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not ask for a congress, for they also were not prepared to formulate definite proposals. In fact, no one was in a position to officially summon a congress, because what was wanted was not the consideration of a specific plan, but a discussion which would clear the way to moulding a plan and its subsequent consideration.
With great astuteness Mr. Chamberlain sees in the presence of the Prime Ministers in England the opportunity of exchanging opinions not without some formality, but divested of the responsibility of officially promulgating a cut-and-dried scheme. In response to a question put by Mr. Hogan in the House of Commons as to whether advantage will be taken of the presence of the Prime Ministers in England to hold an Imperial Conference with a view to the discussion and determination of contemporary questions of colonial concern,' Mr. Chamberlain replied 'the matter will be taken into consideration.' It is clear, however, from what the right honourable gentleman said in a speech he made at Birmingham on the 30th of January that he is well inclined in this direction. We cannot do better than give his own words:
I hope we shall have this opportunity-not merely in London, but in our great provincial centres—of welcoming these rulers of States beyond the sea, these men who under the Queen are the constitutional heads of the communities which by their free choice have selected them to preside over the destinies of these provinces of a great Empire. We shall have them; we shall have at the same time a representation of the great Crown colonies with their infinite variety of climate and of production; and in this way we will secure a demonstration that no other country can make-a demonstration of power, of influence, and of beneficent work which will be a fitting tribute to the best and most revered of English sovereigns. It is my belief that great good will result from this gathering, that a meeting between those who represent in so marked a degree the interests of the great colonies and the members of Her Majesty's Government will lead to an interchange of ideas about matters of common and material interest, about closer commercial union, about the representation of the colonies, about common defence, about legislation, about other questions of equal importance, which cannot but be productive of the most fruitful results.
The three subjects mentioned by Mr. Chamberlain—namely, closer commercial union, common defence, and colonial representationhave already been much considered and discussed. The last may be regarded as a necessary pendant to the other two, and especially to common defence.
It is often found that the best way to deal with a great movement is to tentatively approach it. The colonies and dependencies have shown themselves not disinclined to contribute to the defence of the Empire, but no plan has yet been suggested of comprehensively dealing with the question on a fixed principle. Possibly it may be found that it is better to continue for a time to treat it by piecemeal. The difficulty lies in the many different conditions prevailing in the various parts of the Empire. For example, it would not be possible
to ignore the large cost to which India and Canada are put for their land forces. Great advantage must in any case arise from discussing the question, and possibly some one may be clever enough to devise a plan based on a well-defined principle, but elastic enough to do justice to the inequalities that have to be taken into account.
Commercial union has also been greatly discussed and a strong feeling prevails in its favour, although a considerable amount of antagonism has to be overcome. The Free-traders in Great Britain and the Protectionists in the colonies are respectively highly sensitive about any proposal which makes towards infringing their favourite doctrine. The manufacturers in Great Britain are very sore about the high duties imposed in parts of the Empire, and the agriculturists bitterly bewail the impoverishment of their industry because they cannot command remunerative rates in the home markets.
If it were possible to so overcome existing prejudices as to consider on their merits the plans best calculated to serve the Empire (putting on one side the doctrinal objections of the Free-trade and Protectionist schools), there seems every reason to believe that a Zollverein would be the most beneficial expedient. The governing feature of it would be the free interchange of commodities (with some half a dozen excepted articles) throughout all parts of the Empire. Such a Zollverein would not be quite on the footing of the German one, which deals with a self-contained conterminous country. Instead of the duties collected being distributed from a common centre, it would be necessary to allow the United Kingdom and the possessions to dispose of the duties each collected within its limits.
Nor would it be desirable that, apart from the free interchange of goods within the Empire, the duties imposed on foreign goods should be identical. Each party to the Zollverein should have the same liberty of imposing duties upon commodities coming from outside of the Empire that it now possesses.
The articles proposed to be excepted from free exchange within the British Empire were spirits, beer, tobacco, tea, and opium, whilst India was still to be at liberty to impose a duty on salt. Although this list does not include several items of the present British tariff, the duty collected on those items from other parts of the Empire is so small that the loss to the United Kingdom on the basis of this plan would be very trifling. But it would be otherwise with the possessions. Their loss arising from the cessation of duties on goods arising within the Empire (with the exceptions named) would be very heavy.
It is the fashion to speak of the duties levied in the possessions on a wide range of items as duties of a Protectionist character. More or less they are so, but they serve the object of raising a large amount of revenue. An estimate has been made that the colonies and possessions would lose by the plan briefly described above not less than eight millions sterling a year. It would take them a long while to even partly make up this sum by increasing the duties on foreign goods and on the excepted items, and it would be necessary they should have recourse to taxation different in character from the Customs duties. They would unquestionably derive great benefit in several ways from the free exchange of goods arising within the Empire ; but it would take time to develop the advantages, and meanwhile the diminished revenue would press on them severely. The United Kingdom would of course derive immediate benefit. The markets of the Empire would be offered to it duty free in a manner that would vastly profit the manufactures of Great Britain and Ireland.
Still it is to be doubted if the United Kingdom would offer to the colonies and possessions an annual payment for a short term of years in order to enable them to take the gradual steps necessary for restoring the revenue. If England were inclined to render such temporary assistance, the money could be readily raised by a moderate duty on foreign imports.
As far as a judgment can be formed, the Customs Union or agreement that would be most acceptable to the colonies and possessions is one of a system of differential duties. It is urged that this plan would bring revenue to the United Kingdom, and at the same time largely benefit its manufacturers and producers. On the other hand, it is contended that it would raise the price of commodities and conflict with the Free-trade policy of the country.
It is also objected that foreign countries might resent it. There does not seem to be much force in the last objection, seeing what heavy duties are imposed by other countries on British goods, and that in some large countries differential duties or bonuses in favour of their colonies are already established.
But as regards the first objection it must be allowed that the tendency of the plan would be to increase prices, though it is doubtful whether the increase would be sufficient to injure the labouring or manufacturing classes compared with the advantages they would enjoy.
It is doubtful, moreover, how long the present condition of affairs in England can continue. From a return for fifteen years ending 31st of March, 1896, it appears the Customs revenue each year has oscillated between under twenty millions to a little over that amount. It has not fallen below nineteen millions nor risen to twenty-one millions. Since 1891 a small amount not included in the above sums has been annually collected for direct distribution to local bodies, but it has averaged only about 200,0001. irrespective of the contributions from Excise duties. To all intents and purposes the Customs revenue may be considered stationary, and it startlingly
contrasts with other items of revenue. For instance, the receipts during the fifteen years from Property and Income tax have risen from ten millions sterling to sixteen millions, and Stamps and Estate duties from eleven to nineteen millions. The expenditure out of revenue has risen from eighty-four millions in 1882 to ninety-eight millions in 1896. Meanwhile the expenditure is still increasing, and it is surely a question how long the propertied classes will be reconciled to a virtually stationary Customs revenue.
Heed, too, must soon be given to the statements alleging that the fiscal system of the country cripples the pursuit of agriculture by making consumers much too largely dependent on outside sources for their food supply. The food bill of the country for these outside supplies amounted during 1896 to no less than one hundred and eighty millions sterling.
Lately—not before it was wanted-great attention has been given to placing the country in a position to properly defend itself in case
We are fortunate in the present rulers of Europe ; but this should not make us forget that one ambitious headstrong sovereign might plunge the whole world into war. The placing the Empire in a state of defence is an admirable conception; but is the execution complete that overlooks the effects on the United Kingdom of a prolonged war? Food would rise at least fifty per cent. and simultaneously work would be crippled, because manufacturers depend largely on foreign countries for raw material. How bitterly then might the cry go up against the policy that has rendered the country so helpless with respect to self-supply! It is possible that a consideration of all the circumstances may lead to the belief that a moderate duty on foreign commodities might stimulate agricultural production within the three kingdoms and assist the possessions to a position in which they would be able to render to the mother-country much more effectual aid than they can at present.
Mr. Chamberlain referred to colonial representation. It is certain that this question will sooner or later assume large dimensions, but it is to be doubted if the colonies are anxious for it at present. The policy of the mother-country towards her colonies has wisely been one of not hampering them with restrictions; it has even been held out that, if they wished to separate, no coercion would be exercised to retain them. Whether this would prove to be the case may be doubted, but at any rate the colonies have been made to feel that to all intents and purposes they may work out their own destinies, and that reliance is placed on their loyalty to the mothercountry and to their fellow-subjects throughout the Empire. At present they probably do not desire direct representation in a Federal Legislature, but as progress is made towards any Federation of a substantial character, it will be in accordance with their cardinal creed that responsibility necessitates representation.
There are probably many subjects concerning which Mr. Chamberlain may confer with the colonial representatives with great advantage. We venture to indicate two questions for separate treatment if the opportunity is afforded. They are both of the same nature, and essentially in the direction of consolidating the Empire.
For the last few years the Federation of the Australian Colonies has been very much discussed. Ten years since an Act was passed enabling the several Australasian colonies to be represented in a federal council endowed with the powers of passing acts applicable to all the colonies represented. It was not a federation of the colonies concerned, although possibly it may be considered an approach to that end. The Act was entirely permissive, and both New South Wales and New Zealand declined to make use of it. However, about four years ago the late Sir Henry Parkes, the veteran statesman of New South Wales, submitted in the most emphatic manner proposals for a complete federation of the Australian or Australasian colonies. New Zealand after a time declined to be included, but the rest of the colonies energetically approved and took up the question. It is not to be wondered at that great difficulties presented themselves. There are thousands of people still living who can recollect the wild rejoicings in Victoria when that colony was carved out of New South Wales, and there was no less manifestation of delight when Queensland was separated from the same mother colony. All of these colonies have done good work since and there is no reason because the dismemberment was wise at the time that it would not now be desirable to unite them as separate autonomous provinces, endowed with large powers of self-government, but under one federal control with regard to purposes common to them all. After many varying fortunes the movement has come to the stage of the approaching election of a council to prepare a scheme for submission to the several colonies for their approval. This council is to meet shortly, but Queensland will not be represented in it, and Western Australia does not appear to be very cordial concerning the project. At a recent meeting of the Premiers in Hobart Town the representatives of Queensland and Western Australia expressed themselves with considerable acrimony against the colonies of Victoria and New South Wales.
It is sincerely to be hoped the elected council may be able to draw out a practicable scheme satisfactory to the colonies, but it is much to be feared they will not attain this result. The federation of the colonies of Australia would be of vast ultimate benefit to all concerned. It would comprise a whole continent with no frontier but the sea. To the Imperial Government the federation would be of great value for reasons too obvious to need recountal. The position of the British Government in the matter is peculiar. Technically it