HC Deb 09 November 1911 vol 30 cc1942-9

I rise to call the attention of the Government to a speech which was delivered last evening by the right hon. and learned Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool (Mr. F. E. Smith). I propose to quote a few words of that speech. [HON. MEMBERS: "Read the whole of it."]—the whole of the words of that speech which appeared in the "Morning Post" of to-day. I would gladly quote more if more had appeared:— Mr. F. E. Smith, in responding, said that in the last few months they had realised that in order to gain a party triumph, their opponents would not have shrunk from sacrificing the Canadian Empire. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I pause in reading the extract to observe that hon. Gentleman opposite cheer on very slight provocation, for this passage, if it means anything at all, contains a most serious insult to the whole of the Canadian nation. And the supreme shame of that sacrifice was best realised when they remembered that the one man who assisted to draft the foreword of the Reciprocity treaty was our own Ambassador, Mr. Bryce. The word "hisses" follows in brackets. The remarks that I have to make upon this matter may be compressed into very few sentences. I observe, first, that they were made by a Member of this House, who is one of His Majesty's Privy Councillors. They were made of a great statesman—[HON. MEMBERS: "Name."]—who represents not a party but his Sovereign and the entire nation, and they suggest that this statesman, occupying this position as the representative of His Majesty's Government and of the nation, has been guilty of conduct unworthy of his office. That I think is stating the meaning of this passage in very mild language. Now I respectfully invite the Government to state if there is any justification whatever for the passage I have read for this attack upon the Ambassador, and if there is not and if there is no justification and if it has simply been made in order to appeal to ignorant prejudice, then, Sir, I protest against these crude insults being levelled against a statesman who has fulfilled the duties of his high office in so loyal a spirit, and who is revered, not only throughout this country, but in the country where he holds his position.


I should like to add a few words in regard to what my hon. Friend has brought before the attention of the Government. I think it is a serious matter that a representative of His Majesty in a foreign country should be subjected to what amounts to an insult. Our Civil servants and administrators and foreign representatives in distant countries must be from time to time subjected to criticism and even to censure. [HON. MEMBERS: "Milner."] I think they ought to be protected in some way from the grosser forms of malevolent abuse. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool (Mr. F. E. Smith) is not just a raw Tory candidate. I saw him described in one of the Tory newspapers as "the brilliant young leader from the North." I do not want to anticipate Monday's events, but anyhow I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that he does hold the responsible position of Privy Councillor and that his words must carry some weight and that in attacking a representative abroad who is unable to defend himself either by his voice or by his pen he is showing an extraordinary lack of good taste, and also shows no sense of responsibility. I have not seen any more of the account of the speech that my hon. Friend has read out, but knowing the right hon. Gentleman's predisposition for introducing personalities into all his speeches, I think a full report would justify my hon. Friend in bringing the matter before the House. He has chosen a man who, after all, will be remembered in the United States and this country—[HON. MEMBERS: "Canada"]—as one who has done more to cement the close ties of friendship between us and the United States than any man alive, a man whose memory will be honoured on both sides of the Atlantic and one who, after all, has only been carrying out the wishes of the Government. It was obvious, therefore, that the attack should have been brought against the Government and not against him. The Government are here to answer any attack which may be made against their policy. Mr. Bryce is at Washington, and cannot answer personal attacks that are made against him, and I have great pleasure in supporting my hon. Friend in bringing this matter to the notice of the House.


I hope my hon. Friends and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Walton Division will not think it any discourtesy that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is not here at the present time. The work of the Foreign Department is unusually heavy just now, and my right hon. Friend has even more important things to do than to attend to the utterances of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Walton Division. I gather my hon. Friends complain of and wish to bring to the notice of the House two statements made in a speech last night. The first was this:— In order to gain a Party triumph, their opponents would not have shrunk from sacrificing the Canadian Empire. I do not think that has any reference to anything which the Government has done. I must take exception, if I may, to a statement made by the hon. Member for Stirling Burghs (Mr. Ponsonby). Mr. Bryce was not carrying out the wishes of the Government The only action taken by the Government was the purely negative one of not preventing our Ambassador at Washington from lending his good offices to bring together two great countries which desired to make a reciprocal arrangement between themselves. It seems to me, that being so, the only thing that statement can mean is that the Canadian Government wished to sacrifice the Canadian Empire; in other words, they were acting traitorously to the Crown. I think I need not comment on that suggestion. I do not believe any one even in the audience of the right hon. Gentleman was addressing, believes it for a single moment. I pass on to the second statement, which was this:— and the supreme shame of that sacrifice was best realised when they remembered that the one man who assisted to draft the foreword of the reciprocity treaty, was our own Ambassador. Mr. Bryce. That statement being followed by hisses. The one thing I have to say with regard to that is that there was no treaty at all, and therefore no foreword. What happened, as any Member will see if he refers to Command Paper 5523, was simply this: The Canadian representatives, Mr. Fielden and Mr. Paterson, wrote a letter to Mr. Knox, the representative of the United States, forwarding the schedules which they had agreed upon, and saying they had also agreed that both countries should recommend the adoption of such legislation as might be necessary to give effect to the schedules. When Mr. Fielden and Mr. Paterson had written that letter there was a simple reply from Mr. Knox on behalf of the United States saying that Mr. Fielden's letter was entirely in accordance with the position as Mr. Knox understood it. That was all. There was no diplomatic instrument at all, and therefore there was no foreword which Mr. Bryce could have assisted in drafting, and I am at a loss to understand what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Walton Division is referring to when he refers, firstly, to the treaty and secondly, to the foreword. Considering the matter was conducted in the way I have described, it may be worth while to state once again to the House the part which was really taken in this matter by Mr. Bryce. It has been stated clearly more than once, and notably in answers given by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, on 20th and 28th February last. Mr. Bryce followed the custom of previous Ambassadors in offering his assistance to Canadian Ministers in their negotiations at Washington. That had been frequently done, and had always been well received and always useful, and it was so in this case. In all his communications with the Canadian Ministers he kept both Canadian and British interests in view. That was fully appreciated by the Canadian representative, and his assistance was therefore of use both to Canada and to the United States. Seriously, I am at a loss to understand what it is the right hon. Gentleman objects to. If our Ambassadors are not to offer their services in negotiations between our self-governing Dominions and foreign Powers, what are they to do? Are they to oppose any negotiations which our Dominions may wish to enter into with other countries? Surely not. It therefore appears to me and to the Government that the line taken by Mr. Bryce in accordance with the usual practice and in accordance with what has often previously happened when other persons have been our Ambassadors at Washington was the only possible line which the British Ambassador could take, particularly in view of the fact that he kept British interests always in view, and therefore there is no possible line of criticism of his conduct. I trust, therefore—I do not know how it appeals to the House—that the utterances of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Walton Division will be accepted as those of a specially gifted after-dinner speaker, and leave it there.


I am indebted to the courtesy of the hon. Gentleman who introduced this subject to the House for having given me notice of his intention and enabled me to prepare myself to make a suitable reply. I make no complaint of the speech with which the hon. Gentleman introduced the subject to the House, and to the pompous condemnations of the Seconder, it is still less necessary I should attempt to reply, as he has been completely repudiated in his principal point by the Minister who has just spoken The report which has been attributed to me is in the main accurate, but I did think the House which has experience of the value of verbal accuracy of a report condensed in five lines of a speech which took from twenty-five to thirty minutes to deliver, would have been a little more careful before accepting as verbally accurate the statements contained in it. I never used the word "foreword" in my life, and I am amazed that any lawyer could have imagined that any other lawyer could have done so in dealing with a Treaty. It is novel to use such language in connection with a Treaty, and I hope I shall never use such absurd language in speaking of a Treaty. What I did say was "the supreme shame of that sacrifice was best realised when they remembered that the one man who assisted forward the reciprocity was our own Ambassador—Mr. Bryce." That disposes of the hon. Gentleman's brilliant point that there was no "foreword" and no Treaty.

As I propose to repeat elsewhere with great particularity and with great emphasis what I said last night it is due I should explain to the House the grounds which appear to justify my intention. It has been made abundantly clear by the Government in this House that Mr. Bryce assisted the negotiation of this Treaty, and that that assistance was carried out with the approval of the Home Government. We have the statement of the Canadian Postmaster-General as to the character of that assistance, and whether it was of the purely formal and perfunctory nature which the hon. Gentleman suggests. The Canadian Postmaster-General said the arrangement could not be pronounced unfriendly to England, because it had been approved by the Government and was made with the assistance of Mr. Bryce, the British Ambassador at Washington. This argument, as everybody who was present at the Canadian elections or who read of them knows, was used broadcast on Canadian platforms to recommend the reciprocity treaty to the citizens of Canada. It comes to this: Our approval, the approval of Mr. Bryce, was used as an argument to induce the Canadians to accept the treaty; in other words, the assistance of Mr. Bryce was not merely formal, it was used to commit the British Government, without an appeal either to the people of Britain or to the people of Canada, to support the reciprocity treaty between the United States and Canada. I used the word "shameful," and I say that no more shameful transaction was ever perpetrated. Consider the position of a Canadian opponent of the reciprocity treaty who goes forward at the election and says, "I object to this treaty, because it will injure England." The Government, through Mr. Bryce, have enabled a Canadian supporter of the treaty to say, "No, the English Government says it will not injure Canada." That is the argument which was used freely at the last election, and it was based most improperly upon the diplomatic intervention in the discussion of that treaty.

Mr. Bryce is a very distinguished man. I do not dissent from a single word said in praise of Mr. Bryce, but I would make this observation upon him, that he is so obsessed by inveterate economic prejudice that he cannot keep his Cobden Club copybook maxims out of his State Papers. This is what he said in the very document the hon. Gentleman suggested that I might have read, and which I can assure him I did read:— The arrangement rests on the growing realisation that a high tariff wall between contiguous countries whose products are exchangable, is an injury to both I can get better stuff than that from a Free Trade penny pamphlet. To do the Ambassador justice, he is at least consistent. He has ignored in that sentence, which is contained in this State Paper, the reflection which the people of Canada have not ignored, that sometimes Cobden Club maxims come into competition with the spirit of nationalism. The British Ambassador is fully consistent with his literary record. He wrote years ago a passage—I do not know whether it has been modified in the last edition—in the "American Commonwealth" as follows:— The material growth of Canada would probably be quickened by union, and the conception of a commercial union might, if carried out, lead to a political union, indeed, it is hard to see how otherwise Canada could have her fair share in adjusting such tariff changes as might from time to time become necessary. 11.0 P.M.

Does anybody imagine that the Government, when they allowed their Ambassador to display this unusual activity in negotiating this treaty, were thinking of Canada and Canadian feeling? If they were, one can only condole with their abysmal ignorance of the principal English Colony. They were thinking, and thinking only, of discovering, if they could, a new and effective argument in this country against Tariff Reform. I read, and it would otherwise be incredible if it were not confirmed by the statements made by the Prime Minister, in "The Times" of 11th February, 1911, a report of a speech made by Mr. Borassa. Mr. Borassa explained that the reciprocity between Canada and the United States would furnish the Asquith Government with the argument that— with Canada, the most important of the British dominions already bound by a reciprocity treaty to a foreign country, the movement for Imperial preference was absolutely doomed. That was the argument when the Debate took place in this House on the subject of reciprocity. I remember hearing the hon. Member for Swansea (Sir Alfred Mond) say, "I open my arms to Canadian Free Traders." Strange as it may seem, this alluring invitation was declined by the people of Canada. The Prime Minister, speaking later in the same Debate, said:— I think we are celebrating the obsequies of that which used to be called Imperial Preference. The pæan of rejoicing was as indecent as it was premature. It shows the motive which underlay the efforts of the Government, and is anyone suggesting that I am exceeding the limits of legitimate controversy if I draw the inference that the Minister in Washington, who was formerly a colleague and follower of the Prime Minister, shared his view at the time he was giving the assistance which was used to force through the reciprocity treaty in Canada, that he was celebrating the obsequies of Imperial Preference. The obsequies did not come off.


They came off yesterday.


That shows the sense which the hon. Gentleman and his Friends have of the seriousness of the complaint made and how closely they desire to adhere to the subject of it I was pointing out that this was a funeral that failed. The Prime Minister has attended at least five funerals of Tariff Reform, and I have happened to cut out the speeches in which he has recorded the circumstance. It would add to his enjoyment if the next time he made sure of his corpse. I have only to say in conclusion that the words I used were these, and the House will hear them again:— The supreme shame of that sacrifice of the Canadian Empire was best realised when they remembered that the one man who assisted to forward the reciprocity treaty was our own Ambassador, Mr. Bryce. I said it last night, and I shall continue to say it, and to say it with even greater emphasis until I am convinced, by better arguments than I have heard to-night, that in so saying I am exceeding the limits of fair controversy.

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of 24th October, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Five minutes past Eleven of the clock.