§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House, at its rising Tomorrow, do adjourn till Tuesday, June 20th."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)
I pass now to another subject. This appears to me to be the proper opportunity for reviving the inquiries we have been making as to the intentions of the Government with regard to the conference or conferences to which the fiscal question is to be referred. But when I look at the Order-book I find one notice standing in the name of the hon. Member for East St. Pancras to call attention to Ministerial statements on the Colonial Conference, and a second notice in the name of the hon. Member for Preston to call attention 981 to the fiscal aspect of the Colonial Conference, and to move a Resolution. I therefore find myself debarred from calling attention to a very singular fact. After what happened ten days or a fortnight ago in this House it appears from speeches made in another place that the Answers given by the First Lord of the Treasury on May 22nd to Questions on this subject have been absolutely put aside, and that the Government fall back on the declarations of the Prime Minister at Edinburgh last year. It is to be regretted, therefore, that this resolution was not arrived at sooner, because a great deal of controversy would have been saved. It was the discrepancy between the two policies which caused me to move the adjournment of the House on the 22nd of last month, and all that has happened since on the subject in this House turns on the same circumstances. I think that it is an odd thing that these Answers of the Prime Minister should be thus practically withdrawn and cancelled without information.
§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
Will the right hon. Gentleman read the answers?
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
Oh, I have got them. But if I read them all I am afraid that I will occupy a great deal of time.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I have not got the documents here, but the right hon. Gentleman can emphasise the points to which he chiefly takes objection. I think it will be sufficient.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
I cannot, because the hon. Members for East St. Pancras and Preston have blocking notices on the Paper and I should be out of order.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
The Answers given on May 22nd are totally inconsistent with the statements made before, and these Answers have not been formally withdrawn. They are ignored or dropped without explanation, 982 without regret, and without apology. The solemn Answers are given to my hon. friends as to the intention of the Government, and it turns out that the Government have no such intention as was expressed many months ago; and I think that something is owing to my hon. friends and the House, while the incident should not be allowed to slip without observation. But all that is passed, and we cannot go into the question on account of the blocking Motions, nor even into the circumstances of the previous statements. But I note the fact that the incident has occurred.
Within the last few days we have received new and authoritative declarations of policy which have been promulgated with great form and ceremony. From the Prime Minister's speech at the Albert Hall I do not think it was quite apparent that the policy of the Government was what it is now going to be, because it seemed to me to be rather a simple reaffirmation in substance of the Edinburgh speech. But we are under an obligation, not for the firs time, to the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, who in his kindly way has explained the significance of that speech in the Albert Hall. He said that the Prime Minister's speech set forth a policy so clear that it could not be misunderstood even by me, I do not know whether that is a compliment to my ingenuity or a desire to indicate a faculty of natural stupidity; but in either case the right hon. Gentleman adopts the course of setting up a standard of intelligibility, for if anyone had any doubts on the subject he was to apply to the nearest Liberal Unionist agent. Then the right hon. Gentleman went on to speak of what he calls the official programme, to which he says that he so heartily subscribes. That is the thing we all want to know to-day. The right hon. Gentleman speaks of the flag which the Prime Minister has raised. Which flag does he mean? It is not only the peroration flag, which is the most stimulating of all, except to hon. Members opposite with free-trade leanings. It is more than that. He says that it is "the vast majority of the Party" who are invited to rally to the flag that the Prime Minister has 983 raised, "and with a great Party consolidated"—that is accomplished, I suppose, by the proscription of the free-traders—"and a great issue to fight for, we will carry the standard to victory, and that before a very long time has passed." I do not know about the time. It might have come almost already if the returning officer in the Chichester Division had fixed the date of the poll a little later. Such small things sometimes affect great issues, but this official programme, which is so clear, so simple, and so straightforward that even I can understand it is in fact a new "sheet of notepaper." What is it? "What did Mr. Balfour say?" asks the right hon. Member for West Birmingham. "He said last night tariff reform will be the most important part of Unionist policy; he said that colonial preference is the most important part of tariff reform; he said that colonial preference will therefore be the first item in the future Unionist programme." That is a real, unmistakable, straightforward, simple thing, which even I can understand as the policy of the Unionist Party at the general election. Lord Lansdowne, in his speech in the House of Lords, introduced our old friend retaliation, but in a very subsidiary character. Retaliation is like a poor relation; you cannot get rid of him altogether, and ho has been useful in his day, but in the presence of greater things he has to retire to comparative obscurity.
But now I turn to another thing. The right hon. Gentleman talks of tariff reform. Let us know what is tariff reform. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham has told us what he means by tariff reform. He said it is the system of high tariffs prevailing in the United States and Germany. He declared that in point of employment and comfort and every other respect the working man was better off in Germany and America than here, and said—"When I next come among you let it be mine to say that with your help I have established the same condition of things in this country." So that at last we know where we are. We know the sort of enterprise with which the flag of the consolidated Party is to be carried. By preference is not suggested merely lip homage to the principle of mere con- 984 ference but it means that the Unionist Party are mortgaged to the principle of the taxation of food. I think it is only right to take the opportunity of bringing this prominently and clearly before the country. But then it is said the Member for West Birmingham—who is he? said the Lord Chancellor. He is a much-respected private Member, for whose views the Government are not in the least responsible. That is not Lord Lansdowne's view, because Lord Lansdowne said this—The noble Duke referred to the speech delivered by Mr. Chamberlain on Saturday last, and he took exception to that speech as differing from the speech delivered by Mr. Balfour at the Albert Hall. I do not know that I have collated the two speeches with the same close care that the noble Duke has bestowed upon them. But I confess it seemed to me that Mr. Chamberlain had taken almost textually from Mr. Balfour's speech.In fact, Lord Lansdowne can see no difference between them. and he made an appeal to the Duke of Devonshire to explain wherein they differed. This conflicts a little with the Lord Chancellor's idea of Mr. Chamberlain as a person worthy, indeed, of respect and admiration, but of no weight in this matter. Can that be held for a moment? The status of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham now is that of a party to a compact, and fresh from that compact he comes forward and makes that statement. It is not a statement of a casual Member of Parliament airing his own views, which the Government can afford to disregard. If such a word were applicable to a Lord Chancellor, I should say it is nonsense to say that he and his colleagues can regard Mr. Chamberlain's words as of no consequence at all. We have the endorsement of the view of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham by Lord Lansdowne in another place. That is, the situation. Do I ask any light upon it? We have asked so often for light that I cease to expect to get any, but I take this opportunity, at all events, to note the position, and to confront the Prime Minister with this assertion of policy made by his chief follower and standard-bearer, and if he is now content to leave the matter as it stands, so am I.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I rather thought that this would be a topic which 985 the right hon. Gentleman would have reserved for the vote of censure. I have no objection to rise, though I confess there is not much in the right hon. Gentleman's speech which calls for any very lengthened observations from me in reply. The right hon. Gentleman began by informing the House certainly very much to my astonishment, that I had withdrawn from the policy which I have stated in the course of the cross-examination to which I was subjected on May 22nd. I asked the right hon. Gentleman what particular propositions therein uttered by me I had withdrawn from, and he said they were too long to read, and my respectful suggestion as to what those propositions were he did not give me. I asked an hon. friend of mine to turn up the record of the House, and I have hastily glanced my eye over it, and I am not aware that there are any of those propositions which I have retracted.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
One proposition, for instance, which the right hon. Gentleman stated in answer to a Question was that there would not be, as we had expected there should be, two conferences, with an appeal to the people for authority before each—that the first conference would be the ordinary conference to take place next year, that there would be no general election before that, and he excused himself for having made two conferences a vital part of his policy in Edinburgh, preceded by two elections, by saying that he had forgotten what he called the automatic conference which is to take place next year. Will he reconcile his statements on that point?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I think honestly that it would have been well that the right hon. Gentleman should have read out Question and Answer. I do not think it would have been longer than the explanation he has given, and I cannot help thinking that it might have been clearer. I have not the slightest conception of what he means by the policy of two conferences to which he says I pledged myself in Edinburgh. I have not the smallest glimmer of the notion that is in the right hon. Gentle- 986 man's mind. This is what I said in Edinburgh—My view, therefore, is that the policy of this Party should be, if we come into power after the next election, to ask the Colonies to join a conferences on these lines—a conference in which the discussions shall be free, but who e conclusion shall not, commit any of the communities concerned to any large plan of imperial union on fiscal or other lines unless their various peoples have given their adhesion to the scheme.That is the policy which I stated in Edinburgh, and that is the policy which I repeated on May 22nd, and to which I adhere. Neither is there in the Answer I gave in May, nor in the speech in Edinburgh, the smallest reference to any obligatory policy of two conferences. It is a pure invention of the right hon. Gentleman. I am not going into that—though I am not sure that I should not be justified, as I was attacked by the right hon. Gentleman—but I repeat emphatically that I did not intend, nor do I believe I did, as a matter of fact, in those Answers make any recantation of any previous views I have held. I still think them consistent with the Edinburgh speech; I still think them consistent with the policy which I should desire to lead the country-to pursue.
The right hon. Gentleman has made a complaint that, owing to two notices standing in the name of hon. friends of mine, he cannot deal at length, and the House cannot deal, with the question of the Colonial Conference. I have two observations to make on that. The first is that we are here dealing with a subject which has been very often dealt with this session, and we are again going to deal with it on the vote of censure; and the second is that I put down on the Notice Paper of the House a modification of our rules which would have entirely removed the restriction placed upon our debates on the Motion for the holidays, and had the right hon. Gentleman's friends permitted that Resolution to go through uncontested neither the right hon. Gentleman nor any other hon. Gentleman would have been precluded by any notice of the Paper from discussing subjects which they desire the House to deal with.
I pass now to the only other point in the right hon. Gentleman's speech I am 987 not sure that I apprehend the gravamen of his contention in this case as clearly as in the earlier part of his speech. He has read out a portion of a speech delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, but the obvious meaning of the passage would have been made much clearer if the right hon. Gentleman had continued the quotation a little further. But I am not going to deal with that because I dissent absolutely from the principle which appears to be a cardinal one amongst hon. Gentlemen opposite that my right hon. friend the Member for West Birmingham is to be judged by my version of his speeches and that I am to be judged by his version of my speeches. [OPPOSITION cheers.] That principle of Parliamentary exegesis, which is quite new in my experience, I observe is loudly cheered by hon. Gentlemen opposite. [OPPOSITION cries of "jeered, "not" cheered.] I do not know whether they desire the same rule to be applied to themselves. I will not invidiously go into names, but I may say that in my opinion those who want to know the views I hold had better get them from my speeches, and not from other people's speeches. [An HON. MEMBER: Tell your own Party to do the same.] They had better get my views from my speeches than from the comments of the Press and the criticisms of hon. Gentlemen opposite. Each man must be judged upon what he says and by what he does, and though I am painfully conscious that I have on various occasions not succeeded in hammering my ideas into the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite—doubtless from my own deficiency and power of lucid exposition—and I have not been uniformly successful in making them understand what seem to me simple elementary propositions, at all events I ask for the common liberty of all mankind which is by their own acts and only by their own words, and by their own acts and words, should they be judged. Having said that, may I add that I shall not accept for my own part as a humble and independent critic the meaning which the right hon. Gentleman has decided to read into the speech of my right hon. friend the Member for West Birmingham.[An HON. MEMBER: He read the words.] I am not going to 988 set myself up as the interpreter of anybody's speeches but my own, but I think I may be allowed to express the opinion that the quotation read by the right hon. Gentleman does not give a fair view of the meaning which I, at all events, gathered from the speech of my right hon. friend the Member for West Birmingham. [An HON. MEMBER: Throw him over frankly.]
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I believe my right hon. friend was perfectly acquainted with the views that I hold and which I expressed not for the first time in the Albert Hall. Hon. Gentlemen opposite talk as if it was in the Albert Hall that I for the first time said that this question of fiscal reform stood in the forefront of our constructive policy. It must be quite obvious that this is so, and I have said so on all occasions. It is equally obvious, and I have equally said so, that of all the branches of fiscal reform that which was connected with the problem of drawing closer the commercial bonds between us and our Colonies was the most important part of our policy I further said, and again not for the first time, that in my opinion the only way to farther that object was by a free conference into which the various members might enter unfettered and unhampered, and the appeal I made, and which I make again, if it gains force by repetition, to the Party to which I belong was to leave in suspension their judgment upon any scheme that such a conference might hammer out until the scheme was before them. That is my view, and that is the view I expressed at the Albert Hall. That is the view I express now, and that view is consistent, so far as I know, with everything that I have ever said. I lay no claim to verbal infallibility. I have been subjected, with and without notice, to innumerable Questions upon this point, and I have made in reference to it in the country and in this House innumerable speeches during the last two or three years, and certainly I am the last man to say that the anxious explorer into those utterances may not find something which, by ingenuity of interpretation, may be twisted in some 989 sense which is not wholly in conformity with what I have said.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I do not remember making any such statement, and in such references as I have since had to make in my innumerable contributions to this controversy I have not come across any unguarded phrases which might have given a wrong view to those who made the smallest attempt at a clear and accurate estimate of what the policy is which I placed before the country. Certainly the right hon. Gentleman quoted nothing the other night and nothing this evening to controvert that statement, and if I have risen on this occasion immediately after him, it is because I understand that by the canons of debate which hon. Gentlemen opposite desire to see carried out the whole case against any Minister attacked is contained in the first speech. Therefore, I may assume, and do assume, that no hon. Gentleman opposite has anything to add to the speech to which we have just listened. At all events, my views, I believe, were expressed with great clearness at the Albert Hall. Have they been expresed with insufficient clearness on the present occasion? They have not. Well, those are the views by which I stand.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I have just explained to the House that in my view the only way of settling this question of closer commercial relations with our Colonies is to see what can be done by a free conference and to wait until it has given its judgment. And yet the right hon. Gentleman asks me a Question as to the solution to be arrived at. I should be plainly contradicting every statement of policy which I have made to the House if I were to endeavour to deal with that Question. I do not know whether there is any other Question the right hon. Gentleman ha sasked me; at any rate I do not recall one to which an Answer is required. I trust that in the few words I have addressed to the 990 House I have—I will not say made plainer, because it was quite plain before—made clear a position which was never obscure and which certainly the right hon. Gentleman has not done anything in his attack to call into question. I do not think that my speech requires defence, and at any rate I am not attempting a defence this evening. I do not think it requires any apology. As to the meaning of those speeches I think they are absolutely clear. I believe I was successful in making my meaning obvious when I uttered those speeches, and if any doubt prevailed after those speeches were made that doubt must now be at an and.
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)
said the Prime Minister declined to be bound by anyone's interpretation of his speeches, and he asked the House to take that interpretation from himself. But the Leader of the House in another place, speaking in the name of the Prime Minister and setting forth his policy as the policy of the Government at the next election, surely was as authoritative upon that subject as the Prime Minister himself.
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE
said he would state the understanding most of them had of what Lord Lansdowne said. Lord Lansdowne said that the policy of the Government at the dissolution—having regard to what the Prime Minister said to-day, that colonial preference was the first matter in importance—would be in two branches. He said the first of these two branches would be retaliation, and the second would be the calling together of a free Colonial Conference. He was asked whether the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham had not stated the policy which was agreed upon as the policy for the dissolution in the same words with a difference in the second branch; and whether the second branch as stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham was that the Prime Minister was in favour of colonial preference instead of merely in 991 favour of calling a conference on the subject. Lord Lansdowne's reply was that he could see no difference.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Lord Lansdowne repeated what has been reiterated over and over again, that closer commercial union with the Colonies was the great object of our policy.
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE
said that was so. But the question which must surely be resolved in one sense or the other before the dissolution was whether the Government were going to call a conference and whether that conference was to be free? The right hon. Gentleman had pledged himself distinctly to the House, had pledged everybody, including the Member for West Birmingham, who assented in the debate on the adjournment for the Whitsuntide holidays two years ago—a pledge which the right hon. Gentleman had constantly repeated since—that there should be no proposal for taxation of raw material. Had there been any change upon that point? They were hampered in regard to many subjects by "blocking" Motions, but surely they were at liberty to discuss the policy of the Government, which they had been explaining to the other House though not to the House of Commons. Surely they might ask that Question with regard to raw material, which was the subject of a distinct pledge, constantly repeated, by the Prime Minister, and a pledge quite different from that about food, became the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham concurred in it. The Leader of the House, in the debate two years ago, said that no person had suggested a tax on raw material, and the Member for West Birmingham approved that statement. They could not discuss this question until they knew whether that was a reserved matter or not. Did the Government depart from the pledge they had constantly repeated in the country upon the taxation of raw material
The Prime Minister had only himself to thank for the confusions which had arisen in the House and in the country, The "automatic" conference was dead; Lord Lansdowne's speech had killed it. Every one knew that the Colonies would 992 not come to it, would not look at it, and all that House had now to consider was the new departure which was made by the speeches in another place a few days ago—speeches not in a mere academic debate, but laying down, for the first time, in sharp and concrete form, the questions upon which the Government were going to appeal to the country and to the whole Empire at the next election. And here was the House of Commons beginning to be doubtful about any pledges which had been made on this subject! The language used about the taxation of raw material by the Prime Minister on two occasions was as strong as any language could be, and, if there was a rag of consistency about the Government policy, those pledges would be maintained. And yet they now heard this constant repetition of a "free" conference! They were to go into this "free" and "unhampered" conference without the Government daring to tell the House and the country what they meant by "irce" and "unhampered," or whether they meant to adhere to their pledges against the taxation of raw material.
The Prime Minister complained that this subject should be raised to-day instead of on the vote of censure promised. But that vote of censure was already out of date. They must have a different vote of censure. [MINISTERIAL laughter.] Yes, because the situation was entirely changed by the interpretation of the speech of the Prime Minister given by the Member for West Birmingham and by the explanation of Lord Lansdowne of the apparent contradiction. The statement made by Lord Lansdowne as to the policy which was to be the policy of the dissolution was, he supposed, a final statement, and, if they were to believe that the policy of the Government and the question on which dissolution was to take place was thus clearly expressed, there could be no subject on which the House of Commons was more driven to insist on knowing the views of the Government than the question which had been raised that day. It was not raised by the vote of censure, and if another vote of censure on the changed circumstances were put down, it would have to be put down in different terms. 993 [MINISTERIAL laughter] The Prime Minister laughed, but it was not the change of the Opposition. It was the change of the statement of the Government views—a change which, he feared, might go further even than the revelations Which had yet taken place, because of the conspicuous desire of the Prime Minister to avoid answering any Question on the subject of the taxation of raw material.
The position of the Member for Birmingham had been discussed that day. It was a position they all reverenced, because he was the master of the Government. In Japan there was a constitutional system, but behind the Cabinet there was the Marquess Ito and the Council of the Elder Statesmen, and the Cabinet were puppets in their hands. That Council decided what the Cabinet were to do. Tue Member for Birmingham evidently exercised on the constituencies so powerful a hold that the Government were obliged to adopt his version of their speeches. And, although the Prime Minister had shown a certain, he would not say petulance, but a certain impatience at having the Member for Birmingham's version of his speech put forward as against his own, yet the speech of Lord Lansdowne showed that it was the Member for Birmingham who had triumphed. He would ask the Government two Questions. The first was, "Do the Government adhere to their pledges with regard to the reservation of raw material, forbidding any touching of the question of the taxation of raw material?" The second was, "Are they in favour of colonial preference, or are they, as the Member for West Birmingham says, in favour of calling a conference on colonial preference?" Until the Government had answered such Questions as these, they must expect vote of censure after vote of censure, but with the changes which they were executing they could not hope that those votes of censure would always remain in the same terms. The fiscal question over-rode all others, and if it wrecked the programme of the Government they had only themselves to blame for the manner in which they were treating that question, which by their own admission was of the most first-class 994 importance. This question intruded itself into everything. He saw the other day a newspaper report of the proceedings at an international conference which stated—he was not sure whether the statement was a joke or a mistake—that the principal delegate representing the Government of this country refused to agree to certain resolutions on the ground that it would be playing into the hands of the fiscal reformers in this country. Although there were blocking Motions on the Paper he did not think they should be prevented from discussing the position of India in relation to this question as raised in the statesmanlike speech of Lord Curzon.
§ MR. ELLIOT (Durham)
said the Prime Minister had treated the question that evening in a manner which was hardly worthy of its importance. He was one of those who honestly wanted to arrive at the mind of His Majesty's Government. He wished to know, as a Unionist and a free-trader, what was the fiscal policy, if they had a policy, of the Government. He did not want to know what interpretation this or that right hon. Gentleman put upon the speeches of the Prime Minister at Edinburgh, or Manchester, or Sheffield, because the Prime Minister was now present himself. It was not necessary for them to run one series of interpretations against another series of interpretations. What the House wanted to know was his policy from his own mouth. He was present the other day in the House of Lords, and heard it stated on high legal authority that what they wanted to know was not only what Ministers said, but what they thought. The House of Commons was the place in the past where Ministers considered it their duty to say what they thought upon a question in which the public interest was deeply concerned. He said not one word about the conference, because he entirely agreed with the right hon. Baronet who had just spoken that the question of holding a conference before the dissolution was now practically a thing of the past in consequence of the speech of Lord Lansdowne in another place. The question he wished to deal with was not the question of the Colonial Conference. All of them looked to the holding of a Colonial Conference and liked the idea of 995 the representatives of the Colonies meeting periodically together with representatives of this country. That was not the question of the moment, of the day, or the hour.
The question was what the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government and his colleagues meant to do as regarded the tariff policy which was now put before the country on their behalf by no less a man than the right hon. Member for West Birmingham. It was said that Ministers could speak for themselves, and that the remarks of other people on their speeches were not binding upon them. But he had yet to learn that in politics, or in any other department of life, it was correct for a man to allow himself to be misinterpreted. Surely, if he were misinterpreted it was impossible for a man to stand by in silence when that misinterpretation was made, and when the question was afterwards raised to refuse to tell the House, "Yes," or "No," whether the interpretation put on his remarks was correct or not. It was for the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to say what their policy was. He thought that in this respect he spoke for a considerable number of Unionist free-traders in the country when he said that they would be deeply disappointed if this opportunity were allowed to pass without the right hon. Gentleman severing the Government from the policy which had been announced as theirs by the right, hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. Of course, he knew that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham was not a Minister of State. He knew nothing of the contract between the two right hon. Gentlemen; but he contended that the Prime Minister's intentions would necessarily be interpreted throughout the country by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, unless the right hon. Gentleman dissevered himself from the policy of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham. The Prime Minister would be necessarily associated with that policy unless he came forward and said that that policy was not his. The right hon. the Member for West Birmingham said at St. Helens—Mr. Balfour said last night that tariff reform will be the most important part of Unionist 996 policy; Mr. Balfour said that colonial preference is the most important part of tariff reform; Mr. Balfour said that colonial preference will, therefore, be the first item in the future Unionist programme.Was the Prime Minister going to the country on that programme, or was he not? He admired the frankness with which the right hon. Member for West Birmingham put his whole case be ore the country, and he had never concealed his view that colonial preference rested on the taxation of food. Therefore, if colonial preference was the first item in the Party programme, it brought the question of the taxation of food directly before the electorate. Did his right hon. friend mean this? If he did not, why should he not say that he did not mean it?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Well, I choose to be cross examined on my own speech, and not on other people's.
§ MR. ELLIOT
said that was merely fair. He thought the right hon. Gentleman had a right to say that he should not be judged by what other people said of him or his speeches. But there was a corollary to that. Why would not the right hon. Gentleman follow that remark up by telling them them what he thought himself and what he meant? There was something almost unreal in these debates. He did not want any interpretation of the right hon. Gentleman's speeches at Edinburgh, Manchester, or the Albert Hall, he wished for no more comment, he wanted an original speech from the right hon. Gentleman now. Surely they had a right to know the minds of their Ministers, for this ambiguity and doubt was distressing. The right hon. Member for Birmingham told them clearly enough that what he wanted was a duty on corn, and other duties, high tariffs, and protection.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
No. I am afraid I must be as ambiguous as the hon. Gentleman says the Prime Minister is. Most certainly I have never gone in for a high tariff; I absolutely repudiate what the hon. Gentleman says.
§ MR. ELLIOT
said he was glad the right hon. Gentleman when he thought 997 he was misinterpreted got up and told them what he did think. The right hon. Gentleman none the less seemed to have based a good deal of his arguments on high tariffs, otherwise he could not, in repeated allusions, have attached so much weight to the fiscal policy of Germany, the United States, and other protective countries which had systems of high tariffs, A dissolution was coming soon, [MINISTERIAL cries of "No, no!" and "Oh!"] Whether it came sooner or later there should be a clear issue on the fiscal question. They should know where statesmen stood, and on what grounds they were supporting them. If the policy of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham was to be the policy of a great Party it would be a now Party; it ceased to be the old Conservative or the old Unionist Party; it became the Protectionist Party of the future. Hundreds of thousands of Unionists throughout the country would fight against a Party which hoisted the flag of protection. They knew from facts and figures that such a policy was contrary to the interests of the country, and its advocates had failed to convince the country that it would bring wealth and prosperity to the United Kingdom or consolidation to the Empire.
§ MR. ROBSON (South Shields)
said that what they were concerned with was not so much any interpretations of the ambiguous phrases in the Prime Minister's speeches, but as to what were the actual intentions of the right hon. Gentleman, and on those intentions the right hon. Member for West Birmingham was an authority second only to the Prime Minister himself. That right hon. Gentleman told the executive of the Tariff Reform League more than a year ago that they could be assured of the Prime Minister's sympathy with their objects, and they must suppose that he did so with the express authority of the Prime Minister. The country was entitled to know from each right hon. Gentleman whether either of them intended to mislead the country. He himself had no doubt as to the view of the Prime Minister. That right hon. Gentleman was a protectionist, and a food protectionist like any other, but he had given that afternoon most remarkable reasons for reticence in this matter. In reply to the 998 right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, the right hon. Gentleman said that he had already explained that that question was involved in the question of colonial preference which was to be submitted to the Colonial Conference, and that it could not be dealt with until the conclusions of the Colonial Conference were known. It therefore came to this, that we, the mother country, were not to know whether the Government was in favour of a tax upon food until a Colonial Conference had discussed the subject and arrived at a conclusion with regard to it. He remembered how a great colony was lost to us because we tried to tax the people without their consent. Now the Colonies were to be invited to tax the mother country. Let them take care that they did not lose the mother country as we lost the United States of America. The right hon. Gentleman did credit neither to himself nor his Ministry in putting forward so flimsy and ridiculous a plea for concealing his views upon what was at the present time a vital matter. The right hon. Gentleman told the House that that necessitated the conference being free. The only muzzled Member of the conference apparently was to be England. The representative of England was to hold his tongue and was not to be allowed to speak a word. When the colonial delegates had put their views before the conference there was to be a general election. When we had heard their views and heard their proposals and their offer we were to have a general election to say whether the Colonial Conference was to tax our food or not. In his view the Prime Minister that afternoon had trifled with the subject, and in so doing had played an uncandid and unworthy part.
§ SIR FREDERICK MILNER (Nottinghamshire, Bassetlaw)
said it appeared to him, after reading the speeches made recently by the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham on the subject (and it was laid down most clearly in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham at St. Helen's). that this question could not be placed before the country until we had had a conference of the whole Empire. Until that time everybody should keep an open mind 999 upon the question. The programme before the country was that there should be a conference of the whole Empire and until that took place and we knew what the Colonies were prepared to offer us, and how far we could meet them, the question could not be before the country. Hon. Members opposite appeared to have fiscal reform on the brain to such an extent as to be unable to understand plain English or to take an intelligent view of anybody's opinions—except their own. No more plain English could be spoken than that spoken by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham at St. Helen's. It was absolutely clear that the conference could not be called until after the next general election. He believed that with few exceptions the Unionist Party was absolutely united in believing that there should be some change of retaliation or otherwise in our fiscal policy. Most of them believed that the terrible destitution and suffering which was daily increasing in this country, at all seasons of the year, was largely caused by the withdrawal of manufactures, and by the opening of mills in foreign countries, taking away the work from our own people. Whether they were right or wrong it was a question which any patriotic man should have thought worthy of consideration with an open mind and fair spirit.
At St. Helen's the other day the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham made perfectly clear what his own opinion was, and he also made it perfectly clear that he would heartily unite in supporting the Ministerial policy of the Prime Minister. That was a policy in which the whole of the Unionist Party might combine with satisfaction. Speaking for himself, he admitted that in times past he had been confused between the two policies but, after reading the speeches last week, he was absolutely satisfied that these two right hon. Gentlemen were working together on the same lines—viz., that this question should be referred to the conference and that there should be absolutely free discussion on the whole subject. For his part he should keep an absolutely open mind until he knew what policy was before the country. They could not 1000 know what policy was before the country until the conference had taken place and they knew what the conditions were. He should, therefore, give his most hearty support to the Leader of the House, as he considered his policy and that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham were practically and absolutely the same, and one that could be honestly supported by every member of the Unionist Party.
§ MR. CHURCHILL
said he agreed with the hon. Member when he said that it was quite clear that there would be no Colonial Conference until after a general election. After reading with great attention the speech made by Lord Lansdowne in another place the conclusion was forced upon him that Lord Lansdowne made it clear that His Majesty's Government were unable to resist the arguments, some of them physical arguments, against the summoning of a conference until this country had decided upon the general principle of I preference. He hoped the Colonial Secretary, to whom they were all glad to listen when he spoke on matters that came properly within his own sphere, would be able to tell them that the Government did not contemplate, as a matter of definite and practical politics, that there would be any sort of conference before a general election had taken place. Nothing could be more dangerous and more fatal than that while on the one hand, by an arbitrary and improper use of the Septennial Act, the people of this country were prohibited from expressing their opinion on such a vital matter as the taxation of food, a number of well-meaning gentlemen should be brought together from all parts of the Empire to consider detailed methods by which Imperial preference involving the taxation of food might be carried out. No Prime Minister who came with such a policy as that could possibly hope for the support of the House or the country. He confessed that he thought the debate would have served a useful purpose if it only gave to the Secretary of State for the Colonies the opportunity to once for all sweep away the dark, dangerous, and dishonouring suggestion that a Colonial Conference was to be held before the general election. The holding 1001 of such conference could not fail to make Colonies a mere plank in the platform of one political Party. Anything more disastrous it was impossible to conceive and he did not believe that even in the desperate straits to which some politicians appeared to be reduced they would allow their desire for political mastery to lead them into a course of action so disastrous to the interests of the Empire to which they were so strongly attached.
He had thought it very odd that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister should have said in the course of the conversation which took place recently that he had forgotten that there was such a thing as an automatic Colonial Conference. There could be hardly any limit to the want of knowledge of the right hon. Gentleman when it was convenient for him not to know any particular subject. The right hon. Gentleman, when speaking on the question of Imperial preference, did not know that there was such a thing as an automatic Colonial Conference. He should have thought there was no other man in this country, who paid the slightest attention to politics, so ignorant. But the oddest statement of all that he had heard the right hon. Gentleman make had been the statement that in the whole of these debates on the fiscal question his speeches had been absolutely consistent from beginning to end. It was curious, if the right hon. Gentleman's claim was a just one, that he should have been unable to make his meaning clear to either friend or foe. That was the statement put forward by those who earnestly desired to support him as well as those who did not. During the progress of this tedious controversy the House had seen the right hon. Gentleman supported by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, two Gentleman whom they knew to be sharply divided on this great question, the first question of the day. Both those right hon. Gentlemen at different times had appeared to be entirely satisfied with the utterances of the Prime Minister, and the question 1002 which occurred immediately to one's mind was which of those two gentlemen was to be the dupe? Which of them when the whole of this matter had passed into history, would regret the confidence he had placed in the words of the First Minister of the Crown. For one or the other, and possibly both, would have cause to regret the confidence they placed in the right hon. Gentleman.
Very often in the debates which took place in this Assembly it was the object of the Opposition to prove that there was a division of opinion in His Majestry's Government, but no such object animated those who sat n the Opposition Benches with regard to the fiscal controversy. Their object was not now to prove that there was any division between the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, but to prove that they were united, and, above all, to make it clear that it was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham who was the leader of the Unionist Party, and that his was the programme which would be the official programme at the next general election, The Member for West Birmingham the other day made a speech in which he claimed that the Prime Minister's policy and his policy were the same, and that he was entirely satisfied with the programme put forward by the Prime Minister. That was not remarkable. The right hon. Gentleman was too good a tactician to let it appear that he was at variance with the official governing heads of his own Party. But the significance of the right hon. Gentleman's speech in Lancashire had been greatly increased by the statement of Lord Lansdowne in the House of Lords, that he agreed with the interpretation placed on the speech of the Prime Minister by the Member of Birmingham. That circumstance must be felt to involve increasing menace to those still sitting on the Ministerial side of the House who adhered unflinchingly to free-trade views.
Events had gone a long way towards showing that the reasons which had already induced some hon. Members to separate themselves altogether from the Party opposite and to take the course of moving over to the other side of the 1003 House, a course accompanied by every odious circumstance of abuse, were not light or passing reasons, and that the influences which two years ago threatened to convert the Conservative Party to protection were still dominant on that side. It was somewhat pathetic to see the way in which members of the Unionist Free-Food League had looked for guarantees in the speeches delivered by the Prime Minister, and who had pinned their faith to them who had said. "Surely these are guarantees there is no getting out of. It in quite impossible to modify them." They had always regarded those statements as statements extracted from the Prime Minister owing to the difficulties in which he found himself and to prevent the disruption of his Party. Lately, however, the right hon. Gentleman had declared that he did not feel himself bound by the promises of the Edinburgh speech—that his pledge wag not a pledge given to his opponents. They had bean accustomed to regard the utterances of the Prime Minister as being in the nature of solemn assurances to the country as a whole. But the right hon. Gentleman went even further, and claimed that it was open to him to say at any time that he had changed his mind. The right hon. Gentleman did not say, "It is open to me at any time to change my mind," but "It is open to me at any time to say that I have changed my mind,"—to produce this when it was needed and that when a change was required. ["Oh!"] Hon. Gentlemen opposite must be their own judges of the faith they should put in their leader, but he would ask those who had fought for free trade in a manner which was recognised by the Liberal Party—he did not suppose that hon. Gentlemen opposite would object to regard free trade as an asset of the Liberal Party—he would appeal to those hon. Gentlemen to consider whether the time had not come when they should come forward more decisively than they had done and take measures with the strongest organised free-trade forces of the country, to make the sacrifices they had hitherto made effective and lasting for the future.
§ LORD HUGH CECIL (Greenwich)
said that this was one of a long series of dis- 1004 cussions which began, so far as that House was concerned, exactly two years ago upon the same Parliamentary occasion. All the debates that had taken place had borne a family resemblance, and he knew that members of the Government believed that in circumstances of great difficulty they had taken the best course open to them in giving only care ullv-weighed and judiciously-guarded Answers to the Questions that had been put to them. Bur he had never concealed his opinion, that in pursuing that scheme of tactics they made a profound mistake. He did not say a mistake in his interest, or the interest of free trade, or any interest which did not appeal to them as much us to himself, but a mistake in their own interests and in the interest of the great Party they led, and even in the interest of his right hon. friend the Member for West Birmingham, because he, like every member of the Party suffered under the impatience with which the country regarded utterances which, whether they ought to be understood and were intelligible or not, were nevertheless not understood, and were interpreted sometimes in one sense and sometimes in another by different sections of opinion. But since the Government believed it wise to follow these tactics he did not wish on the present occasion—it would not be congenial—to censure their judgment on what was after all, primarily their own business. He would only say how he understood, and he believed he understood it quite correctly, the position which the Government had taken up.
He understood, first of all, that their desire was to resume what was called the power of commercial negotiation, enforced, if necessary, by retaliatory duties. His criticism on that was well known—namely, that they had the power already. Beyond that he did not want to go at the present moment. But with respect to the colonial side of the problem he understood that the Government agreed with every one else, that while they would not actually promise that there would not be any conference during the present Parliament, it would be practically very inconvenient to have a conference on the eve of a general election—that was the language used in another place—and that, therefore, it was exceedingly unlikely, unless, 1005 perhaps, in response to a demand from the Colonies themselves, that there would be a meeting of any conference before the general election. But the Government proposed, supposing they were returned to office, to assemble a conference which should be uncommitting and uncommitted, which should be able to discuss anything of colonial interest, and the conclusions of which should not bind any of the parties to it, unless they chose voluntarily to undertake the necessary obligations.
A criticism was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Forest of Dean relating to the supposed exclusion from deliberation of the taxation of raw material and the more doubtful exclusion of the taxation of food. As he understood the matter, neither one nor the other was excluded from deliberation. It would be open to the conference to discuss anything—duties on food, duties on raw material, mutual co-operation, or anything else; but when the conference had concluded its labours it would be perfectly open to any one who supported the conference or to the home Government which convoked the conference to say, "We are unable to recommend this proposal to the people of this country for adoption." That was how he understood the proposal for a Colonial Conference. But undoubtedly his right hon. friend the Member for West Birmingham had, whether inadvertently or not, brought in an element of confusion where none such need have existed by speaking of the programme the Government wore to put before the country as including as its first article colonial preference. But a Colonial Conference which was to discuss colonial preference among a great many other things, but which was not to commit any person who supported or took part in it to the adoption of preference, could not be described as a programme including as its first article colonial preference. It was a wholly different proposal. He heard his right hon. friend say he did not see it. The difficulty of understanding was spreading.
§ LORD HUGH CECIL
said his right hon. friend knew what he meant if he did not agree with his interpretation of what the Government meant. At any rate, that was how he understood the Government, and so he and a great many more important people had always supported the policy of a Colonial Conference, because it would be very ungracious to reject such a proposal if it were made. It would, in fact, show distrust of the Colonies, and an indisposition to discuss any questions with them.
Without attempting to press the Government unduly, it was necessary for those who supported that proposal to state clearly why they supported it. They supported it without the smallest intention of modifying their opposition to the proposal for the preferential taxation of food. He had never been able to understand why any distinction should be drawn between the taxation of raw material and the taxation of food. It was perfectly true that a small taxation of either would produce only a small effect, but he could not for a moment admit that the effects of the taxation of food were either better or less dangerous than the effects of the taxation of raw material. He would like to ask one Question. He did not think the Government always appreciated why hon. Members asked Questions. It was not to elucidate their own minds. If they wanted to do that they could go and see members of the Government in private when they would be able to discuss matters at length and probably would much better get to the bottom of whatever might be their purpose. The object of asking Questions was that a great many people on whom they depended might understand the meaning of the Government. It was essential, or, at any rate important, for hon. Members, if they were to secure the confidence of Unionist electors, supposing they could do it consistently with principle, to say whether they supported the Prime Minister's fiscal policy, and if so, how far, and to introduce any limitation which conscience might require. They wished to go as for as consistency with principle would allow in support of that policy, but they were firmly opposed to any policy of colonial preference founded on the taxation of 1007 food. Therefore when they were told on authority which, he agreed, did not pledge the Government in the least, but which did carry great weight with the electors, that colonial preference was the first article in the Government programme, they could not escape from the foreboding that that would occasion them difficulty. He was afraid he was uncharitable enough to suspect that that observation was made with that precise purpose.
His right hon. friend had said that he did not wish to be cross-examined on other people's speeches. He did not want to cross-examine anyone offensively, but he did want to ask his right hon. friend a Question which there could be little difficulty in answering, viz., whether he adhered to the Sheffield declaration, upon which numbers of by-elections had been fought, which most of his hon. friends above the gangway had adopted, and which involved no more than this, that the Government were pledged not to propose taxation of food as part of their immediate programme, and therefore, and this was more important, not to propose it during the course of the next Parliament. ["No, no!"] Yes, this Parliament and the next. He was not suggesting that it was a pledge for ever and ever against the taxation of food. When attention had been directed to the double election pledge, he had always thought the people missed the very evident fact that the double election pledge arose necessarily out of the other pledge. It was no new thing. From the moment the Sheffie'd speech was delivered the Government were pledged not to propose the taxation of food in the next Parliament, and therefore if the conference adopted it they were bound to have a second election in order to keep the Sheffield pledge. That was the point that was of importance to hon. Members. Otherwise how could they go to their constituents and say, "We are perfectly consistent, first, in supporting a free and unfettered conference, and secondly, in opposing the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham for the preferential taxation of food"?
He wanted to make only one other observation. A part of his right hon. friend's Birmingham speech which seemed to him important was the invita- 1008 tion to these Members who did not agree with the policy as he defined it to leave the Party. He noticed that that invitation was echoed by hon. Members opposite. On both sides, it seemed, there was a desire that the Unionist free-traders should change their political adhesion. He confessed to being a little amused. The Liberal Party were anxious that they should depart from their contaminated surroundings, but they were not prepared to take any steps to secure their continuance in Parliament when the rupture took place. Those who were responsible for the elections said, "Well, Liberalism must be considered as well as free trade"; but he thought it was a little unreasonable that they should not also consider Conservatism as well as free trade. But, in fact, Unionist free-traders were not at present, and he hoped they never would be, driven to any such, tremendous choice as an alternative between Conservatism and free trade. They hoped to combine the two, and they hoped it all the more because of the evident anxiety of his right hon. friend the Member for West Birmingham to get rid of them. The right hon. Gentleman wanted, of course, the Conservative Party to be the instrument of his policy. Did he not wish he might get it? Did he suppose that they were not quite as well aware as he was of the great advantage in resisting his policy that membership of the Unionist Party gave them? They were perfectly aware of it. They proposed to remain in the Party, and they proposed to continue their opposition to his right hon. friend until not one bit of his jerry-built structure remained standing. His right hon. friend might be entitled to advise them as to who ought or ought not to be members of the Unionist Party, but certainly not as to who should be members of the Conservative Party.
It might seem surprising, but he began active political work on behalf of the Conservative Party before his right hon. friend was a member of it. The occasion was really an interesting one, because the very first active political work he undertook was to assist in the composition, which was very easy, of a certain political poster. At the time of the general election of 1885, or that which preceded it, it had been said by 1009 certain members of the Radical Party—he was not sure whether by his right friend himself—that the Conservative Party proposed to tax the food of the people. That was one part of the Radical stock-in-trade at the time, and it was vehemently resented as a calumny by the leaders of the Conservative Party, and the late Lord Iddesleigh, then a distinguished leader of the Party, made a speech in which he described it—quoting an anecdote—as "a downright thumping lie." That was so good a theme for a poster that it was felt a poster should be made, and he was the editor who constructed it. His right hon. friend the Member for West Birmingham had changed his opinion, but he, although a much younger man than his right hon. friend, had not changed his. His right hon. friend had succeeded in making that poster out of date to some extent but although they could no longer say it was a falsehood, they still earnestly wished they could, and he hoped that Unionist free-traders would continue their membership of the Unionist Party until they brought that poster back into fashion again. At any rate, they would not consent to leave the Party at the bidding of one, who, however distinguished a member of it now, was, after all, in his origin, only an alien immigrant.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (Mr. LYTTELTON,), Warwick and Leamington
who was received with OPPOSITION cries of "Another alien," said: It will not be very becoming in me to follow the latter and more personal part of my noble friend's speech. I intended on rising to deal more particularly with the appeal addressed to the Government earlier in the debate by the hon. Member for Durham and the junior Member for Oldham with regard to the next Colonial Conference. It has been truly said that the Colonial Conference, which would in that ordinary course assemble in July, 1906, is not in the strict sense of the word an automatic conference, but it is a conference which has been resolved upon by the members of the 1902 conference, and it would, in the absence of any special circumstances, no doubt meet about that time. These conferences have been hitherto ancillary 1010 to meetings on occasions of great national ceremonials, the Jubilee and tin Coronation, but in 1902 it was definitely resolved to hold them at intervals not exceeding four years, and so we got a definite period established for such Conference to meet upon strictly business occasions as distinguished from more or less ceremonial and festive occasions. Both sides of the House will agree that it would be a great pity to interfere, and especially to interfere without any assent of the Colonies, with the definite establishment of these conferences. It would be a pity to lose the definite and stated times of assembling, and especially it would be a deplorable thing from the colonial point of view if these conferences were postponed for any partisan purposes. That being so, I think the House will feel that it would be a very great pity if, by anything done by the present Government, or any Government, apart from the Colonies, there should be any definite postponement a long time beforehand of this Conference.
I do not wish to enter upon the subjects which might come before them, but obviously there might arise before 1906 questions, apart from any commercial issue, of such gravity and importance as to make it necessary or desirable for us to consult the members of the Empire upon them, and I would deprecate profoundly any action by any Government which would postpone a conference already fixed to deal with such topics. It is equally clear that once the conference assembled it would not be in the Competence of anybody there to rule out of discussion any subject which any colonial Prime Minister chose to bring up. We meet there as members of equal States. Some months before the conference of 1902, the Prime Minister of New Zealand sent in an important proposition when it was obviously impossible for anybody to have proposed at that conference to have ruled these topics out of order. I should not speaking on behalf of the Government, on the present occasion like definitely to pledge the Government to postpone the conference of 1906 at all. Certainly no subject which the Colonies chose to bring forward would be ruled out. But the Prime Minister has already 1011 informed the House on two occasions that the Government did not intend to initiate any subject dealing with commercial preference, and he has also pledged himself not to summon any Indian representation to that meeting. Under these conditions I must say I agree with Lord Lansdowne, as I think anybody would who thought over the matter, that it would be extremely improbable that the Colonies would being up the fiscal question under such conditions. It is not a subject, of such an entrancing character, though I do not for a moment dispute its transcendant importance, ["No, no!"] It is not of so appetising a character that men will give the great labour of advancing and formulating propositions upon it when the conditions for their discussion are not the most favourable I therefore think that it is extremely improbable if the conference meets in July, 1906—not probable at all events—that these matters should be gone into in very great detail. But the last thing the Government desire is to interfere with the periodical meetings of these conferences, and they have said over and over again for the last six months that the conference should take place without any fetters or hampering restrictions whatever.
With regard to the conference of July, 1906, not being present to the memory of the Prime Minister in September last year, I should be much surprised, as a careful student of their speeches, if a single Member on the bench opposite could rise in his place and say he had any knowledge that the conference was to assemble in 1906.
§ MR. LYTTELTON
Had the right hon. Baronet been sitting on the front Opposition Bench I might not have given that challenge, but I do not think anybody at that time believed that the conference of July, 1906 had any relevance to what the Prime Minister said.
I have been asked by the hon. Member for Durham what the position of the Government is. I listened to the speech of the Prime Minister and to that which he made a week ago. He attached to that Edinburgh speech a 1012 most definite meaning and he repeats that meaning, and of course that meaning is the policy of the Government. What does it come to? My right hon. friend has said, and has repeated again and again as clearly as it was possible to say it, that the most important and urgent of all questions of fiscal reform was the question of drawing closer the commercial ties between the Colonies and ourselves. I think the actual words were "most important and most urgent." This, of course, places the drawing together of the commercial ties between this country and the Colonies in the forefront of the programme, and places it alongside with the other head of a great fiscal change—retaliation. I have stated exactly to the House what the Prime Minister said, and what everybody understood him as saying, namely, that these two topics, retaliation and the drawing together of the commercial ties of the Empire, are in the forefront as the most urgent and important items of the Government programme.
Then in the second place come the methods by which these ends, if achievable, should be achieved. The methods which we propose for the purpose is after the election to summon a conference. If the Leader of the Opposition and the hon. Member for Durham had read a few lines further down in the speech of the right hon. Member for Birmingham they would have found that part and parcel of the programme was the holding and assembling of a Colonial Conference. That enables me to deal with the point raised by my noble friend the Member for Greenwich. He has asked, if I rightly understand him, what is the purpose for which the conference will be held? I have always understood, if I have read his speeches aright, that he is in favour of a conference being held. Of course there are people who would go into the conference with different opinions as to what the result is likely to be, but no one will have the slightest doubt that the effect of asking and obtaining a mandate from the people to go into such a conference will be to strengthen the hands of those who are working for this mandate as a means for securing the commercial unity of the Empire. The Government are pledged to ask for a 1013 mandate to go into this conference if we are called to office after the next election. If we fail, of course the whole matter falls to the ground. So, then, the next election will necessarily entail a request by the Government to the country to give them a mandate to enter upon the consideration of these topics, closer commercial relations with the Colonies and retaliation.
This enables me to answer the next Question of my noble friend. He is for the moment assuming, as I am assuming, the success of the Government at the next election. The conference accordingly is called together by the Government, with the mandate from the people to discuss these subjects, and the conference meets for the purpose and discusses questions arising out of these subjects, and among other conclusions he assumes that they may arrive at the conclusion that the taxation or readjustment of taxation upon food might be possible. He asks if it would be competent for the Government to recommend that proposal to the Parliament then sitting, and I say it would not. I have no doubt of that in my own mind, and I should have said that the Prime Minister had made that clear and had placed it beyond doubt. Really, it is only affectation on the part of hon. Gentlemen who doubt it at all. It will be necessary, according to the pledges given by the Prime Minister, for the Government to submit the resolution of the conference, so arrived at, to the people again at a second election. I think the Prime Minister made it equally clear in his speech at the Albert Hall that in the event of the Government failing in that election, all that has been said in regard to retaliation will of course lapse. I trust after what I have said there is no possible ambiguity about the position of the Government.
§ MR. ASQUITH (Fifeshire, E.)
I think the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down was inclined to be a little over sanguine when he expressed a hope that he had cleared up all ambiguity. He did give a reply categorically to the Question whether the Government if returned in the next Parliament would consider taxation of food within the 1014 scope of their mandate. But the Question I want to ask—I am sorry to be still in the interrogative mood, but I have no option—is one that has never yet been answered and to which I find no hint or glimmer of an Answer in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman we have just heard. It is this, what is the issue to be submitted to the country at the next election? [Cries of "Oh, oh!" "Hear, hear!" and "What is yours?"] It is not a question of holding a Colonial Conference. A Colonial Conference will be held, we all agree it should be held, but the question in which the country is interested is, are the Government going to ask the electors to give them power and authority to send to that conference as representatives of the United Kingdom men who are authorised to propose, accept, or entertain any proposition for the taxation of the food of the people of this country?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I am very reluctant to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but he has dropped something that seems to me important to note. I did not know that it was the intention on the part of himself and his friends, if returned to power, to summon an Imperial Conference for the purpose of discussing these subjects.
§ MR. ASQUITH
I did not say anything of the kind. [Cries of "Oh, oh!" "Yes," "All agreed."] I know of no such intention. In the ordinary sequence of events I understand a Colonial Conference will in any case be held, and we on this side of the House are s anxious as anybody else that regular and periodical conferences should form part of the permanent machinery of our Empire. But since the right hon. Gentleman is so ready to put a Question to me, perhaps he will be equally ready to answer my question. I repeat the Question I have ventured to put, are the Government going to ask from the country authority to send to this special conference they propose to summon, men who would propose, accept, or entertain proposals for taxation of food? Sooner or later that Question will have to be answered, and I do not see why it should not be answered to-day.
1015 My right hon. friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies has referred to the speech of the Prime Minister at the Albert Hall as free from ambiguity and misunderstanding, but we cannot forget that on the morrow of that speech we had a version of it from the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, who had not only enjoyed the advantage of reading that speech in the papers, but if rumour is not altogether wrong, had had the advantage of frequent private communication with the head of the Government. In that version proceeding from this high authority the day after we are told that the effect of that speech —and the right hon. Gentleman professed to give his interpretation of it—is that colonial preference is the first item in the Unionist programme. I ask again, is that true or not? The two Questions resolve themselves into one, because if colonial preference is, as the right hon. Member for West Birmingham says, the item first in importance on their programme for the next election, it follows that they are going to ask for authority to propose, accept, or entertain resolutions for the taxation of food. That is the point upon which the whole of this discussion turns. Once more, in the interest not of Party, but of the intelligence of the people and in order that we and they may understand the issue on which we are going to fight, I ask the Government to say "yes" or "no" to that plain and simple Question:
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
This discussion has now been going on for a number of hours, and the speech just delivered seems to me to illustrate the objection to the course which was adopted when the Leader of the Opposition moved the adjournment of the House and which has been adopted to-day. What was the object with which the adjournment was moved the other night and what is the object of the Opposition this evening? To make an attack upon the head of the Government, to extort from him interpretations not only of his own speeches, but of other people's speeches—the whole thing is absolutely personal. It is perfectly clear that no one but the Prime Minister can give a full and complete Answer to the sort of Questions raised, and why, then, do you put 1016 him on the stage before you put the Questions? Why do you, you who are Englishmen and who have the ordinary notions of Englishmen as to fair play, why do you reserve your Questions, your attack, and your heavy artillery until a period when it is impossible for your opponent to reply?
The Prime Minister said, in answer to the Question which up to that time had been put to him, that he refused to say anything about the interpretation which might have been put upon his speeches by anyone else. I confess I think he is absolutely right, and I, also, have some complaint of the interpretation put upon my speeches and of the way in which their language is altered, no proper, no full quotation being given, so as to hold me responsible—unless I jump up every moment like a jack-in-the-box—not for what I have said, but for what I am supposed to have said. Take the statement of the Leader of the Opposition. He says, and the hon. Member for Durham repeated it, that I am in favour of high duties. Well, when have I said that? The right hon. Gentleman may, as a matter of argument, say that that will be the result of my policy, but he has no right to accuse me of saying what I have not said. The right hon. Member for Durham says—"Oh, the right hon. Gentleman in continuous speeches has pointed out how much better off by almost, any test you can apply, are Germany and the United States under very high tariffs than we are." Yes, but I have never said that that was in consequerce of the very high tariffs. What I have said—and I am very glad to have the opportunity of explaining it here—and it is one of the strongest arguments that I can adduce—is to bring forward Germany and the United States to disprove all the statements of hon. Gentlemen opposite, who tell the people that the effect of introducing even a very small general tariff would be to ruin this country and to starve the people. All these statements of the terrible results that would follow are disproved by the fact that where you have not a small but a very high tariff those results do not follow. So far from approving of very high tariffs, I have used strong language on several occasions to express my opinion of such extravagant tariffs 1017 as exist in the United States, and I have said that in no circumstances could I approve of the application of similiar duties in this country. If hon. Members will look at the conclusions recently come to by the Tariff Commission—[OPPOSITION ironical laughter]—at all events that Commission has produced a vast amount of valuable evidence, and hon. Members would be less derisive if they were better acquainted with its conclusions—if they look at those conclusions, they will find that the duties which are proposed, and which may be assumed to be in accordance with my views, as I presided when they were unanimously adopted, are very light indeed. In no case do they exceed 10 per cent., and large classes of articles in the cotton, iron, and textile trades would be admitted free. I hope the misunderstanding of my views in regard to high duties will never be repeated after my definite repudiation of them.
My noble friend the Member for Greenwich said that, according to my speech at St. Helens, the Prime Minister had mortgaged the Party to the taxation of food. Now where do we stand with regard to the taxation of food? I confess that the Prime Minister's speech, was absolutely clear, and that it should not require further elucidation. But I am perfectly willing to repeat my views, I of the position of the Government, and my reasons for holding them. I have never expressed this as the opinion of the Prime Minister, but only as my own personal opinion—that whenever you come to discuss colonial preference you will find, not that it is necessary to put taxation on food, but that it will be necessary to transfer some of the existing taxation on food from one article to another. That has been my contention from the first. Everyone understands what is meant—to take off taxation on tea, sugar, and tobacco, and similar objects of large consumption by the poor, in order to put some of that taxation back on another article of food—namely, corn. Now, what is the position of the Government with regard to that? Let me say beforehand, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite seem to have mistaken that statement of mine as to what might be necessary as a declaration that under all conceivable circumstances 1018 it would be necessary or desirable. I have never said anything of the sort. I have said again and again that you cannot tell what the Colonies will give in return until you meet the Colonies with the intention of a certaining their views and what they are prepared to offer. I have said that if they were unwilling to give a sufficient equivalent, of course my proposals in regard to the Colonies would fall to the ground. I never asked any supporters in the country to give me their pledge that they would vote for the taxation of food in any circumstances, and I am not going to do it at the general election. What I ask is that they should not close their minds to the possibility of this resort. I want them to avoid the attitude of my noble friend, who I am to take as a stanch representative of the Conservative Party, and who never changes his mind. I do not want them to place themselves in antagonism to a course of policy the advantage of which must depend on information not now before them. When the conference has met, and we know what the Colonies will give and what we are asked to give in return, then it will be time to come to a decision. But is not that exactly what the Government has said, and not only by the mouth of the Prime Minister?
Hon. Gentlemen would be saved a great deal of unnecessary curiosity in regard to this question of the taxation of food and the views of the Prime Minister if they would refer to a speech which was made by the Prime Minister, by an odd coincidence, on the very day that I made my first speech at Birmingham calling attention prominently to this matter. On May, 15th 1903, the Prime Minister addressed a great deputation of Members on this side of the House who protested against the abolition of the corn duties. I am certain that in the course of that speech my right hon. friend spoke of the importance of a closer commercial union with the Colonies, and expressed his readiness to consider any proposals for such a purpose favourably, even though they involved a slight taxation of food, Where were my noble friend the Member for Greenwich and my hon. friend the Member for Durham on that occasion? There is the statement to which, they 1019 take so much exception. Their objections now are belated; they ought to have got up then. It is absurd now to say that the thing is new and requires them to move the adjournment of the House and vote against their Party. They give to what has lately taken place an unnatural importance. From the beginning of this matter I believe that the Prime Minister and myself in all essentials have stood upon exactly the same platform. [OPPOSITION cries of "Agreed, agreed."]
The right hon. Gentleman opposite asked whether it was true that the first issue of the Unionist Party at the next election would be colonial preference. This is what the Prime Minister said at the Albert Hall—What I have said about what is commonly known as retaliation I say with equal emphasis and far greater feeling on that other great branch of fiscal reform which, while most difficult, is also most important.There you have a most distinct statement that that question of fiscal reform is the most important.What has been asked," the Prime Minister went on, "in respect of this, the greatest, the most important, and, for reasons based mainly on colonial sentiment, the most urgent of all the great constructive problems with which we have to deal?The Prime Minister says that commercial union with the Colonies is the most urgent of the great constructive problems with which we have to deal. I interpreted that, and I interpret it still, as meaning that if the Government goes to the country it will put before it in the first place what the Prime Minister has declared to be the most important issue. It may be very amusing to hon. Members to quibble over a slight variation of meaning in the words respectively used by the Prime Minister and myself. They know perfectly well that, although they are engaged in picking all our speeches to pieces, and while it is possible here and there to find a word of difference, they will not find any substantial difference in point of principle between myself and the Prime Minister.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
The proper place for expressing opinion is in the House of Commons, and I do not know why, when the noble Lord rose formerly and expressed his opinion with great humour and amusement to the House he should have omitted what ought to have been the essential part of his argument. Up to the present time the only point, I think in which he suggested what I should call a difference of principle between my right hon. friend and myself was that what he had said was inconsistent with the statement that the first object is colonial preference. Now, I have read what he said; and I ask any intelligent, reasonable person whether there is the slightest inconsistency with the words I have read and the statement I made on that occasion.
§ LORD HUGH CECIL
There is all the difference between considering whether you will do a thing and doing it.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I really cannot follow my noble friend at all. He makes a distinction which to my mind is almost Jesuitical. I will only say in conclusion that, while I do not in the slightest object to the personal attack which my noble friend made upon me—I enjoy the humour of it—I yet think that, considering his determination to remain in this Party, he might avoid making scorn of a colleague in the presence of his opponents. My noble friend says that I am an alien immigrant; but he forgets that for eighteen years this has been the Unionist Party. I think that he went even further and suggested that I was an undesirable alien. I hope that is not the fact; but mean while, humbly recognising my very difficult position, I will not venture to advise the noble Lord in regard to his own action.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I will not advise the noble Lord. Advice to his constituents is a different matter, and as 1021 a matter of fact I do not remember that I have advised his constituents. But I do not dwell upon that, because I am perfectly ready to advise them. If they ask for my opinion I will tell my noble friend the advice I will give. I should give the same advice as that which, I believe, he gave to the constituents of the hon. Member for Horsham at the time there was a contested election in that constituency. I hope that this debate, at all events, will have had the advantage of giving to hon. Member opposite the information for which they have been so clamorous, and that, after about the twentieth time of repetition, we may hope they will understand it.
§ MR. RITCHIE (Croydon)
I was present throughout the debate; bat I should not have risen had it not been for the speech to which the House has just listened. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham has striven his utmost to show that there is no difference whatever between himself and the Prime Minister. I can thoroughly understand the right hon. Gentleman taking that course. Let us see how the matter stands. The right hon. Gentleman says there is no difference of opinion. In my opinion there is no difference which is a very important one. It is whether or not there are to be two elections before the taxation of food shall be placed before the country. The Prime Minister declared at the outset that it was his intention not to make any proposal on this subject until after two elections. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham takes strong exception to that view and has tried to show it is not only unnecessary but unwise, and he has done his utmost to get that part of the Prime Minister's policy eliminated. That very important distinction having been decided against the right hon. Gentleman, he now wishes to cover his defeat by endeavouring to show that on all other essentials his policy is the same as that of the Prime Minister. To my mind, there is a fundamental difference. The right hon. Gentleman declared that the Prime Minister had placed tariff reform in the forefront of his programme. What does he understand by Tariff reform? What he means by tariff reform is what a good many of us 1022 think is protection. Protection pure and simple. The right hon. Gentleman wishes to do away with the imports of manufactured goods.
§ MR. RITCHIE
Then he wants to lessen them, and he proposes, in order to do that, that an import duty should be put upon them. That is what I call protection. Everyone knows perfectly well that the right hon. Gentleman's speech from beginning to end has been a speech advocating protection. The right hon. Gentleman has been protectionist throughout. My right hon. friend the Prime Minister, on the other hand, has never advocated protection. The policy of tariff reform as enunciated by him in the many speeches he has made on this subject is quite a different thing. His view is retaliation. Now my view of retaliation I have often expressed. I see nothing inimical to free trade in retaliation. I do not regard retaliation as a policy at all. I regard it as a mere expedient which we might use in times of great difficulty, but I do not see how we could use it against those nations who are the greatest offenders unless we tax food, with which I do not agree. The view of my right hon. friend the Prime Minister is that tariff reform is the power of retaliation; the policy of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham with regard to tariff reform is quite different. If my memory does not play me false I have heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham speak slightingly of retaliation.
§ MR. RITCHIE
I may have been mistaken, but will the right hon. Gentleman suggest that his policy of tariff reform does not go further than retaliation.
§ MR. RITCHIE
I am speaking to hon. Gentlemen who have heard the speeches over and over again, and I adhere to the declaration that the policy of the right hon. Gentleman the Member 1023 for West Birmingham is a wider and more important policy than that of retaliation. Then on the question of preferentia duties the right hon. Gentleman said that the Prime Minister put preferential treatment in the forefront of his programme. The Prime Minister never said anything of the kind. What he said was that his policy was to call a Colonial Conference. There is a most essential difference, and for the right hon. Gentleman to say there is no difference between the Government policy as enunciated by the Prime Minister and his own is to tamper with the common-sense of the community. I should not have risen to have taken part in this debate, but I could not refrain from rising and pointing out that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham was misrepresenting in toto the policy of my right hon. friend the Prime Minister.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said he rose in response to the challenge of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, who called upon anyone who could find any difference between his policy and that of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister at once to speak or to for ever after hold his peace. There was this difference, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham did not quote the First Lord of the Treasury to prove that he was in favour of preference; he constructed a number of phrases from the speeches of his right hon. friend the First Lord and drew the preferential inference from them. The right hon. Gentleman concatenated one phrase and another, and said this means preference. The answer was plain; there was no question of the policy of preference forming part of the policy of His Majesty's Government. Did His Majesty's Government concur in the possible taxation of food and raw material? No, His Majesty's Government were opposed to any duty either on raw material or on food. That was the declaration of the Government. [An HON. MEMBER: Who said that?] He must remind the House that a Government was a corporate entity, and when a Minister spoke in the name and on behalf of the Government it did not 1024 matter who the Minister was. Two right hon. Gentlemen stated that in that House at that Table—one the President of the Board of Trade, and the other the Home Secretary. Let him not be told that when they spoke on behalf of the Government they were of less weight than the Prime Minister himself. They were all of equal weight and authority, or else there was no Government at all, but only a collection of atoms. Neither retaliation nor the holding of a conference was a policy. They were mere expedients and only contingent expedients.
There was this difference also between the policy of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham and the policy of the Prime Minister: his 10 per cent. duty was to be universal. The right hon. Gentleman's five per cent. on dairy produce was to be levied alike on the just and the unjust, as the rain fell from heaven, whereas the Prime Minister's duties were to be levied only on those who did us injury by refusing our goods. That was the difference, and it was all the difference in the world. Retaliation was contingent, first, upon injury, and secondly, which was more important—upon acceptance by the House. Every proposal for retaliation was to be brought before the House of Commons, and any proposal for retaliation that could secure the assent of Parliament would meet with his heartiest approval. Then, too, the Colonial Conference was contingent on the result of the next general election. If the Government was not returned to power there would be no conference. Thus both retaliation and conference were contingent on the prospects of the next general election, and what those prospects were hon. Members could judge for themselves. Were they not being amused by the meanings attached to words according to the desire of the person who attached them? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham spoke of protection as though it were free trade, while the First Lord of the Treasury occasionally, and the Colonial Secretary almost invariably, spoke of free trade as if it were protection. In fact, the words were made to mean just what 1025 the particular speaker liked. It reminded him of "Alice in Wonderland."When I say a word," said Humpty Dumpty, "it means exactly what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less." "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make a word moan two different things.' "The question is" said Humpty Dumpty, "who shall be master?'For two years this wearying controversy had continued, for two years unsuccessful endeavours had been made to get the question settled in the House; for two years Members had been some amused, others interested, by ambiguous utterances and uncertain pronouncements. There was only one way in which all this could be ended, and that was by an appeal to the country, by the general election which had been too long delayed, and without which it was not possible either for the country to pronounce its opinion, or for this House to regain the dignity which he could not but think it had lost through the way in which it had been treated, and the uncertainties which had been presented to it with regard to the most important question now before the country.
§ MR. CATHCART WASON (Orkney And Shetland),
in calling attention to the question of motor-cars, said he would not have troubled the House further on the matter but for the fact that the President of the Local Government Board was reported as having said that—Although the policy of the Board was not his, but that of his predecessor, he entirely associated himself with all that was being done.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. GERALD BALFOUR,) Leeds, Central
was understood to dispute the accuracy of the report.
§ MR. CATHCART WASON
said the right hon. Gentleman was reported in The Times as having said that he entirely associated himself with all that was being done. He reminded the House that he recently charged the late President of the Local Government Board with a breach of faith, and after reading the reply of the right hon. Gentleman he was unable to understand upon what he based his fervent denials and declared his (the speaker's) statements to be in- 1026 correct. When the Motor-Car Bill was before the House in 1903, it contained not the smallest provision giving any power whatever to local authorities. An overwhelming opinion was expressed in favour of the local authorities having some control. The right hon. Gentleman I admitted having an interview with him and he (the hon. Member) left the room as fully satisfied that the understanding would be given effect to as if he had had a thousand witnesses or a document attested and drawn by highest legal authority. The result of that interview was that in another place Lord Balfour of Burleigh, in moving the necessary words, said he believed they would facilitate the passage of the Bill, and, the words having been inserted, the Bill passed. Those facts were sufficient to prove the accuracy of his statement on the occasion of the recent discussion on the Local Government Board Vote. He left the right hon. Gentleman's room as fully satisfied that a fair and reasonable consideration would be given to the demands of the local authorities as though he had had a thousand witnesses, or had the promise embodied in a document drawn up by the highest legal authorities and duly stamped and signed.
His complaint in regard to the circular issued by the Local Government Board was that those very sections which the right hon. Gentleman told them they could most rely upon had been rendered valueless by the action of the Local Government Board. Section 1 simply reenacted the common law of England, and the object of inserting that section in the Act at all was to give the local authorities some control over motor-curs. He was aware that this matter would come before the House again upon an early date, and therefore he would be content with simply repeating that he was quite satisfied that no Bill would be satisfactory to the House which did not give, mire effective control to the local authorities in their own areas. He had not said one word against the motor-car industry, for he agreed that the motor-car had come to stay; but he thought it was a monstrous thing that local authorities should be deprived of all control over their own roads owing to regulations drawn up 1027 in the office of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. This country would never stand the present state of affairs for long. They had got in Hyde Park a speed limit of ten miles an hour, but just outside the Park, owing to the action of the Local Government Board, motor-cars were allowed to go at twenty miles an hour. He was aware that shortly the Act would come up for revision, and he was glad that the right hon. Gentleman had decided to appoint a Committee or a Commission to make some inquiry into the whole matter.
The action of the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor required to be inquired into. The President of the Local Government Board had power to give the local authorities some control in this matter. In consequence of the circular, issued by the Local Government Board, only some fifty-seven applications were made by local authorities under the Act, thirteen inquiries only took place, seventeen withdrew their applications, and in seventeen cases nothing whatever was done. He thought from these figures the right hon. Gentleman would see that it was necessary to give the local authorities some control in the matter. He was not asking that local authorities should have sole control, or that they should be in the position of being able to stop motor-cars in their districts; but at any rate they ought to be able to step in and impose a speed limit in dangerous places in towns and villages, and he protested against the Local Government Board interfering in this matter in the manner in which it had done.
He had received violent letters, not only from his own political supporters, but also from Conservatives, and even from members of the Carlton Club, denouncing the existing state of things. Hon. Members did not appear to take that, active interest in this motor-car question which they ought to, because the whole country was up in arms against the present system. Motoring was looked upon as the amusement of the privileged few, and the impression was that everybody must get out of the road when a motor-car was approaching, and that the cars need not stop for anything. If people wished to drive about at a speed out of all reason then they 1028 should bear the cost of it themselves. Many other hon. Members of the House I felt just as strongly upon this point as he did himself, and a most bitter feeling against motorists was being created throughout the country. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would do his best to minimise some of those evils before the meeting of the next Parliament in order that they might then proceed with the discussion of the new Motor-Car Act in a much calmer frame of mind than public feeling would allow them to do at the present moment. Under the Order such cars as "heavy motors" were restricted to a minimum speed of eight miles an hour, if fitted with pneumatic, or soft, or electric tyres, and of five miles an hour if fitted with other kinds of tyres. Article VII. of the statutory rules and orders provided that the speed at which the heavy motor-car might be driven on any highway should not exceed twelve miles an hour.
§ COLONEL LOCK WOOD (Essex, Epping)
rose to order and asked whether the hon. Member could speak on a Bill now before the House?
The hon. Member will not be entitled to discuss the Bill, but I gather that the point he wishes to raise is the desirability of pressing forward this particular piece of legislation.
§ MR. SAMUEL SMITH
said he wished to urge the Government to press on this Bill with great rapidity because it could hardly be realised how great was the feeling in Scotland over the matter. He had never known the feelings of the people so roused as they were in this case by the divorce between law and equity. In fact, it was doing a great deal to destroy the respect for law in Scotland—the most law-abiding part of the Empire— and he feared unless something was done there would be lamentable outbreaks as a result of the acute and strained feeling all over the country and especially in the Highlands. He regretted the Government had included in the Bill 1029 proposals on matters in regard to a change in the constitution of the Established Church. It was reasonable that Churches should have more liberty given them than in the past, especially after the decision of the House of Lords, but at the same time, if the effect was to delay seriously or to jeopardise seriously the chance for settlement in the existing situation, it was a great mistake to put the question of the Established Church constitution in the Bill. He hoped the Government would not permit a reasonable desire to grant a certain amount of latitude to the Established Church to jeopardise a settlement of the exceedingly difficult situation in Scotland which could not be endured much longer.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR,
said the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland seemed to have taken an extraordinary course in this debate. He had referred to the debate of last Thursday, in which he charged the Chief Secretary for Ireland, with having broken a pledge which he gave to local authorities, when President of the Local Government Board, as to the regulation of the speed of motors in I their districts. His right hon. friend's reply was absolutely satisfactory to the House, and now the hon. Gentleman made the same charge. He did not think the hon. Gentleman had warned his right hon. friend that he meant to do so, otherwise his right hon. friend would have been there to reply. He rose not to reply on behalf of his right hon. friend on a matter which, he thought, was disposed of last Thursday, but to answer one or two points raised in connection with himself. The hon. Member had quoted him as having said that he associated himself with all that his predecessor had done. He did not know from what paper the hon. Member was quoting, but an hon. friend who had referred to The Times report had been unable to find any words of that kind. What he said last Thursday was that he agreed with his predecessor in considering that Section 1 of the Act afforded the best protection against abuses on the part of motorists rather than any limit of speed—he did not say that he associated himself with everything 1030 that had been done when the Chief Secretary for Ireland was President of the Local Government Board, nor was he in a position to say so, because he would have had to examine every one of the applications made by local authorities for a limitation or restriction of speed and come to the conclusion that his right hon. friend was absolutely right. He did not pretend to have gone through all the cases.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
said he did associate himself with the policy of his predecessor in regard to Section 1 of the Act. He gave an assurance last Thursday that he was perfectly prepared to consider every application made to him, and that his desire was, as far as he conscientiously could, to meet the wishes of the local authorities. The hon. Member had also raised the question of the speed of heavy motor-cars. The Answer he gave to a Question put by the hon. Gentleman on that subject was perfectly correct. The hon. Gentleman had not quite apprehended the purport of the Answer. If a motor weighed up to twelve tons one of the axle weights must weigh more than six tons, and therefore the speed must necessarily be eight miles an hour instead of twelve.
§ MR. DELANY (Queen's County, Ossory)
said he wished to call attention to the policy of the Irish Government in regard to the expenditure from the development grant for the encouragement of industry in Ireland. At the present time large parts of the resources of Ireland were expended on the salaries of official servants who, for the most part, were imported from England. He hoped that industrial enterprise in Ireland would be encouraged, not by word of mouth, but by some assistance from the Agricultural and Technical Education Department. There was another important matter connected with the Department which the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary must be cognisant of. 1031 Assertions had been made over and over again, which could be substantiated by the most positive evidence, that exceptional treatment was meted out to a certain class of clerks in the veterinary department. To every one of the non-Catholic clerks in that department additions had been made to their salaries, from £130 to the chief clerk down to; £30 to the others, while the salaries of the Catholic clerks had actually been reduced to £90 with a promise of an increment of £2 10s. a year. He believed that the salaries of some of them were at present only £97 10s. a year, although these men had been working for ten years in the service of the Crown. What he asked for was an independent investigation into the matter. When Questions were asked by Irish Members they only got stereotyped replies. Like the statements of the police in other cases, the right hon. Gentleman only acted as a gramaphone to the Vice-President of the Department. The heads of the Department were the accused parties, and the clerks did not want them to be their judges. What they wanted was an independent investigation in regard to the partisan and sectarian treatment of these men.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETAY FOR IRELAND (Mr. WALTER LONG, Bristol, S.)
said that he knew that the Vice-President of the Agricultural and Technical Education Department was as anxious as any one could be that everything should be done for the industrial development of Ireland, and he himself had looked very carefully into the question. The charges made against the Department were unfounded. Everything that the Government could do with the funds at their disposal would be done to encourage and develop the industries of Ireland which were most likely to be profitable and beneficial to the people. In regard to the statement that Protestants were unfairly promoted in the veterinary department to the detriment of Catholics, his Answer must be in the negative. There was no justification for an independent inquiry as suggested as no injustice had been done. He had locked carefully into the facts of the case and he was satisfied the charges 1032 were unfounded. Everything had been perfectly proper, and no injury had been inflicted on any one in the service.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolved, "That this House, at its rising To-morrow, do adjourn till Tuesday, 20th June."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)