§ My Lords, and Gentlemen,
§ In opening the first Parliament elected in My reign, the grievous loss which the Empire has sustained by the death of My beloved Father is uppermost in My thoughts. When, a year ago, He addressed you, from the Throne no one could have foreseen that His life of unceasing and devoted activity in the service of His subjects was so soon to be cut short. Bowing to the inscrutable decree of Providence, I take courage from His example, and I am, sustained in My abiding sorrow by the sympathy extended to Me by My people in every part of My Dominions.45
§ I have welcomed back My Uncle, the Duke of Connaught, on the completion of the Mission in South Africa, which I entrusted to him, and it has deeply gratified Me to learn that he was received with demonstrations of the utmost enthusiasm and loyalty in every part of My South African Dominions, and by every class of the community.
§ My relations with foreign Powers continue to be friendly.
§ The Japanese Government, having given notice of their intention to terminate the Treaty of Commerce and Navigation of 1894, negotiations, which it is hoped will result in a satisfactory arrangement, have been entered upon for the conclusion of a new Treaty.
§ Frequent complaints of the injury inflicted on British trade by the continued disorder on the trade routes in Southern Persia led My Government reluctantly to address strong representations to the Persian Government, who have since given attention to the subject Some improvement has lately been shown in the condition of the routes, and My Ministers propose to await further developments before pressing for the adoption of their own proposals, which, in any case, would have no other object than to see the authority of the Persian Government restored and trade protected.
§ I look forward with much interest to the assembling in May next of the Imperial Conference, at which the Chief Ministers of My Self-Governing Dominions and of the Mother Country will unite in counsel regarding matters of importance submitted by My respective Governments.
§ It is My intention, when the solemnity of My Coronation has been celebrated, to revisit Mg Indian Dominions, and, there to hold an Assemblage in order to make known in person to My subjects My succession to the Imperial Grown of India.
§ Gentlemen of the House of Commons.
§ The Estimates for the ensuing year will in due course be laid before you.
§ My Lords, and Gentlemen,
§ Proposals will be submitted to you without delay for settling the relations between the two Houses of Parliament, with the object of securing the more effective working of the Constitution.
§ Measures will be presented to you, in pursuance of intentions already declared, for carrying out and extending the policy initiated in previous Parliaments, by securing the permanent provision of Old Age Pensions to persons previously disqualified by reason of 46 the receipt of Poor Relief; and by providing for the insurance of the industrial population against sickness and invalidity, and for the insurance against unemployment of those engaged in trades specially liable to it.
§ Bills dealing with oilier measures of importance will be introduced and proceeded with as time and opportunity allow.
§ I pray that Almighty God may bless your labours.
§ Mr. HAROLD BAKER (wearing Court dress)
I rise to move, "That a humble Address of thanks be presented to His Majesty in reply to the gracious Speech from the Throne." The duty which it is my privilege to perform is one of great honour, and I think I may say admittedly also one of great difficulty. I feel that it calls for a far larger measure of Parliamentary experience than I can claim to possess, but one need only be a member of this House a short time to learn that it is always ready to extend a generous and indulgent hearing to those who address it—as I most sincerely do—with a due sense of their own shortcomings. If, however, at other times it is a difficult task, the difficulty, and, I venture to hope, the honour to the constituency which I represent and to the county of which it forms part, are increased on the present occasion by the exceptional nature of the Session on which we are about to enter. This Session must in any likely event be a memorable one in the history of the country. This is also, as the gracious Speech reminds us, the first Parliament to be elected in the reign of His Majesty King George V. The enduring recollection of the great and manifold services rendered to his subjects by the late King is a memorial which we may indeed supplement but can hardly surpass. His lamented death was felt, and is felt, not only as a national but as an international loss. I remember vividly the solemn occasion a few months ago when this House met to record its sense of gratitude and respect to the late Sovereign, and its confident belief in the equal worthiness of his successor. I remember the words then used—words spoken with the assent of all parties in this House—and I shall not attempt to add to them beyond reaffirming the confident belief that we shall find reproduced in him the constitutional wisdom which has now happily guided us for so many generations.
It will be, I do not doubt, a cause of general satisfaction that His Majesty, who 47 has already so abundantly proved his wide knowledge of Imperial questions, proposes to visit his Indian subjects. That vast portion of our Dominions, with its awakening aspirations, its large possibilities and obscure desires will, it may be hoped, be confirmed in loyalty and tranquillity by the presence of the Sovereign. It is no less a cause for satisfaction that the mission of His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught to open the first Federal Parliament of South Africa has been so successfully accomplished. It is not an inappropriate episode in the history of that country that so distinguished a soldier should have devoted his great personal qualities to the inauguration of what we may hope to be an era of lasting peace. The House will, I believe, also have learned with pleasure that those great qualities are soon to be employed in the interests of the Empire elsewhere. Imperial interests will also be advanced by the forthcoming Imperial Conference. It is perhaps superfluous to offer a formal welcome to those who visit our shores, not as strangers, but rather as kinsmen, whose coming is expected, and who are returning to a natural home. I believe that these meetings of authoritative statesmen contribute in an incalculable degree to strengthen our common bonds and to develop the consciousness of a common purpose in all parts of the Empire. Passing to international relations, the Gracious Speech assures us that we remain in friendship with all foreign Powers. That phrase "friendly relations," to which we have grown accustomed, seems to me no mere form of words, but the expression of a continuing miracle. In spite of the special difficulties in Persia and elsewhere, our traditional policy is maintained. When we think of the many interests of this Empire, with all its political, racial, arid financial complications, it must always be a matter for heartfelt congratulation that the clash of conflict is avoided and that the blessings of peace are so continually ours.
Yet within a few lines the Gracious Speech reminds us with significant simplicity—I had almost said reticence—that all this can still only be bought at a price. The Estimates for the year will no doubt make adequate provision for the armed forces of the Crown. It is a burden which we cannot put from us without abnegating our world-wide responsibilities. 48 However much we may passionately desire to see peace in our time and in the times to come, there remains for us here and now the duty of defence. I regret as much as anyone this necessity which yearly compels us to divert large revenues from the fruitful furrows of social reform. Great as our expenditure is on all heads, it may be criticised but cannot be repudiated. Perhaps, if it is not irrelevant, I may repeat the suggestion that something may be done without encroaching on the domain of policy or detracting from Ministerial responsibility to subject it to a more careful and business-like investigation at the hands of this House. I pass now to the concluding portion of the Speech, that which deals with domestic legislation. This is the first Session of a new Parliament—new, at any rate, in name, though some critics have been at pains to establish its identity with its predecessor. But the Gracious Speech does not offer us the usual detailed list of projected measures which is customary at the beginning of a new Parliament. There is no long catalogue of Bills—of imposing title and of uncertain fate, some doomed to be strangled at birth, others to succumb to untimely frost, a few, perhaps, to pass through a precarious adolescence, only to suffer an ignoble death at the hands of the public executioner. I do not know if this is a precedent, nor do I feel sure how far it goes. At any rate, no one who has cherished a particular Bill in his bosom need feel the pangs of exclusion. The reference to "other measures of importance "opens up a world of conjecture, and if the pleasures of immediate satisfaction are denied we are certainly given in abundance those of imagination.
Instead of the customary catalogue of reforms, touching the national life at a hundred isolated points, we are called on to consider the greatest of all reforms—the reform of the constitution, which directs the current of the national life, and on the effective working of which the national well-being must in the last resort depend. The brevity of the announcement in the Speech is, I take it, a mark both of the magnitude of the issue and of the determination of the Government to concentrate upon its solution. The task is nothing less than to restore reality to our system of representative government. It is, I believe, significant of the admitted necessity for reform that no single device is sufficient. There must be a complex readjustment of existing relations, a rectification 49 of old inequalities, and even a reassertion of ancient rights. Much of this is connected with inaccuracies in the working of our electoral machinery. I do not know if these and similar measures are concealed beneath the phrase to which I have already alluded, "other measures of importance." Nor, for the moment, am I greatly concerned, as I believe that both for logical and for practical reasons, the place of pre-eminence should be given, as it is given, to the question which for five, for twenty-five years, has been debated and examined, the relation of the two Houses and the efficient working of the Parliamentary system.
We have, however, two definite assurances, which I think will be widely welcomed—the promised extension of Old Age Pensions and the provision of schemes of insurance for the industrial classes. Old Age Pensions have almost passed beyond the range of controversy: the beneficent results of that measure become daily more obvious. Over the details of insurance, as to the feasibility of compulsion and the incidence of the burden, there may well be differences of opinion, but there too the principle at least may find support on both sides of the House. It can hardly be denied that for the permanent evils of invalidity, sickness and unemployment, we require permanent machinery. For my part, I look on these two Measures as an instalment, and I look forward hopefully to the development of that larger policy to which the Gracious Speech refers. I believe it to be possible without destroying the virtues of independence so to arrange the fabric of our social laws that they may meet every need of our social system, that unmerited misfortune may be averted by appropriate assistance and that no one, however unworthy, may be allowed to fall short of that standard which the humane opinion of the age judges to be the minimum compatible with life in a civilised community.
This is in the future, and of all this the constitutional question takes precedence. There, perhaps, is matter of inevitable controversy. There are high hopes in some quarters and grave fears in others. I will not suggest that there are anywhere lingering doubts, because I suppose that few minds, however fluid, can pass through the furnace of two general elections without undergoing at any rate a partial process of crystallisation. There is division of opinion. I trust, though, that in what 50 I have said I have succeeded in avoiding the undue emphasis and the polemical intention which custom forbids in the mover of this motion. And I believe I shall have the support of all Members of all parties in expressing the hope that the controversy, if controversy there must be, may bring with it no unnecessary bitterness, and that the result of our deliberations may increase the dignity of this House and the prosperity of His Majesty's subjects in every part of his Dominions.
§ Mr. THOMAS WILES (who also wore Court dress)
In seconding the Motion, I am sure the House will extend to me the generous indulgence which it always grants to a Member who undertakes what, though a great honour, is by no means an easy task. I desire respectfully to associate myself with all that my hon. Friend has said in regard to the opening paragraph in His Majesty's Gracious Speech from the Throne, and to that part especially which refers to the loss which His Majesty and the nation suffered by the death of our late revered Sovereign. I am sure that hon. Members have read with interest the remarkable speech delivered by his Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught last week, when he gave that interesting account of the mission in which he represented His Majesty the King at the opening of the Parliament of a United South Africa. In the commercial treaty with Japan, very keen interest has been displayed by the commercial community of this country, and I hope the negotiations now being conducted with that great friendly Power will result in an arrangement which may prove satisfactory to both countries and lead to a development of trade which will be of lasting advantage to both. With regard to Persia it is well known that the brigandage which existed on the Southern Road has for some time been the cause of serious interruption of trade and loss to British interests. I hope complete order and security will be attained by the steps which the Persian Government have promised to take. Turning to promised legislation, it is obvious that the subject of paramount interest is that affecting the relations between the two Houses of Parliament. Sweeping alterations have recently been suggested, not only by His Majesty's present advisers, but by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in every part of the House. Apparently few are now unprepared for a change in our ancient system. Hitherto our constitution has 51 been unwritten and elastic, dependent upon tradition, and upon custom. Now it has become necessary that the relations between the two Houses shall be defined by statute. It must be a matter not only of Imperial, but, I think, of world-wide interest that the British Parliament, the ancient model of Parliaments, is to undertake the task of readjusting its machinery, and obviating the friction which has arisen in its working, so that our representative institution may more accurately reflect the expressed desires of the nation.
May I refer to one special subject, one of not very frequent occurrence, namely, that not only the principle, but the terms of the Parliament Bill have been laid before the electors, and they have, if I may gay so, been the subject of a Referendum. Doubtless there will arise in our debates differences of opinion sharp and keen, but will it be too much for me to hope that the late Lord Tennyson's words may come true—Let Whig and Tory stir their blood,There must be stormy weather;But for some true result of good,All parties work together.As the representative of a densely populated division, I know what comfort and joy the Old Age Pension Act has given, and I know that if it had not been for tin's beneficent measure many a home would have been broken up. Now I see that permanent provision is to be made for those who have been compelled to apply for parish relief through misfortune or sickness and they are no longer to be debarred from this national boon. I see that already in London alone 11,000 former recipients of Poor Law relief have become Old Age Pensioners. As time goes on this provision will have a greater and growing influence, and I believe this figure only represents the beginning of its application, and will prove to be very satisfactory in the promise of the ultimate benefits to be expected. I observe with special gratification the proposal outlined for a national system of insurance against unemployment and sickness. The perplexing problem of the casual labourer and the genuine unemployed has, winter after winter, in spite of repeated efforts, baffled the most experienced local administrator, and now at last it is to receive a bolder and broader treatment. Unemployment arises from many causes. One important cause for which the workman has no responsibility, against which it is difficult, nay 52 almost impossible, for him to protect himself, is undoubtedly connected with the fluctuations which must take place even in generally prosperous trades. It is possible for a merchant or a manufacturer, with his reserve of capital, to balance the lean years with the fat years. Not so the wage-earner, with his slender resources. It is hard enough, even for the thrifty, when work is plentiful to meet his weekly budget, far more to provide against the day of trouble. In framing these measures for insurance, I hope it may be found possible to carefully consider how they will affect the friendly societies, insurance companies, trade unions, and other institutions which have rendered such splendid service in past years to the provident and thrifty worker. I am sure the ultimate success of these schemes will largely depend on the co-operation of these organisations with their network of branches and the vast knowledge which experience has taught them. I am certain it will be the sincere hope of every Member of the House that these measures may mark a long step in the direction of solving this old, difficult and constantly recurring problem.
The gentlemen to whom is annually entrusted the task of moving and seconding the Address of thanks to the Throne have always my deepest and most heartfelt sympathy, and I think that that sympathy may be extended to them more fully on the present occasion, for I doubt whether a task more difficult was ever set before those gentlemen who open the debates of the year. I think everybody will agree that this especially difficult task, which is always difficult, has been carried out with singular success both by the mover and by the seconder. Not for one moment have they violated, or gone near violating, the ancient and excellent tradition which suggests that controversy should be as far as possible avoided by the mover and seconder of the Address; but they have shown admirable skill in dealing with a speech the importance of which I am the last to minimise, and which, it must be granted, does not contain much material on which the mover and seconder can expatiate with ease and satisfaction. I greatly admired the mover who took advantage of this very fact, and dwelt upon the novel departure which refuses to enumerate more than the most hypothetical and jejune list of measures The mover, realising that, told us that we might indulge our own imagination, and conceive that 53 the programme included the measures in which we happen to be most interested. That was a most ingenious method, both of commending the Speech to the House and giving free rein to the imagination of all would-be legislators who are assembled here. There was another observation of the hon. Gentleman with which I was a good deal struck. The House will remember that the traditional paragraph relating to Estimates is cut down to the narrowest limits. There was a time when it was always accompanied by the expression of the pious intention that the Estimates would be framed with due regard to economy. I think for many years it has been felt that that lent itself too easily to satirical treatment, and certainly the present Government—I am not sure about their predecessors, I will not answer for that—have felt that the barer statement which has found favour on the present occasion is more appropriate to the character of the Estimates which will be introduced to our notice. Bare as the statement is, the hon. Gentleman made a comment of great importance which gave me personally great satisfaction. It is very well known that, although the mover and seconder speak on their own authority, they have access to high sources of advice and information before making the Motion entrusted to them. I observe that the mover of the Address interpreted this phrase about the Estimates as meaning that for the purposes of defence a very large additional charge would be made upon the taxpayer. Nobody likes large additional charges on the taxpayer, but I am convinced that a large addition is absolutely necessary for the purposes of defence, and, reluctant as we all of us must be to see our Estimates growing year by year, I think the adumbration the hon. Gentleman has made of the growth in our defensive Estimates is one which I, at all events, and my friends on this side of the House welcome with the heartiest satisfaction.
There is one question I should like to put to the Prime Minister before I proceed further. There is a rumour widely current that the Government mean to make a formidable raid on the time of private Members. I do not ask the Government or the Prime Minister to anticipate to-day any statement of policy which will have to be embodied in a Resolution and put to the House, but I do say if it is the intention of the Government, for the first time since our rules were remodelled, to deprive private Members of their rights 54 it does behove him to be very careful how he restricts debate on the Address. I do not suggest that the debate on the Address would be a substitute for the debates on Tuesday and Wednesday of every week up to a certain period of the Session, but if private Members are not to have these rights, and if, for the first time since the remodelling of our rules, now many years back, they are to be deprived of these rights, I think the Government should be very careful how they in any way curtail the traditional privileges of this House in regard to raising questions of great public importance on the Address. I do not ask for a too precise answer to the question now; I only throw it out, as it may perhaps guide the policy which he asks the House to accept in regard to the conclusion of the Debate on the Address.
It would be quite impossible within the limits of reasonable speech, begun as late in the evening as this, to survey all the topics that must come up before we vote the Address which has been moved and seconded. It will be my duty to ask questions and to make passing criticisms upon those offices, those branches of the administration, which seem most to call for comment. Unhappily, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is for a most deplorable cause absent from the House, and I should not in any case wish to take this early opportunity of dealing with foreign affairs. I do not know if any other Department of State has called much attention to itself except, perhaps, the Home Office. That office in my experience has not usually been one which has been a perpetual source of interest and surprise to friends and critics, but much turns upon the personality of the holder of the office, and the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Churchill) has in various ways succeeded in attracting the gaze of the civilised world since last this House had an opportunity of free comment upon the administration of the country. By far the most serious matters were connected with the strike in South Wales, and let me remind the House that we have never had an opportunity of either having a full defence of his actions from the Home Secretary, or offering what seemed to us to be the commentary required upon the weak points then pursued by himself and his colleagues. I can only remind the House that there were most deplorable disturbances in parts of South Wales towards the end of last year. Those disturbances reached a point at which it became necessary to invoke the drafting of policemen in large numbers from other 55 parts of the country, and at which it became necessary to invoke the aid of the military. Those disturbances were accompanied, I am afraid, by much destruction of property and most deplorable attacks upon the person, and it certainly seemed to us, looking at the matter from the outside, that the right hon. Gentleman might have avoided a great many of these deplorable occurrences had he not, at a critical moment, refused to carry out decisively and effectively the measures which he contemplated. Had he not held back the military and not shown some doubt and hesitation at a critical moment, much destruction of property, many unhappy incidents, and many circumstances which all, whatever their opinions, must look upon as a great blot on the procedure of civilised society, might have been wholly avoided. I imagine that the Home Secretary—indeed I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will not repudiate full responsibility for all the measures taken or not taken, in regard to South Wales. His position is perfectly clear, understood by all, and accepted by himself.
I am not quite so clear as to his position with regard to another incident which attracted a great deal of attention in London not very in any weeks ago. It is a very remarkable combination of the blackest tragedy, and something which almost looked like comedy in some of its aspects. But I do not quite understand what attitude was taken up by the Home Office. Troops were assembled in large numbers, policemen were assembled in overwhelming numbers, and guns were brought to the scene of action, and from that scene of action the right hon. Gentleman was not absent. I understand that he did not call out the troops or assemble the police, and that he had nothing to do with the massing of artillery. He was there in—well, I do not know the position he was in. He was, I understand, in military phrase, in what is known as the zone of fire—he and a photographer were both risking valuable lives. I understand what the photographer was doing, but what was the right hon. Gentleman doing? That I neither understood at the time, nor do I understand now. I must frankly say that I should have thought that anything more embarrassing to those responsible for the operations than to have the head of the office who is over them all present with the photographer as irresponsible spectators, could not be imagined. I cannot imagine anything more embarrassing to 56 those who had to carry out what evidently, from the result, must have been a very difficult and dangerous military operation.
There is one other point, before I leave the right hon. Gentleman and the Home Office, on which I should like to say one word. We have all seen a report of the Home Office which indicates that there are symptoms of an increase of crime which may well cause anxiety. I refuse absolutely myself to be pessimistic about the general character of my countrymen. I do not believe for a moment that the country is sinking into a slough of vice and infamy. Nevertheless we are bound to watch these criminal statistics with care, and when we see an increase we are bound to most anxiously ask ourselves whether anything done by legislation or administration is tending to augment them. Of course, I am not suggesting for a moment that the best way necessarily of repressing crime is merely to increase the stringency of punishment. Certainly nothing could be less expedient than the old indiscriminate methods of brutality which happily have long been abolished. But what it is absolutely necessary to maintain is that whatever system you have you should not be deflected from it in carrying it out. Make it as good as you can, but do not be deflected from it in carrying it out owing to any mere considerations of sentiment. The law exists primarily for the protection of the law abiding. It should be moulded in the second place in order to improve as far as possible the character of those who have broken the law; but the first object of the law, after all, that is the criminal law, is to protect the law abiding members of society, and nothing can be worse than to let a general idea get abroad that if a criminal be sufficiently interesting in character, or, if he can be represented so as to figure agreeably in a peroration, he is on that account to be the subject of any special privileges. We are all agreed that there ought not to be a different law for the rich and for the poor. We must also all agree that there ought not to be a different law for the picturesque and for the commonplace, or the vulgar. Though it may imply some self-abnegation on the part of those who have got to advise the Crown with regard to the use of the prerogative of mercy, I assure the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Churchill) that I feel that whatever policy he may think right to take up in the office of which he is head with regard to the administration of criminal law, it should be rigidly consistent and 57 should not be deflected either to the right or to the left by any of those considerations of the interesting or the picturesque, which are apt perhaps to influence imaginative souls to an undue extent.
Passing from the Home Office, and refraining for reasons which I have already given from referring to Foreign affairs, my thoughts naturally turn to the Colonies. Now, there is no reference to the Colonies in the Speech, or, rather, there is no reference to events in the Colonies. I do not in the least complain of that. I do not know that it would have been advisable or correct—I rather think it would not—to refer in the Speech to what I am now about to draw the attention of the House to, which is a recent event in Canada. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] That cheer convinces me at all events that hon. Gentlemen opposite, whether they agree or not with the conclusions I have formed on this matter, are entirely at one with me as to the great importance of the departure that has been taken, although we have not any evidence yet as to what that departure is finally to be. Let it be distinctly understood that in what I am going to say I do not suggest for a moment the slightest reflection upon any Colonial statesman or party, or any citizens of one of these great independent brotherhoods of self-governing communities of which the British Empire now consists. I have preached annually, I am sure with the full assent of everybody on both sides of the House, as far as lay with me, that the British Empire has reached a point of development now at which this country is simply the first among equals so far as the great self-governing parts of our Empire are concerned, and as equals it is not our business to comment or criticise upon the actions or motives or ends aimed at by any of our brothers who are carrying out, in face of their own difficulties and in their own part of the dominions, work similar to that which we have to carry on here. But nevertheless there remains the fact that there has been a departure begun by the two Governments of Canada and the United States which must have the most far-reaching, and, if it be carried out, as I think, the most disastrous consequences upon the future of the Empire.
For a generation at least Canadian statesmen of both parties have aimed at developing that country upon Imperial lines. They have looked to find markets for their own exports among, and to obtain their imports as far as may be from, their brethren of the same great Imperial 58 body. Millions have been expended of Canadian money, not British money, in framing their system of transport, as a system running between East and West, a system which looks towards supplying our shores and receiving from our shores in return such commodities as we can produce to the best advantage. Nobody who knows anything of the constitutional and industrial history of Canada, to say nothing of its political history, can doubt that I am stating what is perfectly accurate. All through those years they have offered preference to this country. I have heard some hon. Gentlemen laugh sarcastically. The importance of that preference has been admitted as fully, as freely, and as generously by men sitting on that bench as it has been admitted by us. The difference between us is not that we think we have got an advantage from Canadian Preference, and they think we have no advantage from Canadian Preference. The difference is wider. We want to develop a general preferential system, on which the continuity of Canadian Preference must evidently in the long run depend. They have deliberately and of set purpose taken the opposite policy, and they have, sometimes with very polite expressions and sometimes with expressions that are not very polite, clearly indicated their view that, however grateful we might be for Canadian preference, however great might be the advantages given to British trade by Canadian Preference, nothing in return in the way of Preference could or would be given. If it was our business, which it is not, to criticise Canadian statesmen, would anybody criticise them if, after these 30 years of vain endeavour to induce statesmen on this side of the Atlantic to see eye to eye with them with regard to this general scheme of Imperial trade, they now, having been rejected from the East, turn to the South, and make arrangements with another great friendly democracy, arrangements which in the long run, if they are carried out in the way which is conjectured or suggested, certainly break into the continuity of the policy of 30 years, and can hardly fail to make them commercially and economically dependent upon their great southern neighbour. If that policy is carried out, if it really reaches fruition and consummation, I regard that as a great Imperial disaster, a disaster brought upon us entirely by the refusal of the Government and those who support the Government to listen to the long pleading of Canadian statesmen extending over these many 59 decades. Even those who have come fresh from the platform where they have been talking about cheap food will, I think, have very little to congratulate the consumer in this country upon in the ultimate result of this diversion of trade routes between East and West to trade routes between North and South. I pursue the matter no further at the present moment. Later on, if I have my way before this debate concludes there will be a full opportunity of discussing the matter or hearing it debated on both sides and of informing ourselves and our fellow countrymen what are the true magnitude and the real significance of the departure in Canadian policy which has been witnessed during the last few weeks.
Coming to the last branch of the speech which I mean to inflict on the House I turn now from Colonial to Imperial affairs, and to a broad question of domestic policy. The hon. Gentleman who opened the address referred to this as being the beginning of the first Parliament of the present reign. He did not tell us—it was not his business to tell us, and even if it had been I think he would have wisely refrained from telling us—why it is that there is a new Parliament assembled within these walls. As he truly said, there is no very-material difference in its constitution from the old one, but still it is new in law and new in fact. The Prime Minister has never yet explained, as far as I know, on what grounds he offered, towards the end of last year, the advice to the Sovereign to dissolve Parliament in the second week of December. Some hon. Gentlemen seem to think that that does not require defence, mid that it is so obvious a policy that clearly any Prime Minister might adopt it, and no questions be asked. I do not take that view, and I think this is the proper time to ask questions, and for the Prime Minister to reply to them. I do not quite know why a new Parliament was required, but granted that it was required, granted that it was necessary, before proceeding with their programme of legislation, for the Government again to ask the opinion of the Constituencies, why was the dissolution not deferred for three or four weeks. I cannot conceive what the difficulty was. Every Radical principle that I have ever heard of was violated—flagrantly, patently and obviously violated—by having the dissolution in December instead of in January. Really, I cannot put myself in the position of some eloquent Friends of 60 mine on the other side, who at once defended the Government for going to the Constituencies in the last decrepid days of the old register—after the new register was actively in being, and for certain purposes was acted upon—at the same time saying that the one thing they wanted was to see a proper representation of the people and one man one vote. I remember an occasion on which a Parliament some five years old was dissolved, not in December but in September, and, when it reassembled, the then Leader of the Opposition, Sir Henry Campbell-Banner-man, speaking for his party, used the following language:—The Election was fixed for the very time of the year, above all others, when the number of available voters was at its lowest ebb. Now on all occasions when there has been necessity for an autumn election there has been a special measure passed for the purpose Of expediting the new register. I am a simple minded person, and am ready to believe in the straight forward conduct of all publie men, and I declare that I refused to believe down to the very last moment when the announcement was made that a British Cabinet could be capable of such an act.Remember, whether the dissolution of 1900 was justifiable or not, if it was to take place at all it could not take place upon the new register without waiting through the end of September and through October and November—practically four months. This election could have been taken on the new register by waiting for four or five weeks. Why did you not wait these four or five weeks? Why were you guilty of conduct of which Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman refused to believe down to the last moment any British Cabinet would be capable? No explanation has ever yet been given in all the innumerable speeches we have had from Ministers of the Crown, and from the Prime Minister himself, as to why the dissolution was ante-dated in that way—and that by the party who are always talking about the wickedness of dissolution on an old register, by the party who are always talking about one man one vote, by the party who are always representing the existing electorate as in many respects not the true representatives of the people. For them to have taken that course seems to me almost cynical, and as far as I know, absolutely incapable of any kind of defence. No defence has been attempted. I await the speech of the right hon. Gentleman to hear what he has got to say and how he reconciles the policy which he adopted last December with the speeches he made ten years ago, not against a December election, but against a September election. I turn from the 61 date of the election to the causes of it. Why did the Prime Minister advise the Sovereign to dissolve? He gave one reason and a similar reason was given by the Foreign Secretary, namely: that they wanted emphasis and authority.
I have not got the reference. Will the right hon. Gentleman deny that he said he wanted authority?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I have seen this statement made repeatedly. Indeed, I think the right hon. Gentleman himself attributed it to me in the course of the election, and I took the opportunity of denying it. The sole foundation for the statement is that that in my address to my Constituents I said I hoped they would return me with an even larger majority than they did last time, and so give even greater emphasis to the verdict they had given in January. Although I made at least twenty speeches in this House and on public platforms giving my reasons for dissolution, I never once alleged that I wanted greater emphasis or a larger majority in the country
I need hardly say that the last thing I want to do is to misrepresent the right hon. Gentleman, but I certainly thought it was paying only a just tribute to his intelligence to suppose that there was a reason, and that we would find it in the course of his speeches or in his address; and when he mentioned that he hoped to get "fresh, authority"—that was the phrase—from the people, I innocently supposed that was his reason. But if it was not, then what was the reason? I think the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs used the word "emphasis."
Then we will be content with "emphasis." We have got "emphasis." [HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear.] I do not know what interpretation hon. Gentlemen opposite put upon the word "emphasis." I think a statement made requires some alteration when it is made more emphatically, and mere repetition is not emphasis. There has undoubtedly been repetition, but I do not think 62 there has been much "emphasis." As far as I remember the figures, we who sit on these benches have received no accession of strength compared with the rest of the House, and the party which the Prime Minister leads has, I think, suffered a diminution of one or two. If there has been a change, it is by varying small fractional amounts; and if repetition adds emphasis, certainly the change has not been in the direction of making stronger any verdict which the country may have ever given before upon the balance of parties in this House. I believe the Labour party have increased their number slightly, but the orthodox Radical and Liberal parties have not increased their numbers—if anything, they have been diminished, and I suppose they cannot even now claim to be the largest party in the House of Commons. These are fractional amounts, but I think, as a matter of fact, it will be found that the infinitesimal change of the party who sit on these benches as against the Radical party—I do not mean the whole party opposite who support the Government—has an undoubted bearing upon the contents of the King's speech. The Mover of the Address alluded in admirably chosen and very carefully guarded language, to the paragraph which refers to the constitutional issue. The paragraph itself is not, only brief but it is couched in language which is studiously moderate:—"Proposals will be submitted to you without delay for settling the relations between the two Houses of Parliament, with the object of securing the more effective working of the Constitution."7.0 P.M.
I believe there is nobody in this House who does not think that the time has come for some modification of the relations between the two Houses, or who does not think the time has come for an alteration in the Constitution of the Second Chamber. That being so, anybody reading that paragraph would suppose that, like the paragraph which succeeds as to Old Age Pensions, there was no vital difference of opinion between the two sides of the House on the matter. Indeed, it is quite evident from what I have said, and from what everybody knows, that there is an immense amount of agreement of opinion upon certain great and broad issues connected with the revision of the Constitution. There is no idea of the two parties being marshalled one against the other—one party determined upon a serious change, the other party determined that things shall remain altogether as they were. 63 That is not the attitude of any friends of mine here. It is not the attitude, if we may judge by what has taken place in another House, of any Party in either House of Parliament. Therefore it is not upon the basis of the paragraph in the Speech. It is not because there is used in the Speech anything to indicate, or taken by itself any irreconcilable differences that some of us have come to look forward to stormy times to come.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, I regret to see, and I learn with great regret, absent on grounds of health from his accustomed place, in an interview with the Editor of a Socialist newspaper in France, said that the whole of this Constitutional movement will go through quietly, smoothly, and without any great disturbance of the political atmosphere. That is an amiable prophecy, and he knows the inner mind of the Government. Certainly it depends more on the Government than on anybody else whether that prophecy shall receive its due meed of confirmation. But if the Government, and if those associated with the Government, are not prepared to act upon the broad principles on which all are agreed, but are determined to violate their own principles with regard to a Second Chamber, how can they expect, how can anybody expect, this happy, serene, and peaceful solution of our difficulties? They have told us in the famous Preamble that they think a Second Chamber a necessity of the Constitution. We agree with them. I believe the great mass of the community agree with them, if by a Second Chamber they mean a Chamber which, however constituted or reconstituted, shall be able to carry out its function as Guardians of the Constitution effectively. Are they going to give us that? Is that part of the plan adumbrated in this paragraph? Or are they, as some seem to suggest, going to leave that programme to some indefinite future, and in the meanwhile violate all their own principles and all their own views with regard to what is called "the effective working of the Constitution," and give us an interregnum in which neither the old Constitution is to work, nor the new, in which you are to carry on reforms if reforms must be, and changes of the law, if changes of the law there must be, not under the traditional Constitution of the country, not under the Constitution of the country, as the Government 64 themselves desire to see it, but under some half-and-half measure, which neither gives us the traditional protection of the old, nor the new, and efficient protection which they promise us at some dim and distant future. If that is their programme, how, I ask, is it possible for the most sanguine to suppose that the Session is going to be smooth and easy, anxious, perhaps and difficult, but, on the whole, smooth and easy, the Debate ending up in some agreed solution. How is it possible to believe that when, relying upon the narrow majority of electors which they have behind them, they propose not merely to alter fundamentally the Constitution as it has been, not merely to carry out great reforms, on which both sides are agreed, not even to carry out the reform which they themselves admit to be necessary, but to leave us the prey to all this interim? How can they possibly expect such a policy will not lead to heart-burnings, to difficulties, to, it may be, strange expedients, to a long series of alterations and counter-alterations in the Constitution, which, in my judgment, are bad for the social life of the country, bad for the social legislation of the country, which divert us from the true problems which ought to occupy our time, and which can do nothing, nothing, nothing to raise by a hair's breadth the lot of a single inhabitant of this country.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am happy to associate myself with the graceful and not, I think, too flattering language in which the right hon. Gentleman commended the performances of the Mover and of the Seconder of the Address of their very arduous and delicate task. It was a great satisfaction as well as a great pleasure to me to listen to the felicitous phrases of my hon. Friend, the Mover, who established, I think, beyond all risk of controversy, his reputation as one of the most promising debaters in the House. My hon. Friend, the Seconder, put with clearness and directness and robustness in thought and language the admirable points which he so tersely summarised. The right hon. Gentleman was disposed to condole with my two hon. Friends on the ground that they were confronted this year with an exceptional and difficult task. I do not quite make out where the difficulty lay. Apparently in the right hon. Gentleman's mind it consisted in the meagreness of the material contained in the Gracious Speech from the Throne. If the charge of meagreness is 65 based on the absence of the kind of auctioneer's inventory, with which the Speech from the Throne has so frequently concluded, with a long list of measures of varying degrees of importance, most of them with little or no chance of ever passing into law, then I venture to claim, credit for the Government on having set a useful precedent, and one which I am sure will be followed in the years to come. Then the right hon. Gentleman discovered a sinister meaning in the absence of the word "economy" from the reference to the Estimates, and he inferred from an observation which fell from my hon. Friend the Mover of the Address that that portended some large increase in the money which was to be spent on the protective forces of the country. The Estimates are not yet produced. I do not like to use language which has come to be only too painfully familiar to me and others, but I would venture to recommend the right hon. Gentleman in this and other things to—what shall I say—cultivate a little patient expectancy. The right hon. Gentleman expressed some alarm that we may deem it our duty or, at any rate, that it may be within our contemplation to propose some unnecessary or unusual restriction on the duration of the Debate on the Address. That is not the case. I shall have, in a moment, to say something as to what we propose to do in regard to the time of the House, but we quite recognise that whatever encroachments in the public interest it may be the duty of the Government to make upon the time which is ordinarily allotted to private Members, that is all the more reason why this particular inquest as to the proceedings of the Government and as to their intentions, with which the Session opens, should not be unduly or unfairly abridged.
The right hon. Gentleman refrained—and I am grateful to him for it—from any detailed reference to our foreign relations. I am sure the whole House will join in its expression of sympathy with my right hon. Friend (Sir Edward Grey) on the terrible loss he has sustained, and which prevents his attendance here today. My hon. Friend who moved the Address made some very happy observations on this subject. Refraining, as did the right hon. Gentleman from any detailed references, I will only say, expanding the conventional phrase used in the Gracious Speech that our international friendships, which as the House and country know, are not exclusive and which have no hostile implications or tendencies, those international friendships have been 66 deepened and strengthened as the years have gone on. I reciprocate, most heartily, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, and I believe with the full sympathy of gentlemen sitting in all quarters of the House, the cordial and friendly expressions that were used in regard to this country by the eminent Foreign Minister of France, M. Pichon, the other day. I take the opportunity of referring in one sentence to the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Italian Unity. That Unity was struggled for and achieved with the sympathy of the great majority of the people of this country. Since it has been obtained unbroken cordiality has reigned between the two peoples, and lasting friendship has been established, based upon mutual understanding and goodwill. The right hon. Gentleman found more congenial, or, at any rate, a more appropriate held for his critical investigations, when he came to the sphere of the Home Office. It must have been flattering, I am sure, to my right hon. Friend (Mr. Churchill), who sits beside me, to find himself singled out, as he was, as the text for, perhaps, the most interesting part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. My right hon. Friend, if he will forgive me for saying so, suffers from the dangerous endowment of an interesting personality. Why, asked the right hon. Gentleman, should photographers be found accompanying him? I am sure it is not because he has any special natural affection for the society of photographers, but that it is because they know, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, he interests the wider people, who like photographs. It was, I must say, most gratifying to me to find how very narrow was the range of the right hon. Gentleman's criticism upon the official and administrative proceedings of the Home Secretary. The Home Secretary will be perfectly prepared, and will welcome the opportunity of defending in detail everything which was done in South Wales. I speak as an old Home Secretary, with great—and painful—experience of similar administrative problems. There is no difficulty in the administration of that very tangled office, the House may take it, that requires so much judgment as the difficulty, in cases of industrial disturbance, of calling in the assistance of the military. You will be reproached for calling them in too soon; you will be reproached for calling them in too late. It is impossible, with the best judgment in the world, to avoid criticism for overstepping the line either on one side or on the other. I believe that my 67 right hon. Friend, when his conduct in regard to the South Wales troubles comes to be debated and investigated, will be shown to have exercised from first to last a wise discretion.
I pass from that to another, and perhaps in some ways a more important topic. The right hon. Gentleman asks why there is no mention of the Colonies in the Gracious Speech As a matter of fact there is an allusion—a very appropriate and generally appreciated allusion—not only to the Duke of Connaught's visit to South Africa, but to the great Imperial event—the greatest event in the consolidation of our Empire which any one sitting on these benches has ever witnessed—namely, the Union of South Africa in a single Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman, I think, said he did not complain that there was no mention of Canada; yet he proceeded to talk Canada. I confess that I heartily wish he had not. The provisional arrangement which has been entered into—an arrangement on both sides ad referendum only—between the negotiators from Canada and from the United States, is an arrangement between themselves, carried out upon their own responsibility. But it is being, I believe, at this moment debated in the Canadian House of Commons, and until we know, by the authentic evidence which the judgment of that Assembly will supply, whether or not it commends itself to Canadian opinion and to the Canadian Parliament, I think we should be wise if we abstained from criticism or comment.
I will content myself with two observations, and two only, in reply to what the right hon. Gentleman said. In the first place, with regard to Canadian Preference I am perfectly certain that we should have done nothing to prevent that natural and friendly event, we should have done nothing which in the long run would been beneficial to Canada, but we should have done something which would have been fatally injurious to the people of this country, if we had, for the purpose of developing what are called preferential relations, put a tax on the importation of food from those free sources of supply—Russia, Argentina, and the rest—which are outside the British Empire. That is not the way to encourage good feeling between the Colonies and ourselves, or in the long run to consolidate the bonds of Imperial Unity. My other observation is this. I speak for the moment only for myself, but to my mind it is as certain as the rising of the sun or as the succession of the seasons 68 that as time went on, sooner or later, the people of the United States, with their growing population, with their developing industries, and with the constant encroachment upon and exhaustion of their natural sources of food supply, in order to bring down the cost of living and to maintain the fair subsistence of their people, would have been obliged to lower the tariff wall which separates them from the people next to their own doors; and that inevitable tendency of irresistible economic forces would not have been neutralised, or indeed counteracted, by any artificial fiscal arrangements with Canada or any other part of the Empire. I will say no more about that for the moment; but I shall refer to it on a more appropriate occasion, when we can go into the details of the matter.
The right hon. Gentleman then turned his attention to matters nearer home. He asked a question which was often asked in the course of the election, and which I thought I myself had answered at east half a dozen times. He asked, "Why is there a new Parliament?" I remember very well when I came down to the late House of Commons and announced that His Majesty's Ministers proposed to advise a dissolution, the right hon. Gentleman, in following me, so far from being surprised at that announcement, said that, in his opinion, the dissolution of Parliament was a matter of two or three months.—[An HON. MEMBER: "Weeks."] At any rate, a matter of the near future. So that apparently there was something at the back of his mind which pointed to, as a political necessity, an early dissolution of the House of Commons. When the right hon. Gentleman repeats the rather stale complaint that we dissolved in November instead of waiting until January, I can only repeat the still staler answer which I gave at the time, and which has been given a hundred times since. We had a balance of inconveniences. Inasmuch as it was practically impossible to accelerate the coming into force of the register, glad as we should have been to have had the election on the new register, it was considered—and I believe the vast majority of the people of this country think that we were right—that from the point of view of the inconvenience which we had sustained only a year before of a contest in effect prolonged through November, December, and January, the interference with trade, and the embitterment of feeling, it was much better that the contest should be brought on at the earliest possible 69 moment, and to the speediest possible conclusion. I remember the doleful predictions we used to hear as to the ruin of the Christmas trading. Christmas trading went on, I believe, as merrily as it had ever done in any past year, and I hope with as much profit to the traders of the country.
Why did we dissolve Parliament? Why did we advise the King to dissolve? The reason was a very simple one. We had submitted our proposals in principle to the electors in the preceding January, and we came back from that election with a large majority—a majority upon this point perfectly coherent and homogeneous—in support of those principles. We were engaged, as Members of the late House will well remember, in giving legislative embodiment and form to the principles so approved, when our proceedings were cut short, and, as I think properly, voluntarily suspended, by the death of his lamented Majesty King Edward. Then followed an episode which I shall never regret, and which I do not think the right hon. Gentleman himself can regret—the Conference. It was not until the honest and determined effort, both upon the one side and upon the other, at that Conference to arrive at an arrangement proved futile, and, by the acknowledgment of all of us, was for the time being frustrated, that we came to the conclusion that it was our duty once more to submit not only the principles, but the plan to the electors of the country, and to ask from them, as we did ask, and as we have received—a renewed expression of their approval. I never contemplated, and I never said or wrote anything, which justifies the statement that in my view, or in that of my colleagues, or in that of the party who sit on these benches, or in that of any of the supporters of our policy, it was necessary, in order that that verdict should have moral effect, that it should be what the right hon. Gentleman calls a more emphatic verdict in favour of our proceedings. I am quite content to have in favour of my proposals a majority which every British Minister in the past has regarded as amply sufficient to justify the largest constitutional and social change—a majority such as that which sits upon these benches.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke with some doubt as to whether the hope expressed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that this embittered controversy might find a more or less amicable solution 70 would be realised; he expressed the greatest scepticism as to that. Well, I do not know? I should assume—and I shall assume until the contrary is demonstrated to me—that when the country had twice within twelve months emphatically expressed its opinion that a particular policy, and at one time a particular embodiment of that policy, should take its place upon the Statute Book, in the ordinary working of our constitutional machine the process of translating it into law would not be either a long or a laborious one. At any rate, let there be no doubt about this. Our proposals, which have been laid before the country, and which the country have approved, will be submitted in due course without any avoidable delay to this House; ample opportunity will be given for their discussion; and it is our hope and our belief, that opportunity having been afforded, they will have passed through this House and reached another place in time to be considered there before, the Coronation. If that wish is to be carried out, it will be necessary to ask, as we shall ask, for a curtailment during that part of the Session which precedes Easter of the time usually allotted to private Members. I am not going into any details with regard to that on this occasion; I shall have to submit a motion for that purpose, and a debate will then be in order. We shall ask the House to give us that time up to Easter. I do not want to be accused hereafter of any breach of faith, but we earnestly and sincerely hope that after Easter the usual time for private Members will be available. As soon as the Debate on the Address is concluded, I shall make the necessary motion, and I believe in adopting that course the Government will be carrying out the wish and the expectations of the great majority of the people.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Up to Easter. In addition to the Parliament Bill, we are under a pledge to proceed with the second part of the Finance Bill, which was not discussed last autumn. I undertook then that the House should have reasonable latitude of discussion in regard to that part of the Finance Bill, pointing out at the same time that it had to be passed into law before the end of the financial year It is because we have to deal not only with the Parliament Bill, but with the Finance Bill, with the necessary financial business of Supply—Votes for the Army and the Navy, the Consolidated Fund Bill, and so 71 forth—it is that combination of circumstances which makes it necessary to ask private Members to forego, till after Easter, the usual opportunities for initiating legislation. We believe, in adopting that course, the Government will be carrying out the authority and obeying the obligation laid upon us for the settlement on this great constitutional question, which should not only be the main, but the primary, business of the House of Commons. I think now I have dealt with all the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman, and I have only once more to congratulate my two hon. Friends on the admirable manner in which they have discharged their duties.
§ Dr. HILLIER
I confess to a feeling of profound disappointment and regret—a feeling which I am sure will be shared by a vast number of His Majesty's subjects throughout His Majesty's dominions—that the Treaty which is at present in course of negotiation between the United States and Canada has not been referred to. In the Gracious Speech which we have been privileged to listen to this afternoon we had a reference to the disorder which has arisen on the trade routes of Southern Persia. I venture humbly to submit that the disorder which will inevitably arise on the trade routes of Canada should this Treaty be ratified was at least a subject equally worthy of reference on this occasion. It may appear somewhat presumptuous on my part, as a private Member, in this early stage of the Debate on the Address, to venture to offer observations in the House on this subject. I will only plead as my excuse for doing so that I am in the position of an Englishman who has spent half his life in British Colonies, and who himself profoundly feels the immense gravity of the step which is now in contemplation. I should like briefly to refer to the events which have led up to the proposal of this Treaty. I should like to refer, briefly, to the effects which it is likely to have on British industry and British commerce, as well as on the Imperial position of Canada and the Empire At the same time I would like finally to urge why I venture to believe the moment for decisive action on the part of His Majesty's Government is called for.
There was once within His Majesty's dominions a far-seeing and enlightened British statesman—the late Mr. Cecil Rhodes. I am only too gratified to know that on his political heirs in South Africa, 72 Dr. Jameson, Sir George Farrar, and Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, His Majesty's Government has recently advised His Majesty to confer high and distinguished honours. These honours, I believe, are approved and acclaimed by all parties in the State. I think at this moment we may well recall what after all was the dominant idea in the mind of that great Imperial statesman, Mr. Rhodes, and of the school—if I may so describe it—of which he was the founder. The dominant idea of that great stateseman was Imperial federation. He realised, as perhaps no other English statesman up to his time had realised, that, in the war of scientific tariffs adopted and framed with a view to their own advantage by practically every other country throughout the world except ourselves, in the adoption of a scheme of Imperial federation the policy of Imperial preference was an absolutely essential part. In view of that conviction, and as the expression of it, Mr. Rhodes inserted in the constitution of Rhodesia, which was drafted so far back as 1893, a clause which made this provision:that no British goods imported from Great Britain into Rhodesia should ever carry a higher tariff than that then obtaining in Cape Colony.A tariff, I may observe, existing merely for revenue purposes. In other words, Mr. Rhodes framed a clause which provided that for ever in that British Colony preference was to be accorded the British manufacturer. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] An hon. Gentleman said "No," but it is perfectly clear that if no tariff higher than one imposed in Cape Colony for revenue purposes was imposed upon British goods going into Rhodesia there could never be any protective duty against the manufactures of Great Britain. What Mr. Rhodes here initiated in this Constitution has since been adopted by every self-governing colony within the British Dominions—I mean the policy of preference for the industries of Great Britain. What happened in Canada from 1892 to 1897? There was a steady decline in the amount of British exports going into that country. In 1897 the exports had sunk so low as to amount only to the paltry sum of five millions. The Canadians, then realising the extreme gravity of this position; realising that the absolute extinction of our trade with Canada was threatened, introduced a policy of preference. From that time forward down to last year our trade with Canada steadily increased, and the value of our exports to that country has, during that short space of years, trebled 73 in amount. During that period of 13 years Canada has waited patiently and courteously, in the hope that some measure of reciprocal advantage would be accorded to her by this country. How have me met this attitude on the part of Canada? We have met it, if I may use the classic words of the right hon. Gentleman who is now Home Secretary, by "banging, barring, and bolting the door." That policy of bolting the door is now bearing its fruit. During the past year Canada, weary of waiting for the grasp of the proffered hand, tired, it might be, of the bolted and banged door, negotiated treaties with France and Germany. The effect of those treaties was to diminish the value of the preference accorded to British trade. Now, on the eve of the first Parliament of His Majesty King George V., who, as Prince of Wales, after visiting the Colonies, came back with a message to this country to "Wake up"; on the eve of his accession to the Throne, we receive the announcement of the reciprocal treaty between the United States and Canada. If it be ratified and put into force, it will, I have no hesitation in saying, result in reducing the preferential advantage which British manufacturers still enjoy with that country almost to vanishing point. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] I do not deny, indeed, I quite recognise, that the course which Canada has taken in this matter was a perfectly legitimate, a perfectly reasonable, and a not unnatural course under the circumstances. But I venture to point out that this action which is undoubtedly injurious to the interests of this country, which may prove positively disastrous in the future to the interests of this country, would never have been taken if we had met Canada in the spirit in which the United States has now successfully approached that country. For thirteen years Canada extended to this country the option to do what the United States now practically proposes to do, and expressed their willingness to do, namely, to negotiate a treaty of reciprocity for the mutual advantage of the two countries concerned. While we have been blind, prejudiced, hide-bound in our adherence to old traditions, talking on platforms of the big loaf, black bread, offal, and claptrap of that sort, the United States have been wise and far-seeing. I would ask hon. Gentlemen opposite to mark the grim irony of the force of events. It has been a constant reproach that the imposition of 2s. on foreign corn coming into this country might possibly increase 74 the cost of bread. I would assure hon. Members that that possibility sinks into insignificance compared with the certainty of a rise in Canadian corn which must result from the Canadian access to this large and extensive free market which the United States will offer. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] An hon. Gentleman opposite says "No." I would like him for a moment to consider the position of the trade in corn of the two countries at the present moment. In 1910, Canada exported to the United Kingdom cereals to the value of 71,000,000 dollars. In the same year she exported to the United States cereals to the value of only 4,000,000 dollars.
Do hon. Members for the moment suppose that that relation is likely to be maintained and that proportion maintained if this treaty between the United States and Canada is ratified? It is absolutely certain that with the access of these huge trade markets the exportation of corn from Canada must go far more largely than in the past in that direction. And it will also follow, with certainty, that this large new buying market offered to the Canadians must result in raising the prices of the Canadian corn supplied. And it will be those—and this is the irony of the situation—who banged the door who will be responsible for the rising of the price of corn that must inevitably follow. And I would ask what the British manufacturers and workmen are likely to say to this preference granted to the American manufacturer which must result in cutting down the demand, and the production of the articles in which there is competition in this country, and in increasing unemployment in these industries.
I am glad to know that up to the present time this treaty is not ratified. Its ratification must be a matter of time. I venture to think while it is still not final something may be done to avert the misfortune and disadvantage which this treaty will inevitably entail upon this country. Are the bolts upon the door so rusty that they cannot possibly be withdrawn? Is it not still possible to introduce into the Budget some provision which might be influential in averting the consummation of this treaty, and of saving us from the consequences which must inevitably follow? It is not perhaps the province of a member of this House to discuss the expediency of this policy from the Canadian point of view. The Canadians not unnaturally say to themselves "a bird in the hand is worth two in the 75 bush." If England will not enter into a treaty of reciprocity the United States has a right to do so, and naturally having waited in vain for development on other lines they, a young, growing, and progressive: people seized the opportunity afforded them of, for the time being at any rate, developing in another direction.
I have no doubt that if this treaty be ratified further development and progress in a sense will accrue in Canada, but not on those lines which are most disadvantageous to us, not on those lines on which Canada has developed in recent years with such immense rapidity, and not on those lines which she undoubtedly would continue to develope on, if we were prepared to do that in regard to Canada which the United States has now professed itself willing to do. I venture to think if the Government do nothing in this matter their responsibility will indeed be a heavy one, and we hail witness the consummation of the policy of banging and bolting the door, and I have serious misgivings that the time may come when the historian will record of this incident that an astonished world witnessed the negotiation of a treaty which was the first act in the drama of the passing of the British Empire.
§ Mr. PICKERSGILL
I desire to take this opportunity of calling attention to three questions. First, I desire to draw a lesson in this House from the recent deplorable railway accidents. Secondly, to call attention to the proposed Poor Law Order which would have the effect of introducing far-reaching changes into the administration of out-relief in England and Wales; and, thirdly, I desire in a few words to call attention to the position in Persia and the Middle East. I regret very much that the Foreign Minister is absent, and I regret still more the cause of his absence, but I am afraid I must proceed with the question, because I may have no other opportunity. Now, with regard to these railway accidents, there have been three within a very brief period. One was at Willesden; one more recently and more in the memory of the House and the country—the accident to the Scotch express at Hawes Junction; and third, the accident on the Taff Vale Railway in South Wales. There is one common feature in all these terrible railway accidents; they were all due to some error or some act of inadvertence on the part of the signalman, and I call Attention to this very significant and out- 76 standing fact, that in the case of the accident at Hawes Junction the signalman had been on duty nine and a half hours. I think in these circumstances it will be clear that the railway company do not take proper precautions to prevent railway accidents, and that so long as we have signalmen on duty for ten hours such accidents as these I have mentioned will inevitably occur.
The House and the Liberal Government, and particularly the Liberal party at all events, have a great responsibility in this matter, because when in 1894 a Bill to regulate the hours of railway servants was before this House an Amendment was proposed from the Conservative side of the House to restrict the hours of signalmen by Act of Parliament. That Amendment was resisted by the Liberal Government of the day. They said, "No!" It would be unwise to restrict the hours of signalmen by Act of Parliament, but we will give powers to the Board of Trade whenever complaint is brought to them, or when facts are brought to their knowledge in any way or from any source, to interfere, and by an order to limit the hours, and there the matter stands. I do think the Board of Trade—I do not want to blame the present occupant of that office, or to draw any distinction between Liberal and Conservative holders of that office—has been lax in that matter, and that as Parliament was induced at that time not to do, what I think I might say but for the guidance given by the Government of the day, it certainly would have done—namely, to limit the hours of signalmen by Act of Parliament, there does lie upon the Board of Trade a great responsibility and a great duty in this matter, and I venture to say the Board of Trade has not hitherto fulfilled that duty to the extent it ought. I pass from that to the proposed Poor Law order.
A little while ago the President of the Local Government Board appointed a Committee to consider the question of Poor Law orders with regard to out-relief. That Committee has now reported, and has presented to the President of the Local Government Board a complete draft of a new and uniform order for the whole of England and Wales, which would very largely restrict the powers of guardians as they exist at the present time. That Committee was composed exclusively of officials. Now if the purpose of the Committee had been merely to consolidate existing orders no better body could be put to that work than a number of officials, 77 but it does seem an extraordinary thing that a Committee should be composed exclusively of officials and that the result of their labours should be to produce proposals which would very materially alter the law which now governs out-relief. I can hardly think that my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board really intended that the Committee should make these far-reaching proposals. In those years, now somewhat remote, when the President of the Local Government Board and I were fellow members of the London County Council I know he was by no means enamoured of officials and their ways, and I am surprised therefore that in the constitution of a Committee of this kind he should not have introduced a single representative person. I desire in a very few words to explain what the effect of this order would be. At present, as those who are familiar with Poor Law administration know, there are two kinds of orders in existence. There is what is called the prohibitory order and the regulation order, and the Committee propose that in future there shall be only one uniform order and that it shall be the prohibitory order. They say, as a reason for selecting the prohibitory order as the type to prevail over the whole of England, that it is already in operation in five-sixths of the existing Unions. That is true! But there is some disengenuousness on the part of the Committee in not adding that all the great urban centres and all the great centres of population—the Metropolis, Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle, and all the other great towns—are not under the prohibitory order, but they are under the regulation order.
So that although it may be true that five-sixths of the Unions of the country are under the Prohibitory Order, at least half of the population is under the Regulation Order. I think that fact ought to have been mentioned in connection with the reason the Committee give for choosing the Prohibitory Order. Then again this Committee set aside the recommendation of the Minority Report of the recent Royal Commission on the Poor Laws because they say that the recommendations of the minority involve a complete change in the machinery of the Poor Law. Nevertheless they claim to be carrying out the recommendations of the majority report, although, as a matter of fact, they do nothing of the kind. It is true that the majority recommended one uniform order, but they did not deprecate outdoor relief. 78 What the majority said was, that if you gave outdoor relief at all, it ought to be adequate; they also said that outdoor relief ought not to be given without making proper inquiry, and they further stated that outdoor relief ought to be subject to proper control and supervision, so as to ensure that the recipients were living in decent houses and leading respectable lives. The Committee, in making any proposal to cut down the power of the guardians to give outdoor relief, are certainly not justified in saying that they found themselves on the recommendation of the majority report of the Royal Commission.
Let me in two or three words tell the House what effect these changes would have upon the administration of outdoor relief, if, unfortunately, they are adopted by the President of the Local Government Board, which I sincerely trust they will not be. In great urban centres of London and other large cities the guardians would be absolutely deprived of their present power, in cases of sudden distress through unemployment, to keep homes together by granting outdoor relief unless the guardians had in each case first obtained the express assent of the Central Board in London. My second point is this: At the present time, the guardians, even under the prohibitory order, can grant outdoor relief to elderly men and women who are past work, and who have not qualified by age for the receipt of an Old Age Pension. Under this order, all those people must be treated as able-bodied and offered the workhouse, unless they can produce a medical certificate of infirmity stating the exact nature of their disability. My third point is, that at the present time, in all the great urban centres, it is within the discretion of the guardians to grant relief to women, whether able-bodied or not, absolutely at their own discretion, without any kind of pressure being imposed upon them. The present order, on the contrary, would make it illegal to offer anything but the workhouse to any able-bodied single woman, or widow without children, under any circumstances whatever. That means that thousands of struggling women who now manage with the little with which the guardians supply to them, will have to go into the workhouse. The effect will be to cut down outdoor relief and drive more applicants into the workhouse. This Committee again and again used the words "the workhouse test." That phrase, of course, was familiar enough forty, thirty, or perhaps twenty years ago, but I am 79 confident that I am right when I say that the "workhouse test" now does not form part of the terminology of any intelligent Poor Law administration. The Committee said they based their recommendations upon those of the majority of the Royal Commission, but that is not so at all. The Committee suggest the old deterrent system of Poor Law administration, but the majority of the Royal Commission absolutely condemn that system and suggest the curative system. The far-reaching proposals of this Committee would have the effect of cutting down outdoor relief, and would restrict enormously the powers which at present the guardians possess of revising and discarding the old workhouse test. I can hardly think that that draft order will receive the approval of the President of the Local Government Board. The Committee of Officials actually suggested that this order should come into operation on the 1st April of the ensuing year. It was suggested to the President of the Local Government Board that he should issue this order without giving any opportunity to the Poor Law Officers of the country to consider it. Happily, the right hon. Gentleman has given me a pledge that he will not act upon the recommendations of the Committee, so far as this matter is concerned, until he has given ample time for the question to be considered in the country. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that assurance, which will relieve the minds of many who are interested in Poor Law administration, and who have communicated with me upon the subject.
I now desire to refer to the situation in Persia. In the last Parliament, and in the penultimate Parliament, Members on this side of the House drew attention to the danger of our policy in Persia, and our close co-operation with Russia in that country. That close relation with Russia in Persia had results outside Persia itself It was undoubtedly that close relation with Russia, in the Middle-East, that led our Foreign Office, in the case of the Danubian principalities, to go very much further than the proper interests of this country would require or would justify. The recent meeting at Potsdam has brought matters to a head. I do not say for a moment that we have any right to complain of the arrangement that was made at Potsdam. I notice that a Liberal organ, which from time to time bears internal evidence of being inspired from the 80 Foreign Office, has drawn attention to a statement which was made by Lord Fitzmaurice in another place on the 6th February, 1908. That statement, as it appears in "Hansard," is somewhat involved, but it seems to bear the construction which this Liberal organ has put upon it, namely, that when the understanding between Russia and this country was made, Russia expressly reserved her right to make an arrangement with Germany for linking up Teheran by railway with Bagdad. Consequently we have no reason to complain that Russia has gone to Germany and has made with her this arrangement; but whether we have any reason to complain or not, the facts remain that Russia has now negotiated alone with Germany, bargaining for her own hand and after arranging with this country for what looked like a partition of Persia, has extracted from Germany a recognition of her own share in this deal. Similarly, in the case of the Bagdad Railway, Russia has consented to support it, putting her veto on such branch lines as she does not like and obtaining the branch line which she desires. This seems to me a good opportunity for us to edge off the close co-operation with Russia, which has been our policy during the last few years. The Foreign Minister in this House some time ago objected to the statement that the Anglo-Russian Treaty guaranteed the independence of Persia. He said that Russia and England had agreed to respect the integrity and the independence of Persia. I am afraid we did not show much respect for that pledge to respect the integrity and independence of Persia when some little time ago the Foreign Office issued their ultimatum to Persia, threatening that unless better order was established in the Southern part of Persia we should introduce Anglo-Indian officers to command the gendarmerie of that district. That ultimatum thoroughly alarmed the Mahomedan world. It specially gave alarm and suspicion to the Turks because, as someone has said, if Persia were eaten for breakfast the Turks would be eaten for supper. Perhaps a more unfortunate result than anything was this. Up to that time the Persian people had regarded us with respect, and I might almost say with affection. They looked up to us as protectors and as supporters, and it was really much against the interests of this country that that feeling of Persia towards us should be in any way 81 impaired. It is perfectly clear that the action of the Government recently has gone a long way to alienate the Persian people from us, and I am sure I am not going too far when I say that the true policy of this country is to maintain the independence and the integrity of Persia, and to have a strong Government in Persia.
How is Russia keeping her pledge? Russia is occupying certain parts of Northern Persia with her troops and absolutely refuses to withdraw. When the Russian troops were sent to Tabriz, the British and Russian Consuls, writing under special instructions from their respective Governments, informed the Provincial Council of Tabriz that the object of the entry of the troops was of a humanitarian nature, and that order once restored the troops would be withdrawn without delay, without conditions, and without any claim for an indemnity. With what face can we ask Russia to withdraw her troops from the North when we are threatening Persia that we will bring in Anglo-Indian officers into the South of Persia? At the present time the position is this. Persia wants money to restore order in the southern parts, and in order to raise the money she desires to put a surtax of 10 per cent. upon the imports into Southern Persia. Our Foreign Office states, "We will let you put your surtax upon the imports provided you will accept Anglo-Indian officers to command the gendarmerie." That is putting unfair pressure upon Persia. It is not respecting the integrity and independence of Persia, and it quite puts us out of court in any representation we might make to Russia to withdraw her troops. The reason for this co-operation with Russia in regard to the Bagdad Railway and so on has no doubt in the past been antagonism to Germany. That is a policy which the present Foreign Minister did not originate. He inherited it from Lord Lansdowne, but now, after the Liberal party have been returned to power in three successive elections, I think it is time that the Liberal Minister abandoned the policy of his predecessors and adopted a policy more consistent with Liberal traditions. I will go further and say that I believe if Lord Lansdowne were in power he, in the altered conditions, and with that happy faculty for quick changes which distinguishes the Conservative party, would have changed his policy by this time, and, I repeat, it is high time that our Liberal Minister changed his.
82 I cannot understand the policy of this continued antagonism to Germany. Ex-President Roosevelt recently gave much advice with regard to our affairs to the Foreign Minister, and amongst other things he said that the presence of Germany on the Euphrates would strengthen the position of Great Britain on the Nile. I think there is sound reason in that policy. The action of Russia in the recent meeting at Potsdam has brought matters to a head, and I hope—and I see no reason why that course should not be taken—the Foreign Office will approach Turkey—because really these arrangements ought to be made through Turkey in the first instance—with a view to an arrangement for the completion of the Bagdad Railway which might be agreeable alike to Turkey, to Germany, and to ourselves. My friends upon this side of the House often talk about International agreement to reduce armaments. I sympathise with their objects, but I doubt very much whether they can bring it about, and, at all events, it is not the first step. We ought to begin, to prepare the way, by taking our relations with other Powers in detail. Take the case of Germany. The interests of Germany are absolutely compatible with the interests of this country, and there is only one part of the world in which there might possibly be friction between the two countries, that is, the Euphrates Valley. There is no reason why we should not come to some reasonable arrangement with Germany through the medium of Turkey, over the Euphrates Valley, and I venture to assert that there is no reason in the world why a satisfactory arrangement could not be come to. When you have settled these outstanding questions with the other European Powers then you will be in a much better position.
I listened a few moments ago to the statement by the Prime Minister about taking the time of the House. There can be no objection from any quarter of the House in regard to taking over the Tuesdays and Wednesdays, because those are evenings which are devoted to discussions-which, although useful in their way, lead to no immediate results. But the question of taking Fridays is a very different matter. We know that excellent work has-been done through the medium of unofficial Members of the Legislature on these days. We have seen again and again Bills carried in this way, and certainly this is not the time when we should surrender any rights which give 83 power for the initiation of legislation. I do not think I should be prepared to vote in favour of taking the rights of hon. Members on Fridays. I do not think that is absolutely essential for the purposes of the Government. If I were satisfied that it is essential I would support it but I am not satisfied, nor do I understand as yet what is the true motive which leads them to make that proposition.
§ Mr. LONSDALE
I desire to place before the House what I believe to be the views of the Unionists of Ireland on the present situation, and I venture to submit that these opinions are entitled to the most careful consideration, if only for the reason that there is more at stake in this constitutional controversy for Ireland than for any other section of the United Kingdom. The question of the abolition or limitation of the legislative veto of the House of Lords is, so far as Ireland is concerned, one of more than academic interest. I suppose we all recognise that, as a practical certainty, if the revolutionary proposals of the Government were carried into effect, and if the Parliament Bill were passed in the form it is now proposed, the first fruits of our mutilated legislature would be a measure of Home Rule for Ireland. We have the explicit declaration of the Prime Minister that it is the intention of the Government to give the Nationalists Home Rule without any further appeal to the people, and we may be sure that the hon. and learned Member for Waterford will compel the Government to carry out their pledge. It is an immediate consequence of the abolition of the Veto of the House of Lords that there will be established a Nationalist Parliament in Ireland, and, however lightly that step may be regarded by some Members of this House, I submit that there are many considerations which should carry great weight, and which should have the utmost consideration before assent is given to these violent changes. In the first place if Home Rule or full self-government were given to Ireland the step would be irrevocable. The changes which the Government propose to make in the constitutional position in the House of Lords might be modified, and as a matter of fact the Government have received fair warning that whatever they may pull down it will be restored at the 84 next opportunity, but it would be beyond the power of any Government and of any Parliament to withdraw Home Rule once it had been granted to the Nationalist party. I think the House ought to have a clear idea of the results which will inevitably follow in Ireland upon any attempt to establish nationalist domination in that country. I deplore violent language, but I should be wanting in my duty if I refrained from declaring my conviction that any attempt to force Nationalist rule upon Ulster would be met by the most determined resistance. Before I sit down I hope to give the House the grounds upon which that conviction is based. In the meantime I want to establish the point that, before we are asked to sanction the sweeping changes in the Constitution which are proposed, we ought to consider whether, and we ought to he sure, that the country fully appreciates the con sequences of them. It is because the limitation of the Veto of the House of Lords is intended to be followed by an attempt to establish Home Rule, and because such an attempt is certain to lead to civil war, that I venture on behalf of the Loyalists of Ireland to make an emphatic protest against the policy of the Government. As I understand, the Government claim, that as the result of the recent election they have a mandate from the people to proceed with their Parliament Bill. We dispute that contention altogether. The Government went to the country mainly on this issue twelve months ago, and the result of the election was that they lost over 100 seats. Their great majority melted away and they were placed in the humiliating position of having to depend for their continued existence upon the forbearance of the Socialist group and the support of the Nationalist party. I venture to assert that if we search our Parliamentary history through we shall not find a more degrading spectacle than that which the Government has presented during the last twelve months. When we think of the shifts to which they were put to pass their Budget—the so-called People's Budget—through this House, surely we must all wonder whether the Prime Minister ever remembers the brave words he uttered ten years ago. The right hon. Gentleman has had them brought to his recollection many times during the last two months, but I need not offer any apology to the House nor to the right hon. Gentleman for repeating them again. The 85 right hon. Gentleman said, in a speech to his Constituents:I have for some time held the opinion which I have expressed before now, that the Liberal party ought not to assume the duties and responsibilities of Government unless it can rely upon an independent Liberal majority in the House of Commons.Is that the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman to-day? If it is, how does he—how can he, justify his present position? He has just appealed to the electors to give him an independent Liberal majority, and the result of his appeal shows conclusively, that the country has no more confidence in the right hon. Gentleman, or in the party he leads than it had a year ago. Whatever else the General Election may have proved, the Government certainly cannot claim the result as a vote of confidence for themselves. Will they contend, that the electors who voted for the Nationalist Candidates, intended to express confidence in the Government or the Nationalist party? What did the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond) say? He said in Ireland, "Do not trust any English party, trust me." Did the Constituencies who have returned Labour Members vote confidence in the Government? We know they did not. The Members on the Labour Benches distrust the Government even more than the Nationalists; and the fact is that when it comes to a question of confidence the Government cannot count upon the Nationalists nor the Socialists; they can count only upon their Radical supporters, who are not always to be relied on individually, and they represent a minority of the electors, and have failed to obtain a parry majority in this House. The electors have refused them an independent majority, and yet in spite of the conviction which he formerly expressed, the Prime Minister intends not only to assume the responsibilities and duties of Government, but to use the votes of the Irish party which he has bargained for to smash both the Union and the Constitution of the country.
On this question of mandate, I ask the Government what is the position which they assign to England? England, after all, is the predominant partner in the United Kingdom. England has 465 Members of this House out of a total of 670, and if there was a fair redistribution of seats England would have even a larger proportion. But under the existing conditions, England returns 239 Unionists, 190 Radicals, 35 Representatives of Labour, and one Nationalist. Therefore, England 86 has voted by a substantial majority in opposition to the proposals of the Government and against Home Rule. There was a time when we heard a great deal about the necessity of converting England before giving Home Rule to Ireland, and I believe that was the view of the Prime Minister himself. The plain fact is, however, that England has not approved of the policy of the Government. Are we to understand that the opposition of England is to be overborne by a coalition made up largely of men who are open and avowed enemies of England? It is notorious that the Members of the coalition are only loosely linked together for the purpose of log-rolling, and the Prime Minister, in order to keep his patch-work majority together, has to continually make concessions to one section or the other. There is no real coalition between them; the various groups are mutually repellant. The predominant power is in the hands of men who will assume no responsibility, and surely to complete the coalition there should be joint responsibility. Why should the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond) not take his place on the Treasury Bench? Why does not the Prime Minister invite the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Keir Hardie) to take charge of the Home Office, where the presence of the hon. Member would be so comforting to the susceptibilities of the police? Why has not the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. J. Devlin), the real Chief Secretary, as he has been called by his colleagues—why is he allowed to languish in the comparative obscurity of a back street office in Dublin, when he should be the occupant of the Chief Secretary's Lodge in Phoenix Park. Until the coalition has coalesced the Government have no right to claim a mandate to effect violent changes in the Constitution, for which neither their Nationalist nor their Socialist allies will accept any responsibility.
If the policy which is embodied in the Parliament Bill is to be pressed to the bitter end it becomes all the, more important that the country should realise now the full consequences of it. The Government have done their utmost to obscure this part of the issue. Home Rule was not mentioned by the Prime Minister in his election address, and the other members of the Government were equally silent. Apart from one or two perfunctory references in speeches of the Prime Minister it was not until the election was half over that the admission was dragged from him 87 that the Government intended to pass a Home Rule Bill after they had destroyed the Veto. Both then and afterwards the right hon. Gentleman refused to explain the details of his scheme. He took refuge in the vaguest generalities, to which he knows so well how to give the appearance of lucidity, without telling us anything we really want to know. We are entitled to demand that, before we are asked to go further with the Bill for limiting the Veto of the House of Lords, we shall be told the nature and the scope of the Home Rule proposals. The confidence trick has been played out. There was a time when Mr. Gladstone might say, without suspicion of hypocrisy, that "Liberalism meant trust in the people qualified by prudence," but since the party opposite has submitted to the dictation of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. John Redmond), their relationship to the people has shown a vast deal of prudence, but very little trust. Whatever happens, they will not consent to submit Home Rule to a poll of the people. We want to know clearly what the Government means by Home Rule. Do they mean the same thing as the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. John Redmond)? The Chancellor of the Exchequer told a Welsh audience the other day that Home Rule would only be concerned with trivial, local and provincial details. Does it need an independent Parliament, with an independent responsible Executive, to deal with the small details of local adminstration? If the hon. and learned Gentleman has really abated his demands we are entitled to know it. For myself I more than doubt it. I feel certain that Home Rule means far more to him than it does to the Prime Minister and to some other Members of the Government. We have the past declarations of the hon. and learned Gentleman to guide us, not one of which, as far as I know, he has repudiated. On the contrary, he has quite recently emphasised and confirmed them. I want to call attention to one observation which the hon. and learned Gentleman has repeated more than once lately. He has said that the Nationalist party stands to-day exactly where Parnell stood; they have not abated by one jot or by one tittle from that position. Of course, that statement disposes altogether of the idea of the Imperial Home Rule. We all remember the famous declaration of Parnell about the "severance of the last link," but there are other utterances of Parnell not so well known 88 but just as significant as an indication of the real object of the Nationalist movement. I will give the House one of these. Speaking at Castlebar on 3rd November, 1885, Parnell used these words:We will never accept anything but the full complete right to arrange our own affairs and to make our land a nation.There is nothing there about the uncontrolled supremacy of the Imperial Parliament. There is nothing there about Home Rule being restricted to trivial, local, and provincial details. But Mr. Parnell went further still. In the speech from which I am quoting he said:The object of the Nationalist party was to secure for Ireland, free from outside control, the right to direct her own course among the nations of the world.If that sentence means anything at all, it is an express repudiation of the uncontrolled supremacy of the Imperial Parliament. It is a declaration in as plain terms as it is possible to put it that the Nationalist goal is complete separation, because the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. John Redmond) says where Parnell stood in 1885 there the Nationalist party stand today. I make this statement, and I challenge contradiction. I say, in the first place, that the object of the Nationalist party is to obtain complete executive and financial control vested in an Irish Parliament. I say; in the next place, that that demand is based not upon goodwill to England, not upon loyalty to the Empire, but upon hatred of the British connection and disloyalty to British institutions. If these are the foundations of the Nationalist policy, I ask the House to consider what would be the fate of the Loyalists of Ireland under Home Rule. The Prime Minister has given utterance to some comfortable words about full and complete safeguards for the protection of liberty and property of all minorities, whether religious or political. The Loyalist minority in Ireland know just what value to place on these assurances. They are perfectly well aware that it is impossible to devise any safeguards which would be effective. The Members of the Government know that just as well as we do. I ask the Prime Minister whether he really thinks that a Nationalist Parliament could be relied upon to-treat any safeguards with respect. I ask him further what practical power would this House possess over a Home Rule Parliament to prevent injustice being done to the minority. The right hon. Gentleman must know very well that for all practical purposes this House would have no 89 real control over a Home Rule Parliament; but whatever the Prime Minister may say as to the value of these so-called safeguards, I can only say that the Unionists of Ireland are firmly resolved not to trust them. I ask the House whether, having regard to the history of the Nationalist movement, having regard also to the unchanged spirit of the Nationalist party and their aims and purposes, it is surprising that the Unionists of Ireland have arrived at that resolve. The Prime Minister and some other Members of the Government have affected to make light of the determination of Ulster. The House will be committing a grave and fatal mistake if they pursue the same heedless course. No one who is acquainted with the people of Ulster and the state of feeling in Ulster can possibly doubt for a moment that resistance to Home Rule has been thoroughly aroused, and is gaining in strength daily. On every hand and amongst all classes there is a deep and widespread conviction, which was expressed at the great meeting held in Belfast on 28th November last, that "the attempt to set up a Home Rule Parliament will inevitably result in disorder, violence, and bloodshed"
The Unionists of Ireland are men of peace, and they only desire to uphold law and order. But when their rights and liberties are at stake they will consider it an imperative duty to offer stern and unyielding resistance to a political system which they hate and distrust. If this means civil war, the responsibility will not rest with them but with the Government, who are prepared to barter their rights and liberties for seventy-six Nationalist votes. Our demand as Irish Unionists is that we should be allowed to remain in full union with Great Britain and to be governed by this Parliament, and we say, "God helping us, we will have no other." I cannot believe that the plot to prevent Home Rule being submitted to a poll of the people will succeed, but at all events the clear duty of every Unionist Member of this House is to offer the most uncompromising opposition to the Parliament Bill in its present form. We may be defeated. The Government may obtain an empty party triumph, but I ask them to remember that if they abolish the House of Lords, if they grant Home Rule, they will have to deal with an organised body of Irish Unionists, united in the determination to lay down their lives rather than submit to a political tyranny which would not only be fatal 90 to their liberties but disastrous to the social and material welfare of the people of Ireland.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Viscount CASTLEREAGH
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. Lonsdale) has, I think, put the case of Ireland, and particularly the case of Ulster, very fairly and very moderately before the House. I know it is the habit of hon. Gentlemen opposite to make very light of the Ulster position, I think they make a very great mistake, because there is a large and important community in the north of Ireland whose prosperity is undoubtedly due to the union that exists between Great Britain and Ireland, and who are passionately attached to that union. I do feel that this case is not considered absolutely on its merits. It is true that there are three other provinces in Ireland, and we are told that they are desirous that a measure of Home Rule should be granted to Ireland. Whatever the future may bring forward, I do feel that it is the duty of every Member of this House—I do not care in which portion he sits—to consider very carefully the position of the loyalist minority in the North. Ulster has not the advantages which belong to the other provinces in Ireland, and it is simply by the industry, energy and intelligence of the inhabitants of Ulster that they have turned that province into the prosperous portion of Ireland which it is at the present moment. I had expected on the completion of the Prime Minister's speech to see the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond) rise in his accustomed place and make his accustomed speech. I have heard the hon. and learned Member's speech on different occasions. I think he has made it on every occasion like this for the last four years, and it has always been said that there is nothing whatsoever new. The hon. Member entirely ignores, or endeavours to ignore, the position which Ulster occupies in Ireland. I think that speech has lost a great deal of its force. It impresses one to a very large extent when it is first heard, but after a time my flesh deliberately refuses to creep on its repetition. I think there is very little importance to be attached to the speech. I think the hon. Member's silence is far more important than his accustomed speech. Why is he not here in his accustomed place to hold out the prospects to Ireland which are entailed in a Home Rule Bill? I believe that the hon. Member for 91 Waterford is at the present moment in the most difficult position he was ever in in his life. He sees before him the possibility of Home Rule for Ireland, and I believe that for the life of him he does not know what it is going to be. I shall listen with great interest to the further course of the Debate and watch whether the hon. and learned Member will rise in his place and say what he means by Home Rule for Ireland. He is a quick-change artist, and he has various forms of Home Rule for the various audiences he addresses. He comes to England and says that he is a law-abiding citizen, who desires to see the supremacy of the Imperial Parliament, and that he desires to see tightened the bonds which unite Great Britain and Ireland, and which he believes to be for the benefit of both. Then he goes to Ireland and says that he stands where Mr. Parnell stood. Well, we know exactly where Mr. Parnell stood. He believed in the separation of England from Ireland. Let us consider the question of the separation of England from Ireland. It is a step which certainly I personally would not like to see taken. It would be dangerous to this country, and it would mean the ruin of Ireland. When we consider that there is to be this Home Rule scheme for Ireland we naturally must ask ourselves what the nature of that scheme will be. We must consider that Scotland contributes to the Exchequer and Wales contributes to the Exchequer, but that it is the duty of this island to contribute to the maintenance of Ireland to the tune of £2,000,000. We naturally must ask ourselves what form this measure will take, and whether they will have undisputed control of the £2,000,000 which this country makes to Ireland or whether it will be controlled by the Exchequer.
I think the more we consider the point, the more we see that it is an absolute impossibility to hand over an administration of this kind to a nation which, without the contribution that it is receiving from this country would be a bankrupt nation. I venture to say that if a Home Rule scheme might have been possible some years ago, at the present moment, when Ireland is so dependent for its financial existence on this country, a scheme of Home Rule such as I believe is in the minds of a great many of the hon. Gentlemen who sit behind me—a scheme of a separate Parliament for carrying on the affairs of Ireland, is an absolute impossibility unless the House of Commons is bereft of its senses. There is 92 another attitude adopted by individuals who speak on platforms in various parts of the country. They say, "Why should not Ireland be treated as our Colonial dominions which have their own Parliament?" There are many reasons. The Colonial Governments are separated from us by thousands of miles of ocean. But there is another point which I think ought to carry weight in our Imperial House of Commons, and that is whereas our Colonial relatives are actuated by loyalty and devotion to this Empire, and their proud boast is that they are our own kith and kin, and that when they came to this country they come to their home, we hear from Nationalist Members at all events, an entirely different attitude taken up. It is the attitude of separation. It is the difference of an entirely different nationality that they desire to set up. I have no doubt that later on we shall have this Irish question fully debated in this House, and I do not wish to go more deeply into it at the present moment. But there are one or two omissions from the Gracious Speech which we have heard this afternoon to which I may venture to allude. The hon. Gentlemen on the other side, in his most interesting speech, made allusion to various great problems of social interest in this country, which were not mentioned in His Majesty's Speech from the Throne, and the hon. Gentleman also included a geographical survey of great interest to those who were in the House at the moment. In his last few remarks he alluded to the question of the Government taking the whole time of the House up to Easter. In matters of pressing necessity there may be something to say for the Government adopting a course of that kind, but I would like to point out the significance of the attitude of the Government.
I think hon. Members will agree with me that in the last few years we have seen great encroachment made upon the privileges and rights of private Members in this House. It was before I had the privilege of being a Member of this House, but I think the private Member did count for something in those days. It was possible for him to extract an answer from the right hon. Gentlemen who sit on the Treasury Bench. He had an opportunity of moving the adjournment of the Debate, or of moving the adjournment of the House. Whether for better or for worse, those rights of private Members have disappeared, and I would venture to say that all of us who are not in the Government should combine together to do what 93 we can to maintain the rights of private Members. We have seen the extension of the closure. At the present moment the House is placed in the undignified position of seeing the Government of the day come down and move a Resolution in which they say, "We have made up our minds exactly as to what is going to be done. We will allow the House to talk about a measure for half an hour, an hour, or two hours, but whatever they say or do, the closure will fall at that hour, and the proposition will pass." I think that that is a dangerous proposal, and has a more far-reaching effect than perhaps is anticipated by the majority of Members of this House. Hon. Gentlemen who sit on that side of the House, and who support the Government in the drastic action they take, may not continuously sit on that side of the House. They may change over to this side, and they may then feel that in the time when they were sitting on those benches they were signing away and destroying the privileges of private Members, and in so doing they were destroying the dignity of the House. There are a great many questions to which I should have liked to allude to-night, with regard to omissions in the Gracious Speech from the Throne, but I should have thought from what we have seen in the Press lately of the influential meetings of the Labour Members that some of those burning questions to which they are so passionately attached would have found articulate pronunciation from some hon. Gentleman, from probably the Leader of the Labour party. I admit I am not quite clear who the Leader of the Labour party is. It is a position which no hon. Gentleman is allowed to occupy very long for reasons of their own. We have heard about the reversal of the Osborne Judgment and about various other measures that they are going to have enforced. But one thing we can see is that they are all in what the Prime Minister called a coherent and homogeneous majority on this one point—that is the destruction of the Second Chamber. I think that is a clear summing-up and a correct summing-up of the position occupied by the Government.
Take this smooth, coherent, homogeneous party which we are in the position of contemplating on that side of the House at the present moment. I have a vivid recollection that during the General Election that the Labour party seemed to desire to grasp the throat of the Radical party with no very gentle touch. I believe that they even boast of having wrested a 94 seat from the Radical party. Yet it is on this coalition of the Radical party, the Labour party, and the Nationalist party that this country is asked to uproot the Constitution. If we consider great constitutional questions in other countries we find that they are approached with great diffidence, and it is clearly ascertained what the view of the people of the various countries is on the one question before any any great constitutional question is raised. But we find a totally different course of action adopted in this country. The three parties that make up this coalition all agree on one point for different reasons. The Nationalist party are desirous of seeing the House of Lords swept away altogether for one reason—that is, that they have stood between them and this vague question of Home Rule. The Socialist party, I believe, also desire the abolition of the House of Lords. I do not know exactly what reason they put forward, but I suppose they are like a great many irresponsible people, who think that because they hold a theory that theory should be put into force at once, and that the experiment should be tried and someone else should pay the bill. That is the attitude of the Socialist party.
We are told that two elections have taken place, and that there has been a conclusive decision of the people of this country that the Constitution is to be changed. I do not know that there is any hon. Member who will really say that this was a clear issue before the country. I think the great factor which has assisted the Radical parties and other parties in the country has been the adroit manipulation of the electioneering device of "dear food," which got the Radical party more votes than any other political question. I do not propose to go into the argument of dear food, to which we have certainly a very good and very conclusive answer. There is no doubt that at present the electors may not be sufficiently alive to the fact that in the very near future the price of food may go up to a very alarming extent. We have seen an agreement in progress, and in preparation for ratification, between Canada and the United States, and the reason for that agreement is the shortage of food supply in the United States. It is the duty of every Government in this country, to whatever party it may belong, to look as far ahead as possible in order to ensure that the food supply of this country will be secure, for you know very well that a cheap food supply depends on-its being a large one.
95 There are other matters of great importance to which I should like to have heard the Prime Minister refer, one being the Declaration of London, which is only being placed before the people of this country in its correct form at the present moment; and I think we are largely indebted to the hon. Gentleman who was in the last Parliament as Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Gibson Bowles) for the attitude he has taken up in this matter. If it had not been for his action this Declaration of London would have been smuggled through the House of Commons, or rather behind the back of the House of Commons, without any decision being taken upon it by the representatives of the people, although it is a very important measure. We are told that it will be kept back until the representatives from our great self-governing Colonies have had an opportunity of expressing their views. It is true that the great question of the Session is the Constitutional issue, and I suppose it is for that reason that the Prime Minister has decided to take the whole time of the House. I have risen to-night to urge the House to consider the position of private Members, and to resist encroachments which this Government are making on our time and privileges, and which are a dangerous invasion of the usages of this assembly.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
It is with some reluctance that I rise to address the House, because there is nothing more amusing and entertaining than to hear hon. Gentlemen opposite talk about divided parties, about composite majorities, and about leaders in difficulties. Consequently, if I had consulted my own pleasure I should have kept seated, and not interrupted for a single moment the stream of interesting talk to which we have been listening for some time. However, the House is discussing the Gracious Speech from the Throne, and there are a few observations which I venture to offer to the House on behalf of the Labour party, with which I am associated. I should like to say, parenthetically, however, that on the question of taking private Members' time, we propose to offer no observations until we hear under what circumstances the time is to be taken. I understand that there will be plenty of opportunties when the Motion is made for discussing its scope and necessity, and consequently I make no further remark on the subject. I wish to deal with the 96 Speech as read from the Throne. I am bound to say that I join with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition in doubting the utility of the election which has just been held, but I am afraid that he and I part at that point, because I am under the impression that the election which was held in January, 1910, was a mandate for the Government to settle the question of the House of Lords. If another was required, I do not see why we should be downcast at the result of the election in December. The Leader of the Opposition told us that mere repetition was not emphasis. I think when he reconsiders that judgment as reported in to-morrow morning's "Times," he will change his opinion altogether, because as a matter of fact repetition is emphasis. If he does not change his opinion, he must remember this curious circumstance that it was only my friends and hon. Members from Ireland who received increased support as the result of the second appeal. The Labour Party is the only party in this country that has been returned in increased numbers. The Irish Party in Ireland is the only Party that can make a similar claim.
What does it mean? It simply means that if the Government had been more emphatic in their policy and more definite in their statements the emphasis of repetition might have been changed to the emphasis of an increased number returned in their support. At any rate, let us bear in mind that the result of the election is a clear mandate not only to proceed, but to proceed decisively to join issue on this question. The Speech deals with Imperial questions first of all. It congratulates the country that this year the Imperial Conference is to meet again. I congratulate the Government upon the circumstances under which it is to meet. We cannot shut our eyes to the fact that certain changes have taken place in Colonial politics, since the Conference met last time. For instance, this year it will be a Labour Prime Minister who will come from Australia, and who will be able to tell the Government here that the more strongly they act upon some of their democratic promises, the better it will be for Australia and the more respect Australia will have for us. Canada, in spite of what she has done with the United States, will certainly not embarrass the Government by using words which she is supposed to have said but never did say—that she offered us preference on account of some 97 tariff changes that we might impose upon our home markets. The Imperial Conference this year ought to be a real beginning of Imperial understanding between ourselves and our self-governing Dominions, and for the first time it is meeting under circumstances that will make that understanding possible.
I cannot leave the Imperial side without saying one sentence about South Africa. It must be a source of great satisfaction to everyone who has followed the history of South Africa during the last ten or twelve years to find that at last South Africa is politically united. It is the closing of a chapter which Englishmen will turn to in the days that are to come with a diminishing sense of pride and an increasing sense of shame. All I can hope is that the shadow of that unhappy and unholy past will not be cast across the future to mar and damage the pleasing and promising beginnings recorded in this Speech. Moreover, it would surely ill become us in this House to-day to forget to associate with this happy termination of an unhappy struggle the name of the late Leader of the Liberal party, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. Without his wisdom and foresight, and, may I say it without any party meaning, without his Liberalism, I doubt very much if this termination would have been recorded. As I welcome the statement about South Africa I deplore the exceedingly awkward statement of the Leader of the Opposition this afternoon regarding Canada. I do not agree that we have come to this state that there is no such thing as British policy to be applied and exemplified in our Dominions over the Seas. I believe after all that the Union Jack and British history and British sentiment and Britich policy are something that the Dominions ought to establish themselves custodians of as well as ourselves, and that consequently they must bear with us as we shall certainly bear with them—for instance when they pass resolutions in favour of Home Rule for Ireland—they must bear with us, as we shall certainly bear with them, in making just and proper criticism on matters which are not local, and which must concern the whole of the Empire wherever that Empire exists. Therefore I do not agree that we shall have nothing whatever to do with what Canada has to do with the United States now, but for the responsible Leader of the 98 Opposition to rise in his place on a solemn and serious occasion like this to say that if that policy is carried out to its logical and full conclusion it is an Imperial disaster—well, I have heard many blunders in this House, but I have never heard a blunder so colossal as that.
The Prime Minister said that this question has still to come before the Canadian House of Commons, but that is not all. The Prime Minister forgot to tell this House that the question may even have to come before the country, and what is the Prime Minister of Canada and the responsible political leaders of Canada tomorrow morning to say when they discover that words like "Imperial disaster" should be applied to an arrangement before that arrangement has even had the consideration of the public representatives. I am sometimes, and my friends with me very often, sneered at because we are "Little Englanders." I am bound to say, if this is a specimen of "Big Englandism," in the interests of the Empire and in the interests of goodwill and National unity, certainly do, pray, allow me to be included amongst the "Little Englanders." I understand the question is to be discussed on its merits when the time comes. In that case we shall say nothing about it at the present moment, but to say that it has been the Free Trade policy of this country that has made this arrangement is really to shut one's eyes to the whole of Canadian economic tendency. To say that the Canadian Pacific Railway was built East and West instead of North and South in order that Canadian grain might come into our markets is first of all an exceedingly bad blunder in ordinary history, and secondly is altogether a mistake as to the ordinary and well-ascertained facts of Canadian policy. The Canadian Pacific Railway was built simply for National purposes, as everyone who knows what the opinion of British Columbia was in those days before the railway was finished is aware.
I join most sincerely with the speakers who have preceded me in regretting the absence of the Foreign Secretary from our debate to-day. That will necessitate my making practically no reference to a matter about which I had hoped to make certain references, namely, as to the position of this country in Persia. I think it would ill become me to say anything of a violently controversial nature in the absence of the Foreign Secretary, but I 99 hope hon. Members in this House will take the very first opportunity of raising this question. I can assure them that so far as I can assist them in raising it effectively that assistance will be ungrudgingly given. I should like to add, without making controversial remarks, that I view, personally at any rate, with alarm our position in Persia. I view with alarm our friendship with Russia in Persia. I view with alarm the sort of free hand we are giving to Russia in Northern Persia, and the sort of way we are apparently declining to consider any complaints made against our allies—complaints which explain why in many instances the Persian Government finds itself unable to meet our demands. However, those matters will far more appropriately be discussed when the right hon. Gentleman is present, and at present I share in the general feeling of regret for his absence, and more particularly for the reason of his absence. The Gracious Speech refers to the Estimates, and rumour, which I am bound to say received rather unexpected support from the words of the Mover of the Address this evening, says that it was not a mere oversight which induced the Government to leave out the expression that the Estimates were to be made with due regard to economy. We are told that the Navy Estimates are to be increased, and that possibly the Army Estimates are also to be increased, and yet this is going to happen at a time when the Government is able once more to come and tell us that we are at peace with all the world. As a matter of fact, there is no more eloquent proof of the truth that we are not going to avoid war by an increase of armaments than the position in which this country finds itself at the present moment. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition told us that extra taxation would have to be placed upon the people in order to provide these armaments. Where is it going to end? Surely it must be as apparent to anybody as anything can be that the present policy gives no security, that the present policy affords no ending except perhaps the ending of precipitating war or national bankruptcy. We would like to find some change in the spirit of our international policy. Therefore, I welcome exceedingly the glimpses of a better understanding between Germany and ourselves. There is no use in blinking the fact, and I think it might do a great deal of good if he could honestly 100 discuss the matter in this place. The fact of the matter is that, until Germany and ourselves come to a better understanding than we have yet reached, it is almost waste of words to talk about diminishing armaments. We cannot come to that understanding with Germany unless we have the courage to state quite openly in what that understanding must consist.
First of all, we must cease all those irritating and pettifogging criticisms regarding German economic advance. Germany is going to increase her markets. Germany is going to increase her trade and commerce. Germany is going to be a more and more effective competitor with us in the world's markets. We had better in a scientific and calm frame of mind regard that, than constantly lose our heads, lose our tempers, and very often throw our common-sense behind us and engage in foolish, windy, and cant phrases about Germany being the enemy. In the second place we have to make up our minds to come to a closer political understanding with Germany regarding certain outstanding questions, like, for instance, Germany's position, both political and economic, in Asia Minor. As a matter of fact, the sooner we deliberately sit down and consider the relative positions, economical and political, of Germany and ourselves in the world, the nearer we shall come to that state of public opinion, both in Germany and in England, which will enable a real entente between these two countries to be accomplished, which will be the signal of a very substantial reduction of armaments, and the beginning of a new policy altogether. In that respect the Labour party's position is perfectly clear. We are sometimes taunted with having no sense of responsibility. I am not quite so sure about it. But in this respect, it is of the very greatest advantage to this country that there should be a party in this House and in this country severely critical upon all these questions of increased expenditure on armaments. It is for right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench to defend their expenditure; it is for us to ask them to defend it. It is for us, moreover, by censuring their expenditure, to show our disfavour of their foreign policy; and that is precisely the position the Labour party takes up to-day. When we go to Copenhagen, as we went to Copenhagen to the International Socialist Conference this last year, and meet the leaders of the working classes 101 of every industrial country in the world, we are doing work for International peace second to none done by any organisation in the world. And when we invite, as we did the other day, European figures like Jaurès or Vandervelde or Molkenbuhr, members of the French House of Commons, the Belgian House of Commons, and the German House of Commons, to a great demonstration in the Albert Hall—once again we are fulfilling that mission of peace upon which we have embarked, and which we are going to pursue steadily and persistently in this House, upon Estimates, upon Resolutions, upon Bills, upon discussions on foreign policy.
Turning from Imperial and foreign affairs to home affairs, I also confess with some of the speakers who have preceded me to having been a little disappointed, when I first of all read the Gracious Speech from the Throne, to find so few Bills promised of domestic interest and import. I am bound to say, however, that the two notices which the Home Secretary handed in to-day have been very reassuring. The Shops Bill has long been overdue, and all I venture to say at the moment is that we hope when it is published it will be a little more satisfactory than rumour seems to indicate. With reference to the Mines Bill, I should like to express the hope that no time will be lost in letting us see what it contains. I think it is perfectly clear that had we had better mines legislation and also better administration of the legislation that we have, some of the recent mining disasters would not have happened at all. At any rate, there they are: they have happened. The awful experience of sorrow that is so well expressed in the Gracious Speech relating to our reigning House—that awful sorrow which finds kings and subjects on the same level—has happened with respect to hundreds of the humble homes of this country. Surely these disasters may bear the fruit of legislation wiser and more drastic than that which we have at the present time. Therefore I venture to repeat the request that this Mines Bill will be produced as quickly as possible, and that every opportunity will be taken to advance it stage by stage through this House.
I welcome the pledge to deal with sickness and unemployment insurance. The principle underlying that subject is contained in our much-maligned "Right to Work" Bill. We saw quite clearly, and everybody who approaches the unemployed problem must see, that it resolves itself into two large sections. 102 There is the section for which work has to be provided; there is the section for which maintenance in some shape or form and upon some basis or other has to be provided; there is the section of unemployed men who are drifting towards the state of being unemployable—the section of unemployed whose labour in a particular direction and in a particular place is beginning to be more and more waste labour. Those men must be transplanted. They must be retrained. They must be made subject either to farm colonies o r to some sort of scheme carefully organised and prepared for the supplying of work. Then there is the other section of temporarily unemployed men, out for a month or two months, who ought not to be taken away from the place where they work. The only way to deal with these men is to devise some means of providing maintenance or income for them during their unemployed period. The Government have decided to create an insurance against that. So far as the general idea, the principle, is concerned, I believe I am right in saying that the Labour party will support the Government. The details, however, are a totally different thing. We need not anticipate the discussion of this year's Bills, although certain hon. Members opposite have set the example of anticipating the discussion of next year's legislation. But I hope that this Bill will not attempt in any way to touch the present statutory position of trade unionism. I hope that no attempt is going to be made in this Insurance Bill to change the legal constitution of trade unions or to give the Government more power of interference with trade union business than it has at the present moment. Above all, I want to warn the Government that, although we are going to accept this Bill for insurance the measure will not deal with the un-employed problem in some of its very worst aspects. There is the casual worker—you cannot insure him; there is the unskilled workman—you cannot insure him. There is the aged worker before he becomes a beneficiary under the Old Age Pension Act, you cannot very well insure him. As a matter of fact, we accept it simply as an instalment. We shall do everything we possibly can to convert the Government as successfully to other parts of our Right-to-Work Bill as I congratulate myself that the party to which I belong has succeeded in converting them to the clause dealing with maintenance for unemployed persons. There is another matter. I do not want to press 103 very much the payment of Members, because we were told by a learned Member opposite just before the election that if we pressed for payment of Members he and his party would state that we wanted to pay ourselves. But as the Government gave its definite pledge just before the end of the last Parliament to bring in a scheme to make provision for the payment of Members, I should like to ask whether that scheme is ready, and when we may expect to have it for our consideration?
Finally, on this subject, there is a question of the Osborne Judgment. Now, I do not think that the consideration of the Osborne Judgment is a matter which will brook delay. A great many Members upon both sides of the House have pledged themselves to see that it is dealt with in this Parliament. And, after all, it is not so much a question for this House to decide as a whole. The details that are difficult and that divide us are purely matters for Committee upstairs. I think everybody, hon. Members opposite as well as Members on this side, will admit that the Osborne Judgment has left trade unions in a very uncertain position. I know perfectly well that if it had simply affected the funds of the Labour party, the political, the, fighting instincts of all parties in the House would very probably say, "Leave the Labour party to fight its own battle." But that is not the case. The decision which has been given by the judges relating to the trade unions' power to spend their money extends across a very much wider field than the field covered by the Labour party itself. Let me give one illustration. There is, for instance, at Oxford at the present moment a very interesting and a very promising experiment in the shape of a democratic college, which is benefiting by the advice, lead, and guidance that the University can give it. Up to now it has been the custom of certain trade unions to vote money from their general funds to send one, two, or half a dozen of their promising members to that college. I am perfectly certain that anyone reading the Osborne Judgment must see that that sort of thing has been barred. Such a payment is now subject to appeal on the part of any single member of a union, and the whole of this admirable work—work which no Member on either side of the House would like to see stopped—is to be subject to some contemptible objection taken by an individual Member. I would therefore submit to the whole of the 104 House that this question of the Osborne Judgment can very well receive immediate attention: certainly before Easter so far as the Second Reading is concerned. Let the Bill be sent up to Committee, where we can thrash out all the difficulties that divide us, and find the various proposals put down on paper, so that we may come to some sort of agreement. It would be a very satisfactory agreement to place trade unions upon a definite foundation—upon a foundation on which they can stand and from which they can work. There is not the least doubt about it that the present position of the law has created a form of passive resistance which is far larger than any form of passive resistance that ever we have known in this country. At the election, which is just over, over 40 Members received financial aid from trade unions contrary to the Osborne Judgment. The other day at Leicester we had a conference of 460 delegates, practically every one of whom was there—with a few exceptions—contrary to the decision of the judges in the Osborne Judgment. I think the whole House must co-operate for the purpose of putting an end to that state of things, so that we may know where we are, and so that justice may be done to the unions.
With reference to the Second Chamber, I do not propose to say more than a sentence or two about the Parliament Bill. The Government has been told that it is a coalition. Very well, on the Parliament Bill it is not a coalition. So far as the Parliament Bill is concerned, the only difference between the Front Bench and ourselves is that we go very much further. If we disagree with the Government on this point it is because we think the Government too weak. It is because we think their Bill is slightly under a satisfactory minimum. It is because we do not think that they are using sufficiently well and sufficiently strongly the power which two elections have undoubtedly given them. We do not like the preamble. We are opposed to it. But the suggestion that the preamble should be embodied in the Bill, or should be subject to legislation introduced concurrently with the operative part of the Bill, is, if I might say so with all respect, really an absurdity. What have we got to do. Before we have to tinker, or construct, or recreate a Second Chamber, surely the first thing we have to do is to make up our minds what the Second Chamber is going to do. We have got to make up our minds as to what the relations of this House to its Second 105 Chamber are to be, and when those relations have been clearly and equitably defined, then we should consider how the Second Chamber should be devised. Therefore, if we disagree with the Government at all upon this Parliament Bill we disagree with it simply and solely because it is not sufficiently far advanced for us. When we came here in 1906 it was for the purpose, clearly defined and expressed, to support both Liberals and Conservatives, if we considered that they were doing good by their proposals to the great mass of the people. We came in here as an absolutely independent force. We remain an independent force—absolutely independent I know perfectly well hon. Members opposite may find it rather inconvenient when they have arrayed themselves in sheep's clothing, and when we laugh at their carniverous teeth. Nevertheless, the Labour party remains in precisely the same position it took up when it came here first of all. Our support for the Government is going to be, not for the Government as a Government, but for the measures which the Government produces. Our opposition to the Government is, if need be, going to be upon the measures which the Government produce. We remain and stand here representing labour, an independent factor in this House, as we are in the country. We are encouraged to continue in the position, first of all because our Constituents have approved of it time and again, because we are back here in increased numbers, and because, judging by its results, it has been the most fruitful policy that Labour and Labour Members have ever adopted in this House of Commons.
§ Mr. GEORGE WYNDHAM
The hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) will, I am sure, acquit me of any discourtesy towards him, and also I hope of any lack of interest in some of the social questions which he has raised, if I refrain from commenting on the interesting speech to which we have just listened. It is a self-denying ordinance because I must confess that his assertion of the entire independence of the Labour Party and his observation on the difference between him and the Government, namely that of wanting to go a great deal further than the Government on the constitutional question, do open up a field of discussion in which I might easily stray for a considerable time. I resist the temptation; I and many others are in the same position. This is the only opportunity which 106 Members of this House will enjoy, for many a long day, of taking part in what the Prime Minister, this afternoon, called a free inquest into the prospect and intentions of the Government. I refrain from commenting upon his speech because there are many, I imagine, in this House who for one reason or another do not find in the Gracious Speech from the Throne a fully satisfactory account of the intentions of the Government or of their recent proceedings. Upon the first part of the Gracious Speech from the Throne I shall, for the same reason, not dwell. I could add nothing to the eloquent language in which the mover of the Address, supported by the seconder, bore witness to the Empire's sympathies with the sorrow that has fallen upon our King. Nor should I be justified in adding to the appreciation which has been expressed of the devoted services which the Duke of Connaught has given to the Empire. I might be greatly tempted to say one word upon the paragraph of the Gracious Speech which deals with the situation in Japan and the situation in Persia, because they seem to me to be conceived in terms of complacency which is not shared by all those who have trade with Japan or Persia. But my purpose is rather to invite the attention of the House to the second and third portions of the Gracious Speech from the Throne which in accordance with usage deals with Finance and with the proposed legislation of the Government. These two portions of the Speech from the Throne, if they do not deserve the epitaph meagre, which the Prime Minister disclaimed this afternoon, surely show an amount of reticence which is remarkable and, I believe, unprecedented.
In the Speech from the Throne at the beginning of a new Session this reticence would be remarkable; it is more remarkable in the first Session of a Parliament, and most remarkable when that Parliament is, I think, quite accurately described by the Mover and Seconder of the Address as being an historical Parliament, and when proposals are to be laid before it which were described by the proposer of the Address as embodying the greatest of all reforms, and by the seconder as being matters of world-wide interest. That is true. Immense interest is excited abroad amongst those who wish us well, and perhaps amongst those who wish us less than well, and the keenest interest is excited in all the free sister States of the Empire 107 by the fact that the Government propose to make a fundamental change in a constitution which is the model of all constitutions in civilised countries; to make that fundamental change in our constitution as a prelude, so we understand, to far-reaching changes in the relations existing between Great Britain and Ireland. The wonder, I think, is that the people of this country have so far seemed to be less keenly alive than foreign observers to the magnitude of the changes which are introduced in the short and soothing phrases of the Gracious Speech from the Throne. The tone of it was fully borne out by the singularly astute speech in which the Prime Minister this afternoon endeavoured to persuade the House that nothing was going to happen which is not known and which is not in strict accordance with the constitutional usages of this country. I think that that attitude, I do not say of apathy, but of reserve, on the part of the people of this country, may be partly explained by the fact that we have had two dissolutions in one year. No reason has yet been given for the second dissolution which is intelligible to any man, whatever part of the House he may sit in. I say which is intelligible and also creditable to the Government, because it has occurred to some of us that having two dissolutions in one year might serve the purpose of exhausting public interest in politics as a prelude to lulling the suspicions which otherwise would have been aroused and would have been more active. In any case, we are entitled to say that the second dissolution within one year which cannot be fully and freely explained but as autocratic action on the part of the Executive, is a fair test of the kind of action we may expect when the Executive wields almost unlimited power, and when, though I trust it may never be the case, our Constitution resolves itself virtually into one single chamber Government, and on the other side we find confirmation for the view that His Majesty's present advisers are prepared to act in the same despotic manner.
We gather that the whole time of the House is to be taken, from now until Easter. No less a person than the Patronage Secretary thought it his duty, and proper to go down to a constituency and to advise the electors to return the Private Secretary to the Prime Minister upon the ground that that would bring the constituency into close touch with the Government of the day. That is an innovation, 108 but it is all in the same direction—the direction of the Prime Minister of the day seizing more and more power into his own hands, but not, so we observe with regret, always being able to wield that power in accordance with his original intention. The policy of first exhausting the country has been followed by a policy of lulling our suspicions. Let us take the Gracious Speech from the Throne on the subject of finance. In this year's speech there is one line which we might all have anticipated, namely, that Estimates will in due time be laid before us. Contrast that with the similar paragraph in the Gracious Speech from the Throne last year. I have counted them up, and I think 19½ lines were devoted to the question of finance, and were concerned with elaborating the enormity of the offence committed by the House of Lords in suspending the Budget and in dilating upon all the inconvenience which ensued from that course. We have 19½ lines when the House of Lords suspends the Budget for a few weeks, and apparently they were justified in so doing because it is an open secret that if everybody had voted according to his conscience and belief on the Budget, the view of the House of Commons in the summer would have been identical with the view taken by the House of Lords. If it takes 19½ lines to explain that enormity, why is one line sufficient not to explain, but to hide the fact that the present Government suspended their Budget for many weeks, introduced it in July, hung it up till October, and then suspended all the pertinent parts of the Budget, all the subjects of interest and all the matters in which I should have thought the representatives of the people were entitled to have a say. I really do not understand the Prime Minister's attitude towards these constitutional questions. His view of constitutional propriety is outraged; in fact, his personal feelings are hurt when the Second Chamber suspends a budget. His views of constitutional propriety are also hurt when he contemplates the horrible prospect of the country deciding a great question by Referendum. His feelings have been hurt in the past by the Peers, but he is never hurt when the hon. and learned Member for Waterford tells him the exact time when and if the representatives of the people are to discuss the finances of the nation.
I will say no more about the second part of the speech, which deals with finance, but let me contrast the third part, which 109 deals with legislation. Last year we had a somewhat detailed account of what the proposals of the Government would be, and in it there occurred a phrase which proved to be the forerunner of the preamble of the Bill. When it was introduced it contained the preamble which has just been attacked by the hon. Member for Leicester, who says that, although there is no coalition in this matter, they are all united. Although he says there is complete accord, he also states that if he had his way he would prevent there ever being a preamble to any future Bill. There is no mention of the preamble in the Gracious Speech from the Throne this year. Will there be a preamble to the Bill when it is introduced? No doubt we shall know that if we exercise that virtue upon which the Prime Minister is always insisting, and "wait and see," or, as he has told us today, if we have a full measure of patient expectancy. The words in which the Constitutional Revolution contemplated by the Government are described in the Gracious Speech from the Throne only occupy two lines, and are concealed, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, in phrases which might very well have been uttered either by Lord Lansdowne, Lord Rosebery, or any other leader of public opinion who holds that some change in the Constitution is now necessary. They give no indication of the character of the change which we gathered from the speeches made during the last electorial campaign is really contemplated by the Government. Why is this reticence observed? Why is the scope of the change contemplated by the Government so carefully concealed in the Gracious Speech from the Throne, and again in the Speech of the Prime Minister this afternoon. I agree that if the Government were telling very fully what their intentions are I should be guilty of discourtesy if I attempted to pry behind them to discover others. When, however, they give us no such indication I think we may divine what they are, and openly say, as I say now, that all this reticence is part of the deliberate plan to foster the view, which cannot be sustained, that the course which they intend to take is a normal course and in strict accordance with Constitutional usage. The Prime Minister this afternoon either used those words or other words of similar import. I think the Prime Minister said: "I shall assume until the contrary is shown that when the country has twice approved of a measure, then the ordinary process of the Constitutional machine will continue." 110 Those were his words, or at any rate he used language to that effect.
With all respect I say that this is a pretence. It is not really a fact that the Government of the day are proceeding in accordance with the normal workings of the Constitutional procedure. The Prime Minister was at pains this afternoon reviewing the past events of last year, and trying to bolster up that pretence of moderation and conformity with Constitutional usage. It is true, he omitted to say, that during the earlier weeks of last Session some of his most esteemed colleagues, and notably the Secretary of State for War, used language which led everybody in this country to believe that the Government did not propose last year to take the course to which they ultimately committed themselves, otherwise what interpretation could be put upon the words used by the Secretary of. State for War on 25th March, when he said that owing to the narrow majority achieved at the General Election by comparison with the great majority which supported the Government previous to that election it was impossible to take a bold and decided course. No bold and decided course was taken during the first few weeks after the January election last year. The course was vacillating and un-decided until a sudden boldness and decision were imported into the policy of the Government as usual by the hon. and learned Member for Waterford. This view that the Government, are proceeding upon normal lines is not even in conformity with the declarations, and they were many, which the Prime Minister has recently made during the last General Election. I believe the language employed by him was used in connection with the Referendum on which he poured so much scorn, but, in whatever connection he made use of the words, I am sure he would be prepared to stand by them. Certainly, I gather so from such a passage as this:That legislation in this House, passed by the representatives of the people, was passed afterand then he used such words as these:the interchange of view and the clash of argument.One would suppose from that that during the months of last summer the rafters of this Chamber and of another place were ringing with passionate argument for or against what was called the Parliament Bill. It was never introduced, so far as I can recollect, in either House. It is true we had a discussion of some resolutions in this House, but, as for the "interchange of view and the clash of argument" preceding the election in order that the 111 verdict given at the election might embody the considered opinion of the people, that is not what happened. If that is not what happened, then, in accordance with the canons of representative institutions laid down by the Prime Minister, the Government cannot claim that they are inviting us to adopt any normal procedure. I would go further. In the heat of a General Election, particularly when we are attacking a novel proposal, we may use language which goes beyond our intentions. I will, therefore, say that upon the facts this fundamental and revolutionary change in the Constitution is not at all in the same category as the measures to which his constitutional canons apply. There is a profound difference between a measure, however far reaching, however extravagant, and, if you please, however revolutionary, which is passed constitutionally by the two Estates of the realm and a measure which alters profoundly and, as we think, which traverses the Constitution itself.
We have not got a written Constitution, and, not having a written Constitution it is impossible, I urge, for the Prime Minister to say that this House with a majority—be it large or small—can propose a change in the Constitution, and that if it passes it twice the other House is bound to acquiesce no matter how great that change may be. It cannot be done in that way. No one would gather from the Gracious Speech from the Throne or from the speech of the Prime Minister how great is the change which he is asking us to adopt, or to what a position of impotence it is to condemn the Second Chamber, be it the House of Lords as at present constituted or any other. I think the hon. Member for Leicester need not trouble himself over the Preamble, if he really grasps how far this change will carry us and how deeply it will bite down into the very foundations of the Constitution. The Second Chamber is offered the status it now enjoys. The status of anybody in a Constitution does not depend upon its precedence or the order in which people go down to dinner. It depends upon its usefulness in the Constitution, and this Second Chamber, in common with all other Second Chambers, discharges functions held to be necessary by most Constitutionalists if not by the right hon. and learned Member. It discharges the function of referring new and grave proposals for ratification by the electorate, if there 112 is no reason to believe that the electorate approve of such drastic and far-reaching changes. I am not going to argue whether that is right or wrong, but I think I may assert that the large majority of the people in this country at this moment believe it to be right. This proposal of the Government will, as I say, virtually destroy that function of the Second Chamber. There is no use in postponing a good Bill of which the people approve. Why not have it at once if you know they approve of it? There is no use in postponing a bad or a good Bill of which the people do not approve. The only use of a Second Chamber is to show whether or not the people approve of a measure and that function of the Second Chamber is destroyed by the proposal of the Government. I do not know whether, in urging that plea, which I believe to be very pertinent to the grave situation in which we find ourselves, I caught the reply that this was only a stop gap arrangement, and that, as the Prime Minister said of the recent electoral campaign, this is not a final solution. This is not a final solution! I cannot put it too earnestly to the Prime Minister, "Can you restore this function if ever you suspend it? If the Prime Minister endeavours in the future to give effect to the preamble of this Bill he will have to encounter the opposition of the hon. Member for Leicester, and of those who agree with him, and he will also have to encounter the opposition of the hon. and learned Member for Waterford, and of those who agree with him, and yet it is on the support of the followers of these two gentlemen that he must depend if he is to introduce these changes; and if they are not prepared to support him, will he be able to restore this function? I speak for myself, of course, when I say I doubt if it is in the power of any party to restore a function it has once destroyed. It is no reflection upon my countrymen or upon the great body of the electors of this country when I say this—I believe that no man who has taken part in the last election will deny that the people of this country are more interested, on one side or the other, in questions of social reform or of imperial defence than in constitutional discussions unless served up with peculiar condiment, such as the Chancellor of the Exchequer (whose absence we all deplore) is apt to give with them. Will anybody say that in two, three or four years' time, if this function has been destroyed, if it has been abandoned by 113 those who exercise it, if it has been abandoned by the Prime Minister and those who are bound to study the situation, it can be reconstituted? That is an argument which I trust will be urged by others far more eloquent than I am, who may bring it home in powerful terms to those who think that by this Preamble you can suspend the function of the Second Chamber and then ask the electors to put back that which has been abandoned by those who are its proper custodians. We are, it is said, to accept the view, that in accordance with Constitutional usage they are bound to accept a measure changing the Constitution, because the Prime Minister has twice secured a majority—whether a coalition majority or not—but I ask the right hon. Gentleman, the Prime Minister, whether he believes that any Second Chamber which he can construct—supposing he succeeded in doing what I think would be very difficult—will take up a Spartan attitude against any further changes of the Constitution. If the Second Chamber, which has endured for so many centuries, were to accept the advice tendered it this afternoon by the Prime Minister, who will believe that any substitute which he perhaps may erect in its place will be able to do that which, acting on his advice, our existing Second Chamber had refrained from doing. No, Sir; if we destroy the existing Constitution on the lines advocated by the Government we shall establish a precedent from which we shall never escape, and we shall make it impossible to put any substitute in the place of the Second Chamber which the Prime Minister will have effectually destroyed. Although there is nothing in the Gracious Speech from the Throne about the measures upon which the Government contemplate embarking in addition to the Parliament Bill, supposing they succeed in that measure, surely it is common knowledge that the Prime Minister himself and all the more prominent of his colleagues have announced a series of measures, some, notably a measure of Home Rule, of the greatest gravity which they deliberately intend to pass after they have suspended the function of the Constitution which ensures that the people may see the measure before it is discussed, and may have a say upon that measure when they have seen it. This is not the occasion to argue about the question of Home Rule, but it is the occasion to say that Home Rule affords perhaps the most striking example by which we can test the 114 intentions of the Government. If the Home Rule Bill is to be introduced and passed without reference to the people, and before even its outline has been communicated to the people, then I say the Government by a policy recommended in these specious words, are violating every element of liberty in representative institutions. I go further than that, I say that here once more the Prime Minister is violating his own views, recently announced, of the way in which representative institutions ought to work. I think, again, he was speaking of the Referendum in the terms of scorn which come so often from him, when he has coquetted in the past with an object of his affections and relinquished it in the present, but whatever he was speaking of his words must apply, and I think he would say do apply to his real view of the manner in which representative institutions ought to obtain. He said, in an attempt to exalt our existing representative institutions, these words:—Every election is and must be preceded by the fullest and freest, discussion.Well, apply that to Home Rule. Has there been any full or free discussion of Home Rule since 1893? Apply it to Welsh Disestablishment. Has there been any full or free discussion of Welsh Disestablishment since 1894? And yet the intention of the Government is to pass a Bill which will enable them by their alteration in the Constitution to pass Home Rule and Welsh Disestablishment, and much else, without ever laying these measures even in outline before the electors. That is not only a violation of elementary liberty, it traverses the very statement which the Prime Minister laid down that full and free discussion does and must precede every election in this country. It may be applied to the Parliament Bill itself. The Prime Minister says it is not a final solution. That is not the way in which you will obtain full and free discussions throughout the country of a very intricate measure of constitutional change amounting to a revolution.
He made use of another phrase. He laid down another canon of political conduct. Again, he was attacking the Referendum, and in order to show his view of what is proper when the sense of the people is being taken upon any great measure, he said, speaking, I think, on Tariff Reform:—Is it to be a vague and general question for a concrete scheme that can be grasped as a whole and judged as a whole? … If the first then it is a sham and a fraud upon the nation.115 Apply that to the Parliament Bill. Have we got a concrete scheme which can be grasped as a whole and judged as a whole? He tells us himself it is not a final solution. Apply it to Home Rule and Welsh Disestablishment, which are to follow the Parliament Bill. Have we got these in concrete schemes which can be grasped as a whole and judged as a whole? There is not one man, I believe, outside the Cabinet, who can tell us what the next Home Rule Bill is going to be like. Very well, it is a sham and a fraud upon the nation to ask them to make a change in the Constitution which will enable the Government to pass a Home Rule Bill without laying it before the public in all its details. The public does not know what changes in the Constitution the Prime Minister thought desirable during those silent months of last summer. We infer that it cannot have been the very same measure which he brought in at the beginning of last year. Surely he did not sit for months considering whether he could persuade some of the leaders of our party to adopt the scheme which they rejected. We do not know that. We do not desire to know it. But we know what, during those summer months, the Prime Minister and his colleagues thought good enough for South Africa. They are never tired of welcoming with joy, as we all do, the settlement in South Africa. But what did they think good enough for South Africa? Not one effective Chamber, but two effective Chambers. Not federation, but union. If that was good enough for South Africa on the constitutional question, and the question of the union of the different parts of South Africa, why is anything less than that to be good enough for the United Kingdom? Why are we not to have two effective Chambers like South Africa? Why are we not still to have union instead of federation? The Prime Minister so far has not, either during the election and still less in his speech this afternoon, given us a single reason for abating one jot of opposition to the constitutional change which will enable him to deprive us both of two effective Second Chambers and of the Union which has lasted for more than a century. The Prime Minister, in the course of the election, repudiated the charge that Home Rule had been hidden from the electors, and repudiated it with some warmth, speaking, I think, at Retford. But will he be prepared to say that he has spoken either of Home Rule or Welsh Disestablishment 116 or Education or of Licensing proposals in terms which give the country the least chance of grasping the measures he contemplates as a whole or judging them as a whole? He enumerated the causes which he said, "I believe, are in our keeping"—an expression of his belief that those causes were in the keeping of the party which he leads. I do not wonder that he did not put it any higher than that. They have kept themselves so very close for many years that no one has a glimmering idea of what their intention is. What is their Home Rule Bill? What is their Welsh Disestablishment Bill? Which of their Education Bills are they going to revive? Nobody knows, but if we consent to this revolution in the Constitution, he will be able to impose every one of those measures on the people, although we have not seen them, and although he will not permit us to know what the nature of those drastic changes is. The people are entitled to see measures of that magnitude. I have very little doubt what will be the ultimate issue of this controversy—if it is prolonged as it must be—if the Prime Minister persists in his present position. I have very little doubt what the position will be when the people of the country are seized of the significance of the proposals. But for how long will the controversy continue? Meanwhile, there must be delay of many measures upon which we can all agree. Some of these were enumerated by the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald). In our view, whether right or wrong, some of these measures are only palliatives, and we believe that the social evils which they are intended to remedy will require more drastic measures. There is a worse danger incidental to the course which the Government are asking the country and both Chambers of Parliament to adopt. Public attention will be distracted from questions which are not only vital but urgent. We heard the hon. Member speaking this evening upon the question of unemployment. His remedy is "the right to work." It is not our remedy. We do not believe it meets the exigencies of the case. Apart from any other arguments which have been adduced against it, we do not believe that it will either help the man who, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, is in the mire, to help himself, or prevent the artisan from falling. On the contrary, we think it will tend to degrade the best artisans. But at any rate, while we desire to deal with this question of unemployment, 117 we are not to be soothed by Board of Trade returns. [Laughter.] That excites the laughter of many gentlemen who believe, as an article of faith, that if the volume of oversea trade is large, therefore by some inevitable ordinance of Providence, every man in this country who is ready to work gets work. It is not so. The very year in which oversea trade has been highest affords the best reason for seeking something more than oversea trade in order to deal with the evils of unemployment. In the year 1907, when the oversea trade was £1,000,000,000 sterling, there was a great deal of unemployment. Among the members of the trade unions I believe it amounted to 4 per cent. I am told that the volume of oversea trade exceeds in value the volume of 1907. It has been put at £1,200,000,000, and even now there is unemployment among the trade unionists of this country. Surely that is a fact which ought not to excite derision. Surely that is a fact that demands the attention of all students of economics and of all legislators in this House, no matter what economic views they profess, or to what party they belong. But attention will be distracted, and necessarily distracted, from that issue, unless the Prime Minister is prepared to abandon the course on which he has embarked.
So it is also with those great questions of imperial union and defence. We may differ upon that question, but everybody desires that the Empire should remain united. Some applaud one plan some another, but all parties agree that great events are taking place which demand attention, and that by one expedient or another the union of the Empire is to be maintained. And so with defence. We hold that large additional sums should be devoted to the construction of the Navy. The hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) has been saying this evening that nothing of the kind should take place. Here are three questions—unemployment, imperial union, and defence—in which all are deeply interested, although they differ, which surely must be solved if this country is to be saved. And the attention of people in this country, whatever view they may hold, is distracted from these vital urgent questions of unemployment, imperial union, and defence, in order that the Prime Minister may pursue this revolutionary programme, without, I imagine, any hope that he can succeed or that if he succeeds his success will be permanent. And the melancholy part is that it should be persisted 118 in, although we are all agreed that some change, and, indeed, some drastic change is needed in the Constitution. We for our part submit that nothing justifies the imputation of ill-faith against those with whom I act in this matter, and if this controversy, which must be bitter and prolonged, is to be proceeded in with anything like the spirit which ought to be observed, and which I have sought to observe in dealing with matters of such great import then let us, at any rate, accept the undoubted statements of men whose honour has never been impeached, and ought not to be. Great changes in the constitution are admitted to be necessary by the Leaders of the party to which I have the honour to belong. But we say that whatever changes are brought into being we must have a constitution still consistent with the liberty of the people, as we understand it, and as I have tried to explain it, to see grave measures before they are introduced, and to have a say upon great measures before they are passed into law; and we say we must have a constitution which is consistent with the leadership of the Empire which is now held by this country. If that constitution is to last—and it is only by having a constitution that will last that you can avoid the delay of measures on which we agree, and the distraction of public attention from vital urgent measures—it must be based upon agreement. Otherwise it cannot last. We are entitled to insist that the change in the constitution, since we have no written constitution, must be determined by not universal, but by general agreement, and not dictated by a coalition majority. It is thus, and thus only, that we can hope to attain—and I suppose that is the hope of all patriotic politicians no matter what their creed may be—to a national policy that will safeguard the employment of our people at home and ensure the continued existence of our Empire over which they preside.
§ Mr. LEES SMITH
The right hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Wyndham) has conveyed that all that is before this House is the Parliament Bill, and that no details have been given of such a Second Chamber as may ultimately succeed it. The reply which occurred to my mind when I heard that argument used by the Leader of the Opposition this afternoon was this, that the proper time for the Government and for Members on this side of the House to begin thinking about the second part of the fortress is after we have won the 119 first. I admit that further changes may be necessary, but the dominating factor of the situation which the Government have to consider is that the Leader of the Opposition is in possession of an unreformed House of Lords, and if we were to proceed to the consideration of these further changes, he would be manœuvring us into a position in which, while we were engaged in that consideration, he would hold the rest of the fortress in our rear. Our Constituents have sent us here to carry out the plain and simple duty of securing the ground that we have won, and forcing this Veto proposal through. When we have done that, then I think we shall command the fortress now held by the Leader of the Opposition, with a ten-ton gun, and then we shall be able to make further changes, only such changes as may be carried out will have to be changes which the House of Commons wants, and not changes which the House of Lords wants. Surely, the issue between us is not whether there should be a complete scheme or not, but as to whether the future House of Lords should depend upon the decision of this responsible branch of the Legislature, or whether it should be left to the House of Lords, the very institution which is on its trial. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover (Mr. Wyndham) told us that the House of Lords fulfilled the function of referring to the electorate any hasty measure on which the opinion of the people was doubtful. Let me put that to the test by the very proposal which hon. Members are making at present. The Unionist party told the country quite clearly at the last election that if they were returned to power they would thrust the ramrod of Referendum into the machinery of the British Constitution. I hope we shall have a good many opportunities of discussing the merits of the question, but I put this to the right hon. Gentleman, that the Referendum is a proposal compared with which our Veto propositions are mere milk and water.
It may be for good or it may be for ill, but no one will for a moment deny that the Referendum will be a dissolvent of our peculiar system of Cabinet Government, regulated by unwritten constitutional understanding, and I am not discussing the merits of it—I am referring to it as an example of hasty propositions. There is no proposal in the world on which we have so little experience to guide us. It has been 120 attempted in only one small European State, in some of the States of the American Union, and to a very limited extent in a single British colony. In this country, until the Opposition took it up, it has been upon the programme of the most extreme party known to British politics a party which has only one representative in the House, a party which a Labour Member describes as the Ishmaelite party, namely, the Socialist party. This proposal, borrowed by the Opposition from the Social Democratic party, was only before the country for five weeks. If ever there was a case of a hasty and ill-considered proposition it was this. Everybody in this House knows that the House of Lords had already pledged themselves if the Unionist party succeeded in snatching a majority, that they would swallow the Referendum without any contortions at all. Yet, in face of that, the Leader of the Opposition has told us, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover calmly gets up and tells us that the House of Lords stands as a barrier between the nation and hasty, ill-considered legislation. There was one other argument which fell from an hon. Member for Ulster. (Mr. Lonsdale), and which has been frequently used in the country. He told the House that we had behind us no moral force for a revolutionary measure such as we proposed because, apart from the Irish Members, and apart from the Labour Members, we had only a bare majority, and that we on this side and the Unionist side were equal in strength. What does that argument mean? It means that because this question is so vital that for that reason every elector who voted for an Irish Nationalist, and every elector who voted for a Labour Member, is to be disfranchised. His vote is not to count, and he is to be put outside the pale of the Constitution. When the Irish Members opposed the Government on the Education Bill, then one Irish vote was just as good as one English vote. When the Irish Members seemed likely to oppose the Whiskey Duties of the Budget. One Irish vote was just as good as one English vote. When the Labour Members seemed likely to play into the hands of the Opposition by attacking the Government on a War Office contract, then one Labour vote was just as good as one Unionist vote, but when 120 Irish and Labour Members support the Government in their attack upon the House of Lords, then we are suddenly told that 120 Irish and Labour votes are equal to nothing at all. The hon. Member for 121 Ulster (Mr. Lonsdale) made a statement which I have since taken the trouble to inquire into. He told us, and repeated here what I remember reading in a public speech of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire (Mr. Austen Chamberlain), that the Unionist party and the Liberal party in this House, excluding all the Labour and Irish Members, were practically equal.
§ Mr. LONSDALE
I said nothing of the kind. I said as regards England, that England returned to this House 239 Unionists and 190 Radicals. I said nothing about them being equal.
§ Mr. LONSDALE
No, on the contrary, I stated there were thirty-five representatives of Labour from England and one Nationalist, and that there was a substantial majority in opposition to the proposals of the Government.
§ Mr. LEES SMITH
Then the argument which I used at the beginning of my speech applies in this case. The hon. Gentleman contends that those who voted for the Labour Members do not count, and they are therefore to be disfranchised. I should 122 be more impressed with the hon. Gentleman's arguments, and with several other arguments which have been used on that side of the House, if I had not heard them all before. We were told at exactly the same period last year, in precisely similar terms, that we were a mere coalition; that we were a number of warring entities, without any moral force behind us; that the country had refused to accept our Budget; and that we had been defeated. But the Budget is to-day the law of the land, and here we are again. The fact is, when the House of Lords rejected the Budget it gambled for a great stake, and it lost. It has lost decisively; it has lost twice; and just as, in spite of any amount of juggling with the majority, it finally had to pass the Budget, so will it equally certainly have now to pay the price of the gamble upon which it embarked and lost.
§ ADJOURNMENT.—Resolved, "That this House do now adjourn."—[The Prime Minister.]
§ Adjourned accordingly at Two minutes before Eleven o'clock.