|Joseph King, MP|
from Haslemere Educational Museum
On the 23rd February 1910 Hansard records Joseph King speaking in the House of Commons for the first time on a debate following the King Edward VII's speech (referred to in Hansard as 'His Majesty's gracious speech') at the opening of Parliament two days earlier on the 21st February. MPs were debating free trade and tariff reform.
|The Only Hope is Tariff Reform c.1906 poster,|
People's History Museum, Manchester
I think that Joseph King's first words to Parliament reveal his strength of character, and his alignment with the 'peasant'(!). By questioning the view of the average population about the Parliamentary debate, King tries to ground the debate to address the interests of the everyday person.
Hansard records the proceedings as thus:
Mr Joseph King
“I have only sat in this House for two or three days, but I have already become conscious that the light in which Members regard the burning questions of the day is somewhat different from that in which they are regarded outside. I cannot, for instance, imagine so much excitement being created in an ordinary assembly of either Liberals or of politicians of various kinds by the question which excited this House on the two previous days, and which has caused so much comment and discussion in the Lobbies…Surely if there was one question in connection with Tariff Reform which was universally discussed at the recent elections, except possibly in those industrial districts like Sheffield, where the subject was judiciously kept in the background, it was the effect of the proposed taxes on food upon the cost of the living of the people. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, when challenged upon this subject, gave us the very interesting information that he for one was against all taxation on foreign wheat or flour, and he warned the House that there were many others beside himself who shared that opinion.
The Budget League, (supported by the Liberals) poster,
1910 UK general election,
People's History Museum, Manchester
My hon. Friend was referring not to foreign corn, but to Colonial corn.
That only strengthens my argument. These Gentlemen from the manufacturing districts want Tariff Reform for the benefit of their manufactures, but they will not have it at any price when it is at all beneficial to the landed interest. I venture to express the opinion which I frequently expressed on public platforms during the course of the General Election, that the Tariff Reform policy is one of intellectual poverty and moral perversion.
290It is an intellectually poor policy, because it cannot yet convince the representatives of the working classes that it is going to do them any benefit whatsoever. I am sure if any speech profoundly held this House to-night it must have been the masterly speech we had from the hon. Member for Leicester. I had been acquainted beforehand with the lines on which the Labour Members treated the Fiscal Question, but I must confess I was surprised, delighted, I might even say inspired by the eloquent treatment the hon. Member meted out to this Question from the point of view of the Labour party.I desire to call attention to what seems to be a very significant omission in the language of this Amendment, which, I suppose, has been borrowed from the Amendment to the Address proposed last year by the same right hon. Gentleman. Why should he choose again to put forward exactly the same words on this occasion? Circumstances have altered a good deal, as he himself has admitted, but in one respect, surely, the Tariff Reform policy has advanced. It is now absolutely pledged by the words and promises of the Leaders at any rate of the party, to a tax upon food. But the probable and promised effects of such a tax find no place whatever in the language of this Amendment. I venture to suggest that that is a very remarkable and very serious omission. It is remarkable for this reason, that the right hon. Gentleman who comes down to this House and proposes the Amendment says nothing in the Amendment about the important problem which, I venture to say, has exercised the thoughts and attention of more members of the electorate than any other single aspect of this Fiscal Question during the recent election. We must remember that during the election the Leader of the Opposition issued a letter to very many Conservative and Unionist candidates, and, although this letter was couched in personal and almost intimate terms to the individual candidate, it was circulated throughout the length and breadth of the land, and it was, in fact, a stereotyped document distributed broadcast over the country. I would venture to call the attention of the House to the words which the Leader of the Opposition used in encouraging and helping his supporters by this circular letter.
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I am not surprised that your Radical opponent is attempting to raise the old and often contradicted misrepresentation as to the effect of Tariff Reform on the cost of living of the working classes. I have frequently and explicitly stated that no increase will take place.
291It seems to me that that is rather audacious language even for the very agile, and I think I may say versatile politician who leads the Tariff Reform party. I ask the House to notice especially the form in which this pledge and promise is made, for it is both one and the other—nay, more, it is a pledge, a promise, and a prophecy that, under Tariff Reform, there will be no increase in the cost of living. It is not that there will be no increase, relatively, in the cost of food. I take it the cost of living covers not only the cost of meat and drink consumed, but also that of clothing, furniture and all the other necessaries of life. I assert that the pledge, promise and prophecy of the Leader of the Opposition is that Tariff Reform is going to make no increase in the cost of such living, and I repeat that that is very audacious and extravagant language. Indeed I am not surprised that in the few remarks which the proposer of this Amendment offered on the subject of food taxes he avoided anything like a recurrence of the pledge or promise made by the Leader of the Opposition. It is apparent to anyone who takes a broad view of the course of events, not only in this country but throughout the world, that the cost of food has risen, is rising, and is likely to me still further. And it is likely to rise still further independently of tariffs, for certain well-recognised reasons. There is, for instance, a great disinclination on the part of people all over the world to live in the country so long as they can live in the town. There is a disinclination on the part of capitalists to embark upon large methods and schemes of agricultural production so long as they can get outlets for their capital and energies in industrial, manufacturing, and commercial occupations. Then there is this great fact, the significance of which is only just beginning to be recognised. Ten years ago we were almost being fed by the United States of America. At the present time we are receiving from the United States practically no wheat at all, and in a few years we shall probably see the United States not only ceasing to export food stuffs of any kind, but themselves becoming importers of food stuffs from other countries. That is a remarkable and significant fact and it is one which leads to this conclusion, that, at this time, for us to embark upon a policy which means restricting the markets in which we may buy the food of our people is a bad and foolish policy. I say that any wise and far-sighted statesman looking out upon the facts and 292looking out upon the general tendency of trade and commerce and the development of agriculture all over the world, would naturally be led to the conclusion which is the conclusion of Free Traders, at any rate, that we must preserve the right to buy food for our people in any market the world offers us.
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I venture to call the attention of the House to two further facts of great importance and significance in this connection. One is this, that the great progress and development of the Eastern nations of the world, especially Japan and China, means that those countries are living at a higher standard and taking on the ways of living and the higher living, such as we have hitherto associated only with European countries or their colonies. For instance, China and Japan are now ceasing to sustain their working classes purely upon rice, and are adding meat and cereals—wheat and other food, in a way which, it is agreed, was quite unknown to them two or three years ago. That is another significant fact, and all these facts tend to the conclusion that the price of food will rise not only in our country but all over the world. It makes me wonder still more at the audacity—I will say the reckless audacity—of the Tariff Reform party who not only in the rank and file of the irresponsible members of that party, but by the leaders of that party have given the pledge which they have done, that Tariff Reform will cause no increase in the cost of living of the working classes.
|Labour, January 1910|
UK general election poster,
Taunton, neighbouring constituency to North Somerset
In view of the reckless, illogical and unwarrantable nature of those promises I am not surprised that much which we have seen upon the hoardings and in the literature during the recent election has been entirely dropped in this Debate by Members on the other side of the House. I had the honour of fighting and holding by a substantial majority a seat which runs into the great city of Bristol. I am glad to say that in Bristol and the surrounding constituencies we held our own with somewhat reduced majorities, and the representation of that great industrial area is the same in this Parliament as it was in the last. We can number five Liberal and Free Trade Members against one Conservative and Tariff Reformer, but in every case in every fight in that district we had to contend with placards, posters, statements, leaflets and speeches asseverating that it was due to the Liberal policy that the price of bread had increased, a statement which the right hon. Gentleman 293who proposed this Amendment was very careful to go out of his way entirely to deny. Such is the difference between Tariff Reform in the constituencies and Tariff Reform on the floor of the House of Commons. It is just the same, of course, with their naval scare. Their naval scare shows Tariff Reform Unionists or Conservatives, or whatever other alias they may call themselves by, in just the same light. We were actually warned that, it might be before Parliament met, an invasion would appear, and I was expecting, when I came down to this House on the first day, that there was, at any rate, one subject, at all events, upon which I should hear some enlightened opinions and some valuable suggestions. I anticipated that there would be, at any rate, a demonstration in force from Members opposite to secure if possible that before one or two days had passed at least a dozen "Dreadnoughts" should be laid down.
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People's History Museum, Manchester
I am afraid I must remind the hon. Member that we are now on an Amendment and the question of the Navy does not arise on that Amendment.
I am very much obliged to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for your timely warning, and that is a subject which we may be able to refer to on another occasion. I will not detain the House much longer, but I should like just to quote some significant words which would seem to me to apply with extraordinary appropriateness at the present time—words which came from an authority the bona fides of which no one in this House will deny—I mean the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bordesley (Mr. Jesse Collings). Writing now some eighteen years ago, he used these words:There are signs that the advocates of Protection will be to the fore with elaborate arguments to prove that a duty on corn would benefit the farmer, the labourer, and the nation; in other words, to show that a country can, in some mysterious way, be benefited by raising the price of food. Discussions of this nature will be a sheer waste of time, inasmuch as it may be taken as an absolute and settled fact that the people of this country will not submit to any tax whatever on foodstuffs imported into this country.I commend those words to the House, because I believe they sum up in singularly forcible language the present position.
|Tariff reform poster,|
Spoken though they were eighteen years ago, they ought to be borne in mind, and they convey a warning, and a serious warning, too, to those who come forward at the present time and tell us that a tax on food
294will increase the prosperity of this country and reduce its cost of living. We have seen during the last two days in this House how a Minister with one clear, definite object in view before him, can be pestered, or at any rate perplexed, by a variety of councillors, admittedly his friends and supporters, yet declaring that success in the great object in which he and they are united can only be obtained by one definite or particular line of action. If that is the case with regard to the policy which this House is going to pursue in reference to the one object to which this Session is to be devoted, what will be the state of things if in an evil day—an evil day which I do not anticipate—the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition crosses over with a variegated party behind him, yet united upon one subject—that, they want Tariff Reform in one form or another? How is he going to square the interests which are represented by the speech we have just listened to with the interests which will be voiced by the Member for that very agricultural constituency Wimbledon? Their point of view with regard to Tariff Reform is entirely different. It cannot be squared, and, as a warning and as a very cogent argument against this Amendment, I cite this fact, that the Tariff Reform party are not united in their policy, they cannot be united in their policy, and they will, if ever they get into power, be still less united in their policy than they are at present. It is with this firm conviction that Tariff Reform is not only a futile, but an impossible, a reckless, and an unwise policy, that I have great pleasure in opposing this Amendment.
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