HL Deb 11 April 1905 vol 144 cc1159-244

*LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH rose to call attention to the declarations of certain of His Majesty's Ministers concerning the proposed Colonial Conference, and to move to resolve "That in the opinion of this House it is necessary that before the constituencies of the country are asked to determine upon the desirability of such conference they should be informed (1) under what conditions the conference will be summoned; (2) what Colonies and Dependencies will be invited to send representatives; and (3) how far any decision arrived at will be held as binding upon His Majesty's Government and the United Kingdom."

He said: My Lords, I do not think I need offer to your Lordships any apology for calling your attention to the subject to which the Motion which stands in my name refers, because I think I can find ample justification for the course I am taking in the importance of the subject itself, in the doubt which enshrouds the special aspect of it which is more particularly the subject of my Motion, and, in my humble opinion, the public interest imposes on the Government the absolute duty of clearing away doubts which I think I shall show to your Lordships exist at the present time. I thought I had cast the form of my Motion in a way as little objectionable as it could possibly be put. It seems to me as it stands that it is a proposition so absolutely self-evident that I can hardly understand anybody taking a contrary view. At any rate, if it is the case that at a general election, whenever that event takes place, the constituencies of this country are to be appealed to on this momentous subject, then it does seem to me they ought only to be appealed to with the light of the fullest and most complete information possible; and, my Lords, the only hope of taking colonial questions out of the arena of our domestic controversies is, in the case of them, to be absolutely distinct and clear in the policy which is to be enunciated. I do not like questions affecting either colonial or foreign policy to be made the subject of domestic controversy in this country, and I think I can say that neither on a platform nor in Parliament have I ever attemped to speak either upon the one or the other without a deep and abiding sense of great responsibility.

The point from which I start is this. It is announced as the policy of His Majesty's Government that there is to be a Colonial Conference upon many important subjects; and it is said, as I understand, that that conference is to be carried on as a free, open, and unfettered conference without any limiting instructions whatsoever. My Lords, why is it necessary to put before the country at this time the question of the expediency of such a conference? It has been described by the Prime Minister, and rightly described, as almost in these days a necessary part of the machinery for carrying on our affairs. Why, then, is it necessary that at this time of day it should be thought expedient to consult the constituencies upon the mere expendiency of holding such a confernce?—The answer, I think, is plain. The answer is to be found in the course which what is known as the fiscal controversy has run in this country during the last two years; and I venture to say, farther than that, that the only possible obstacle to a free and full conference is the position into which the important subject of the preferential taxation of food has been pushed or manæuvred by those who are in favour of that particular policy. But if that is so, the same reason enjoins upon those of us who are not convinced of the expediency or wisdom of that policy, the duty of examining with care and with the fullest information the conditions upon which that subject is to come before such a conference.

I pause for a moment to ask whether this conference is to be one of the ordinary conferences which have been held at stated intervals during the last few years, or whether it is a new departure of a special kind and for a very special and very important purpose. It is announced that the great dependency of India is to be represented at this conference. One of the questions which I am anxious to have an answer to is, whether India alone of those Colonies and dependencies which are not self-governing is to be invited, or whether Ceylon or others are to be represented at that conference. And, my Lords, I beg to say, in case I should be misunderstood, that the sole object with which I have put down this Motion is to elicit full, accurate, and distinct information, and I have not, if noble Lords on the Front Bench near me will accept the disclaimer, the slightest intention of causing them any embarrasment in the matter. The essential points seem to me to be the conditions under which we are to go into this conference, and the position relatively to that conference in which we shall find ourselves after it has been held. The two points are, in my opinion, closely connected, and to illustrate what I mean I will ask your Lordships to allow me very briefly to glance at some of the essential incidents in the history of the fiscal controversy of the past two years.

We all recall the events of the summer and autumn of 1903, and at that time the idea of a free, open, and unfettered conference in regard to these important matters had not, I think, been thought of; at any rate, it had not been indicated as a cardinal point of the policy of the Government. The conference then, my Lords, on these lines is a comparatively recent development of the events of this controversy. It was mentioned I know, in the debate in the other House of Parliament in August of last year, and very soon after that debate a Question was addressed to the Prime Minister by Sir Howard Vincent as to whether he would summon a conference, and he replied— I hope that these conferences will be frequently repeated, but I do not propose to take any steps at the present moment on the subject.

The next occasion on which we heard of this conference was when the Prime Minister spoke in Edinburgh. We all know, I think, the circumstances of that meeting, and at it this announcement was made— In my view we have got to a point when the only possible way of moving out of the impasse in which we now find ourselves, an impasse dangerous to the Empire as a whole, is to have a free conference with these self-governing Colonies and with India. It would enable us to determine one way or the other, in the first place, whether these great dependencies desire an arrangement, and, in the second place, whether an arrangement be possible or not.

I am not going to attempt to set up the idea that there is any inconsistency on the part of the Prime Minister between the Answer given in August and the speech in October. The Answer in August was strictly limited to the time at which it was given. I go further than that and say that I believe most thoroughly that the idea which animated the Prime Minister in making the announcement in Edinburgh was the idea, as he says, if possible, of getting out of the difficulties and the impasse which had been brought about by the special phases of the fiscal controversy. The same idea has pervaded other speeches which the Prime Minister has made. I will only refer to one or two. In a speech which he made in December, in reply to what is known as the Defence Deputation, he said— If we have the power after the next election, our policy should be to ask the Colonies to join in a conference, and plainly intimate to them that those whom they send shall come unhampered by limitations in this direction on in that direction.

The whole of the speech was an eloquent plea for a high tone in conducting this controversy, and I am sure no one more thoroughly and more cordially would desire to respond to the invitation and to the indications of policy which were given in the course of that speech. The next reference which was made to this subject was in the speech at Manchester, when the celebrated half-sheet of note-paper was produced; and during the present session of Parliament there have been Questions and Answers and debates in the other House. But, my Lords, they all tend to establish, and I am sure His Majesty's Government will not think I am misrepresenting them when I say this, that their idea of this conference is that it is to be absolutely free and unfettered; that there are to be no limiting considerations and nothing to prevent, as I understand it, a free debate on every sort of question affecting the Empire. Other Ministers have said the same. I am not going to weary your Lordships with further quotations. I had intended to refer to a speech of the noble Marquess, who is at the head of the Board of Trade, but he is absent on duty and I shall therefore pass that by. Nor shall I say anything with regard to a speech which was made by the noble Earl the late First Lord of the Admiralty, who has been appointed to a position which, in my opinion at any rate, ought to take him absolutely out of the arena of Party conflict. And if I may turn aside for a moment to say so, there is no one who more ardently and thoroughly wishes the noble Earl all the success which his most earnest friends can ask for him in the difficult and responsible position to which he has been called. As I have said, other Ministers have made speeches. Those in the Cabinet have, I think, taken on the whole very much the same view of the conference; those who are not actually in the Cabinet, but who hold responsible positions, have not, I venture to think, taken quite the same line. I will only refer to two. The Attorney-General spoke at Inverness on January 9th. He undoubtedly said that both sides would enter into that conference absolutely free, but, personally, he believed that the fullest inquiry would show That the taxation of food between the mother country and the Colonies was neither desirable nor practicable—but they should have the facts.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, also occupying a very influential position, does not take quite the same line. Speaking at Warrington, he gave a certain amount of lip service to the idea that the conference was to be held, without the electors committing themselves to anything, to consider whether preferential trade was desirable and practicable; but he went on to announce; himself a fiscal reformer as keen as anyone in the country. He wished the inevitable change to be gradual—to be done as circumstances justified the advance; and then he is reported to have used these words— He cared not what was the first step so long as they adopted the principle.

What I am anxious to make sure of is that in taking the first step, whatever that step is, we shall know, and the people of this country shall know, beyond all manner of doubt, whether or not in taking that step we are going to be held as adopting the principle of this great change. There are other views of this conference, and there has been an agitation by another body—I do not know whether to regard them as altogether supporters of His Majesty's Government or not—on this subject of fiscal reform during the same period. But I must go back to the summer of 1903, to a speech which was made by Mr. Chamberlain in the House of Commons at the time when he was a colleague of the Prime Minister, and, for that matter, I was also in the same position, and it contained a very striking utterance. It is couched in plain and direct language, the meaning of which I think there is no possibility of mistaking. The words to which I refer are these— Now, nothing would be worse than to negotiate with the Colonies and probably come to an agreement with them, and then at the next general election to find that the whole idea was repudiated by the country. I can conceive nothing more dangerous to union than that. Therefore, before we begin to negotiate with the Colonies, we must have some knowledge of what is the opinion of the people of the country with regard to the principle at stake.

My Lords, if I were to approach this matter in a controversial spirit I should say that indications of what the feeling of the country is have not been altogether wanting during the past few months; but the essential part for my purpose of that speech is, that nothing can be worse than to negotiate with the Colonies, and probably come to an agreement with them and find it repudiated by the people of the country at the next general election. But that is the very risk which I am afraid we are running at the present time and under the present circumstances; and I want to know, if I may humbly and respectfully ask for the information, whether His Majesty's Government agree with that expression of opinion. If they do not, what is their answer to it? And, if they do, what course are they going to take to avoid the possible danger indicated?

The matter does not stop there. Mr. Chamberlain spoke at Luton within a few days after the Prime Minister's speech in Edinburgh. I would never have referred to this matter if, after the consideration which must have taken place during certain months, Mr. Chamberlain had altered his views of policy and had frankly and freely and fully accepted the conference proposed by the Prime Minister, not as committing us to a policy, but as one for free and unfettered inquiry. But after saying at Luton that it had been an understood thing hitherto that if the representatives of either foreign countries or the Colonies came to an agreement, that agreement should at once be submitted to the Parliaments and the Legislatures of the separate States concerned, he went on to say— I cannot understand what is the necessity of a second plébiscite, involving, as it would do, two mandates, two general elections on the same subject, coming within a few months one of the other. I think it would be very incon venient and very unpopular; but it is more serious than that. If, after coming to an agreement with your fellow-subjects, you are then to postpone the matter until every Legislature in every one of the Colonies and at home has been re-elected for this particular purpose—if you are going to do this, how long is it going to take?

My Lords, I do not want to say a harsh thing on any of the speeches which the Prime Minister has recently made, but it seems to me that he is perfectly and entirely oblivious of the fact that any such agitation as this has been going on in the country. At any rate, so far as I know, he has never referred to it in terms either of condemnation or objection. Is it possible under these circumstances to get a really free and unfettered conference? I do not think the Government themselves, when it is thoroughly examined, really propose a free and unfettered conference. As I understand it, they bar the possibility of any preference on raw materials. If you go into a conference with the idea of preference on raw materials barred and yet you are great patriots, why are we who have equally strong objections to a preference in the important matter of food to be told that we are disloyal to the Empire, and that it is impossible to consider this matter except in a free and unfettered conference. Why is it so reprehensible on our part to take exception to the expediency of taxing food? What are to be the instructions to the delegates who go into the conference supposing somebody who comes from Canada should happen to propose a preference on timber as well as on corn, or somebody from Australia should propose a preference on wool as well as on meat from New Zealand. These things are different in degree, but they are not different in kind, and it is because I am anxious to know exactly where we stand that I want to elicit the information for which I am asking.

Another Question I want to put to His Majesty's Government is this, what guarantee is there that the Colonies will come to this free and unfettered conference? They are in their policy protectionists; they have the right to be protectionists if it suits them. We have given them freedom and we do not desire to interfere with their freedom; but, as I understand it, their delegates will certainly come to the conference on the understanding that their general system of protection is not to be interfered with or broken up. Are we, or are we not, to go into the conference on the same understanding with regard to our fiscal system? My Lords, you cannot have it both ways. It seems to me, and I put it strongly because I feel strongly upon it, that the asking and the receiving of this information is, in my opinion, nothing but a matter of simple, downright honest and fair dealing. We are asked to go into a conference. If it is to bind us, you must tell us the policy. If it is free, we must be assured on the authority of everybody who accepts the conference that the people, sometime or another, and in my opinion sooner than later, will have a free and full chance of deciding whether or not they will accept the policy recommended by the delegates. Mr. Chamberlain says it is the custom in conferences to regard the policy resolved upon as binding on the Legislatures concerned. So it may be, but in that class of conference and under those circumstances there are limiting instructions, and the delegates are told what they may agree to and what they may not agree to, and I say, with all the force of conviction that I can put into it, you must take it one way or the other. Either this is to be a free and unfettered conference, or we are to know distinctly and clearly the policy which is to be advocated by our delegates when they go into it.

As far as the other point is concerned, there is danger of delay. There is danger of other questions coming up and interfering with the possibility of putting this matter as a simple and sole issue to the electorate; but until you have in the Constitution something like a referendum which you have not got now, that is an inevitable accident of the position in which we are placed. If I am not wearying your Lordships, I will illustrate my difficulty in another way. A good deal has centred recently round the maxim which is to the effect that you must not have taxation except for revenue purposes. I think that was thrown over at Sheffield; and it was also part of the policy upon the half-sheet of notepaper that that maxim was not in its full force to bind us in the future. In January, 1904, the Prime Minister referred to it as an error and a prejudice, at least so I understood him. He referred on the same occasion to his speech to the corn-tax deputation of the previous May, and he used these words, to which I call special attention. He said that even a small duty on food would never be tolerated as a mere fiscal and financial expedient, but that, if it was part of a wider or an essential element in a wider scheme of Imperial union then, and not till then, we might have a small tax on food as part of a preference system. I do not know whether that is intended as an acceptance in principle of the policy of food taxation. I do not like to express a definite opinion upon it, but at any rate I may go so far as this, that anyone who can use that language, who can hold that language, cannot be regarded as in principle opposed to it, and, therefore, if this conference should decide in favour of that policy, I am not sure that we can look to the Prime Minister to stand between us and its adoption. I carry it no further than that.

But to show how far some people go, I will again quote Mr. Chamberlain. Speaking at Liverpool on October 28th, 1903, he ridiculed the doctrine that the justification of a tax is that it is purely for revenue purposes. He laughed at the idea that if the tax only benefits the Exchequer it is a good tax, but if it incidentally or directly benefits any trade it is to be utterly condemned. He went on— Now I call that a preposterous doctrine. My object is—I may be quite wrong in my methods, and everything else may be quite wrong—but my object is simply this: I want to establish a scientific taxation for a taxation which, in my opinion, is a taxation in its most brutal and arbitrary form.

It is never safe absolutely to commit oneself to a general proposition as suitable for all times and for all circumstances; but if there ever was a proposition to which I should be inclined so to commit myself, it is the proposition which has been the canon of our taxation for fifty years—that the justification of a tax is its power to produce revenue, and not its capacity for conferring benefits on this or that class of the population. There may be cases in which that maxim, strictly interpreted, would work injustice, but, if so, it is surely fairer and safer to produce these specific cases and prove them up to the hilt before you take an exceptional remedy and cast discredit on what I venture to think is the only true canon of scientific taxation.

My Lords, I earnestly hope that no one will think it a light matter to try experiments in these negotiations with the Colonies. I hope people will not run away with the idea that you can try this thing and let it drop as and when you will. I venture to say if you do that you are practically certain to come to grief. You will arouse susceptibilities you will excite hopes which you cannot fulfil, and you will perhaps make bargains which will preclude you from an honourable retreat. This is no new thing. It has been tried before. The history of the country tells you what was the outcome of preferential taxation with the Colonies, and it tells you by bitter experience of the difficulties of getting rid of it once it is started. In my humble opinion sentiment is a stronger and safer tie than business; freedom and equality are better than bargains. I should like to put in, for my own sake, one word of caution. Do not let anyone say that I am opposed to the ideal of a closer union of the Empire. I would be the last to deny that it is a great ideal and an ennobling aim, It is not the ideal of a closer union that we mistrust; but do not let us allow the ideal to entice us into a policy which we shall find to be impracticable. I for one, at any rate, do not accept the assumption that the preferential taxation of food is the only road to a closer union of the Empire. Indeed, I regard it as a road to certain disaster; and the danger I see is that those who want some change, who are discontented with the present circumstances in some respect or another, who say, as few of us can say, that all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds, that those who want some change because they think any change will be a change for the better, may be tempted to accept a complex scheme of compromise to which in their calmest reason hereafter they will not be able to assent. Our circumstances and our conditions are not the same as those of our Colonies. Our difficulties and our interests are not the same, but one thing we have in common—the same love of equality and freedom. The services we have rendered to each other in the past have not been rendered in the hope of making a commercial profit out of them; and I venture to say for my part that what has been called the gossamer thread of disinterested affection will bind us together more closely and keep us together more surely than any appeal to the baser motive of commercial gain. I say, let us take care that in appealing to the one we do not weaken the older, and, in my humble opinion, the nobler tie. I beg to move the Motion standing in my name.

Moved to resolve, "That, in the opinion of this House, it is necessary that before the constituencies of the country are asked to determine upon the desirability of a Colonial Conference they should be informed (1) under what conditions the conference will be summoned; (2) what Colonies and Dependencies will be invited to send representatives; and (3) how far any decision arrived at will be held as binding upon His Majesty's Government and the United Kingdom."— (The Lord Balfour of Burleigh.)


My Lords, my noble friend who has just addressed your Lordships has inquired of us concerning certain utterances of His Majesty's Ministers upon a very important matter—the question of a Colonial Conference. No doubt the noble Marquess the Leader of the House will deal with many of the observations which have fallen from my noble friend, but perhaps your Lord ships will permit me, as being the representative in this House of a Department of the State closely concerned in this important question, to offer a few observations on the speech of my noble friend. A glance at the terms of the Motion which my noble friend has just moved would suggest to anyone who was a stranger in this country that the Prime Minister had stated that in his opinion a Colonial Conference should be summoned, but that after having given expression to that pious hope he had failed to enlighten his countrymen as to the conditions under which the conference would be held, as to which of our Colonies would be represented, and as to whether, in the event of the representatives at that conference arriving at a decision, it would be binding on the Government of the day. I venture to hope that I shall be able to show my noble friend and your Lordships that every one of these matters have been explained by the Prime Minister. The conditions under which the conference is to be held have been thoroughly explained by Mr. Balfour, and his views are public property.

Though the terms of my noble friend's Motion are comparatively easy to deal with, I confess that the observations which he has made and his reflections are less easy to deal with. It is the desire of His Majesty's Government to resist the Motion which the noble Lord has just moved. Let me say at once that it is the view of His Majesty's Government that there have been lengthy discussions on this principle whether the development of our colonial trade is worth fostering or whether it is not. These discussions have taken place in both Houses of Parliament and throughout the country for a long time past. In our view the time has now come when we must make up our minds to refrain from abstract discussion and attempt to ascertain in a definite way by a concrete, method of procedure whether our Colonies are prepared to make us any definite proposals, and, if so, under what terms and under what conditions those proposals would be binding upon the Government of the day. Let me remind your Lordships, briefly, what the policy of the Government is. It has been carefully defined and laid down by the Prime Minister in his speech in Edinburgh and other speeches. The policy of the Government is, if we are again returned to power at the next general election, to summon a conference which representatives of the various self-governing Colonies and of India will be asked to attend. My noble friend asks whether the representatives of the Crown Colonies will be summoned to that conference. I am unable to answer that Question. I feel that it is somewhat premature to give a reply on that particular point; but I can assure him that in this matter the interests and welfare of the Crown Colonies will not be lost sight of by His Majesty's Government.

This conference, as my noble friend has reminded you, is to be unhampered by any precise instructions, limitations or restrictions. It will be free, unfettered, and uncontrolled. What are the subjects which the representatives will be called upon to discuss? They will be asked to discuss whether the idea of a closer union on a commercial or on any other basis commends itself to them, and, if the representatives are favourable to the idea, in what precise manner it can be carried into effect. Any scheme thus formulated will be submitted by the representatives of the Colonies to their respective Governments, and no scheme will be deemed binding on His Majesty's Government until it has been submitted to the electorate of this country. The foregoing is a rough outline of the main principles and the more important considerations of His Majesty's Government as they have been unfolded to us by the speeches of the Prime Minister at Edinburgh and elsewhere, and I confess I fail to understand how my noble friend, after a careful study of the public utterances of the Prime Minister, can claim that the three considerations laid down by him in the Resolution have not been complied with by His Majesty's Government.

I will dwell for a few moments on some of the observations which fell from my noble friend. In the first place I was glad to hear from him that in his view the Cabinet were quite agreed upon the policy laid down by the Prime Minister. That, indeed, is a concession which of late we have been unaccustomed to receive. I do not propose to follow my noble friend into his minute examination of the different public utterances of the Prime Minister and of Mr. Chamberlain. Sufficient for me to say on this point is this, that with regard to this question of the Colonial Conference, and with regard to Imperial trade, the position of the Prime Minister and of Mr. Chamberlain is one in which freedom is indulged and concord is in no way violated. Your Lordships will have observed the tenor of my noble friend's speech. He displayed great anxiety to know the exact position of the conference. Ha asked us whether it is possible to have a free and unfettered Colonial Conference. He expressed his doubt whether the representatives of the Colonies themselves will come. He expressed his regret or Ms alarm at the remarks of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade in one of the many brilliant speeches which he has made throughout the country. He displayed an anxiety and a fear that under certain circumstances something might occur which ought not to occur, or that something ought to occur which might not occur. Indeed, my noble friend displayed far greater concern in regard to minute contingencies which might arise under improbable circumstances than a wish to dwell upon what is by far the most important and serious consideration of all—the causes, the reasons, the imperative necessity for the summoning of a Colonial Conference.

I ask myself, Why is this matter of the summoning of a Colonial Conference a real and a living question? Why is it that a vast volume of public opinion in this country is deeply concerned in this matter? My noble friend alluded to a sentimental consideration, the desire to come closer into union with our fellow-subjects across the sea. All that thoroughly appreciate, and to it I attach the greatest importance and the greatest value. But, my Lords, I do feel that there is something more than merely these considerations. It is the knowledge on the part of the commercial community in this country that they have not inconsiderably benefited by the trade preferences which have already been granted to Great Britain by our Colonies, and of which the Canadian preference forms the most notable example. My noble friend opposite (Lord Tweedmouth) does not seem to attach great importance to what has happened with regard to trade with Canada. Before Canada granted us preference, from the years 1891 to 1897, British exports to Canada fell from £8,500,000 to £6,500,000, whereas in the seven years subsequent to the preference they have increased from £6,500,000 to £12,500,000, an increase of 80 per cent. That increase in our trade with Canada is mainly and largely due to the preferential agreement entered into by them. Six millions at 10 per cent. represents £600,000 a year clear profit in the pockets of the manufacturing classes of this country. I wonder how many families that sum of money has helped to keep in prosperity and in decency during the last few years. When we consider these facts it is difficult to resist the conclusion that the Canadian preference has acted favourably to us here at home.

Your Lordships are aware that New Zealand has also granted us preferences. I do not propose to dwell upon the figures beyond reminding your Lordships that New Zealand imports amount to £13,000,000 a year, of which £10,000,000 come from the British Empire. I hope that we shall keep that trade, and, if we do, I believe it will be due in no small degree to the effect of the preferential tariff. Finally, my Lords, there is South Africa. We are granted in South Africa 25 per cent. preference on all goods coming from the Empire. As many of your Lordships are aware, South Africa to-day imports from the British Empire £33,000,000, and from foreign countries £14,000,000. We possess to-day, therefore, about two-thirds of the whole of the South African trade. To-day this is satisfactory, but what of to-morrow? Quite recently the Americans and the Germans were increasing their trade with South Africa at a greater rate per cent. than we were. We have spent vast sums of money in South Africa; we have placed our new colonies on a sound financial basis and given them suitable government. Are we going to forego the advantages of trading with the new community in our new colonies? Are we going to ignore the great possibilities which lie there in the future? The community to-day may not be very large, but in years to come it may even exceed the population of Canada and Australia. In ten years time, when the whole of the South African imports are not £50,000,000 but £100,000,000, is our relative position compared with foreign countries to be the same as it is to-day? If it is, I cannot help thinking that it will be in no small degree due to the preference which has been granted to us by the South African Customs Union.

I have ventured to remind your Lordships to what degree the Canadian tariff has benefited the manufacturing classes in this country. Your Lordships will observe that Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa have got preferential tariffs which apply not only to this country but to the Colonies themselves; that is to say, the Canadian tariff enables the New Zealander to send his goods to Canada at preferential rates; the Canadian is able to send his goods to South Africa at preferential rates; and the imports into these three preference-giving colonies amount to £110,000,000 a year. £57,000,000 of these imports are Empire imports, and £53,000,000 come from foreign sources. Why, if preference has the effect which we believe it has, and I have ventured to quote the case of Canada, should the division of this trade say in ten years not be £80,000,000 of Empire imports and only £30,000,000 of foreign imports? There is one other consideration which I should like to put before your Lordships. If Empire imports into preference-giving colonies win in ten years £23,000,000 from foreign trade, and we are able to enhance our gain in the increase in trade, for, after all, trade is seldom stationary, surely it follows that we are then going to do a greater business within the Empire itself through the preferential agreements entered into by three of the more important of our Colonies.

Largely increased business means largely increased wealth, and largely increased wealth means largely increased taxable resources. At present, as your Lordships are aware, our Colonies raise all their revenue from import duties, but with, increased Empire trade and correspondingly increased taxable resources surely it is not difficult to see that in future the Colonies will be less dependent on import duties for their revenue and will be able to look for that sum from other sources. Is it too much to hope, is it too much to expect, that when that day comes the first consideration of the Colonies will be to reduce their import duties on imports coming from the Empire, while maintaining their import duties on goods coining from foreign countries; and, if that should occur, surely it will be on the road to breaking down those commercial barriers which to-day exist between the different component parts of the Empire; it will be in the direction of freer trade, of free trade itself, within the Empire. Few, I venture to think, in this House would cavil at such an aim. Why, then, should we refuse to entertain this idea of discussing colonial preference, which I would remind your Lordships is the first step towards the aim which so many are in agreement in desiring. In conclusion, to recapitulate, I would remind your Lordships that this I conference which the Prime Minister has summoned will meet under conditions which have been fully explained by him. I venture further to remind the House that, we have gained not inconsiderably by the Canadian tariff, and that there may be considerably more gain to the Colonies owing to the preferential agreements which they themselves have entered into. Others are more able than I am to dwell upon the enormous gain which accrues to our country in authority and resource in the unity of the Empire. I have confined myself to-night—I know how imperfectly—to the more prosaic, the less emotional aspect of this problem, for I am irresistibly drawn to it, being the representative in your Lordships' House of the Colonial Office, which, having under its charge many lands and many peoples, is absorbed in the development and in the consolidation of a great and a splendid asset.


My Lords, I am sorry I cannot hold out any hope to the noble Duke who has just sat down that the Answer he has given to this Question will afford much satisfaction to the free-trade Members of your Lordships' House, because it was in effect that His Majesty's Government would lay down no conditions against the time when the Colonial Conference met. The Government may, like the proverbial ostrich, hide its head in the sand and lay down no conditions themselves, but the conditions under which the conference will take place will be those laid down by Mr. Chamberlain himself, and I am quite sure that the free-trade Members of your Lordships' House, at any rate, will not find much satisfaction in that. Perhaps the most interesting phrase in the noble Duke's speech was the one in which he said that the relations between Mr. Balfour and Mr. Chamberlain were such, that freedom was indulged, and concord by no means violated. I am not quite sure that I understand what that phrase may mean, but, if it has any meaning, it seems to me to mean that Mr. Balfour and Mr. Chamberlain have the same ideas with regard to colonial preference; and, if that is so, we have a declaration from a member of His Majesty's Government that they are in sympathy with the taxation of the food of the people of this country. But, my Lords, it is not fair that we should take this only from some chance phrase in the noble Duke's speech. I am entitled to remind your Lordships that Mr. Chamberlain has again and again said that there is no point of principle on which he differs from the proposals which are put forward by the Prime Minister. What we want to know is whether His Majesty's Government accept that definition of their proposals, whether they themselves agree that there is difference between what they propose and what Mr. Chamberlain proposes.

I venture to hope that from an unexpected quarter of this House we may find a recruit. A speech was made only yesterday afternoon by the noble Lord behind me, who was private secretary to Mr. Chamberlain while he was at the Colonial Office, in which he complained that during his recent visit to Australia it was very difficult for the people there to hear anything but one side of the question then being discussed—the question of Chinese labour. I should like to apply that complaint to this question. So far the people of this country have been allowed to discuss only one side of this question, as it affects the Colonial Conference. We have had from Mr. Chamberlain what he is ready to offer to the Colonies, but we have had no sort or kind of suggestion as to what the Colonies are prepared to give to us; and therefore, we are entitled to say that so far as the discussion has proceeded up to the present it has simply gone upon the lines that we are to give, but we have not yet heard what it is we are to get in return. That has had a somewhat serious result, because it has entirely misled the people of Canada. If any proof were needed I could quote the Resolution which was passed in one of the Legislatures of Canada, and, what was still more important, the Amendment which was defeated. The Resolution proposed was in favour of Mr. Chamberlain's proposals, and an Amendment was moved to this effect— That the people of Conada, to assist in the successful carrying out of this policy, should be prepared to make such further substantial reductions in the Canadian tariff against British goods as shall ensure to British manufacturers an enlarged market in Canada in return for a preference upon Canadian food products. That Amendment was defeated, and it seems to me that the people of the Colonies are being grossly misled if they are allowed to think that we are ready to tax the food of the people of this country without getting any adequate return. We are entitled to point out that up to the present we have had no suggestion except one, which having scarcely been made was hastily withdrawn by Mr. Chamberlain after his speech at Glasgow—with that exception we have had no suggestion from the Government or from Mr. Chamberlain as to what should be the colonial side of the bargain.

The noble Lord who moved the Resolution very rightly laid stress on the fact that whether we go into the conference hampered or not the colonial representatives are not in a condition of complete freedom. They are without exception against any revision of their tariffs which would give equal opportunities to British manufacturers, I will quote what was said by Mr. Fielding. Speaking at the Conference of Prime Ministers he said— There must be no misunderstanding on this point. And speaking on the Budget he said— We cannot undertake to give further preference in a manner which would operate to the disadvantage of our own goods. If their representatives are to be hampered in the one way, then surely it is not unfair to say that our representatives should have definite instructions given to them mot to agree to anything which would result in the taxation of the food of the people of this country. I turn my thoughts to the country where I experienced so many kindnesses, and consider how the proposals which have been made would affect Australia. I am glad that there is the second Governor-General of Australia in your Lordships' House to-night, and I could wish that he would take part in the debate. I desire to point out one aspect of the question which has not received from Mr. Chamberlain or from His Majesty's Government any consideration opinion up to the present time, and that is the way in which these preferential tariffs will affect the people of the Colonies themselves. The great wool industry of Australia would gain nothing. Wool, being a raw material, is not to be taxed; a drought only half as bad as the drought which recently occurred in New South Wales would kill any gain that there might be to the dairy or agricultural industries of Australia; and, lastly—and this is a point which I have not seen any mention of—any preferential tariff must raise the expenses of every household in the colony. For this reason. Imagine a preference given on wheat. The object of such a preference is to raise the price to the colonial farmer The colonial farmer is to get more for it, and the miller in the Colonies will be unable to get any wheat unless he pays the higher price which the farmer can get by sending his wheat to this country. Therefore, if the miller has to pay more for his wheat, the consumer will have to pay more for his bread, and on every article on which you put a preference the cost to the families in the Colonies must be higher. Under these circumstances it is not surprising that such a newspaper as the Sydney Bulletin should take a firm line against the proposals of Mr. Chamberlain.

I am naturally not anxious to say that His Majesty's Government are tied down to all the details of Mr. Chamberlain's scheme as he has developed it since he spoke at Glasgow, but we are, I think, guided to some extent by what Mr. Chamberlain said when as Secretary of State for the Colonies he spoke at the last Conference of Prime Ministers. We want to know whether His Majesty's Government hold the same opinion to-day as they did in the year 1902. And there was a still more important speech made by Mr. Chamberlain when speaking to a Congress of the Chambers of Commerce of the Empire in London in 1896. At that time also Mr. Chamberlain was Secretary of State for the Colonies. I imagine that he was speaking what is the opinion, or was the opinion then, of His Majesty's Government. We have a right to know whether or not His Majesty's Government have changed their opinion since that day, and in any summons which they send to the Colonial Premiers they ought to express their difference from, or their agreement with, what Mr. Chamberlain laid down so recently as 1902 at the Conference of Prime Ministers. Mr. Chamberlain, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, speaking on Imperial reciprocity, said— This proposal is in effect that while the Colonies should be left absolutely free to propose what protective duties they choose both on foreign imports and on British commerce, they should be required to make a small discrimination in favour of British trade, in return for which we are expected to change our whole system and impose duties on food and raw material. Well, I express again my own opinion when I say there is not the slightest chance that in any reasonable time this country or the Parliament of this country would adopt so one-sided an agreement. We are entitled, I think, to some expression of opinion from His Majesty's Government with respect to that. Referring to Canadian preference, on which the noble Duke the Under-Secretary dilated at some length, Mr. Chamberlain said— The substantial results have been altogether disappointing to us, and in spite of the preference which Canada has given us their tariff has pressed with the greatest severity on their best customers and has favoured the foreigner. That was at the opening of the Colonial Conference in 1902, and I am surprised that the noble Duke who represents the Colonial Office in your Lordships' House has got such very different ideas of the result of Canadian preference to-day. The results of Canadian preference, I venture to think, are scarcely so happy as the noble Duke led your Lordships to believe. The noble Duke said that the increase in Canadian imports from Great Britain, from 1896 to 1902, had been 49 per cent.


What I said was that before the preference British imports into Canada fell 30 per cent, and that subsequent to the preference they have increased 80 per cent.


I quite agree, but that does not affect what I was about to say. In Canadian imports there has been a total increase from 1896 to 1902 of 83 par rent.; that is from all countries, including Great Britain. In Canadian imports from Germany we find the increase has been 82 per cent.; in imports from the United States the increase has been no less than 106 per cent.; the increase in the imports from France has been 137 per cent., while from Great Britain the increase has only been 49 per cent. It is not as if that ended what there is to say on the subject. The noble Duke, I think, forgets exactly what a tariff is when he speaks of this preferential tariff doing so much good. As the Canadian tariff stands at present it admits a large number of goods quite free into that country. A large number of goods from this country and a very much larger number from the United States of America go in free, and so it is with other countries. The average duty—and this is the figure to which I would draw the noble Duke's attention—under the tariff on all goods going into Canada from this country is 18 per cent., whilst the average duty on all goods going in from the United States of America is only 12 per cent., because the United States send in a much larger number of things which go in free. Our goods are penalised to the extent of 18 per cent., while goods from the United States are only penalised to the extent of 12 per cent. That does not seem to me to be a very magnificent result of a preferential tariff.

I am glad to be able to go still further into these figures, and give the proportion of increase in regard to the goods on which duty is levied and the goods which go in free. While in the time which the noble Duke has mentioned the increase on dutiable goods has been from 20,000,000 dollars to 45,000,000 dollars, during the same time the increase in goods which have gone in free has been from 9,000,000 dollars to 16,000,000 dollars, and so it is with regard to the details of the figures of every single one of the various countries which send in goods. It goes to prove what little effect a preferential tariff, or, indeed, any duty of any sort or kind, has upon the trade of a country itself; for we find that while the dutiable goods from the United States have gone up from 39,000,000 dollars to 83,000,000 dollars, the free goods have gone up from 31,000,000 to 74,000,000; that is to say, while the free goods have increased by a great deal more than 100 per cent., the dutiable goods have not done nearly so well. We find, with regard to Germany, that while dutiable goods have only gone up from 5,000,000 to 6,000,000, the free goods have gone up from less than 1,000,000 to very nearly 2,000,000, so that here the free goods have not done so well as the dutiable goods, and dutiable goods have, in spite of the duty which has been put upon them, succeeded in finding an entrance into Canada all the same. I think we are entitled to ask the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what action His Majesty's Government will take in regard to Denmark and Norway, countries to which British exports go on a less tariff than Canada gives us.

I should like also to know whether His Majesty's Government have anything to say with regard to the dumping of bounty-fed pig-iron. We are always told that dumping is doing us so much harm. We find that bounty-fed pig-iron comes into this country from Canada, and we should like to know if His Majesty's Government propose to use that famous loaded revolver on this occasion. The loaded revolver, I confess, is always an amusing metaphor to me, for this reason, that it seems to me so utterly characteristic of the economic views of the noble Marquess. Most people going into battle to-day would prefer a pom-pom or mauser rifle, and I venture to think the antiquity of the weapon chosen by the noble Marquess is a symbol of the antiquity of his economic views.

There is one item of information given us by the noble Duke for which I should like to express my thanks. The Government have thrown over the idea that the Colonies have made us any offer, for the noble Duke said that they proposed at this Colonial Conference to find out whether proposals have been made. A good many of us have been wondering for some time what these proposals might be, and most of us were forced to the conclusion that this famous colonial offer was more like a leap year proposal than anything else, that it was a proposal which came from the other side rather than from the Colonies themselves.

I will give the noble Duke one more instance of the effect of preference. In Australia the United Kingdom has 63 per cent. of the import trade; in Canada, in spite of the preference, the United Kingdom has only 25 per cent. One would naturally have thought that the effect of a preferential tariff, if the views of the noble Duke were correct, would have been that we should get a very much larger proportion of the import trade in the country which gave us the preference, but in spite of the preference we do a great deal worse in Canada than we do in colonies which do not give us a preference. As to the other point raised by Lord Balfour of Burleigh, with regard to the representatives who will be present, I should have been glad if the noble Duke could have assured us that there would be representatives of all the Colonies present at the conference whenever it is held. Some of us are quite unable to understand the attitude of His Majesty's Government with regard to the Crown Colonies. I venture to say that it would be a great misfortune that people should be allowed to think in this country or in the Colonies that in our opinion the Colonies are badly treated by the mother country in commercial matters. I think that at the coming conference we might very well discuss a large number of matters on which our relations might be improved, chiefly, I think, in the direction of closer political relationship. We might make it easier for colonists to join our Navy, Army, and Civil Service; but if we go into this conference as it is suggested by His Majesty's Government—a free and unfettered conference—it seems to me it will really be a conference in which our delegates, at any rate, will be seriously hampered by the knowledge of what the feeling of the electorate of this country really is. If His Majesty's Government still refuse to lay down conditions I should not be surprised if the Colonial Premiers seriously consider whether their presence will be of any use at all. If yon want a useful discussion you must lay down some limits on which your discussion must proceed. The Colonies have been used long enough by the Tariff Reform League as pawns in the political game. It is time that this was stopped, and that His Majesty's Government explained their whole mind on the subject, not hiding their thoughts, but expressing them openly and straight-forwardly.


My Lords, the Motion on the Paper is, as was said by the noble Lord who placed it there and who opened this debate, one designed by himself specially to be of a harmless character and definitely seeking for information. On the face of it it does not appear that there is anything particularly mischievous or dangerous in that Motion, and I think a natural desire for information is one which very few in your Lordships' House would wish to vote against; but, my Lords, the speech in which it was introduced and the speech of the noble Earl who has just sat down seem to me to show the need of open conferences in this matter. It is precisely to meet the countless difficulties which those two noble Lords see in the way of colonial federation that the most open of Colonial Conferences become necessary. From the point of view which I have always entertained in this matter, the Colonial Conference proposed by His Majesty's Government is not a prime necessity. I and many others have entertained the view that the Colonies have taken action in this matter which it is now our turn to reciprocate, and to establish that principle, I for one, have never seen the need of a Colonial Conference; but there are a number, both in your Lordships' House and throughout the country, who do not share those views, who are anxious, as the noble Earl who has just sat down and Lord Balfour of Burleigh are, to place difficulties in the way, who do not believe that the principles we believe in would be of good to this country, who hold that they could not be carried out without great sacrifices on the part of the people of this country, and who hold that those sacrifices would not be met by corresponding advantages from the Colonies. Can anything be more clear than that the best way to meet those difficulties is to have the most open of conferences, on the most open of terms.

I confess that the speeches which have been delivered in support of the Motion have determined me to vote straight against it, not so much on the ground of what it contains but because I feel that those speeches show the need for excluding limitation from the conference which it is proposed to assemble. One limitation has been made in the matter of this conference, which, in my humble opinion, is of a dangerous character. I understand that it is proposed that not one general election but two should intervene between us and the solution of this question, I venture to think that the solution is of more pressing importance than His Majesty's Government by that decision would seem to intimate. I venture to think that there is a pressing need for some closer federation with the Colonies, and that this dissolving view of general elections is one which is dangerous to this country. It would not be dangerous were it not, in my opinion, possible that the dissolving view of general elections may involve a dissolving Empire, and when I go on to consider the remarks made by the noble Duke in answer to Lord Balfour I am the more surprised at the action of His Majesty's Government in placing this limitation, which I understand is practically the only limitation they have placed on this conference. For what was the argument of the noble Duke? His argument was that we had derived so great a benefit from colonial preference that His Majesty's Government were determined to have an open conference on the subject. If the noble Duke, speaking on behalf of the Government, and voicing no doubt the matured convictions of the Government on this question, is convinced of the importance of colonial preference, is sure of the advantages which will flow from it, surely every year's delay is a matter of possible danger to this country.

After all, in this matter it is not merely a question where protectionists range themselves against free-traders. In this matter there are many who would be willing to make some alteration in our system if they thought they could thereby advance the course of free trade. I suppose it is difficult, if not useless, to appeal to those who are convinced free traders, and who are afraid of altering their faith by one iota, but I would in all humility submit that it is possible that this paradox may be true, that the best way to advance free trade may be to change our system in the direction of protection. If your Lordships will allow me I will explain that paradox as it occurs to me. I cannot help noticing that other countries, as a matter of fact, enjoy under their system a larger area of free trade than we do. The area of free trade enjoyed by the United States of America is greater than that enjoyed by these islands. Similarly the area enjoyed by Germany or France is greater than the area which we enjoy, and in every case those great communities have arrived at a system of what is really free trade over a large area by a system which began with preference and ended in commercial federation. I think it would be difficult to approach this question if it were not for the hope that the end of colonial preference may be free trade within the Empire, and therefore to begin by a system of preferences, which the noble Duke has shown to be a practical advantage to trade, may end in what I know to be the ambition of your Lordships—real free trade within the Empire. It is the only possible known way of getting nearer to that end.

I would not for one moment compare British Empire or British Colonies to the colonial acquisitions of France or the the United States, but I think it is instructive to observe that France in the case of Madagascar, and the United States in the case of Cuba, have both of them established preferential relations with their colony; that in the case of Madagascar the result was to treble the trade of Madagascar and incidentally to kill British trade with Madagascar, and that in the other case the trade of Cuba with the United States increased from 44,000,000 dollars in the first six months of 1903 to 66,000,000 dollars in the first six months of 1904, preference with the United States having been established between those dates. I think those instances are instructive, and that we who have far greater opportunities in our Colonies and dependencies might well adopt a mutual system in return for the advantages which have been given to us by the Colonies.

The noble Earl who spoke last asked the old question, Where is the colonial offer? This is hardly the moment to quibble about the precise term. I am prepared to stand on the actual deeds of the Colonies in granting us a preference; I am content with the declaration on behalf of His Majesty's Government that that preference has been of advantage to this country; and I will only add this, that I trust, now that we have this clear expression of opinion as to the value of preference, the noble Duke the Under-Secretary, and the right hon. Gentleman who presides over the Colonial Office, will not cease to urge the importance of the information which they possess and the views which they entertain in regard to this question on the Government as a whole, and that the Government will enter upon this conference as free as may be, and, if possible, free from the one limitation to which I have taken objection.


My Lords, in the beginning of his speech the noble Duke who answered on behalf of the Colonial Office declared that it was the intention of His Majesty's Government to oppose the Motion moved by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh. Now, my Lords, I must confess I have some difficulty in understanding the reasons which have induced His Majesty's Government to come to this decisions and, moreover, to go to the length of issuing a three line Whip to their supporters to oppose this Motion. The Motion, as I read it, affirms no policy to which the Government can take any exception; it lays down no principle which they would be prepared to dispute, and it contains no criticism of one item either of their present or of their future policy. It is not even an Abstract discussion of an ideal to which the noble Duke referred in his speech and to which we know the Government have very strong objection. Indeed, the most minute examination of the terms of this Motion can detect no meaning whatever except a modest request for the fullest possible information upon a subject of the most supreme importance to the country.

I can only conclude that the reason which has induced the Government to oppose the Motion is that they have detected some plot hidden away amidst the words in which it is framed. If that indeed, is the case, I fear they have fallen into an error similar to that which was committed by a very distinguished foreign Admiral not long ago. My noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh is merely a peaceful trawler, fishing for information in the dark and deep waters of fiscal ambiguity, but His Majesty's Government, after turning upon it the full glare of their official searchlights, seem to have discovered in this Motion some hostile demonstration which is threatening them with destruction. I do not believe that my noble friend had any unfriendly intentions whatever towards the Government in putting this Motion on the Paper; and although I agree with his Motion and should vote for it if it went to a division, I at any rate, in supporting that Motion, have no hostile intention whatever towards His Majesty's Government. Indeed, although I have found it necessary in the past to express dissent from several items in the fiscal policy of His Majesty's Government, I think I have found in this last item of their policy, in the matter of a Colonial Conference, one subject, at any rate, in which I can cordially agree with them. At the same time it does seem to me that the request of my noble friend for information on this subject is not altogether unreasonable, because as he has pointed out there are still several matters connected with this policy of a conference which require further explanation.

There are, in the first place, the points to which the noble Lord himself referred in his speech; in addition there are other difficulties connected with the fact that in June of next year an ordinary conference will in any case be summoned of representatives of the various Colonies. It is in connection with the summoning of that ordinary and normal conference that some of the difficulties in connection with this conference arise. If there is to be an election between now and June of next year, and if by some happy chance the present Government is again returned to power, then I think the matter is quite clear. It seems to be obvious that, in place of summoning the ordinary conference which will meet in any case, His Majesty's Government, having received a mandate from the country, would so augment the representation at that conference as to convert it into an extraordinary and plenipotentiary conference to discuss this question of the commercial relations between the different portions of the Empire. So far there is no difficulty ahead. But suppose the present Government is still in office in June of next year. It is not altogether impossible that that may be the case, for the Government has already remained in power much longer than noble Lords opposite ever hoped, and longer even than some of their supporters expected, and we have recently had the assurance of the President of the Local Government Board that the result of recent elections will not in any way influence the Government in appealing to the country. They intend, he told us, to remain in office so long as they received the support of the House of Commons. If the Government is in office in June of next year I should like to be informed whether it is their intention to postpone the meeting of the ordinary conference which would naturally take place until after the general election, or whether that conference will meet in any case, and, if it meets, whether it will be free to discuss, unfettered and untrammelled, the whole question of the commercial relations of the different parts of the Empire, and to come to some decision with regard to that point; and, if that be the case, whether another conference will be summoned immediately after the election to reconsider exactly the same subjects as the ordinary conference has already considered.

These points appear to me to be still somewhat ambiguous and to require further explanation; but if there is doubt on these points, one point, at any rate, I think, is abundantly clear, and that is that, whether there be an election before the conference or not, the proposals of the conference, if there be any, will not be placed before Parliament until they have been submitted to the judgment of the electorate of this country. I hope there is no doubt upon that point. The noble Marquess will correct me if I am wrong, but that is what I understood from the speeches of the Prime Minister, and it is what I understood again from the speech of the noble Duke this afternoon. If that be true, my Lords, I would ask you to consider for one moment what it means. It means that no proposals will be submitted to the country or to Parliament until after the election which follows the conference. It is as well, I think, to emphasise the point that has been made clear with regard to that conference rather than points which are still in obscurity. This point, at any rate, seems to be one of very great importance.

Apparently there were two objects which the Prime Minister had in view when in his Edinburgh speech he declared it to be his intention to summon this. Colonial Conference. The first was, I gather, to provide a rallying ground on which the contending sections of the Unionist Party might be able to unite; and, secondly, to promote the best interests of the British Empire. I will deal with the first and smaller of these objects first, and will ask how this proposal made by the Prime Minister at Edinburgh affects the Unionist Party in relation to the proposals put forward by Mr. Chamberlain. We have it clear, in the first place, as a result of this declaration that the Government have declined altogether to take upon themselves the responsibility of deciding for or against the question of preferential tariffs, and have refused themselves to formulate any proposals on the subject. That they have left to the conference. In the second place, it is clear that the conference itself cannot be summoned Until the Unionist Party is again victorious at the polls; and, finally, it will be the proposals of that conference and no other which will be submitted to the country for its decision, provided always that the conference adopts any proposal. That is to say, my Lords, if I understand it aright, that the proposals put forward by Mr. Chamberlain will never be submitted to the country at all unless by chance they happen to coincide with the decision arrived at by the conference. At any rate the 2 per cent. duty on corn and the 10 per cent. duty on manufactures disappear altogether for the present, and their place is taken by some proposals which may or may not be made at a conference which is to assemble some time in the distant future. Surely if that means anything it means this—that "the Question is that the Question be not now put." Nor will it be put in the next Parliament nor in the Parliament after the next. Indeed, one is inclined to ask with Mr. Chamberlain how long it is all going to take. When the time comes at which the Question will be put, we do not know who will form the Government or who will form the House of Commons that will have to decide upon it. The whole question is relegated to the dim and distant future, and I noticed that the noble Viscount who spoke last did not find very great satisfaction in this indefinite postponement of the question. Unlike the noble Viscount it is precisely on that account that I support the Prime Minister's proposal.

I now come to the second point—the interests of the Empire. This shelving of the whole question of preference was put forward not only in the interest of the Unionist Party, but in the interest of the Empire itself. The noble Marquess the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, speaking in your Lordships' House on July 22nd of last year, used these words— I confess I do not see anything pusillanimous in a refusal to be hurried into a decision on questions so momentous. This is a tremendous problem. If I may use a homely simile we are asked to ride at a fence a fall over which might break every bone in the body of the Empire. But, my Lords, since the Edinburgh speech there have been set up not one fence but many fences, indeed, we now have a regular Grand National, or I might almost say Grand Imperial steeplechase, a fall over any one of the fences of which might break all the bones in the body of the British Empire. In the first place, there is the next general election, a not inconsiderable obstacle to be surpassed; then there is the conference itself at which all the difficulties which have been put forward in your Lordships' House to-night, and which have been discussed up and down the country for the past three years, will have to be thrashed out again. The representatives of the different parts of the Empire will have to find a means of reconciling all the divergent interests concerned. They will have to ascertain whether it is possible to arrive at a convenient preferential system without the taxation of raw material, and one which, if suited to the Colonies, will also be suited to our Empire of India as well as to the United Kingdom. And, finally, after these two fences have been successfully cleared, there remains the final election at which the decision of the conference is to be put, not only to the people of this country but, if I understand aright, to the electorates in each one of the self-governing Colonies. Here are three fences at any rate, a fall over any one of which might break all the bones in the body of the British Empire. If that were true, my Lords, I do not think there is an insurance company in the world who would take the risk, and we might look upon the bones of the British Empire as already doomed to be broken. But the fact is, fortunately, that the British Empire is safer than the noble Marquess would have us believe. Whatever may happen at the different stages in this steeplechase, whatever may be the final solution arrived at by the conference, it is tolerably certain that the British Empire will not break up by a single vote of the electorate in anyone of its component parts.

I would like to refer for one moment to a point which was emphasised in the speech of the noble Duke. He laid great stress on the importance of commercial union between different parts of the Empire and on the need for a further extension of the system of preference. It is quite true that trade is a very powerful binding force between nations, and perhaps the strongest force which can bind one nation to another. That I do not dispute for one moment; nor do I dispute the value of the preference already given by Canada and other countries to the mother country; but if trade is to be binding between one country and another, that trade must be a free and natural trade and not an artificial trade. I would ask your Lordships to note the difference between the operation of the two. In the case of natural trade all the bargaining is done between private individuals, but all the advantage of those different transactions is reaped by the nation itself; but under a preferential system such as we are asked to establish all the bargaining would be done by the Government and all the advantage and profit would be reaped by individual traders. Further than that, in any system of private bargaining each individual seeks to obtain for himself every possible advantage, the buyer buys that which he needs the most, the seller sells that which it is most profitable for him to sell, but under this preferential arrangement each partner to the bargain would be asked to do that which he considers both disadvantageous to himself as well as theoretically foolish. Protectionist colonies would be asked to give up their system of protection which they consider to be necessary to their prosperity, and we in this country would be asked to abandon that system of free trade which is ingrained already in the traditions of this country, and with which we should be most reluctant to part. That is why we hold that, though a commercial union if based on free and natural trade may be good, if it is distorted by tariffs it is bound to do harm.

It is only by a fearless assertion of the individual needs of different parts of the Empire that we can learn to understand each other properly No doubt before we can advance to a further stage of consolidation much time must pass by and considerable patience must be expended. But the British Empire is strong to-day. The ties which bind it are powerful ones, and if that is true we owe it not a little to the exertions of Mr. Chamberlain himself and to the work which he accomplished at the Colonial Office between 1895 and 1903. I cannot comment upon that at any length without straying too far from the Motion which we are discussing, but I would ask your Lordships, whatever you may think of Mr. Chamberlain to-day, not to forget the services which he has rendered to the Empire in the past, and whether you agree now or not with the preference proposals which he has put forward, to remember that during the years which he passed at the head of the Colonial Office he did devote his great ability and great energy to the cause of Imperial unity. Throughout that time Mr. Chamberlain, appealed to the highest instincts and best traditions of the British race all over the world; and in the name of their common race, in remembrance of their common past, and in anticipation of that future which might yet be theirs, he appealed to them to put aside all other considerations and to set to work upon the task of consolidation with united effort and in a spirit of mutual self-sacrifice. His words and work alike helped to bring together many scattered and divergent elements, so that their very variety made for uniformity, and the patriotism with which he endeavoured to inspire them wrought benefit as well as credit to themselves. These were the ideals to which he appealed, these were the sentiments which he endeavoured to evoke, this was the work which I think he accomplished; but, though we remember all this, it does not prevent us from noticing also a very different tone, and a new and jarring note, in the speeches which the right hon. Gentleman has made ever since he coupled the cause of tariff reform with the cause of Imperial unity.

The passions which he now endeavours to invoke are no longer worthy of the great cause which he has at heart. Instead of goading his fellow-countrymen into further effort he is for ever applying the balm of self-pity and seeking to arouse in them a sense of injury for which there is no justification. Trade he no longer represents as a transaction of mutual benefit to all the parties engaged in it; he refers to it rather as an act of aggression or plunder. He tells us that foreigners are invading our markets when they sell us something of which we have need. The Colonies are described as coming to our assistance when they buy from us something which they require themselves. Our industries are said to be in decay, everywhere it is failure to which he appeals rather than success; grievances and complaints are encouraged rather than heroism and self-sacrifice. The result is that the whole of this controversy is not only demoralising to the people of the United Kingdom but it is also detrimental to a rightunderstanding of our Imperial relations. The Colonies, I think, have shown a very proper reluctance to be mixed up in our fiscal controversy. They are greatly to be commended for the reticent and dignified attitude which all through they have adopted, but the result of that reticence is to set up a not very seemly dispute in this country about what they have offered or will offer, and what we will or will not give them in certain contingencies. It is with the object of putting an end to such disputes and of placing our Imperial relations on an altogether higher footing that I welcome the proposal of His Majesty's Government to summon an Imperial Conference. As I understand it, it implies a determination on their part to raise the whole question of Imperial consolidation out of the arena of mere Party dispute, and to refer it to an assembly of representatives from all the different parts of the Empire, there to be discussed freely and openly from the points of view of all concerned. Whether I understand that policy aright, whether I understand the intentions of the Government, and the result which their policy will have, I respectfully ask the noble Marquess the Foreign Secretary to make them perfectly clear to this House, and through this House to the country.


My Lords, however noble Lords opposite may regard the action of my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh in placing this Motion on the Paper, I can assure the House that on these benches we are heartily grateful to him for having done so. I conceive that there never has been, at any rate within recent years, any subject of controversy in this country about which there has been so much loose thinking, and, consequently, so much random talking, as there has been on this fiscal question, very largely due, as we think, to the economy—using the word, of course, in its controversial sense—which has been exercised by the Prime Minister in his observations on this question. In the early debate on this fiscal question the noble Viscount opposite, Lord Goschen, used a phrase which has become almost historical, when he spoke of Mr. Chamberlain's proposal as representing a gamble with the food of the people, and what we on this side of the House fear is that this proposition for a conference, unless much more closely explained than it has been by the noble Duke, represents something like a gamble with our Imperial ties and with the relations existing between the Colonies, the Indian Empire, and ourselves.

If this proposed conference were to be of an ordinary character, I conceive that it would be necessary that the delegates or representatives of the different parties to the conference should arrive with definite views and definite instructions upon the subjects of discussion. It must be assumed by everybody that in a conference of this kind the representatives of the Colonies, and, I suppose, of the Crown Colonies and dependencies, will so arrive, furnished with distinct and definite views of what they require. I should have thought it must necessarily follow that whoever represents this country at the conference must be similarly supplied. The question of the views likely to be held by the representative of this country would, under certain circumstances, be a very simple one. If the representative was one of my noble friends behind me or some right hon. Gentleman who sits on the Front Opposition Bench in another place, it is pretty clear in general terms what his views would be; but if, and, of course, it is conceivable, the representative at such a conference were to be a member of the Party opposite, a member of His Majesty's present Administration, we do not know in the slightest degree with what views on this important question of the taxation of food he would go into the conference, and it is surely necessary for the Government under these circumstances to give the House and the country some indication of the views with which, supposing they were returned to power after a general election, they would go into the conference and what instructions they would give their representative. I must remind the House that if the representative of this country is the only person who goes into this conference with a perfectly open mind his position, is no longer that of a member of the conference; his position becomes judicial, and it seems to me a most singular effort of Imperialism that the Colonies should be invited to come here to represent their views before such a tribunal. It seems to me to stand to reason that our representative must be furnished with distinct views or instructions, or he will be an absolutely impartial person in the position of a Judge between the different interests involved, and it seems to me a very singular form of Imperialism to suggest that the Colonies should subject themselves to a supervision of that kind instead of being asked to take an equal part in the conference such as we naturally should suppose they would be invited to take.

Mr. Chamberlain's view in this matter is perfectly clear and well known. He assumes that the representatives of the Colonies will arrive furnished with certain definite proposals which will be discussed in the course of the conference, and he assumes that it would be the right thing for the representative of this country to accept those terms if it can be shown that on the balance this country does not suffer a national disadvantage; that is to say, the Colonies reduce certain duties in our favour, we put on certain other duties which must be, apparently, on food, and the balance is struck between the different parts of the Empire. On that I should just like to say this, that in the first place I do not believe it is possible that such a bargain could be struck at all, but, even if it could, it seems to me to involve confusion between a nation and the individuals who compose that nation in this particular matter. We are continually being taunted with being hidebound political economists who deal with this question in a cold-blooded fashion, on principles derived from economic textbooks; but that is exactly the charge which in this particular instance I should bring against Mr. Chamberlain and those who agree with him. They seem to argue that if on a balance you can show that this country is not suffering by a preference of this kind that you have done enough. I think, my Lords, that that cannot be maintained. I think that when you came to taxing the food of very poor people you leave the region of political economy and enter that of political ethics, and I frankly say that, so far as I personally am concerned, I am not capable of conceiving any preferential offer which could be made by the Colonies which in my view would justify the placing of a tax upon corn.

Something was said by the noble Duke and by other speakers as to the actual offers which had been made, or may be made, by the different Colonies in favour of this country. The noble Earl behind me (Lord Beauchamp) dealt very fully with Canada, but I should say, speaking generally, that it is not true that the Canadian preference has diverted any substantial body of trade to the United Kingdom from other quarters. Whether it has prevented a further loss of trade is a matter which is purely hypothetical, and upon which, therefore, anybody may hold any opinion he chooses. But, curiously enough, and I am glad to think it, this preference did bring two very distinct advantages to Canada itself. In the first place, although I suppose a thoroughbred tariff reformer would scarcely admit it to be an advantage, it did to some extent cheapen certain commodities to the Canadian consumer; and, in the second place, it has been said, and I believe it to be quite true, that it reacted in this country to the advantage of the Canadian trader by causing a discrimination here between products coming from Canada and from the United States. Formerly, everything which came across the Atlantic was considered to be American, but of late years a very marked distinction has grown up between Canadian and American produce, and there has been a distinct tendency, where the article was equally good, to prefer the Canadian product. Therefore the Canadian preference, like mercy, blessed both him who gave and him who took, and in this particular instance I am not sure that it did not bless the one who gave most of the two.

As regards the future in Canada, speaking generally so far as our three greatest trades are concerned, it is notorious that within a few years Canada is very much more likely to supply us, not only with crude iron, but with finished iron, than we are to supply Canada, and therefore it does not seem that Canada can do much for us in the way of preference with regard to iron. As regards cotton. Lancashire has not got very much to fear from any competition in cotton; and in the woollen trade the one thing we do know about Canadian preference is that British textiles will not be admitted into Canada if they interfere with the Canadian manufacture of those goods. As regards Australia, it seems again as though the possibilities were not very large. In considering Australia you must remember that various things which rank as raw material there would not be regarded here as raw material at all. Wire fencing, agricultural machinery, and such things as that are placed on the free list in Australia, because they are the raw material of the great industry of that country, and it is just in those particular articles that the United States have of late years gained the most ground over us, and, consequently, if you come to bargaining with Australia you will not find that you will be able to get any preference on those articles because they are already placed in the free list.

The noble Duke mentions South Africa, and I should be very much obliged if he or some other member of the Government would state what form a South African preference is to take so far as this country is concerned. South Africa has given us a certain preference, but I have not heard it suggested how, without taxing raw materials, any preference can be given to South Africa in return. On the question of raw material I should just like to say this, that it seems sometimes to be rather airily assumed that the taxation of raw material will not be considered by the conference when it is held; but Mr. Chamberlain said across the floor of the House of Commons that that was not so, and that the question of the taxation of raw material would be open to consideration by the conference just as any other part of the fiscal question. If you begin with the taxing of food the time will come when you will be told that on Imperial grounds it is absolutely necessary to tax raw material. The noble Duke, in almost thrilling tones, told us that he hoped the day would come when in response to our action in this matter the various Colonies, being no longer in need of so much revenue in the form of duties, would take the opportunity of reducing those duties still further in our favour; and the noble Viscount opposite (Lord Ridley), from whom I certainly did not expect such an observation, because I frankly believed that as head of the Tariff Reform League he was a protectionist, held out hopes that these preferences might be the beginning of a reign of free trade within the Empire. That seems to me, I confess, a very wild and uncertain forecast. If I did forecast what would be likely to happen my forecast would be of an entirely different character.

I believe that once this country had tasted the blood of protection it would go on increasing its tariffs, and I believe, furthermore, that it would not be content with placing duties upon goods from foreign countries alone. The final result would, I believe, be that you would have an all-round tariff of considerable magnitude against foreign countries and a smaller preferential tariff against colonial goods in cases where they competed with industries or products at home. The whole question seems to me to come to this, that in this Colonial Conference as proposed—this ad hoc, conference—we see something in the nature of a trap, and, if I may adopt the words of the Prime Minister which he used in another connection in another place, I would say people are perfectly right to lay the trap, but we have also a perfect right to keep out of it if we can. The trap appears to me to be this, that what Mr. Chamberlain and his friends calculate is that if this conference is held they will then be able to go round the country saying, "After inviting all these distinguished gentlemen here to discuss this matter you cannot in decency send them empty away, as that might endanger the relations between this country and the Colonies."

That is a reason, in my opinion, for a frank avowal at once that, so far as can be judged, this country is not prepared even to discuss the question of taxing food. It is merely a waste of time and almost, I take it, an insult to the Colonies to invite them to a discussion which includes taxation of food, when it is quite certain that the country will not grant that taxation of food. When you come to discussing anything in a general conference held not ad hoc but in the ordinary way, I certainly should be very far from saying that if any member of that conference desired to raise any question whatever he should not be at liberty to do so; but that is a totally different matter from inviting representatives from all parts of the Empire for a special purpose to discuss this fiscal question alone, and then, as I say, laying ourselves open to the very obvious retort that it would have been very much better to have told these gentlemen before they came that there was one side of the question which we did not consider open for discussion at all. I do not for a moment believe that our attitude, if we wore now to declare it, would be in the slightest degree misunderstood by the Colonies. They have never shown any signs of desiring to force a preferential policy upon us; still less have they shown any signs of a desire that we should tax food. On the contrary, they have, almost ostentatiously, explained that they consider it a matter for the inhabitants of these islands to decide for themselves. The opinion in this country being so certain as it is, it would be an infinitely more manly and generous course to tell the Colonies that that opinion cannot admit of the taxation of food, and that, so far as colonial preference depends on the taxation of corn and other articles of food, it is useless to consider it. I sincerely hope that my noble friend will press his Motion to a division.


My Lords, I have listened with attention to what has fallen from the noble Earl who has just sat down and who has stated the standpoint of the Opposition with more frankness than I have noticed in any of the previous speeches. Up to the present, the line taken has been that no one objects to a Colonial Conference, but the noble Earl takes a franker way. He says that he regards this suggestion of a conference as a trap to be avoided, and that he would therefore vote for the Motion now before the House with a view to making difficulties and interposing obstacles in the way of the holding of the conference. The fiscal question at large is not for discussion to-night, although noble Lords have taken the opportunity to make various dives into it from their point of view. I put to your Lordships this one broad question. Surely it is better, if a conference is desired, to let it be a frank and free conference. The great and representative men who will attend the conference should be free to consider the question and to express their sentiments subject to the responsibility which they owe to the countries they represent. Everyone expresses himself in favour of strengthening the bonds that connect our great Colonies to the mother country, everyone expresses delight and admiration at the way those bonds were strengthened by the great aid received by the mother country during the war in South Africa; yet doubts are now thrown on the attitude, of the Colonies towards the mother country in the matter of trade. Surely it is wise and reasonable that the representatives of the great Colonies should meet and frankly interchange opinions unfettered and unsuspected, and not regarded as men entering into a trap.


I never hinted for a moment that the colonial representatives were laying a trap. It is the noble and learned Lord and his friends who are doing that.


That is only playing with the expression. The people who would come here as representatives of the Colonies are not simpletons: they are the greatest statesmen the Colonies have produced; and surely those men when they come over should be free to consider the question and to express their sentiments unfettered. It is a matter for congratulation that the ties of affection, sympathy, and blood which link together the component parts of this great Empire should be so strong; but if an additional tie can be found by the honest interchange of frank opinion, surely everyone should welcome it. My noble friend the Uuder-Secretary of State for the Colonies pointed out circumstances that go to show that this country has gained by what has taken place through the voluntary action of Canada. That, however, was called in question by Earl Beauchamp. I will not attempt to prejudge this question; but, if commercial arrangements can be made advantageous both to the Colonies and to this country, it would be madness and not statesmanship to interpose any obstacle in the way of them. Why are noble Lords opposite afraid of discussion and the free interchange of views? Why do they try to hamper and fetter discussion? The question before the House is not the fiscal question but the narrow question of whether the conference should be useful and free or bound and muzzled.


My Lords, we have had an interesting debate this evening in which noble Lords have set before us, as the noble and learned Lord who has just sat down has done, in terms of eloquence, matters affecting our great Empire. We have also heard the advantages which we would derive from a system of preferential tariffs sketched out by the noble Duke the Under-Secretary. It will be my brief task to recall your Lordships to what is the real question which we are debating this evening. No Answer whatever has been given to the specific Questions asked by Lord Balfour. The noble Duke the Under-Secretary informed us that all the Questions which my noble friend had put on the Paper had already been complied with by His Majesty's Government. If that is a fact, why does not the Government accept this Resolution? They have, on the contrary, issued a Whip to their supporters, and from the speeches which have been made by responsible Ministers it is obvious that they are going to oppose the Motion. Everyone on this side of the House, at any rate, heartily welcomed the Motion which Lord Balfour moved, because, if the questions in it were answered, the fiscal air would be cleared, and Ministers would be able to appeal to the constituencies "whether this idea of fiscal union is one which commends itself to us." That was what Mr. Balfour put forward at Edinburgh as practically the terms of reference to the proposed conference. What we want to know is what is the official position of His Majesty's Government as regards this proposed conference? Is it to be a conference ad hoc—a conference simply for the purpose of finding out, as Mr. Balfour proposed, whether this idea of fiscal union is one which commends itself to us, or is it to be "the premeditated and usual conference" concerned with all the affairs of the Empire, and with this issue of preferential tariffs thrown in as a sort of bonne-bouche?

I will not weary your Lordships by quoting long passages from the speech of the Prime Minister at Edinburgh, but I think there is no doubt that at that time Mr. Balfour intended it to be an ad hoc conference; it was to be, moreover, a conference which would require a general election preceding it and a general election following it. The first general election was to sanction the proposed conference which was to determine whether this idea of fiscal union commended itself to the Colonies and ourselves or not, and the second general election was to appeal to the electorates of the self-governing Colonies and of this country as to any scheme which might be hammered out by the conference. Those are not my words, but the words which the Prime Minister himself used at Edinburgh last year. This proposition was confirmed by the noble Duke's chief, Mr. Secretary Lyttelton. Mr. Lyttelton went to Glasgow to speak on behalf of the Prime Minister who was then unwell, and in his speech at Glasgow in December, 1904, he undoubtedly confirmed the view that Mr. Balfour had put forward previously in Edinburgh. He also, as I read his speech, brought forward the doctrine of two general elections being absolutely necessary, the first one to enable the representatives of Great Britain to go into the conference armed with the authority of the people. That was the first general election. The second one was, of course, in order to refer to the electorates of this country and the self-governing Colonies the plan hammered out at the conference, and this was to be done before the Government could bring in their scheme of preferential tariffs. But previous to this a deputation waited on the Prime Minister at the Foreign Office with regard to Imperial defence, and the statement of the Prime Minister on that occasion seemed to make the conference rather wider. It was to cover other matters, because he stated on that occasion that it would be improper that any such conference should be prevented from discussing anything connected with the closer union of the Empire. Therefore, it would seem that after the meeting at the Foreign Office the views of the Prime Minister, and, presumably, of the Government, were rather enlarged. It was not to be an ad hoc conference, but a conference which was to determine any other matters that might naturally come before such a distinguished body.

Mr. Secretary Lyttelton at Glasgow stated—and this is an important point, in my judgment—that the conference would be the same conference which had been already determined upon by the previous Colonial Conference in 1902. Your Lordships are aware that at that conference a Resolution was passed that there should be another conference held in 1906, and, as I understand Mr. Lyttelton, it is that conference to which both he and the Prime Minister were alluding as the one in which preferential tariffs were to be discussed. It is because we have up to this moment received no reply from Ministers opposite that I am obliged to put this case so laboriously before the House. My interpretation of the official position is this, that the conference is to be the conference which had already been determined upon, plus a reference to preferential tariffs. If that is the case, incidentally we are led to perceive clearly a subject which has been much thought of and much debated in the country and in Parliament. Your Lordships will observe that this conference is to be preceded by a general election, and if the conference is to be the ordinary conference of 1906, we have now for the first time arrived at what are the limits of the present Parliament, for before the conference of 1906 meets there must be a general election. Therefore it is quite obvious that if the conference is held in May, June, or July of next year there must be a general election some time before that date. I should like to know from His Majesty's Government whether that is the fact or not, and whether my interpretation of the declarations of Ministers is right.

There is another point which has already been referred to to-night but which is undoubtedly of primary importance. The conference, we have been told by the Prime Minister and by other distinguished members of His Majesty's Government, is to be free and unfettered. Does that mean that representatives are to attend it with open minds and that they may come out of the conference free-traders or protectionists? Speaking from my experience both in Parliament and on platforms in the country I think it would be very difficult to find a man of an open mind on this fiscal question after all the controversy there has been. But the opinions of many of the representatives of the Colonies are known; they have been expressed by resolution and by speeches. Some reference has been made to this matter by my noble friend Lord Beauchamp. The Legislature of Manitoba also passed a Resolution in which they said— This House strongly commends and endorses the policy advocated by Mr. Chamberlain. Yes, but there was a rider put forward to this original proposition, and in my humble judgment that rider stated what the policy of preferential tariffs is according to the late Colonel Secretary better than the very vague words of the proposition. The rider declared that the people of Canada should be prepared to make such further substantial reductions in the Canadian tariff against British goods as should ensure British manufacturers an enlarged market in Canada in return for a preference by Great Britain on Canadian products. That, I think, represents the ideas of tariff reformers; but what happened to that unfortunate rider? It was defeated in the Legislature by twenty-eight votes to nine, and therefore it is obvious that it is not the intention of these representatives of Canada, at any rate to give to British goods in return for preferential tariffs an enlarged market in Canada.

Then I turn to Australia. What is the opinion of Australia with regard to preferential tariffs? In the Commonwealth Parliament the Prime Minister, Mr. Deakin, questioned with regard to that much disputed question of an offer, which I will not go into, said he thought Mr. Chamberlain referred to Canada and South Africa. If the allusion was meant to refer to anything else" (said Mr. Deakin) "it must have been to the Resolution passed at the Conference of Colonial Premiers in London in 1902 in favour of preferential trade. He was then interrupted by the Leader of the Opposition who said— That conference did not represent the views of Australia but of seven gentlemen. And then comes the pith of the matter. There was another interruption by a member of the Commonwealth Parliament who asked— Is there any danger if the tariff being reduced in favour of the home country? And the Prime Minister replied— If there is any such danger it will come from my right hon. friend the Leader of the Opposition. So that the official opinion of the Government of the Australian Commonwealth is that there is no danger of the Australian tariff being reduced in favour of the home country. These are the opinions of a gentleman who you are going to summon to your conference. These representatives are very important statesmen in their own country. Their opinions are well known. The opinions of right hon. Gentleman and noble Lords in opposition are well known. What we want to know is, what are the opinions of His Majesty's Government?

Perhaps I may be allowed to refer for a moment to the opinion of New Zealand as expressed by no less an Imperialist than Mr. Seddon, the Prime Minister. Speaking in the summer of last year, in recommending Mr. Chamberlain's scheme, he said— This course would not increase imports from the mother country and would check imports from alien countries. So this dream of the tariff reformers falls to the ground, and in the case of New Zealand, where we were told to look for largely-increased trade, we are informed by Mr. Seddon that the imports from the mother country will not be increased to the slightest degree. Then what is the use of a conference for the purpose of gathering the opinion of the Colonies when that opinion has been already declared by their responsible statesmen. I am myself in favour of Colonial Conferences. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor of Ireland rather twitted my noble friend Lord Crewe with being, I suppose, a Little Englander because he said that this conference would be a trap. As I understood my noble friend, he thought it would be a trap for the colonial representatives unless we informed the Colonies that the people of this country absolutely refused to have taxes put upon their food. On great Imperial subjects where agreement would conduce to strength of union a conference may well be useful, but there must be no false impression at the outset; the colonists must not be led to suppose that the people of Great Britain would accept food taxes. Without this clear understanding a conference would be a danger and a snare, and friction might be created that would take many years to allay.

The debate was suspended from half-past Seven until Nine of the clock.

On the resumption of the debate.


My Lords, this Resolution seems to me one which, although apparently the Government are not prepared to acquiesce in it, is nevertheless not unreasonable, because this House and the country should ask for information. We were told by two or three speakers on the side of the Government that, as I gathered, the objection to the Motion was that it was essential that the conference, when it takes place between the representatives of this country and the representatives of the Colonies, should be an open conference. The noble Lord the Lord Chancellor of Ireland said with emphasis: "Let it be a frank and a free conference." I think, my Lords, that any conference ought to be a frank and a free conference, that is to say, that the persons who meet round the table to discuss questions should be free to discuss them from their own point of view. But does anyone suppose for a minute that the fact that a conference is frank and free in any way prevents the giving of instructions to the representatives as to the lines they should take. It is obvious that every colony when they send a leading and important man to speak on their behalf will give their representative instructions as to the lines he should take, what concessions, if any, they are prepared to make, and on what points he is to remain firm. Is it to be supposed that this country is to send its representatives without any instructions, and without knowing what they will say, or what their point of view will be. The principals in this conference are not the persons who attend and speak; the Secretary for the Colonies will not be a principal, nor the Cabinet, nor the present Parliament; the principals are the people of the United Kingdom whose interests are involved. That, I think, was admitted by Mr. Balfour in the early stages of this discussion.

I shall not follow the noble Lord the Earl of Crewe who tried to track Mr. Balfour's various utterances and to find shades of difference between the earlier and the later speeches. No doubt as an exercise of dialectics that might be done if we cared to spend our time upon it. At any rate, in the more studied and careful expositions of his policy we had, what I think is obvious, a declaration that before any effectual conference would be held with the Colonies, the country shall be consulted, and its views expressed through an election of a Parliament, and then no doubt the Government, whatever it might be, would have what people are pleased to call a mandate. Mr. Balfour has, during the whole discussion on fiscal policy, emphasised the fact that nothing should be done until the country has expressed an opinion and given a lead to those who are to speak on its behalf. Yet we are told that the Government is not prepared to indicate to us on what lines they will instruct their representatives to speak in this conference. I feel, my Lords, that you are not only preparing disappointment for yourselves, but that you are preparing for bad blood and trouble with the Colonies if you encourage people to embark on a conference without letting them know beforehand the limits within which it is possible for you to negotiate with them and the limits beyond which you will not negotiate.

I should like to see this Return granted, and I am sorry that the Government seem to think it consistent with their dignity and self-respect rather to assume an attitude of inertia and mental vacuity on this subject instead of telling us exactly what they think. After all, the Colonies will not be hoodwinked. Whether the Government like it or not, everyone will see that the country, whenever it has an opportunity of expressing its opinion, on the subject, does so very clearly. Even the House of Commons expressed its opinion the other day with equal clearness and emphasis. I think it is quite idle for persons who are, as it were, the agents of a nation, to pretend that they can enter upon negotiations on behalf of that nation in defiance of the expressed unanimous opinion of the representatives of the nation. Of course if you say that the elected House has lost all representative character and is not entitled to speak for the nation, that is a position which Governments are entitled to take up, but they are only entitled to take it up on one condition, and that is that they appeal from the legal voice of the nation as expressed through its representatives to the actual voice of the nation as expressed at the hustings. But you cannot have it both ways. You cannot say you have no occasion to consult the opinion of the nation because you have the confidence of the nation's representatives, and at the same time say, "We will treat them with contempt and not stir a finger to defend ourselves."

I say the Colonies are not deceived. Our views on this matter are not hid under a bushel; they are known to the far corners of the world. Does anyone suppose that the Colonies will lightly enter into negotiation on the basis that seems to be foreshadowed as the policy of the present Government by the speech made by the noble Lord the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, namely, a policy which rejoices in this preferential and differential treatment, and would make great efforts to carry it. In my opinion the Government at this moment are too much discredited to be able to pose as the representatives of the nation, and everything must be at a standstill until the nation has been consulted. Certainly the discussion of a question freely among representatives is not inconsistent with a definite policy being held by any one of the parties to the conference. What I am afraid of is what has already been indicated by another speaker, namely, that you may enable persons at a distance to misrepresent the facts, and to say that hopes were held out to the Colonies which had been disappointed. Everyone would feel in another delicate matter in private life that it is quite open to a woman to reject a man, but if a woman gives encouragement to a man and then rejects him people call her a flirt and say she has behaved very badly. In the same way speeches in Parliament, such as the speech of the noble Duke, who, although he is not responsible for his Department, yet is speaking on behalf of his Department, are in the nature of giving encouragement to this protective and preferential policy.

For myself I should be very sorry if the issue of the approval or disapproval of a policy of preference rested merely on the question of the taxation of food or the taxation of raw materials. To a protectionist colony some widening of the area of trade may be a step towards free trade. If a colony which is absolutely protectionist will break down some of its barriers, even in favour of the great industries of the mother country, that undoubtedly opens to the purchasers in that colony a somewhat wider market than they had before. But we have the open markets of the world, and any policy of preference to a colony is not a wider but a narrower policy; it must be based on the introduction of duties where hitherto goods have come in free, in order effectively to narrow our market of purchase. Do not let it be supposed that we and the Colonies should be negotiating on anything like equal terms. One speaker, I think it was the noble Viscount who is now the chairman of the Tariff Reform Commission, spoke in glowing terms of a possible vision of inter-Imperial free trade between Great Britain and all its dependencies. But I say that Imperial free trade between Great Britain and all its dependencies, if bolstered up by discriminatory tariffs against the rest of the world, would be a narrow and most mischievous policy. We enjoy now free trade so far as we can get it. Noble Lords play upon the words "free trade" and say we have not free trade but free imports. We have what it is in our power to get. What is out of our power we cannot have. So far as our laws, so far as our policy, and so far as our example go we do all that we can to secure free trade. We do not suppose for a minute that free trade is not an advantage to both sides, or that the foreign countries and the Colonies which are protected do not lose by being so, and that when they lose we lose too. It would be a deplorable mistake for us for a paltry advantage which is hardly appreciable to sacrifice the good example we have set to the world and turn aside from a policy which has served us so well for fifty or sixty years. The mischief we should suffer would be far greater than any advantage we might obtain.

As to the case of Canada, I am a little surprised that the noble Duke, who must be familiar with that matter through his office, should have referred to the Canadian figures as showing any advantage under the preferential system. The figures were analysed carefully, and the highest claim that the advocates of that system set up a year or so ago was that it might have arrested the decrease in trade. In the general expansion of Canadian trade, the result of the development of the North West, the trade of Canada with the whole world has increased enormously, but our trade with Canada has not increased so fast as Canadian trade with the rest of the world.


Will the noble Lord forgive me for interrupting. The trade between Great Britain and Canada has increased since the preference at a much greater rate per cent. than the trade between Canada and the United States, and the trade between Canada and Germany. I may add that in the increase of English trade between England and Canada those commodities affected by the Canadian trade have increased at a greater rate per cent. than the rest of the trade with the United States. I should like to remind the noble Lord, Earl Beauchamp, that this is an undoubted fact, and I challenge any figures to the contrary.


The noble Duke has corrected a statement which I never made. The statement I make is that in the great expansion of the trade of Canada the trade of Canada with the United Kingdom has not increased at so great a rate as the trade of Canada with the rest of the world. I did not mention one country or another. I have some figures here which I will give him. The figures are printed, but I do not know where they come from. They show that the Canadian imports from all countries in 1896 amounted to 110,000,000 dollars, and in 1902 to 200,000,000 dollars, or an increase of 83 per cent. The Canadian imports from Great Britain, which I suppose means the United Kingdom, amounted in 1896 to 43,000,000 dollars, and in 1902 to 49,000,000 dollars or an increase of 14 per cent. The noble Duke can look up in his office figures corresponding with these, and on another occasion he can let me know whether they are right or not.


Will the noble Lord give the authority for these figures.


They were given to me by my noble friend Lord Beauchamp.


Will the noble Duke agree to defer this discussion until the Motion I have down on the Paper is dealt with.


I did not know the noble Earl had a Motion down on the Paper. I suppose he has placed it there to-day.


It has been on the Notice Paper nearly a month.


I notice that the noble Duke indicated that it was not fair to compare the lower rate of duties upon goods imported from the United States into Canada with goods imported from the United Kingdom, because the goods imported from the United States are of a lower class, either raw materials or duty free.


They are all duty free.


And thus at a lower rate than those that come from the United Kingdom. Therefore when you work out the average duty charged on the whole of the British goods sent to Canada, they work out at a higher figure. I wish that the noble Duke had been able to prompt his colleagues on the Treasury Bench in the debate on Mr. Brodrick's speech when they stated that Indian goods went into France at a lower rate per cent. than goods from this country. I think it is better that noble Lords when dealing with the figures should elect some consistent basis of a sound character. I quite agree with the noble Duke that he has taken a sound view, but you must not compare rates of duty upon different classes of goods as showing a high or a low tariff. You should compare the same classes of goods. The growth of trade between Canada and the United States, having regard to the long nominal frontier between them, must be expected to be greater than the growth of trade between Canada and the British Isles. No artificial arrangement of colonial preference will permanently stop the natural drift of trade which should go and will go on the lines which are most advantageous to the parties trading. I have tried to make it clear that the fact that this conference, if it ever takes place, will be a free conference, is no reason why this country, which is something above Governments and Parliaments, should not know beforehand what its representatives and agents propose to say on its behalf. That, I think, is essential. I think it is also important that we should warn the Colonies beforehand, if we go into this conference at all, in order that there shall be no disappointed expectations, no hopes raised and afterwards dashed to the ground, which will be injurious to the permanent friendship between us and our Colonies. For these reasons I shall support the Motion it it goes to a division.


My Lords, I feel great difficulty, which I suspect is not confined to one side of the House, in resisting the provocation to discuss something which is really not before the House at all. This debate is like some others to which I will not further refer in that it is not intended to really discuss the question before the House. It is like what I think is attributed to a celebrated theologian who said he had a text for every sermon and a sermon for every text. One text is intended to be preached and which I observe the speakers cannot get rid of, and that is the desire to establish some difference of opinion between different members of His Majesty's Government. I acquit the noble Lord who brought forward the question of any desire for what I think has been fought to be done in all this debate. I am quite sure, knowing him as I do, and respecting him as I do, that he had no ulterior object and only raised the question in order to do what he thought was necessary for the good of the country. But I think it is impossible to have listened to this debate without feeling that those who have taken part in it have a sort of opinion that in some way or another it is like any other subject which may raise the question of fiscal policy, because it is intended to set what I think the noble Lord, Earl Crewe, described as a trap—a trap to inveigle speakers into discussing the fiscal question generally, and therein the question of whether or not there is some difference or divergence of opinion between the thoughts of the Prime Minister and Mr. Chamberlain. In fact, I notice that the noble Lord who brought forward this Motion referred from time to time, inadvertently I am sure, to Mr. Chamberlain's utterances as if they were the utterances of His Majesty's Government, and referred to them as being identical with the views of Mr. Balfour. All I will say upon that subject is that they have expounded themselves, I think, with perfect clearness and distinctness, and the effort to confuse their views and to suggest that because one said something at one time and another said something at another time, therefore, as the noble Lord, Earl Beauchamp, said, we have at last admitted that Mr. Chamberlain's views are really the views of His Majesty's Government. Nothing could be more unjust.

I must suggest that so far as the debate has been conducted there is an air of unreality about it. We are not really discussing the question which was brought forward by the noble Lord. The noble Lord who has just sat down is a perfect master of rhetoric in regard to statistics and all other things that thereby hang. What has he been discussing for the last twenty minutes? I see an air of protest on his face. I will not say it was for such a long time or that it was an unreasonably long time. He has been discussing the question of fiscal preference. Is that the question we are now upon? Is it relative to the question we are now upon? I Venture to say that it has nothing whatever to do with it. Let us turn to what the noble Lord who is responsible for bringing this Motion before the House suggests. What he has said is intelligible. I may not agree with him, but he is intelligible. He has called attention to the declarations of certain of His Majesty's Ministers concerning the proposed Colonial Conference. May I observe in passing that it is His Majesty's Ministers and not Mr. Chamberlain whose declarations he discusses. Then he goes on to say— That, in the opinion of this House, it is necessary that before the constituencies of this country are asked to determine as to the desirability of such conference, they should be informed"— on certain points. We have here a series of problems. The first is under what conditions the conference will be summoned. Why should the constituencies be informed if they are to form a judgment on the conference. Why are we to say, now, what is to be said at the conference, or to pronounce a judgment beforehand, or say under what conditions it should be summoned? If my noble friend had propounded the question what conditions ought to be put forward before the Colonial Conference is summoned it would have been properly discussed. That is not the question. It is that the constituencies should be informed, and that is a totally different matter.

Then the noble Lord asks, "What Colonies and dependencies will be invited to send representatives?" The question of how many is a question of detail. The Crown Colonies and the others will be summoned, and I do not suppose that my noble friend really believes we should exclude anybody. Then we come to this question, "How far any decision arrived at will be held as binding upon His Majesty's Government and the United Kingdom?" In the first place observe what that means. Is the conference to come to any decision? Has anybody suggested that they are to decide anything? And if they were, has anybody suggested that it should be binding on the United Kingdom? With all respect to my noble friend I think that this proposition on the face of it is absurd. My noble friend appears to suggest that there is to be a sort of decision, as if we were submitting to an arbitration and award something that was to be binding for all time. Nothing can be more inconsistent with the idea of a Colonial Conference. Then what is the real question? I do not hesitate to say what it appears to me to be. Suppose, what the most determined free-traders will admit, that a commercial treaty is within the limits of their political economy and that a treaty with a foreign nation were in debate. Would it be considered right to begin by saying that you would not allow discussion upon this or that matter I do not think that would be the method in which you would begin to treat with a foreign nation if you were proposing a commercial treaty.

There is a question which I have over and over again heard propounded both in this House and elsewhere, What are the Colonies going to give? You do not know what they are going to give. The Colonial Conference will tell us, and are we to shut that out and prevent there being a Colonial Conference which would enable us to understand what they are desirous or willing to do I observe that my noble friend who brought forward this Motion said that every light that can be given should be given in this Colonial Conference. Why should that not be? Why are you to put something like a restriction upon discussion and say "You may come here and tell us what you like, but observe that upon A., B., or C. we will have no discussion with you at all." I should think that if you wish to treat your Colonies as one foreign Minister would treat another foreign Minister in discussing anything in the nature of a commercial treaty, the very thing we should do is to say "Let us freely converse with each other and see what we can agree upon."

I will not be tempted into a discussion of the colonial preference question or of the extent to which we or the Colonies might be benefited. It seems to me that that would be falling into the trap described by Earl Crewe of discussing on an indirect Motion in this House what we have refused to discuss, because until His Majesty's Ministers have proposed something and propounded some policy—which they have undertaken they will not do until the constituencies have been consulted—there is no reason why that question should be discussed. When it comes before the country it will be discussed no doubt. This is a counterfeit debate, because advantage has been taken of my noble friend's proposition to bring into this question matters that do not properly arise. I will not proceed to discuss whit the, free-traders contend, that protective countries are able to prosper and get more advantage for all their citizens because they have a wider field over which they may have free exchange of commodities. I am not going to discuss whether that is true or not. All I can say is that if it be true the question of bringing the British Empire, by excluding foreigners, into that wider field of international communication and free exchange of commercial products is one of the very questions which the Colonial Conference will probably discuss. In order that they may discuss it, you ought to allow them perfect freedom in discussion, and that which my noble friend desires, the greatest light you can have, is a light not to be given grudgingly or sparingly, but is to be obtained by allowing them to discuss all questions with freedom, so that the free expression of the colonial views may be obtained.


My Lords, after the somewhat remarkable speech just addressed to us by the noble Lord on the Woolsack, I must ask your permission to recall your attention to what is the object of this Motion. I think I can answer for my noble friend Lord Balfour, at least I can speak confidently for myself, that the intention of this Motion is not to oppose the conference. It is to show our anxiety that the conference, when it meets, should be the result of statesmanship and not be a conference moved by Party action. A member of the Cabinet lately told us that one move in the game of Party life had to be met by another.


Who was that?


Mr. Gerald Balfour. My Lords, I do trust that this conference will not be made the subject of any Party move, and I do trust that we shall all, if a conference is to take place, unite in endeavouring to see that it shall be a practical conference for the benefit of the whole Empire. My noble friend on the Woolsack has given us a little lesson upon the manner in which our debates should be conducted. He has told us this is a sham debate, but he cannot include my noble friend Lord Burleigh in that charge. It was someone who came after him who entered into the question of the advantages of preference. Who was that? It is very hard that my noble friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies should be told by a colleague of such weight and authority in this House that his eloquent advocacy of preference and the advantage of it to the nation was a sham and a pretence, and was something that was done under the guise of supporting or opposing my noble friend for the purpose of misleading this House. It is hard indeed that after we heard a speech so full of ability as the speech made by my noble friend thy Duke of Marlborough, that one whom we ought to regard as his mentor should tell him he had been leading the House astray. My noble friend the Lord Chancellor has said why should these people who are mentioned by Lord Balfour—the electorate—be told what are the views His Majesty's Government take upon this subject.


I never said that.


I beg the noble Lord's pardon. I understood that he said so.


I said, Why should they be informed beforehand on what conditions the conference should be called?


That is exactly what I intended to convey, and I will now tell my noble and learned friend why the electorate should be informed. Of course if you are going to deal with the question as an abstract question there is no reason why you should inform the electorate, but why are you going to consult them and to ask them to say "Aye or no, will you have a conference," and yet not tell them what that conference is to represent. Let there be no doubt on this subject. The Government contains many able men, and there is one who is recognised by the public as a Minister, who, in relation to this fiscal subject, has shown great ability. I mean Mr. Bonar Law. He has told us what is going to take place. He said that the position was that the issue at the next general election was a simple one, whether the people desired a dear or a cheap loaf. The issue was really more than that. It was whether the electors were willing, without committing themselves to anything, to hold a Colonial Conference to consider whether preferential trade was practicable and whether it could be obtained without injury to the nation. No member of the Government has repudiated that. Now you are going to consult the electorate. The issue to be submitted to the people is a very important one and they are to say "Yes or no." Is it fair to that electorate, without telling them what the conference is for? Every candidate upon the hustings will give a different idea of the conference. Free-traders will give one idea, the Government candidate will give his view and, pace my noble friend, the persons who represent tariff reform will give another. Is that a fair way of obtaining a mandate from the people? Is it fair to ask the electors to bear the responsibility of saying whether this conference is to be held or not and yet refuse to tell them what are to be the duties, powers and results of the conference? This will place the country in a ridiculous position. Cannot the Government tell the people what they will be voting for if they vote for this conference? We are asking not that there should be detailed particulars, but that there should be some general explanation of what this conference means. We ask no more, but we say that this is necessary.

If by giving this information to the electors the Colonies learn our intentions regarding the conditions under which this country is prepared to enter into the conference, I do not think there will be any great evil in being so frank with our fellow-subjects. I will tell the House what will be a greater evil. It will be to bring the representatives of the Colonies here under false pretences. We know pretty well their views. We may anticipate that they will accept what has been stated by many statesmen in this country, that a preferential tariff with the Colonies must impose and will impose a tax upon food. That I think is admitted. More than one leading man who supports tariff reform has said, "If you cannot agree to a tax on food do not talk about a preferential tariff and do not ask for a conference at all." If you are going to ask the electorate to give an answer that must be sent to the Colonies, the answer given by the electorate would be our credentials for the calling of a conference, but the Colonies will ask "What conference are you in favour of? Are you going to give us a preferential tariff?" We shall have to say "No, we cannot tell you whether we are or not, because the Government, led by a great lawyer, asked in advance, 'What business have you to tell the electorate whether they are to agree to taxation of food or not?' and have intentionally kept them in the dark and have intentionally prevented them from making such a declaration."


The Prime Minister has repeatedly stated that he is not in favour of the protective taxation of food.


I congratulate the noble Duke on making that statement. Now we have obtained the vindication of this debate. Let those words be well noted.


I beg my noble friend's pardon. The Prime Minister has stated that in the House of Commons on several occasions.


I am very glad to hear that. Some of us do not quite understand the Prime Minister's utterances. Now I understand, whether the Prime Minister has stated it or not, on the authority of the Minister who has led in this debate on the part of the Government, that the question of taxation of food is to be barred.


My noble friend is under a misapprehension. I simply stated to him that the Prime Minister has repeatedly declared in the House of Commons that he is not in favour of the protective taxation of food.


Well, I will of course accept that statement. We are discussing to-night the question of the conference, and the noble Duke himself has introduced this subject. I treasure the noble Duke's words, because if the Prime Minister is not in favour of the protective taxation of food I am sure he will not let the conference overrule his views. That statement brings me now to the Question on the Paper. We are to have this conference, and I presume that it will be a special conference, and not an ad hoc conference. Now that we have to summon this conference I ask who is to take part in it on behalf of this country? Of course, I assume that the present Government will be in office. They will have to nominate delegates with or without instructions, ad referendum or not. I take it they are to be selected by the Government and that they will be statesmen of their own thought. Who will they be? If they be my right hon. friend Mr. Alfred Lyttelton, as Secretary of State for the Colonies, and my noble friend the Duke of Marlborough as Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, we shall know, after the speech of the noble Duke to-night, that this country will be represented by two men who are distinctly in favour of a Government which supports a preferential tariff.


I am very sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but he will be quite unable to find in any statement I made to-night that I advocated protective taxation of food on behalf of this country in order to create a preferential agreement between us and our Colonies.


That may be so, but the noble Duke was very eloquent in advocating a preference on something. There is nothing else but food to give a preference on. That is one view. But supposing the Prime Minister were to say, "The Colonial Office is very hardworked. I do not think that these Ministers can give sufficient attention to the onerous duties of the Conference and I will find two other Ministers instead." Suppose then he were to say: "There is the President of the Council. The friction of education has passed off and I think he will represent the country very well. Then there is another Minister who has not much work to do—the President of the Board of Trade. I will choose these two Ministers to represent this country at the conference." May I ask in that case would the same voices speak as would speak in the alternative case?


The noble Lord alludes to me? I am surprised I have been drawn into this matter. As I differ from the views of Mr. Chamberlain and from those of the Duke of Devonshire, I should not give satisfaction to the views of either.


I beg my noble friend's pardon. I have only used the names of my noble friends for the purposes of illustration. What I am endeavouring to point out is this. Who is to represent the Government? It must be remembered that in representing the Government you must represent the people, and when we speak of represent ing the people we mean those electors who at the next election must avowedly give a decision upon this subject, and that decision will have to be represented by someone who must be in accordance with the views of those they represent.

Let us now ask what are the instructions for the men who will go into that conference. What are they to discuss? Those who will represent the Colonies will come here, every one of them with positive instructions to support a certain policy of preference that should give some benefit to the Colonies. Are our representatives to have instructions? if so, what are they to be? Is it not fair that those who at the next general election are to say "Yes or no" to the conference, should be told what are to be the instructions of their representatives when they go into the conference? I think I could almost make a bargain with the Secretary for Foreign Affairs and with the Undersecretary of State for the Colonies. Will they say when they go to the electorate with the issue of conference or no conference that they will undertake that those who should represent the electors should not commit them to the taxation of food? If you do not say that you do not make it clear to the electorate what they are going to determine upon. If you will make it clear, I should be satisfied, because I think I know what the determination of the electorate will be.

There is another question. What is to be the result of this conference? Is the majority of the conference to prevail? If the colonial delegates are agreed in favour of preference, will our delegates have to say, "We agree with you here, but we do not know what our principals, the Government will say. We should have to go back and ask their views?" Then perhaps the British representatives will return to the Colonies and have to say, "Although we have brought you here to discuss this matter, and although you are all agreed on preference, and we are agreed upon it, we cannot go with you, because the Government will not allow us to ratify the decision arrived at." My Lords, you who have been appealed to on behalf of this great Empire and our Colonial Empire, what will be the effect of a decision if you have power given to summon a conference under such conditions? A great deal more can be said upon this question and I have some anxiety upon it, because I believe that some use is going to be made of this conference that we do not quite understand.

I must refer for a moment to a matter that has affected a Party to which I am proud to belong, a Party which the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs assisted in forming some nineteen years ago. We were lately captured as an independent Party and the Liberal Unionist Party was said to be reformed. An authentic circular was issued asking every Liberal Unionist to sign his name to a certain policy. The second article of this policy was "Closer union with the Colonies on the basis of preferential tariffs." We know what that meant. Those who issued the document admitted it meant taxation of food. Correspondence took place, but I do not wish to refer to it at all, beyond saying that public attention was called to the circular by a Member for a Division of Lancashire. It was said that taxation of food was not quite consistent with the views of Unionists and so a change had to be made, and I find that in February the phrase in the earlier circular was altered to "Closer union with the Colonies on a mutually satisfactory basis which it is hoped may be settled at the forthcoming Colonial Conference." That is only the old faith in a new garb, and I hope the Lord Chancellor will not be angry with me when I say that I am afraid that it is possible that this conference may be used for the purpose of carrying out the original purpose, namely, the taxation of food. I hope it will not be so. I hope there will be men like the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs who will have power to control their Party, so that this conference shall not be used for the purposes of carrying out a Party struggle at home and that the Colonists shall not find when they come here that they are carrying out the protectionist policy of the newly-founded Liberal Unionist Party.

My Lords, I have to apologise for the length at which I have spoken. If I have detained you too long, I have done so because of the strong opinions I entertain on the subject. I appeal to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. He and I fought together to establish a Party which we believed to be a Liberal Party, Liberal in every respect. That Party never admitted that any interest had the right to render itself powerful or wealthy at the expense of others. We clung to the old doctrines of the Liberal Party, and, at any rate, we knew nothing of this sad business of protection. Can the noble Marquess look upon that Party as it is now and be satisfied with, its condition? Can he hop a that it will spring into its strength again with the true feelings that pervaded it twenty years ago? If there be any want of frankness in dealing with the electors of this country and it be intended by dialectical skill not to present; the truth to our fellow-countrymen still greater disasters will follow and I ask my noble friend to mike it his care to avert such a calamity by dealing with full frankness with those to whom an appeal is about to be made.


My Lords, I wish that it was not my duty to rise to offer a few remarks at this stage of the debate. I should like to have left the speech which my noble and learned friend has just made, fresh and without any speech following it, to be answered by the noble Marquess to whom he made such an appeal. But I am afraid this is the only opportunity I shall have of saying a few words as representing the Opposition in your Lordships' House. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has complained that the general question of fiscal policy should have been brought into this debate, and that the exact terms of the Motion should have been overpassed. I do not think it would be possible to confine the debate actually to the mere question of the conference. For what depends on the conference? The whole question of preference, and that again depends on what is more important still—the taxation of food. How is it possible not to touch on these vital questions?

I am certainly not opposed to conferences. I believe they play a very important part in the affairs of the world and in the affairs of this kingdom. There have been several conferences, and they have been all most useful in bringing together the leaders of politics in this country and the Prime Ministers of the Colonies. I attach immense importance to them. The Reports are exceedingly instructive and very valuable documents, representing extremely moderate views. The Colonies are quite capable of giving credit to this country for generosity, and at the same time of putting themselves in our place and acknowledging the difficulty we should have in dealing with this question of preference. At the Conference of 1902 there were no fewer than eighteen subjects discussed, and among them this question of preference. But when you come to a subject which has divided and almost broken up a Government, and which occupies the attention of the whole country, is it possible that a conference should be called, in order, as numbers of people in this country suppose, to decide preference and the taxation of food?

The Prime Minister and other Ministers have made a great many varying statements on this question, and I am not going to disentangle the knot that has been tied. But I wish most strongly and distinctly to point out that you will only confuse the issue before the constituencies if you refer this question of a conference to them. People outside think that the question is simply whether there is to be a conference or not. They do not understand. That such a conference should be perfectly free and unfettered is, in my opinion, perfectly impossible. Will the representatives of the Colonies come to the conference free and unfettered I Every one of them will have his instructions; and is it right that this country should be represented at the conference without distinct and clear instructions being given as to how the proceedings are to be carried out? I am convinced that it is essential that there should be no ambiguity about this among the electors of this country. We cannot at present be clear as to what the Prime Minister and the Government desire. That state of things must be put an end to as soon as possible.

The question to be put to the country is, Are you in favour of the taxation of food and protective duties in order to secure preference? The speech of the noble Duke went a long way not towards the taxation of food, perhaps, but towards having a fixed tariff on manufactured articles. That must be clearly put before the constituencies. When they have given their opinion, then it will be easy to deal with the conference. The conference is not summoned by Act of Parliament or by the constituencies. The principles being decided by the votes of the constituencies then it will be for the Government in office to decide upon the terms of the conference. I quite agree with what has been said that if the colonial representatives are called over here in the belief that they will have perfectly free and unfettered power of discussion, and then find that they cannot discuss the taxation of food, which is and must be involved in the question of preference, then I think it may be said you will have deceived them, or, at least, treated them unfairly. Let the question be put in a straightforward manner to the constituencies, and then do as you like about a conference. I have nothing further to add, and if my noble friend carries his Motion to a division I shall vote for it.


My Lords, the noble Earl has set a good example by confining his observations to the subject of the conference. We have been taunted during the course of the debate with expressing ideas which have been described as nebulous on this subject; but I confess that, after listening to the speeches of our critics, I do not find their criticism so clearly and sharply defined as I could wish, and certainly many of them have left us in doubt whether they desire a conference to meet at all or not. But I take it from the speeches of the noble Earl and of the noble and learned Lord behind me that they do desire a conference to assemble, and I accept the statement without the slightest reservation. I cannot, however, help remembering that not very long ago the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons publicly stated his opinion that the policy of a conference was ridiculous, and that he went on to say that the conference was, in his opinion, a trick and had for its object, not the consolidation of the Empire, but the consolidation of the Unionist Party. I hear that statement cheered, but it was not found in the speech of the noble Earl, nor in those of any of the speakers on the benches opposite, and I hope those cheers do not represent the real opinion there. If they do we cannot acquit them of insincerity in the remarks they have addressed to us.

Our critics, then, desire that this Conference should meet, but they are extremely anxious to deny to it the opportunity of affording us any useful knowledge on the subject which, above all things, the conference will have to consider.


May I ask the noble Marquess what that is?


I will tell my noble friend in one moment if he will possess his soul in patience. This conference, if it meets, will be the fourth, the others having been held in 1887,1897, and 1902. I am not at this late hour going to pass in review the proceedings of these earlier meetings; but I shall not be misrepresenting them when I say that each showed a very distinct advance on its predecessor, and that at each the proceedings came to resemble less and less those of a debating society and more and more the deliberations of a great Imperial council. Each conference addressed itself more closely than its predecessor to the subject which I conceive was the most interesting of those before it—the possibility of improving the commercial relations between the mother country and the Colonies. That subject was certainly discussed at the conference in 1817, which, the noble Earl will remember, followed closely on a meeting of Australian Premiers, when the question of closer commercial arrangements came up for discussion: and, as for the conference of 1902, I need not recall to your Lordships the Resolution passed by it and the desire then expressed for another meeting in four years. I venture to say that the Colonies that took part in the conference of 1902 must have felt when they looked forward to reassembling in 1906 that their representatives would be in a position to resume the task on which they had been occupied, and certainly not with a less degree of freedom than had hitherto been afforded them. Well, I ask your Lordships, would it not be something like a farce to invite the Colonies to send their best, their most representative, statesmen here, and then to tell them that they have not the right to discuss a question they had already discussed at a former conference? My noble and learned friend has spoken of obtaining the presence of these colonial representatives on false pretences; but I say it will be a false pretence to ask them to come here and then tell them they are out of order if they discuss the question of closer commercial relations.

What are noble Lords afraid of? Why are they so anxious to circumscribe the proceedings of the conference? Are they afraid that the Colonies will rush us into some extravagant proposal disastrous to the commercial welfare of this country? Are they afraid that the Government of the day will allow itself to be rushed into such a proposal? I will venture to express the opinion that each side is perfectly well aware, without precise instructions, that there are certain limitations beyond which neither side can make concessions to the other. I may say to your Lordships frankly that, in my opinion, it is idle to expect that the Colonies will agree to any changes in their fiscal system which will have the effect of wiping out of existence those home industries which they have expanded so much enterprise and energy in building up. On the other hand it is perfectly well known that we are not likely to listen to any proposals which might have the effect of materially increasing the price of food to the people of this country or of cutting off the supply of raw material upon which they so much depend for their industry. These limitations are perfectly understood; and I do not think you will gain anything by an attempt to fetter the Conference in such a way as to preclude them from discussing any questions verging on either of these points.

What, I take it, the conference will have to do will be to consider whether within these limitations it is not possible to devise some mutually advantageous arrangement which might have beneficial effects upon the commerce of the Empire as a whole. The problem may be a difficult one. All that we ask is that the conference should be allowed to try to solve it. But, if the criticisms to which we have listened to-night are to prevail, we are not to be allowed even to make the effort. These questions will be ruled out of order. You are to get your delegates together and lay down hard-and-fast limits which they are on no account to exceed. The noble Duke on the bench below the gangway (the Duke of Devonshire) has not addressed to us any observations to-night; but he made a most interesting speech last night; and, although I will not quote it at length, I desire to refer to a single sentence which seems to me to show how completely he and others have misapprehended the spirit in which this conference is to be approached. The noble Duke expressed his sympathy with our desire to unite more closely the Empire by bonds of interest, as well as of sentiment; but he went on to say— Hero, also, we are unfortunately compelled to differ diametrically from them. And he represented us as asking the Colonies to make changes in their system which they are unwilling to make in return for concessions which would be burdensome and therefore distasteful to our own people. We have no idea of asking the Colonies to make changes which they are unwilling to make, nor have we any desire of imposing on our people sacrifices which are distasteful to them. Our desire is that the two sides should come together and endeavour to devise some solution of the difficulty, which should be in accordance with the inclination both of the mother country and of the Colonies. If we succeed in our endeavour—if some arrangement can be made acceptable to the Colonies and acceptable to this country and to the people of this country—there will be every reason to rejoice. If we fail we shall, at any rate, have tried our best, and the conference will separate feeling that all has been done that is possible.

We are asked, why is it necessary that the constituencies should give a mandate for this purpose? My Lords, surely those who take part in the conference will approach their task in a very different spirit and under very different conditions if they know that what they are doing is in accordance with the wish and general policy of the people of this country. My noble friend Lord Lytton asked me what would happen supposing we were still in office next year and the conference therefore met before the constituencies had given their mandate. I am almost tempted to tell my noble friend that, if he will give me twelve months notice of the Question and I am here to answer it, I will give him full information. I will now give him an interim Answer which will perhaps content him. I should say that in that case the conference would meet all the same, and that there would be plenty of useful work for it to do; and I see no reason why it should not, even in that case, address itself to the question of commercial relations. But there would be all the difference in the world between discussions of that subject after the constituencies had given their mandate and discussions when the delegates to the conference did not know whether the people of this country are or are not in favour of a change.

We are asked whether the decisions of the conference would be binding on the Government and the people of this country. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has already protested against the idea that a conference of this kind can give a decision. The business of the conference is to report and advise, and obviously that decision is not and cannot be of itself a binding decision upon anybody. Those who take part in it are delegates; they are not plenipotentiaries. My noble and learned friend asked me a series of questions as to the constitution of the conference, what members of the Government would represent us, what instructions they would have, and, I think, he even wished to be told how the votes would be taken. These are matters of detail which, no doubt, can be dealt with and discussed at the time; but we are certainly not going, before the appeal to the constituencies has been made, and long before the conference has met, to commit ourselves as to all details of the procedure to be followed.

I should like to ask your Lordships to consider for one moment what would happen supposing the advice of noble Lords opposite were taken and elaborate and restrictive instructions were given to the members of the conference. What would these instructions be? I take it, if noble Lords opposite had their own way, it would be intimated to the delegates that they were not authorised to discuss any proposals involving protection. On that at once arises the question, what is protection? The noble Marquess (Lord Ripon) laughs. Does he not remember that a few nights ago in this House we had a reference to India as a free-trade country, in spite of the fact that, as we all know, India has a 5 per cent, all-round tariff upon its imports? Has the noble Lord forgotten that there has been a controversy whether a shilling duty on corn was or was not a protective tax? I am rather under the impression that of two successive Chancellors of the Exchequer, both of the same way of thinking as my noble and learned friend behind me on that subject, one maintained that the shilling duty was, and the other that it was not, protection.

Then I suppose another standing order will be that no proposals for the taxation of food will be in order. But we tax food now; and will it be out I of order to consider whether, as a certain amount of revenue is now derived from the taxation of food, those taxes may not be adjusted in such a way as to facilitate trade between the mother country and her great dependencies beyond the seas? I venture to suggest to the House that any attempt to hamper the conference by minute instructions an such points as these could only lead to very undignified and very infructuose discussions. I am reminded of a famous conference described by an American humourist at which a point of order was raised by a gentleman present with unfortunate results to himself—the result being that "the subsequent proceedings interested him no more"—and I am afraid that if points of this kind were to be discussed at the conference the subsequent proceedings would indeed cease to be interesting to many of those taking part in them.

It is our desire that there should be no limitations of this kind upon these discussions; that, on the contrary, the discussions should be conducted with the most complete freedom; and, that they should extend to all the aspects not only the economical, but the political, aspects of the case. If such discussions are to be of use, we must trust the Colonies to avail themselves in a reasonable spirit of the opportunity which we are offering to them. We must ourselves approach these discussions with an open mind, and with the feeling that the country is behind us. What strikes me is that noble Lords opposite have approached this question with a feeling of general mistrust of everybody concerned. That they should mistrust His Majesty's Government may be, perhaps, from their point of view, natural; but I do not know why they should extend that mistrust to the Colonies, or to the Parliament, or the people of this country, because that is what it comes to.

I desire, before I sit down, to notice one observation of the noble mover's, which I heard with some regret; he made it in the course of the very eloquent and animated peroration with which he ended his speech. He told your Lordships that in his view it was to the tie of sentiment to which we ought to look if we desired to maintain the unity of the Empire, and I do not think I misquote him when I say that he referred to the commercial tie as being one of a baser kind. I desire to raise my voice against the suggestion that there is anything base or sordid in the desire of the people of this country and of the Colonies to increase and foster Imperial trade. I believe, on the contrary, that the commercial tie is one of the soundest and healthiest ties by which a great community can be held together, and I for one rejoice that an effort should be made to increase the strength of that tie. Why, my Lords, in the office which I have the honour to fill at this moment, I am constantly brought into contact with the great Chambers of Commerce in this country, and with people who represent the trade of Great Britain in all parts of the world. Shall I be expected to tell them when they come to me that their interests are base and sordid interests? I am afraid we must oppose the Motion of my noble friend; his Motion has been described to us as a very innocent one; but without being unduly suspicious, I must express my general doubt as to the objects with which these ingeniously worded Motions are brought before Parliament. The drafting of these Resolutions has now become a fine art, and my noble friend has produced the latest effort of the kind. We cannot bind ourselves to any pledges beyond those which have already been given repeatedly, and with much distinctness, by the Prime Minister, and we desire that this conference should not be tied and fettered by detailed restrictions.


In what way would my Resolution fetter the conference? It merely asks that the people of this country should be informed of the conditions. There is no question of fettering.


I understood the whole tenor of my noble friend's speech to be that he desired that the people of this country should have explained to them in detail what were the limits beyond which the inquiries of the conference should not go. If I am mistaken, perhaps the noble Lord will explain?


I stand by the terms of the Motion.


Exactly, that confirms what I ventured to say a moment ago. These Motions are drafted with much ingenuity; it is impossible to understand their exact bearing until you hear the speeches by which they are explained, and I say that the speech in which this Motion was introduced shows that its object is to deprive the conference of that free and unrestricted opportunity which we desire it should have, and for that reason we shall certainly oppose the Motion.


My Lords, for my part I think I may congratulate my noble friend Lord Balfour on the success which his Motion has had. I do not scruple to say that I think the speech of my noble friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, coupled with that of the noble Duke who answered the mover, on the whole very satisfactory. I think that we have received a great deal of most important information, which was not in our hands before. For one thing some light has been thrown on a point on which there was some doubt—namely, what was to be the position of the next conference if the Government should remain in power. We understand that then the conference, which would naturally be called next year, will not be a conference ad hoc—to discuss this most important question of fiscal changes, but will be an ordinary conference, and that it would be necessary to postpone to a further year the submission to this country, and to the inhabitants of the Colonies, of those great issues which have been brought before them.

I am glad to think that the matter is not so urgent as was represented to us a few years ago. In 1903 it was said that this country was on a decline, and that unless an almost immediate decision was come to on these questions the tie which binds us to the Colonies would be weakened. Now we know that next year there may be an ordinary conference, and that the summoning of the conference itself may be deferred to a future year, and then it would be to a paulo-post-futurum conference that the decision would ultimately be relegated. I am quite satisfied with that course of affairs. I never thought the matter was so urgent as was represented in the burning speeches we heard in 1903. I congratulate His Majesty's Government, I cordially agree with them in the position to which they have come, that all this talk about the urgency of the case was really exaggerated, and that we can calmly look forward to a sensible and quiet discussion with the Colonies of the great questions which have been raised. We are free now for some years as regards any urgency for recasting our whole fiscal system. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Balfour on having elicited the clearest expression—the renewed expression—of His Majesty's Government to the effect that no conference is to have any power to decide any of these questions before the matter is once more submitted to the constituencies.

The noble Lord the President of the Tariff Reform Commission, to whose speech we have all listened with great interest, expressed his profound disappointment at this renewed declaration of the Government, that there was not to be a conference which should decide anything, but only a conference which was to come to some conclusions which were afterwards to be submitted to another decision of the electorate. I cannot agree in the regret of the noble Lord. I rejoice that these great changes are to be considered deliberately and are not to be decided by a conference without a real appeal to the people of this country. This is clear, this is decided once for all, that it will only be after two elections that we shall have before us the questions which are to be submitted to the conference. I congratulate Lord Balfour of Burleigh on having obtained a clear declaration to the effect that the Prime Minister is opposed to the taxation of food.


The protective taxation of food.


Does that include the two shillings? My noble friend does not answer. I understand that the Prime Minister is opposed to the taxation of food proposed by Mr. Chamberlain. If that is so, we have cleared the ground to a great extent, and I am not so anxious for any special instructions to be given to our representatives at the conference. If it is known by the Colonies when their representatives come here that the Prime Minister is opposed to the taxation of food, they have been advised of the general tendency of this country. Who will be chosen to represent this country at the conference is a matter on which we can scarcely expect the Government to be very explicit, although it is a matter of the deepest importance. I do not think they will commission Mr. Chamberlain to represent us at the conference. We know now that the Colonies have notice, from the words which have fallen from the Under-Secretary for the Colonies, that the Prime Minister is opposed to the taxation of food.


Protective taxation.


Will the noble Duke explain the difference?


No, indeed, I will not.


My position would be this. In the same way as we have been advised by the representatives of the Colonies that they are not prepared to make concessions to us in the way of lowering duties to admit our manufactures, so they have been advised that we are opposed to the taxation of food and raw materials. The two parties will meet with this notification to each other. If that is the case, I say I shall not demand or expect the Government to give any precise instructions to those who represent us at the conference. Noble Lords will excuse me if I say it, but I think we may congratulate ourselves upon four most able speeches that have been made this evening by some of the youngest Members of this House. It is a great advantage to the House that four such speeches should have been made as have been made by the Duke of Marlborough, Lord Beauchamp, Lord Lytton, and Lord Ridley, and I think the discussion has perhaps been in some respects more satisfactory than some of the much longer and more heated debates in another place. I think we have arrived at some better conclusions. It has been said, "The Colonies have made these offers to you, what are you going to give them in return? The Colonies have given you great advantages in preference; what will you do for them?" Well, I think there is one answer which this country can make to the Colonies, and that is this, "If on the one hand you have given us some preferences, and I value them——"Let it be perfectly understood that I and many of those who act with me value them also. We value these preferences. We think that the Colonies have shown the best temper in the world in granting us these preferences, and for my part I am glad that a conference should be called in order to discuss the whole of this question. I do not associate myself with any of the observations which have been made which are derogatory to the calling of the conference. I rejoice in it; I think it is well. But what I was going to say was this. Do we do nothing for the Colonies while they have made concessions to us?

Words have been spoken to-night with regard to the various ties which bind us and the Colonies together. Some think that it is the ties of commerce which are to make the union between ourselves and our Colonies closer, and I trust if those ties are made they will bind us tight. Others have spoken of the ties of sentiment, which have acted in the past, which have acted during a time of severe pressure on this country, and which have proved that, without any commercial union with the Colonies, they were ready to come to our assistance, and to show how they associated themselves with Imperial questions before this question of commercial union had been raised. But there is another tie which binds us to the Colonies, the tie of common defence, the tie which consists in the fact that we put forward the whole power of this Empire, not only to defend our own shores, not only to defend our own commerce, but to defend our Colonies with as great an energy and determination that no colony shall be hurt by any foreign country as we exercise in protecting our own shores.

And what have we done in order to secure that that tie of common defence shall be carried out and strengthened to the advantage of the Colonies as well as of ourselves. We have doubled our military and naval expenditure. We have done all we can to put ourselves in a position to assist the Colonies and to defend them against the increasing power of foreign countries and against all the newer dangers which may threaten them. Is that nothing that we can take into the common fund of Imperial defence, of Imperial unity, of Imperial interests? The noble Duke spoke, and spoke with eloquence, of what Canada had done for us by increasing our trade with herself, and what an advantage this country has received. But think of the enormous increase of taxation which has been put upon this country, and this country alone, in order to defend not only ourselves, but the Empire at large. I think we may I fairly put forward a claim to the Colonies that if they have given us some preferences, which we value, not only for the material advantage which has accrued, but for the spirit in which they have been given, we on our side also have made some contributions to the common interests of the Empire at large by the enormous accession of taxation which has been borne by this country. I think that is a fair plea that may be urged by our representatives, whoever they may be, in this conference, which I hope will conduce to the advantage both of this country and of the Colonies.

I think my noble friend has gained much by this debate. I have no exception to take to the speech which was made by the Leader of the House, and in those circumstances I cannot think that it would be advisable for him to divide the House on the Motion which he has set down. He has had an Answer to his Question, and if he were to carry the Motion, which perhaps we may doubt, I do not think that we should be any more forward than we are at the present moment. We should not be able to elicit any more information from His Majesty's Government. I think they have told us all we are likely to gain from them, and, therefore, I would venture to advise my noble friend—and in that I have the approval, I believe, of the Duke of Devonshire—not to push his Motion to a division.


My Lords, it will only be by the indulgence of the House that I intervene in this debate after the Leaders have spoken, and after the speech of Lord Goschen. I had no intention of doing so, but I claim your indulgence because I confess that, entering this House with a candid mind, I have been rather filled with suspicion from what has occurred in the course of the debate. In regard to this Question of Lord Balfour of Burleigh's, I occupy a somewhat different position from any of those represented in the speeches to which we have listened. As I read it, I thought it a somewhat academical Question, academical in more senses than one. One sense, I am afraid, may seem somewhat offensive to the Front Bench opposite; but I thought it academical in this sense, that I do not think, so far as I can gather from the symptoms that have appeared in the country, that it is very likely that they will be called upon after the next general election to summon a Colonial Conference, and, therefore, I confess there is an air of unreality in discussing the question of what His Majesty's present Government will do after the next general election is decided.

Well, it is also academical in another sense. It asks a number of Questions which are irreproachable in their nature and contents, and, therefore, it does not seem necessary to vote on the propositions laid down in the Motion. But I was glad to hear that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack took much the same view as I am taking. He said, as I understood him, that there were conditions as to which no debate could arise. I am not often fortunate enough to be in harmony with the noble and learned Lord; but on this occasion I find myself in agreement with him. What are these Questions from which I am afraid we have departed under the leadership of the noble Duke? And let me congratulate him that, among the many promising speeches delivered by Peers of a younger generation, he should have delivered a speech which has enabled him to occupy the unique position of having sprung in a single night to be hailed as the leader and mouthpiece of the great Conservative Party and of the Government of which he is as yet nominally only a subordinate member. But what are the Questions from which we have departed so much under his leadership? Under what conditions will the conference be summoned? I understand from what has been said that it will be summoned on the conditions of free speech. What Colonies and dependencies will be invited to send representatives? That is a question which may be left to the future. It is not a question really of such great importance as it seems to be on the Paper. How far will any decision arrived at be held as binding upon His Majesty's Government and the United Kingdom? It is quite clear that no decision of a Colonial Conference can be held as binding on the United Kingdom without the consent and approval of Parliament. Therefore I say that these Questions were in their nature academic. They have raised a very interesting discussion. We have had various avowals, chiefly, I think, from the noble Duke, sustained by a some- what dubious silence on the part of his colleagues; and we have had a sort of catechetical speech from the noble and learned Lord opposite, who seemed to bring the whole Front Bench opposite, one after another, on to their legs to answer the Questions which he put. But that is not business in the true sense of the word. It is academic. It rests for foundation on the existence of the present Government after the general election, and it rests on their ability to answer some general Questions which they find no difficulty in answering in the way that Governments generally answer Questions.

Why is it that I feel called upon to intervene in this debate when I have regarded it as somewhat academic from the commencement? I will tell you in a sentence. The whole of this conference has had a sinister career. In the ordinary course of things, with a four years' limit, an ordinary conference would be called in 1906. Well, what was the origin of this conference? We were told in 1903 that it was a vital crisis to the Empire; that it was a question of now or never; that we were refusing an offer which was like the Sibylline books, and would be shortly withdrawn. We were plunged into an agony of expectation as to what was to happen next to the Empire which hitherto had seemed so united. The last conference had only been a year before. We asked in vain what had occurred in the eight months since the separation of that conference and the middle of May, 1903, that it should be proclaimed that the Empire was in danger. Then we had alarms and excursions for fifteen months more. Then we came to a moment on which Lord Balfour laid very insufficient stress. Indeed, he went out of his way to say that he passed it by altogether. It was the Answer of the Prime Minister in August of last year to the Question, whether he was going to call a Colonial Conference. To that question the Prime Minister replied that he had no idea of the kind. But two months afterwards he hurriedly summoned a meeting at Edinburgh, and called his friends round him, to announce that he had discovered a great new policy which had apparently occurred to no one else before—that of summoning a Colonial Conference at the earliest possible date. When you consider all that had passed, when you consider the Answer which the Prime Minister had given in August, when you pass on to the statement that he made in October, I ask, is the statement of my right hon. friend the Leader of the Opposition in the other House, to which the noble Marquess alluded with such contumely—I ask, is the statement overcharged, that this conference was called, not to unite the British Empire, but to unite the Conservative Party?

That is the origin of this Conference. The attempt is now made to convert it into the battle-cry of a general election. I do not believe, even if the Government had been more ingenuous and more diffuse in their explanations to-night than they have been, that there is any chance of that conference being a substantial issue at the next general election; and, therefore, from my point of view, all this has been academic. The history of the conference has been sinister. It is not a candid proposition that has been laid before the country. It is not an open policy. It is our old friend the red herring drawn across the inconvenient path of the erratic Member for West Birmingham. But if this be academic, how does it fit in with the sinister position of this policy? I say that the propositions laid down in the Motion of the noble Lord are so innocent that, if the Government were sincere in their policy, if they merely desired an open conference of the kind that they have so frequently described, they could not raise a finger in opposition to the Motion. "But, ah!" says the noble Marquess, with that perspicuity and that nose for the suspicious which has made him so great an authority in foreign affairs—"Ah," says he, "the Motion is nothing. These Motions are made out as traps for the unwary. I do not look at the Motion. Perish the Motion! What I look at is the dangerous, the misleading, the casuistical speech of my noble friend Lord Balfour."


I did not make use of those epithets.


No; the noble Marquess did not. I put in the epithets; I enriched his vocabulary. But they were all in his voice and in his intonation, though they were not in his speech. But now I come to the final question, which alone has brought me to my feet, and no speech is needed in answer to it. Why, if it is against the speech of Lord Balfour that the Government are going to vote to-night, did they direct the issue of a three-lined Whip three days before that speech was spoken?


I ask the permission of the House to withdraw the Motion.

Permission for leave to withdraw the said Motion having been refused.

On Question; resolved in the negative.

House adjourned at ten minutes past Eleven o'clock, to Thursday next, half-past Ten o'clock.