HL Deb 03 July 1905 vol 148 cc704-13

rose to call attention to the declarations made by members of His Majesty's Government with regard to a Colonial Conference; and to move for a Return giving the average wholesale price in the month of June and December in each year from 1890 to 1904, inclusive, of the following articles imported from British Colonies: wheat, oats, frozen beef, lamb and mutton, butter, cheese, and wool.

He said: My Lords, we have had a good many what are called fiscal debates in this House, and I do not know that they have brought us very much nearer obtaining any exact appreciation of the condition of things. I am very anxious that I should dissociate any remarks that I make from Party feeling, and I think that at the present moment we are in a position to consider this question in a somewhat less excited way than we were some time ago. In the first place the country has, I think, made up its mind that it will not be rushed in regard to this question. I do not think there is any feeling at the present moment, such as Mr. Chamberlain's speeches would induce, that we are on the verge of an Imperial crisis. In fact, the country is perfectly prepared to consider this question of a Colonial Conference and colonial preference in a quiet and calm way; and the important thing is that every means should be taken to place the public in possession of such facts as would enable them to arrive at a sound and just conclusion.

Whether this question of colonial preference is to be discussed at the usual Colonial Conference which takes place next year or at a special Colonial Conference, seems to me to be in itself a matter of less importance than the fact that a statesman of Mr. Chamberlain's position has brought forward distinct and definite proposals which must now be taken to hold the field. I am quite sure that whether or not the conference considers this question, the people of this country will not be bound by any decision of the conference any more than the people of the Colonies. I would refer for a moment to the statements which have been made by the representatives of Canadian manufacturers who have been in this country. I do not want to trouble your Lordships with any long extracts from speeches, but I am sure you will agree with me that it is eminently satisfactory to find language of the kind I shall quote, used by Mr. George on behalf of the Canadian manufacturers who are over here. Mr. George, who is President of the Canadian Manufacturers' Association, said on a recent memorable occasion, namely, at the luncheon given at Tilbury by the London Dock Company, that— Tariff or no tariff, they were British for all time. And, again, at the dinner of the London Chamber of Commerce, he said— Canada would not think of pressing the mother country to grant what the mother country did not think beneficial to herself. Whatever happened, Canadians from the Atlantic to the Pacific would desire no national life outside the British Empire, for no separate existence, however splendid, could compare with that which awaited them as citizens of that mighty federation. There is, therefore, no reason to raise this question of a Colonial Conference as a political programme, or to bring it into the arena of Party politics, where it becomes almost impossible to disentangle what is economic from what is political in the figures and arguments presented; but I do wish to impress upon your Lordships the fact that the public ought to know very clearly and definitely, before they agree to or accept proposals such as have been put forward by Mr. Chamberlain and which deservedly carry great weight having been put forward by so distinguished a man, what effect the proposals will have upon opening out, which I take to be the quid pro quo, the Colonial markets, and, also, what effect they will have upon the question of the taxation of our food.

We ought to bear in mind what the effect has been upon British imports into the Colonies of the existing preference which was given in 1897. I do not wish to argue whether that preference has done all that it was expected to do; I do not wish to say anything against that preference; I only want to mention this fact, that, whatever may be the effect of. that preference, it has still left the tariffs of the Colonies very protectionist as regards us. The duty collected on British dutiable imports into Canada since the preference of 1897 averages over 25 per cent.; and, putting dollars into pounds in order to arrive at a clearer statement, Canadian imports from Great Britain have in 1904—the last year with regard to which I could get a statement—as compared with 1897, the year before the preference came into force, only increased £ 6,000,000, while the Canadian imports from the United States have increased by over £ 17,000,000. Those figures show, and, I think, very conclusively, that while we have undoubtedly had some share in the growing prosperity and progress of Canada, the preference of 1897 has not been such, and cannot be such, as to outweigh the enormous natural advantages of the United States.

If I take the case of Australia I find that the tariffs on imports of dutiable goods of British origin amount to an ad valorem rate of 19 per cent.; and then, taking the other great colony, New Zealand, I find that there the Customs tariffs on British manufactures and on clothing, blankets, all woollen and cotton goods, and all manufactures of metal have varied from 20 to close upon 25 per cent. We, therefore, have to face the fact that, in spite of whatever benefits the preference of 1897 may have given to us, we stil have a very serious and powerful tariff wall built up against us in the colonial markets.

One word with regard to another view of this question. Let us examine somewhat cursorily the growth of the manufacturing industries in our great Colonies. It is quite true that these Colonies have during the last thirty years more than trebled themselves in all the great products which they would import into this country; in cattle, in sheep, and in the clip of wool, but, as against that, it must be borne in mind that during the greater part of that period prices have declined nearly 50 per cent, and that that decline in price has not been compensated for by any corresponding advantage in the cost of production. It is perfectly natural to my mind that, under those circumstances, these great colonies, who are not affected by our great difficulty of a redundant population, should have started manufactures in order to give a value to native products. This colonial industrial development is now on a most enormous scale. The capital employed in the manufacturing industries of Australia alone amounts to over £60,000,000.

That brings me to the point of my Return. I presume that the object of the policy of colonial preference is, that we should lay the lines of a self-contained Empire, that we should, in return for a preference given to colonial imports, have the great advantage of free access to the colonial markets. We want to know, therefore, what will be the effect of this 5 per cent. duty. Will a 5 per cent, duty upon meat and dairy produce be sufficient to throw open to us Australian and Canadian markets? I have had the great advantage of being able to get very careful estimates worked out by an expert oil this matter. I am not going to weary your Lordships with any long list of figures, but I have had it worked out for me that a duty of 5 per cent, on South American meat—which, after all, would be the competing country with Australia—on value declared at the port of entry, would equal a little less or a little more, according to the fluctuations of price, than one-eighth of a penny per pound, and would never exceed three-sixteenths of a penny; but against that, and showing now futile a duty of this kind would be, meat sold wholesale at Smithfield varies in price in good or bad years from 2½d. to 4d. per pound, a fluctuation of 1½d. per pound, or, in other words, an amount equal to ten or twelve times the duty.

Let me now take foreign cheese, upon which it is proposed to put a duty of 5 per cent. Foreign cheese, with that duty, might pay from 2s. to 3s. a cwt, but imported foreign cheese will rise or fall as much as £1 a cwt. in a few months. As a matter of fact, Canadian cheese, Canada being the chief exporting colony, has varied within the last two years from £2 to £3 a cut. Let me take one of the other great staple industries of Australia—wool, which is, perhaps, the greatest import we should receive from Australia, and which we should expect, and the Asutralians would expect, to be benefited under a system of preference. During the last sixteen years the price of New South Wales wool has been as high in London as 13d. a pound and as low as 6d. a pound; and, again, to come to the recent years with which we have to deal, we see the most extraordinary fluctuations in regard to the production of wool the average price of Australasian wool in London in 1802 was £16s. 7d. a bale; in 1903 it was £13 10s., a rise of over 33s. I have in my hand the report of perhaps one of the greatest wool-exporting firms. Speaking of last year, 1904, it gives us these most remarkable figures— The chief feature of prominence during the year just concluded has been the continual advance made in the coarser qualities of crossbreds, which are now about 50 per cent, dearer than at the close of 1903. Medium grades show a rise of 25 per cent., and the finer a rise of 15 per cent., but the great bulk of the wool shows a rise of 50 per cent. I quite understand that it may be said that if the effect of these fluctuations is so great, my argument goes to show that you can put on a 5 per cent. duty without affecting the price of food. I remember very distinctly that during a debate in this House, I think it was in April, a little altercation took place between the noble Duke the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies and Lord Goschen. Lord Goschen congratulated Lord Balfour of Burleigh upon having obtained a clear declaration to the effect that the Prime Minister is opposed to the taxation of food. The noble Duke interposed and said— The protective taxation of food. Whereupon Lord Goschen asked— Will the noble Duke explain the difference? and the noble Duke replied— No, indeed, I will not. I do not wish to put any conundrums to the noble Duke, but I think both he and the Prime Minister will find it very hard, having put a shilling registration duty on corn and then taken it off again, to explain how any duty does not bear some effect upon the questions of price.

But that is not my point this evening. My point is this, how does a 5 per cent, duty affect the opportunity of the manufactures of this country obtaining a larger use of the colonial markets? It is perfectly clear, if the fluctuation in price is so great as to be, as I have been able to show, several times the amount of the duty, that if you are to put on any duty at all which is to break down the tariff wall of the Colonies you will have to raise the duty upon foodstuffs very much beyond 5 per cent. I am quite prepared to believe that the noble Duke was, so far as he could see his way, anxious not to put on any duty which would seriously affect the cost of living of the poor, and. therefore, I hope His Majesty's Government will agree to this Return, which I do not ask for in any Party spirit. I do think we ought to know, when we are asked to consider this question, what the effect of this duty will be upon Australian products, because it is perfectly certain that the great manufacturing industries in the Colonies, which are not governed, controlled, or influenced by the difficulties of food in this country, will never agree to admit our articles in exchange for any duty we put on unless our duty makes it worth their while to do so. I have been in communication with the Board of Trade and am quite willing to make some verbal modifications in the terms of my Motion in accordance with their suggestion.

Moved, "That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty for a Return showing the average wholesale prices in the months of June and December in each year from 1890 to 1904, inclusive, of the following articles imported from the principal exporting British Colonies: wheat, oats, beef, fresh (including frozen), butter, cheese, and wool."—(The Earl of Portsmouth.)


My Lords, the Government cannot in any way complain of the moderate manner in which the noble Earl has moved the Motion which stands in his name. He prefaced his remarks by assuring your Lordships that he desired to approach this question of colonial preference in, as far as possible, a nonparty spirit, and we for our part are most grateful to the noble Earl for the moderate manner in which he has laid his views before the House. The noble Earl pointed out that, in his opinion, the country is not going to be rushed without consideration into a closer commercial union with the Colonies, and I can assure him that that is equally the view of His Majesty's Government. The policy of the Government has all along been that ample time and opportunity should be given to the people of this country, and also to those who reside in our Colonies, to examine the question so far as they are able, and to decide in their own minds whether or not it is possible to come into a closer commercial union than at present exists.

The noble Earl furthermore pointed out that the people of this country, before they could arrive at a proper conclusion upon this problem, required ample time to consider it. If he will examine carefully the statements of the Prime Minister when he laid down his policy in connection with the Colonial Conference, the noble Earl will see that the aim of the Prime Minister has been that this matter should not be rushed, should not be dealt with in a hasty spirit, but that ample time and opportunity should be given to everybody, both here and in the Colonies, to form considered opinions on the subject before any scheme of any sort or kind is brought into existence. Therefore, I cannot help feeling that the views of the noble Earl are really the views of a great number of those who belong to the Unionist Party. Listening to him this afternoon, I confess I thought that he had considerably modified the views which are generally expressed by noble Lords on the other side of the House; indeed, I am not at all sure that in the future we shall not be claiming him as a supporter of the Unionist policy in colonial matters. Then the noble Earl dwelt for a brief moment on Canada, and the preference so far as it had benefited this country. He pointed out to your Lordships that the Canada had given us a preference of 25 per cent., which had subsequently been raised to 33 per cent., and he reminded the House that this country had in consequence increased its exports to Canada by £6,000,000.


I do not want to interrupt the noble Duke, but what I stated was that, in spite of the preference, a duty of 25 per cent, was the average duty upon British imported goods.


The noble Earl said that whereas imports into Canada from Great Britain had increased to the extent of £6,000,000, imports into Canada from the United States had increased by £17,000,000, and from that he argued that the preference which Canada had granted us had not been so great as some people supposed. But I think the noble Earl entirely forgets one important point in examining the imports from America into Canada and those from the United Kingdom into Canada. The exports which America sends to Canada consist largely of raw material, on which, so far as I am aware, there is no duty whatever; while British exports consist of manufactured goods, the most dutiable of all goods entering Canada from this and other countries. Therefore, it is unfair to draw a comparison between British trade with Canada and American trade with Canada. I might, incidentally, remind the noble Earl that the result of the preference granted by Canada has been to increase our trade with Canada from £6,000,000 to £12,000,000; and the Finance Minister, some three or four months ago, stated in the Dominion Parliament that the result of the Canadian preference had been that the Canadian Exchequer had lost over £1,000,000 a year by the reduction of duties on British goods entering their ports.

The noble Earl next passed to Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, and concluded by saying that he thought there was still a very high colonial tariff wall against goods entering from this country. I think that is a slightly exaggerated statement. It is true that the tariffs in our Colonies are not low ones, but the noble Earl is perfectly well aware that for purposes of revenue it is essential that the tariffs should exist. But I think he has entirely lost sight of the fact that not only Canada, but New Zealand and South Africa, have given us substantial preferential treatment, the result of which we shall be able to gauge in the course of the present year; and I believe when the figures are published we shall see that it has been of no inconsiderable benefit to the commercial community in this country. The noble Earl went on to discuss the effect of a 5 per cent. duty. I do not understand why the noble Earl particularly selected a 5 per cent, duty on manufactured goods coming into this country.


It was Mr. Chamberlain's proposal.


Precisely; but I was not aware that the noble Earl was desirous that I should discuss with him in your Lordships' House the merits or demerits of Mr. Chamberlain's proposals. I understood from the Motion that he was anxious to inquire into the policy of His Majesty's Ministers, and, although I do not deny that the proposal of a 5 per cent, duty may be a valuable one, that certainly is not the present policy of His Majesty's Government. Matters of that sort, the question of the fluctuation in the price of wool coming from the Colonies to this country, and whether that fluctuation will be affected by a 5 per cent. duty placed upon manufactured goods, should be relegated to the Colonial Conference for discussion. I do not deny that a discussion of these matters may be profitable, but to anticipate that discussion in this House will not add very much to our knowledge of the problems involved, nor do I think it will in any way influence the representatives when they assemble at the Colonial Conference.

The noble Earl asks in the Motion on the Paper for a Return giving the average wholesale prices, in the months of June and December in each year from 1890 to 1904, of certain articles imported from British Colonies. I am sorry to say that it will not be possible to give the Return in precisely that form. We are prepared to give him a statement of the average wholesale prices in the months of June and December in each year from 1890 to 1904 inclusive of the following articles imported from the principal exporting British Colonies: wheat, oats, fresh beef, which will include frozen beef, lamb and mutton, butter, cheese, and wool. I doubt, however, whether, when the noble Earl is in possession of these figures, although they will be a source of interest to him, he will be able to draw any definite conclusions from them.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Return ordered accordingly.