§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
rose to call attention to the references made to the self-governing Colonies at Birmingham on 15th May and at Glasgow on 6th October of last year, by the late Secretary of State for the Colonies; and to move for Papers. He said: My Lords, it will probably be to the convenience of the noble Duke the Under-Secretary for the Colonies, who I suppose will answer this question on 6 behalf of His Majesty's Government, if I state at once which are the passages in the speech of Mr. Chamberlain to which I refer in this Motion. I refer more especially to the phrase which occurred in the speech at Birmingham, as to "an offer of preferential tariffs" on the part of the Colonies. I want to move for Papers which contain that offer, which will tell us where it is, what it means, and what that offer includes; and although the Motion makes some reference to a speech which was subsequently delivered at Glasgow, I do not wish to refer to that except in so far as occasional references serve to illustrate the meaning of the original phrase. At the time when that speech was made Mr. Chamberlain was a leading member of His Majesty's Government, and according to the theory of Cabinet responsibility, Ministers, as I understand it, are responsible for the phrases which he used on that occasion. On the subsequent occasion to which I have already referred — namely, at Glasgow, Mr. Chamberlain went somewhat further than the phrase which I have quoted. He said—The Colonies are prepared to meet us. In return for a very modest preference they will give us a substantial advantage.I think it was on the opening night of the session that the noble Marquess the Leader of this House declared that he was not in favour of banning the principle of a colonial preference or preferential tariff. I should be glad if he would take some opportunity of explaining to the country what kind of preferential tariff he means; whether he means a one-sided preference, or whether he will include in it that schedule of forbidden industries to which Mr. Chamberlain made reference at Glasgow. I think that schedule has been laughed out of court in the Colonies. I will quote what the Premier of Canada said at Montreal last autumn—If we are to obtain concessions from Great Britain by a surrender of our political rights, I would say 'go no further'. Even for the maintenance of the British Empire it would be a most evil thing if any of the Colonies were to consent to surrender any of their legislative independence.We have, therefore, in the words of one of our leading colonial statesmen, his opinion of the schedule of forbidden 7 industries. I imagine that the noble Duke opposite may tell me that in the Blue-book containing an account of the Colonial Premiers' Conference in 1902 is to be found the offer from the Colonies. In referring to that Blue-book, your Lordships will, perhaps, allow me to pay a tribute to a relation of my own to whom was due the first idea of the assembly of the Colonial Premiers of this Empire. It was my uncle, Mr. Edward Stanhope, at that time Secretary of State for the Colonies, who wrote with his own hand the invitation to the Colonial Premiers, and though it fell to the noble Lord, Viscount Knutsford, to receive the Premiers in 1887, I am glad to have had this opportunity of recalling to your Lordships to whom was due the first idea of a Conference. On turning to page I in the Blue-book your Lordships will see that the introductory note states that—The various Governments were also invited to furnish a statement of any subjects which they thought might usefully be discussed, and, with a view to facilitate and give a definite direction to the discussion, to furnish the text of any resolutions which they might desire to submit to the Conference.On reference to page VII we find that the commercial relations of the Empire were submitted for discussion at this Colonial Conference, not by any representative of the Colonies, but by the Secretary of State for the Colonies; and although it is true that there follows a Motion from the Government of New Zealand on the subject of preferential tariffs, the concluding words of their Motion are—And that in the mother country rebate of duty on colonial products now taxable should be conceded.We have, therefore, from New Zealand nothing in the nature of an offer, but merely the suggestion of a bargain, which is a very different thing indeed; and it is not from New Zealand that any hint of the kind comes, because it was the Secretary of State for the Colonies who put down the subject for discussion. Still more important really than the attitude of the Colonial Premiers at that Conference, is the attitude of the Colonial Parliaments since Mr. Chamberlain's speech at Birmingham. There are, I think, twenty-one Parliaments in the British Empire, but, with the single 8 exception of Manitoba, not one of them has passed a resolution in favour of Mr. Chamberlain's scheme. That silence in eloquent of the feelings they entertain is the matter.
We see this morning, in the speech which was made by Lord Northcote in opening the Commonwealth Parliament, a reference to this subject, but we may say of that, as we may also say of the invitation which has been extended to the ex-Colonial Secretary, that it was not made on behalf of a united nation, but was a message sent by a political leader who had not met with any particular success at the polls, and who was anxious, if he could, to get the services of a star lecturer who would be willing to go round the Colonies and induce the people to vote for Mr. Deakin himself. I may remind noble Lords opposite that a large number, if not the whole, of the party under Mr. Reid are opposed to the system of preferential tariffs. In the last session of Parliament Mr. Reid pressed the Australian Premiers with regard to the very phrase which is the text on which I am hanging my own speech, the "offer of a preferential tariff," and Mr. Deakin said—The Leader of the Opposition doubts the application of the word 'offer' to the resolution at the Colonial Conference, and therefore I tell the hon. Member frankly that I know of nothing that can be so construed.We have, therefore, from Australia a direct refusal on the part of the Premier to regard what passed as being in any sense an offer. I am able to quote an eloquent extract from a speech by a follower of Mr. Reid, who, in his absence, acts as Leader of the Opposition. I refer to Sir William McMillan, and the extract from his speech may, I think, be compared to Mr. Seddon's immortal phrase that—The open door is the open hell to the British Empire.Sir William McMillan said—The whole thing was preposterous nonsense. Further, was Australia going to make enemies of those countries where her future trade lay? It was a mistake, it was un-Christian, it was not an advance of British civilisation, but a decadent thing.He was followed by Mr. Reid, who spoke of the open-door policy, as apart 9 from the preferential tariff policy advocated by Mr. Chamberlain, as being—absolutely essential to the security of the whole Empire.Not even the last Premier of the Australian Commonwealth has ever said anything which could possibly be construed as an offer from Australia. In 1902, Sir B. Barton made one or two speeches at Montreal and Toronto on his way back to Australia; and, while he said that Australia would not be likely to reduce her tariff in favour of British goods, he admitted it was possible they might raise it against the foreigner. If the tariff wall against us is already high, it will be difficult for us to take much advantage if it is raised still higher against the foreigner. That, I think, is sufficiently obvious, at any rate to the manufacturers in this country. I should like to quote to your Lordships the figures of Australian trade, which go to show what advantage a preferential tariff would be likely to be to British trade in the Commonwealth. The Australian import trade at this moment is of the value of £25,500,000, of which foreign countries import £7,000,000. Of this £7,000,000, £3,000,000 is made up of sugar, oil, and other products which are not to be found within the British possessions. There remain non-British patented articles and "specialities" from various foreign countries, which come to another £3,000,000. The balance which is offered to us as the result is, therefore, no more than £1,000,000, and that, I imagine, we should be able to capture with a little more energy on the part of our manufacturers.
I hope your Lordships will allow me to turn for a moment to the Colony of New South Wales, of which I had the honour to be Governor for some years. I do not know a stronger argument in favour of the free-trade policy than is to be supplied by the increase of the imports, exports, and the general trade of New South Wales and Victoria. Your Lordships know that these two colonies are coterminous, that the climate is very similar, that the agricultural industry is the chief industry in both, that with the exception, perhaps, of the fact that New South Wales is far larger and that it has a large drought-stricken area, the two colonies are almost exactly alike. The 10 difference between them is that while New South Wales is a free-trade colony, Victoria is a protectionist colony; and there is the most remarkable difference in the trade of these colonies between 1890 and 1900. During those ten years the imports of the free-trade colony increased no less than 22 per cent.; while in the same period, under the same circumstances, the imports of the protectionist colony decreased 27 per cent. The exports of the free-trade colony increased during the same period 27 per cent., while the exports of the protectionist colony decreased 11 per cent. But the most remarkable figures of all are these, that during the same period the revenue of the free-trade colony increased 147 per cent., while the revenue of the protectionist colony decreased 3 per cent. If I were willing to worry your Lordships I could bring figures quite as remarkable bearing upon the immigration statistics of those two colonies.
Having mentioned Australia, I wish to refer now to another great colony—to Canada. I think there are a good many misconceptions abroad with regard to Canada. There is a purple patch which adorns the perorations of noble Lords on the opposite Benches with regard to the treatment which Germany has meted out to Canada. On 28th May, in another place, Mr. Chamberlain said—Germany alone has penalised Canada to the extent of a very large additional duty. Canada gave us this preference five years ago, and for five years she has been penalised. We have been bearing hot resentment in our bosoms.Perhaps a lotion of cold fact may do something to relieve the hot resentment of which the ex-Colonial Secretary spoke. The facts are these, that until 1897 Great Britain enjoyed the most-favoured-nation treatment from Germany. At the same time Canada enjoyed an equal advantage. In 1897 it occurred to Canada that she would like to have a preferential tariff with our own country, and accordingly, in 1898, when notice had been given, the preferential treatment of Canada ceased, and Canada was put upon the normal tariff of Germany. Germany has two tariffs, one which is accorded to nations which do not discriminate against that country, and the normal tariff, upon which 11 Canada came, for nations which had discriminated against Germany. In those circumstances it seems to me that the action of Germany was a perfectly commonplace business transaction, and the result of it has not been to penalise Canada to any great extent. In the year 1897 the exports of Canada to the United Kingdom were £15,900,000 in value, in 1901 they had gone up to £21,600,000. While the exports to the United Kingdom had gone up 35 per cent., we find that the exports to Germany, in spite of the fact that Germany had penalised Canada to an extent which created hot resentment in the bosom of Mr. Chamberlain, went up no less than 109 per cent.
What is the object with which foreign countries, or, indeed, our own colonies, put on tariffs? It is surely not so much with a view to protecting their own manufacturer against the foreign manufacturer as it is to protect him against whatever quarter he may find opposition strongest; and therefore it comes about that as a matter of fact these tariffs are directed rather against the British manufacturer than against the manufacturer of foreign countries. The policy of Canada is well expressed in a resolution which was passed by the Manufacturers' Association in Toronto in September, 1903. This was their resolution—That the changed conditions which now obtain in Canada demand the immediate and thorough revision of the tariff upon lines which will more effectually transfer to our workshops the manufacture of many of our goods which we now import from other countries. That while such a tariff should be primarily framed for Canadian interests, it should nevertheless give a substantial preference to the mother country. … recognising always that under any condition the minimum tariff must afford adequate protection to all Canadian producers.I think it was at the same time that Mr. Drummond, the president of the Association, said, in the course of a speech, that—Canada must necessarily provide under all conditions that the minimum tariff should afford fair protection to Canadian producers.That is the policy of Canada. Let me now turn to the results of that policy. The noble Duke will find, on page 84 of the Blue-book, some startling figures which bear upon this. It is there stated that—The total annual imports into Canada have grown roughly by £14,500,000 in the five years 12 1896–97 to 1900–01. Of this total growth £6,250,000 are accounted for by goods still subject to the general tariff (i.e. goods from countries not entitled to preferential treatment, or of a class excluded from the benefit of that tariff), and £6,250,000 by free goods; while goods admitted under the preferential tariff have grown by £2,000,000 sterling.And, again, in the following paragraph appear these figures—Nor are the conclusions altered if we consider the rate rather than the total of increase. Thus, imports of all kinds have increased by over 62 per cent., in value, 'general tariff' goods by about 62 per cent., free goods 67 per cent., and 'preferential tariff' goods under 55 per cent.There, again, goods coming in under the preferential tariff have not increased to the same extent as the goods coming in under the normal tariff of Canada. I would next refer the noble Duke to paragraph 11 on the same page, in which it is stated that—The result (of these figures) is to show that the continuous decrease which has been taking place in recent years in the proportion of imports from the United Kingdom into Canada has not been arrested by the operation of the tariff.It is interesting to turn to the actual figures. The imports into Canada from the United Kingdom under the preferential tariff have increased under 70 per cent., but the goods from the United States, which are not under a preferential tariff, have increased over 100 per cent; so that, in spite of the preferential tariff, the goods from this country have not increased at anything like the same rate as the goods from the United States. The reason for that is quite obvious. It will be found on page 85 of the Blue-book—Although, therefore, British goods enjoy a preference compared with the same goods imported from other countries, the average ad valorem rate of duty on British imports taken as a whole is still higher than the average duty levied on all imports, and much higher than the average duty levied on imports from the United States.So it comes about that, while goods sent from this country into Canada are subject to an ad va'orem duty of 18 per cent., goods from the United States only have to pay 12 per cent., and imports from all the rest of the world pay a total of only 16 per cent. Therefore, in spite of this so-called preferential tariff, British goods are, all the same, penalised when they are I sent into Canada. The unfortunate thing 13 is that we can hardly turn to any figures of British trade with Canada without finding the same result. I will content myself with giving your Lordships one more instance, namely, the imports of Canada. I take the average of five years from 1893 to 1897, and compare that with the figures of the imports into Canada in 1901. These are the increases. The increase of Belgian imports is 421 per cent., the increase of French imports 102 per cent, the increase of imports from the United States 93 per I ct nt., the increase of German imports 31 per cent., while the increase in the imports from the United Kingdom, under a preferential duty, is only 23 per cent. That, my Lords, is, I think, eloquent of the value of preferential treatment to our British manufacturers.
I wish to refer to the evolution of the resolution which is frequently referred to in these discussions as being the offer from Canada. It appears on page 10 of the Blue-book. There is there set out the preferential treatment of British goods which the representatives of the Colonies are prepared to recommend to their respective Parliaments; but when we turn from page 10, where this appears boldly and without comment, to page 35, we find that this is only what the Board of Trade "understood" to be the Canadian offer; and on page 37 we find that that offer was subject to this drawback, that they would only make it on condition that the Imperial Government would accept the principle of preferential trade generally, and—Particularly grant to the food products of Canada in the United Kingdom exemption from duties now levied, or hereafter imposed.Therefore I hope the noble Duke will not fall into the error of looking upon that resolution as being an offer, since it is, after all, nothing more than a bargain proposed by Canada in this matter.
I now come to a colony which has attained especial importance because it was referred to in the course of His Majesty's Gracious Speech from the Throne—the Colony of New Zealand. This colony has lately passed a Preferential Trade Act, but it was not passed unanimously. The Third Reading took no less than twenty-five hours; and the 14 principal feature of the Act is that there is not very much preferential tariff about it. It provides, not that there shall be any reduction in respect of British goods going into New Zealand, but that there shall be a surtax on foreign goods going in; and it has been calculated by speakers in the New Zealand House of Assembly that, while British manufacturers may possibly succeed in capturing the profits on £500,000 worth of manufactured goods, New Zealand stands to gain no less than £725,000 in hard cash. But there is another part of this famous Act, to which I would call attention—the part which refers to reciprocal trade with foreign countries. Under that Mr. Seddon took power for the Government to abolish all duties on goods which come from countries "not being part of the British dominions." Therefore, under this Act which has been mentioned as being so patriotic, we find that British goods cannot possibly receive that advantage which is offered to foreign countries, for the words are explicit—"not being part of the British dominions." I think we are entitled to ask His Majesty's Government if that is the kind of preferential tariff which they are prepared to recommend this country to accept.
I do not think I need trouble your Lordships with regard to South Africa at any length. In South Africa, as in New Zealand, the principle has not been accepted unanimously. Before he went to the Bloemfontein Conference, Sir Gordon Sprigg told the House of Assembly that he could give the House an assurance that the question of preferential tariff would not be an article of the Convention; and when it came on for discussion in the Cape Assembly it was only carried by the casting vote of the Speaker. It is noticeable that for the first time in the British Empire, the Crown Colonies have adopted the system of protection, and that has only been done under the overwhelming influence of the representatives of the Crown Colonies at the Bloemfontein Conference.
There are two or three other matters to which I wish to refer. One is with regard to the Colony of Manitoba, the only colony whose Parliament has passed a 15 resolution in favour of Mr. Chamberlain's scheme. That colony chiefly sends to this country wheat, which, under the Glasgow scheme, is to receive an advantage of 5 per cent. No wonder, therefore, that Manitoba accepts that joyfully. But quite near to Manitoba is another province, which chiefly imports lumber to this country. Under the Glasgow scheme the lumber from Ontario is to have a duty placed upon it of 10 per cent., and, therefore, while Manitoba is to gain an advantage of 5 per cent., the neighbouring colony is to be penalised to the extent of 10 per cent. I know His Majesty's Government have dissociated themselves from Mr. Chamberlain's policy, but that seems to me so remarkable a feature in a scheme which is by way of benefiting our colonies that I venture to hope noble Lords opposite will be able to give us some explanation regarding it. One matter which ought properly to be considered is the question of how these colonies propose to make up the deficit which will arise if a real preferential duty is given to this country. It is impossible for them to approximate their fiscal system to the fiscal system of the mother country, and therefore it is a most serious matter for consideration from what source they will be able to draw enough funds to make up the deficit.
With regard to the Australian Commonwealth, Section 99 of the Commonwealth Act contains a provision that—The Commonwealth shall not by any law or regulation of trade, commerce, or revenue, give preference to one State or any part thereof over another State or any part thereof.Imagine that we impose a duty against, say, bananas, which come from other parts of the world. Queensland would then gain the advantage of that duty on the bananas which they send to this country; but the people of Western Australia, who do not produce bananas, may object to this advantage to Queensland. Any individual in Australia is able to bring the matter before the Federal High Court, and if that Court decided that this is—as undoubtedly it would be—a preference giving an advantage to one State or a part thereof, over another State, the Federal Government would find itself 16 obliged to protest to this country on the subject.
I hope the noble Duke will be able to give us some enlightenment on these three special points. I do not think they have attracted the attention they deserve. It seems to me that, in common with many other parts of this scheme, they have been thrust upon the country without due consideration, and they are the more dangerous in consequence. There are many in this country who think that a policy of preferential tariffs, in the present position of the world's commerce, would be a dangerous policy; thrice dangerous would it be if we were to thrust it upon the Colonies against their wish or inclination. I myself had the good fortune to see the enthusiasm and loyalty of the Colonies at the time when the South African War broke out. The movement was not one which was forced upon Australia from above; it was not led by Press or by Parliament; it had its origin in the heart of the people, and it was the people themselves who swept away all the opposition to it. I think, indeed, it would be dangerous to this country if we were to try to substitute the brittle ties of gold and of interest for the ties of enthusiasm, loyalty, and love which at present do bind the Colonies to the mother country.
§ Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty for Papers relating to offers said to have been made by the self-governing Colonies for mutual trade relations with the United Kingdom. (The Earl Beauchamp.)
*THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (The Duke of MARLBOROUGH)
My Lords, I have listened with great care and attention to all that has been said by the noble Earl opposite, and I am sure he will forgive me if I do not absolutely reply to many of those Questions which he has put to me. They were of a variety and character complicated in themselves, and when combined together are almost beyond the capacity of an Under-Secretary to deal with in the short time that I shall venture to address your Lordships this evening. I gather from the remarks of the noble Earl that his chief desire is to have an explanation of the late Colonial 17 Secretary's speech at Birmingham in May last. I understood that the noble Earl did not desire any explanation of any portion of the speech delivered by Mr. Chamberlain in Glasgow in October. He confined himself to the speech delivered in May, and I think the particular passage of which he desires an explanation is the passage in which the late Colonial Secretary says that the Canadian Ministers, when they were over here, made a definite offer.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
The phrase which I quoted in my speech referred to the whole of the Colonies, and not only to Canada. There was a reference to an "offer from the Colonies."
§ *THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
I would ask the noble Earl to refer to the Blue-book for a moment. On page 36 there is the resolution of the Prime Ministers of the self-governing Colonies, in which appear these words—That with a view, however, to promoting the increase of trade within the Empire, it is desirable that those colonies which have not already adopted such a policy" (i.e., a preferential policy) "should, as far as their circumstances permit, give substantial preferential treatment to the products and manufactures of the United Kingdom.We believe that that resolution expresses the opinions and desires of the self-governing Colonies to come into closer commercial relations with the mother country. The Canadian Ministers went a step further. As the noble Earl has pointed out, there is a Memorandum in the Blue-book by those Ministers, in which the following passage occurs—From the beginning of the proceedings the Canadian Ministers have claimed that in consideration of the substantial preference given by Canada for some years to the products of the mother country, Canadian food products should be exempted in the United Kingdom from the duties recently imposed. Representations to this effect previously made through the High Commissioner for Canada, were supplemented by the Ministers both in writing and in the personal interviews with the Imperial Ministers.Those representations were necessarily of a semi-official nature, and are not shown in the Blue-book presented to Parliament, but I think that that passage is sufficient justification for the contention of the late Colonial Secretary, when he said that the Colonies had made a further definite 18 offer. I could not quite gather what the view of the noble Earl was upon the Colonial Conference, but I am afraid that his view and mine somewhat differ. The Colonies in general have not made us a definite offer in the sense that they will give us something if we give them something in return, excepting the case of Canada; but they have in a practical manner invited us to enter into reciprocal relations by giving us, as a token and pledge of their goodwill and desire in this matter, preferential treatment which is neither inconsiderable nor by any means valueless. The noble Earl had a great deal to say with regard to the Dominion of Canada, and I think he quoted a passage from a speech by the present Prime Minister in which he disclaimed the great desire for closer commercial relations. I am not aware of that passage—it may exist—but let us examine for one moment the views and the wishes of the Canadian people with regard to this matter as far as we are able to ascertain them. So far back as 1891 the Canadian Parliament unanimously passed an address asking the Imperial Government to renounce the Belgian and the German treaties on the ground that these treaties prevented preferential trade arrangements between the various parts of the Empire. Then, again, in 1892 a resolution was I passed in the Canadian Parliament expressing the desire that preferential tariffs should be granted to the mother country; and in 1897 we find that the Canadian Parliament, with the approval of both sides of the House, brought in a Bill granting Great Britain a preferential treatment of 25 per cent., in the first instance, which was subsequently raised to 33 per cent. In addition to that we have the expression of opinion of the Canadian Ministers themselves at the Colonial Conference in 1902, and I am informed that at the Congress of the Chambers of Commerce held last year in Montreal the delegates I were unanimous in their desire to come into closer commercial relationship with the mother country. Finally, there have been many resolutions passed in Canada, by the Canadian Mining Association, by the Boards of Trade of Toronto, of Montreal, of London and St. John, and many other important cities in Canada, 19 all advocating a closer commercial union with Great Britain. I think the noble Earl quoted opposite expressions of opinion. That may be so, but I think that the instances which I have ventured to bring before the notice of your Lord-ships are sufficient justification of the statement that there is a distinct desire on the part of the Canadian people to come into as close commercial relationship as possible with us, compatible with the interests of their own country.
I pass from these considerations for a moment to examine the practical result of the preference which Canada has given to us. I understood from the noble Earl's speech that he thought the preference was of no considerable importance or value. I do not wish to weary your Lordships with figures, but I cannot help referring, on that point, to the trade relations between England and Canada, and between Germany and Canada for the last ten years. The statistics show that Germany exported to Canada, in 1886, £440,000 worth of material, and 1897, the year of the preference, it had increased to £838,000. Now, in 1886, Great Britain exported to Canada £8,000,000 worth of material, and in 1897 this had sunk to £5,000,000 worth; that is to say, before the reduction in the tariff took place our trade with Canada was decreasing, whilst Germany's trade was increasing. Let us see what the figures have been since the preference has been granted. Germany's export trade to Canada had increased in 1902 to £1,900,000. That is a distinct rise; but to what extent has our trade risen? Whereas in 1897 our trade stood at £5,000,000, last year it has risen to no less than £11,000,000. Subsequent to the reduction of the tariff, therefore, Germany's trade and ours increased, but the trade between this country and Canada increased at a greater rate than that between Germany and Canada.
I should like to turn from Canada to the consideration of South Africa, and the result of the South African Customs Union upon trade in this country. As your Lordships are aware, the South African Customs Union has granted a preferential treatment on articles grown, produced, and manufactured in Great Britain. The preference does not include British possessions, but is exclusively 20 for Great Britain. The noble Earl seemed to think that these preferences were of little value, but I hope I shall be able to prove that in the case of the South African Customs Union the preference has been of distinct advantage to this country. South Africa gives a preference of 25 per cent, to goods exported from Great Britain; that is to say, when the foreigner pays 10 per cent, to get goods admitted, we pay 7½ per cent., and goods, in respect of which the foreigner has to pay 2½ per cent., go in from this country free; and under that particular schedule all machinery goes into South Africa free of import duty. What is the effect of this tariff on our trade? It is perhaps somewhat early to judge, but I will take as an illustration the year 1902. The total trade of South Africa in that year was worth £49,750,000, of which £30,000,000 was trade between Great Britain and South Africa, and £8,750,000 trade between British possessions and South Africa. Therefore three-fifths of the total trade of South Africa is between Great Britain and that country. It is estimated that the value of the articles from Great Britain which would be favourably affected as the result of the tariff regulation is £17,000,000; so that more than half of our trade will be favourably affected by the operation of the tariff, and the volume of trade between South Africa and Great Britain will in consequence be augmented.
I pass from the consideration o^ South Africa to dwell for a moment on the new tariff regulations in New Zealand. The noble Earl suggested that the New Zealand Preferential and Reciprocal Trade Act is in the nature of a bargain, and he doubted very much whether we should benefit at all from this tariff. I do not think that his anticipations will prove to be correct. Under the first schedule of this Act foreign goods pay double the ordinary duty; under the second schedule they pay the ordinary duty plus a half; and under the third schedule the foreigner pays twenty per cent, when our goods go in free. The total imports into New Zealand in 1902 amounted to £11,000,000, of which £6,750,000 were from Great Britain. Our total trade with New Zealand amounts to nearly £7,000,000, and as it is 21 calculated that£l,500,000ofthattrade will be favourably affected by the operation of, the new Tariff Act, it follows that something less than a quarter of our total trade with New Zealand will receive benefit under that measure. The third schedule, as I have said, admits British goods free when the foreigner has to pay 25 per cent. It is estimated that in 1902, under this schedule, no less than £350,000 worth of British goods would have gone into New Zealand free. I have been told further, by an authority who is not often wrong in these matters, that, whereas before this Act was brought into operation there was only one fleet of steamers running between London and New Zealand, already, as a result of this Act, a fresh line of steamers has been started from Glasgow to New Zealand in anticipation of an increased volume of trade.
Then the noble Earl went on to discuss Australia. He was inclined to think that Australians were to a large extent opposed to any closer commercial union with this country. The noble Earl is perfectly entitled to his own view, and as he has resided in Australia for several years in a most distinguished capacity, he is in a position to gauge fairly accurately the opinion of the Australian people on this matter. But I would remind him that the present Ministry have expressed their desire to deal with this question, and that they are anxious to offer some system of preference to this country. It is true that the Opposition are opposed to a reduction of the tariff with a view to granting this country any preference. We have an indication of the view of Australia at the present time from what the Governor-General said in his remarks yesterday in opening the Commonwealth Parliament. Lord Northcote said —His advisers had been pleased to note the cordiality with which the proposals for a preferential tariff were regarded in Australia. He was confident that this feeling would be strengthened when their author, Mr. Chamberlain, was able to visit Australia.The noble Earl quoted the statements of distinguished citizens in Australia in support of his view. I would like, since he has done so, to quote the remarks of the present Prime Minister, Mr. Deakin. 22 Speaking at Melbourne on 30th October, Mr. Deakin said—A protectionist tariff is essential for Australia, but nothing in that fact is antagonistic to closer trade relations.And on 24th December, after the elections had taken place, he said that—He observed that the statements of the anti-Chamberlain Press were either their own Party interpretations of the results, or were due to the biassed opinions telegraphed from Australia. It was, for example, entirely erroneous for one London paper to say that it was dead against Mr. Chamberlain's policy. That policy was supported by the whole Ministerial party and by an influential minority of the Opposition.That is the view of the Prime Minister of the Australian Commonwealth. I do not wish to press the point. I am perfectly prepared to admit that there is a distinct difference of opinion in Australia, but I do not think the noble Earl is justified in claiming that the opinions of the Australian people is entirely on his side and entirely opposed to a closer commercial union.
I have tried to confine myself to a simple, plain statement of the case. I hope that nobody will draw any wrong conclusions or inferences from what I have ventured to say. Some noble Lords might be tempted to draw this inference, that, as I have tried to point out the value to this country of the preference that our colonies have granted us, therefore I am urging to-night the policy known as Imperial preference. Nothing is further from my intention. My desire has simply been to show that the late Colonial Secretary, when he spoke in Birmingham in May last, was perfectly correct in stating that the Colonies wished to come into closer commercial relations with us, and that Canada had, under certain conditions, made a further definite offer to us. When we consider the terms of the resolution passed at this Conference, the fact that these resolutions have been put into practical and concrete form by three of the self-governing colonies themselves, that the advantages to our trade in consequence can be absolutely ascertained by reference to facts and figures, I am somewhat bewildered by the noble Earl's saying that, because only one of the colonial Parliaments has passed a resolution in favour of Mr. Chamberlain's proposals, therefore the Colonies are not in 23 favour of coming into closer commercial relations with this country, as far as is compatible with their prosperity. I submit, although I cannot attempt to prove it this evening, that there is something more in the narrative of the Colonial Conference than a bald recital of it may convey. The spirit of the British Empire is not to be gauged by the guarded utterances of statesmen who know how jealously and carefully their words are scrutinised and examined by those they represent; nor can it be estimated by the somewhat sordid process of trying to add up the profit and loss account of trade re-adjustment. I think the problem lies deeper than this. We might as well assert that the armies which are sent from this country can be calculated by the Estimates which the War Office make, or measure the value of the Victoria Cross by calculating the cost of a piece of bronze of a similar size and shape. To assert that the minimum perceptible is the limit of the inter-active influence between ourselves and our colonial kinsmen is likely to lead us into estimates which are untrue and conclusions which are totally inaccurate. There is more in the narrative in this Blue-book than a mere cursory glance would lead one to suppose. How much more, I desire not to dwell upon this evening; but the narrative, stated simply, plainly, almost baldly, suggests conclusions to which I think your Lordships are not wholly indifferent or wholly insensible.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
My Lords, one or two remarks are suggested by the speech of the noble Duke to which we have listened with so much interest. I do not at all quarrel with the metaphors with which the noble Duke's peroration was adorned, and I will say at once, and frankly, that I very much prefer the analogy he has drawn from the British Army to that which was drawn in another place with regard to Chinese labour by the Secretary of State for India. But, after all, that is only a matter of temperament and taste. What is really the point which is brought to my mind by the noble Duke's speech is one that has been most prominently before me throughout the whole of the present session of Parliament. There is something which lends a flavour of unreality to our debates, and it 24 is this—that, while we have excellent representatives of the Government in this House, and excellent representatives of the Opposition, what we really require and have not got is a representatives of Mr. Chamberlain. I am not at all sure that Lord Cadogan in the recent debate-in this House on the fiscal question did not to some extent make a bid for that position; but he is unfortunately absent, and we, therefore, are reduced to discussing with great unreality in this House the policy in which the country is really interested, and which overlays and screens whatever may be the policy of the Government themselves.
I did hope, for I have been engaged ever since the speech of 15th May, in endeavouring to discover where the offer of the Colonies was to be found, that I might have heard something to verify and substantiate that offer from the noble Duke to-night. He was for a short time Under-Secretary to Mr. Chamberlain, and I could not help believing that at last we might be in sight of the secret which has eluded us so long; that possibly in some sequestered corner of the Colonial Office there might be lurking some precious fragments of this austerely guarded secret; and we should at last be face to face with what you must remember is the cardinal spirit, origin, and base of the whole of this policy—the offer which was made to us by the Colonies, which it would be criminal and dangerous for us to neglect. In the speech of the noble Duke, admirable as I thought it from several points of view, he was reduced to the same shifts as his great ex-chief in attempting to explain this mystic phrase. He brought us back once more to the resolution of the Colonial Premiers at the Colonial Conference, but no amount of dialectic and no efforts of eloquence will make out of that resolution anything but a pious opinion of the Colonial Prime Ministers—a pious, patriotic, and Imperial opinion, if you will, but in no sense an opinion that can be described as an offer which it would be criminal and dangerous to neglect.
I am not going through the various details of tariff, but the noble Duke brought forward figures to prove that the Canadian preference had been a great success. I have a great regard for the 25 noble Duke's opinion, more especially as he Represents the Colonial Office in this matter; but I still think that the opinion of Mr. Chamberlain carries more weight on that subject than the noble Duke's, and I will read a sentence of what Mr. Chamberlain said at the Colonial Conference—I have to say to you that while I cannot but gratefully acknowledge the intention of this proposal and its sentimental value as a proof of goodwill and affection, yet its substantial results have been altogether disappointing to us, and I think they must have been equally disappointing to its promoters.Then, in the following paragraph, Mr. Chamberlain goes chapter and verse through the various figures relating to that proposal to show how it has been so disappointing. I am glad that a more sanguine spirit has animated the Colonial Office since Mr. Chamberlain left it, but I cannot take that as a positive opinion counterbalancing the authoritative statement of Mr. Chamberlain. The noble Duke states again that the Australian Government are extremely favourable to the proposals of Mr. Chamberlain; and he quoted a passage which says that the Australian Ministers hope that when Mr. Chamberlain shall visit the Colonies, and stump them on their behalf, he will produce a state of opinion still more favourable to colonial preference than that which now exists. I have great faith in the magic of the right hon. Gentleman's eloquence, and what it may effect in Australia I do not I know. But I would point out that the opinion of the Australian Prime Minister would be of more value if he had not just gone through a general election, or if, having gone through that general election, he had returned with a majority at his back. That election has been fought since the proposals of Mr. Chamberlain were before the country. It took place in the autumn, and Mr. Chamberlain's proposals were thundered into the ears of the Australian public by the Ministers who thought they gave to them a chance of a majority. But they have come back not with a majority, but with less than a third of the Commons House in the Commonwealth Legislature. Therefore, whatever may be the opinion of Mr. Deakin and his colleagues as to the advisability of Imperial preference, it 26 cannot be said to carry the authority of the Australian people behind it. The noble Duke concluded by showing a sagacity beyond his years when he said that he wished to guard himself against being supposed to follow the policy of Mr. Chamberlain. I wish that all His Majesty's Ministers were equally discreet.
I wish to guard myself against being supposed in any way to disparage the efforts and good wishes and good intentions of the Colonies in regard to this question of preferential tariffs. We have all freely acknowledged what has been done by Canada. We freely acknowledge what has been recently done in South Africa. We have hopes of Australia, and we hope that what has been done in New Zealand will be fruitful. But I should be curious to learn whether the noble Duke would care to take shares in the new line of steamers between Glasgow and New Zealand to which he referred. We have all felt sensible of these efforts. But is that a reason for dislocating our whole fiscal system in order to meet these preferences in the Colonies? My contention is this, and it is supported by the language of the Canadian Prime Minister. The Canadian preference was given, not as a matter of bargain—the Canadian Prime Minister was very explicit as to that—but as a matter of favour and good will and loyalty and affection to the mother country. However fruitful these preferences may be—even if they realise all the golden dreams of the noble Duke and disappoint the more gloomy forebodings of the late Colonial Secretary—they are no more than a sign of the Imperial loyalty which is due from and is given by the Colonies to the mother country, and which in no respect counterbalances the contribution of the mother country to the Colonies, given equally with freedom and with generosity, in bearing the whole burden of the naval, military, and diplomatic services. Whatever the Colonies give in this respect is no more than counterbalancing, or is less than counterbalancing, the mother country's contribution to those services. I believe it is so regarded by the Colonies themselves; and I am certain that, in the opinion of the wisest statesmen among them, it would be considered a 27 calamity if these preferences were adduced as a reason for the people of Great Britain abandoning the path on which they have been long embarked—of what we call free trade, though I am told that that is a misnomer—for abandoning the path on which this country has prospered, unless it were for reasons particular to these islands; and because it was thought that their prosperity could be better advanced under another system.
*THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE (The Earl of ONSLOW)
My Lords, the noble Earl expressed regret that there was not in this House any representative of Mr. Chamberlain to express his views. I join with the noble Earl in that regret. Although I am not here to give expression to the views which Mr. Chamberlain holds, and which he has put before the country, I may perhaps be allowed to take part in this discussion, inasmuch as I had the honour and the advantage of being associated with Mr. Chamberlain at the Colonial Office at the time when the Colonial Conference of 1902 took place. In the first place, let me say that it was not at that Conference that the question of preferential trade was first brought forward. A Conference was held in 1900, and the "pious opinion," as the noble Earl calls it, was then expressed that preferential trade between the Colonies and the mother country would tend to bind the Empire more closely together. Since that time the Colonies have developed the preferences which they now grant to the mother country, and it was in 1901 and 1902 that the question of inviting the mother country to give reciprocal preferences to the Colonies was brought forward actively by the representatives of the Colonies.
Your Lordships will remember that an import duty was placed upon wheat here; and although there is not in the archives of the Colonial Office the record which the noble Earl hoped my noble friend the Under-Secretary might produce, I know, as a matter of fact, that the high Commissioner of Canada, Lord Strathcona, was at that time incessant in his pressure upon the Home Government that they should give 28 some preference to Canada, and in this assurance Canada would be willing to increase her preference in return. I can not for the life of me understand how noble Lords opposite have got it into their heads that the Colonies have never asked for a preference from the mother country and have never offered any advantages to the mother country in return. The fact is patent in the proceedings of the Conference which took place before 1902, and is a matter of common knowledge in the Colonies. I do not want to dwell upon that any further, except to say that to my mind it is as plain and as clear as daylight.
The noble Earl has made a great deal of the speech of Mr. Chamberlain at the Colonial Conference, in which he pointed out the small effect that the preference granted by Canada had had upon the trade between the two countries. Mr. Chamberlain, at that time, was very anxious to obtain from the Colonies some sort of undertaking, not only for a preference, but that they would adopt as a policy the ideal of free trade within the Empire. I know that that is impracticable in the immediate future, but I cannot help hoping that it is an ideal which some of the younger Members of your Lordships' House may live to see realised. The preference which Canada gave to this country, although it may not have fulfilled all that was expected of it, has at any rate made a very material difference in our trade with Canada. In the first place, your Lordships are well aware that the prosperity of Canada has been unexampled in recent years, and therefore it is not unnatural that its trade, not only with the mother country, but with the United States of America and Continental countries, should have alike materially increased. As Mr. Chamberlain himself pointed out, in a later speech than that referred to by the noble Earl, before granting us a preference our trade with Canada had practically fallen from 40 per cent, to 23½ per cent., in the last two years that trade has been gradually climbing up again and reached in 1902, 26½ per cent. In other words, before the preference was granted the trade between the United Kingdom and Canada was steadily going down, but the moment preference was granted it 29 began to climb up until it is now £11,000,000.
I do not wish to detain your Lordships at any length, but I must be permitted to refer to the observations that fell from the noble Earl on the Cross Benches to the effect that the opinion of Australians was not to be measured by the utterances of Mr. Deakin, the Prime Minister. Well, my Lords, one naturally looks to the utterances of the Prime Minister of a country as an indication of the views of those who support him. The noble Earl read an extract from a speech of the Leader of the Opposition. I suppose we may, at any rate, take it that an expression of opinion of the Leader of the Opposition and of the Prime Minister taken together may very fairly be regarded as representing the views of any particular country. Although the Australian Prime Minister was not prepared to do more than give a certain amount of preference to this country by raising the duties on imports from foreign countries, the Leader of the Opposition was prepared to go a great deal further and to lower the duties on imports into Australia from this country while maintaining them at their present level against foreign countries. I think the opinion of those two gentlemen may fairly be held to represent the opinion of Australia as a whole. Although His Majesty's Government are not inviting the country to carry out the proposals which Mr. Chamberlain has placed before it, this I do say, that when the Colonies have solemnly and formally brought under the notice of the Government a policy which, in their opinion, will tend to bind together the different parts of the Empire, that proposal ought not to be treated, as I am afraid it has been treated in some quarters, with contempt and ridicule.
*THE EARL OF ONSLOW
I said in some quarters. I do not say it has been treated in that way by the noble Earl. I think proposals of that kind deserve the most careful and earnest consideration of all Parties in this country, and I sincerely 30 hope that your Lordships, whatever view you may take of it, will at any rate make up your minds to give it careful and respectful consideration and will not reject the proposals as something wholly impracticable.
§ LORD BRASSEY
My Lords, having served five years in Australia as a colleague of my noble friend Lord Beau-champ, and having taken part in the Congress of Chambers of Commerce of the Empire, held in Montreal last August, I am able to give to your Lordships some further information, at first hand, as to the views held by responsible Ministers in the Colonies. When I went out to Australia I knew that Mr. Chamberlain had in his view the policy of preferential tariffs. I took every opportunity of discussing the question with Sir George Turner, then the Premier of Victoria, and now the Finance Minister of the Commonwealth. I consulted with the Ministers of other Australian Governments. The protectionist colonies were not prepared to lower their duties on British goods. Preference could only be given by increasing the duties on foreign goods. Australian opinion remains unchanged under the Commonwealth. In the recent elections the Labour party have gained. They insist on protection for home industries. The speeches made by Sir Wilfrid Laurier and his colleagues at the Congress of Chambers of Commerce, held last August in Montreal, are perhaps the most important declarations by colonial Ministers in Canada since our fiscal policy has been under discussion. No reductions of tariffs are proposed by Sir Wilfrid Laurier; he said it would take him too far into politics. Reductions are strongly opposed by Canadian manufacturers. They were represented at Montreal by Mr. Ellis, ex-president of their association, who said—I wish to say that, as far as the manufacturers are concerned, we believe we have gone far enough; and we will oppose strenuously any reduction in the present duties, or any increase in the preference, unless there is a corresponding increase in the duties.In justice to Canadian Ministers, it should be said that they did not press the mother country to make sacrifices for which no compensation could be given. 31 At Montreal, Mr. Fisher, Minister of Agriculture, made an important speech, in which he said—Let me say one more thing, and I say it to the guests from the motherland. The sum of agricultural success in Canada is the purchasing power of the masses of the old land. It is to your markets that we send our surplus. It is through the money received from you that we are prosperous beyond the aspirations of our people a few years ago. Anything you do to interfere with the purchasing power of your people would be the deadliest blow at Canada that you could strike. No preference that you could give in your market would make up to us for the decrease in the purchasing power of your people.While Australia and Canada remain protectionist, a bargain with the mother country on terms of mutual advantage is impossible. The case was plainly put in my hearing by Lord Salisbury some years ago. In reply to a deputation from the Empire Trade League, Lord Salisbury said—If you give preferential treatment to your colonies, it must be that you tax the similar goods from the rest of the world; and that the Colonies are to command a better price for their goods than they would obtain under unrestrained competition. A better price for the vendor means a more disagreeable price for the consumer; and we have yet to receive proof of this country being in favour of a policy of preferential taxes on wheat, on corn, and on wool.We have had no such proof at the late elections. In some degree the mutual obligations of the mother country I and her colonies depend on their relative resources and burdens. The proceedings of the Conference at Montreal were recorded in a Blue-book. On the outer page there was the advertisement of the Canadian Commissioner for Emigration, The headlines stated—Plenty of room in Canada for the workers. One hundred and sixty acres of the best land in the world given free. A greater available food-producing area than in any other country. Farming in Canada pays. Trade more than doubled in seven years.Can we say that it is as well with us as with Canada? And we are generous to our colonies. We are beyond comparison their largest customers, and we impose no duties. The self-governing Colonies put high duties on imports from the mother country. If we look to the varying conditions—position, climate, products, population—unrestricted freedom for all the self-governing States must be our wisest fiscal policy. The difficulties 32 of tariff-making for the Australian Commonwealth should be a warning against more ambitious endeavours. The main stream of our colonial trade sets towards India, where no protective duties are imposed, and to other possessions where no manufactures are established. With our self-governing Colonies of Canada and Australia, in which industries similar to our own, and necessarily competitors, are coming into existence, and where we already have the lion's share of their external trade in goods which we are able to supply, the true bonds are the racial sympathies, felt most strongly in the hour of stress and strain. There are, I submit, better methods of attaining the object we all have at heart. Let us be helpful to our colonies on every suitable opportunity. Swift communications are a bond of Empire. We might be more liberal in subsidies to ocean telegraphs and mail services. We might give aid, by Imperial guarantees, to the construction of main lines of railway, which would open up new territories for settlement, and accelerate the transit of mails. And among the means by which the unity of the Empire can be strengthened, no methods perhaps are more telling than those acts of public and private recognition which Mr. Chamberlain has never neglected.
§ *VISCOUNT GOSCHEN
My Lords, I desire to say one or two words with reference to some observations which fell from the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture. He spoke of the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia as, naturally from the position that he occupied, being the proper mouthpiece of the majority of the people of Australia. But, as I think my noble friend Lord Rosebery remarked, there are three Parties in the Commonwealth Parliament, and not one of those Parties is in a majority. Roughly speaking the Ministerialists are one-third, the Opposition are one-third, and the Labour Members make up the other third, so that really there is no majority of which the Prime Minister is the respesentative. That is the information which has reached me. Then with reference to Mr. Reid, he is undoubtedly in favour of a certain preference to the mother country, but what he would infinitely prefer is free trade within the 33 Empire. He is a distinct free-trader, and therefore, if preference is to be given at all, he would prefer a preference by lowering the tariff, and keeping it as it is against the foreigners rather than by raising the tariff against the foreigners, and keeping it as it is against British maufacturers. He is not in favour of the preferential system, because that system would block what is his aspiration, namely, free trade within the Empire. Mr. Reid is an opponent of the preferential system, and he has expressed himself most apprehensive lest the present movement in favour of protection in this country should have a damaging effect upon the efforts of the free-trade Party in Australia, and who look to the free-trade Party in this country as their allies, towards whom they may ultimately gravitate, when they can make more impression on the people in Australia.
But I am ready to admit that there is a distinct leaning in Canada towards preference; and I should think there is a majority in favour of preference in Australia. That I think we may admit; and I entirely subscribe to what fell from my noble friend Lord Onslow in his concluding observations, that this is certainly not a matter which can be brushed aside with contempt in this country. Any approaches by the Colonies in this direction ought to be treated by all Parties with the greatest respect and consideration. It would be deplorable if by the heat of Party strife in this country the Colonies should get the impression that this country was deaf and blind to any desire they might express. If it be true at all that the advances of the Colonies have been treated with scorn in this country, that feeling must be confined to a very small section of the population, and certainly it has not been expressed by any responsible statesman. One of the things which many of us have deplored is that this question of fiscal policy should have drifted into the sphere of Party; and that, therefore, expressions should have been used which are open to misconstruction. But I think the great bulk of the people of this country—divided as we are upon the subject of preference—wish to approach the question with the desire solely to adopt the best system for strengthening the bonds 34 I that exist between the Colonies and ourselves. What we differ upon is this—whether preference might not have an effect very different from that which its authors desire. It has been said over and over again by men who have been connected with the Colonies, and therefore: competent to judge, that preference, would lead rather to friction than to a closer union, and that the bonds which bind us together are strong enough now, and do not need the support of a system of preference.
The impression conveyed to the public by the speeches of Mr. Chamberlain was that definite offers had been made by the Colonies. It is now clear that no definite offers have been made by the Colonies, except perhaps in the case of Canada, which has expressed the opinion that it was desirable that a system of preference should be established. But, be that as it may, we now know from the utterances of the leading men of Canada and Australia I that it was not in accordance with fact to say that we were at the parting of the I ways, that the moment had come when we must either accept or reject the advances of the Colonies, and that if we rejected them the union of the Empire was doomed. Mr. Chamberlain did not put the position less strongly than that. The statement was resented by a large portion of the British public, who regarded it as a slur upon the Colonies. Now we gather from the speeches of Ministers and from the attitude of the Government, that they dissent from that proposition of Mr. Chamberlain. They have not adopted his policy. They may possibly submit it to the country at some future time; but at present it is not their policy. I should like to hear from my noble friend the Leader of the House whether he is prepared to say that the advances made by the Colonies have put us in the position that we must either accept them, or reject them at the risk of the unity of the Empire.
*THE SECRETARY or STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (The Marquess of LANSDOWNE)
My Lords, if we who sit on this Bench were not a long-suffering people, we might be almost entitled to protest against being, night after night 35 called upon to defend a policy of colonial preference which we have been at great pains to explain to your Lordships that we did not intend to offer to Parliament, and which, indeed, we have said we would go the length of opposing if at this moment it were proposed to us. The two speeches of the late Colonial Secretary which have been referred to in this debate were said, and said with perfect accuracy, to have referred to an offer advanced by the Colonies; and the question which we are now asked to debate is whether there was such an offer, and, if so, what was its nature. After considering the different passages in this Blue-book which have been quoted at length during this discussion, it seems to me impossible to arrive at any conclusion but that something which may not be unfairly described in general terms as an offer, has been made by the Colonies. The noble Earl on the Cross Benches said that those expressions meant nothing more than a pious and patriotic opinion; but I am bound to say that, if the language of the representatives of the Colonies is to be interpreted in the ordinary manner, we must find in them a good deal more than a pious and patriotic opinion. I do not by that mean for a moment to suggest that the Colonies have collectively made to us the offer of a specific and detailed proposal for an arrangement of tariffs concerning the whole of the Empire. It is quite obvious that they are not in a position at present to make such a proposal, any more than we are in a position to entertain such a proposal. But when you find that the leading men in those great Colonies have time after time expressed a distinct desire that commercial arrangements of this kind should be brought into existence between the mother country and the Colonies, and when, in addition to that, you find them actually giving to us, as an earnest of their intentions, substantial and valuable preferences, I think we may fairly say, without being accused of misdescription, that the Colonies have made to us an offer of preferential treatment. That is an offer which I am bound to say— as I believe Mr. Chamberlain stated—it would be criminal altogether to neglect.
There is one passage in the Blue-book which seems to me so distinct that I will venture to quote it. The Canadian 36 Ministers stated that if they could be assured that—The Imperial Government would accept the principle of preferential trade generally, and particularly grant to the food products of Canada exemption from duties now levied or hereafter imposed, they would be prepared to go further into the subject and endeavour to give to the British manufacturer some increased advantage over his foreign competitors in the markets of Canada.If that proposal is not worthy of being described as an offer, I do not know what an offer is. We on this Bench are not, and have never pretended to be, supporters of Mr. Chamberlain's policy, nor can we be made responsible for utterances of his, particularly those which he has delivered since he has ceased to be a member of the Government. But it is, on the other hand, due to him that he should not be misrepresented if we are able to correct the misrepresentation. We hold that an offer, or call it, if you please, an overture, has certainly been made to us by the Colonies; and all of us who, like the noble Earl on the Cross Benches, desire that the Empire should be preserved, and that its constituent parts should be drawn more closely together, all of us who are ready, as he is, to make sacrifices for the sake of that great object, desire that that overture should be treated respectfully. But we certainly realise that it is necessary that this great and far-reaching question should be dealt with, as Lord Goschen suggested, with the utmost deliberation; nor do we for a moment believe that because it is treated with deliberation and in a leisurely manner there is any prospect of the loyalty and allegiance of the Colonies being shaken or undergoing any change. When Mr. Chamberlain used the words which the noble Lord quoted I imagine that what he had in his mind was the effect which would be produced on the Colonies if this offer, as I desire to call it, were to be hurriedly and disrespectfully put on one side. I do believe that if that had been our attitude towards it the effect produced on the minds of the Colonies would have been a most disastrous one. I therefore very much associate myself with what fell from Lord Goschen, I desire as much as he does that this question should be carefully examined—and obviously it needs examination, not only with reference to its bearings on the Colonies, but with 37 reference to its bearings on our own commercial interests. It is clear that both those aspects of the case stand in need of thorough examination, and it is because we realise that that examination must take time, and that it is absolutely impossible to say at this moment what the result of such examination may ultimately be—it is for that reason that we have declined as a Government to incorporate in our commercial policy those particular proposals which are associated with the name of Mr. Chamberlain.
§ EARL SPENCER
My Lords, I do not desire to enter at any length into the interesting discussion which has taken place. I entirely sympathise with what was said by the noble Viscount opposite. Lord Goschen drew attention to the very remarkable words of the late Secretary of State for the Colonies in regard to this matter, and particularly to his statement that if regard was not paid to the distinct desire of the Colonies for a preference the result would be serious—that, in fact, it would be criminal to neglect the offer. The noble Marquess, though he says that at the present moment His Majesty's Government do not accept the policy of preference, admits that it would be criminal to neglect the offer which was made.
§ EARL SPENCER
I certainly think it would be extremely wrong to disregard a desire on the part of the Colonies, and none of my noble friends have treated such a matter with scorn, as Lord Onslow, I think, seemed to suggest. But this question has to be considered not only from the point of view of the Colonies, but of this country, and there are great interests at stake. With regard to the Colonies themselves, their view as expressed at the Conference was that in the present circumstances it was not practicable to adopt a general system of free trade as between them and the mother country. The noble Marquess considers that a definite offer had been made.
§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I am very sorry to interrupt the noble Earl, but I did not use the word "definite."
§ EARL SPENCER
If he did not use the word definite, the noble Marquess said there was a distinct offer, but as far as I can see there has been nothing but the expression of a pious opinion on the part of the Conference. The proposals made were entirely conditional on this country making some offer, of advantage to the Colonies, which the Government could not make under the present fiscal system. I have always held that this question of preference raises the whole question of a tariff, for without a general tariff it would be impossible to make an offer to the Colonies. In view of the Canadian expression of opinion cited by Lord Brassey, it is clear that it would be extremely improbable that a definite offer could be made by the Canadians. I regret that the Government have not stated their views more definitely, for if the system of preferences were carried out we should fall into direct protection, which would result in deplorable disaster to our commerce.
§ Motion, by leave of the House, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at a quarter before Seven o'clock, till Tomorrow, half-past Ten o'clock.