.
From the point of the Government, or of those members of it, at any rate, who believe that there is some benefit to the country to be derived from a system of preferential tariffs as compared with free imports, it is highly important, it seems to me, to be able to show that this fall in price is due to these causes; for this reason, that it is highly improbable, so far as one can see, that freights can ever go up to anything like what they were before the seventies. Therefore, whatever effect may be produced by a duty, and whatever its incidence, at any rate it is impossible for bread to rise to such prices as were possible at that period. I put this point before His Majesty's Government solely with the object of helping them, if I can, to add to the useful information which it seems to me it is absolutely essential should be placed before the country if they expect those—and I say this with special feeling—who have supported them for so many years to continue to do so. I was a colleague in a humble position for something like fifteen years of noble Lords below me, and I am most anxious to support them now; but it is impossible for me to go to the meetings I am likely to have to address in the autumn, and to give unfaltering support to this policy, unless I am convinced that some good is coming out of it—not only some good to the Empire, which I put first, but also to the agricultural interest which has suffered so materially during the last thirty years. If it can be shown that the Empire will gain by such a scheme as has been foreshadowed by several members of the Government, then I should have no hesitation in putting the special interests of agriculture in the second place, and I should be prepared to do what I could in urging my agricultural friends in the country that they should, as they have done in the past, consent to suffer for the good of the general community.
§ THE EARL OF ABERDEEN
My Lords, I only venture to interpose for a moment in order to express the hope that the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs may feel it possible, in his reply, to say something 738 to remove the impression, which, to some extent, is an unfortunate one, that the recent action of Germany in regard to Canada has been such as to justify a feeling of injury on the part of this country, and that a thorough appreciation of Canada and her action in relation to Great Britain involved a somewhat reproachful attitude towards Germany. I quite admit that there has been a feeling of disappointment. That was brought out in the very able Budget speech of the Finance Minister of Canada; but I think that that is a very different matter from the sort of language which I am afraid has been used in this House. It has been said that Germany wanted to terrorise one of our colonies. That seemed to me rather strong language, and what I would hope is that the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs may think it prudent and right to indicate that such a feeling is neither necessary nor justifiable. I do not see how we can expect Germany to approach this question with the same sort of sentiment with which we regard our colonies. I give way to no one in my devotion to Canada, but I would feel it to be a regrettable thing if Canada was to be the stalking horse, so to speak, for any suggestions or language which might seem in any way to impair the thoroughly friendly feeling between Germany and this country, which has been so well maintained and which, at the present time, it is most important should be preserved.
*THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (The Marquess of LANSDOWNE)
My Lords, I had some difficulty when I saw the notice of the noble Earl's Question on the Paper in divining what particular statements of the Prime Minister's and the Colonial Secretary's he referred to. In these days Ministers are obliged partly in order to satisfy the requirements of their own adherents, and partly in order to meet criticism, to contribute a very large number of statements with regard to matters of this kind, and I was not able intuitively to detect what the statements were to which the noble Earl desired to call attention; but I gather from his speech that the particular statements which he had in view were 739 statements in which, in his opinion, both the Prime Minister and the Colonial Secretary exaggerated the urgency of the case which has arisen as between the German Government and Canada. The noble Earl also referred to the speech delivered in this House by my noble friend Lord Camperdown and to my own remarks. If the noble Earl had listened to, or had had an opportunity of hearing, what I said in following Lord Camperdown on the occasion of the second debate on this subject, he would have noticed that, while agreeing generally with the tenor of Lord Camperdown's remarks, I expressly desired to guard myself from being supposed to concur in what he said in the direction of imputing hostility to the German Government in its action with regard to Canada.
And when the noble Earl goes on to refer to that passage in my first speech in which I used the simile of the revolver, I must remind him that I was then dealing, not with the case between Canada and Germany, but with the second part of the subject, which I treated quite separately, namely—the question of the manner in which the industries of this country suffered from the competition of foreign goods produced under circumstances which make it impossible for our manufacturers to compete with them in the British market. On that occasion I said that it seemed to me that, if we were to be in a position to resist attacks of that kind, we should supply ourselves with means for doing so. At the conclusion of the passage I find I used these words—I, at any rate, think it our duty to regard, in a tolerant spirit and with an open mind, the proposals for dealing with these important questions.That is exactly where the noble Earl and I part company. I desire that these proposals should be examined in a tolerant spirit and with an open mind, and the noble Earl told us just now that what he objected to was the reopening of these discussions. We think the time has come when these discussions should be re-opened; and, though we do not desire for a moment to be dogmatic about it, we do consider that we should endeavour to find some means of ascertaining whether or not it 740 is possible to establish closer fiscal relations with the colonies; whether it is or is not possible to find some means of protecting them, when they are subjected to ill-treatment in consequence of preferential advantages granted to ourselves; and, finally, whether it is or is not possible to discover some manner of protecting British industries against that kind of unfair and inequitable competition of which I spoke a moment ago.
With regard to the German case, the noble Earl gave your Lordships its history at some length; and I could not help regretting that he did not wait to do so until the Papers, which I shall lay on the Table in a day or two, are in your Lordships' hands. I do not desire tonight to anticipate the discussion which those Papers may possibly lead to; but I will only say this, that I adhere to the view I expressed the other evening, namely, that the position with which we were threatened is not one which His Majesty's Government could regard as other than a serious position. It is not merely that we found that Canada was liable to be made to suffer in consequence of the preferential treatment which the Canadian Government had accorded to us; but it was actually adumbrated in an official document, which your Lordships will have an opportunity of reading, that if other colonies acted in the same manner as Canada the result might be that we, the mother country, should find ourselves deprived of most-favoured-nation treatment. That we regarded, and still regard, as an urgent matter. I do not mean urgent so much in point of time, because I have no reason to think that these things are likely to be done in the near future; but urgent in view of the great importance of the issues raised.
Then I think I understood the noble Earl to say that the preference which Canada has given to us had been of little or no value. [The Earl of PORTSMOUTH nodded assent.] Now, my Lords, the information in my possession is to the effect that if that preference did not lead to a very large or rapid increase in the trade between this country and the Dominion, it had, at all events, the effect of arresting the very perceptible downward movement which was in progress at the time when the preference was given. 741 Besides that there is this to be borne in mind, that the main increase in Canadian exports has been in raw material or semi-manufactured articles of a kind in which we could not hope to compete; so that to the extent to which the preference applies to articles in which we do compete, it has been productive, I believe, of solid advantage to the commerce of this country. I will not attempt to follow the noble Earl to-night in prognostications with regard to the scope of any tariff legislation which may or may not be resorted to by His Majesty's Government. That is a matter as to which the noble Earl well knows no decision has been arrived at; and it would be clearly improper that I should take it upon myself to say whether, for example, any such measure, if adopted at all, should apply to Holland, the country to which the noble Earl referred.
Lord Harris asked the Government whether it was possible for us to give Parliament any information which would enable your Lordships to judge of the effect produced on prices, and particularly on the prices of food-stuffs, by the great fall in the cost of oversea freights. I do not think there can be any doubt whatever that the noble Lord is perfectly correct when he said that amongst the causes which have led to the great fall in the prices of food-stuffs the cheapening of oversea freights has been one. But, my Lords, it is only one of several factors; and, although it would not be difficult to supply figures to show what the movement of freights has been, I do not see how we can supply any information which will enable my noble friend to disentangle the effects of that cause from the effects of other causes which have operated in the same direction. It is clear, for example, that the great fall in the prices of wheat has been due to the development of new grain-producing areas, and to such causes as the invention of labour-saving implements. Besides that there is the question of, not oversea freights, but land freights. The noble Lord knows very well that in no respect have the conditions been more changed, on the American Continent at any rate, than in respect of the extraordinary cheapening of the charge for the carriage by land of grain and other bulky commodities. I have had no time to 742 look at the figures, but I believe I am right in saying that the cost of moving a ton of grain a mile in the United States is something less than half a cent; and one can well understand how cheap rates of that kind must tend to bring down prices at the place of delivery.
The noble Lord is perfectly correct when he says that oversea freights have fallen. I find there is a Board of Trade Return which gives figures up to the year 1895, from which I gather that the freight per cwt. from New York to the United Kingdom, which was 10s. in 1874, has now fallen to 3s. No doubt the noble Lord may claim that that fall is, to some extent, answerable for the great increase in the amount of cereals imported into this country, which, I believe, rose from 10,000,000 cwt. in 1865 to something over 100,000,000 cwt. in 1901.
The noble Earl opposite has asked me when the Government intend to lay before Parliament their proposals to induce Germany to modify her tariff regulations with the Dominion of Canada. As I said just now, we shall lay Papers carrying the discussion up to the present date; but the noble Earl, of course, must not expect to find in those Papers our proposals for inducing Germany, by negotiations or otherwise, to modify her tariff regulations. Those proposals are obviously of a kind which can only be taken into consideration and determined after the matter has undergone the full discussion which we consider indispensable.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
My Lords, I do not want to intervene for any time in this interesting discussion, but I must condole with my noble friend opposite, Lord Harris, on the very limited amount of consolation he has received in reply to his inquiry from the Government. He made a request of some importance, I think. He said he thought he had a right to be informed as to the nature of the inquiry the Government has instituted; and he drew a somewhat pathetic picture of what his fate would be this autumn in addressing agricultural meetings, at which apparently he is a welcome and frequent guest, without any guidance from the Government. The noble Marquess in reply to that tells him that he has figures, though 743 insufficient figures, and can procure more, as to the reduction of the cost of freight between the United States and this country. That is rather a stone to give to the noble Lord, who not merely asks for bread, but apparently for a protective tax on bread.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
The noble Lord extended his remarks to some very interesting inquiries which I think deserve the attention of the Government. Now what is this inquiry? It is something so impalpable that the human mind refuses to grasp it, and the information which is given by the Government is of such a character that I venture to say no human being in this universe outside the Government, and I am not sure that even all the Members of the Government, can form the faintest idea as to what shape this inquiry is likely to take. I am one of those who consider that an inquiry is now necessary. I did not think it was necessary until the question was raised in an authoritative form by the Colonial Secretary, since when it has become a frequent and public subject of debate between the different Members of the Cabinet in both Houses of Parliament. But the question once being raised, and put as a question of Empire, it does seem to me impossible for the Government to escape inquiry, and I have no doubt that they see that as clearly as all of us. The question is, What is this inquiry going to be? Is it a public inquiry for the purpose of ascertaining the facts and communicating them as promptly as possible to the nation, or is it a mechanism for keeping the Cabinet together? I am strongly of opinion that it answers to the second of these descriptions.
I hear a laugh, and I am not in the least surprised, because the position is grotesque. We have at this moment a Government of all the talents, and all the majorities, repealing a corn tax of a very moderate description — a shilling; and at the moment when the Prime Minister is endeavouring to deal with his irritated followers on the subject of the repeal of this corn tax, and to vindicate that, the Colonial Secretary is making a speech at Birmingham in which he announces 744 that the policy of the Government will be, must be—I must be careful about my auxiliary verbs—may be a tax on the food of the people. The question naturally arises why if that is the policy of the Government a negative policy should be pursued with regard to the corn tax at the same time. But that is the position which evidently excited the attention of the Government, and, when followed up by one or two more speeches, caused them to hold a Cabinet, which I do not doubt, like all Cabinets, was a council of quiet and philosophical discussion. The result was that the Chancellor of the Exchequer read out an inspired paper to the House of Commons, in which he announced, or, I suppose, adumbrated, that he was quite ready for an inquiry—and I think that was the first notice we ever had that there was going to be an inquiry—because he was quite convinced that it would only fortify the country in the doctrines of free trade and in hostility to the tax on corn which he proposed to repeal.
That is where we stand with regard to the matter; frequent Questions have been addressed to the Government since asking what is the nature of the inquiry? Who is inquiring? Is anybody inquiring? Is the noble Duke inquiring? Is it being conducted by the Cabinet? Is it being conducted by a committee of the Civil Service, or by a committee of experts? The noble Duke may think that these questions are impertinent and intrusive, but to my mind they are vital to the matter at issue. This is not an inquiry as to the banker's accounts of the Government, or as to any private domestic affairs which may interest them and them alone; it is by far the most important inquiry that has ever been conducted in the country in my lifetime; and if it is to be conducted, and I think it is inevitable, it should not be a hole-and corner inquiry, but the nation itself should be a party to it.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
But in what sense is the nation a party to it? It does not even know the constituent body which is inquiring, it does not 745 know the nature of the inquiry, nor what it is inquiring into. If it is an inquiry into the opinions of His Majesty's Government, I can understand its being both lengthy and confidential. But if it is an inquiry into the broad policy on which the fiscal arrangements of this country have been conducted for the last fifty-six or fifty-seven years, I say that it should be a public inquiry. It should be by Royal Commission, or by some recognised method, but it should not be veiled in darkness, without any results to which we may look, without any results at present which are promised, and the slow progress of which is only marked by the milestones of the speeches of the Colonial Secretary and the Prime Minister, who announce doctrines which seem, to us at any rate, utterly irreconcilable to those held, for instance, by the President of the Council and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I appeal to the Government that they should take the country into their confidence in this matter. It is not too much to ask. Lord Harris is a faithful supporter of the Government, as he has reminded them. Has he not a claim to know something of what is going on in reference to this inquiry? And beyond the supporters of the Government, has not the whole nation a right to know something of what is going on? Lord Harris said the agricultural labourers of this country would be all agog to know what is to be proposed by the Government; he also said he had come back after five years' absence and seen the agricultural labourers of this country in a state of unexampled prosperity. I presume the agricultural labourers of this country, when they hear that the first fiscal measure of the Government is to be a tax on food, and when they hear, what is much more, that the continuance of the Empire is impossible without a tax on food—I presume that they, and every one, more especially Imperialists, to whom especially the Empire is dear, if it is dearer to one class than to another, have a right to ask what is being done on this matter.
I intervened on the spur of the moment, and I admit that what I have said has no direct reference to the speech of the noble Earl who introduced the 746 discussion; but it has very direct reference to the speech of the noble Lord behind the Government, who pleads that he may be given some guidance as to what he is to say in rural districts on the subject of the policy of the Government. It is not the noble Lord alone who is in a difficulty in this matter; it will be all the supporters of the Government, aye, and the Government itself. At present, under the new doctrine of Cabinet responsibility which has been revealed to us, the Government are talking in different voices, and presenting different arguments from a totally different standpoint, to the country, and the baffled and puzzled country are to be reassured under circumstances so unexampled and unparalleled as this—by being told that the Government are holding a secret inquiry the nature of which they cannot or will not divulge.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (The Earl of SELBORNE)
My Lords, the noble Earl has made a speech—he assures us on the spur of the moment—which seems to have for its principal object to impress upon his fellow-countrymen how divided, as he opines, the Government are on the question we are now discussing. No one has a greater right than the noble Earl to address your Lordships with authority on what is meant by a disunited Cabinet. I quite admit that there are many on both sides of politics who are desirous to have re-asked and re-answered these questions which, some would like to think, were laid aside sixty years ago. But the noble Earl himself is in the same position; for I defy any one to read his speeches on this question, as I have read them with minute attention, and say what his opinion really is. He began by telling his countrymen that he would never reject without examination any scheme put forward on authority with the object of connecting more closely the colonies and the mother country.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
The noble Earl has omitted one rather important word. I said I would not reject any scheme unseen.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
But the noble Earl has since proceeded to construct every possible scheme, and to reject them all. But in this rejection of the schemes which he has himself constructed I have noticed two things. He has very carefully announced, ad urbem et orbem, that the doctrines of the Cobden Club are for him no part of revealed religion, thereby differentiating himself from a large part of the Party with which he usually acts; and I notice that, although he has contributed greatly to the elucidation of the question of a proposed tax on food, he has never so much as mentioned the word retaliation. The noble Earl has told us that if the Liberal Party cannot unite on this question never can they unite again. He is willing to hold out his arm to Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman and go forward with him on the march of progress. But at the very moment when they are linked arm-in arm and about to start, with the impetuosity which is characteristic of the noble Earl's companion, the noble Earl says, "My friends, put your arms round the pillar of the Liberal League." That is a fair illustration of the fact that we are all ready to examine this question, and that none of us are prepared to stand exactly where our fathers stood fifty years ago.
My noble friend Lord Goschen talked of agnostics in this matter, and there he touched the spot. What is the position in which we find ourselves. Brought up almost to regard the doctrines of the Cobden Club as part of revealed religion, and to believe that there could not be any national prosperity or economic truth outside the pamphlets of that body, we have gradually been disillusioned, and we have seen that, though under free trade we have prospered mightily, other countries have prospered no less greatly under a totally different system. Therefore in our minds the doctrines of the Cobden Club have passed from a dogma to a policy; and the question that we now look at is not what is revealed truth, or the natural law, but what is the policy which, under given circumstances, will best suit this country or that. It is in that frame of mind that we desire to approach this inquiry. What are the objects? Are they great 748 and noble objects? The noble Earl himself laid stress on the great ideal of closer union with the colonies. The question is, can that be increased by any change in our fiscal policy, and what is the price that we must pay for the change? We apply exactly the same test to the question of retaliation; and the closer we look the more we are impressed with the fact that we are dealing with a question of policy. It is all a question of degree. The noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Ripon) laughs. In one of the printed despatches of the noble Marquess, when he was Colonial Secretary, in answering the proposal made at the Ottawa Conference—a proposal which he rejected—he dealt with the possibility of an alternative scheme in words of sympathy. He said that—If the proposal had been one for free trade within the Empire it would have merited very careful consideration.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
That is the exact illustration of my point. If noble Lords were prepared to adopt such a system, could they refuse to give the colonies a preference or accept a preference from them? This inquiry cannot be dealt with by a Royal Commission. It must be an inquest of the nation by all its Parties and by all its Press. I entirely agree with the noble Earl that you cannot have Empire without trade. That is the gist of the question. This country has had great periods of prosperity; and the question we have to ask as guardians of the future is, not What is or has been the condition of the trade of this country, but What, as far as we can foresee, is to be the future of the trade of this country? Are the people to be better off or worse off? That question you cannot refer to a Royal Commission or to a Select Committee. It must be a discussion in which the whole nation takes part, and statistics which the Government Departments work out are only contributions to the knowledge of the nation. This is a revolt against authority; and I am very glad that it has taken place at this moment when trade is prosperous, because if it had taken place at a time of 749 trade depression there would have been a danger of conclusions being arrived at which were not justified by the facts of the case.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
Would the noble Earl mind telling us what is the nature of the inquiry which he is about to set up?
§ *VISCOUNT GOSCHEN
I think, my Lords, that the inquiry of the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, has been answered by my noble friend, the First Lord of the Admiralty. We are told that it is an inquest of the nation that is to take place. But if there is an inquest of the nation, we have further to ask of the Government, what are the questions to be submitted to the inquest of the nation? There are many questions which are raised in the speeches of the Colonial Secretary. There is the question of old-age pensions. Is that to be submitted to the inquest of the nation? and are all these questions to be supplemented by the information which is supplied from time to time by the Government themselves? Here I make one appeal to my noble friends, and I am sure that they will listen to it—that all information which is given to the Government should as soon as possible be supplied to the public; that there should not be speeches made in the first instance relying on certain statistics, and that the statistics should not come before us for verification only after the speeches have been delivered and their effect has been produced. That would not be a fair way to proceed; and I should have thought that it was in the interest of the Government themselves that members of the Government should refrain from continuing what I scarcely know whether to regard as a part of the inquest of the nation or a part of a campaign and crusade.
There is one object which is dear to the heart of a great number of the public and of the Press who support Mr. Chamberlain's proposals. It is that the labourer should be brought back to the land. Lord Harris suggests that the agricultural interest is to be benefited to a material extent by the proposals which will be submitted. Can the Government frankly 750 tell us whether a tax of 5s. on corn will form part of the issues that are to be submitted? I think they are bound to come a little more into the open in this matter. There are many persons who refrain from discussing such a tax from the certainty that Parliament will never assent to it. But, on the other hand, there will be others who gather the opposite impression, and from whom support is secured by a kind of distant hope that such a prospect is not out of the question. Will those who distinctly desire to protect agriculture by a 4s. or 5s. duty on corn think themselves to be justified in supporting the proposal of the Government on the ground that it lies within the limits of practical politics? If this be so, will statistics be placed before us elucidating any point as distinct as that? I have doubts whether it would be so, but what I should be anxious to see is a series of distinct propositions which should be put before the public, and that we should know really what we are to discuss, not only as outlined in the Colonial Secretary's scheme, but in far more particulars than are at present before the country.
Then with regard to the inquest itself. I agree that a great portion of that subject must be decided by the Cabinet; but there will be, and probably are, inquiries in progress among the various Departments of the Government. Are these Departments co-operating together, checking together, investigating with absolute impartiality, without any bias whatever? I think we were told by the Colonial Secretary that he would produce tables with which he would go into the cottage of every labourer, showing what effect would be produced by the increase of the price of food. Will such tables be accessible to the public so that we shall all be able to judge the correctness of the literature which is employed in that respect? I am sure that the whole country feels puzzled at present at the stage in which the inquiry stands. I do not know whether much progress is being made, if indeed any has been made, and I think Lord Rosebery is entitled to our gratitude for having elicited the speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty, and for the endeavour to elicit what the nature of the inquiry is to be. I thought 751 it right to make these few observations, as I take the deepest interest in the subject of this inquiry, thinking that it ought to be thorough, while seeing the great difficulties that surround it.
§ THE MARQUESS OF RIPON
My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount who has just sat down for having relieved me of one part of the subject with which I desired to deal, namely, that relating to the inquiry. I fully agree with what he has said on that subject, but I feel compelled to make some observations on the speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty. It is not for me to suppose that I can defend my noble friend Lord Rosebery, who is so well able to take care of himself, but I must say that I think the noble Earl singularly misrepresented the position my noble friend has taken up in regard to the question now under discussion. He said that Lord Rosebery had taken various views on this subject and had made inconsistent speeches. My noble friend's first speech, after the world was startled by Mr. Chamberlain's proposals, was made at a non-political meeting, if I am not mistaken, and was marked, no doubt, by caution; but whenever my noble friend has spoken since, when he has not been in the position of being hampered, he has expressed sentiments of disapproval of the proposals of Mr. Chamberlain; and I do not think that the noble Earl was justified, by the single fact to which I have alluded, in making the charge he did. Then the noble Earl went on to say that Lord Rosebery must, no doubt, sympathise deeply with a Government which was divided against itself. I should like to ask the noble Earl on what occasion any members of the Government of Lord Rosebery, either in Parliament or out of it, devoted themselves to attacking each other and to answering each other's speeches. That is the position in which His Majesty's Government now stands; and it seems to us who sit on this side of the House to be an objectionable and unconstitutional proceeding. Certainly no precedent can be found for it in the Government of Lord Rosebery.
My noble friend who introduced this discussion deserves our best thanks for his very able speech and for having raised a debate of so much interest, and if he has done nothing else he has accomplished 752 one very useful object in inducing the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to disconnect himself from a considerable portion of the speech made a few days ago by Lord Camperdown, and he has done so in a manner which I am sure the House will have heard with much pleasure. I certainly was under the impression that upon that occasion the noble Marquess did express a wider and more general approval of Lord Camperdown's tone in respect to Germany than he appears to have intended to do, and I am extremely glad an opportunity has been afforded to the noble Marquess to clear away the misapprehension, which I think existed in the minds of many. But the noble Marquess seems still to be hankering after retaliation and to be searching in his pocket for the "revolver". I hope that it is not going to be the old rusty pistol of protection; because, if it is, I am afraid that before long it will burst in his hand. It seems to me to be a clear proposition in economic science that a duty on foreign imports would injure our own people more than the people against whom we are retaliating. Retaliation of this nature must involve considerable industrial and commercial disturbance; it must limit our exports and injure those who rely upon it. Besides, it is a dangerous policy to begin a system of retaliation. Two can play at that game, and we may find that instead of yielding to retaliation, or to threats of it, a war of tariffs would be produced which would lead to great evils industrially and commercially.
The difficulties that arise between nations in these days arise mainly out of commercial considerations, and therefore it is peculiarly necessary that we should deal cautiously with this question and not place retaliation before us as a thing to which we can run at any time and which will be sure to produce the object in view. I confess that I do not see that the policy that has been pursued since the days when free trade began, has produced any of those evils which we hear talked about on the other side. Lord Harris spoke of the depression of agriculture and of the condition of the agricultural classes. No doubt the condition of the agricultural classes, or of some of them, has been for many years unsatisfactory. Rents have been reduced and profits have been cut down, but the noble Lord himself 753 admitted that the condition of the agricultural labourer was greatly improved. In my part of the world, at least, rents and the profits of tenants, no doubt, are much less than they were; but the wages of the agricultural labourers have very considerably risen, and I am bound to say that while I should like to see general and widespread prosperity among all classes of the community, if I had to choose which class was the one whose interests should be most considered, I would not hesitate to select the interests of the great mass of the people.
This discussion has covered a wide field, and I hope I shall be allowed to discuss some points which do not lie exactly within the limits of the noble Earl's notice, but which have a very serious bearing on the question itself. The First Lord of the Admiralty quoted accurately, except, perhaps, that I may not have used the exact words, from some despatches which I wrote when I held the office of Colonial Secretary, but I do not quite understand what was the conclusion he drew from the statements in those despatches. If the conclusion merely was that I desired to express what I most sincerely entertained, and entertain at this present moment, namely, a feeling of deepest sympathy with the colonies and a most earnest desire to consider their interest to the utmost, then he is quite right. But what I did say was this, that a real Zollverein—not this sham thing which is called a Zollverein, but which is no Zollverein at all—that a real Zollverein (that is to say a real Customs union between all parts of the British Empire), if the taxes levied were upon the principle of free trade and avoided the dangers of protection, would be a perfectly legitimate thing in principle, and I should greatly rejoice if it were possible upon good and fitting terms to make such an arrangement. Nobody knows better than the noble Earl that that is not possible in the present circumstances, the colonies not being willing to accept it. But to argue from that that therefore you are to look at a system of colonial preferences as the same thing as a system of uniform Customs rates, seems to me to be an entire error. The two things are totally 754 and entirely distinct. I accepted the one if it were possible, but I rejected the other for the reasons which are contained in those despatches, and with which I need not trouble your Lordships at the present time.
There was one remark in the speech made by the Colonial Secretary a few days ago, which, having the opportunity, I cannot help commenting upon. Mr. Chamberlain was reported in The Times— and as I have seen no contradiction of the report I consequently assume it to be correct—as having said—A system of preferential tariffs is the only system by which this Empire can be kept together.I deeply regret that the Colonial Secretary should have said that. It may be his opinion, for aught I know, but I cannot but feel that it was not a judicious utterance, nor was it fair either to the people of this country or to the colonies. Mr. Chamberlain spoke of himself as the representative of the colonies. No British Minister is specially representative of any part of the Empire—not even the Colonial Secretary. He stands between the colonies and the mother country. He has to promote their union, and to communicate to each part of the Empire the interests of the other in relation to any proposals which may affect the general interests of the Empire. I do not believe that the statement which Mr. Chamberlain made can be accepted as a literal fact. If I did believe it, I should be in a state of despair. It was no doubt a rhetorical statement, but it was a rhetorical statement which, in my judgment, ought not to have been made by any member of a responsible Government. I cannot think that the people of the colonies are so indifferent to the interests of the mother country that they would refuse to listen to a calm and reasoned statement why that which they desire cannot be granted to them. We have given them absolute freedom to make their own fiscal arrangements; they must not claim that there shall be put upon the food of the people of this country a tax more or less heavy in order to enable the colonies to carry out a special class of fiscal arrangements between them and us. I cannot but 755 believe that if the case had been fairly put to the colonies they would concede the principle that the control of our own home taxes must remain in our own hands. I do not believe that those great portions of the British Empire, whose interests are supposed to be promoted by this policy, would have dreamt of rejecting an argument of that description, and of claiming for themselves a freedom which they would not give to the mother country.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (The Duke of DEVONSHIRE)
My Lords, I had no anticipation that the Question of the noble Earl opposite was intended to form the subject-matter of an adjourned debate on the question raised on a former occasion by my noble friend Lord Goschen; and, for myself, I am bound to say that I do not propose to repeat—which is all I can do—the statement of my own views which I had the opportunity to lay before the House at some length on the former occasion. I should not have risen at all but for the questions of the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, supported by the noble Viscount behind me. Both noble Lords are dissatisfied with the amount of information which they have received as to the nature and scope of the proposed inquiry. I would just remind the House that I do not think any Member of the Government has spoken of this question in the sense of being a mere inquiry. The expression which I certainly used, and which I think other Members of the Government have employed, was "inquiry and discussion." What was announced by Mr. Chamberlain was that, having laid certain views before the country, he invited discussion upon those views. That which is to take place must be partly in the nature of an inquiry, but, to a still greater extent, of a discussion. I endeavoured to state what would be the nature of the inquiry. I said it could not be an inquiry by Royal Commission, still less by Departmental Committee. It must be an inquiry by the members of the Government for themselves. The Government are endeavouring, not so much to obtain information, because all the necessary information, I believe, exists, but to arrange it in a manner which they will be able to consider themselves; and the results 756 of the examination of that information will, no doubt, be communicated as soon as possible to Parliament and the country.
The noble Viscount wishes to know what are to be the subjects of inquiry. He asks whether they are to include old-age pensions. Well, my Lords, how can they be excluded? It has been mentioned, and it must be taken into consideration, if not in the inquiry, in the discussion that must take place on the subject. No doubt it is clear enough that under certain contingencies, if effect is given to the views which have lately been put forward, there may be a considerable sum of revenue raised which might be devoted to old-age pensions. How can such a matter be excluded from the discussion if not from the inquiry? Then the noble Viscount asks whether the discussion was to include a 5s. duty on corn. That would be a definite proposition. That would not be in the nature of an inquiry at all. How can my noble friend ask us to state what definite proposals we are going to make after our inquiry before the inquiry has taken place?
§ VISCOUNT GOSCHEN
If you wish to collect statistics as part of the inquiry, if you wish to get information from the parties interested, which is part of the inquiry, it would be entirely otiose if you were to inquire into any matters which were not within the practical range of the suggestions of Mr. Chamberlain; and what I was anxious to know was whether, not only in the discussion, but in the inquiry, such a question as that lay within the area of discussion.
§ THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
I am afraid I do not apprehend my noble friend's point even now. No doubt suggestions have been made that for certain political and economical reasons it may be wise to propose a tax upon food. That tax upon food must be, I 757 suppose, in the nature of a duty of 1s. or 2s., or say 5s., on corn; and whatever statistics are obtained on the subject, it seems to me that, whether it be 1s., 2s., or 5s., does not very much matter, and my noble friend will be able to draw his own conclusions from whatever statistics on that subject are produced. However, I quite admit I may not have apprehended the scope of my noble friend's Question, and if I have not, I can only say I very much regret my incapacity to do so. These are the only instances he gave of subjects in regard to which he wished to know whether they were to form part of the inquiry or not. I think I can, without attempting to go into any exhaustive list of subjects which are to form part of the inquiry or discussion, refer my noble friend to the two speeches which were made the other night. I think the noble Viscount objected to the speeches which were made on Friday last by the Prime Minister and Mr. Chamberlain because he thought that in them argument was preceding and taking the place of inquiry and discussion. I read both speeches with very great care; and although, as noble Lords may have gathered from the speech I made the other night, I am not, as at present advised, entirely in agreement with those who think that inquiry and discussion may lead to a very wide departure from the fiscal policy which has hitherto guided the counsels of this nation, I am bound to say that I cannot find in either of those speeches anything whatever of which I can complain. Each of those speeches was in the main devoted to indicating, and further explaining, the objects to which this inquiry and discussion should be addressed.
The Prime Minister enumerated specifically four dangers which he anticipated from the existing state of things, or four points to the consequences of which in the future our attention ought to be directed. I have not got those four points with me, and I cannot enumerate them now. Then Mr. Chamberlain, in his speech, devoted himself to another part of the question, and specifically mentioned three other points which ought to form the subject of inquiry. I cannot conceive how anyone, assenting to the proposition that there is to be inquiry and discussion, can take exception 758 to speeches such as those in which the statesmen who delivered them have gone as far as they could go in defining the subjects for inquiry. I do not say that the subjects enumerated in those speeches cover the whole ground. I do not say that they are the most material points. But they are elements of inquiry, and, so far as the instruction of the public mind is concerned, I cannot conceive speeches more calculated to add to the public knowledge of the nature of the inquiry which is suggested than those two speeches. That is all the answer I can give to the Questions addressed to me on this occasion; but if any noble Lords think that there are other subjects which ought to form part of the inquiry and discussion, and which have not received attention, it is perfectly competent for them to bring them before the House and to obtain such further information as they require.
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
I am sorry the noble Duke has not seized the point of the noble Viscount opposite. What the noble Viscount specially asked was: Is this inquiry to be directed to the question of whether a tax of 5s. a quarter is to be laid upon corn coming into this country? In other words: Is the inquiry to be directed, in the first instance, to whether the food of the people is to be taxed?
§ THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
I have said that that question has been raised, and that it must form part of the inquiry.
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
It seems to me that it must not form part of the inquiry, but the very foundation of the inquiry. After all, this is to be an inquiry into a policy raised by the Colonial Secretary, and Mr. Chamberlain has stated that policy in the most explicit manner. He has said in one speech that a system of preferential tariffs was the only system by which this Empire could be kept together, and in another speech he said that if we were to give a preference to the colonies we must put a tax on food. The very essence, therefore, of Mr. Chamberlain's policy is a tax on food, and I urge that 759 it ought to form the very foundation of the inquiry whether it is desirable that a tax should be put on the food of the people.
THE EARL OF JERSEY
I do not rise to continue this discussion, but to ask the noble Duke a Question. It has been stated, and not contradicted, that the campaign in favour of preferential tariffs is to begin in October. That presupposes that by October the inquiry on the part of the Government will have come to an end; and I therefore trust that before that campaign begins the supporters of the Government in Parliament will have the opportunity of hearing from the Prime Minister or the noble Duke himself what course the Cabinet are determined to adopt in this matter.
§ THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
It would be impossible for me to state at present what course the Government will take in regard to making any announcement before the close of the session.
§ [No answer was given.]
§ The subject then dropped.