Motion made and Question proposed—
That this House do now adjourn until Monday, 6th June."—(The Chancellor of the Exchequer.)
§ * SIR C. DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)
Without delaying the House more than a very few minutes, I want to put the present position as to our future discussion upon foreign affairs to the Government, because I do not think the matter stands in a favourable position on what was said last night. There was an announcement made to-day by the Government as to the business after the Recess, and although I believe in the course of the evening the Government have changed their minds as to the business to be taken, on the second day after the Recess, there 687 is no doubt that the first day is to be devoted to the Second Reading of the Finance Bill, and on that Bill one portion of the matter we desire to discuss will be open to discussion. The recent alarming speeches made by the Prime Minister and other Members of the Government will be open to discussion, because we shall haw to point out how ridiculous and inconsistent their speeches are in the face of the proposal to reduce taxation, rather than to spend more money on shipbuilding. But there are some other matters raised by recent speeches which cannot be discussed on that occasion. There is the policy of alliance with Germany which has been proclaimed by the Leader of the House recently on two occasions, and there is the policy of an alliance with military Powers not named, which was the phrase of the Colonial Secretary. Those speeches we shall not have an opportunity of discussing on the Finance Bill. We cannot discuss this question of the alliances, although we may discuss others. Without discussing that policy on this occasion, let me just say this about it. It is the most momentous change in the Foreign affairs of this country which has taken place since the Treaty of Vienna. There have been many suggestions in books, and by the writers of the Press and others, that such alliances should be entered into by this country, but there has never been such a suggestion on the part of a statesman of this country since the time of the conclusion of the Treaty of Yienna. It is an enormous change, and is a matter which must be discussed by Parliament, though it has not been at the present time. How does this matter stand? We have been challenged repeatedly by the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, outside and inside the House, to a discussion, and we have not shrunk from that discussion, and a great many Members of this House have expressed a desire to take part in it. We have accepted the challenge. When the Foreign Office Vote was first discussed in this House the Leader of the House appealed publicly 688 and privately to the Leader of the Opposition and to myself. He told us he could not go into the full discussion of the details of the past policy of the Government in the absence of the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and although we upheld our right to discuss these matters, as a matter of courtesy we abstained from doing so, and we told the Government at the time, and they thanked us for making that statement in the absence of the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. When he returned to the House we asked for a day, but from that time to this we have not had a definite promise of a day from the Government. Now, Sir, yesterday there was a discussion as to this matter, and I understood the right honourable Gentleman to say that if there was a general expression of the desire to take the first Friday after the Whitsuntide Recess for this discussion, that day was open, and we might have it. I wish to know if that was a definite promise, or if it was not. I do not know what means are open to us to show that general desire for this discussion; all I can say is that if there is some shrinking on the part of the honourable Members opposite from telling Her Majesty's Government that they have that desire, they do not shrink from telling us. We see in the Conservative Press as strong a desire as we have. We see Conservative Members resigning their seats upon this subject, and when this conduct has to be defended we find a right honourable Baronet coming forward and saying he shares the views of the honourable Member who resigned, but says he thinks it was a mistake that he resigned under the circumstances of the case. We say, therefore, that there is as strong a desire on the opposite side of the House for this discussion as there is on this. I am able to state that the Leader of the Opposition has stated, both publicly and privately, that he desired that this discussion should take place on the first Friday after Whitsuntide, and I believe that there is not a Member on this side of the House who does not also desire it. I now ask the Government to 689 give us a definite promise that we shall have this discussion upon the first Friday after the Whitsuntide Recess.
§ * SIR W. WEDDERBURN (Banffshire)
I do hope that we may be favoured with some information with regard to the form mat the Indian Debate will take. I was glad to hear that this Debate was to come on at an early time, and that a financial statement will be placed before the House. But there is now a change in the order proposed, and I think we should have some information to show that the few opportunities that are given to us for discussing Indian matters will not be lost to the House. The practice for a good many years past has been to have two opportunities of discussing Indian affairs. First, on a Motion "That the Speaker do leave the Chair." On such an occasion all subjects may be discussed and Amendments may be moved. The second opportunity is the one in Committee, when only questions of finance can be discussed. The proposal this morning was that the Debate should be only in Committee. I think that it would be a great loss to the people of India if there was not an opportunity given for discussing general grievances on the Motion "That the Speaker do leave the Chair." Affairs in India have been of a very exceptional kind, and the Government have had to take exceptional measures to deal with them, and I am sure the House will say that more opportunity should be given to review these measures; and, therefore, I sincerely trust that we shall have an assurance given to us that there shall be a full-dress Debate on the general question with the Speaker in the Chair.
§ SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT (Sheffield, Ecclesall Division)
I cannot but deny that it would be very inconvenient to commence a discussion upon foreign affairs or general Imperial questions at this late hour of the evening, but we have a right to say that there should be an early opportunity given for the discussion of these important questions. There are some of us who think a good deal of time has of late been 690 wasted over the Irish Local Government Bill, but apart from that I think the statement of the right honourable Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean is deserving of consideration. There have been remarkable statements made of late by Ministers, some of which we are not fully acquainted with, which we have read in full, and which we have read with great surprise. The recent speech of the Colonial Secretary in Birmingham was one of the most astonishing utterances which have been made in this country for many years. I do not agree with the right honourable Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean, who has just spoken, in his minatory reference to the understanding concluded "with Germany, and which has already borne such excellent fruit in the interests of this country in South Africa and elsewhere. Honourable Gentlemen may not have noticed what an admirable attitude the German official Press are taking with regard to the attitude of President Kruger, in consequence of the understanding between the two countries. We should like to have an early opportunity of knowing what the right honourable Gentleman meant by his utterances the other day. We should like to know whether he went for a Pan-Teutonic Alliance or an Anglo-Saxon Alliance. We should also like to know what progress has been made towards a good understanding with Japan, which is so exceedingly necessary to the interests of this country in the Far East; and we should like to know how far the Government have abandoned their unfortunate attitude towards the Ottoman Empire, and whether there is really any chance of restoring order and good government to the unfortunate people of Crete, and many other interests of that kind; and so, without troubling the House any further, I would venture to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, I suppose, will reply to me on behalf of the Government, whether he cannot see his way to granting us an early day for this discussion.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
We are about to separate for the Whitsuntide holidays, and the right honourable 691 Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean has pointed out that the circumstances at the present time are of a most critical character. Now, I ask the House of Commons, if that is true, to look at the Front Opposition Bench. Now, I would point out to the House that when these circumstances are supposed to be so critical as they are the only leaders of the Opposition who are here to speak upon these affairs are the right honourable Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean and the honourable Member for Northampton, who, although he has not spoken yet, I should imagine from his attitude is going to speak on the very first opportunity. The right honourable Baronet accuses the Government of shirking and delaying this discussion on foreign affairs, but I hear from the Government Benches repeatedly offers being made that if a vote of want of confidence were proposed by the Leader of the Opposition the Government would at once afford a day for the discussion of foreign affairs. If foreign affairs are so critical, why do not the honourable Gentlemen opposite challenge the Government by means of a vote of censure? But nothing of the kind has taken place. The policy of the Government is challenged by the right honourable Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean, who criticises everything and suggests nothing, but from the Front Opposition Bench we hear no sound. The British people will be abrogating the common sense which they generally show if they believe for one moment that there is any truth in the statement made by the right honourable Baronet that the conduct of the Government has been averse to the welfare of this country. The only sign so far as I can make out of what the honourable Gentlemen opposite say, is the fact that one honourable Gentleman has resigned his seat. Well, this side of the House can afford even the loss of one honourable Member without falling into that condition of utter desolation which I see opposite. So far as I am concerned, I say that, considering the extreme difficulties of the situation with which the Government had to deal, they have not 692 come so badly out of it. [Laughter.] Honourable Gentlemen opposite may laugh, but we have avoided wax, and yet we have maintained the honour of the country. [Opposition, cries of "Oh!"] Yes, we have maintained the honour of the country. I think the honour of the country may be represented by Wei-hai-Wei in the near future. So far as Russia is concerned, she has got Port Arthur. Everybody knew she had got it, even my honourable Friend the Member for Sheffield. I say, if the British people were so dull as not to be able to see this, and if they thought that the British interests had been neglected, we should, have here at the present moment, instead of the empty Opposition Benches that we see, all the Leaders of the opposite Party in their places, and all the honourable Gentleman opposite would be spending their Whitsuntide holidays in stumping England, Scotland, and Wales, pointing out the mistakes of the Government and the betrayal of the national interests. The Front Opposition Bench is practically empty, and therefore I think we can tell the honourable Gentlemen opposite to spend their holidays abroad in peace. I defy them to go round the country in the hope of acquiring the sympathy, approval, and confidence of the people.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
Why is there no deference shown to us, because we on this side of the House are anxious to consult the convenience of the right honourable Gentlemen opposite? We know perfectly well we could go on to discuss this question until to-morrow morning, but the Leader of the Government is not here, and we are anxious to suit his convenience, and as he is not well we do not press it. We knew perfectly well that the Debate might last out to just before the holidays, and a great national festival is going to take place to-morrow, and we are not anxious to prolong a sitting which commenced at Twelve o'clock to a later hour than at present. The honourable and gallant Gentleman who just preceded me called the attention of the House to the condi- 693 tion of the Front Opposition Bench. I see on the Front Opposition Bench a small but very intelligent contingent, and I know that honourable Gentlemen and right honourable Gentlemen who would be here in the ordinary course are not here, but it is not for honourable Gentlemen opposite to imply that there is anything wrong, or that those honourable Gentlemen and right honourable Gentlemen have the fullest confidence in the Government because they are not here. It was fully understood yesterday that we were not to take the foreign discussion this evening, and therefore what earthly object could there be in those Gentlemen coming down here for the purpose of hearing the Motion to adjourn? We simply ask for a clear understanding as to what the arrangements are as regards the business of the Recess. We want to have a discussion upon foreign affairs. We want to have one particularly, because we wish to understand what are the views of the Government on Eastern and other questions. Certain views have been put forward by the Colonial Secretary, which may be the expression of the right honourable Gentleman's personal opinion. If that is so it is not so important, but those views may be the opinion of Her Majesty's Government, and if they are it is most important. The honourable and gallant Gentleman says that the Government have done well, but they must not cry before they are out of the wood. They have not done so badly perhaps, under the circumstances. We have not had yet an opportunity of stating our case, and when we have perhaps the honourable and gallant Gentleman will say they have not done so well as they undertook to do. We want to know what the Government policy is before we propose a vote o want of confidence. I really do not know whether the policy of the Government is the unauthorised programme of the right honourable Gentleman the Colonist Secretary, or whether it is not, and until we know that we are not in position to point out anything or to propose a vote of want of confidence. I 694 hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will tell us what was asked him by my right honourable Friend the Member for he Forest of Dean, that is when the desired opportunity will be afforded us.
* THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
The honourable Member who has just sat down was perfectly right in his statement that it was understood yesterday that there would be no discussion upon foreign affairs to-day, and that being so I really cannot imagine what the object of the conversation is which has just taken place, when I suppose that 99 out of every 100 of the Members who have been here to-day are anxious, after our prolonged sitting, to get home. Now, the honourable Baronet opposite (Sir W. Wedderburn) complained that he wanted to have a sufficient opportunity, which was not given him, to discuss Indian affairs. He is singularly fortunate this year in that respect. First, he will have an opportunity upon the resolution and the Bill of my noble Friend the Secretary of State for India, and later on he will have an opportunity upon the Indian Budget, therefore I think he has no cause of complaint. Now what is the cause of complaint of the right honourable Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean, and the honourable Member for Northampton, and the honourable Member for Sheffield? We are all a little tired of these purposeless, objectless, and endless discussions in Committee of Supply. If honourable Members of this House question our policy on foreign affairs, let them question it by a Resolution put to the Vote of this House.
§ * SIR C. DILKE
The right honourable Gentleman says, "wherever they sit"; hitherto we have been told that a vote of censure must be moved by the Leader of the Opposition. Therefore these are words as to which I should like some explanation. I gave notice of, and should have moved, a reduction of the salary of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, but for a personal appeal 695 to myself by the Leader of the House not to do so in the absence of the Under Secretary.
* THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I must refuse to take the right honourable Baronet at his own valuation. Who is the right honourable Baronet; what Party does he lead? What Party does he represent in this House but himself? Who is the honourable Member for Northampton? He is always telling us that he is the solitary vestige of the old Liberal Party in this House. And who is my honourable Friend the Member for Sheffield? My honourable Friend the Member for Sheffield takes an active and intelligent interest in Foreign affairs, and has peculiar opinions of his own, which very few other Members are able to share. I remember a certain triumvirate long years ago who rejoiced in the name of the three tailors of Tooley Street. I do not wish to speak a disrespectful word of the three great critics to whom I have just referred, but if we are to afford special opportunities for the discussion of Foreign affairs in this House beyond the time ordinarily devoted to the Foreign Office Vote, then I think we are entitled to claim something more expressive of a general desire on the part of the House than even the wishes and views of the three honourable Members to whom I have referred. It may be that the leaders of the two honourable Gentlemen opposite share their views with regard to an early discussion upon matters of Foreign policy. If that is so, it was perfectly open to them to be in their places yesterday, and it will be open to them to be in their places next Monday week. My right honourable Friend the Leader of the House will also be in his place, I hope, and will be able to afford the opportunity which they desire. I can add nothing more to what I have already said on his behalf, that if there be a 696 general desire on the part of the House that Friday, the 10th of June, shall be devoted to the Foreign Office Vote, that desire will be gratified; but, Sir, nothing that has passed to-night adds to the expression of the desire that has been given before, and I would venture to say that these carping criticisms, these Debates, on no more definite proposition than a reduction of £100 on the salary of the Secretary of State, may be necessary in their way, and serve a useful purpose to a certain extent, but they cannot be repeated Friday after Friday indefinitely without depriving us of time which might be more profitably used for useful and practical work. If there is any real desire on the part of the Opposition and on the part of the House to question our Foreign policy, they ought to produce their policy in the shape of a Resolution and take the vote of the House upon it.
§ DR. TANNER
said that the right honourable Baronet [Sir E. Ashmead-Bartlett] had stated that a great deal of time had been wasted over the Irish Local Government Bill, but he had evidently taken little notice of what had been done. That Bill had been passed through its Committee stage, and had been reported to the House, and the Irish Members, did not consider, having regard to the magnitude of the Bill, that my time had been wasted.
§ MR. ROBSON (South Shields)
The right honourable Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has thrown out a challenge to this side of the House which has now become somewhat familiar, and I think we are entitled to know in that sense he means that, challenge.
§ MR. ROBSON
The right honourable Gentleman has now strengthened the observation I was about to make by his interruption. The right honourable Gentleman may say in a sarcastic inquiry what he has said to more distinguished individuals, "Who are you?'" but if he did I should only bow a modest head in reply. But I would tell him I am one of a very large number on this side of the House—I believe the overwhelming majority—who desire nothing better than to take up the challenge that is thrown out to us. I wish to ask him what does he mean by that challenge? Does the right honourable Gentleman mean that the Government will only give us a day if it is asked for by the Leader of the Opposition? The challenge is not made to us, but to the right honourable Gentleman the Member for West Monmouth. I am not concerned to inquire what reasons the right honourable Gentleman the Member for West Monmouth had for not accepting that challenge; they may be good or bad, but, at all events, it is a challenge, if it is of any substance at all, which should be directed to him alone. We are anxious to challenge the policy of the Government, as we are telling the right honourable Gentleman to-day. Will he tell us this: if there be evidence sufficiently clear for this purpose, any strong desire on the part of this side of the House to move a vote of censure, he will give us a day, whether it is asked for by the right honourable Gentleman the Member for West Monmouth or not? Until the right honourable Gentleman meets that challenge let him in future limit his own challenge to the one gentleman to whom he now directs it.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (Mr. J. CHAMBERLAIN,) Birmingham, W.
I will take the honourable Gentleman who has just spoken at his own valuation. I take him, as he says, as represent- 698 ing a vast majority of the Party opposite. Then, Sir, he was Leader of the Party opposite, but his speech certainly points to a strong disorganisation of all that we have hitherto understood as regards the constitution of Parties. Hitherto we have understood that a great Party, upon whichever side it sits, is represented by a Leader selected, of course, in the usual way, by itself. It is only of those Leaders that we can inquire when we require to know the wishes and decisions of the Party as a whole. The honourable Member speaks of the right honourable Gentleman the Member for West Monmouth as a single individual. Is that the opinion of the vast majority of the Liberal Party? Has the right honourable Gentleman the Member for West Monmouth no more authority in this House, and upon that side of the House, than the honourable Gentleman the Member for Northampton or the honourable Member who has just addressed us? He has less authority than the latter, because the honourable Gentleman has just explained that he represents the majority of his Party.
§ MR. ROBSON
I hope I may be allowed to interrupt for one moment, and point out that there is a distinction, although the right honourable Gentleman may not observe it, between representing a majority and being one of a majority. May I ask the right honourable Gentleman, if he quotes my observation, to do so with at least some approach to accuracy?
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES
I make allowances for the honourable Gentleman. He represents that he is one of a vast majority; he means that he represents their opinions, he expresses the opinions of the majority of those who think with him; but then, by the force of his argument, the right honourable Gentleman 699 the Member for West Monmouth does not share the opinions of the vast majority of the Party. Sir, the usual course in this House—at least ever since I have been a Member of it—has been, in regard to votes of censure, to accept as the opinion of the Opposition the opinion of the Leader of their Party. We are still prepared to do that. Might I suggest to honourable Members opposite that in the course of the Recess they should settle who the Leader of their Party is? When they have decided whether the Leader is the right honourable Member for West Monmouth, or the honourable Member opposite, we will give them an answer.
§ MR. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
I think, Sir, that a great deal of unnecessary heat has been thrown into this discussion. The simple point at which we desire to arrive is, whether the Government are going to withdraw the promise that we should have the first Friday after the Whitsuntide Recess, which I understand was formally made for the purposes of this discussion. I believe that there is no question at all raised that the first Friday should be given up. That has not been touched upon hitherto. When the right honourable Gentleman was in his place yesterday he certainly said that, if there was a general expression of opinion upon the subject of the foreign policy of the Government, the discussion should be taken upon a convenient date, and we understood yesterday that it was formally settled that the first Friday after the Whitsuntide recess would be given for the discussion of this question. What I should like to ask the Government under the circumstances is, whether they mean to withdraw that promise. There seems to be a great reluctance upon the part of the Government to give the House an opportunity of discussing the speech of the right honourable Gentleman the Colonial Secretary.
* THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I do not wish to be misunderstood. I adhere to every word I uttered yesterday. I did not make any definite promise. Speaking, as I was obliged to speak, by the authority of my right honourable Friend the Leader of the House, I said that if there was an expression of a general desire that Friday, the 10th of June, should be devoted to the consideration and discussion of the Foreign Office Vote, my right honourable Friend would consider that desire favourably. I cannot go further than that, and I do not mean to go further.
§ MR. LOUGH
When the right honourable Gentleman made that offer there was a universal cry of "hear, hear"; no one protested against it, and everybody in this House believed the matter was settled. I am sorry that the promise should now be withdrawn. I cannot help saying that when the right honourable Gentleman the Colonial Secretary rose we thought he was going to throw some light upon his speech. He did nothing of the kind, he goaded and taunted my honourable Friend here, with the tenor of whose remarks we are perfectly in accord. We do not wish to raise the question of the Leadership at all, but I may say this, that there are a great many honourable Members upon this side of the House, a great majority of the honourable Members upon this side, who would like to have an opportunity of discussing this question. But the Government, having yesterday promised us the opportunity, tell us to-day that they have withdrawn their promise. I ask the right honourable Gentleman whether he will allow us to part to-night without giving us some intimation as to when we shall have an opportunity of discussing the Foreign policy of Her Majesty's Government.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ House adjourned at 12.25 until 6th June.