§ *THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they will lay on the Table a Return of the imports and exports, of the United Kingdom for the years 1903, 1904, and 1905, which are referred to in His Majesty's gracious Speech as showing a steady and accelerating increase, and any information showing the growing activity of trade at home and the sound and progressive condition of the industries of the country." His Grace said: My Lords, the Questions I have placed on the Paper, which, as your Lordships will have observed, relate to a paragraph in His Majesty's 457 Speech from the Throne, might perhaps more properly have been put in the course of the debate on the Address. But as I desired to make a few observations on the subject to which they refer, and as the discussion on the Address was entirely concerned with other matters, and as the state of the House after the Leaders had addressed it did not appear to indicate any desire on the part of your Lordships to enter upon a new subject of discussion, I thought that perhaps a more convenient course would be to postpone putting these Questions to another, but early, occasion.
I may be told, and very properly told, that the information which I ask His Majesty's Government to give is already, to a very great extent, accessible to Members of this House. No doubt that is perfectly true, if all of us know exactly where to look for it. I quite admit that a good part of the information which I ask for on the subject of the Returns relating to our foreign trade are to be found in the publications of the Board of Trade, and most of us—at all events, those who pay much attention to the subject—are perfectly aware of the most salient points which are contained in those Returns. For instance, I suppose most of us are aware that the latest Returns of the Board of Trade show an increase in the imports of 1905 of £14,000,000 over those of 1904 and of £22,000,000 over those of 1903, while the exports of the year 1905 show an increase of £36,000,000 over those of 3904 and of £49,000,000 over those of 1903. No doubt these figures relating to our imports and exports perfectly justify the statement contained in the Speech from the Throne as showing "a steady and accelerating increase;" but I think it might be a great advantage if this, and perhaps some more detailed statement, could be laid on the Table of the House, arranged under the classification adopted by the Board of Trade, where the exports and imports are classified under the heads of food and drink, raw material, and manufactured goods.
I think it more than probable that the Board of Trade might be able to show us, in a perfectly simple and condensed form, the facts on which His Majesty's Government principally relied in advising the statement in the 458 Speech; but I am also under the impression that, although the figures and statistics relating to our foreign trade are tolerably accessible to most of us, those which relate to the further statement in the paragraph as to "the growing activity of trade at home" and the sound and progressive condition of the industries of the country are not so easily accessible. I think it is quite possible that His Majesty's Government may be able to give us some interesting and useful information relating to these subjects.
I am not in any hurry to obtain this information, and the more so because I observe that in another place Mr. Chamberlain has announced his intention of putting a series of Questions to the Government relating to these Returns for the purpose, as he stated, of analysing them more fully and seeing their real purport and effect. I think Mr. Chamberlain anticipates somewhat more from the analysis which he proposes to institute of these Returns than he is likely to obtain. Mr. Chamberlain hopes that these Returns will enable us to understand how it is that this apparent prosperity should be accompanied by a state of things in which one-third of the whole population are underfed and on the verge of hunger. I am quite aware that this statement has frequently been made; but I do not know upon what authority it rests, and I doubt very much whether it can be shown that 13,000,000, or one-third of the population, are actually in the condition which is described. At all events, I am certainly under the impression that if, as is no doubt the case, the material condition of a large proportion of the population is not by any means satisfactory, that is not a condition of things which is at all tending to be worse, but that, on the contrary, the condition of every portion of the population is better at the present time than it was a few or a large number of years since.
Mr. Chamberlain expects that he will be able to—Discover from this analysis if, as we believe and have never denied, wealth is continally accumulating, why men decay.Mr. Chamberlain has got first to prove that men are decaying in this country 459 under the fiscal system which now exists.If," he goes on, "more and more wealth is constantly accumulating, why is it the distribution appears to be so uneven?These questions, in my opinion, resolve themselves into one, and that is the question as to the unequal distribution of wealth in this country. I doubt very much whether any analysis, however perfect and complete, will afford an answer to this problem of the unequal distribution of wealth. That is a problem of the highest and greatest importance, and it is one of which, I have not a doubt, we shall in the course of this and succeeding sessions of Parliament hear a great deal. I have never supposed since the days of "Ransom" that Mr. Chamberlain would be in the least unwilling to enter into a discussion regarding the unequal distribution of wealth, and I think it is extremely probable that in the course of this and ensuing sessions he may find many opportunities of discussing this problem with some of the newly-returned Members of Parliament. But in all the discussions on this momentous subject which he may enter into with the Labour Members, I venture to express the opinion that he will find among the projects and plans which he will be called upon to discuss none containing a more Socialistic principle than that which is embodied in his own scheme, which, whether it can properly be described as a scheme of protection or not, is certainly a scheme under which the State is to undertake to regulate the course of commerce and of industry, and tell us where we are to buy, where we are to sell, what commodities we are to manufacture at home, and what we may continue, if we think right, to import from other countries.
I trust that His Majesty's Government will be willing to give the information which I have asked for; but I also hope that they will wait until they are able to receive assistance from Mr. Chamberlain's inquiries, which I have no doubt will tend greatly to elucidate and amplify the information for which I have asked. I am quite sure the objects which we have in view are the same—that our desire is that Parliament and the country should be placed in possession of the fullest and most complete information as to the present progressive state both of our 460 foreign commerce and of our home industries.
The paragraph in His Majesty's Speech to which I have referred contains something in the nature of a challenge. The statement which is made as to the progressive state of both our commerce and our industries is directly in contradiction of the numerous assertions which in recent years we have heard from Members of both this House and the other House, who have asserted with equal force the exact contrary proposition, and have told us that our commerce and our industries, if not declining, are alike in a stationary and unprogressive state. I did not understand from the speech of my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition that he had any intention of taking up this challenge. I make no complaint of that. I do not know whether it is the intention of Mr. Chamberlain in the other House, when he obtains the information for which he has asked, to take any steps to take up this challenge. But I observe that, speaking in the City the other day, Mr. Balfour complained of the waste of valuable Parliamentary time which would be involved in giving a day or days for the discussion of the policy on which for the last three years he has been, as he told us, leading his Party. There is, however, a Member of your Lordships' House who, holding the position of Chairman of the Tariff Reform League, has devoted a great deal of time and labour to the investigation of the condition of our industries. That Commission has not yet issued a final Report, but it has issued a number of preliminary and sectional Reports, which I do not profess fully to have studied, but which, so far as I can gather, lead to entirely opposite conclusions to those which are stated in the Speech from the Throne. I do not know whether it is his intention, when he is in possession of the information which is to be obtained by Mr. Chamberlain, to ask your Lordships to enter into a further examination of the question; but no doubt your Lordships will be very glad to have an opportunity of attempting to arrive at exact and accurate conclusons with regard to this most important question.
Now, I desire to address a few observations to your Lordships not on any 461 abstract aspect of this great and important question, but on the relation which it may have to the policy of the Unionist Party, which is so largely represented in your Lordships' House. My noble friend behind me referred the other day to the exceptional circumstances in which we find ourselves in this House. My noble friend did not speak in at all too strong terms of the great changes which have been brought about as a result of the late General Election. It is extremely probable that in this and subsequent sessions a great deal more public attention may be directed to the proceedings in your Lordships' House than has been the case in recent years.
During the last ten years the opinions on most political questions of the majority in both Houses have been in tolerably close agreement, and your Lordships have had little to do more than to give your assent to measures sent up from the other House, or to introduce comparatively unimportant Amendments in those measures. This position is now, as a result of the election, fundamentally altered. It cannot be denied that on most political questions the opinions of the majority of the House of Commons are not in harmony with, but are opposed to, the opinions held by the great majority of this House. That difference in the political opinions represented in the two Houses will no doubt, must no doubt, find its expression in the measures which will be sent to you from the other House of Parliament; and it will be for your Lordships and the leaders of this House to consider how far it may be wise, how far it may be prudent, how far it may be the duty of this House, to exercise its constitutional rights in relation to those measures. I feel perfectly confident that the advice which will be given to your Lordships' House will be wise and statesmanlike, and will be based to a very great extent on the wise and statesmanlike advice which on more than one occasion was given to this House by the late Lord Salisbury. But, in my opinion, a great deal depends, not only on the treatment of Bills that may come up from the other House, but on what may be the constructive policy adopted by the Unionist Party when at any future time it returns to power.
If, besides the differences that exist between us on the Irish question, on social 462 questions, on Church questions, on questions of Parliamentary reform, the Unionist Party is going to be pledged to a constructive policy of fiscal reform which, whether it be right or whether it be wrong, appears at all events at the present time to be in opposition to the strong opinion of the majority of the country, then in my opinion the Unionist Party, which, as I have said, is so largely represented in this House, will find itself in the worst possible position if it desires to exercise any influence whatever on legislation in Parliament. If, as is not impossible, the question of Home Rule should be revived during the existence of the present Parliament, or if, as is more likely, it should be revived in anticipation of the next General Election, if there are any measures dealing with social questions which, in your Lordships' opinion, require a more definite expression of the feeling of the country, if, as a consequence of possible disagreements between the two Houses of Parliament, the constitutional rights of this House are ever threatened, in my opinion you will find yourselves in the weakest position which you could occupy if the Unionist Party finds itself committed to a policy which either is a policy of protection or with any plausibility can be represented as a policy of protection.
If I may give an example of what I am trying to point out, I will give you the example of the Home Rule Bill of 1893. In that year your Lordships were able, almost without protest or murmur from the greater part of this country, to reject by an enormous majority a measure which had been passed by a majority in the other House. You were able to do that because you believed, and, as the event proved, rightly believed, that you were supported by the great body of public opinion in the country, but I ask you to consider whether you would have appealed with the same confidence to the opinion of the country if in 1893 your opposition to Home Rule had to be combined with the advocacy of a policy of constructive fiscal reform? If you really expect that the adoption of this policy is going to strengthen you in the country, if you think it is going to make you stronger, then no doubt you will be justified, not only in principle, but in policy, in persevering with that policy; but nobody can say that in the recent general election there appeared any probability of a sudden conversion on the part 463 of the country to a policy of fiscal reform. I do entreat your Lordships to consider very carefully whether you are justified in policy, however you may be in principle, in linking the cause of the Union or other causes which are dear to a majority in this House to the cause of another policy which, whether it be right or whether it be wrong, not one of your Lordships three years ago imagined for a moment was a I question of present practical politics.
There is still time for your Lordships to consider your position in regard to this question. Up to now, although some of us have complained of a toleration, not to say the complicity, of members of the late Government with the policy advocated by the Tariff Reform League, the Party itself, the Unionist Party itself, has, as a whole, never been committed to anything beyond the vague expression of a desire for retaliation as a means for negotiation, or to equally vague expressions of a desire for something that might bring about a closer fiscal union with our Colonies. I am not going to trouble your Lordships with quotations at any length; but we have had from my noble friend the late Leader of the House as declarations on this subject of a most categorical character which I should like to bring to your notice. In February, 1904, my noble friend said in the course of debate in this House—I say categorically we as a Government—and we cannot speak except as a Government—are opposed to a duty on raw material and food stuffs. Why is it we are told that our policy leads inevitably down an inclined plane to the Birmingham abyss? I say it does not and that on the contrary it is a self-contained policy, and it is quite within our power to stop short…. It is a self-contained policy, and I believe that instead of leading to Birmingham it leads, if anywhere, in an opposite direction.That is a categorical declaration made by the late Leader of the House on the subject of taxation of food; and as to a general tariff, in July last year my noble friend said—In no speech or statement made by the Prime Minister or a member of the Government will be found any proposal pointing in the direction of such a penal tariff as is described in Mr. Chamberlain's speech. I believe I may go further. I believe that in one of the Prime Minister's speeches he expressed doubts of the wisdom of any proposals of the kind. If we were at closer quarters with the question I would certainly be inclined to ask what is meant by a moderate tariff. 464 What do you mean when you say it is mainly for revenue purposes?Continuing my noble friend said—I confess I see no object in pursuing the subject at this moment; no proposals of the kind are ripe for discussion, and no such proposals are likely to be before us for a long time to come.Now, my Lords, I maintain that the correspondence published some time last week between Mr. Balfour and Mr. Chamberlain marks a very great advance upon the categorical declarations I have referred to. I think we ought to know a good deal more about this correspondence. We were told, apparently on very good authority, a very short time before its appearance, that, as the result of consultation between the two parties to the correspondence, absolute agreement between them had not been arrived at; and I think we have a right to know what circumstances have enabled them at so short an interval to come to this apparent agreement.
On the first appearance of the correspondence it appeared to me to indicate something in the nature of a compromise. I thought I observed in it some indication that, although Mr. Chamberlain may not have changed any of his opinions, still, he nevertheless intended to moderate in some degree the distinctly protectionist characteristics of the policy he had been urging on the country. But I am told there is no compromise, that Mr. Chamberlain has abandoned none of the proposals he has hitherto advocated; and I can only say that, if there is no compromise, if Mr. Chamberlain has abandoned none of his proposals, and if there is also absolute agreement with the late Prime Minister, if it is not a compromise, if it is a definition of policy, as we have been told it is, upon which Unionist leaders are in agreement, then I can only say it is a definition of a policy which we long suspected was entertained by members of His Majesty's late Government which was not, up to the publication of the correspondence, avowed, but is now avowed, and it is a policy that some of us, at all events, are not prepared to accept.
I have nothing to do—I am not concerned—with the qualifications that are introduced into the declaration of policy contained in Mr. Balfour's letter. I am not concerned with the adjectives 465 which qualify the main propositions laid down by Mr. Balfour. I am not concerned with the adjectives of a moderate tariff on manufactured' goods or a small tax on corn. I am not concerned with the "whiles" or "ifs" which are contained in this declaration of policy. I take the definite and concrete propositions which it contains, and I find the late Prime Minister is committed by this correspondence to the definite statement that a general tariff on manufactured goods and a small duty on foreign corn are not in principle objectionable and should be adopted. Mr. Balfour has told us, no doubt in courteous language, but he has told us, what he thinks of any one who identifies his policy with the method and policy of protection. I am not going, therefore, to attempt to contend that his policy is a policy of protection. All I know is that those methods and principles to which he has now given his consent are the methods which have been from the beginning advocated by Mr. Chamberlain as the means by which the policy of the Tariff Reform League may be carried out. And those methods and principles I decline to agree to as a declaration of Unionist policy.
I think the publication of this correspondence is a step far in advance of anything which we have hitherto heard from the leaders of the Unionist Party, and as such it is deserving of the notice of Parliament. I do not desire to exaggerate its importance. We have for a long time believed that this was the policy advocated by the Leaders of the Party, if not by all their colleagues or by all their followers. I, on behalf of, and in co-operation with, a small number of Members of both Houses of Parliament, have taken every means in my power to announce our intention of opposing to the best of our ability the policy advocated by the Tariff Reform League; and all that has happened in consequence of the publication of these letters is that we are obliged now to state as plainly as we can that we are opposed to the constructive policy which is now announced by the Leader of the Unionist Party.
It will be a very long time before these declarations can have any practical effect whatever. It will be a long time before the Unionist Party and its Leaders will be in a position to advocate any constructive policy. Much may happen in the interval, 466 and it is possible that means may be found by which a not inconsiderable portion of the Unionist Party may be able either to retain the liberty which they individually possess, or to regain that liberty on this subject. As regards the immediate future, I do not feel that any insurmountable difficulty has now been raised. I hold that the Government, supported as it is by the great and overwhelming majority of this country, has a right to a fair trial, including fair treatment in this House. I feel sure that my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition in this House holds the same opinion.
There is, therefore, so far as I can see, not the slightest probability that on many occasions those who hold my opinions will find themselves in a different lobby from my noble friend. At the same time I, as a Unionist, do not commit myself to any expression of general confidence in His Majesty's present advisers. I remain a Unionist, and I claim the right to remain a Unionist, irrespective of any opinions which I may hold on questions which are not connected with the Union. The Unionist Party to which I owe any allegiance is a free-trade Unionist Party, if such a Party may, by any possibility, be reconstituted in the future. As regards the constructive policy which by this correspondence has now been adopted in the name of the Unionist Party by the Leaders of the Unionist Party, I decline altogether to admit any allegiance to the Leaders or any responsibility for their action in regard to this policy, and I absolutely decline—I desire that it should be known that some of us, at all events, decline—to accept, as regards the future constructive policy of the Party, the leadership of those who have I accepted the principles which I find embodied in the letters to which I have referred. My Lords, I beg to ask the Questions standing in my name on the Paper.
§ THE EARL OF GRANARD
My Lords, I trust the House will extend to me that kindness and consideration which it has ever been the custom of your Lordships to extend to those who have the honour of addressing your Lordships for the first time. In answer to the Questions of the noble Duke, I have to say that the bulk of the information for which he asks is 467 contained in the Board of Trade Returns for last December; but I can promise him that, so far as the information asked for goes further than the Returns of the Board of Trade already published, it will be supplied as far as possible at an early date.
I am in a position to amplify some of the figures quoted by the noble Duke, and to give further indications of the nation's prosperity. In 1903 our imports were £543,000,000; in 1904 they had increased to £551,000,000; and in 1905 to £565,000,000. The figures regarding the exports are most striking. The exports of British products in 1904 were £300,711,000; in 1905 they stood at £330,023,000. If these figures are worked out into six monthly periods, and compared with the corresponding six months of the previous year, we find that the increased exports of British produce, compared with the corresponding period in the previous year, from January to June, 1904, was £1,600,000; from July to December, 1904, £8,300,000; from January to June, 1905, £11,600,000; and from July to December, 1905, £17,700,000; and in the single month January, 1906, we find that the increase in that month over January, 1905, reached the enormous total of £5,800,000.
In the goods traffic of the twenty largest railways there was in 1905 an increase of 1.32 over 1904. This is always a very good test as to the trade of the country. The banking clearances in London showed an increase of 17 per cent, in 1905. With regard to the unemployed I am glad to say that there has been a gradual decrease in their numbers. The fall only amounted to .03 per cent, in the first quarter of 1905 compared with the first quarter of 1904, but there was a further decline each quarter till they reached the satisfactory figure of 2.2 per cent, during the last quarter of last year. The actual percentage of 1905 was 6.8 in January and 4.9 in December. A census of wages is now being taken by the Board of Trade which will throw further light on the condition of the people. The figures I have been able to give the House in reply to the noble Duke appear to me to justify the references made to the imports and ex- 468 ports in His Majesty's most gracious Speech; and I imagine they point to a conclusion which will be much more likely to be of interest to the noble Duke as a convinced free trader than to those Members of your Lordships' House who desire a change in our fiscal conditions.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Duke for having postponed his speech until this evening, for it gives me an opportunity of offering to your Lordships a few observations, which I presume I should have been precluded from making had he followed me the other evening.
The noble Duke's speech fell naturally into two portions. He dealt, in the first place, with the paragraph in the Speech from the Throne relating to the prosperity of our trade. He then went on to discuss the attitude taken up by the leaders of the Unionist Party, and more particularly the correspondence which has lately passed between Mr. Balfour I and Mr. Chamberlain. With your Lordships' permission, I will say one or two words on each of these subjects. I am certainly not here to take any exception to the statement made in the gracious Speech from the Throne to the effect that our trade is at this moment in a prosperous, condition; and all I can say is, if the statistics for which the noble Duke has asked and the information which is promised to us should show that the condition of our trade is even more prosperous than it has been described as being, no one will rejoice more keenly than I shall.
But, my Lords, I cannot admit that when the noble Duke has proved that there is an upward movement of trade he has proved that our present fiscal system is an absolutely perfect and satisfactory one. Is it quite clear that because our trade has been an improving trade during the last year or two we are justified in saying that all is well, and that we can with safety bask in the sunshine of a prosperity which may be with us one year and may be gone another? I doubt it extremely. I go further. I say that the noble Duke is precluded from taking up a position 469 of that kind. The noble Duke is a free-trader of free-traders, and he has again and again admitted in this House and elsewhere that we enjoy in this country a condition of things which cannot be described as one of free trade, that the area within which free trade prevails is an area which shows an ever-increasing tendency to shrink. The noble Duke has made excursions into Hansard and has quoted speeches of mine. Will he forgive me if I make a brief reference to a speech of his? I desire to recall your Lordships' attention to a debate in this House in 1903 when we were discussing the question of an inquiry into our fiscal system. The noble Duke then said, in the first place—There is no free-trader who can feel, or profess to feel, satisfied with the present position of the question. What the free-trader advocates is free interchange of commodities between all nations. What we have got is something very different from that. What we have got is free imports on one side and exports burdened by every barrier fiscal ingenuity can devise. The name of free-traders cannot with strict accuracy be applied to the supporters of our present fiscal system. We are not free-traders, because we have not got free trade.Then the noble Duke dwelt on the fact that no progress had been made in any part of the world in the direction of real free trade, and he said—What has happened has been that foreign countries have not lowered or relaxed the barriers they have set up against our imports. … So far from lowering or relaxing the tariffs they have raised against our trade, they have, generally speaking, I will not say in every case, strengthened and raised them.The noble Duke went on to refer in a striking passage to the operation of the great trusts which are being built up on the Continent, and spoke of them as having been—Capable of disorganising and dislocating the course of trade and industry as effectually as, if not more effectually than, the most retrograde and hostile tariff that ever could be raised against us"——and he summed up in this eloquent sentence—These things cannot be set aside as if they were not.But that is, I admit, a somewhat ad hominem argument. Let me suggest one or two other matters which the noble Duke appears to have left out of sight. In the gracious Speech from the Throne, along with references to the satisfactory 470 growth of our trade, I find further on a paragraph dealing with the question of the unemployed. Are we prepared to say that all is well when so large a number of people in this country are out of employment? The noble Duke criticised severely a statement recently made by Mr. Chamberlain to the effect, I think, that 13,000,000 of our people were insufficiently fed and on the verge of poverty, and he took exception to the correctness of that statement. But surely we must all of us remember the statement made not very long ago by the present Prme Minister, to the effect that 12,000,000 of the people of this country were on the verge of hunger? There does not appear to me a very great difference in the estimates made in that matter by Mr. Chamberlain and the present Prime Minister. But by all means let us get to the bottom of these statements, and I have no doubt the Government will co-operate with the noble Duke in endeavouring to lay the fullest and most recent information before the House.
I should like to know, for example, whether it is or is not the case that our exports per head of the population have shown a considerable diminution during the last few years. I should like to know whether there is not in particular a marked falling off in our exports of manufactured articles; and I should like to know whether it is not the case that, owing to the restrictions put on our trade, we are losing some foreign markets altogether, and even losing ground in our own markets, and whether, in consequence of those restrictions, some manufacturers in this country have not been obliged to set up establishments outside the limits of the United Kingdom in foreign countries in order to get the benefit of the state of things that prevails there. I would also ask whether it is not the case, as has been said more than once in this House, that we are finding out more and more that most-favoured-nation treatment no longer affords us the security we at one time looked to obtain from that treatment; and I would further ask whether it is not the case that all these untoward symptoms are increasing as the years pass, and that we are less able to resist competition 471 owing to the increasing wealth of the nations which compete with us, and owing to their continually improving organisation. All these matters require to be probed, and I trust they will be.
Now, my Lords, one word with regard to our position as we find it after the general election. To my mind the verdict of the election on this particular question was a conclusive verdict. We may hold, and some of us certainly do, that the verdict was the result of the misdirection of the jury, and that our proposals were grievously misrepresented; but, so far as this Parliament is concerned, the case has been judged and we cannot ask for a rehearing. But we cannot admit that this great question which we have raised, and which has interested the people of this country as few other questions have interested them, can be permanently set aside; and I, for one, venture to express my belief that no Government will permanently retain the confidence of the people of this country unless it is able to show that it is prepared to make some effort to obtain better treatment for the commerce of our people, and unless it is prepared to use all the resources of its diplomacy to obtain such treatment, and, if necessary, to strike back if such treatment is refused. And I must add that I believe that no Government will permanently retain the confidence of the country unless it shows that it is, at all events, ready to give a respectful hearing to our great Colonies and to consider with them whether anything can be done to draw the Colonies and the Empire closer together. I believe that in these doctrines there is no repudiation whatever of free trade. I believe that such doctrines may be held by convinced free-traders, by men who are as alive as any can be to the importance of cheap raw materials and cheap food supplies, and who have no desire whatever to bolster up tottering industries or to place burdens on the consumer in the interests of the producer in this country.
I now come to the correspondence to which the noble Duke has called attention. In the first place, I think we should ask ourselves whether that correspondence was called for or not. I venture to 472 say that, upon the whole, I believe it was called for and that there is nothing prima facie unreasonable in these two public men, at the outset of our career in Opposition, endeavouring to find some common formula which could be accepted by the majority of the Party to which they belong; and this step seems to me the more defensible because of the unceasing and strenuous efforts which were made to prove to the public that there was an irreconcilable divergence of opinion between Mr. Balfour and Mr. Chamberlain. What could be more natural than that they should endeavour to summarise in a few sentences their political creed so far as it represents the tenets they both of them are able to accept?
The noble Duke spoke of that letter as a considerable step in advance on Mr. Balfour's part. I am not going to trouble the House with quotations from speeches, but I can assure the noble Duke that if he will devote to Mr. Balfour's speeches some of the industry he exhibits in researches into my former utterances, he will find that there is nothing in Mr. Balfour's letter which is not to be found in the speeches which he has lately delievered in and out of Parliament.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
The noble Duke has a playful way of brushing aside all qualifications. When he read the letter he ridiculed the idea of attaching any importance to the qualifications, and he omitted them from his quotation. But in a document of that importance I submit that the qualifications not only should not be ignored and omitted, but that such qualifications are of extreme importance, and may have to be referred to hereafter in very critical circumstances.
The noble Duke has examined Mr. Balfour's letter. Let me, if I may be permitted, review its contents limb by limb. The letter affirms in the first 473 place that fiscal reform remains our first constructive work. I entirely agree with what the noble Duke told your Lordships to the effect that for some time to come we are not very likely to have opportunities of applying ourselves to constructive work. I think it was Mr. Balfour himself who some time ago told his audience that our work was more likely to be that of criticism than that of construction. I think so also; but I would ask the noble Duke what he expected us to do. Did he expect us to recant everything we had said as to the importance of this question? Would he, if he had been in our position, have thrown overboard light heartedly an opinion he had deliberately formed and which he had constantly advocated for two or three years? I do not believe it for a moment. I would remind the noble Duke again of the words I quoted just now—These things cannot be set aside as if they were not.That is the noble Duke's motto. That is our motto also.
The letter goes on to affirm the need of obtaining more equal terms of competition for our commerce. Are we to understand that the noble Duke is indifferent to that object?
I think it fell to my lot last summer to remind the noble Duke that he had been for some time president of the British Empire League, a league formed with the object of promoting closer relations with the Colonies, and considering how it might be possible to modify any law or treaty which impeded freedom of action in Imperial trade. I appeal to the noble Duke up to that point as one whose opinions do not differ from ours. I think it is only when we come to the further portions of the letter that the noble Duke and I are likely to part company. The noble Duke takes exception to the letter because it mentions a moderate general tariff and a small duty on corn as possible means amongst others for obtaining the desired end. If the noble Duke will read the letter with the attention it deserves he will find that both of these' methods are mentioned only as methods which we do not desire to exclude from discussion. 474 And how would it have been possible for us to have advocated a conference with the great Colonies and to have said that at such a conference we could not admit even the discussion of a small duty on food stuffs?
The noble Duke then went on to quote extracts from speeches which I delivered to your Lordships in this House. He has with great courtesy given, me the extracts which he used, and I have looked at them as carefully as time permitted. I find in those extracts nothing to retract, nothing inconsistent with the attitude which we adopted then, or with that we adopt now. Let me remind your Lordships of the situation when those speeches were delivered. We had put forward as our immediate policy the policy known as that of retaliation and free conference with the Colonies; that I described, and I think I described it correctly, as a self-contained policy. When, however, we came to the further question of a tariff and of the taxation of food, it is quite true that I said that we were opposed to, and should oppose, either of those proposals if they were put forward at that time. Why? Because these were the proposals which were expressly reserved for further examination and discussion at the Colonial Conference. We had, indeed, even gone the length of saying that without, not only one general election, but two general elections, we would undertake that those proposals should not be put before the country. Therefore I say that far from desiring to take back what I then said, what I then said appears to me to have been entirely reasonable and correct so far as the then situation was concerned.
§ THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
The Colonial Conference had never been mentioned when the first speech was made.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
It certainly was when the second speech was made. But, at any rate, the pledge was, that there should be two general elections before we were at liberty to put those specific proposals before the country. If I may use my own expression again, I said it was necessary 475 that we should be at closer quarters with this question. My Lords, we were not at close quarters at that moment with either of those propositions. If the noble Duke desires to know my own opinion in regard to the taxation of food and the question of a general tariff, I am absolutely convinced that the 2s. duty proposed by Mr. Chamberlain would not add appreciably to the cost of living, but I admit that the people of this country have not been induced to look at it in that light. I will tell noble Lords opposite why. Because they and their friends have been inundating the country with literature and speeches grossly misrepresenting the effects of a 2s. duty. They must know perfectly well that the electors throughout the United Kingdom have been told that the effect of a 2s. duty would be to put them back into the state of things which prevailed in the hungry forties, when wages were low and food dear. A great many of the electors were induced to believe those reckless statements, and until the impression left by them has been removed, the suspicion with which this proposal has been regarded will no doubt remain.
With regard to a general tariff, I should personally be reluctant to see such a tariff resorted to if any other means of attaining the desired object could be discovered. But here, again, I must remind the noble Duke of one of those reservations contained in the letter which he found it convenient to ignore. It is expressly laid down that if we are ever to resort to such a tariff, it is to be one imposed not with the object of raising prices or with that of artificially protecting our industry from legitimate competition. That is a limitation which I should have thought, far from being derided, might have been welcomed with enthusiasm by a free-trader like the noble Duke; for it does in effect preclude those who may be regarded as having subscribed to the formula from recommending the imposition of any tariff which can really and truly be described as a protective tariff. In regard to both the tariff and to the proposed tax upon corn, I feel that the propriety of adopting either of those measures depends entirely upon what you would 476 obtain in return for them; and that is the reason why we so earnestly desired to get to close-quarters with the Colonies and to find out what kind of arrangement they were willing to make with us. The Conference has, however, been put off till 1907, and we have been told on high official authority that when it does meet it is to be precluded from discussing these questions. Therefore it may be long before we have an opportunity of knowing what the mind of the Colonies really is, and until we do know whether we are likely to obtain a reasonable equivalent for those two concessions it seems to me that there is not very much use in debating their propriety.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Yes, there was an offer, which I imagine would have had to be examined and ratified by the Conference; I do not think the offer was of a kind which could have been clinched at once by the signature of a Minister. If I may sum up what I have to say with regard to the correspondence, I feel that in having voted confidence in Mr. Balfour with that correspondence before me, I retain a full measure of liberty with regard to the adoption of both the proposals which we are discussing. They may, in my opinion, be subscribed to by all Unionists who believe that our present fiscal system is imperfect, and who desire that an attempt should be made to improve that system; but I do not regard myself as bound to recommend their immediate adoption, and still less do I consider that we are in any way bound to ex-communicate from our Party those who either desire to go further than we do or who desire to go less far with regard to these important matters.
We have listened with great interest to the noble Duke's statement, and I am certainly not going to express regret that it should have been made. But I do trust that now that it has been made, and now that the air has been cleared by these discussions, we Unionists shall find something better to do than to take up our time in mutual recriminations. Surely the moment is one when we may realize 477 that the fiscal question does not occupy the whole area of our political life, and that the Unionist Party has work before it other than that of again and again discussing this much debated problem.
§ VISCOUNT GOSCHEN
My Lords, I wish indeed we could reach the point to which my noble friend has referred, and that the Unionist Party might now act unitedly, and devote themselves entirely to those great problems that are sure to be brought before Parliament. May it be so. But we have had a warning, given by Mr. Chamberlain, that this fiscal question is not to be dropped, that it is to be set before every constituency, and that the process of education is to go on. If this propaganda is to go forward under the united auspices of Mr. Chamberlain and Mr. Balfour it will be difficult for those within the Party who differ from them to abstain from placing before the country their views, and thus continuing the controversy which I had myself hoped, after the decisive verdict of the country, might, for a time at least, have been allowed to cease. What is the position of those inside the Party who may hold free-trade views? If they offer themselves to the constituencies may we hope that there will be no recriminations, that they may have free access to the organisation of the Party and share the privileges of the Party? If that is granted, then indeed we shall be in the position I should like to see, when we might all act together. I trust that my noble friend who last spoke will use his great and just influence with his colleagues in the late Government to secure such a treatment of the whole question as will enable us to act together. I have taken a considerable share in the controversy as to the differences of opinion between Mr. Balfour and Mr. Chamberlain. I have maintained continually, against the opinion of most of my friends, that Mr. Balfour was not moving, if I may use an expression which came from my noble friend behind me, towards the "Birmingham abyss." I have maintained that there was a distinct and wide difference between the two—namely, that while Mr. Balfour was anxious only to retaliate 478 in those cases where retaliation was specially necessary, Mr. Chamberlain wished to cover the whole country with a tariff which would rest upon trade as a whole instead of simply aiding parts that might be shown to be especially suffering. I think my noble friend behind me has now abandoned the policy of retaliation. The word was not mentioned—let it go. The policy of retaliation has gone, and the subtitute for it is a moderate tariff, which is, in effect, the scaffolding for protection. It covers the whole ground, and it lends itself to every form of protection. Let mo point out this further consideration, that the late Prime Minister has never said one word in support of the Tariff Reform Commission or the Tariff Reform League. The gentlemen of the Tariff Reform Commission have been doing, I dare say, a great deal of good work, but I have always thought it a weakness of that Commission that those who were not tariff reformers were not placed upon it in order to cross-examine the witnesses and to bring out the other side. But Mr. Balfour has never taken the line of approving, so far as I have studied his utterances, the work of the Tariff Reform Commission, and I would ask this question—Has Mr. Chamberlain given up his 10 per cent, tariff all round? That is not a moderate tariff on a great many things; has Mr. Chamberlain yielded it? Mr. Chamberlain has always claimed Mr. Balfour from the beginning. Mr. Balfour has never claimed Mr. Chamberlain, and the fact of Mr. Chamberlain's having claimed Mr. Balfour, while Mr. Balfour sat by continually in silence led most people to believe that he was with Mr. Chamberlain. With my great regard, and I may say my personal affection, for Mr. Balfour, I regretted to see him in the position that he was continually claimed by a section of the Party to which, I believe, he really did not adhere.
But now it is past, the union between the two has come. It is not a compromise, we are told. A compromise would moan that Mr. Chamberlain had surrendered something and that Mr. Balfour had surrendered something. I think I see what Mr. Balfour has surrendered. He has surrendered retaliation and accepted a moderate tariff.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I did not interrupt the noble Viscount when he made the same statement a few minutes ago, but I am perfectly able to state positively that Mr. Balfour has not abandoned the policy which, for the sake of convenience, though, I think, rather inappropriately, we speak of as the policy of retaliation.
§ VISCOUNT GOSCHEN
I would like to ask whether Mr. Chamberlain has accepted retaliation, and whether it will remain part of the constructive policy of the Conservative Party. Apparently we are not yet at the end of the difficulties of understanding precisely where we stand. I am perfectly prepared to accept for myself that this letter now represents the constructive policy of the Unionist Party. I dissent from it, like the noble Duke, but I understand it. I understand now that retaliation, the great cardinal point of Mr. Balfour's policy, though never mentioned in the letter, is not abandoned; but I do not think, and perhaps we have no right to expect, that my noble friend can answer the further question whether the 10 per cent, all-round tariff is abandoned by Mr. Chamberlain. That is not in the letter, but is that part of the constructive policy of the Unionist Party? Is that one of the points which are going to be urged in the constituencies? If in a constituency a Tariff Reformer goes down and, claiming that he represents Mr. Chamberlain, is in favour of a 10 per cent, all-round tariff, will the Free Trade Unionist be able to reply, "That is not in the letter, and is therefore not part of the constructive policy?"
There is enough in the letter to make Free Trade Unionists feel that they cannot support that policy, and I associate myself with the words which the noble Duke used in regard to it.
I desire to say one word with reference to the other part of the controversy that has been raised this evening—namely, the question of the state of prosperity. My noble friend behind me asked a good many questions as to which I would say that, if he would really like the information he has asked for, these inquiries should have been made before the Conservative Party had been absolutely committed to the views which are in the letter. Surely all these questions as to the state of trade are at the bottom of the causes which have led 480 to this controversy, and they must be in the minds of the leaders of the Party. I am surprised to hear my noble friend ask whether exports have been increasing in proportion to the population. Exports have increased more than 1 per cent.; the population increases at the rate of 1 per cent, per annum. Again my noble friend will find that there is a decided increase in the exports of manufactured goods, and that lately, too, there has been an increase in the exports of manufactured goods to-Germany and other countries, where before our trade had considerably fallen off. I think my noble friend will find that that is so, but I can only rejoice that further light is to be thrown on the subject.
As to the constant use that has been made by public men on both sides of the still practically unofficial statement that one-third of the population are underfed, I would remind your Lordships that that statement was originally made by Mr. Charles Booth and Mr. Rowntree. They examined the causes and produced interesting, but very speculative, statistics with reference to this matter; but I do not think that any Government Department or any other body of statisticians have really checked that figure, nor do I believe that one-tenth of the people who quote it know what was the mean standard which was adopted by Mr. Rowntree in his calculations, and upon which a great deal, of course, depends. The 13,000,000 was first used, in any prominent case, by the present Prime Minister, and he used it, if I remember rightly, to show want of employment and poverty which had been produced by a long series of Conservative extravagances, wars, and other causes of that kind. I knew, the moment I read it, that it would be immediately taken up by the tariff reformers, and that the poverty of these 13,000,000 would be utilised on, the other side as a statistical and political argument in order to prove that our commercial system was at fault. It appears to me that this matter ought to be cleared up, and that we ought to have a classification of these 13,000,000. Above all, we ought to see, what has never yet been shown, how increasing the cost of living, the cost of materials—building plant and so forth—how protection of that kind would improve the position of these people.
481 As we all know, the building trade is in a suffering and depressed state; but how that depressed trade is to be improved by the taxation of window-frames, cement, and a number of materials that enter into the building trade passes my understanding. So, again, there is considerable depression in the snipping trade, in the docks. I think we all admit that a diminution of imports would decrease our shipping; and how an interference with free imports would improve the position of the docks and of the vast community that depend upon them is, again, a matter which I do not understand. I appeal to His Majesty's Government to have this question of the 13,000,000 thoroughly examined, and also to examine the question of the unemployed, classifying those who can be employed and those who would never be employed whatever might be our fiscal policy. Then we would be able to test whether, by any changes in tariff, we could improve the lot of this vast multitude, which is not a new multitude. It is not fair to use the question of the unemployed as one of the main reasons why we should reverse the system of free trade, and tamper with our import trade, upon which a large portion of our export trade depends. I would reiterate my hope that future controversy on this matter may be so carried on within the Unionist Party that it may leave no bad feeling behind it, and that whether they agree with the tariff reformers or with more moderate men, all will have an equal chance within the Party and in the constituencies.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (The Earl of CREWE)
My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend the Leader of the House, who, I regret to say is unable to be here to-night, it falls to my lot to say a few words upon this debate. We all, I think, have reason to be grateful to the noble Duke for having introduced this subject, which has divided itself into two perfectly distinct parts, for by the happy custom of your Lordship's House he was able to hang upon his Question a great deal more than met the eye in the Question itself as it stood on the Paper. As regards the subject matter of the Question, my noble friend who represents the Board of Trade, and who, I am sure, your Lordships will agree, acquitted himself remarkably well 482 on his first appearance as a speaker in this House, was able to produce certain figures supplied by the Board of Trade. The noble Marquess who leads the Opposition has asked for more information, but, like the noble Viscount who spoke last, I am not quite certain whether all the Questions which he put were, in his opinion, Questions that could be answered by mere statistics. Two or three of his Questions undoubtedly could, and upon those we shall be happy to give all the information in our power; but some of his later Questions took a somewhat rhetorical form, and I imagine he did not suppose we would be able to supply figures which would answer them.
As regards the speech of the noble Viscount who has just sat down, I can assure him that His Majesty's Government will be anxious to do all they can to supply him with the figures for which he asks He gave what I believe to be a perfectly correct account of the now famous phrase as to 12,000,000 or 13,000,000 people supposed to be on the verge of hunger. That quotation first came into fame through its use by my right hon. friend the Prime Minister. He stated it as a quotation, and not from any personal knowledge of his own. As the noble Viscount Lord Goschen has pointed out, it is a computation arrived at by gentlemen of great experience, but it carries no official authority. I am disposed to believe it was arrived at by taking the statistics of a particular town, taking certain household budgets in that town, regarding some of them as adequate and others as inadequate, and then, by multiplying the number of such people into the population a figure of something like 12,000,000 was arrived at who were reported as being inadequately fed. But the statistics, as I say, were not of an official character, although no doubt they are worthy of very serious consideration. I can tell the noble Viscount that at this moment the Labour Department of the Board of Trade are engaged in making a census of wages, which it is believed will throw a great deal of light on this particular question. I can assure him that everything that fell from him will receive the close attention of that Department, and if it is possible still further to enlarge the area of inquiry, that will be done.
483 As regards the question of the general prosperity of the country, I have no desire to repeat what has fallen from my noble friend Lord Granard; but I may just quote one sentence, on the authority of Mr. Chamberlain, as to what can be taken as a rough test of the prosperity of the country. Speaking at Newcastle in 1903, Mr. Chamberlain said—I will not say entirely, but it is mainly to our exports that we must look for a test of the progress of our trade.If that test is taken I think, resting upon the figures produced this evening by my noble friend who represents the Board of Trade, it cannot be said that our trade is in an unsatisfactory condition at this moment. "That may be so," says the noble Marquess opposite, "but can it be said that all is well?" Well, I am not aware that anybody attempted to say that all is well, either with our trade or with the conditions of employment in this country. Things are perhaps never so well that they might not be better; but the question is whether the particular remedies which are suggested in order to improve our condition are sound remedies in themselves, and whether they are likely to have the effect which is prophesied for them by those who desire to see them introduced.
Now, my Lords, on the other question, I do not feel that on this side of the House we have any great title to discuss differences of opinion which may have arisen between members of the opposite Party, except so far as this—that it is not merely a matter of interest to those who belong to the Unionist Party, but it is a matter of interest to the whole country whether the declared policy of that Party is in the future to be a protectionist policy or not. That is not a matter which we can lightly regard, and therefore I am obliged to say a few words on the subject from that point of view. I think the noble Marquess opposite would not admit that he had in any way changed his opinion since this subject has been under discussion, but I and bound to say that, as the noble Viscount remarked, it does seem to me a distinct change of position from having advocated retaliation as he did in this House with great force—retaliation pure and simple—to, I will not say advocating, but generally admitting, the possibility of a general tariff on manufactured goods. I have 484 always thought that the noble Marquess was what may be called a diplomatic retaliationist; that, presiding over the Foreign Office, he was fascinated by the idea of being able in that department to deal with foreign Powers, and to deal with them as he considered on better terms than he now could. I think it is not at all impossible that on some occasions, with the use of the noble Marquess's revolver, foreign Powers might be induced to lower their tariffs. I will not dwell on that subject at present; but it has always seemed to me that the noble Marquess rather confined his point of view to the notion of a diplomatic victory at the moment, and did not allow himself to consider what the consequence in the country would be if on some occasion the foreign country was not terrified by his threat, and a duty—possibly a very large one—had to be imposed.
The question of interest to us on this side is—Is protection to be the declared official policy of the Unionist Party? I know, my Lords, that almost everybody who has taken part on the opposite side on behalf of fiscal reform has repudiated the name of protectionist on the ground that they did not desire to see a return to the state of things which existed in England before 1842, when Sir Robert Peel began, as we all know, to lower the scale of high duties. I do not know that anyone is entitled to say that nobody can be called a protectionist unless he desires to see a return to the state of things that existed then, any more than you could say that no man ought to be called a Home Ruler unless he wished to see a return to Grattan's Parliament. The term Protectionist is well understood. It is a term used for those who desire to see duties put on for other purposes than revenue; and if you look through Mr. Chamberlain's speeches—for it is to him that we have to look for clear statements on this matter—you will find that from first to last Mr. Chamberlain, while pointing out other advantages which he conceived would attach to his policy, scarcely ever failed to point out what may be called the purely protective side—namely, the advantage which would accrue to particular trades—and he referred almost invariably to the trade with which those whom he was addressing were mainly concerned—by the imposition of duties on manufactured goods. At 485 Greenock it was sugar, at Liverpool watches, and at Birmingham small brass articles and pearl buttons. If you turn to the publications of the Tariff Reform League, to which the noble Viscount alluded—I have not read them all, but I have studied some of the evidence given in those publications—you will see that over and over again the witnesses asked for what they called moderate protection. Nobody asked in so many words for immoderate protection, and I imagine that the noble Marquess and his friends would not dispute that to a certain extent it is Protection that forms a part of their policy. As to the Colonial Conference, the noble Marquess said he understood that in future the Conference would be precluded from discussing the question of the taxation of food, and he announced that that had been stated on behalf of His Majesty's Government. I know of no such announcement.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
The statement I referred to was made by the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies. I do not know whether I quoted it with absolute correctness, but it was to that effect.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
I imagine that any offer made by the Colonies, or any expression of a desire on their part to discuss any question whatever, would be carefully attended to. What undoubtedly is the case is that we are precluded from in any way proposing the taxation of food for two reasons. In the first place, we are unanimously opposed to it ourselves; and, in the second place, the result of the general election shows that the country is opposed to that policy. It is obvious, therefore, that no proposition of the kind could come from us. I have not the least doubt that any proposition which was made by the Colonies would be respectfully heard, and if the noble Marquess imagines that the closure would be moved, or anything of that kind, I can assure him that that is not the case.
The noble Marquess alluded to a 2s tax on corn as being generally agreed to be harmless in the direction of raising prices. We all know, of course, that a 2s. tax on corn, although it would increase the price of bread to a certain extent, would not increase it to a very 486 large degree; but, as I take it, one reason why we on this side and noble Lords below the gangway object to a 2s. tax on corn is that there is no guarantee that it will stop at 2s. or that Mr. Chamberlain in the course of a year or two may not desire to raise it to 5s. or even to 8s. or 9s. We all know that Germany began with a very low tax on corn, but in response to agitation, which is almost bound to follow the imposition of any tax at all, it has been gradually raised to its present high figure. I cannot better state the opinion of His Majesty's Government on this whole subject than by quoting some words which were used in Manchester in 1903, by the noble Viscount opposite (Viscount St. Aldwyn), whom we are so glad to see in this House. He stated then that—It is a canon of British finance that no customs duty should be raised without an equivalent excise.He went on to point out that when it is, the Exchequer receives less than half what the consumer pays; and then the noble Viscount proceeded to ask—Can anybody suppose that the figures would remain small?and he concluded by saying—There is nothing in Mr. Chamberlain's proposal to induce us to change the fiscal policy under which the condition of the country has enormously improved, and the wages of the working clashes have increased much above those of the corresponding class in other European countries, with shorter terms of labour.
§ House adjourned at twenty minutes before Seven o'clock till To-morrow, half-past Ten o'clock.