HL Deb 14 March 1904 vol 131 cc919-48

My Lords, I rise to move that an humble Address be presented to His Majesty praying him to appoint a small Commission to inquire into, and report upon, the present state and prospects of our trade, and whether any change of methods or other action is needed in furtherance thereof. I think I owe your Lordships an apology for having so frequently put off this notice, but I did so at the request of a distinguished Member of your Lordships' House who is friendly to the object of my Motion, and in the belief that the Government would perhaps accept this Motion. But, so far from that being the case, I believe they have sent out a three-line whip, which is about the full extent to which they can sjambok their supporters, in opposition to the appointment of this Commission. My Motion is short but comprehensive, and takes in the whole question. When I first placed this notice upon the Paper, I chanced to meet a friend of mine, a Member of your Lordships' House, who put this question to me, "In what sense are you bringing this Motion forward? Do you bring it forward in the sense of free trade or protection?" My answer to him was, that I brought it forward, not in the sense either of free trade or of protection, but in the sense of common sense. I shall then endeavour to put this Motion before your Lordships simply as a question of common sense in dealing with a business matter, and I can promise that I shall not enter into a discussion of the fiscal question. I shall not quote from Adam Smith in favour of free trade, nor shall I read extracts from the speeches of Sir Howard Vincent to show the blessings of protection. As I have said, I shall confine myself strictly to the business point of view in the matter.

Let me review the situation. What was the state of things in England fifty-eight years ago which led to the repeal of the Corn Laws? We then had famine in Ireland, famine in Scotland, and agricultural wages in the southern counties of England were eight shillings a week. This state of things rendered action such as was proposed, it seemed to me, absolutely necessary. I myself was in Parliament at that time and I felt that I could not oppose this measure. I had been elected in 1841 as a protectionist and as a defender of the sliding scale versus Lord John Russell's fixed duty. Owing to my pledges I resigned my seat, rather than oppose the measure; and, luckily for me, in less than a year I came back again to Parliament as Member for my own county in Scotland, unfettered and with a clean slate, which I have endeavoured to keep clean during the years which have since elapsed. What was expected from the repeal of the Corn Laws? I turn to the Gracious Speech of that noble lady and great Queen whose memory is ever dear to us. I find in the Queen's Speech of 1846. which was read by the Lord Chancellor of the day, by Commission, these words: — Her Majesty trusts that you will be rewarded by witnessing the beneficial results of the measures which have been sanctioned by Her Majesty for the present relaxation and ultimate repeal of protective duties on corn and sugar. Her Majesty entertains a confident hope that the more free admission of the produce of foreign countries into the home market will increase the comforts and better the condition of the great body of the people. Have the hopes thus graciously expressed by Her Majesty been realised? I own myself that, until May last, I was under the impression that they had been in great measure realised; that our trade and commerce had increased, that our Empire had grown in strength and unity, and that the general well-being of the people— though the poor, I am afraid, we shall always have with us—had risen considerably compared to what it was at the time the Corn Laws were repealed.

I venture to think that I was not alone in that opinion and that it was shared by many in this country. Hut it appears that we were all dwelling in darkness, for suddenly, in the month of May last, a light was sprung upon us from Birmingham which showed that everything was wrong, that our trade and commerce were going to the dogs, and that if we did not do something pointed out by that light, we should sink into the condition of a fifth-rate Power. That certainly astonished me, and what one naturally wants to know is, What is the nature of that light? Radium is a wonderful light. It can penetrate and make its influence felt, so it is said, thrush two feet of polished granite, but that is nothing to this light from Birmingham. For what has this light from Birmingham one? It has smelted a Government and reduced the great Unionist Party to a state of flux. Now, what I want to know is the nature of this light, whether it is a true light and be in which we can place trust—whether it is a light that of our great lighthouses, which shows the trader rocks to be avoided and points out to him the direction in which lie can safely steer, or whether it is a light of a very different description. I recollect many years ago seeing a light burning on the Table of the House of Commons. It was a stearin candle made from Irish bog, and Lord Shaftesbury—the great Lord Shaftesbury of factory fame—was speaking in favour of regenerating Ireland by turning the bogs into stearin candles. At the present tune this regeneration is sought by this Government to be effected through the expropriation of the Irish landlords. But the object of Lord Shaftesbury came to nothing. The candle was not worth the game, because, I believe, it took about an acre of bog to make a caudle. When I came into the House. Mr. Shiel, that most eloquent of Irishmen, was standing at the Bar. I went up to him and said, "Shiel, what do you think of this?" and he replied, "I think it is very much like an ignis fatuus." What, then, we want to know is whether this Birmingham light is like the light of our lighthouses, or whether it is an ignis fatuus or bog light. It is only through a Commission such as I ask for a small independent Commission—that we can get at the true facts, because all the speeches that we hear and read on this question, delivered both in Parliament and on platforms, are more or less coloured by Party feeling and are not to be trusted as safe guides.

Now what is the position of the Government? Does their policy throw light on the situation? Does it show that it is based upon inquiry and full knowledge I am afraid it does not. There is much that I should like to say about the Government's policy, but I shall abstain from saying it. I do not desire to speak a single unkind word of the Prime Minister. He is a great personal friend of mine and my county neighbour, and I abstain then from saying much that I would otherwise say. But as to the policy of the Government, I will take what was said by the noble Earl the First Lord of the Admiralty. In answer to Lord Salisbury, Lord Selborne declined to give details of a policy which, he said, was "not yet born" Those were his actual words. I will assume that this policy is not yet born, and will not, there are, go into the question of retaliation, when it is supposed to mean, nor consider what a rebaliatory policy means, whether it will stop there, or whether when this policy is born retaliation will appear as a little bantling of the election, or whether retaliation will come into life coupled, like a Siamese twin, with protection. I pass that by. But on Wednesday last we had a distinct statement from the Prime Minister as to what the Government's policy really is. Replying to Mr. Asquith, the Prime Minister said— The right hon. Gentleman asked me in the early part of his speech whether I adhered to the view that the fiscal programme of the Government involved a fundamental change in the policy pursued by this country for the last two generations. In my opinion it does involve that. My Lords, that seems to me to go further than retaliation. It may, or it may not; but, at any rate, what we want to know is whether the proposals which are to make a fundamental change in the policy pursued by this country for the last two generations are founded upon full inquiry and full knowledge of whatever is available in the shape of information on this vital question. My impression is that it is not so founded.

When the Education Bill came up two years ago I wanted to know something about technical education in this country as compared with technical education abroad, and I was told to go to the Board of Trade. I went to the Board of Trade and received from Sir Alfred Bateman, head of the Statistical Department of the Board of Trade, two Blue-books. One of the those Blue-books was up to the year 1898, and in it were contained the reports made by our Consular officers on the state of our trade throughout the world. There are, I think, 171 of these reports, and also accompanying them were Sir Ah red Bateman's conclusions. The word "tariff" is not mentioned. The Blue-book was published before tariff protection was, last May, so suddenly and unexpectedly sprung upon us. The only question then was, whether our trade was in a prosperous condition or not and these were the ordinary routine Blue books issued by the Board of Trade. In the Blue-book of 1898 Sir Alfred Bateman says— The reports indicate that the following a some of the causes which are considered as tending to place British trade at a disadvantage in those districts where, especially of late years, foreign competition has been more than usually been. He places them under six heads:—

  1. (1) The disinclination of British traders—(a) to supply a cheaper class of goods; (b) to be content with a small order at first; (c) to study a customer's wishes; (d) to adopt the metric system in calculations of weights, cost, etc.; (e) to grant credit facilities.
  2. (2) The scarcity of British commercial travellers, in comparison with those of other nationalities, their ignorance of the language of the countries they visit, and the endeavour to supply their place by a lavish distribution of catalogues and other matter printed in English only.
  3. (3) The inferiority of the British to the German and American methods of packing.
  4. (4) The additional cost of goods caused by the high rates of freight on British lines of steamers.
  5. (5) The frequency of strikes in the United Kingdom tending to cause uncertainty in the delivery of orders.
I believe the last named to be one of the most potent causes in placing our trade at a disadvantage, but, for reasons best known to themselves, both Parties avoid touching upon the question of the influence of trades unions on industry. I hold in my hand a book published by Mr. John Murray, containing a reprint of The Times articles on "The Crisis in British Industry," by Mr. Edwin A. Pratt, with introductory letters. In one of the letters, which appears on page 7, I read this most astounding statement: A member of the present Government was asked if a little elementary political economy might be taught in our schools; but his answer was that the whole body of trades unionists would be up in arms against it. I hope that this brave member of the Government does not sit in your Lordships' House; it is more probable that he sits in the other House. It is regrettable that the brave men who govern us — I include both Parties, for they are all tarred with the same brush—dare not deal with this subject. When Mr. Vince, of Birmingham, was approached as to the reason he gave for the state of our trade, an was asked why the question of trade sunions had never been touched upon, he replied that it did not come within the range of practical politics at the present time. Yet this is one of the main causes why our trade is not in all respects what it might be. The sixth reason given by Sir A. Bateman is as follows— (6) The development of technical education in Germany, and the greater attention paid in schools to modern languages, added to the system of sending young Germans all over the world to acquire a practical knowledge of the language, business habits, etc., of other countries, by means of which they are afterwards able to compete with those countries with a greater chance of success. It is not so much the want of education in this country as the application of it. It is better applied in Germany. In fact, the whole question, according to the Hoard of Trade Reports, turns upon method. In the Annual Report on Trade published in 1892—a year before the great light shone upon us from Birmingham—the following are given as Sir A. Bateman's conclusions from the data he had before him— It is necessary, more than ever, that the change of conditions should be recognised, and we can scarcely expect to maintain our past undoubted pre-eminence, at any rate without strenuous effort, and careful and energetic improvement in method. and he goes on to add— The problem, how best this can be done, is of vital interest to all classes of the industrial and commercial community alike, though the assistance which the State can give in the matter must necessarily be of a limited character. One would have thought that these reports would have been thoroughly considered by the Cabinet when the disruption took place; but, so far as I have been able to ascertain, they were never brought before the Cabinet and have never been considered up to the present time.

The Government themselves have admitted that there is necessity for inquiry, for after the disruption, and before they had settled on their policy, what did they do? They promised an inquiry—a grand inquest of the nation. What form did the result of that inquiry take? It took the form of an "Inquiry" Blue-book of 495 pages of statistics, which was dumped down on the Table of both Houses of Parliament without any conclusions drawn from those facts and figures being appended. Such conclusions were originally furnished, but they have been cut out, and the country has a right to know what they were. I am speaking to noble Lords who have been in the House of Commons, and I ask them whether they ever remember a Commission or Committee which did not, in their Report, give their conclusions as well as facts and statistics. I venture to say that we have not had a complete inquiry until we have a distinct conclusion from the facts that are adduced in this Blue-book. It is absurd to dump all these statistics and data upon the constituencies throughout the country; without independent expert help, it is indeed vain to hope that an unexpert community can possibly draw sound conclusions as to our home and foreign trade from the 495 pages of statistics as now submitted to them. I therefore, ask His Majesty's Government to fulfil their undertaking, and to give us the inquiry for which I am asking, by appointing a small Commission. In America they appoint Commissions of one, but what I suggest is a small Commission instead of the wagon-load of 50 Commissioners—a cart would not hold them such as is now sitting to frame tin-tariff most beneficial to their own trades. In that case the wagon has, L think, been put before the horse, for the country has not decided as yet on having a tariff at all. The Cabinet then have acted without full and proper inquiry, and they owe it to the country and to themselves to show that their policy rests on a sounder basis than any that has yet been revealed. We have a right to expert that the Government should carry out their promise and give us a complete inquiry.

I believe that if the Government had appointed this Commission earlier they would not have found themselves in the awkward and unpleasant position in which they are now placed. Mr. Balfour was with me in Scotland in the early part of the year, and I urged him by letter after he had left, that alter the Cabinet meeting, which was then about to be held, on the 23rd January, he should let it be announced that the whole question was to be sent to a small Committee of experts. If he had done that, how different would have been the position of the Government. I do not think it is even now too late. I believe that if they were still to act on that, and to issue such a Commission their position would be greatly improved. Nothing will get them out of the "bunker"— an expression not unfamiliar to the Prime Minister—into which they have got themselves except the niblick of a Royal Commission. I shall be surprised if my noble friend Viscount Goschen does not back me up in my request for a Commission. I see Lord Avebury in his place, and I think I may expect support from him, and also from my noble friend behind me, Lord Brassey, who has published an able book on this question, the heading of the last chapter of which is "A Royal Commission." The Chamber of Commerce of Glasgow passed a resolution in favour of the appointment of a small Commission. That has been followed up by the Chambers of Commerce of the United Kingdom, who also passed a resolution in favour of a Commission. Therefore, whatever backing I may or may not get in your Lordships' House, at any rate I am backed by the opinions of the Chambers of Commerce of the United Kingdom, who think it not only advisable but necessary that such a Commission should be appointed if you are to come to a wise decision on this question.

I have only a word or two to say on the colonial question. We are asked to tie the Colonies to us by what I hold to be a mercenary rope of straw. The Colonies have shown their patriotism in the late war, when they came forward to help the mother country from love of the mother country. It was an American admiral who once came to our help and said, when he did so without orders, that "blood was thicker than water. I, my Lords, believe that blood is thicker than tariffs, and that if you try to tie the Colonies to the mother country by mercenary tariffs it will lead to friction, disputes, and discontent, and will have the contrary effect to that which you desire. No, a better and loftier keynote was struck on this subject by Mr. Gladstone. I find in Mr. Morley's "Life of Gladstone," Vol. 1., page 363, that Mr. Gladstone, speaking of the Colonies, said— Their natural disposition is to love and revere the name of England, and this reverence is by far the best security you can have for their continuing, not only to be subjects of the Crown, but to render it that allegiance which is the most precious of all—the allegiance which proceeds from the depths of the heart of man. That I believe to be a sound view. The other I believe to be wholly unsound. Rut there is a bigger question than this behind. It is something much wider, larger, and more important, than even the tying together of England and her great Colonies—I refer to the union of the English-speaking race throughout the world. That, my Lords, is an object for which all should strive. It means nothing more nor less than the peace of the world, and I say it is a crime against humanity if everything is not done to bring about such a happy state of things as that. Do you think that the union of the English-speaking race will be promoted by firing hostile tariffs into America? No, that is not the way to bring about such a union.

I do not intend to raise the fiscal question more than I have done. I have brought this before your Lordships as a matter of business and I would ask noble Lords to consider what they would do in the management of their own estates. We all have estate offices. We have our head agent, and, if the estate is large enough, there are sub-agents. Believing that your estate had been for generations, perhaps, well managed, what would you say if suddenly a sub-agent in your office declared that "The whole thing is mismanaged, I will have nothing to do with it. Your estate is going to the dogs under its present management, and I wash my hands of it." What would your Lordships do in those circumstances? Would you accept for gospel all you had been told by the sub-agent? Far from it. You would institute a full and searching inquiry. And an inquiry by whom? By the best experts in the management of estates to be found in the country. We are all in our different ways trustees and guardians of the property of the nation, and our duty is to be careful in its management, and to transmit it, if we can, not impaired but improved to posterity. I then ask your Lordships to treat the main property of the nation, which is its trade and commerce, precisely in the same business-like way in which you would deal with your own estates. I know that there is a three-line whip against me on the Government side, and that the Opposition on this occasion are supporting the Government: and I think I know the reason for it. It is that my noble friend Lord Spencer and his colleagues feel that if my Motion was adopted it would get the Government out of the hole in which they wish to keep them. That is very natural. I move my Resolution, nevertheless, as being the right course for the Government and this House to take. My Lords, I thank your Lordships for the patience with which you have listened to me.

Moved, "That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty praying him to appoint a small Commission to inquire into, and report upon, the present state and prospects of our trade, and whether any change of methods or other action is needed in furtherance thereof."—(The Earl of Wemyss.)


My Lords, I think everybody will feel, at first sight, that there is a great deal to be said, or that there might have been a great deal to be said, in favour of the course which the noble Earl has proposed. This is a very complicated question, depending upon a great many things which require very careful investigation, and just the sort of question which one would imagine ought in the first instance to be settled round a table by a few people of very deep and practical knowledge on the subject. To consider all that has been written during the last 100 years by the chief professors of political economy, with the assistance of the greatest thinkers of the day; to digest that vast mass of facts and figures with which we have been provided in sufficient quantity; to weigh carefully the respective interests of the consumer and the producer; to consider, with regard to retaliation, how far that powerful and formidable weapon can be used without firing, at the same time that we fire at the enemy, on our own men—all these matters outfit to be settled in some way of this sort. The very worst way of settling a great and complicated question like this is on the public platform. It strikes me that by doing it in that way, which is rather the way we have adopted, we depend entirely upon very broad and general arguments addressed more or less to the passions of the crowd. If we look at the innumerable speeches which have been made on the subject we see that it is chiefly this sort of argument which is used—on the one side that of the cheap loaf in contradistinction to the dear one, which naturally appeals to the multitude, and on the other side premises of un- limited employment and of high wages, which is also very taking in the country. Then the duty put by foreign countries upon our goods is reprssented as a direct insult and injury to the nation, and the people are asked whether they intend to take it lying down.

I think that a Commission, if it had come some time ago, would have been a most admirable thing, but I am rather afraid that it is too late in the day to appoint one now. People's passions have been very greatly roused over the subject. One would have thought that a matter which depends entirely upon facts and figures and minute calculations would have had a contrary effect; but, indeed, there is no subject on which passions have been more excited than this. I think people's minds are already so much made up on this matter that even if you could get a Commission together, which perhaps you could, it is too late for it to have the effect that it would have had a year ago. Only those who already agree with it would be moved by any Report it might present, and those on the other side would remain of their old opinion. I think, too, it would be very difficult, in these days, when every man has a pronounced opinion, to get a Commission the members of which had not already declared their views, and this alone would prevent their being listened to so much as they would have been a year ago. I fear that for these reasons it is almost too late to decide the matter in the manner proposed. What we must look forward to is that the excitement which now prevails may gradually subside. I think it is already showing signs of doing so. I have great confidence in the ultimate good sense of the British people. I have no doubt that eventually, when the decision is arrived at, it will be most likely a sound one.

It has been said that we generally succeed in muddling through our wars and in emerging victorious in the end. I think, also, that in all great questions of reform and of policy we talk a great deal of nonsense in the first instance, and appeal too much to mere passion and sentiment; but I do believe that the English people generally muddle through to a right conclusion. But it takes time. They generally end, either by accepting the reform or rejecting it, or shelving it indefinitely, or sometimes by a sort of compromise, by admitting part and rejecting the remainder. I do not know that the great question which is before us now is one that admits of such a compromise. That is a matter for consideration, but what I do hope and trust is that the British public will have plenty of time given to them before they come to a conclusion. It is said by some that we cannot possibly go on as we are, that we should disorganise trade, and unsettle men's minds if we continue leaving this matter in abeyance. But it strikes me that trade would be much more disorganised if we came to a hasty and ill-advised conclusion, and had in a short time to reverse our decision. It seems to me clear that the Opposition are very anxious to hurry on the decision of this subject, and that His Majesty's Government desire to give time, and wish the decision not to be arrived at until the subject has been carefully considered. I am glad to hear from the cheers of noble Lords on the Front Ministerial Bench that I correctly state their opinion. I agree with them in wishing to postpone the verdict, though I am afraid I do not agree with all their followers in my personal hopes and expectations of what that verdict may be.


My Lords, I do not wish to deal with this matter as representing any group or Party; I wish to deal with it as a matter of business. I do not know whether others who are in favour of a Commission would wish to see a Commission appointed to make recommendations and advise a policy for the future. I have something different in view. What I think a great portion of the community would like, would be a clearer and more authoritative and exhaustive statement of facts. I feel confident that the nation has not yet got the full facts before them. A great part of the facts which they have got have been submitted by rival schools and rival combatants, and the public are bewildered and puzzled by the conflict of authorities. This feeling is shared by a very large part of the public. Apart from the Associations and Unions on each side there is a large body of practical commercial men who have not yet been able to see clearly in the matter, and who are asking, and energetically asking, for more information. Allusion has been made to the fact that the Associated Chambers of Commerce have voted by a majority in favour of a Commission. Is not that a very strong argument in favour of a proper inquiry? Are there any bodie3 of men in the kingdom whose interests are likely to be more closely affected by any decision which may be arrived at on fiscal policy than those represented in the Chambers of Commerce?

The resolution of the Chambers of Commerce strikes me as a great factor in the case. I believe it is admitted that a great portion of the City of London consider that there is a great deal to be elicited, and that they have not yet got before them all they have a right to know. At the beginning of the controversy a great many men decided that there must be a great deal to be said for the Birmingham policy, because they had an absolute belief in the strong personality and in the wisdom and discretion of Mr. Chamberlain. Many men who felt themselves unable to grapple with this complex problem said, "Mr. Chamberlain is the strongest man in the kingdom and is likely to be right." I know of my own personal knowledge many men who reasoned in this way. As the controversy has developed, however, that confidence—I will not say in the political world, but in the commercial world—has been somewhat shaken. They are not converted to the other side, but they see there is more to be said on the other side than they thought at first; and in their present state of doubt they are anxious to have more put before them. The difficulty is that so much heat has been developed that any new contribution of facts or figures is generally looked upon as an attack upon the side with whose position it does not entirely square. There is an intense desire to score on both sides.

The facts before the country, I submit, are not sufficient, because they are not accepted as authoritative; and what I should like to see, and what a great portion of the community, apart from political Parties, would like to see, would be an orderly, exhaustive, and impartial examination of all the facts. I am not so certain about the tariff reformers. They are instituting a further inquiry of then own, and I do not feel confident that they would be in favour of a Commission for obvious reasons. I say no more than that. But while the great political Parties on both sides may not be anxious for a Commission, a great portion of the trading, the manufacturing, and banking community is anxious for further knowledge. Have the Government, then, given us enough? The Blue-book is the, only authoritative document we have, though the figures are not accepted by all the controversialists, and some other matters in it have been questioned. On the face of the Blue-book it is expressly stated that — The present volume does not profess to cover lie whole ground of the inquiry. Therefore there remains other ground of inquiry which has not been covered, and the country has a right to ask that the whole ground should be covered. Are we to make this great fiscal change when, on the authority of a Government document, it is stated that the whole ground has not been covered?

Again, it would be an immense service if a summrry of the facts bearing on the present controversy could be extracted from the Board of Trade Returns enumerated in the appendix, and brought together. There are curious traps in the Blue-book. It is difficult to understand why some subjects are in the Blue-book and others are omitted. There is no system in the arrangement of the materials; nor are the terms of Reference given. Who asked the questions which areanswered in the Blue-book? For instance, there is a Memorandum on the iron trade of the North-east of England. Why was the Northeast selected- and why were other districts ignored? Again, the Blue-book states "it has been thought desirable to produce statistics about the tin-plate trade." Who thought it desirable? Why was that trade selected? Many similar questions might be asked about the contents of the Blue-book. It would really appear as if the Blue-book was merely a haphazard amalgam of a number of cases and a number of statistics which have been asked for by different Ministers. But do not take me as under-valuing the worth of the Blue-book. It is a storehouse of information. Many of the matters dealt with are admirably treated. It contains a mass of useful information. I do not think there is any part of the Blue-book I should like to see omitted; and if it is not altogether that which the country has a right to have, it is not the fault of the officials of the Board of Trade, who with immense industry compiled it.

Again, my Lords, there is another curious omission. At the Treasury there are gentlemen thoroughly acquainted with the history of taxation. For years they have been accustomed to weigh the incidence of taxation on the various classes of the community. Yet not one of those experts, so far as I know, has been officially invited by the Government to give evidence. Why was that? I think the country would like to know what these experts think of the question. I hope it is not because the gentlemen of the Treasury—who have given a life study to the question of taxation—hive served mainly under free-traders, that it was decided their views should not be heard. Such an argument could not fairly be put forward by the Government. There are other matters not in the Blue-book upon which further information would be very desirable. I do not think we know nearly enough about our home trade. It has not been examined in the same way as our foreign trade. Yet the home trade is as important an element in our prosperity as the foreign trade. I do not know whether it has been observed how the prosperity of the home trade may be, as it were, temporarily in opposition to the prosperity of the export trade. We may have a most prosperous home trade, employing manufacturers to such an extent that they are obliged to decline orders from foreigners and our colonies because their workmen are already fully employed. Thus when there is really great prosperity, it might appear that our exports are declining. I say we scarcely know enough about the course of our home trade, side by side with the course of our export trade, and that is a matter which can be ascertained only by experts.

I should also wish for a clear, short, and authoritative statement as to our trade in the neutral markets, given in such a form that a conclusion may be arrived at on the assertion of tariff reformers that, while our trade with protectionist countries is declining, we are making no progress in the neutral markets. If it is the fact that where there are no tariffs and no protection—where there is a fair field and no favour for all—we are falling behind, the position ought to be exactly defined, because it is a most crucial matter. The protectionists may interject that it is due to "dumping." It is most important to examine the exports of the foreigner to neutral markets in such a case in order to see whether in these exports are included to any large extent the articles in which dumping takes place. In a word, what I want to know is why you should not aim at bringing out clearly the causes why we are not advancing—if we are not advancing — with our competitors in neutral markets. Is the falling off in our export trade due to tariff or to other causes? If it be due to other causes let us set to work to remove them rather than to attempt completely to alter our fiscal system in order to remedy a state of things which has not been brought about by the protectionist tariffs of other countries.

Next, there is the excess of imports over exports. There is a very able note on the subject in the Memorandum of the Board of Trade, but I think much remains to be said about it for the guidance of the country. I should also like more authoritative information upon the subject of foreign securities. I should like to know the extent of our holding in foreign securities, and I think there is a vast amount of capital invested abroad which must be added to the amount which is represented by so-called securities. I will give a curious instance of the way in which England derives profit, dividends if you choose, through its trade abroad, which does not enter into exports or imports. The English insurance companies have had to bear the loss of £2,000,000 in connection with the fire at Baltimore. For years the premiums for that insurance have been sent here to swell the receipts of the insurance companies. If in one acre of a city in America the business was so large, what must be the dimensions of our insurance business over the whole of the world? The profits on that business are remitted to this country, not in money, but in those imports which, if I wanted to use a controversial phrase, I should say are so disliked by the tariff reformers. Illustrations of this kind which might be multiplied ad infinitum ought to explode much of the anxiety which has been felt with reference to the excess of imports over exports.

Another point to be taken into account is the method of valuation adopted in this and other countries with regard to imports and exports. It is generally, but quite incorrectly, assumed that our exports ought to balance with our imports. Apart, however, from the point I have just raised, it must be borne in mind that if we take the case of any foreign country or colony and examine our exports to and imports from that country or colony in our own statistical and then in theirs, we shall find that there is an enormous discrepancy between the two. Why is this? Because in both cases the Returns add the freight and the charges, but while we add them to our imports, they add them to our exports. I have seen in an excellent book written by a free-trade senator in Australia the matter put this way, that during the years 1888 to 1901British Customs returns showed imports from Australia amounting to £128,000,000 and exports to Australia amounting to £108;000,000, so that it would appear from those figures as if our imports from Australia were £20,000,000 higher than our exports to Australia. An examination of the Australian statistics, however, shows that the colonists estimate that £128,000,000 at £119,000,000, and the £108,000.000 which they take from us at £119,000.000, also, imports and exports thus balancing each other. There is accordingly a difference of £20,000,000 between the two calculations. It means £10,000,000 added on the exports outwards for freights and charges, and £10,000,000 for the freights and charges backwards. We do the whole of the carrying trade and the Australians do none of it. This illustration shows why our imports appear always so much greater than our exports. What I would wish is that a similar calculation should be made in regard to the great foreign countries with which we trade. The difference between exports and imports in the case of Germany, for instance, would be represented by a totally different sum if you were to take the German statistics. If we could get these matters brought clearly before the country I think a great advance might be made in the understanding of this subject.

I have pointed out these various matters, I hope the Government will see, in no controversial spirit. I have pointed out that we have an area which still, I think, demands wise exploration, which I cordially wish the Government would undertake. Like my noble friend I received, a three-line whip stating that the Motion is to be opposed. I think it is a pity; I am very sorry for it. Personally I should be quite content as a free-trader to leave the matter where it stands, if I did not wish also to bring round to free trade those doubting masses who, I believe, would be gratified and relieved if they had further authoritative information. I can understand that the Opposition may not care to support the proposal; I can understand that the Government should not support it. As to the effect upon Governments and Parties, so far as I have been spoken to to-night, I care nothing. It is not from that point of view that I have looked at the question, but from the point of view of the commercial and manufacturing classes, the men who want their judgment to be informed, and who almost anathematise political Parties and that partisan warfare which only obscures their judgment, and who wish to see this matter treated as a matter of business, as becomes a common sense and commercial country. Neither the Opposition nor the Government need think that if they were to assent to such a Motion they would be showing any doubt in their own cause. They know all; the public does not know all. That is the important point. Is it a concession the Government would have to make? Concession to whom? Not to the Opposition, because they have not asked for it; not to any Party, because no Party has asked for it. Therefore it is a concession which might easily be made, and which, I think, would be received with great satisfaction by those who are, perhaps, more than any others, interested in the final issue. We all agree that the issues are vast, and there has never been proposed a change of any great policy on so small an amount of impartial and systematic information. Weare all agreed upon the greatness of issues. I wish we could be agreed upon the methods. I have pleaded for the method proposed by my noble friend, but I leave the matter in the hands of the Government. I have done my best to place before your Lordships and the Government that class of information which, apart from polemical questions, might be given with advantage.


My Lords, it may be convenient, before the discussion proceeds further, that I should state to the House how the Motion on the Paper is regarded by His Majesty's Government. In the few words I shall address to your Lordships I shall certainly follow the example set to us by my noble friend who has just sat down, and endeavour to deal with the question from a strictly business point of view, avoiding all those more acutely controversial arguments which it is difficult to exclude from these debates, and even, if I may say so, endeavouring to regard the question without reference to those tactical considerations which the noble mover told us are likely to prevail with the noble Lords on the other side of the House. I am obliged to distinguish between the speech of the noble mover and the speech of my noble friend who spoke last. Both of them, it is true, have expressed themselves in favour of the appointment of a Commission, but the Commission which the noble mover desires is a very different kind of Commission from the Commission which would content my noble friend behind me. The speeches of the noble mover always delight this House. They are characterised by a vigour and energy which many of us would like to emulate, if we could. If there is one characteristic more than another which distinguishes them, it is the intrepidity with which the noble Earl always approaches his subject; he is never deterred by difficulties, and upon this occasion I think he has ridden at the fence with characteristic courage.

Let us see what he; asks us to do. He asks us to support the appointment of a Commission, and he was careful to tell us more than once that it was to be a very small one. However small the Commission may be, the task which the noble Earl proposes to assign to it may, I think, without exaggeration, be described as a colossal task. What is the scope of the inquiry with which the noble Earl proposes to entrust the Commission? They are to inquire into and report upon the present state and prospects of our trade. Now the trade of the British Empire is a trade whose ramifications cover the whole face of the earth. I suppose nothing in the world is bought or sold in which our commerce has not a direct or an indirect interest. It is the state and condition of that trade which the Commission are to investigate; and they are to inquire, not only into its condition, but into its prospects. They will have to consider, for example, how that trade is affected not only by the fiscal policy of other countries at the present time, but how it may be affected by the developments which that fiscal policy may or, indeed, is likely to undergo in the not distant future. In addition to that, they would have to consider the effects upon our commerce of all the industrial, scientific, and political developments which are going on in different parts of the world.

But while that branch of the inquiry would in itself be of immense extent, what are we to say of the second branch of it? The Commissioners are to report whether any change of methods or other action would be in furtherance thereof. I presume the noble Earl means of the interests of trade. Now whose methods and whose action are to be changed? He may refer either to the methods and action of the Government, or to those of the traders themselves. I take leave to assume that the noble Earl means both, because obviously the inquiry would not be complete unless it included the methods and action of the traders themselves as well as of the Government. I ask your Lordships to consider where such an inquiry would carry us. It would carry us not only into the whole of the details of the fiscal question, into an examination of the merits of free trade and protection, and of all the intermediate stages between the two, but it would lead the Commission into an investigation of all the various forms of assistance which Governments can give to trade, not only in this country, but in foreign countries. I think the noble Earl, in quoting from a return, mentioned the Consular system and especially the collection of commercial intelligence. Those are matters which obviously could not be excluded from the inquiry.

Then, again, there is the most interesting subject of technical education and of scientific research in all their bearings upon industrial development. Besides that the Commission would have to deal with such questions as the laws which govern patents, the state of the law with regard to merchandise marks and trade marks, the question of the law with regard to merchant shipping, with regard to railway and shipping rates, and the practice of other countries in regard to shipping subsidies. Another branch of the inquiry which could not be excluded would be the question of the protection afforded to labour by such legislation as the Factory and Workshops Acts. Those are all matters which would come under consideration in connection with an inquiry into the methods of the Government. But then there arises the question of the methods of the traders themselves. The Commission would have to inquire into all the alleged deficiencies of our traders, and the allegations that they do not sufficiently study the wants and requirements of their customers, that their commercial travellers are not as enterprising as might be desired, that their arrangements as to weights and measures are not such as to facilitate transactions with foreign countries, that their technical and commercial education leaves something to be desired, or, again, that they are, as is sometimes said, too conservative in their methods and not quick enough to adopt modern labour-saving machinery and improvements. I mention all these details because it seems to me that none of them can be excluded from the purview of such an inquiry as the noble Earl has proposed; and surely, if they are* to be included, does it not follow that the inquiry, instead of being, as the noble Earl supposed, a short and simple matter, would be one of interminable length and far from likely to lead us to an early conclusion?

I wonder how the noble Earl would constitute that Commission. Where would he find members with sufficient authority and at the same time not committed to one or the other way of regarding these problems? I wonder whether the noble Earl would tell me in strict confidence whether he has got his eye upon a chairman suitable to take charge of such an investigation. I cannot help thinking that if we had in the earlier stages of this controversy proposed an inquiry of the kind suggested by the noble Earl we should have been told, and I am not sure that we should not have been told with a good deal of force, that we desired to shunt, this question for two or three years, during which time it would undergo dissection by a Royal Commission. I say, therefore, almost without hesitation, that an inquiry such as the noble Earl proposes does not seem to me to be a practicable proposal. I wish now to say one or two words with regard to the, as I understand, much more limited inquiry which finds favour with my noble friend behind me. I gather that his object is to obtain information simply with regard to matters of fact. He wants the public to be made aware of the basis of fact upon which His Majesty's Government have founded their proposal that we should alter our fiscal policy in regard to these matters.


Not only the basis of fact on which the Government have founded their policy, but the whole basis of fact upon which the nation should be called upon to form an opinion upon that policy. It might be quite other than the basis of facts upon which the Government founded their policy.


I do not in the least quarrel with my noble friend's correction. Well, are there not two questions involved in his proposal? There is the question in the first place whether the policy which we have proclaimed is defensible in principle, and there is in the next place the question how that policy should be applied. With regard to the first of those two points we do not admit that inquiry by a Royal Commission is necessary to justify us in recommending to the country that limited policy which we have proposed to Parliament. We consider that no one, and particularly no one who proclaims himself to be a freetrader, can be in any doubt that the high tariffs which are imposed by many foreign countries are injurious to our trade. If it be true that the course of commerce should, from a free-trader's point of view, be allowed to run freely and without obstruction, then it seems to me that we require no additional proof in order to show that when a foreign country builds up a tariff wall against you, and excludes your products, your trade must suffer thereby. That seems to me, if I may say so, to be axiomatic, and in addition to the, à priori argument, the statistics which are in our possession and have been published are, I believe, sufficient to establish that that injury has been, in fact, done to our commerce by these tariffs. Bat if it is suggested that the inquiry should not be for this purpose, but for the purpose of deciding how, when, and against whom we are to enforce the Government policy, then I say that these are points which it must be for the Government of the day to decide, and which the Government of the day will decide on the merits when the time comes, and not in consequence of the recommendations of any Commission which may be appointed in the year of Grace 1904. If we or our successors resort to retaliation, we shall, no doubt, do so because, owing to the circumstances of the moment, it has become evident that in certain cases it is possible to retaliate with effect. The inquiry which my noble friend behind me proposes we should now undertake is an inquiry designed to supply the public with data—with what I may call, I suppose, information as to the symptoms of the disease, if it be that the disease; exists. Now, is it not the case that, so far as data are concerned, your Lordships have already in your possession a very considerable body of useful and trustworthy information. There is, in the first place, the Board of Trade Blue book; and may I be allowed to express the pleasure with which I heard my noble friend state his approval of the manner in which that Blue-book had been prepared by the officials of the Board of Trade, who certainly had thrown upon them a task of very great difficulty and importance, which they seem to me to have fulfilled in the most admirable manner. But my noble friend told us that, although he gave credit to the compilers of the Blue-book, it did not entirely satisfy his requirements. He said that there were a good many gaps in the story, and I daresay the noble Lord is perfectly right. As to that, allow mc to say that, if the noble Lord or any other Member of this House desires further information upon any particular portion of the subject which is insufficiently dealt with in the Blue-book, we shall be glad to do our best to provide that information for him.

The noble Viscount referred for example to the absence of information with regard to our home trade. I quite agree with him as to the importance of that trade; but much as further information of that kind is to be desired, I am under the impression that there would be very considerable difficulty in obtaining it under a separate head; I will, however, make inquiries as to this. He also expressed a wish for more information as to our trade in neutral markets. There I am not without hopes that we may be able to supplement the information given in the Blue-book; but whether it is possible to collect information as to the extent of our foreign investments I am quite unable to say at present. I venture to think that we should be more likely to get at the truth in a form of which we shall be able to make use from information provided from these sources than by the appointment of a Royal Commission, even with the more restricted reference which would content the noble Viscount. I am not at all sanguine as to the utility of an elaborate; investigation by Royal Commission. I am sure that the noble Viscount remembers the Royal Commission appointed in 1885 to inquire into the subject of the depression of trade. I believe that that Commission sat for nearly two years. It produced a Majority Report, a Minority Report, and an independent Report by one Commissioner who could find room in neither of those camps; and to both the Majority and the Minority Reports there were attached a string of riders all pointing to different shades and varieties of opinion. It was a litter of Reports. But in this matter, from the moment that you allow an inquiry to extend into the region of tendencies and of the significance of the facts, you plunge at once into a sea of controversy from which I do not believe that you will extract anything except a very protracted and inconclusive investigation. Such an inquiry we are not prepared to undertake; and therefore I have to suggest to your Lordships that we should not support the Motion of the noble Earl, and that even an inquiry in the modified form suggested by my noble friend the noble Viscount is not one which we could in the present circumstances usefully undertake.


My Lords, after the announcement made by the Leader of the House, it might be thought unnecessary for mo to say anything; but there are one or two points to which I should like to refer in the same non-controversial spirit as that of the speakers who have preceded me. My noble friend says that we on this Bench are opposed to a Commission because it would get the Government out of a hole. This is generally a very legitimate attitude for an Opposition, but on this occasion I entirely deny it. I have always said that I should be ready to accede to the appointment of such a Commission only if I thought that the cause of free trade was in danger, because I am sure that out of such a Commission, properly constituted, free trade would come triumphant. I am not now in favour of a Commission of inquiry. First of all, I believe that there is ample information available. The noble Viscount opposite, in his admirable and able speech—I need hardly say I always listen to him when he speaks on this subject with the utmost attention, for he is an expert on the subject to whom I should almost entirely bow—referred to the omissions from the Blue-book. Is there any subject in the world which could be referred to a Commission and from the Report on which experts like the noble Viscount could not find omissions? I admit that the points he has mentioned are important; but as to the iron trade statistics, and their limitation to the north-eastern district, my interpretation of the Blue-book is this—that it had to be prepared within a certain time, and that typical cases were taken in the different industries. The Blue-book is full of most interesting and valuable information. No doubt an interpretation of the facts has not been given as fully as we might have expected, but in some cases that interpretation is given in the clearest way.

We should all have welcomed the views of the Treasury officials; and also that of Sir A. Bateman but if those views were not given I suspect it was because they were very strongly in favour of one side, and that the free-trade side. I have no objection to the information which the noble Marquess promises to give on specific points; but I quite agree with him as to the colossal nature of the task which the Commission would have if they followed out the suggestion of my noble friend; and that, if the Report were limited as the noble Viscount suggests, it would still develop into a very long and laborious undertaking. The Chambers of Commerce have, no doubt, a great influence in the country; but many of them have not the experience which we politicians have of the work of Royal Commissions. Those bodies have a very effective dilatory action on legislation; and to my mind they are generally appointed for the sake of postponing the settlement of any question. It is of the utmost importance that we should not prolong the controversy on this question, which is so sharply dividing Parties and which must have a very serious effect on all commerce and industry. I desire that the question should be submitted to the constituencies. Would the information obtained by a Royal Commission be read and digested by the constituencies? In every part of the country the electors are guided by local leaders, who are in turn guided by others above them, until we reach the hierarchy of Parliament. Would the experts that in part form that hierarchy have their opinions on this subject altered one tittle by any further information which could be collected? We have ample information already, not only in the Blue-book, but in the Foreign Office Reports, to form a proper opinion on this subject; and, as the experts are not likely to change their opinions, I do not see the advantage of appointing a Commission.

The noble Marquess said that it would be a matter of the greatest difficulty to appoint a Royal Commission. Ministers often differ as to how such a Commission should be appointed. Certain persons think that a Commission should be appointed representing the most forward defenders of particular doctrines. I have always differed from that mode of appointing a Commission, because it should be composed of the most impartial men you can find. Among the Commissions that have reported in late years I will cite the important body which dealt with temperance. I believe that the representatives on the Commission were equally divided: and what was the result? We merely had two conflicting Reports. After this fiscal question has been discussed so long, and with so much heat, I maintain with the noble Marquess that it would be extremely difficult, if not almost impossible, to appoint a Commission. Last year I was visited by a clergyman from the country, a Conservative. He told me that he had been brought up as a free-trader, but now that the fiscal question had arisen, he asked "What am I to do?" I told him to look at the experts who were on his side, and to note that the Chancellors of the Exchequer belonging to the Unionist Party are all free-traders. Those are the experts to whom I refer. I believe that the people do not require the Report of a Royal Commission so much as to read the views which are put forward by each side in the controversy. If the people will only read some of the speeches of the noble Viscount which he has delivered in an uncontroversial spirit, or those of the noble Duke the late Leader of this House, I think they will find the case for free trade put most forcibly and in the best spirit. No doubt there are speeches on the other side which will be able to guide them in obtaining a view of the controversy; but, after all we get the best information from the Parliamentary Papers and other documents which are presented to us. We want the question thoroughly threshed out in Parliament and in the country, but I am confident that the country will not desire to continue this controversy a very long time. It is ripe for decision now, and the sooner the electors are appealed to for their opinion the better it will be for every interest concerned.


My Lords, I should like to say, in reply, that it is not my intention to press my Motion to a division. I am perfectly satisfied with its having been discussed, and I should like, while thanking my noble friend the Leader of the Government in this House for his kind expressions with regard to myself, to say that he has misunderstood what I really want. I want the Board of Trade Reports carried to their full conclusion. Sir Alfred Bateman's conclusion was, that it was our method and want of pushfulness which were at fault. My main point is this, that the Government themselves some months ago thought an inquiry was necessary; they instituted an inquiry, and when that inquiry came back with an expression of opinion on matters that had been inquired into, they cut it out and sent this document of 495 pages of statistics to the electors, who are to settle in their own minds whether we ought to have free trade, protection, or retaliation; they are to settle it not from any opinions given them, but from these facts and statistics. I contend that it is impossible for them to form any opinion without having the conclusions before them. I am asked what kind of Commission I would propose. I should have suggested a Commission of three, and I would have put a judge at the head of it—Mr. Justice Bigham, for instance. I would also have appointed Sir Alfred Bateman, kite Head of the Statistical Department of the Board of Trade, and a gentleman of great weight like Mr. Schuster, representing the Chambers of Commerce. A Commission of that kind could collect these, draw sound conclusions therefrom, and give the public, data upon which to form an opinion. I deny that the inquiry which has taken place, when no conclusions are submitted, is of any value. It is in the interest of knowledge on this subject that I brought this matter forward, and I think it is a great mistake on the part of the Government to have declined to appoint this Commission. I ask leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion, by leave of the House, withdrawn.

House adjourned at twenty minutes before Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, half-past Ten o'clock.