§ MR. MONK
rose to call attention to the new Commercial Tariff promulgated by the French Government on the 8th day of May. He made no apology in taking the earliest opportunity of bringing the question before the House, and he could not imagine a more legitimate subject for discussion before going into 120 Supply, as it was a matter which intimately concerned the great commercial interests of the country. It might be objected that a Commission was sitting at the Foreign Office to consider the question of renewing the Treaty, and it was popularly supposed that this Commission was already engaged in negotiations on the subject; but certainly 24 hours ago the bases of a Treaty had not been agreed upon by the French Government, and negotiations were confined to the preliminary inquiries necessary before the negotiations for the Treaty could be commenced. Therefore this was the best time for ascertaining the views of the Government on this subject, and what were the demands and necessities of the great manufacturing communities of this country. It was unfortunate that so much uncertainty should exist with regard to the views and intentions of the French Government. They thought they knew what those intentions were last year, when M. Léon Say, then the Representative of the French Government at the Court of St. James's, proposed certain bases for negotiations, that were, on the whole, well received in this country. If the negotiations now being commenced could be conducted on those bases, nothing could be more satisfactory to our commercial community. He begged to remind the House that the Government of this country had not complained of existing Treaties, though he must admit that the Yorkshire and other manufacturers had on various occasions demanded a further progress towards Free Trade than it seemed possible under the existing Treaties. Nor did such a concession on the part of France seem improbable; for, when M. Léon Say made proposals last year for a renewal of the Treaties of Commerce with certain modifications, one of the bases of his proposals was "the development of commercial relations by a further reduction of Custom duties." But it was not too much to say that at the time when the debates were going on in the French Chambers with regard to the new Commercial Tariff, various sinister rumours prevailed as to the intentions of the French Government, and nothing which had occurred during the last 20 years had done so much to disturb the feelings which happily existed between England and France as the promulgation of that new 121 Tariff. The new Tariff was not based on those principles which were approved by the French Government through the mouth of M. Léon Say last year, and it was at variance with the principles of the Cobden Treaty, which was concluded in 1860. Not only had the mode of levying the duties been altered, but in many cases there had been a great increase in the duties themselves. He believed that no hint of the coming reaction had been given to the British Foreign Office. It was at first a matter of congratulation to us that so ardent a Free Trader as M. Tirard had been appointed Minister of Commerce, and that M. Challemel-Lacour, another disciple of Mr. Cobden, had been sent as Ambassador to this country. What, then, were the changes which were to come into operation, when the Treaties of 1860, 1873, and 1874 expired? The ad valorem duties had been converted into specific duties. That was a change which would be very injurious to commerce generally, and especially to the commerce of this country. He did not know that they had any right, perhaps, to raise any strong objections to that change if this country was not in other respects to be prejudiced by it. If duties by weight could be assimilated to those charged according to value, he did not think the country would have any reason to complain; but he was afraid that if they looked a little into the new Tariff they would find that this change had a seriously prejudicial effect—that not less that 50, 100, and even, in some cases, 250 per cent increase had been placed on articles of British manufacture. Naturally, the surprise felt in this country was very great at the promulgation of the new Tariff, so soon as our Chambers of Commerce had had time to examine it, and had found how greatly the interests of this country were prejudiced. What did they find? Not only had the ad valorem duties been converted into specific duties which pressed on the inferior description of goods, upon woollen fabrics and carpets, and upon most of the Yorkshire industries, but the rich were benefited at the expense of the poor, inasmuch as a higher duty relatively was charged upon inferior and heavier articles than upon the lighter and more costly fabrics. The French Legislature had largely increased the duties upon some classes of goods; upon some of the 122 classes of linen yarns to the extent of 50 to 100 per cent; upon some woollen yarns 90 percent; upon unbleached linens from 24 to 50 per cent; upon silk tissues 24 per cent; and on cotton tissues, with regard to the lighter fabrics, 100 per cent; while the duty upon iron and steel had been so largely increased as to make it almost impossible for this country under the new Tariff to export them. The duties of 2f. per 100 kilos, upon pig iron and of 6f. per 100 kilos, on iron and steel rails were almost, if not quite, prohibitive. The duty also upon scented soap had been doubled, and upon starch it had been almost quadrupled. He had quoted enough to show that a considerable increase had been made. It was true that in same few instances the duty had been diminished, while in others it had remained unchanged; but those were details for the consideration of the Commission now sitting at the Foreign Office. The general character of the new Tariff to which he wished to call the attention of the House he thought, it must be admitted, was scarcely such as they had reason to expect from the friendly assurances they had received from the late and the present French Ambassadors. He saw no reason to complain of the manner in which the Government had hitherto acted. The letter written by Lord Granville to M. Challemel-Lacour on the 10th of May last suggested the very least that the country had a right to expect—namely, that the status quo would be continued. He had received many communications, and he knew that the Foreign Office had received many communications, from the Chambers of Commerce in Yorkshire and other parts of the country, expressing an earnest hope that the Government would not be satisfied with the status quo, that it would demand some progress in the direction of Free Trade, and that this country should not be placed in a worse position than it had hitherto been in under the existing Treaties. His hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs might say that the Chambers of Commerce in this country were not quite agreed as to what the Government ought to demand; but, at all events, his hon. Friend would not deny that the Government had a right to demand and insist upon what Lord Granville asked for—namely, information as to the intentions of the French Go- 123 vernment, and an early reply to the inquiry as to how far they intended to meet us, or whether they intended to meet us at all or not. Some of the Chambers of Commerce had memorialized the Government in favour of a further advance in the direction of Free Trade, having based their expectations of such an advance on the declarations of the French Ambassador a year ago. Others had raised objections to the negotiation of any Treaty that did not go far beyond that negotiated by Mr. Cobden; while others had suggested that future Treaties should be determinable after 12 months' notice at the option of either party. The Government, however, had declined to act upon that latter suggestion, on the very intelligible ground that its effect would be to keep trade in a constant state of uncertainty. Still, the feeling existed that there might, perhaps, be no advance on Mr. Cobden's Treaty, and that after 20 years it was not unreasonable to desire something more favourable to our own interests. For his part, he desired nothing better than a Treaty negotiated upon the basis of that proposed by M. Léon Say last year; but he feared that the French Government had not arrived at any such basis—in fact, he should be surprised to hear that they had arrived at any basis whatever—as he feared that the coming elections in France had had something to do with the reactionary character of the new Tariff. Although there were some Free Traders in the French Ministry, he feared their constituents were not. France was not yet alive to the advantages it would derive from Free Trade; and, in consequence of the step taken by France, doubts had been raised in this country from quarters where one would least have expected them as to the advantage of Free Trade. Considering all the circumstances under which the new Treaty was being negotiated, he would suggest that the Government, in order to avoid some of their difficulties, should urge upon the French Government a renewal of the existing Treaty for another 12 months, so as to secure ample time for dealing with the question. He was aware that the Government had already taken steps to ascertain the wishes and the necessities of the various commercial interests. But in a matter of this kind, where there were some 600 articles to be examined, it was impossible that that could 124 be done satisfactorily in a few days or a few weeks. Therefore, though the French Government had refused to renew the Treaties for a limited time, he thought that, under the circumstances, our Government had a right to demand that that course should be adopted, as he felt sure it was one which would be generally acceptable to the country. It was almost impossible to ascertain exactly what the equivalent in specific duties would be to the existing ad valorem duties; but in every case where the duties were imposed under the specific system they must press more heavily upon the cheaper articles, and make their exportation to France absolutely prohibitory. Whatever might be the intention of France, this country could afford to wait. If France were anxious to conclude a Treaty with this country before entering into negotiations with other countries, that was her affair; it did not rest with us to complain. But we should complain if France was not ready and willing to meet what we considered to be our just demands. He begged to move—That this House views with regret the reactionary character of the New French General Tariff, and is of opinion that no Commercial Treaty between Great Britain and France will be satisfactory which does not tend to the development of Commercial relations between the two Countries by a further reduction of duties.Those were almost the identical words used in the letter of Lord Granville to the French Ambassador on the 10th of May. He did not think there was a Member of the House who would object to the terms of the Resolution; and it was one which he recommended heartily to the acceptance of the House and of his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
§ MR. SERJEANT SIMON
, in seconding the Resolution, said, that the subject with which it dealt was of great concern to that part of the country with which he was connected. When the late Government was in Office he attended a large deputation on the question. It was then said that what the French Government demanded was some revision of the Wine Duties, and that if we admitted French wines at lower duties a satisfactory arrangement would be assured. Matters, however, had taken a different turn; but even at the time 125 of which he spoke the deputation to which he referred pointed out to Lord Derby the fatal effect the change from an ad valorem duty to a specific duty would have upon the trade, of certain portions of Yorkshire. They had had also deputations to the present Government. He attended one representing 11 Chambers of Commerce from Yorkshire, and the whole subject was gone into in detail. The staple manufacture of the district he represented was heavy woollens, and a large and important portion of that trade was the class of goods called "shoddy," and which was more particularly identified with the borough he represented. This class of goods was of a low description, and could bear only a small profit. The effect of imposing a specific duty upon this class of goods would be to annihilate the trade altogether. Miles upon miles of villages and towns were engaged in the heavy woollen manufacture, including these particular goods, and it supported a population of hundreds of thousands. In fact, from the time you crossed the border from Lancashire into Yorkshire until you got to Leeds, you travelled through a succession of villages and towns and townships all engaged, more or less, in that manufacture. The deputation placed these facts before the Minister, and showed in detail how fatal the new Tariff would be to the trade of the district. Things had come to such a pass that he had heard it stated in his own district that the manufacturers would rather have no Treaty at all than the Treaty now proposed. In fact, he was sorry to say that a strong feeling was growing up in favour of what was called Reciprocity. With that view he did not agree; but nothing had tended to stimulate the feeling so much as the new Tariff proposed by France. It had disappointed them all. It had been supposed that the Treaty of 1860 would develop the principles of Free Trade; but they found the Trench, under a free and Constitutional Government, receding from that position, and going back to the old Protectionist policy. Under these circumstances, he hoped that the Government would never agree to a Treaty which would seriously affect, if not destroy, the industries of a very considerable portion of the country by changing the ad valorem for specific duties.
§ Amendment proposed,
§ To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House views with regret the reactionary character of the New French General Tariff, and is of opinion that no Commercial Treaty between Great Britain and France will he satisfactory which does not tend to the development of Commercial relations between the two Countries by a further reduction of duties."—(Mr. Monk,)
§ —instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
I must congratulate my hon. Friend (Mr Monk) upon the tone and temper in which he has brought forward the subject, representing, as he does, the commercial bodies through the United Chambers of Commerce, with which he is associated at present, and representing, therefore, gentlemen who are not all agreed among themselves, and many of whom have used very strong language indeed with reference to the Treaty. If it is the intention of the Government to vote for going into Supply, and not to support the Amendment, it is not to be understood that they do not almost entirely agree in the terms of the Amendment. I cannot but think that it would hardly be a dignified position for the House, at a moment when negotiations in which two of its Members are taking an active part, to pass a Resolution dealing with the subject of the negotiations; therefore I would ask the House not to pass the Amendment of my hon. Friend. My hon. Friend had said he could not believe that we are actually in negotiations, and that we are rather dealing with the preliminary questions. That is not the case. We are actually engaged in negotiations, but on a basis which is not in the possession of the House, and which cannot be put in the possession of the House at present. The basis of the present negotiations is a draft Conventional Tariff which has only been confidentially communicated to us by the French Government; and that being so, we cannot place the House in possession of the latest form of the proposal of the French Government. We have already in the sittings of the Commission dealt, not finally but in much detail, with the subjects of iron 127 and steel, chemicals, pottery, and also certain articles, such as varnish, perfumery, salt fish, and a large number of miscellaneous items. My hon. Friend assumes, and my hon. and learned Friend who seconded the Amendment also assumes, that the House is already in possession of the basis upon which the negotiations are taking place. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dewsbury spoke of a Treaty such as that -which is now proposed; but I repeat that the House cannot yet be put in possession of the communications or of the Treaty which it will be for us ultimately either to accept or reject. My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester has spoken as if we were face to face with a proposal of reverting to the status quo, which would give us a worse state of things than now exists. One of the great difficulties of the matter in which we are engaged is, that while the proposals before us are worse upon a large number of items, they are better also on a large number of items than the actual status quo; and it will be our duty to carefully consider which are the articles on which British trade will chiefly lose, and which are the items on which it would be to our advantage that we should sign a Treaty or not. It cannot be assumed that the proposals of the French Government are formal proposals for making the state of things worse than they are at the present time. My hon. Friend assured me that the duties on iron and steel will be increased. That is not the case, upon the facts in possession of the House. Taking iron and steel as one whole class, there is a considerable reduction of duties proposed, although it is quite true that owing to the lowering of the price of iron and steel since the Treaty of 1860, which was thoroughly carried out in 1864, the effect of the duties now proposed will not be so favourable to British trade as the effect of the duties of 1864 at the time when they came into operation. The price of steel has so greatly fallen since 1864 that a very considerable reduction of duties will be far from being an improvement upon the state of things which existed in 1864; but as compared with that which existed at this moment it would be a very considerable improvement indeed. I understood my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Serjeant Simon) to denounce 128 the change from ad valorem to specific duties. [Mr. Serjeant SIMON: On woollen, goods.] My hon. and learned Friend is quite right in making a strong protest on behalf of the woollen goods in the district which he represents. There is no doubt that that important manufacture, "shoddy," or, as the French call it, renaissance, is very heavily hit by almost any conceivable change from ad valorem to specific duties. It is so cheap that it is difficult to adopt classification at a rate which will admit the cheapest of these articles on any fair terms; but it seems to me there is a general strong case to be made out on the side of those nations which are adopting specific instead of ad valorem duties, and that is the prevalence of fraud under the ad valorem system. There is no doubt that the question of fraud has been greatly exaggerated. Statements are put forward by foreign Governments which are not borne out by the facts; but no one is prepared to deny that there is a good deal of fraud, and great difficulty has been experienced by this country in suggesting means of preventing fraud, which would be consistent with the retention of ad valorem duties. Therefore it is that we have asked all interests in this country who would be affected by a change from ad valorem duties to specific to try and see whether it is not possible to adopt a classification of goods, rates, and duties by which trade might continue to exist, and allow trade to be done in these cheap goods of which the bulk of the trade of this country now consists. It is, perhaps, to be regretted that we should be so greatly excluded as we have during recent years from the trade in the dearer articles; but we must bear in mind that the trade for some time has been in those cheaper goods, and it is on these cheaper articles that the specific duties will press most heavily, and it is to our interest to look around and see if we cannot get a scheme by which the trade in these cheaper goods will exist. I admit that if there is such a classification as to exclude our goods, it would be the duty of the Government of this country not to conclude Treaties which would practically extinguish the existence of certain trades. Therefore, I must ask my hon. Friend and those who think with him to trust Her Majesty's Government, and to believe that we are thoroughly aware of 129 the importance to this country of the trade in cheap goods, and that we shall insist on the trade in these goods continuing. I may point out that when my hon. Friend talks about the enormous increase of duties under the new French Tariff he is guilty of some slight exaggeration. For instance, with regard to linens, he spoke of 80 or 100 percent increase; but, on an average, the increase would not be more than 32 or 33 per cent.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
When my hon. Friend spoke of an increase of 250 per cent he was not speaking of linens. There is no doubt that in any adoption of specific instead of ad valorem duties you must have a considerable increase. What we have to look to is that the duty shall be a real average duty, and not a pretence. Although there must be an increase of duty on some goods—and it is exactly on that point that we have received enormous assistance from visits to London of those who are in a position to know the facts—we are unable at the present moment to state what are the intentions of the French Government. My hon. Friend said it was necessary we should know their intentions: but that is exactly what we are engaged in finding out. At the present moment we know their intentions upon the Tariff on iron and steel, and with regard to the chemical trade; but we do not yet know their intentions with regard to the most important trades of this country, the textile trades—linen, cotton, and wool. I can assure my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dewsbury that there is no subject which will be more carefully handled than that of the woollen trade, which he represents. Probably the strongest case in this country as against both the new French Tariff, and as against the draft Conventional Tariff, lies in the woollen industry; and it is upon that head probably, much as we shall have to say with regard to linen and cotton, that we shall found our strongest case. I have only to say one word with regard to the prolongation of the Treaty. Of course, it is necessary that we should have plenty of time for our negotiations, and that we should 130 hear the deputations of various trades; but, at the same time, we have not yet found ourselves actually driven into a corner. We have been enabled to keep pace with the discussions of the French Commissioners in the argument of our own case. We have found ourselves able to satisfy the Commissioners on the general discussion, and also in another portion of the day to meet the English manufacturers and to hear their views on the points which we are discussing. Up to the present time we have not got a stronger case for prolongation than that which we had when we made the demand which the French Government refused. But I can assure my hon. Friend that as the time goes on, if the strength of our case should increase and the negotiations continue, there is a chance of a Treaty being signed. Then, undoubtedly, we would feel it our duty to ask for a prolongation. I can assure my hon. Friend that the facts he has brought before the House will be borne in mind.
§ MR. BOURKE
said, it was clear from what had fallen from the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that they could hardly be in a position to carry the question to a division, although he must say he did not think the Government or the country would lose anything by adopting the Resolution of the hon. Member for Gloucester. It was a Resolution they could agree with generally, and the Government themselves were not really opposed to it. It was quite clear that until they knew what was the Tariff proposed by the French Government, it was impossible to form an opinion upon the Treaty. He warned the Government as to changing the present system of ad valorem duties. He was not at all surprised at the House and the country being disappointed at the course events had taken; because they were last year led to suppose that great changes for the better in the Wine Duty and other things were about to take place, and the commercial relations between France and England were to be ameliorated. The House would remember the Questions he asked at the time, and that he had no great faith in the prospects held out to the country. He hoped, however, that the Tariff would be one which the House could adopt. It was said that no Treaty would be de- 131 sirable unless it were very favourable. Gentlemen throughout the country who made that remark did not, lie thought, follow all its consequences. In the commercial position that this country was in, half a loaf was better than no bread; and nothing would be more unfortunate to the commerce of this country than to be thrown back upon the general Tariff of the French Commission.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, he thought that the remarks of the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs afforded, at all events, some gleam of hope to the House. They pointed to the possibility of a better state of things occurring with regard to the Commercial Treaty than they had had reason lately to fear. The issues were of far greater magnitude than those which, were involved in mere trade considerations between this country and France, though he was the last person to underrate the importance of the commercial relations between the two countries. He was convinced that unless the Government could put before the House a Treaty which would, on the whole, satisfy the great manufacturing industries of the country, and not least, the woollen industry, in which both agriculturists and manufacturers were deeply and immediately interested, a great controversy would arise on our general commercial policy. If the Treaty were carried out as at present suggested, there would be a powerful feeling though-out this country that our commercial policy had been based on a mistake. What had that policy been? We had taken into consideration nothing but our own Revenue. We had so simplified our system of taxation that our whole Revenue came from one or two sources. We had nothing to offer to foreign countries in exchange for Commercial Treaties. It would be difficult to contend that we had anything to offer to the French Government to induce them to make arrangements favourable to our trade. If Her Majesty's Government, in consequence of this state of things, could not bring their negotiations to a successful issue, undoubtedly a feeling would arise in this country that Free Trade was a mistake, He did not believe that Free Trade, properly understood, was a mistake; but he wished to point out that retaliatory Duties, whether good or bad, were not inconsistent with Free Trade if they induced foreign countries to adopt Free 132 Trade principles. There was a meaning of the term "reciprocity" which was not inconsistent with Free Trade. He did not say they ought to adopt reciprocity. He knew there were grave objections to it, and there was a fear lest any Government who should wish to adopt that policy would not be able to resist pressure in favour of Duties not purely retaliatory, but protective. He foresaw the possibility of grave difficulties in the future; but he trusted that these would be prevented by the ratification of a Commercial Treaty with France, which would be for the benefit of the commerce of both countries.
§ MR. SLAGG
said, he would not follow the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. A. J. Balfour) in his arguments on the question of reciprocity. The theory of reciprocity would not receive acceptance from any Government in this country. He could not for a moment deny that the indignation of the people at the treatment they received from foreign countries might press them into the unreasonable course of urging the Government to recur to retaliatory Duties; but that the course would ever be adopted by responsible economists in this year of grace 1881 he found it impossible to believe. He was glad to hear that the basis of the negotiations with the French Government was of a more favourable nature than that indicated in the proposed French Tariff. He hoped it was not only more favourable, but of a wholly different character from what had previously been set before the country, for it must be apparent to anyone who had the slightest knowledge of the matter that the original proposals were not only wholly unfit to form a basis of negotiations, but were deliberately designed to prohibit trade between the two countries so far as our exports were concerned. In regard to his own district, the proposals of the French Government were ingeniously designed to blot out every possibility of trade in connection with the textile industries. In the case of plain cotton goods, which already paid from 17 to 23 per cent, there was an addition proposed of 75 per cent; and in the case of print goods there was not only an addition proposed of about 150 per cent, but anew classification was introduced of a most difficult and complicated character, designed not I only to increase enormously the inci- 133 dence of the Duty, but calculated to produce Custom House difficulties of a very onerous description. He thought a great deal too much had been said by the French as to the question of frauds. He would not admit that the frauds which had taken place justified in the slightest degree a resort to the barbarous system of classification. It would be perfectly easy, by arrangements at the different centres of export, to prevent any possibility of fraud under the ad valorem system. He was very sorry indeed to find, after 20 years' experience of the benefits of a modified application of Free Trade principles, the French in their present attitude. It was to be deplored that a country which had made such marked progress in many other respects was not only stationary, but to some extent even back-sliding, on economical matters. Those gentleman who had been sent over to this country as French Commissioners, and who were supposed, in theory at least, to be charged with the mission of extending the commercial relations between the two countries, were themselves the framers of this barbarous and protective Tariff. What could they hope from gentlemen who had exercised all their ingenuity to cancel the possibility of exports from this country? What could they hope from them, as negotiators of a new Treaty, to extend our commerce? He agreed that if it were possible to delay the negotiations till the new French Chamber was elected, they would have a much better chance of obtaining a good Treaty; and it seemed eventually that the Treaty would have to be submitted and approved by the new Chamber. His standpoint was that no protection was needed by the French, for the time had really arrived when we should have perfectly free exports from this country to France. He was convinced that in regard to all the industries in which France stood in a position of rivalry with this country, the French manufacturers were nearly abreast of us; and when it was proposed to put a large increase of duty, on fine yarns, for instance, he had to point out that the French were already quite our equals in that industry, French yarns of best quality being at this moment sold in the Nottingham market in competition with English produce. Then, with regard to the protective duty on plate glass, he noted 134 that the French manufacturers of that article were largely exporting it to England, and under-selling us, not only in foreign markets, but in our own English markets. He did not think we should attempt either to beg of, to cajole, or to threaten the French Government. If the French had not learned the value of Free Trade principles, even in a modified form, he was afraid no Treaty would teach them. We must ask not only for a reduction, but a very substantial reduction, of the present Tariff duties; and if we failed to obtain that, the Government had only one course to pursue—namely, to throw up the Treaty altogether, leaving the French to learn by bitter experience the value of what they would thus lose. He should be very sorry indeed to see a large portion of our trade swept away; but rather than make a sham Treaty, imposing duties which were wholly unnecessary in the present situation, he would abandon the Treaty system altogether. He would let principle take the place of expediency; and leave the French to find out, as they assuredly would, not only the value of our trade to them, but the enormous and far greater value of their trade in exports to us.
§ MR. ECROYD
said, he wished to express the very strong feeling which he entertained in regard to the important question now under negotiation between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of France. He had always highly valued the influence of Commercial Treaties in promoting good feeling between nations; and whatever might be the result of the present negotiations, they must look back with extreme satisfaction upon the results of the friendly intercourse between this country and France, which had followed the Treaty negotiated by Mr. Cobden. But Commercial Treaties could only conduce to mutual good feeling between nations when they resulted in a disposition to continue to progress in the way of increasing the interchange of productions; and if at the end of 20 years' experience the state of things in France was such that there was not a disposition to value an increased interchange of productions with England, then one of the great objects of Commercial Treaties had in that case failed, and he should be indisposed to attach much value to the negotiation of a new Treaty under such 135 circumstances. But progress in friendly relations and towards the enlargement of the area of Free Trade were great things in the granting of Commercial Treaties; and he was not without hope that they might yet, by the exertions of Her Majesty's Government, be attained in the present instance. But it must be remembered that if such Treaties were only accepted by France, or any other nation, as encouraging their Protectionist course of action by freeing them for a term of years from retaliatory duties, they were distinctly doing harm, and retarding the progress of Free Trade in the world. He therefore hoped that, rather than negotiate a Treaty with that country which might have the effect either of narrowing the trade of the exports of English manufactures to France, or of manifesting to the world the fact that the Commercial Treaty negotiated 20 years ago had failed to produce a disposition to go further, the Government would withdraw from the negotiations, and leave manufacturers to transact their business with France as best they might without a new Treaty. In the meantime, he had the best reasons for believing that very large numbers of those engaged in the chief centres of our manufacturing industries were looking with great alarm upon the continual contraction of the markets for their manufactures; and the contraction was at present of a two-fold character, arising from our recent course of commercial policy. In the first place, the area of our foreign trade was being constantly contracted, not only by the increased pressure of Tariffs, which imposed heavier burdens on our goods, but also by the results of those Tariffs in producing that which in many cases they were intended to produce—the establishment of an increasing capacity to manufacture in those Protectionist countries. In consequence, our home trade was being greatly restricted by the successful and increasing competition of foreign countries, and notably by the United States in respect to agriculture. Vast sums of money, which in former times were paid by the industrial masses of this country to the agricultural populations of Great Britain and Ireland, and which came back again through the shopkeepers and tradesmen in the form of increased home trade, were now increasingly paid to foreign nations, who 136 would not take back our goods in exchange. He believed that unless a very efficient remedy could be found for this condition of things, it would in the long run produce a large amount of discontent, which might lead our industrial population to demand distinctly protective measures—measures, perhaps, of a highly and rashly injurious character. He therefore entertained a strong hope that the result of the negotiations between the Governments of England and France would be to give a ray of encouragement to our manufacturing population, and to inspire a hope that Free Trade might yet grow on its present lines, and that the French would, in some form or other, consent to give us a Treaty which would manifestly be a progressive step towards increasing trade with England.
§ MR. ILLINGWORTH
said, the question was whether we were to abandon a Treaty in order to bring foreign Governments into better commercial relations with our own. As the Representative of a large industrial community, he supported the views which had been put before the House by the hon. Member for Manchester and the hon. and learned Member for Dewsbury. He did not think it would be to the interests of Free Trade either in France or in England that England should accept a Treaty with France which was at all retrograde in its character. It was, no doubt, true, as the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had urged, that manufacturers must not fix their attention on a few articles, but must look at the general range of the Treaty; and, speaking generally, he believed that the simplest course for the Government would be to say to France that if the terms on which the Treaty was to be negotiated were not substantially as good as the present conditions they would prefer that no Treaty should be entered into. The difficulty with regard to these high foreign Tariffs was not that the people on the Continent or of America were enamoured of the principles of Protection. It was their financial necessities which obliged their Governments to get money in the most objectionable and unscientific fashion they could indulge in. ["No, no!"] He would ask hon. Members who seemed to dissent how it was that of late years those foreign Tariffs had been so much raised? At 137 one time they had a comparatively moderate Tariff with the United States. It was in a great and disastrous war that America found herself under the necessity of obtaining money to carry on that war. And it was obvious that there was no way of raising the taxes which could so easily delude the people and be so easily adopted as by a system of increasing Customs rates. That was true also of Germany and France. It was no doubt the war system all over the world which caused nations to fly to high Tariffs. France and Germany had a much heavier Debt now than before the Franco-German War, and the Protectionists of those countries had taken advantage of it, and played upon the ignorance of the people and brought pressure on the Governments in order that the Duties might be raised whereby it was supposed their own special and sectional interests were benefited. He confessed he despaired of reaching Free Frade through a system of Treaties; and, further, that he was afraid our working classes must be told that it was impossible for them to escape from their share of practical sympathy with the sufferings of other nations. He believed that Providence designed it that distress in one part of the world was not to be escaped by other parts, so long as the war system was kept up. He still believed that Free Trade principles would progress. But when the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Slagg) and others urged that it was to be regretted that France had not made more progress in enlightenment of views on the Free Trade system, they must not forget the circumstances under which the original Treaty was carried. It was, on the part of France, more the mind of an individual than the mind of the people that was embodied in the Treaty. The late Emperor of the French was looking to dynastic as well as to commercial reasons, and therefore he was easily induced to enter into friendly relations with this country. It was not to be wondered at that we found the French in their present mood. It could not be forgotten that there were bad harvests in France as well as in this country, and that France had been importing food while the farmers at the present moment were suffering from competition with America and low prices. The difference between France and England was that we were the only 138 country that normally was under the necessity of importing a very large share of the food of the people. We required annually one-third or one-half of the food of the country from foreign sources. That was not the case in America, nor was it the case in France or Germany, except on the occurrence of bad harvests. He was afraid it would be assumed that as he belonged to the commercial classes he had not a very strong sympathy with the agricultural interests of this country. On the contrary, he was most anxious that the land of this country should grow more of the food of the population. That was the first and only weapon by which they could fight foreign countries, and make progress towards universal Free Trade; and he hoped that this Parliment would not separate without giving relief to the agricultural interest in the following direction. He wished to see such a change in the system of land-owning and land-holding in this country as would give the farmer some chance in competition with America. Reference had been made to the decline in the worsted manufactures in this country, and it had been urged that they must look to retaliation as a means of recovering the lost position. But it should be understood that the cause of the decline was that there had been such a change in fashion as had not been known for half a century; and he should be sorry, therefore, if the working classes were led to look to remedies which would be altogether ineffectual and misleading. They could not enter upon a policy of Protection without adopting it all round, and he admitted that the agricultural interest could present the strongest case for it. What they had to do was to set an example of peace and fair dealing in the world, and then urge that policy upon their neighbours. In conclusion, he hoped the Government would not unduly concern itself at the possibility of the miscarriage of the negotiations, for good would probably come out of the abandonment of the Treaty.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, that although representing the agricultural interest, he had the strongest sympathy with those to whom this Motion related, and he would therefore give it his support. The hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. Illingworth) said that the remedy for agricultural distress must be found in greater production, and he stated that 139 we imported from one-third to one-half of the whole of the food that we consumed. Why was this? Was the hon. Member not aware that, under the stress of foreign competition, within a comparatively small number of years 1,000,000 of acres of land in England had ceased to grow wheat which used to grow it before? And under the system of Protection France continued to grow at present the same quantity that it had grown in former years. He (Mr. Chaplin) was in favour of Free Trade, and not of the sham trade which now existed. He was not, however, going into the question of Protection and Free Trade; but he might point out that some of the greatest admirers of Free Trade, including the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, had stated that the number of bad harvests was one of the chief causes why trade was so bad in England at the present time. The value of a harvest, however, depended not altogether on the bulk of the corn that was grown, but on the price it realized. It would be impossible for us to compete with America, even if the land in this country was held rent-free. He was sorry to hear that the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs could not accept the Motion of the hon. Member for Gloucester, because he agreed with his right hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bourke) that it appeared to be one which both the Government and the House might accept without any difficulty. It contained nothing objectionable, but it reflected the growing feeling of the country in many districts. A distinct expression of opinion on the part of the House of Commons might have a favourable effect on the conduct of the French Government, and would also tend to strengthen the hands of Her Majesty's Government in the dealings in which they were engaged.
MR. MAC IVER
said, he believed in the general desirability of Free Trade if it could be obtained; but the present system was not Free Trade. He asked the House whether the system of receiving foreign produce free of duty, while our manufactures were taxed in foreign lands, was not unjust? By that system we were protecting foreign manufactures to the injury of our own. The reason we could not get from France what was apparently expected by some Members of the House was because the 140 French people were not the fools some of our political economists seemed to think they were. Hon. Members opposite claimed a superior wisdom, and thought that they were the sole repositories of sound principles of political economy, and that all who differed from them were lunatics. He would remind the House that no country in the world was making such rapid strides as America, which was a country that understood its own interests, and where the people were certainly not lunatics, although they happened to hold views in regard to political economy which were not those of hon. Members opposite.
§ MR. MONK
said, the discussion had been of so satisfactory a nature that he would appeal to the House to allow him to withdraw the Motion. ["No!"] He believed it represented the feelings of hon. Members on both sides of the House, and he could hardly doubt that it would be accepted without a division if the House were unwilling to allow it to be withdrawn.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 49; Noes 77: Majority 28.141
|Ashley, hon. E. M.||James, Sir H.|
|Balfour, Sir G.||Johnson, W. M.|
|Bass, H.||Law, rt. hon. H.|
|Brassey, H. A.||Leatham, W. H.|
|Brinton, J.||Lefevre, right hon. G. J. S.|
|Causton, R. K.|
|Cavendish, Lord F. C.||Lloyd, M.|
|Chamberlain, rt. hn. J.||M'Intyre, Æneas J.|
|Childers,rt.hn.H.C.E.||M'Minnies, J. G.|
|Chitty, J. W.||Martin, R. B.|
|Cohen, A.||Matheson, A.|
|Collings, J.||Morley, A.|
|Colthurst, Col. D. la T.||O'Shea, W. H.|
|Cotes, C. C.||Paget, T. T.|
|Davey, H.||Playfair, rt. hon. L.|
|Dilke, Sir C. W.||Roberts, J.|
|Dodson, rt. hon. J. G.||Shield, H.|
|Edwards, H.||Vivian, A. P.|
|Edwards, P.||Waugh, E.|
|Farquharson, Dr. R.||Whitbread, S.|
|Findlater, W.||Willis, W.|
|Fitzmaurice, Lord E.||Wilson, Sir M.|
|Gladstone, rt. hn. W. E.||Wodehouse, E. R.|
|Harcourt, rt. hon. Sir W. G. V. V.|
|Hayter, Sir A. D.||Grosvenor, Lord R.|
|Herschell, Sir F.||Kensington, Lord|
|Hopwood, C. H.|
|Alexander, Colonel||Balfour, A. J.|
|Amherst, W. A. T.||Barran, J.|
|Anderson, G.||Beach, W. W. B.|
|Bentinck, rt. hn. G. C.||Leighton, Sir B.|
|Biggar, J. G.||Mac Iver, D.|
|Birkbeck, E.||Mackintosh, C. F.|
|Blackburne, Col. J. I.||M'Laren, C. B. B.|
|Bourke, right hon. R.||Moore, A.|
|Briggs, W. E.||Noel, E.|
|Broadhurst, H.||Noel, rt. hon. G. J.|
|Brodrick, hon. W. St. J. F.||Norwood, C. M.|
|Cameron, C.||Patrick, R. W. C.|
|Campbell, J. A.||Peddie, J. D.|
|Cecil, Lord E. H. B. G.||Power, J. O' C.|
|Chaplin, H.||Pugh, L. P.|
|Churchill, Lord R.||Ross, C. C.|
|Coope, O. E.||Rothschild.SirN.M. de|
|Crichton, Viscount||Round, J.|
|Cross, J. K.||Rylands, P.|
|Cross, rt. hon. Sir R. A.||Sclater-Booth,rt.hn.G.|
|Crum, A.||Scott, M. D.|
|Dalrymple, C.||Sinclair, Sir J. G. T.|
|De Worms, Baron H.||Slagg, J.|
|Dixon-Hartland, F. D.||Stanhope, hon. E.|
|Eaton, H. W.||Stanley, hon. E. L.|
|Ecroyd, W. F.||Taylor, rt.hn. Col. T.E.|
|Fletcher, Sir H.||Tennant, C.|
|Folkestone, Viscount||Tillett, J. H.|
|Fort, E.||Tottenham, A. L.|
|Fremantle, hon. T. F.||Williams, B. T.|
|Gorst, J. E.||Williams, S. C. E.|
|Halsey, T. F.||Wills, W. H.|
|Hamilton, Lord C. J.||Wilmot, Sir J. E.|
|Heneage, E.||Wolff, Sir H. D.|
|Illingworth, A.||Wortley, C. B. Stuart-|
|James, W. H.||Wyndham, hon. P.|
|Lawson, Sir W.||TELLERS.|
|Lee, H.||Monk, C. J.|
|Legh, W. J.||Simon, Serjeant J.|
Bill read a second time, and committed for Thursday next.
§ Words added.
Main Question, as amended, put.
Resolved, That this House views with regret the reactionary character of the New French General Tariff, and is of opinion that no Commercial Treaty between Great Britain and France will be satisfactory which, does not tend to the development of Commercial relations between the two Countries by a further reduction of duties.