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a system different from that of other nations; has not the time arrived when we may profitably take stock of our commercial position, compute our gains, and see what ‘Free Imports' have done for us. This is all the more necessary because there are many who assert that on a balance of advantages there are no gains at all. Meanwhile not a day passes that the public press does not record some fresh and startling complaint of the suffering and losses that foreign competition entails. In this matter it is more than probable that some exaggeration prevails. When things are going wrong it is almost in the nature of a popular cry that it should be unjust.
But one would like to know the truth—one would like to know, for instance, whether it is true that import of Spanish and other foreign lead has resulted in the closing of nearly every lead mine in this country. Or, again, whether it is the fact that in 1862 there were 110 iron furnaces in Staffordshire, and that there are now no more than forty-one, and as fast as the furnaces are extinguished in England others are lighted abroad to replace them. Nay, more, is it true of the iron trade that those who used to be our purchasers have become our competitors, and not only sell against, but undersell, us not merely in neutral markets, but in the very heart of our ironmaking districts? In Sheffield, the bome of the cutlery trade, it is asserted, I know not with what truth, that foreign-made goods (chiefly German) are largely sold at a price with which we find it impossible to compete, and a similar tale is told of many other trades in which we used to enjoy a marked ascendency. What is the truth about watches, silks, ribbons, guns, and even bulky articles like furniture and joiners' work? How many of the complaints daily made are well founded, and to what extent ? We ought at least to know the price that we have to pay for the blessing of purchasing cheap.
If our leading statesmen and politicians care not to insist upon an inquiry into these things, depend upon it there are those who will. There is too much intelligence in the artisan and other working classes whose interests are the first to suffer from the competition which cripples home manufacture for them to be content to remain any longer in the dark.
And from official sources they have no light to guide them. For it must be remembered that this system of importing all foreign goods free of duty, without reference to any reciprocal action on the part of foreign countries, has never been recommended or even discussed (after full inquiry into the facts) by any Royal Commission or any Committee of either House of Parliament, still less in Parliament itself. Such an inquiry, if fairly instituted and pursued, will at least set at rest much uneasy feeling that now exists on this subject, and must result either in the confirmation of the present system or in setting us free to establish our tariff upon such principles as will give the largest aid to our manufacturing industries compatible with the general interests of the community.
In the meanwhile I offer to those who care to think of these things the following propositions as worthy of discussion.
1. That the question of duty or no duty on any import is a separate question for each import, and cannot be rightly answered by the application of any general rule.
2. That no duty should be imposed save for the purpose of revenue.
3. That in selecting the articles upon which duties should be imposed it is advantageous to the community, cæteris paribus, that the duty should fall on any article in which the foreigner competes in our markets with the labour and skill of our own people.
4. That it may be desirable, if practicable, so to regulate our tariff as to favour, the productions of our own colonies and dependencies in comparison with those of foreign countries.
Lastly. That the rule prohibiting the imposition of a duty on any foreign article the like of which is produced at home, which now goes by the name of ‘Free Trade,' has no good reason for its support, and was only adopted by this country as our part of that system of free and unfettered interchange of commodities which it offered to the rest of the world, an offer which, after the lapse of forty years, has never been accepted, and a system, in consequence, which has never existed.
LIBERAL ELECTION ADDRESSES.
It is hardly six months since Mr. Gladstone's manifesto appeared, and the country took it for granted that if he were returned to power the authorised programme which he had put in the forefront of his address would immediately occupy the attention of Parliament. It was well known that at least seventy or eighty Nationalist members would be returned, and a good many must have foreseen that they would not allow Irish questions to be ignored; yet, judged by their speeches and election addresses, there were few statesmen and fewer candidates who impressed the public with their fears, fewer of either who put the question of Home Rule before the constituencies, and no one who ventured to suggest that the now well-worn phrase as to the supremacy of the Crown, the unity of the Empire, and the authority of Parliament, might cover schemes incompatible with the maintenance of the legislative union between Great Britain and Ireland.
He would have been indeed a bold man who had ventured to tell a Liberal audience that a member of that Irish party which Mr. Gladstone denounced in 1881 as marching through rapine to the dismemberment of the Empire, would confidently assert in 1886 that the leader of the Liberal party, who had then had no language too severe for the Land League, was bound by his public declarations to grant the Nationalist claims for practical legislative independence.' 1
That, however, is the situation, and Mr. Harrington's reading of Mr. Gladstone's speech on the Address has never been challenged.
It has been argued that Home Rule should be yielded as a matter of course because it is demanded by five-sixths of the Irish members, representing a large majority of the Irish population. No doubt, as far as Ireland is concerned, the issue tried before them was separation versus union : but even if the voters had not been biassed by any other considerations, and if the system under which the verdict was obtained were unimpeachable—two rather large admissions—it would not be right under the circumstances to accept the judgment of the Irish constituencies as conclusive.
1 Mr. Harrington, Times, February 3, 1886.
There were two parties to the Act of Union; and though Ireland may have made up her mind that the time has come for separation, that is no reason in itself why the representatives of Great Britain should give way on a question which was not before the English and Scotch constituencies at the late general election.
Nobody pretends that England or Scotland gave an opinion on Home Rule last November : 2 and it occurred to the writer that the election addresses of Liberal M.P.'s would afford a fair test of the degree to which the question was before either candidates or constituencies at that time; and that they would show with what ideas candidates had then approached the Irish problem, and to what extent, if any, the constituencies of Great Britain had been asked at the general election to decide upon the maintenance of the legislative union with Ireland.
For, as every one had to state bis views upon the authorised programme,''free education,' and 'three acres and a cow,' it is but natural to suppose that both electors and candidates would have wished to understand each other, had they been led to believe by their leaders that so grave a constitutional question would occupy the attention of the new Parliament as soon as ever it assembled.
It has not been found possible to examine the addresses of all the Liberal members, but a large proportion of them have been got together, and some striking facts are at once apparent.
In the first place, over one third of the gentlemen whose addresses I have obtained made no reference whatever in them to Ireland ; secondly, but a small proportion of the other half thought it worth while to notice that widely prevalent desire for self-government extending beyond what is felt in Great Britain as to local affairs,' of which Mr. Gladstone speaks in his February address to the electors of Midlothian ; thirdly, those who then declared themselves plainly in favour of Home Rule were very few indeed.
There were gentlemen who maintained a prudent silence as to Ireland throughout their contests, but doubtless most had something to say about her in one or other of their speeches. From some indeed I hope to quote later on. But though it has not been possible to examine everybody's speeches, yet I believe from what I have seen that the majority said little or nothing about the future in Ireland. They contented themselves with condemning the policy of Lord Randolph Churchill: and then, as Ireland occupied only a subordinate place in the Midlothian manifesto and had but few attractions for the average British voter, they returned to the authorised programme, or whatever subject outside of it had most interest for their constituents.
The addresses which do refer to Ireland are about 140 in number, but before examining them in detail it may be of interest to see what was the Irish policy on which the present Ministry and the
2 See Mr. Heneage's letter to the Times, January 2, 1886.
members of former Liberal administrations sought the confidence of
In several cases the addresses give no information.
Mr. Chamberlain, whose views of course were well known, issued a very short address, wbich contained no reference to any special question.
Mr. Collings and Sir L. Playfair took a similar course. Mr. Asher, the Lord Advocate, Mr. Flower, Mr. Fowler, Lord Kilcoursie, Mr. Mellor, Mr. Spencer, and Mr. Woodall, though they discuss other subjects, say nothing about Ireland.
Others, however, were not so reticent.
Mr. Gladstone : 'To maintain the supremacy of the Crown, the unity of the Empire, and all the authority of Parliament necessary for the conservation of that unity, is the first duty of every representative of the people. Subject to this governing principle, every grant to portions of the country of enlarged powers for the management of their own affairs is not a source of danger, but a means of averting it.'
Sir W. Harcourt did not mention Ireland in bis brief address, but his opinions on the unsavouriness of Parnellite juice have been often quoted.
Mr. Campbell Bannerman: "I am desirous of seeing at the earliest possible moment a large extension of local self-government in Ireland, but I would give no countenance to the schemes of those who seek to injure this country, as they would assuredly ruin their own, by separation under one name or another.'
Mr. Childers: 'I am in favour of a large measure of local selfgovernment being granted to Ireland. While Imperial affairs should be regulated and managed by the Imperial Parliament and the Imperial Government, purely local affairs may be safely left to deliberative and administrative authorities representing the Irish people.'3
Mr. Trevelyan trusted that the task of dealing with Ireland might be committed to a party strong enough to disregard the effect which its policy might have on Parliamentary divisions or electoral contests. In a speech delivered on the 31st of December, he said that while he would place education under central, and highways, poor law &c. in the hands of local, elected bodies, yet unless we intend to keep the care of law and order in all its departments in the bands of the Central Government, we had much better go in at once for repealing the Union.'
Mr. John Morley said that to build up self-government in Ireland' was one of the tasks before us.
Mr. Heneage favoured the abolition of the Lord-Lieutenancy, and a system of well-defined local self-government, with a view to a firmer
: Pontefract Address.