HC Deb 19 April 1911 vol 24 cc957-1000

Mr. GUINNESS rose to call attention to the constitution and procedure of the Imperial Conference; and moved: "That this House is of opinion that a discussion on the international situation should be added to the programme of the Imperial Conference."

On this the first of the only two nights of the Session which the Government are sparing from the claims of their business, I think there is no question that has a more pressing claim upon our attention than the Imperial Conference, which is to begin its sittings next month. There is no doubt, I think, that the Conference of 1911 will be pregnant with the future of the Empire in a way that none of its predecessors were. The present Government by its blank refusal to the Colonial offer of reciprocity at the last Conference have, for the moment, suspended what most of the Dominions and many of us in this country thought to be the best means of attaining a greater measure of union. Many of us in this House feel that it is a matter of great urgency that the Government should take the opportunity of putting forward some alternative proposal to give to the Imperial Conference that chance of promoting unity which has been taken away by their action in the past. I think it is very encouraging at the present juncture to find a general consensus of opinion on both sides of the House that closer union with the Colonies is necessary. There is an extensively signed memorial of both parties which is to be presented to the Prime Minister in the next few days in favour of closer union with the Colonies. I think that almost every object that transcends the general division of party politics stands to gain much if it can be examined from the standpoint of Empire. A real union of the Empire would do more to ensure the world's peace than any step yet taken. Nowhere will you find communities with more to gain from peace than in the self-governing States of the Empire; nowhere will you find nations where the sacrifices and sufferings of war would form a greater contrast to the bright future which is assured to them if they are allowed the opportunity of developing their own resources interrupted by external circumstances.

I know that in dealing with the constitution of the Imperial Conference I am on difficult, and perhaps even delicate ground. Most of us in this House have in the last year or two taken considerable interest in constitution building. Perhaps even the most sanguine of us have realised that to materialise those castles in the air and form a permanent basis is by no means easy. But in the case of the Imperial Conference the difficulty is exceptional because it is not a matter for our Cabinet alone, or for our own Parliament alone, but for the whole sisterhood of Cabinets and Parliament throughout the Empire. When the right hon. Gentleman who now represents St. George's, Hanover Square (Mr. Lyttelton) was at the Colonial Office more than five years ago, he sent a circular memorandum to the Dominions inviting their opinion as to the future development of the then called Colonial Conference. He got an answer from the Canadian Government that they were disposed to consider that any change in the title or status of the Colonial Conference should originate with, and emanate from, that body itself. I fully appreciate that the Conference must be master of its own constitution, and its own procedure, and I should therefore certainly not have the temerity to invite the opinion of this House on any definite step which might be taken with a view to developing or strengthening it. At the present stage of its existence I think the elasticity of that form is a very great advantage. If we compare the present position of the Imperial Conference with its accidental, almost haphazard, origin at the Jubilee of Queen Victoria, we must be struck by the very great progress which has been attained, by the unaided force of evolution. I shall also avoid pressing the Colonial Secretary for any expression of opinion on matters already down for discussion at the Conference. It would clearly be inadvisable to attempt to tie his hands by any premature declaration of policy. At the same time, I think this House ought to have an opportunity of expressing opinions on these subjects, and there are many of us who are glad of the opportunity of putting it on record that we hope some day to see a truly Imperial Parliament, in which matters of Imperial concern shall be discussed and decided by representatives not only of this country but of the Dominions. Meanwhile, we must be glad of any step which even in a small degree may promote that Imperial unity which would find its consummation in a body of that kind.

For that reason we welcome a proposal to be brought up by New Zealand at the forthcoming Conference in favour of an Imperial Council of State, advisory to the Imperial Government on all matters affecting the Dominions. I believe that such a Council would be a real step in the direction of Federation, and it is quite clear that the New Zealand Government in putting forward the proposal have not forgotten that possible development. Sir Joseph Ward, speaking at Sydney on 11th March, said that he believed that the New Zealand people recognised that the day was near for organised Imperial union and systematic co-operation throughout the Empire for defence, reserving for all portions the widest local autonomy, but transferring to the Council or Parliament of the Empire all questions involving defence and all kindred subjects, such as foreign policy, foreign treaties, and international agreements. Without committing himself, Sir Joseph Ward suggested the creation of an Imperial House of Representatives, returned upon a basis of population, and an Imperial Senate, to which each portion of the Empire would elect an equal number of members, such Parliament to be strictly limited to the consideration of the Imperial questions mentioned, and to adjust and determine the contribution for Imperial defence of each Dominion represented. I think that the day of such a responsible federal body, established on a democratic basis, is still far off; but we in the United Kingdom may perhaps hasten that day by showing that we hold in no jealous spirit to those responsibilities of Empire which have come to the British Government from an entirely different state of affairs in the past, and that, though the Imperial Conference must, under present conditions, remain advisory, we hope for a future when our partners may share in the active control of the Empire. Evolution, and not special creation, is in accordance with the spirit of British institutions. It is for that reason we look to the Conference to be the germ of the greater unity to which we confidently look in the future.

There is no doubt that any recognition of the importance of the Conference must do much to help its development, and it is a great advance that the Prime Minister is, under its present constitution, to be the President. Considering the interruptions to the Dominion Governments and Parliaments involved, not only by the Conference itself, but by the long journeys to and fro, it is earnestly to be hoped that the Prime Minister will carry out the obligation of presiding. It is no reflection on the Colonial Secretary to point out that he has not the same long experience as the Prime Minister on the Committee of Imperial Defence, and that matters of defence and of international situations, which are so intimately bound up with defence, urgently demand the presence of the Prime Minister in person. The House will be very glad to hear to-night that the Prime Minister does not look upon the presidency of the Imperial Conference as a mere formality, and that he intends to preside, not occasionally, but day by day, and even at the sacrifice of his personal convenience. Apart from the very great value of the Prime Minister's unrivalled experience, there is no doubt that his presence will have a very great sentimental value. The feeling of the Colonies is expressed in two sentences which I will quote from a Canadian newspaper:— This Empire of ours cannot get along on the basis of subordinating the Dominions to the United Kingdom, its Parliament, or Cabinet Ministers. We must have equality of status. This feeling was probably very largely responsible for the opinion so strongly expressed at the Conference of 1907 in favour of putting the Conference and its Secretariat directly under the control of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. At the Conference about to open New Zealand and South Africa are again bringing up a proposal to separate the administration of the Dominions from that of the Colonial Office. We must recognise that there is undoubtedly a great suspicion of Downing Street in the minds of those who govern the Dominions. Mr. Deakin at the last Conference spoke of the impenetrability, remoteness and unwillingness to be bothered with which he met at the hands of the Colonial Office. Much would be done to break down this barrier if the Colonial Office in future could be limited to the control of the Crown Colonies, and if the business of the Dominions could be entrusted to a separate Cabinet Minister, who might combine the position of Minister for Imperial Affairs with one of the sinecure posts of the Cabinet. Such a Minister would find plenty of scope for his activities in encouraging and giving effect to common action on matters of common interest throughout the Empire. There would be so much work of that kind to be carried out, work which at the present time is neglected, that I do not think the responsibility could be added to the already over-burdened office of the Prime Minister. One of the most valuable functions of such a Minister would be to visit the Dominions in person and to keep in close personal touch with them.

There is no doubt that as a new means of contact with this fertilising relationship it would be of very great value if in each of the Dominion Cabinets there could also be a Minister for Imperial Affairs, whose duty it would be to keep in touch with the Minister for Imperial Affairs in Great Britain, to carry on all the communications with Imperial Government, and to take steps to promote the closest understanding with the Imperial Government. The proposal is that the High Commissioners should be given a much more responsible function in future, and should be the means of communication between the Imperial and the Dominion Governments. We must all recognise the very great work which might be done by the High Commissioners. We recognise that the Dominions have sent some of their most eminent public men to represent them in this country. At the same time it is impossible to believe that a High Commissioner living entirely in this country could keep up the same touch with Colonial opinion and the wishes of the majority in the Colonial Legislature as a Member of the Dominion Cabinet. For this reason—


No doubt the hon. Member is touching on a great many very interesting topics, but they are not connected with the Motion which stands in his name. The hon. Member has given notice of a Motion, the specific point of which is that a discussion on the international situation should be added to the programme of the Imperial Conference. That subject is one which he has not yet touched upon, and it is the only subject to which the Motion applies.


My only reason for touching on the other subjects was to show that the constitution of the Imperial Conference can best be developed by recognising the great responsibilities which may be thrown upon it in the future, and by immediately giving it greater control in Imperial affairs than it at present possesses. My line of argument would have been that that control could best be given by bringing about a greater continuity in its work. Of course, I bow to your ruling, and I will not say another word on that subject.

I think the particular subject which perhaps more than anything else has brought home to us in this country the necessity for closer touch between us and the Dominions than is at present afforded by the Imperial Conference is the subject of foreign affairs. When the states of the Empire were in their infancy they were content to leave the control of foreign affairs entirely to the Government of the United Kingdom. They have now outgrown the nursery, and they find themselves in touch with foreign nations at many new points. Their prosperity continually demands new openings for trade and arrangements for easier intercourse with other countries. For long they were content to devote all their energies to their own development, leaving to the United Kingdom not only foreign affairs, but the armed forces which alone render negotiations in foreign affairs powerful. But they have to come to realise in the last few years that this system is no longer possible. Ever since the last Conference there has been a momentous change in the position. Australia is said now to contemplate the possession of a Fleet of eight "Dreadnoughts," and both Australia and New Zealand are, in the near future, to have under their own control a squadron consisting of one "Dreadnought," three cruisers, and six destroyers. Canada is not at the present time embarking on any programme of construction to include "Dreadnoughts," but she is also going in for a Navy under her own control for home defence, consisting of five cruisers. There is no adequate recognition of this far-reaching change in the position of the Dominions in the programme of the present Conference. It is quite true that Australia is bringing up the question of co-operation between the military and naval forces of the Empire. But that is not enough. That question must be considered in connection with foreign affairs, and the invitation to this new field must come from the Imperial Government. We cannot expect the Dominions to bog that we should recognise their rights. Now that their diplomacy is supported by material power, it is certain that there will be an inclination in the future to stand more on their own feet, and unless we consult them fully and freely upon matters of foreign policy it is certain that eventually we shall find a serious difference of opinion. We have had warnings of the danger in the past. We know there was a strong feeling in Australia at the neglect of the Imperial Government to consult Australian opinion before concluding the New Hebrides Convention. There has been the more recent case of the Declaration of London. I believe if our Foreign Office had been in closer touch with the opinion of the Dominions, they might at least have secured for them representation upon the International Arbitration Court.

There is another case even more important, which is rapidly ripening, and on which the early decision will have to be taken, a case in which the local interests of the Dominions will possibly conflict with the policy of our Foreign Office unless an effort is immediately taken to arrive at a common understanding. The Anglo-Japanese Alliance expires either in August, 1914, or August, 1915—the exact date, of course, depends upon whether either party gives previous notice of termination. Whatever the exact date, it is quite certain that before the next Imperial Conference meets, probably in 1915, the British Foreign Office will have to make up its mind whether to negotiate or not for an extension of that arrangement. The Japanese Alliance has been of immense value to this country. It has made it possible for the British Fleet to be concentrated in the storm area nearer home, because our Foreign Office knew that the friendship of the greatest maritime Power in the Pacific guaranteed the safety of the coasts of our Dominions. Unfortunately our Dominions, owing to their position, have a local cause of friction with Japan on the question of immigration. We must all appreciate their point of view. Asiatics and Europeans are so different that if they are brought into contact they will no more mix than will oil with water. Naturally, the Dominions do not wish to include within their borders a large population which cannot be assimilated, but which would remain apart as a separate community, and if sufficiently numerous could form almost a state within a state. There is another reason. I believe Japan would be equally averse to having a large colony of Europeans in her midst, living in a watertight compartment and owning no allegiance to the Japanese Government. This matter is not one which can be considered and dealt with by our Dominions separately. It must be considered in relation to the general situation in world-politics. If one may judge by the published programme of the Imperial Conference, a matter of this kind will not be discussed at all.

The Colonial Secretary, in the recently published correspondence, sums up the matters which will be brought before the Conference. There is no mention whatever of foreign affairs. I say not a word of the important matters which the Imperial Government wish to bring forward, but I think the House will recognise that the question, for instance, of a uniform design for stamps is of less importance than foreign affairs and the whole question of Imperial defence, which must hinge upon foreign affairs. It may be that the Government fears that the Dominions would not welcome such debate on the ground that consultation on this subject will hamper their free control over their defensive forces. I do not for a moment believe that the Dominions would adopt such an ostrich-like policy. The question of the best means of co-operation between the Imperial and the Dominion forces must be brought up and faced in the near future and no shirking of the true issue will make any easier the solution. Australia is actually bringing forward at the present Conference the question of the status of the Dominion navies. All that I ask is that the Conference should not discuss this question without full light upon it. They cannot usefully discuss it unless they are fully seised of the whole international position. A discussion such as that which is proposed by the Resolution which I propose to move would necessarily have to take place behind closed doors and without the presence of reporters. It ought to be opened by the Foreign Secretary in person. I believe that if the Government would agree to it, apart from the actual decision that might be arrived at, such discussion would have a far-reaching effect as showing our Dominions that the United Kingdom recognises their right to be consulted on matters of external policy. The Conference would, I believe, enormously grow in importance by such a step, and those taking part in it would feel that here at least was a subject where a common imperial policy was so vital that machinery must at all costs be created for keeping up that constant circulation of opinion between the Governments of the Empire, by which alone such a common policy and common opinion could be attained. I quite see it would not be wise for the Government to press the case for a closer relationship between the United Kingdom and the Dominion directly upon the Conference. If, however, they could show that the advice of the Dominions was sought and valued in this most important of all common interests, I believe they would do much to encourage the creation of fresh machinery to bring about continuity in the work of the Conference, and at the same time they would give a new unity, and therefore a new strength to the policy pursued by the British Foreign Office in the name of the British Empire as a whole.


In seconding the Motion of my hon. Friend, the Member for Bury St. Edmunds, I wish to point out in the very first place that we on this side of the House do not raise this important and most vital question to-night in any party spirit, or by any party motion. We heard in the discussion yesterday, on the Motion taking private Members' time, that Wednesday evening was often used by the Opposition in criticising the Government. We are not now either criticising the action of the Government, or the inaction of the Government, because we do not yet know what their action in regard to this Motion is to be, and therefore our object in moving this Motion is in the words of the Motion:— To call attention to the existing constitution and procedure of the Imperial Conference, and to move …. that a discussion upon the International situation should be added in the programme of the forthcoming Imperial Conference. I maintain the existing constitution permits of that, because by the existing constitution of the Conference it is a conference between Governments and Governments. It is not a Conference between the so-called Imperial Government and the" Premiers of the separate Dominions. It is essentially a Conference where the Dominions and this country meet upon an equality, where the status of the Dominion of Canada is equal to the status of the Government that sits upon the bench opposite in this House. That was the underlying idea which promoted the resolution proposed and carried by the great Conference of 1907. That is the constitution under which this forthcoming Conference is going to meet next month, and it is only natural that the Dominions should regard it as a point of great importance that the Prime Minister of this country, as the senior Prime Minister, should preside at that Conference, and should not merely put in a perfunctory appearance as was put in upon the last occasion.

Surely it would be easy for the Prime Minister to do that. But the object of this Motion is not merely to ensure that under the existing constitution the Prime Minister should preside at this Conference, and be there when grave subjects are discussed, but also to urge that the Foreign Secretary should be there, as he can, under the third paragraph of the existing constitution of the Conference, and should give an outline, in camera pre ferably, of the existing international situation. Before I leave that point let me add that it is a matter of deep regret that the Foreign Secretary did not do this at the last Conference. He put in an appearance at the end only on the last day, and then but for a short time. And if the Government say it is undesirable, because the Foreign Secretary's speech would have to be made in camera, I answer that I notice in the minutes of the last Conference the Foreign Secretary's speech was not reported and the discussion upon the Newfoundland Fisheries took place upon the closing day of the Conference, when the Foreign Secretary's speech was not reported in the public Press, or in the minutes of the Conference afterwards issued in Blue Book. There are many occasions when the Foreign Secretary should be present. At the last Conference there came up the important question of the position of this country in the Pacific, and the Foreign Secretary was not there. There came up also the then very important question of the Navy. But I submit that the whole question has altered since the last Conference of 1907, and it is absolutely different to-day for two principal reasons. In the first place because of the growth of the independent Colonial Navy, and in the second place because of the growth of a desire, primarily felt in the Dominions to which I can testify from personal experience, to enter upon a share in the great responsibility of external polities and foreign policy which is the right and natural outcome of every self-governing community to acquire in its dealing with oversea Dominions and other countres. What is the position? I think I cannot do better than quote the words of the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman in his introductory speech at the last Imperial Conference of 1907. He said in that speech:— It is of course possible to over-estimate the importance of the oversea Dominions as a factor in our Naval expenditure, but however this may be, the cost of Naval defence and responsibility for the conduct of foreign affairs hang together. There the late Prime Minister advocated the absolute interdependence of naval defence and responsibility of naval defence with the responsibility in foreign affairs. But what was the position in 1907? The position in 1907 was that this country, this United Kingdom, and the Government responsible to this House, was acting in a fiduciary capacity, both in foreign affairs and naval defence to the Empire as a whole. It was, in fact, recognised by the Dominions, and recognised by the responsible Ministers of the day—by the late Lord Tweedmouth—that this country did, in matters of foreign politics and naval defence, act as trustees for the rest of the Empire. Let me quote what Lord Tweed-mouth said upon this question in his speech at the last Conference. He said:— Well, gentlemen, that being the case— the case being that this country had been successful in its defence of the whole Empire as well as these shores— what I have in the first place to ask is, that you should place confidence in the Board of Admiralty and in the present Government for the safety of the country. The only reservation that the Admiralty desires to make is that they claim to have charge of the strategical questions which are necessarily involved in Naval defence, to hold the command of the Naval forces, and to arrange the distribution of the ships in the best possible manner to resist the attacks, and to defend the Empire at large, whether it be our own Islands or the Dominions beyond the seas. We thoronghly recognise we are responsible for our defence. That was the position in 1907, but it is absolutely different to-day. The Conference took place in 1909, and then occurred what has been vulgarly called the Navy scare. After that Conference what happened? The Dominions began building navies of their own. They began to be responsible for naval defence, and did far more than merely prepare to defend their own shores against any possible attack. They started the construction of ships which, although they are called cruisers, are indeed battleships. New Zealand offered a "Dreadnought," Australia laid down a "Dreadnought," and she is going to lay down more. We have at the present moment the beginnings of an independent Dominion fleet. I know they did this out of the greatest acts of Imperial patriotism. They did it with the intention of coming to our aid if necessary, but it must not be forgotten that every "Dreadnought" launched upon the seas influences diplomacy and foreign policy. We do not have "Dreadnoughts" to defend the mouth of the harbour. "Dreadnoughts" are battleships for a battle fleet.

The creation of an Australasian Navy—which I may point out is not necessarily under the control of the Board of Admiralty—affects the foreign situation absolutely and completely. What is the position? As a result of that Conference, Canada is starting with a navy of five cruisers and six destroyers, Australia with one "Dreadnought," three cruisers, and six destroyers, and New Zealand, one "Dreadnought," practically with a condition that it is to remain in Pacific waters. The Canadian and Australian navies are exclusively under the control of the Dominion Government. In the case of Australia the Act says that Australia may transfer the fleet to the Admiralty, but it is recognised in the great Dominion of Australia that those ships are primarily paid for by and built for the Australian Government, and it is for that Government to do what she likes with them, and they have nothing to do with the gentlemen who sit on the Front Bench opposite. The words of Sir Wilfrid Laurier are more clear, and show that he definitely understands the new Canadian Navy as more or less an independent navy which may or may not, as the Government of Canada think fit, be put at the service of the Imperial Government. He says the Canadian Navy has been built for Canadian purposes with a Canadian foreign policy in view. On 29th February last year he said:— Under present circumstances it is not advisable for Canada to mix in the armaments of the Empire; but we should stand on our own policy of being our own masters in our own house, of having a policy for our own purposes, and leaving the Canadian Government and the Canadian people to take part in those wars in which to-day they have no voice, only if they think tit to do so. 9.0 P.M.

That is a very important statement, and involves the whole principle whether or not the wars of the United Kingdom are to be the wars of the Empire. Is the foreign policy, is the peace of this country to be the peace of the Empire as a whole? That is the vital question which is specifically raised by the rise of the Dominion navies since the last Conference. The question we wish to raise by this Motion is that before the discussion comes up on the Resolution of Australia with respect to co-operation between the naval forces of this country and with respect to the status of the Dominion navy, the Dominion Premiers and the representatives of the Dominion Governments should be instructed by the Foreign Secretary as to the connection in the present day between the naval policy of this country and her foreign policy; and they should be instructed as a whole in the foreign policy of this country, as it has been exercised in a fiduciary capacity by the present Government. I should like to quote a very important remark made by Mr. Deakin at the last Conference showing the ideas in the mind of Australia with regard to foreign policy and with regard to the outlook on this question of the defence of Australia and the defence of the Empire. He said:— I do not want to raise questions which might be looked upon as troublesome. That is the way in which hitherto the Dominion Premiers have had to approach questions of foreign policy. I will continue the quotation:— But we do fear some of the Eastern countries whose teeming millions, so close to Australia and New Zealand as they are, under an educational process, in years to come may find the attractions of our country sufficient to induce them to give us some trouble. Anyone who has had experience of Australia or the Pacific Coast of Canada, knows that the outlook of those great and growing Dominions is being affected day by day more and more by the position on the Pacific. I know the attitude of the Dominion is that they do not wish to be drawn into what has been called the vortex of European militarism, but they have a vortex of their own in the Pacific. You are dealing not with European nations, but in the case of China, with a nation of which the future is incalculable. China, anxious to migrate her people, may be in such a strong and powerful position as to insist that her people, in return for commercial rights and commercial treaties, should enter into the Dominions that border on the Pacific. Everybody knows that there is a growing problem in the United States of America with regard to the question of Asiatic immigration. I have been in British Columbia, and I know the feeling there is on this question of Asiatic immigration. This question has got to be settled for the Empire as a whole, or it will not be settled at all, and it will prove to be a menace to the Empire unless it is settled as a whole. At the present moment the question is particularly bound up with our foreign policy and with our foreign relations. My hon. Friend who moved this Resolution referred to the Anglo-Japanese Alliance. Before another Conference takes place the representatives of the Dominions should be thoroughly instructed so as to thoroughly understand the position of this country with regard to our defensive alliance with the Empire of Japan. Everybody knows that it was the Anglo-Japanese Alliance of 1905 which enabled us to withdraw our battleships from the Pacific ocean. Up till then we had five battleships and a large number of cruisers in the Pacific, but now we have no battleships, although we have a certain number of cruisers there. Our battle fleet has been withdrawn from that region on account of the alliance with Japan. It is merely another instance of interdependence of naval policy and foreign policy.

I wish to refer to another point, and that is the question of the position of Ambassadors in discussing international relations. I know it is a difficult one and I approach it with reluctance. Let me say at the outset I do not wish to criticise any individual Ambassador or to rake up anything that has been said in this House about Mr. Bryce or anything of that sort. What is the position to-day? Let me take the instance of Mr. Bryce. He has had to act at Washington in three capacities recently. He has had to act as Ambassador for the Empire as a whole and to consider questions from the point of view of the Empire as a whole, he has had to consider the interests of the United Kingdom, and he has also had to consider the interests of Canada. I do not say those three interests conflict. I do not believe they do, but there is no doubt that under the present system and under the present Constitution, where the Dominions are not in any definite relation to our foreign policy or our Foreign Office and the representatives of that Foreign Office abroad, grave difficulties occur and criticisms most reprehensible and undesirable arise. It is a difficult point, but I believe it is soluble by recognising the equality of status of the Dominions in matters of foreign policy, by recognising they have a right to be consulted and to know the exact international position of this country, and by recognising they have a right to the services of our Ambassadors. We have noticed recently the growth of independent Colonial or Dominion negotiations with Foreign Powers. We have noted the fact that Canada has negotiated on her own an Agreement with Japan, with regard to Japanese immigration in British Columbia. We have noted commercial treaties between foreign countries and Canada, and we have noticed that South Africa has negotiated with Portugal in South-East Africa. I should like to ask the Government what is the position of the South African Government to-day with regard to the present difficulties in Mozambique and Lorenço Marques. Is there any Minister who can act independently on behalf of the South African Government? If not, does the Foreign Office act independently of the South African Government in difficulties of that kind, which really concern the external relations of a self-governing portion of the Empire with another Government.

It seems to me that the problems of Empire in this matter are beginning. We have witnessed in the last few years the genesis of a problem which is going to grow very largely before another Conference comes round. It can only be met by careful inter-relation and careful consideration of the problems of Empire, and by the problems of foreign policy coming before the Imperial Conference. Surely, if Imperial union is to mean anything at all, it must mean unity in matters that affect the peace of the Empire—namely, in matters of defence and of external or foreign policy. I do wish we could get away for a moment from the idea of Naval and Military Defence being merely questions of Home Defence. There seems to be a sort of idea current in this country, as well as in the Dominions, that the question of defence is a question of the defence of each parish pump, or each little local harbour or little local country, whereas the prime and first object of all armaments is not to defend a place, but to defeat the enemy's navy or army. The sole object is that it should act as a whole, not for the defence of a place, but for the defence of the Empire as a whole. Let me also point out in regard to Naval Defence that the Empire is equally vulnerable and just as grievously vulnerable everywhere. Unless this Empire can maintain supremacy on any sea, then there is a grave menace to the peace of the Empire. We are just as vulnerable if we lose command of the sea in the Pacific or in the Persian Gulf, and it is almost as bad as it we lost the command of the sea in the North Sea. If we lose the command of the sea anywhere, that elaborate chain of the trade routes of the Empire is broken. If we are vulnerable anywhere, then the position is full of menace. It is essential, in considering the defence of the Empire, in considering the provision of "Dreadnoughts," and in considering the status of the Dominion Navy, that regard should be had to the defences of the Empire as a whole, and not merely to the defence of a particular sea or a particular strait, or a particular bay or harbour. I know there are difficulties but I am perfectly certain they can be overcome. We have the words of Sir Wilfrid Laurier at the last Conference that above all things we agree. We all move towards the same goal and the same end. That end surely is unity—unity in the two first necessary principles of Imperial existence—unity in questions of defence and in questions of foreign policy.

It is most important for another reason that this question should be raised at the forthcoming Conference, and should be raised more repeatedly in future. There is in the Dominions a desire for further education and information in this matter. Take the position in the Dominions today. I have travelled there and read their papers. You do not see, like you do in the British papers, so much reference to foreign policy. They have been brought up hitherto and they have lived hitherto under a system where the foreign and external politics of the Empire has been managed exclusively by this country which has acted as trustee for the rest of the Empire. That is bad for the future of the Dominions, and bad for democracy as a whole. Nobody can claim to be a democrat, and nobody can be a true democratic unless he is willing and anxious that the whole of the people and the governing people should have the ultimate say and voice in questions of foreign policy. It is essential that Dominion and Colonial opinion, and even opinion in this country, should be educated more in great matters of external and Imperial affairs. That can only be done by stimulating interest, by stimulating the Press, and by stimulating discussion in the Dominion Parliaments and in this Parliament of great matters of Imperial and foreign and external interest. We recognise that no form of human government is absolutely perfect, but if there is one form of human government which approaches perfection more than another it is a democracy inspired by a common Imperial idea, by a democracy which recognises that it is not that the State is a law unto itself but that it is an interdependent part of a great community of the same race, scattered throughout the world, and existing for the good and peace of the world and the prosperity and progress of civilisation. That being our belief of the essence and ideal of Empire I ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies, the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister that the forthcoming Conference shall be the opening up—the genesis—of a fresh and new participation of the Governments of the Dominion in the responsible foreign and external affairs of the British Empire as a whole.


I think both the hon. Members who have spoken and the House as well are to be congratulated on the way in which the discussion has at present been kept outside the confines of the party arena. Personally I am in very substantial agreement with a great many things which have been said by the hon. Members for Bury St. Edmunds and for the Denbigh Boroughs, and more especially am I in agreement with the views which they have expressed with regard to the possibility of Imperial federation—a policy which, I think, personally, is inevitable if we are to continue to have an Empire in anything more than name. I also agree that the British Dominions over the seas should be kept as far as is properly possible in touch with the course of foreign affairs. But I am not sure, however, whether discussions at the Imperial Conference would be either the wisest or the most adequate way of ensuring this. In the first place, in spite of what my hon. Friend the Member for Denbigh Boroughs said, discussions at the Imperial Conference are, in the nature of things, of a semi-public nature, and foreign affairs are delicate and difficult matters to deal with. We in this House think sometimes that we have cause to complain on that score, although we recognise fully the reasons therefor. But I would point out that foreign affairs can be discussed if brought up by any one from the over-seas Dominions, and that they can also be discussed on questions of defence at the Conference. I certainly would join in advocating that the Foreign Secretary should always be present on any occasion when foreign affairs might be even distantly related to the subject under discussion. Foreign affairs can also be discussed in the Committee of Imperial Defence.

One other fact seems to be of some importance, and that is that sporadic discussions at four-yearly intervals at the Imperial Conference would not be sufficient to ensure that the Over-Seas Dominions are kept adequately in touch with foreign affairs, and those intervals of four years would have to be bridged over somehow if the Over-Seas Dominions are to be kept constantly and properly in touch with the course of foreign affairs. Some may say that it is always possible to read the reports of our Debates in the House of Commons on foreign policy. But although that would be a means of convey- ing information to our friends across the seas, it would not be consulting them. It may be said that it would be possible, through the Imperial Secretariat, always to keep them in touch with foreign affairs. It is true that the Secretariat is an enormous advance—that it is a connecting link between the Conferences. But would it be enough, even if we had these discussions on Imperial affairs at successive Conferences, as has been advocated by the hon. Gentleman? I should be the last to utter a word of disparagement of the Imperial Secretariat. It is a very great advance on anything we have seen in the past. Its officers, some of whom I know personally, including the secretary, are men of extreme ability. But what is necessary, to my mind at least, in all these matters of Imperial policy is not only to inform, but to hear the voice of the Dominions over the Seas, and I do not think myself that the Imperial Secretariat will continue always to supply that need adequately. The Secretariat is a focussing point; it is a channel through which, after some period, we can make our opinions known to the Dominions over the Seas, and the Dominions over the Seas can make their views known to us. But it has certain defects. It has not a representative character or consultative or advisory functions, and we want something better than sporadic discussions at Conferences: we want something more than we can get out of the present Imperial Secretariat. We want closer contact with the Over-Seas Dominions both on foreign and other Imperial affairs than can be got by cable and despatch. I think this is due to those who are concerned in a great many matters of Imperial importance. They are recognising that it is due, and I think the method by which we shall be enabled to more adequately consult and meet their wishes has been already foreshadowed. Sir Joseph Ward at the last Conference, in a very interesting passage, said:— Our country is very anxious and willing to assist the old land in the event of trouble arising, to do so voluntarily by men or by money, and, I think, would always be ready to do its share in fighting for the defence of the Motherland in any portion of the world. We want to keep clear of the possibility of being drawn into what one might term Continental troubles with England itself. We want to have a distinct line of demarcation drawn in that respect between the responsibility we accept of our own free will and the responsibility that may be imposed upon us without our having had any opportunity of Conference or discussion with regard to it. To my mind that is one of the matters upon which such an Imperial Conference or Council permanently established, with the understanding that the members would correspond with one another during the recess from time to time, should circumstances require it, would be beneficial. … To secure a position of that sort I regard as of very great importance, and we in New Zealand should have the benefit of the advice of a gentleman, say in the position of Sir Wilfrid Laurier himself or of any other who might when the time comes take his place which I hope will be a long way off. What an enormous advantage it would be for a country like New Zealand to have the opportunity of conferring, perhaps with General Botha, or Dr. Jameson, which we could do with some authority if we had a permanent institution properly established. I should like to dwell for a moment upon this permanent institution properly established, for it is only through such an institution that I think we can adequately and properly keep the over-seas Dominions in touch with what is happening in regard to foreign affairs. The institution, I think, is foreshadowed in the passage I have read, and is one which could be developed out of the present Secretariat. It was foreseen by Mr. Deakin, who called the Secretariat a seed which might grow. It is now four years since that, and the seed may be looked to to put forth a few sprouts by this time. And what applies to foreign matters applies to all other questions of Imperial importance. Indeed, the development of the Imperial Secretariat would become a part of a larger scheme by which the affairs of the Empire, not merely those connected with foreign affairs, could be discussed and the opinion of the over-seas Dominions could be consulted thereon. What would this development be? It would be what I conceive to be the next step in the history of Imperial development.

In was in 1887 that the first Colonial Conference, as it was then called, was held when Mr. Stanhope summoned it on the occasion of the first Jubilee. In 1897 there was another Colonial Conference, summoned by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, in connection with the second Jubilee. In 1902 it was resolved to have periodical four years' conferences, when the third Conference was summoned in connection with the Coronation. In 1907, as we all know, we called an Imperial Conference, as it was then called, for the first time, ad hoc, and the Secretariat was instituted for the first time. The development of this series of Conferences became more definite, more methodical, and more called together for specific purposes, and it does seem to me that the Imperial Secretariat should be expanded somewhat in the direction foreshadowed by the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Opposition Bench (Mr. Alfred Lyttelton) in the despatch which he laid before Parliament in 1905. That despatch together with the answers which followed it, forms, as I think one of the most interesting documents that has ever been published in connection with the whole history of the Empire. The suggestion made, and it is a suggestion which to all practical intents and purposes, I would humbly make, is the suggestion most likely to meet the need of getting our over-seas Dominions in touch in connection with Foreign affairs. In it the right hon. Gentleman suggested that there should be instituted A permanent commission representing all the States concerned, to which in each case the Conference could have directly referred the task of examining facts and reporting as to the best way of carrying out the principles laid down. Its functions would be of a purely advisory and consultative character, and would not supersede but would supplement those of the Colonial Office. That commission or council it was suggested might be appointed for a term of years, and then if it were found successful it could be renewed, but if not it might be dispensed with. That purely consultative form of commission or council, whatever you like to call it, would have one great and novel advantage. In point of fact it would be representative, and so it would be able to express authoritatively on behalf of the over-seas Dominions, the opinions of those Dominions. And another great advantage of this permanent commission would be that its deliberations could be held when and how seemed best, and they could be held with absolute secrecy. There would be no objection I conceive to such a commission or such a council having a certain amount of information imparted to it with regard to Foreign affairs, and I would point out what an enormous advantage there would be over the cumbrous method even of communication by cable, if we had such a Secretariat, which, as I say, is the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman, then the Colonial Secretary. That seems to me to be the direction in which we should move. It may be said, of course, that the overseas Dominions are not in favour of such a council, but I do not think that is quite a fair rejoinder, because although in the replies to that despatch there were dubious references to the institution of such a council, they were not all unfavourable. Many of them were favourable, and those which were unfavourable were not definitely hostile. They merely declared that such a council should not have executive power, or that they did not think that the time was ripe for the institution of such a council. In no case did they go so far to declare hostility to such a scheme. Since that time has gone by and the situation has changed in the direction of a more favourable consideration of the scheme, and to-day we see on the agenda paper of the new Conference a resolution put down by New Zealand asking for the constitution of such a council. That representation comes from one of the over-seas Dominions, and a short time ago there was presented to the Prime Minister a memorial, signed by 300 Members of this House, asking that the question of the institution of such a permanent council should be considered. There will be in this Debate, I have no doubt, and there have been already given in the course of it, many indications that sentiment in this country is flowing strongly in the direction of such a proceeding, and if you want any further evidence, go to the Press of this country. Here and over-seas many articles have been written and suggestions made in this direction, many of them fantastic, but all of them well inspired.

No doubt it would be grossly impolitic to press the Dominions on this point. But I think that they are seeing the logic of the situation and what at least we can do is to make clear to them that we do not propose to suggest any infraction of their autonomy. That is what they fear, and quite rightly fear, and if it were made plain that instead of risking or impairing their autonomy we were only meaning to call them in for the purpose of consultation, where to-day we are not able to call them in, then, I think, the attitude of the great over-seas Dominions towards the scheme would be considerably altered. I think in this matter we have come to something like a crisis. The Colonies are no longer children, they are fully grown, and the time has now come in my humble opinion at least when we should revise the rules of the home. If we do there are three courses open to us. First, we can go on as we are doing now, very well, no doubt, but I really think with greater difficulty every year, trying to manage by ourselves, no doubt, with a certain amount of consultation, but trying to manage mainly by ourselves affairs which concern not only ourselves, but the whole Empire. That I do not think can go on for ever.

The second course that is open to us is one which does not look at the present moment to be an entirely impossible one and it is that each portion of the British Empire should go forward independently on its own account with its own army and its own navy, and then within the course of not very many years we should have with regard to our own Dominions nearly the same relations that we hold with regard to the United States. I am not one of those who think that would be an absolute calamity. I have no doubt whatever upon this that we should go on as happy and prosperous nations. But I can see that there are advantages to be gained by co-operation and that by joining forces we could keep more efficiently and economically up with the trend of events than we can do by ourselves. Therefore, I think that course will be one which in the end we should deplore. The third course which is open to us is to co-operate, and if we are to co-operate I am perfectly certain it will be found that we can only do so by some constitutional means. I do not think we can go on as an Empire under the loose system under which we should have with our own Dominions very little modified the relations which we have with the foreign Powers. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] Why not, because I believe if we had only those relations we should lose enormously in force and power and in efficiency.

There is nothing whatever in this constitutional idea which need be repugnant to the most radical-minded Member. It is the extension of democracy, the logical process of devolution carried a step further than it is to-day. If it can be carried further, let us carry it. If it cannot let us go on, but if it is humanly possible to co-operate with this great Empire, to weld it into a unified or agglomerated mass so that we can do more by that means, let us do it, and we shall have a greater effect on the peace and prosperity of the world and on our own peace and prosperity than we ever could by ourselves. What we are doing in one direction to-day I am only suggesting we should do in another direction to-morrow. So, although I can not perhaps agree entirely with the mover and seconder of the Motion with regard to Foreign affairs being a fit subject for general discussion at the Conference unsolicited by the Dominions themselves, I look forward to the development, of Imperial machinery by which these foreign affairs and all other Imperial matters shall in future be ordered by a body even in closer touch with over-seas opinion than it is to-day.


If I might tender some advice to the right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench, or, to put it another way, if I happened to be in the position of the Prime Minister, I should have jumped up and leapt over the barrier which separates the hon. Member (Mr. Crawshay-Williams) from the Front Bench and put him into the Ministry right away. It certainly does one's heart good to hear expressions of opinion such as we heard from him coming from that side. I do not mean by that to infer that Gentlemen on that side of the House are not as keen on these Imperial questions as we are on this side, but an expression of opinion such as that which we have just heard, is not often heard coming from hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House. I approach this question as one who has lived and worked amongst those in the over-seas Dominions, and helped to develop parts of the Empire as we know it. If I may on this occasion speak as if I were still there and not here, I should like to tell the House what I personally often felt, and what Britishers overseas have felt, in reference to this question of unity or of taking part in discussions or expressions of opinion or joining hands with Britishers in this country. The feeling has existed amongst many of us that once a Britisher leaves these shores he forsakes to a certain extent the right of having a voice and opinion in the management of affairs which to him have just as much interest as to any man in this country. If you would only extend to them and to those Britishers over-seas a wholehearted welcome whenever they express an opinion and whenever they wish to offer advice, or join you in Imperial questions or in questions which affect the prosperity of the British race, one and all would jump at the opportunity, but unless it comes from this side I do not think you will make much progress. Patting him on the back and saying, "My brother Colonial, come home to the old country and talk, come to the Imperial Conference and chat away," and to offer no encouragement or inducement to them will not do much good. It does, if anything, more harm. They go back home with the idea that they are looked upon, as I have often heard them say, as something Colonial—a blessed Colonial, or something like that—and their co-operation is not wanted. You have to get them to co-operate with us if you wish to maintain the supremacy of the British race, for without their cooperation you are not going to maintain it as it has been maintained in the past. In joining with one or two hon. Members in the recent attempt to get signatures from Members in all parts of the House it was a great pleasure to find that so many on both sides did welcome to-day, even though probably they would not have welcomed it twelve months' ago, some opportunity of encouraging the desire which does undoubtedly exist of bringing about some Imperial representation in Imperial affairs.

It has been said to-night that we should not press our opinion upon the Conference. It is not a question of pressing. If you want their co-operation you must call them to your counsels and give them a right of voicing their opinions in questions which concern them just as much as they do Britishers. There is no one on either side of the House who will question for a moment the extraordinary loyalty and devotion which exists in our over-sea Dominions. They were Colonies, and now they are young nations. You take a great deal of trouble in negotiating treaties with Japan and other countries. If you would seriously consider, as I am perfectly sure, after the memorial signed by nearly 300 Members of the House of Commons and presented to the Prime Minister, it will be considered most seriously, if you would consider in what way you can promote the Imperial unity which is essential to our well-being as the British nation, you will be doing the best day's work in the interest of every Britisher, wherever he may reside, concerning the future of our race. With regard to the question of foreign affairs and discussion at the Imperial Conference, we have heard to-night the suggestion that the Conference is of a semi-public nature. I venture to think that would be overcome by the chairman at that time moving that the question of foreign affairs should be discussed in private and without the Press. I know it is essential that there should be discussion, and I know it is wanted. I have travelled and spent day after day on the veldt and in the bush, where men get together as closely as it is possible for them to get at any time, and I know that they, like some of the leading politicians on both sides of this House, and particularly in recent years, have the feeling that they want counsel and advice. They want to discuss foreign affairs—a question which affects Australia, British Columbia, and every unit of the self-governing Dominions. That is a question on which you should take them into your counsel and ask what their opinions are and what their ideas are as to the best action to take. That complete confidence, and that complete confidence only, will lead to the desired end. A pat on the back and recognition that they are coming nations is all very well but when they wish to discuss foreign affairs seriously and not merely Colonial or Dominion affairs, that will not do very much good.

We have an example in the past concerning their willingness to join us in connection with the supremacy and the strength of our Navy. It has often been said in this country that they would not contribute towards our Navy. I say emphatically that unless you give them a voice in the management of the Navy they will not be so willing to contribute towards the Navy. But if you can through this Imperial Conference create some sort of Imperial Council as a real and genuine stepping-stone to ultimate Imperial unity by Imperial representation in an Imperial Parliament, you will then find every desire on the part of those Britishers who live over-seas to join the people of this country in paying for and maintaining the Navy, and taking good care that it shall remain supreme over all other nations. And what would it be for us if that should be brought about. It is surely worth attempting. While I sat listening to recent Debates on the Navy Estimates there seemed to be a universal cry of hardship as to the maintaining of our naval position against the nations of the world. If we were to unite for one common cause and purpose you would never hear a word of that kind uttered, nor would such a Motion be brought forward as that which was moved not long ago by the hon. Member for the Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Murray Macdonald). You would not hear any such criticism as we listened to from speaker after speaker about the burden of maintaining the British Navy. I asked the Prime Minister whether there was any possibility of getting Imperial representation on the Board of Admiralty, and the right hon. Gentleman answered that it is not practicable. I do not wish to complain of that answer from the Leader of the Government, but I find that the opinion expressed by the Prime Minister also exists among many others—some Conservatives and some Liberals—outside the House. In many directions the view is held that it would not be practicable. I maintain that it would be practicable, and that it is the only way ultimately of getting unity of purpose in regard to an Imperial Navy.

When I was in the Colonies I did not think of coming back permanently to reside. Supposing I married and had children, why should not I have the privilege of getting my children into the British Navy and of ultimately having a career for them in that Service. It may be that they have, but, if that is so, I wonder why the right hon. Gentleman gave the answer he did. When I asked the question I did not expect a definite answer, but I did expect some encouragement and some welcome from the Front Bench of the opportunity which I gave them of answering the question. It may not be practicable at the moment, but it would be a great thing if it could be brought about. The expressions of opinion in this Debate will be of the greatest assistance in bringing about that Imperial unity, because it will be realised that this Debate has been carried on, not on a party basis, but on a non-controversial basis, and that we have discussed the matter in a way which should lead towards a definite solution of what I admit is a great difficulty to be overcome. If the Imperial Conference was not taking place in the course of the next few weeks, I should say that we had time to work quietly and persistently in connection with the memorial which was taken round the House. But this Imperial Conference, which is to take place soon, will be of greater moment in the history of our country and of our Empire than any Conference has been before. I say, in all seriousness, as one who knows the Empire intimately, that time is not at your disposal. You have not unlimited time before you to bring about the unity which has been referred to. The question ought to be discussed with our representatives over-seas, and you should enable them to realise that you are willing to take them more into your counsels than you have ever done before. I would appeal to right hon. Gentlemen to do their utmost on all sides of the House during the coming Conference to give every encouragement to the expression of opinion and to try to bring about some definite form of Imperial unity by creating that council which has been referred to by previous speakers. I would only add in conclusion that we have in the Empire all that God or man can give us, but it is unorganised, there is no attempt at organisation or unity of purpose, and no attempt to turn to account that strength, wealth, loyalty, and devotion to the Empire which we possess. If the Cabinet would only on this occasion take the unusual step of impressing on the over-seas visitors that the day is not far distant when we shall have to have here a permanent Consul, advisory or executive as the case may be, and if they can go away to their respective Parliaments with that impression they shall have done the best day's work that any Government have done for a long time past.


There is one point which I am glad to be able to clear up at once. I can assure the last speaker, the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Norton-Griffiths), that if he had married in one of our Dominions and produced a brilliant son there would have been no difficulty whatever ill that son exercising his talents at once in the interests of the British Navy. I acknowledge gladly the nonparty standpoint of all the speeches delivered to-night, and there was much in the speech of the hon. Member who moved the Resolution with which I am sure every Member of the House is in accord. I believe he was perfectly justified in saying that this union of the Empire would be a force in the world making for peace. I think that the union of the Empire which exists is a force making for peace. No doubt our great Dominions have a preponderating and a greatly preponderating interest in their own peaceful development. The tone of the hon. Member with regard to the constitution of the Conference was also extremely reasonable as recognising what we, all of us, recognise, that these things cannot be forced or manufactured, but that they must come through what he calls a natural evolution. He congratulated the country on the fact that for the first time the Prime Minister is presiding over the Conference to mark the national sense of its importance. On previous occasions, as the House is aware, the Colonial Secretary presided, and of course one cannot draw any conclusion from what happened at those Conferences to apply to the Conference about to take place, because now for the first time the Prime Minister will be the president of the Conference. The hon. Member for Denbigh Boroughs (Mr. Ormsby-Gore), who seconded the Resolution, spoke about my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Foreign Affairs (Sir E. Grey) not attending many meetings of the Conference. He only attended one meeting; but the hon. Member ought to have recognised what Sir Robert Bond recognised, that that was not the whole of his labour in connection with the Conference. Sir Robert Bond pointed out that he had the privilege of discussing the question of foreign affairs with Sir Edward Grey and other Members of the Government. Both speakers recognised that these discussions on foreign affairs necessarily must deal with delicate and important matters, and must be carried on, as one speaker said, behind closed doors. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmund (Mr. Guinness) laid down a very proper and reasonable proposition to guide our Debate to-night. He said he did not wish to discuss the resolutions which were to come before the Conference. He a little departed from that intention, if I may say so, but not very much.


I said I would not ask the opinion of the House upon it.

10.0 P.M.


If a self-denying ordinance is proper to him it must be much more proper to me. He will recognise that. I will not, therefore, follow him in the discussion into which he entered of the practical difficulties of dealing with this matter. I think he seemed to realise that there were practical difficulties, because he said he was not satisfied for the Agents-General to deal with this matter, as they were resident here, and he rather sketched a scheme of peripatetic Ministry to deal with foreign affairs. He said there must be someone resident in this country to represent the Colonies, and he thought that the Colonial Minister who had charge of the affairs of the Dominions must be a person who visited those Dominions. But I will not enter into the discussion of the practical difficulties which the hon. Member recognises in working out a system for keeping the Colonies in close connection with our Imperial affairs. He made two complaints, however. One was that we might perhaps have got representatives of the Dominions in the International Prize Court. I do not think he could have reflected very much on that subject in making that suggestion, because he could hardly imagine foreign Powers agreeing that, while they should have only one representative in the Prize Court, the British Empire should have five or six.


Why not?


The answer to that is very simple. There would be a certain amount of common sense with regard to their own interests on the part of foreign nations, and it would be rather ridiculous to expect another great country like Germany or France to consent to this country being represented five times as strongly as they. The second complaint of the hon. Members was there was no mention of foreign affairs in the agenda of the Conference, but I think he answered himself, because he pointed out that the question of Imperial defence must necessarily hinge upon any discussion upon Foreign affairs, and undoubtedly that is true. That must be done, therefore, by such a discussion at the Conference, and there will be more than one opportunity for discussing Foreign affairs at the Conference. There will be the kind of informal discussions between the Secretary of Foreign Affairs and the Colonial Prime Ministers to which I have referred as having taken place at the last Conference.


Will those discussions be behind closed doors? It is only in those conditions that they can really be as free and as full as to render them of any value.


Undoubtedly the private discussions between the Prime Ministers and the Foreign Secretary will be behind closed doors. I quite agree with the hon. Member that any useful and fruitful discussion of Foreign affairs must be carried on in that way. That is one way in which there will be discussion of Foreign affairs. Then, undoubtedly, there must be a discussion of Foreign affairs at the Conference itself, because one of the proposals which are made by the Commonwealth of Australia is to discuss the question of Imperial defence. I have the hon. Member with me in saying that that must involve the discussion of international relations. There is a third way in which the Prime Ministers of the Colonies will have an opportunity of discussing international relations. They will be summoned to a meeting of the Committee of Imperial Defence, and there, again, they will have an opportunity of dealing with the matter, so I do not object in this Resolution to the suggestion that there must be a discussion between the British Government and the Governments of the Great Dominions in regard to International relations. I object, however, from the point of view that it is entirely unnecessary, because these discussions will take place without it, and if it is un- necessary it is undesirable. It is two years since we asked the Dominions to send notice of the matters which they desire to discuss. It is obvious that it is not every point of Foreign affairs which would be of interest to the Dominions. One does not want to say beforehand which ones will be of interest. I will not mention the points, but one can imagine that perhaps South Africa is not particularly interested in Servia or Montenegro. I think we had better leave the matter to be brought up by the representatives of the Dominions by the Foreign Secretary, as they find on discussion that they are interested in the particular point. It would be undesirable, I think, to start a precedent of having a mandatory resolution of the House of Commons, and I hope in view of these facts, and the fact that there will be a discussion on International relations which we all agree, there must be, and the fact that the opportunity is provided for is in several ways that the two hon. Gentlemen will see their way to withdraw this Resolution, and not divide the House upon it, because I think it is better with this matter, as so many other matters, that the relations between friends and relatives should be unforced, spontaneous, and natural, and not the result of a mandatory Resolution of this House.


I will not undertake to make a party speech on this occasion, following the excellent example set me by all the speakers hitherto. I wish, however, that the speech which the Under-Secretary has just made was of a more satisfactory character than it has been I quite agree that it is possible that informal discussions may take place between the representatives of various States of the Empire at the time of the Imperial Conference; but, if that Conference resembles even in the faintest degree those of which we have had experience on the last two occasions, there will scarcely be any time or any leisure for those Gentlemen to take part in any informal discussions, or, indeed, to do anything except to keep the actual engagements which they have formally to make. The initiative in this matter I venture to say should come from His Majesty's Government. They should freely and frankly, in my opinion, inform the representatives of the Dominions of the broad outline of the international situation at the present moment. This international situation need not be entered into in detail. I quite agree that, necessarily, there are many insignificant matters, and, indeed, there are some important matters with which the Dominions have not at this present moment any immediate concern and which they would not desire to know. But there are exceedingly important matters with regard to the general international situation upon which they have no information; and the representatives of their Governments, when they are questioned in the Houses of Representatives in the Dominion Parliaments, say, and say perfectly frankly, "We have no information on this point, because those matters are the concern of the Imperial Parliament."

I think the House owes a debt of great gratitude to my hon. Friend for having brought this matter before the House, and I make a most strong appeal to the Colonial Secretary to give a rather more definite answer than has been given by his colleague already. If you will allow me a short time, I think I can persuade the right hon. Gentleman that it is really of the greatest possible importance that this full information upon the general international situation should be given to the representatives of the Dominions when they come here. The whole position has radically changed since the last Conference. The House is quite familiar with the fact that for many, many years—for nearly one hundred years, the Dominions and Colonies lived altogether outside the zone of international concerns; they were not affected by international concerns. They were allowed complete immunity from international troubles in which the Mother Country was from time to time involved. The supremacy of the British Navy was amply adequate to protect them—adequate without any great burden upon the Mother Country—beyond that which she would have in any event to have undergone for the benefit and protection of her own trade. The supremacy of the British Navy was sufficient for many and many a year adequately and sufficiently to protect the interests and security of the Dominions. Foreign policy, therefore, was severely let alone by the Dominions over-seas, and, as my hon. friend the Member for Denbigh (Mr. Ormsby-Gore) said, it was almost a formula, and perhaps is even to this day in several of the Dominions, that they "do not desire to be drawn into the vortex of international militarism."

It was during these sheltered times, in the same way as we developed our great industrial supremacy while our neighbours were quarrelling on the Continent—it was in those sheltered times that the Dominions over-seas developed valiantly and energetically the great natural resources of their countries. Their contest was not with man; their contest was with the forces of Nature. That was the first chapter of what you may call Colonial history. There was no necessity at that time in the Dominions to have any external defence, and there was no opportunity or scope for any foreign policy. But the second chapter is now open; that first chapter is closed. What has happened in the last twenty years.

There has been a vast expansion in America, in Europe, and in Asia, and that great expansion has left us in a very different position, and has left the Empire in a very different position, from that which it previously occupied. What is the position with regard to our ourselves? Vast navies have been added to vast armies, and we are now, as every Member of the House knows, in the presence of at any rate three great Powers, two of whom are equal to ourselves in wealth, in industrial skill and efficiency, and superior to us in population. I say, and I think everybody knows this too, that with all the goodwill in the world, and with all the desire and intention to make every sacrifice that we can possibly make, there is a doubt, and a substantial doubt, whether it would be possible for this country, unassisted, for any very much longer time to protect adequately the great Dominions over-seas. What is the evidence and index of this great fact? It is palpable before the Under-Secretary of State's own eyes, and the representative of the Admiralty will be, of course, perfectly familiar with it. The result of these great naval preparations of our rivals has been to bring about a policy of naval concentration. Practically speaking, the whole strength of the British Navy, or almost the whole strength, is concentrated in home waters. And there are contingencies, I do not wish to refer to them more particularly, in the Far East, which might make it necessary to consider—what an enormous effort this would require—in addition to this huge concentration which we have in home waters at the present moment, we should also add a good many battleships in order to protect our position in the Pacific. I think the fact of the great change which has taken place in the last twenty or twenty-five years is affecting this country.

Let me ask the House for a moment to glance at what effect it must have upon the Dominions. Practically during the last twenty-five years, after outbursts of the spirit of Imperial federation, which has now lapsed, the Dominions, by the assent of all men in this country and of all parties, have become definitely Nationalist, and are, as Sir Wilfrid Laurier said, independent nations owing allegiance to the Crown. That is his formula. We hope to see, though, every true and sane Imperialist hopes to see, a partnership of autonomist States in the future. Those Dominions under those conditions are no longer out of the sphere of international complications. They are brought, by the great expansions I have pointed out in Europe, in Asia, and in America, into contact with the ambitions, economic, military, and otherwise, of great countries. They are brought into contact with great world problems, such as those that have been referred to by my hon. Friend, such as Asiatic emigration and other great questions. Canada is brought into great and immediate contact with important questions in regard to tropical West Indies. She is watching the movements, of course, of her great and distinguished neighbour. Australia and New Zealand are watching the Far East, South Africa, again, is watching Europe, and is watching Germany. They have become sensible, acutely sensible, that they are no longer spectators, but that they are actors in the great drama of International politics. And how have they shown that? They have shown it by resolving, at great cost to themselves in Australia and New Zealand, upon universal service. Canada has made a great effort in the direction of voluntary service of great numerical proportions. But they have gone beyond that. They have, as the result, first and largely, of the Press Conference, moat handsomely admitted by the Colonial Office to have had a very great and important weight in this question, and as the result of the Conference which took place afterwards, in 1909—those countries, except South Africa, as yet, but she will too, those other Dominions have founded, and are building local navies. I was myself at that Conference an advocate of local navies, because I have always been persuaded once the Nationalism of the Dominions was established that the only way in which you could appeal permanently to, and rely permanently upon their assistance in the great Imperial affair, was that they should have a visible example before them of the glory of sea service, that they might see the ships, that they might see the sailors, and might take part in building the ships, so that they might obtain for themselves visible, and at the same time personal, contact with this great affair. They were perfectly ready to build local navies, but what is the situation at the present moment. It is a great departure, as I would remind the Secretary of the Admiralty, from the expectations of the Admiralty. The First Lord of the Admiralty in 1909 took as a postulate at the beginning of the Conference of 1909—the Naval Conference—that it was a certainty that the local navies of the Dominions would at once place themselves in war time under the command and at the service of the British Navy. I must remind him and the representatives of the Admiralty that Sir Wilfrid Laurier has distinctly contradicted that postulate and has avowed, as has been quoted by one of my hon. Friends, that that navy might not necessarily take any part whatever in a war with this country, and is held entirely in the interests of Canada. Neither Australia nor New Zealand has pledged itself to join us in any war which might take place. These local navies are quite independent, though they are entirely friendly to this country. It is surely necessary that the Dominions should thoroughly understand what that position involves. A most able writer in "The Times"—and indeed, some articles in "The Times" in the last few days have dealt with this subject with the greatest possible ability—has asked what would be the position of the local navies of the Dominions under the present condition of the Declaration of the Prime Minister. They would be a very great force if they were co-ordinated with and co-operated with the Imperial Navy. If we were at war—these questions must be put—would they be at war also? If, when we were at war, they were sending to this country cargoes of grain, would they be liable to seizure and confiscation by any Power who was at that time the enemy of this country and at war with her? What would be the position of the Australian Fleet, flying the British flag in Australasian waters, independently of this country—not under the orders of the Admiralty, but flying the British flag, and, I suppose, constituting a liability for anything that was done by them? What foreign policy would they support?

These are questions which must be put; they are questions which must be answered. I believe they would be answered perfectly satisfactorily by the Governments of the Dominions if they had behind closed doors a definite intimation of what the broad lines of British policy were. You cannot expect that they should be willing, without any knowledge and without any communication with regard to the general trend of our foreign policy, to hand over blindly to us the ships which they have built, and the men with which they man them. These subjects are already beginning to arouse great attention, and just and right curiosity in the Dominions themselves. Questions are asked of the Prime Ministers. Questions are asked of General Botha in South Africa. The Dominion Prime Ministers are obliged to say that they cannot answer, and to excuse themselves from answering by saying, "This is a matter not of our concern, but of Imperial concern." That is not right. Surely our duty is perfectly plain. What was the first and central Resolution of the great Colonial Conference of 1907? That it would be to the advantage of the Empire if a Conference called the Imperial Conference was held every four years, at which questions of common interest might be discussed and considered as between His Majesty's Government and the Governments of the self-governing Dominions beyond the seas. Who can get up on that Bench opposite and possibly contend that it is not a matter of common interest to ourselves and to every one of the Dominions what should be the policy which should dictate the disposal of the local navies, which, with great patriotism, the Dominions themselves have built and equipped? I think the Under-Secretary in a sense admitted that it was a matter of great common interest.


I said it was one of the subjects down to be discussed at the Conference.


The Under-Secretary said that it might be discussed informally.




He also said that on the debates on defence it might be discussed.




He also said that the Committee of Imperial Defence—


May I correct the right hon. Gentleman. I agreed with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury St. Edmunds that the question of Imperial defence must hinge upon the discussion of international defence. The one involves the other.


I understood the hon. Gentleman to say that unless this question was brought up by the Dominions themselves it would not be discussed, because His Majesty's Government would not take the initiative. The Colonial Secretary will have the opportunity of speaking after me, and I would like to ask him these three questions: Whether he will undertake that a broad outline of our international, our foreign, policy, as affecting the Dominions, shall be given to the Prime Ministers of the Dominions behind the closed doors of the Conference; that the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary shall be present on such occasion, and that they should be ready to explain fully the situation, and to deal with all these subjects of foreign policy that closely affect the Dominions; if he is not able or willing to give such a pledge, at any rate will he pledge himself that all the Prime Ministers of the Dominions shall be invited to meet him and to meet the Imperial Defence Committee. Failing that which we have asked for, I quite agree that a good and as confidential a discussion as possible should take place there.

It is impossible to get what we all in this country wish—coherent co-operation between ourselves and the Dominions—unless you have this definite and clear basis, founded upon the broad lines of foreign policy which would be declared and explained by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, and which the assent of the Dominions would be asked. What we desire is that which the Secretary for War has often talked about—plain, clear thinking, and plain and clear statement, not nebulous rhetoric. A plain statement is what should be given to the distinguished men who come here so that they may judge the effect with clearness. If the Colonial Secretary is able to give us such an assurance—I, personally, have not the slightest desire to criticise him or the Government—I shall be glad. I have spoken about the Dominions, but I do not wish it to be supposed that the Crown Colonies and India should not at some future date also be considered. This is an extremely important matter. As part of the general organisation of this Empire it would be unfair that the Dominions should contribute largely to the expenditure both of the Army and the Navy; and the Crown Colonies and India, who are equally interested, should not also be given the opportunity of a similar contribution, to be followed by similar privileges. I desire also to thank the hon. Member for Leicester, who spoke from the benches opposite, for his advocacy of the policy of the Government of 1905, which I pressed upon the Dominions, and I am glad to find it met with the approval of some hon. Members opposite. I agree with him that it would be quite impossible in the future that these discussions should be as sporadic as they have been in the past. I think there must be some organised, and more rapid, communication than these four-yearly Conferences, in which there can be perfectly free exchange of views between the Dominions and ourselves on questions of general and foreign policy in which they have equal interest. May I summarise what I desire to press upon the attention of the House. I have endeavoured to show in the first place that during the last twenty or twenty-five years the Dominions, which were once outside altogether the sphere of international politics, have now a closer and closer interest in them; I have endeavoured to show it is quite obvious if, as we all hope, they are to co-operate with us in the future, we must confide in them the broad lines of our international policy. The opportunity is here before our very eyes, in the Conference which is about to take place. The movement for further co-operation must not proceed from us; it must come from them, as I am sure it will when they know the facts and when the facts have been fully explained to them. From them should proceed the offer of further and freer co-operation than they have felt themselves at liberty up to the present to offer. They cannot make such an offer unless they know, and know thoroughly, the international situation. Here is a chance. They come thousands of miles for it. Is it too much to ask the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary to give up a day or two in order to explain it to them? I am perfectly certain they appreciate the desire the Dominions have for this, and that they will put more time at their disposal if necessary. There is a very great chance, and it would be in my opinion a national misfortune if we missed it.

The SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. Harcourt)

I do not propose to make anything in the nature of a speech in reply to the right hon. Gentleman. With much of what he has said, sketching the establishment and development of the Colonial situation and the naval situation, I find myself in complete agreement. I have risen, not to Debate the matter, but to answer a question he put to me. I intend to be brief, because my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs seems to have met the situation as it has been placed before the House. I have been definitely asked by the right hon. Gentleman whether it is the intention of the Government to take the Prime Ministers of our great Dominions into consultation on matters of international concern. It always has been our intention from the very first. We shall withhold from them no information which they desire. We shall proffer to them all useful knowledge which may be of service to them in the great work they have to perform; but we shall do so under absolute secrecy, and I must warn the House that we cannot be liable to be asked what information we have given or on what subjects. It has always been our intention to summon these Prime Ministers of the Dominions to meet the Committee of Imperial Defence, and of that Committee of Imperial Defence the Prime Minister is President, and the Foreign Secretary and many other Ministers, including myself, are members. There they will meet, in the secrecy of that Committee, and they will be able to receive all their information, and more probably than has been suggested in this House, but I do beg the House not to attempt by a resolution carried in this building, to dictate to the Imperial Conference the method in which it shall conduct its business.


The statement just made by the Colonial Secretary will, I am sure, justify the action which has been taken by my hon. Friend who moved this resolution in bringing this question before the House. We have been told that it has always been the intention of the Government to offer to the Prime Ministers of the Dominions beyond the seas all the information which they would ask for, and that nothing would be withheld from them in the way of information which would be of value. That is a most important statement to have had made in a form in which it can be cabled to the ends of the earth. What has to be considered here is not merely the fact that there is to be a consultation between the Prime Ministers of the several parts of the Empire, but the knowledge that that consultation is actually taking place on the part of several Dominions. This Empire is a great unwieldy machine, which takes time to get into action, and we have to carry with us other democracies; and if they feel that their Prime Ministers are being honoured, consulted, and valued, and have weight here, then we shall have accomplished a great deal of that which we set out to do by bringing this Motion before the House. There were one or two points in the speech made by the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs which I ask the permission of the House to allude to. He has told us that it is not every point in foreign affairs which will be of interest to our Dominions beyond the seas. That is a wrong position to take up. Surely what we have to consider is a world balance of power, and what is essential is that the responsible authorities in all parts of the Empire should have before them the entire theory and position of our foreign affairs, and not merely those particular matters which happen to interest them in their several localities and portions of the Empire.

I take it that there is no fundamental difference of opinion as to aims, although there seems to be a difference in regard to methods. The Front Bench opposite are still in the attitude of masterly inactivity. Inactivity is masterly only when we know how it ends. No doubt in 1907 inactivity on the part of our Government was desirable, but many things have happened since then, and some very important things are about to happen. It is the view of many of us that the time has come when the Government of this, which is after ail the most important Dominion of the Crown, should take a certain lead, and we believe it would find a reception for that lead other than it might have had a few years ago. I will point out three things which have happened in the immediate past. You have had the Navies of the Dominions established. You have the tariff treaties which have recently been made. You have the great question of the Eastern immigration very much to the front, and immediately before the next Conference assembles in 1915 you will have the termination of the Japanese Alliance. You will also have the opening of the Panama Canal. Is it not a fact that what is preventing the Dominions from joining with us in the way that we on this side would like in the matters of foreign affairs is that to a considerable extent the centre of world politics is shifting, and that the Dominions of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and even South Africa are passing into the forefront of the battle, and of a very different position from that round which foreign politics have centred in the past. They feel that we here hardly realise that change of position. You have to-day in the Far East, as we all know, new problems which, at the rate at which things develop, may very quickly come to be the chief problems of the world. Our Dominions across the seas are aware of that, and what they require is support. They want our support in a way they did not want it a very few years ago. The time has come when we can have their support in return for giving them our support. What we require is that they should give us their support in regard to European affairs on our undertaking to give them our support in regard to Far Eastern affairs. This Empire has now two fronts—one to Europe and one to the Far East. We have two different sets of Dominions, and if we are to hang together it must be by a frank give-and-take between the two. The Dominions will only be honoured if we appeal to them for their support as we appealed to our foreign ally, Japan, for support, and we, on the other hand, should feel ourselves bound to recognise their point of view and be ready to give them support in their portion of the world. It is the point of view that matters, and what we want is that there shall not simply be an incidental discussion of foreign affairs arising out of the practical problems of defence, but that there shall be a real discussion in which foreign affairs are in the forefront, and a real interchange of views in order that we may be perfectly certain we no longer take up an insular attitude with regard to foreign affairs, but a new Imperial point of view, recognising the fact consequent upon the opening of the Panama Canal. It may be said these Eastern affairs will ripen presently and that we are looking too far ahead. May I venture to suggest that coming events cast their shadows very deeply before them at this time. The opening of the Panama Canal bringing the United States face to face with the Far East will put new problems before our Dominions, and what we have to consider is not only the relations of the Empire to the Far East but also the relation of the Empire to the United States of America. We want these things discussed before they become urgent, and we want to feel certain that the Dominions throughout the Empire do know that their attitude, not only with regard to the Far East, but also with regard to the United States in connection with Far Eastern problems, has been taken into account by the responsible authorities, and that years beforehand and before the Panama Canal is opened, there shall be such a consensus of opinion and such a thorough search into the details of what is likely to happen that the different Governments will be in a position to educate their several democracies, so that we run no danger of popular movements in divergent directions in the different portions of the Empire. You have indeed a totally changed position, and it is no longer necessary to wait for a movement first in the Dominions. The Dominions are asking for support, and they know they require it. Under those circumstances it is possible now for us to abandon the position of masterly inactivity and to take them fully into confidence in discussing what is likely to happen in the immediate future. Further than that, the whole Empire ought to be assured that such a discussion has taken place, and that the upshot of it has been satisfactory.


While I agree with many of the views put forward I should like to observe that some hon. Gentlemen opposite have told us that they have been to Canada and are able to voice Canadian opinion. I admit it is a very good thing that hon. Members on both sides of the House should visit Canada and other parts of the Empire, but I must protest against any Member of this House who has been to the Dominion for three or four weeks coming back and claiming to speak in this House on behalf of Canada. Hon. Gentlemen opposite who have gone to Canada have necessarily, in the very brief period of their stay, associated with those of their own way of thinking. They have gone out there with letters of introduction to prominent Tories; they have been taken to the club; they no doubt have had a very good time indeed, but can they possibly have obtained such a full and complete knowledge of the Canadian people as to justify their claim to speak on behalf of the people of Canada? They come back thinking that Canada is a nation of Tories. But they have overlooked the fact that the Conservative party in Canada for some fifteen years has been in a hopeless minority. They come back thinking that the Canadians are all Protectionists or Imperial Federationists. There are to-day in Canada Imperial Federationists, but they are not Liberals; they belong entirely to the Conservative side, and they are looked upon, I think I may fairly say, by the great bulk of the people of Canada as being afflicted by a very harmless kind of lunacy.

The object of hon. Gentlemen opposite who have brought forward this Motion has been to carry on a propaganda which has been singularly active lately in favour of some kind of Imperial council or Imperial Parliament. While I am not surprised at their taking that stand, I certainly was surprised to hear a Liberal Member standing up and agreeing with that proposition. Several hon. Members have said that they want some kind of Imperial Parliament, as well as autonomy for the Dominions and for the Colonies. The two things are absolutely impossible. They cannot go together. If you are going to give to the Colonies what they think most of—autonomy in their own matters—you cannot take it away from them and draw them into an Imperial Parliament, where each of these colonies will be in a hopeless minority. If, for instance, Canada comes into an Imperial Council or Parliament, it would be no good to the Empire, unless Canada was prepared to submit to the decision of that body. It would be absurd to think that Parliament could accept on questions affecting Canada the ideas of the representatives for Canada, or on questions affecting Australia the ideas of representatives from Australia. Necessarily, if it was a council or parliament at all, what would be decided would be the views, not of the particular colony affected by the question before it, but the views of the majority of the Council or Parliament, no matter where they might come from. Let me give a concrete example of how it would work. Take the question of autonomy. Canada at the present moment controls its own local affairs and its relations with foreign countries and with the Government of the United Kingdom, It has entered into a treaty with the United States, and what has happened ever since in this House? Why, we have seen lavish attacks made by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite upon Mr. Bryce and the Government of this country because they could not bring pressure to bear upon the United States and upon Canada not to enter into this treaty.


Is the hon. Member justified in attributing to this side of the House statements which have not been made on this side, and which I challenge him to substantiate?


This matter does not seem to have anything to do with the resolution.


I am in a difficulty, because I am attempting to answer my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, as to the question of the representation o£ Canada in an Imperial Council, the suggestion for the formation of which was made by the former Secretary for the Colonies. The hon. Member dealt almost entirely with that aspect of the question.


That is not so. It was only incidentally that the hon. Member for Leicester referred to Imperial Federation. The greater part of his speech dealt with the subject matter of the Resolution.


Of course, Mr. Speaker, I have to bow to your ruling in this matter, but I have ears, and I want to deal with these matters separately. I am sorry if I am not allowed to do it, but I think the Resolution and all those speeches about greater unity of the Empire are most mischievous. I say we have to-day an ideal state in this Empire. We have Colonies which are bound to the Mother Country by ties which require no strengthening. They are as strong as they can be made, and speeches such as we have heard to-night from the hon. Member (Mr. Crawshay Williams) and others suggesting that there is any necessity for tying tighter the bonds of union are most mischievous. These Colonies have their own autonomy, and through that autonomy desire to do their part as members of this great Empire, and if you do anything to change the present position you are making a great mistake, and I for one, at any rate, when the Division comes, as I hope it will, shall have great pleasure in recording my vote against it. I know that the people of Canada have no desire whatever to be mixed up in any way in the foreign relations of this country. If those foreign relations at any time bring this country into war Canada, in the future as in the past, will be ready to sacrifice blood and money in defending the Empire. But so far as foreign relations are concerned they are content now, as they always have been and always will be, to allow them to be controlled by this Parliament.


I should like to thank the Government for the undertaking which they have given in the matter, and as that undertaking very largely meets our object in bringing the matter before the House, I ask leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.