THE TARIFF REFORM "CHALLENGE."
[TO THE EDITOR OP THE "SPECTATOR."]
Srn,—I gather from the Press that the Tariff Reform League is supposed to have challenged the Free-Trade Union to send a joint deputation to Germany, and that the Free-Trade Union is alleged to have declined to accept that challenge. It is now some weeks since these statements appeared, and up to the moment of writing no such challenge has been received by the Free-Trade Union. All we know of the matter is from what appears in an unsigned preface to Vol. II. of the Tariff trippers' Reports. A futile effort is made there to reply to the searching analysis to which Vol. 1 was subjected by the Free-Trade Union, and the writer suggests incidentally that " the official Free-trade organisation" might co-operate with the Tariff Reform League in sending a deputation to Germany.
Why has this suggestion been made P The Free-Trade Union has pointed out that the Reports of the trippers con- tradict each other over and over again. Some of the trippers report in favour of Free-trade, others report in favour of Tariff Reform, but all succeed in contradicting each other as to the actual facts of wages, hours, and cost of living. The result is that after all their lavish expenditure on these trips the Tariff Reformers find their German case is worse off than it was before. So now the Free-Trade Union is to be asked to be kind enough to step in and help them out of the hopeless confusion in which they find themselves ! I have not had an opportunity of consulting my Committee on the matter, but in view of the fact that the conflicting reports of these Tariff trippers will provide endless amusement to Free-trade audiences throughout the coming winter campaign, Tariff Reformers can hardly expect the Free-Trade Union to be in a hurry to help them out of their trouble. Of course we do not yet know whether the Committee of the Tariff Reform League is responsible for the so-called challenge. On the face of it, one would hardly think so; important political organisations do not usually approach each other in such an offhand way. If the Tariff Reform League really desired to make such a proposal to us, they should, and doubtless would, address it to the proper quarter and in the proper form.
Meanwhile it may be worth inquiring, if such a deputation went to Germany, what it would do. Is it to be instructed to report on the general conditions of trade, showing the differences in methods, in organisation, in circumstances and resources of the two countries P Are questions of State assistance or State interference to be considered? Are methods of education to be examined P Are the influences of compulsory military service, the nature of land tenure, the political and social conditions, to be reckoned with P In short, are we to have a scientific examination into the life and con- ditions of the German people, as influenced by tariffs, or is the inquiry to be on the usual Tariff Reform League lines, partial, superficial, unreliable, and hurried through in fifty hours P
If the deputation is to make a limited examination into German life, what are these limits to be ? What districts are to be visited, and on what basis is the selection to be made P What industries are to be considered, and how are they to be chosen P Are the people in the non-protected and unprotectable industries to have an opportunity to state their case P What authorities are to be consulted P Are State officials and the representatives of vested interests to be taken as the final court of appeal P Or are Trade-Union officials and Labour leaders to be interviewed? Before any joint deputation of inquirers is sent to Germany, we should require to know something of the precise points which are now said to be in dispute. So far as the Free-Trade Union is con- cerned—and I believe we speak for Free-traders throughout the kingdom—we base the case against the German tariffs on the declarations of Government Returns and on established facts which nobody has denied.
The Unionist Government in 1903 published the well-known First Fiscal Blue-book. The present Government published last year the equally well-known Brown-book on wages and the cost of living in German towns. Nobody has yet ven- tured to question the accuracy of these Reports, prepared as they were by the best trained experts of the Board of Trade. These Government publications show that the wages of the workman in Germany are lower than in Britain, that his how's are longer, and that the cost of his food, rent, and fuel is higher. It is obvious that these results do not suit the book of the Tariff Reform League. But while the Reports of these official inquiries hold the field, what is the use of asking the Free-Trade Union or anybody else to carry out investigations on amateur lines, with the sole object of countering or discrediting these unanswerable official publica- tions P For our facts we Free-traders are content to go to the Government records of both countries. For further witnesses as to the wisdom and justice of Free-trade we are content to appeal to the representatives of Labour in both countries.—I am, Sir, &c.,
G. WALLACE CARTER, Secretary, Free-Trade Union, 8 Victoria Street, Westminster. S.W.