§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Major TRYON
I propose to raise a question which comes, I think, appropriately from the Back Benches, because I know that there are Members in every part of the House who feel very strongly that this question is one which concerns us. I hope, therefore, to speak, not for any party or policy, but simply as a Member of the House of Commons. I wish to urge upon the Government that, with the advent of Peace, we should return to the normal constitutional methods of government by a reconstituted and responsible Cabinet, and that decisions should be made by the Executive, and receive their authority by the approval and sanction of Parliament. I urge that we should abandon, as soon as we can, Government by Orders in Council, by the decrees of controllers, and by Royal Commissions; and I further urge the vital importance of economy. I am perfectly well aware that, although the War is over, the effects of the War are still with us, and that it is not possible to withdraw all this control at once. I know, for instance, that in regard to food we may be faced with the necessity for control for some time to come; and it is possible that circumstances may make the continued control of coal necessary, in order that what little there is may be fairly distributed among the population and industries of the country. All I urge is that it should be the settled determination of the Government, now that Peace has come, to work steadily back to the old historic, traditional, Parliamentary methods of government, and to abandon as far as possible the system of Orders in Council and similar methods.
I know that we are in difficult circumstances. I know the fearful work that there must be upon all members of the Government, and I should think it is worse now in many ways than during the period of the War. But there is one very great danger threatening us, and that is 600 the threat to the whole government of this country from the Triple Alliance. That is a matter which must be dealt with by the way in which the country is administered. It is a threat to take the system of trade unions—so necessary and valuable for legitimate negotiations—and convert it into a weapon of political warfare. It is an attempt by a section of the community to dictate to the whole. It is an attempt to coerce the community by withholding supplies. It is, above all, a threat to the authority of Parliament. Therefore, I urge upon the Government, with all the energy at my command, that we should revert as much as possible to Parliamentary methods, letting the people realise that it is to Parliament that they should go and state their grievances, and that they should support the members of the Labour party in the House of Commons who believe that the proper way to remedy those grievances is to get elected to Parliament and come down and put those grievances before the House and the country. The Labour party has not been successful. They may be in some future election, but my point is, that the way to carry out a policy is through Parliament, and not by threats to the whole stability of the State.
In establishing the necessary administration for meeting the attack, we must see at what point it is aimed. I do not myself believe that the policies put forward are the real reason. When men seek to cut off the supplies of food from our large towns, I do not believe much in their enthusiasm for raising the blockade of Germany. When I hear them denouncing the evils of secret diplomacy, I cannot help remembering that they themselves meet and deliberate in secret, and I do not wonder that they have to do so. When I find them talking of the peaceful settlement of international disputes, I cannot help remembering that these are the men who are seeking to settle our internal affairs by methods of violence. I believe that we in this House, including the Labour party, are vitally interested in this question, because it is to Parliament that the nation should look for the settlement of these questions. We want to do everything we can to establish the authority of Parliament, and to show that this Government, or any future Government, works through the authority of Parliament by the old traditional Parliamentary system of our country, and not through controllers or edicts of any kind. The Parliamentary Government of our country is a very pre- 601 cious heritage. It has been brought up by this nation, and we have given it to the whole world. It is at this moment being challenged by a system which is a pure doctrine of force, coming, not from Britain, but from Prussia. Against that doctrine of force, from wherever it comes, we must stand as supporters of constitutional government; we must stand for Parliamentary action. That is why I think the Government, in their administration, should bear in mind the importance of making the whole country look to Parliament for what they want. The nation should realise that the Labour party who come here are the people to whom it should look, and not those who try to get policies adopted by unconstitutional means.
I think the Government have been unconsciously playing into the hands of the extremists, and letting down to some extent the more moderate party in the country. We are having our policies far too much settled by Royal Commissions. I am aware that, technically speaking, the sanction of this House is necessary, but nobody can have watched the proceedings of the late lamented Coal Commission without noticing that the country has looked to the Coal Commission as the body which has been settling its future policy. The country has the impression that its policy is settled by Commissions and not by this House. Let Royal Commissions collect facts, by all means, but I urge that we should work less and less through Royal Commissions and more and more through this House in regard to matters of policy. I do not claim by privilege or right to sit on Royal Commissions. I am not a rejected candidate. I think that many Members in all parts of the House must during the last few months have watched with amazement and bewilderment the dictation and domination of the affairs and the policy of the country by a group of three men who have nothing in common except that all of them have been rejected as candidates for Parliament; and they are led, most appropriately, by a man who, in such a campaign as that, would naturally lead, owing to the fact that he has been rejected seven times. The result is that the country is looking to extremists, and not to Parliament. The country is talking of what these men say at Royal Commissions, where, at the national expense, they conduct, in their judicial capacity, political campaigns and make political speeches.
602 The country is looking away from the proper Labour party on either side of this House, and is getting not to look to Parliament, but to outside influences, for the settlement of its affairs. I believe that that is a grave peril in time of emergency. It suggests for these men an authority which they do not possess, and I suggest to them that, if they want to dictate the policy of this country, their proper method is to get elected to Parliament, and to put forward their views in the place where they ought properly to be put forward, and not to try to dictate the policy of the country on Royal Commissions. This is at the foundation of all the perils that are ahead of us. I believe that any Government will be safer in the troublous times of the next few months if they get more into touch with Parliament, and base their action more on proper Parliamentary methods and less on the acts of controllers and on arbitrary Orders in Council, showing that people who are trying to dictate the policy of the country by other means, including intimidation by the Triple Alliance, are not going to be listened to. The whole stability of our nation is at stake. The whole heritage of our people and the right to govern themselves is being threatened by this attempt to coerce the community by a section of the workers, and the answer is for the Government to get into touch with the House of Commons, and base everything they do on the normal, traditional policy of Parliamentary action.
What I am putting forward now is not in the interest of any particular policy or party. I can conceive no greater danger to a Labour Government than the position we are in to-day. I believe they would be in far greater danger than we are, because certain necessary methods by which, we might uphold the Government of the State, such as the use of the police, might be taken away from them by some of their own proposals. I think this is a position of the very greatest danger, and the solution lies, as I have said, in the restoration of Parliamentary Government in this House; and I venture to suggest that the Government should do everything in their power to restore Parliamentary control and Parliamentary methods of procedure. I am not going into the question of economy at length. I believe it to be vital, but I think that other speakers will deal with the subject. I would, however, say that some of the very largest items of expenditure to which this country is committed 603 are in connection with policies to which the Government were committed—in war-tame, I admit—before this House was ever consulted, and we have been faced with the position, not of being asked to approve a policy and vote money, but of having the bill presented to us for a policy which has been working in the country for some time before Parliament was consulted. There is the bread subsidy, for instance. I take this as an example because it is arguable that it was a good way of dealing with a great emergency; but it was adopted by the Government, and was working long before this House was asked for its opinion on it. And this is not the only matter to which the House is committed. There are four items of expenditure, averaging £50,000,000 each, to all of which we were committed by the action of the Government before the House was ever consulted. I urge that this question of Parliamentary control should also apply to finance. I am not on Committee C, but I do not think that most of the members of Committee C would regard that as a satisfactory method of exercising Parliamentary control. I am not anxious to put forward my own views, but merely to raise this question and get from other hon. Members more valuable expressions of opinion on this difficult constitutional question. There is not the least doubt that the object of the extremists is to overthrow Parliament.
Those who watch the history of revolutions in other countries would, I think, say that the critical moment in the history of these revolutions comes at the point where Parliamentary authority is checked. It has been the overthrow of Parliament itself which has brought ruin upon Russia and many other countries. It has been the overthrow of the firmest foundation for all constitutional authority, and that is the government of the people by themselves through their elected representatives. That is where the crisis occurs, and when I know that revolutionists are striking at this House, and are anxious to overthrow the whole government of the country, I should like to enter as emphatic a protest as I can against the way in which a number of people, who talk as if they were supporters of law and order, who have everything to lose if there is disaster, never lose an opportunity of running down every Member of the House and everything to do with the House of Commons. I have seen in the Press violent denunciations of 604 the Members of the House. I remember seeing how we were all breaking our pledges, whereas the newly-elected House had not met, and we had not at the moment had an opportunity of raising those pledges. When we see attacks of that unfair kind made upon all Members of Parliament, I hope I am not wrong in making some protest against the line of thought in the Press and in private conversation which is tending to undermine the only proper foundation for government in this country, and which is unconsciously undermining and destroying the proper authority of government.
Colonel LAMBERT WARD
I think it would be well before this House goes into Recess to obtain from the Government some definite line upon which they intend to effect those economies without which in a very short time this country will be plunged into bankruptcy. I do not think it would be sufficient to obtain from them a mere general assurance that it is hoped to effect those economics in some general way, because that will not restore the confidence of the business classes of the community, and unless it is restored we cannot expect to see that revival of trade and business which is so essential to the welfare and future prosperity of this country. Although to all intents and purposes the War has been over for some time, we are still pouring out money at the rate of £4,500,000 a day, a sum so colossal that to the ordinary mind it ceases almost to have any meaning. A short time ago the issue of the Victory Loan was closed. The Leader of the House a few nights ago said he considered that Loan a great success, and he congratulated the Chancellor of the Exchequer and all those who had taken part in the work of promoting it on their success, and yet the whole amount of new money which it obtained would be spent in financing this country in the short space of three and a half months. It is absolutely vital that expenditure should be reduced by at least 50 per cent, before we can claim to have taken even the first step towards re-establishing national credit in the markets of the world. I think it would be of the greatest possible advantage to the trade of the country if some definite scheme could be produced of how the Government intend to proceed with this very difficult task. It would go further than anything else I can suggest to allay that anxiety which is now felt in the country, and which 605 I know is felt amongst those hard-headed business men of the big Yorkshire city which I represent—an anxiety lest the Government in desperation should turn towards some extensive scheme of universal or general nationalisation in the hope of assisting the present financial position of the country. Many people, whether rightly or wrongly, read in the Ways and Communications Bill an attempt by the Government to nationalise the railways. Many people read, in the present silence of the Government on this subject, an attempt to introduce a still further and still more extensive scheme of general nationalisation. This is not the time, when trade is faltering and our credit is failing, to embark upon schemes which previous experience has shown only too well to be financial failures. After all, nationalisation is only a form of Government control, a state of affairs which we have experienced for more than three years. The state of war which we have just passed through has, perhaps, rendered it necessary, but it is not a condition of things which as a permanency I or anyone else would look forward to with any degree of pleasurable anticipation. I think most people who approach this subject with an open and unbiassed mind will agree that hitherto all experiments in nationalisation have been a failure, in that they have not provided the employés with an appreciably higher standard of living and that they have increased the cost enormously both to the consumer and to the taxpayer. In short, the experiments which this country has made hitherto in nationalisation—and we have made several already—have tended to prove four things, first, that the conditions of employment are little better than those given by private employers, she employés are no more contented or satisfied, the service from the point of view of the general public is distinctly worse, and the cost to the consumer and the taxpayer is largely increased. Let us glance through the various experiments in nationalisation which have been recently made.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I do not see how that subject is relevent. No nationalisation of any property can take place without an Act of Parliament. We cannot on this occasion discuss future legislation. We are confined on this occasion to administration.
§ Lord R. CECIL
Would it be in order to press the Government to make a declaration of their policy, which is an executive act?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I do not think they want much pressing. I have heard the Leader of the House say every other day he was giving an answer on that very point. He said, before the end of the Session, the Government were going to make a statement.
§ Lord R. CECIL
I am merely asking whether in point of fact it is not open to Members of Parliament, who desire to know when the Government are going to make that statement, to press upon them the importance from the executive point of view of making a statement as early as possible in order to quieten agitation in the country. I am not discussing whether it is desirable.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It might be in order, no doubt, but it would really be superfluous. The question has been asked over and over again, according to the Leader of the House, and the answer has been repeatedly given.
§ Lord R. CECIL
If I had to argue the desirability of the proposition, I would point out that we have been wholly unable to obtain from the Government any indication of the day on which they are going to do it. For all we knew, they may be going to do it on the last day of the Session, when it will be perfectly impossible for the House to discuss it. There are very many Members who feel very strongly indeed that the Government are playing with this question and are grossly failing in their duty.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That may be. All I say is that the matter cannot be discussed now, because it would involve legislation.
I will merely endeavour to obtain from the Government some definite statement as to how they intend to curtail the expenditure which is going on at present, at what I think everyone considers a most excessive rate, and I do not 607 see how the country can possibly afford to continue it for an indefinite time. If we can succeed in persuading them to make this statement it would certainly relieve the anxiety of many business men and of almost every business community throughout the country, if at the same time they could see their way to let the House definitely understand that, whatever steps they may take to curtail the expenditure, experiments in nationalisation will not be made, and they will not plunge this country into a series of expensive experiments which can only lead to financial disaster.
Sir J. WALTON
Our present financial position is one of extreme gravity, and I desire to urge upon the Government the importance of presenting an up-to-date balance-sheet showing clearly the actual estimated expenditure and revenue for the year 1919–20 entirely separate from the accounts of previous years, the probable total of our national indebtedness at the end of the current year, and how they propose to discharge these enormous obligations. This is the only way to bring home to the people of the country the real financial position in which we stand and the urgent necessity for the practice of rigid economy, not only on the part of the Government, but on the part of every individual member of the nation, if we are to avoid at no far-distant date national bankruptcy. May I refer to what now appears to be the expenditure which will be incurred in 1919–20? The Budget stated £1,435,000,000, but there were Appropriations-in-Aid of £254,000,000 written off in the £1,435,000,000, and this £254,000,000 was derived from the sale of war material created by expenditure in previous years, and was therefore a realisation of assets belonging to previous years, which ought to have been directly written off the floating debt of the country, and not mixed up with the accounts of 1919–20 at alt. The same applied on the other side of the account when we were told that the revenue would be £1,201,000,000, and that included £200,000,000 derived from the sale of war material which was to take place in the current year. That is a realisation arising from expenditure in previous years also, and also ought to be written off the floating debt of the country. That £454,000,000 requires to be added to the £1.435,000,000, and makes the expenditure very much greater, but the way I treat it 608 is to take it off the £1,201,000,000, and to say that the revenue, according to the the Government's own showing, is £1,011,000,000, and that leaves a deficit of £688,000,000, and not of £233,000,000, as claimed by the Government.
But the situation has been further changed since the Budget. There is a supplementary coal bill of £26,000,000 being passed through the House. There was a Supplementary Estimate on the 30th of June of no less than £75,000,000, though the Budget was only introduced at the end of April. There is now announced, this week, an addition of £25,000,000 in pensions. They are to be £98,000,000 instead of £73,000,000. I do not begrudge that £25,000,000 expenditure, because the first duty of the nation is to deal generously with those who have become cripples, or who have left dependants to be provided for by fighting in the service of their country and saving their country. But still we have got to find the money. In addition, there is the change in exchange that has taken place. America lent us £800,000,000. A month ago we could have paid off that £800,000,000 with £800,000,000 of British money, but within a month the exchange has fallen; it fell 12¾ per cent., and even to-day, when it has improved slightly, it is 10 per cent. below what it was a month ago. That means that it would take us to-day £880,000,000 to discharge that £800,000,000. That is £80,000,000 more, and £4,000,000 more in interest alone, so that instead of £40,000,000, the interest will be £44,000,000. Those extra new items since the Budget was introduced amount to no less than £212,000,000, and I say, beyond contradiction, that the total deficit, as regards actual expenditure, on the real revenue, for the year 1919–20, as now ascertained, is close upon £500,000,000.
It is true that we had the Victory Loan, and, as the hon. Member opposite stated, it was claimed as a great success. It was to a certain extent a success. We got £485,000,000 of new money, and we rejoice in this success. But it is wholly inadequate if we are going to provide properly for the financial needs of the current year. Up to the 2nd of August we had received against that £485,000,000 of new money no less than £385,000,000, but we still have £750,000,000 of short-dated Treasury Bills and £433,000,000 of Ways and Means balances owing to the Bank of England. There are no less than £1,200,000,000 of short-dated obligations to be raised, if you 609 deduct the remaining £101,000,000 new money that is left to come from the Loan— £1,200,000,000 of obligations falling due in the current year. I want to know how the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposes to raise this money. Not only that, but we have outstanding to-day £250,000,000 of Exchequer Bonds, short-dated, comparatively; we have £344,000,000 of War Savings Certificates, all short-dated, many falling due in 1921; we have got National War Bonds for five, seven, and ten years, all comparatively short-dated. Therefore the financial position to-day is more serious than it has ever been before, and the fact is that we shall need two more Loans as successful as the Victory Loan to square our accounts to the 31st of March next. There are the £1,200,000,000 short-dated obligations due in the current year, and then we still have the £593,000,000 of Exchequer Bonds and War Savings Certificates and those short-dated Loans to which I have referred. The time has come when the country ought to be told the plain truth about our financial position and when we ought to have no matters put off as they have been, but we ought to have from the Chancellor of the Exchequer a fresh statement, showing fully what are our obligations and how we propose to discharge them.
Then the question of subsidies also arises. These subsidies are outside our ordinary expenditure altogether. They are excrescences, as it were. Sixty million pounds we are told is the deficit on railways. How that is arrived at heaven only knows! We have had question after question in this House to ascertain how it is arrived at, but personally I am thankful to believe that it will not be nearly £60,000,000. The latest statement is that for the traffic carried on their account the Government have paid less to the railway companies to the end of 1918 by £16,760,000 than they would have paid if the traffic had been carried at prewar rates, but the Government tell us that there will be a deficit of. £60,000,000, made up chiefly of the extra cost of labour. Then there is the £46,000,000 for coal, and if the taxpayers pay that it will have to be added also, but at present it is proposed that that should be got by raising the price 6s. a ton. But excluding the £46,000,000 for coal mines we have to contemplate a further addition for subsidising coastal steamers. That is the latest idea of a subsidy, and we have not the smallest idea, of what it will cost. I submit that all these subsidies are absolutely unsound as finance and that we 610 shall never reach a sound financial position until they are completely swept away. I believe that the charges made, for instance, on railways, should be such as would cover the cost of working the lines of railways with a reasonable return to the shareholders, and that the price of coal should be so fixed that it would cover the cost of its production. How does the Chancellor of the Exchequer propose to deal with this matter of subsidy? Why, the subsidies amount to more than our total national expenditure in pre-war days, which was something under £200,000,000!
Another question of importance is that of currency. I not only have asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer how he proposes to deal with the matter of exchange, but also about currency notes. The Chancellor has told us the amount of legal tender existing in this country, which is two or three times what it was before the War. They have printed £342,000,000 of currency notes, £l and 10s. notes, and these have only got a backing of £28,500,000 of gold. I want to know what these currency notes stand against? We criticised Germany when they carried on the War there by setting the printing machinery to work and striking off paper money that passed as legal tender in Germany. We said that they were in an unsound financial position. Are we not doing the same thing? I do not believe that there is any justification for creating this enormous amount of paper money, and I would like to know what these currency notes are being issued against? [An Hon. Member: "John Bradbury!"]
But the great problem is—how are we going to pay for our exports in the absence of enormously increased production? Production has decreased, our manufactures have decreased, freights, by the depletion, of our Mercantile Marine—for we no longer have half the carrying trade of the world—give a much smaller proportion, and therefore we shall have less in freights to pay for our imports. We no longer have the same amount of money coming to this country from foreign investments, because we parted with the greater part of them during the War. We have no longer export coal. We used to send 77,000,000 tons to Russia and the Argentine in ships which brought back wheat, and the coal paid for the wheat. We need the wheat, and in future we shall have to send our ships out light, which will mean double freights on the wheat. How are we going to pay for the wheat? How does the Chan- 611 cellor of the Exchequer think that we can provide for the payment of imports? The exchange is going against us, raising the price of all American produce that we have to import into this country. The only way that we can avoid bankruptcy is by the practise of rigid economy both on the part of the Government and the nation, which has not been practised up to the present. Increased industry and increased production is the only way of saving the situation. [An Hon. MEMBER: "Less profits !"] There are not much profits left nowadays. If that were gone into my hon. Friend would be very much surprised; if we struck a balance sheet, for instance, as to how much the coal-owner, on the one hand, was going to get in the next two years, and how much the miner would get on the other hand, I think it would be a very favourable showing for the miner. That is only one part.
What we need is the full restoration of Treasury control in finance and a discharge of those huge staffs that are still being employed in every Government Department. What has been done? It is perfectly absurd. At the time of the Armistice the total number employed in Government Departments was 420,500. Would you believe it, up to 31st March, four and a half months after the Armistice, that total had been reduced by only 22,000? I am told from various Departments that all attempts to cut down staffs are being resisted with the greatest tenacity and determination. I do not say that is so in every Department, but at any rate I can speak for two or three in regard to which the information I have got is practically first-hand. They were up against a stone wall, as it were, when any attempt was made to make a proper reduction in the staff. It is resisted in the Departments in a way which is a perfect disgrace to the employés in the Departments, and a disgrace to many of the heads of the Departments, who also cling to office. I think that a position such as I have described demands strong language, and I say unhesitatingly that it is high time the Treasury awoke to the fact that their duty is to put a speedy stop to this scandalous waste of public money caused by the over-staffing of Departments. I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give us a frank statement as to the steps he proposes to take to end this condition of things, which, if persisted in, is practically certain to end in 612 national bankruptcy. I could give example after example. What about the Slough Motor Repair Depot? At the time of the Armistice they could have stopped the whole thing. Yet they blindly go on spending £2,000,000, we are told, on the repair work, and they will have to spend another million on houses. That is just an example. I could give many examples of Air Board contracts. I could give examples in regard to Government shipbuilding yards at Chepstow and on the Wye—a most scandalous concealment of what the real facts were, month after month and almost year after year, and now when we know what really has been done there I do not hear of any strong censure of any public servant or of anyone being dismissed from his post because of the scandalous waste of public money that took place in connection with these most unfortunate undertakings.
I do not wish to make an unfair attack upon public servants in any Department, and if I have uttered one word beyond what I was justified in doing, I unhesitatingly withdraw it. But I do say that the time has come when, instead of spending nearly £4,500,000 a day, our expenditure must be cut down, as one speaker ha8 said, by at least one-half in the not remote future. The Government and the Treasury do not employ the means at their hand for cutting down, as they ought to do. We have a Public Accounts Committee, but what are they engaged in? They are engaged in dealing with irretrievable past waste, not waste of the present time; they disclose only irretrievable past waste. Then the Committee on National Expenditure, of which my right hon. Friend is the distinguished chairman, recommended the appointment of an Estimates Committee, with a view of examining Estimates before they were submitted to the House, and of drastically cutting them down. It is true that the National Expenditure Committee has been reappointed under my right hon. Friend's chairmanship. But let our minds go back to the various Reports of that Committee, most valuable Reports, made after the closest examination. I want to know to how many of the recommendations that they have made practical effect has been given? I submit that a great part of them have been ignored. This question of national revenue on the one side and national outgoings on the other is one which is affecting vitally the economic recovery of this country. There 613 is no question to which the Government, and especially the Treasury, could devote themselves with greater advantage to the whole nation than the immediate and drastic cutting down of expenditure in every Department. I am glad to hear that they have withdrawn their proposals to augment the salaries of members of the. Government. I voted, very much against my personal inclination, against the Grant of £585,000 yesterday, and supported the reduction of the amount, because I felt that I could not advocate rigid economy in every branch of the Service and vote these Grants, to some of the men especially who were getting them, who are wealthy men. Not that I do not recognise the magnificent services that they have rendered to their country.
Sir J. WALTON
I apologise. All I say, in conclusion, is that I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will really come out into the open and make a frank statement to the country. Especially, I would urge him to draw a true balance-sheet, not a faked balance-sheet—because the balance-sheet which was published was, to my mind, a faked balance-sheet—to make a plain business statement to the country, showing the liabilities on the one side and the assets on the other, and how the deficiency is to be provided.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. ATKEY
I have been a Member of this House for six months, and this is the first occasion on which I have ventured to address it. It seems to me that I could not choose a more fitting topic on which to make a few observations than the subject of economy. I was brought up under principles which indicated that it was incumbent upon everyone either to earn or have money before proceeding to spend it. I have listened during the past six months with varying feelings of emotion to many speeches, but none has made a greater impression on me than those which have fallen from the lips of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and more particularly at those moments when the right hon. Gentleman has so earnestly, one might also say tragically at times, appealed to this House to help him in the matter of national expenditure. I am not rising with any other object than to accept the invitation he has given to Members. I would like to indicate one or two directions to which he might well turn his 614 attention if his desire in the matter of national economy is to be realised. It is very difficult for Members of this House to do anything very effective off their own bat, so to speak. They must take their cue and obtain their authority from the Government itself. I venture to think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer need not appeal to this House, nor to apply any pressure or any authority he may possess, beyond the bench on which he sits. I do not know how far his authority extends in connection with other Government Departments, but I am quite certain that if he wants the authority of this House in order to bring pressure to bear with the view of taking any drastic action in connection with any Government Department which may stand in his path, he will get the very enthusiastic support of a large number in this House. With all humility and respect I would venture to suggest that he make a start on the War Office. If he cannot do anything with the War Office, I am certain he will find many Members who will consent to be his most humble servants in that connection. I always think it is a waste of time to make general complaints, or to speak in general, terms, where specific and urgent remedies are required. Although the particular case that I am going to lay before the Chancellor of the Exchequer is only very small, I suggest that a great Government organisation that can permit within its borders scandals of the character indicated requires the closest scrutiny where larger issues are at stake. Yesterday morning I received very opportunely a letter from Sir James McCraith, a man whose name stands high in the civic life of Nottingham. Here again I think it is always better to give full particulars when a complaint is being made. Sir James McCraith writes:There is really such a wicked sample of the present Government waste of public money that I feel you ought to know of it. The facts are that the local anti-aircraft service is still kept in full swing with a colonel and other officers, and only about two months ago another gun was actually put up at Wilford.I can assure my right hon. Friend that during the War that gun would have been very heartily welcomed at Nottingham. It is interesting to note that at the time when we were suffering shock from nerves owing to air-raids on Nottingham, there were no guns. Now, apparently, it is in 615 accordance with up-to-date War Office methods that they proceed to fortify Nottingham. The letter continues:Naturally both officers and men are here with practically nothing whatever to do. The general feeling of condemnation of those responsible is intense, and if I were you I would not only ask a question in the House but, if necessary, move the adjournment. Surely somebody should be punished, as it would be just as sensible to send submarines up the Trent.I give that to the Chancellor as an indication as to where he can look if he really wants his urgent appeals for economy to have their due effect. I can assure him that all these appeals to Members of this House will fail because we are helpless when we go to the country and attempt to preach economy so long as the finger of scorn can be pointed at the Government as witnessed by the letter which I have just read. He has, in my judgment, a wealth of willing workers and talent available in this House to cooperate with him in the directions that he seeks, and if he is as earnest as his words would suggest I do point out to him that there is a means of co-operation which he might very well consider. There is another aspect of the economy problem as to which I desire to hear some opinion from the Chancellor. We have all heard and listened with very great attention to the many schemes which during the life of this Parliament have been laid before it, and I suppose none of those schemes has received a heartier welcome than that of housing. But there is a financial side to the housing problem, and I do suggest that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should give a lead to the country and tell us exactly where the country is going in the matter of expenditure on the housing schemes. I am the more particularly interested in this, because, so far as I can gather, a great number of the houses which are to be put up and subsidised by the Government will not be houses which come within the ambit of the men on whose behalf we desire to do so much. There again the Government, whilst suddenly becoming virtuous on the subject of coal and telling us that they could not consent to schemes of subsidising that industry and that the consumer must pay in a straightforward manner, yet in the housing scheme, so far as I can gather, a larger subsidy is being given, and the problem of selecting the class of the community, which can only be very small, which is going to enjoy 616 this subsidy is one that, I fear, is not going to produce throughout the length and breadth of the land that peace and happiness which has been foreshadowed in the launching of the scheme. I very definitely request the Chancellor, in his reply, to give us, if he can, some estimate or some idea of the amount of money, and the amount of loss, which will have to be met in respect of the housing scheme. Then the House and the country can see what the position is. It does not seem to me to be fair for Ministers in this House and politicians up and down the country to go and paint lurid pictures of the happiness they are going to bestow upon the people without at the same time incidentially mentioning—it ought to be done, at least, in a more or less casual way, but it ought to be mentioned—what it is going to cost them.
There is only one other Department I desire to mention and that is the Board of Trade, because it seems to me that the Board of Trade are extravagant, not only as regards themselves, but as regards the public, and I think that these Government Departments require a considerable amount of overhauling and putting on, what might be called a real business footing. We have been told by the Chancellor or the Financial Secretary that every question in this House costs the country a sovereign apiece. [An Hon. MEMBER: "Two!"] That was the information given to the House. I desire-to draw the Chancellor of the Exchequer's attention to this fact, that until he can persuade the Board of Trade to provide intelligent answers to questions and to give due attention to rational questions put to them, there is likely to be a drain on the resources of this country of at least £l per week until he has persuaded the President of the Board of Trade to give the people of Nottingham access to the Midland Railway Station. I suggest that by that means he can carry into practical effect economy which he so earnestly desires.
My only object in rising was to point out one or two instances where it seemed to me that information of a useful character could be afforded in his reply to this Debate by the Chancellor. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman, so far as I am personally concerned—and I feel that I represent in this respect a very large body of opinion in this House—ourcriticisms are not intended to be of an unfriendly character. 617 I feel all the more at liberty to make that observation because I have heard it stated that party feeling in this House makes criticism from the Opposition, official or otherwise, to a certain extent, discounted by the Government. In this instance I can assure the Government I came to this House filled with the desire to render such measure of public service as lay within my power so long as I was able to give it. I venture to think that, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the various Ministers of the Government were to get more closely into touch with the rank and file of the Members, and were to take them more into their confidence with regard to the schemes they have in mind, I am quite sure the legislation which would result would be framed upon lines which would meet very often with more general acceptance in view of the fact that it would crystallise a larger range of vision and more varied views, such as are contained in the House, rather than those which are only within the official Government circle. Under those cicumstances I think that the policy of the Government would be more likely to receive the approval and accord of the people of the country.
§ Mr. CAIRNS
I desire to refer to the increase in the price of coal by six shillings per ton. I think that some of the speeches we have heard do not help smooth working. I have never been anything but in favour of constitutional action. I am not in favour of "direct action." I know that that will go forth to the country, and I want it to do so. I believe we must all realise that the salvation of this country lies in greater production. As to the coal trade I do not believe it wants any stilting and that it can stand on its own feet if it is fairly dealt with. I do not think the six shillings increase is economically sound. It has been said that that increase has to be put on to the price in order to pay increased wages as set forth in Mr. Justice Sankey's Report. What are the figures. Miners over sixteen years of age in and about mines will get 2s. per day increase, and those below sixteen years will get one shilling increase. That will work out at 1s. 8d. for a million miners in Britain. That is 4s. 4d. less than the six shillings. The President of the Board of Trade estimated the production to be 270 million tons. I have been secretary to the Northumberland miners for twenty-five years, and I am sure the House will agree 618 that I am therefore acquainted with the economic conditions in the country. I took the figures out before the War, and they were confirmed by Lord Joicey and a Professor who was an authority on the subject. The figures in 1914 were per ton for hewers 2s., datal hands 1s., royalty 1s., plant 1s., from pit to ship f.o.b., insurance 3d., compensation 2d., making a total of 6s. 5d. The two and a half times increase makes that 14s. 0½d., war wage is 1s. 8d., and carriage to London 7s. All those items give a total of 24s. 8½d. The President of the Board of Trade said the figure was £1 6s. I have seen coal billed in London windows at 60s., and I want to know, representing the miners, who gets the difference of 36s. It is said that the miners are getting it, but that is not correct. We have miners who are working at present for 7s. and 8s. per day, so that it is not fair to say that the miners are getting it. The output of coal is down, and that is due to many reasons which I need not go into. We have lads that have come back that have been shelled and gassed and crippled in other ways, and they cannot follow their work, and there are others who cannot follow their work with the same efficiency as before, and it must be remembered, also, that seams are getting thinner than they used to be.
I hope there is no one in this House who will charge the miners with malingering. A member here who never was in a coal pit, and who never did a day's work in his life, said the miners were jockeying for a price. They work very hard indeed, and they work all the day. It is said they have short hours—seven hours, and shortly six hours. In 1873, when the selling price of coal was 18s. a ton for best, we had six hours in the Northern counties. The prices in 1918, net ascertained, came out at 22s. 6d. a ton. That is, of coal sold, after allowing 1s. 9d. for workmen's coals and colliery consumption. In 1886 the net prices were 4s. 4.62d., a difference of 18s. 2d. per ton, as compared with the 22s. 6d. Thus, since 1886 the price of coal has gone up five times, but the men's, wages have only gone up three and three quarter times. I hope subsequent speakers will not use the speeches which have been, used. Leaders of men outside have got sufficient to do, and I say that this is a coward's House. If a man rises here and makes a speech against leaders outside who have no chance of replying, I say it is like a coward's House. The price of 60s. 619 is not the real price. In pre-war times we in Northumberland used to export 80 per cent. of the coal raised at 60s., 70s., and 90s. a ton, and we used to get goods in return. I hope this House and the country will no longer say that it is the miners who are getting this 6s., and I challenge the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or the President of the Board of Trade, or any other Minister, to contradict ray figures. They have been used in more than one Commission, and they are facts. The miners do not get this increase, and I hope the people of this country will disabuse their minds of that belief.
§ Major COURTHOPE
I wish to support the plea which was made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brighton (Major Tryon) for the restoration of Parliamentary control, and before doing so I should like to thank him for introducing the subject and to congratulate him upon his clear and courageous presentment of his ease. There is hardly any limit to the instances and examples that one might bring forward in support of this plea, but I propose to limit myself, in the very brief remarks with which I shall trouble the House, to two or three examples as they affect agriculture and agricultural policy. They are examples which are known to the House, and it is only necessary to remind the House and the Government of them in order to make my case. I bring them forward not with the object of finding fault with the system which was established during the War, but in order to suggest that that system should be brought to an end at the earliest possible moment now that the War is over for fear that such cases should arise again. First of all, let us look at two or three matters vitally affecting agriculture which have arisen out of the food control, and which may arise again if the food control is continued for long. We will take, first of all, the case of the control of meat. I need not go into any detail, but I want to remind the House how horrified Members for rural constituencies, and, I believe, the whole House, were when they discovered, after this control of meat had been in existence for some eighteen months, that it was costing over £5 per animal handled. That had been concealed. The instant the House became aware of that and questions began to be asked and nasty things said, that expenditure was knocked on the head and reduced to an infinitesimal figure. Another 620 case in point occurred with reference to wheat. As far as Members of this House could make out, the policy with regard to foodstuffs, and particularly wheat, was not only not decided by this House, but it was not even decided by the Government. It was dictated to our Food Controller, as far as we can make out, by Mr. Hoover, from the United States of America, and one result of this control as it affected wheat was that we discovered, again after many months of ignorance and after many unsuccessful attempts to get at the truth, that the Government was actually paying for imported wheat, ex-ship, as much as 30s. a quarter more than the maximum—the maximum, mark you—price which they had imposed upon home-grown wheat. I am not arguing that the maximum price ought to have been more or less. That is not my point. My point is that such things ought to be-impossible without the knowledge and assent and definite action of Parliament There again, as soon as the House realised what was taking place, a fuss began to be made, and steps were promptly taken to ameliorate the position, and I think to a very large extent it has been ameliorated, but so long as the control continues in its present form the recurrence of these scandals, because they are nothing less, is liable to arise without the knowledge and behind the backs of Parliament.
Now, there are two other cases that are taking place now which I think I ought to mention. This House passed a Corn Production Act, one of the provisions of which was to set up a general minimum wage for agriculture of 25s., and wages boards which would locally adjust that minimum wage, and from that moment the control of agricultural wages has passed out of the hands, not only of the Government, but, what is much worse, out of the hands of the House. If there is to be economic control of wages in these matters, it should be exercised by the House of Commons, and, although at the time that these statutory powers were given to the wages boards, I think the whole House contemplated that the adjustments of local wages would circle round the minimum of 25s. inserted in the Bill, without this House having any further opportunity of giving directions in the matter the minimum has gone up from the neighbourhood of 25s. to the neighbourhood of 38s. or 38s. 6d. Again, I am not arguing that that wage is wrong, but I say that action of that kind should be taken by the House and not 621 by a Body outside, even if that body derives its original sanction and authority from an Act of Parliament, and there is a great danger that this kind of thing is to be repeated now. The Prime Minister appointed the other day a Royal Commission to inquire into certain economic aspects of agriculture. It was recognised in this House, and, I believe, correctly recognised, that the desire of the Government in appointing that Commission was to obtain accurate and general information of the fanners' profit and loss account, to enable them to frame a sound agricultural policy.
§ Major COURTHOPE
What has happened? We are informed, I believe correctly, that while the Government, on the one hand, are pressing for their prompt Report on that profit and loss account, the Commission appointed for that purpose is deciding to go into questions of land tenure, nationalisation, and other matters of that kind. I do not say they are Considering them immediately, but they have decided that those questions are within their scope, and the evil is this, that the public has become so accustomed to the settling of policy, and great financial matters by outside bodies—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Will my hon. and gallant Friend allow me to interrupt him? I do not know what the Commission has done, but certainly it was never contemplated by the Government that they should go into great questions of policy of that kind.
§ Major COURTHOPE
I should like to thank the Prime Minister for giving that support to my case. We know well that the Government wanted the farmers' profit and loss account. They did not intend, and the House did not intend, that the Commission should go into the wider policy, but the Commission has announced its intention and the effect on the public mind is this. The public is accustomed to receive the dictation of policy from bodies outside the immediate control of Parliament, and I know myself, as a rural Member, that I am receiving many communications on this subject in which those who write them assume that this Commission set up for the one purpose will be deciding the future of the rural land of the country. I say it is deplorable. I am not suggesting that the Government for a 622 moment would take any notice of any recommendations from this Commission dealing with these great matters. I do not believe the Government would—certainly not unless they altered the composition of the Commission. What I deplore is that the public should think that the policy for the future ownership of land, questions of tenure, and all questions between owner and occupier, as well as farmer and employed, are to be conducted by an outside body of this kind. I do hope that this form of work by an outside body will be brought to an end, and that any other outside body set up will be far more strictly limited in the terms of reference to the work they are intended to do, and that the big questions of policy will be restored to the rightful place, namely, Parliament.
I know quite well that Minsters are sincere in their desire to bring the bureaucratic methods, which were necessary during the War, to an early end, but I would remind them that it is notorious in history that bureaucracies always die hard. It is natural that they should do so. However anxious the Minister in charge of a number of bureaucratic Departments may be to bring them to an end, there must be many in those Departments who do not wish their work to come to an end. It may be from patriotic motives, or from motives of private gain, but there must be many who do not wish their work to come to an end, and there are many in responsible positions who hesitate to throw on the world people who, for the past few years, have worked loyally and well under them. It makes the death of bureaucracy very hard, and very slow, and I do urge upon the Government not to be satisfied with their own desire to bring these things to an end, and restore the control of policy and finance to Parliament, but to take such steps—and take them now—as will render that restoration not only definite but also immediate.
Captain D. BROWN
I rise to make a few remarks solely to support the hon. and gallant Member for Brighton on the subject of the control of Parliament over our national finance. It seems to me, when we consider this Commission which has recently sat on the coal question, that it has missed to a very large extent the very object for which it was created, and, so far as this House is concerned, we are being placed in a very deplorable position. The coal question which the Commission was set up to solve was taken from our power 623 entirely. It has never yet been debated in this House, and this House has been given no opportunity of giving a lead to the country. It seems to me a great fault. I am only a very young Member of the House, and do not know much how things are carried on here, but it does seem a great pity that this House should not have some chance of debating these questions before a definite policy is put forward. I should like to say, too, that I think another very evil tendency has come out of this Royal Commission. I happen to represent a constituency which is partly agricultural and partly mining, and I find, as the result of one section of the community being placed in the limelight in this way, that a feeling of antagonism has arisen between the two sections in the country, and I am perfectly certain that is the result of the absence of discussion in this House.
I really rose to talk about economy. I confess I was disappointed when I heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in answer to a question to-day, tell us that he would be only too pleased if the House would assist him in the matter of economy. So far as I can see, the complaint is not with the House, but it is with the Government themselves. I take an interest in the housing question, and I should like very much to know what steps the Government really took to see that the finance of this question was put on a sound basis before they allowed the scheme to be put forward. I know we were expected to look forward to a million houses being erected. It so happens that the cost per house at the present moment is, I understand, rapidly reaching £l,000, and one has only to make a slight calculation to discover that this housing scheme, so far as finance is concerned, is going to send this country into bankruptcy absolutely. I can only suggest, with great respect, to the Government, that it is very unfortunate that they do not go into the finance more carefully, because these matters always come home to roost, and how we are going to raise the money to pay the bill is beyond me. I am a supporter of the Government; I do not wish to attack them, but I do wish to criticise them a little, because I do not think they have approached the matter in the right spirit. A policy is settled, and, apparently, finance is the last thing which is considered. We had an instance in the Debate to-day of economies which might be effected in the War Office, but I think 624 myself that mere economies are not enough. We have seen in this House efforts made to cut down a few salaries here, an Under-Secretary is knocked out there, and Ministers' salaries were not raised the other day. But all those are merely pinpricks; something more drastic has got to be done. We have got to cut out something from our expenditure.
Let me give an illustration. We have a most expensive Air Force which runs into a great deal of money. My point is this: When the Estimates are produced to us, it is surely our duty to say, "How much can we cut these Estimates down? Can we knock off £1,000,000 or £2,000,000?" I think we have to decide, first of all, whether we can afford an Air Force at all. We ought to decide whether we actually can afford to have these big items, and then—and then only—can we go on to see how much we may spend. But unless we cut down in some very drastic measure, I really do not see how we are to save ourselves from bankruptcy.
I should like to apply that method to a policy, a declaration as to which we have been urging for some time, and which we never receive. The question of nationalisation is before the country. What is the first thing that that means? The State has to put down a great sum of money for the purchase of royalties or other things in connection with the coal-mining industry. Are the Treasury consulted? When the Government hesitates to say anything, why cannot they say, "We cannot consider the matter. It involves a vast expenditure of money for the Treasury. We cannot, at this moment, ever think of schemes which will cost money." I feel sure that if the Government would only give the lead to the country, it would have a great effect. I know they have had a tiring and a long Session, and are now going to have a rest. I know these financial matters require very active and fresh minds to deal with them. I sincerely hope, when they return from their rest, we may see the fruits of it.
§ Brigadier-General CROFT
I should like to take the opportunity of congratulating my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brighton on striking the first blow for the restoration of Parliamentary government in this country, and the removal of the dictatorship under which we have been suffering for so long. The times are so serious that I think the Government would not desire that private Members in the 625 House should not speak very frankly. We all know the Chancellor of the Exchequer has this question at heart. We are trying to help him against his colleagues, and I really think, after this afternoon, he will begin to see the House of Commons is with him, and if he only keeps stiff when advances are made to him, he will have the support of the House against wild extravagance, because there is no other description of the policy of the Government during these last two or three years. The present state of the country seems to me to be due not to any one cause. It is due to a combination of causes, and I would like to try to indicate what they are. First of all, I believe that one of the most serious steps that was ever taken—it was doubtless taken owing to the stress of the War, although I think it was unnecessary—was when the present Prime Minister—he was not Prime Minister at that time—intervened in the dispute of the coal miners in South Wales. I have spoken to very many people who were interested on both sides in the dispute, and they are almost unanimous in saying that they believe they could have come to a just settlement, especially in view of the fact that the country was threatened with such a terrible crisis. Instead of that, the Prime Minister went down to South Wales, and I think I am right in saying he granted the whole, or very nearly the whole, of the demands of the miners. I think, if the right hon. Gentleman will look up the facts again, he will see that he went an extraordinarily long way. Anyhow, the impression in South Wales among all the mine-owners is that he went almost as far as he possibly could go. I am not going to dispute whether that was a right or a wrong decision. I say it was a fatal policy for a member of the Cabinet, however wise, to go into an industrial dispute, to settle the matter without having real knowledge of the industry, and set a fashion which has gone on ever since, and which has deprived the country of the final appeal of the Government when you come to a state of affairs that you cannot reach a settlement.
Surely it is best that the Government should not be involved in these disputes. They ought to step in as a last resort We know full well how the common sense of masters and men thousands of times manages to settle these disputes, and I submit it was a most unfortunate thing that we made that change in policy at that time. At the commencement of 626 the War, the railwaymen and transport workers had two great programmes which they regarded as of vital importance. Owing to the outbreak of war they abandoned their policy, for which they were prepared to fight at that time, solely on patriotic grounds. And yet we have a member of the Cabinet who went to South Wales and settled the miners' dispute in the manner I have indicated, with the result that immediately the extremists in the railway world and in the transport world said, "Oh, but the leaders in South Wales, by exercising pressure, have managed to get out of the Government all, or very nearly all, they desire, and you, our leaders, on account of the War, have let the opportunity go by." That was putting a premium on extremism. I hope the Government will not interfere in disputes in the first place again, that we shall not have the Prime Minister going from his task in the Cabinet as a strike conciliator, and that he will not be called in to settle all these disputes over the head of industry.
The second question which is causing such a great unsettlement in the country undoubtedly is that of the high cost of living and undue profits. I think the word "profiteer" is a most unfortunate one. It induces a complete confusion as to the facts and has led us to this present misunderstanding. I do hope we shall be a little more careful in our definitions, and carefully discriminate between what are legitimate profits esential to an industry and excessive profits which are gained at the expense of the country in its time of stress. The Government have announced already that they are taking steps to bring in a new measure to deal with profiteering. I do not want to deal with that subject now, but it is undoubtedly one of the causes of unrest and of the present difficult situation, and I hope that the Government will be very successful in this enterprise. But their policy cannot succeed unless the Cabinet and members of the Government as a whole—and I venture to add, all the Members of this Houses—take steps at the earliest possible moment to bring home to the whole of the country the real peril of the situation. The Chancellor of the Exchequer may make speeches in this House. Unfortunately the newspapers which are mostly read by the working classes do not report his speeches, and the consequence is that the working classes of the country do not get a fair chance of a real 627 understanding of the extreme gravity of the situation. However, I hope that on this question of profiteering steps will be taken up by the Government to see that the facts are explained, so that everyone will know what are the costs of the raw material, and of the labour in making up those raw materials; what are the costs of making up finally the raw material compared to pre-war prices, so that those concerned will see at once that what is generally and widely described as profiteering is very frequently due to natural causes.
Thirdly, the real reason which has brought about this state of affairs is the unlicensed agitation which has been permitted to go on in this country. I know that views are held—and have been held for a very long time in this country—that it is a good thing to have a safety valve. I cannot help thinking, however, that when our ordinary political disputes have been sunk, and when one particular cause is being advocated the whole time by extremists, and there is no one to answer that propaganda, it is likely to have a very disastrous effect. Time and again Members of this House have brought to the attention of the Home Secretary the fact of utterances which have been made, or pamphlets which have been printed, practically inciting the people of this country to revolution, yet for some reason or other the Government has held its hands. You can go too far with this policy. I hope the Government are not going to permit this kind of thing to go on much longer, because if a blatent revolution is preached insistently week after week it is only natural that a large number of people will begin to think that the preaching of that policy is no crime. The hon. Member for Brighton pointed out that one of the very unsettling factors is the fact that this House has lost power. We see it in two ways. I do not want to dwell upon it, but it has been amply demonstrated. Great decisions have been come to by the Cabinet with no reference whatever to Parliament. We are voting millions for various causes resulting from the War, and the various effects of the War, in order to meet liabilities, without Parliament having given any thought, much less a decision, on the question. Consequently, we have this endeavour in the country to still further deprive Parliament of its power, and also once more—and I am correctly describing it now—to have profiteering at the expense of the community owing to the 628 stress of the State. You have ceased to deal with small sections of the community who are seeking thus to deprive Parliament of its power, but I cannot help thinking, if we do not make a stand now, our task will be more difficult in the days to come. We have to show clearly that the nation shall be protected by Parliament, that we in this House cannot tolerate the possibility of women and children being starved, the possibility of disease sweeping throughout the land, simply because some agitator desires to call out large numbers of men who, frankly, do not understand the causes about which they are striking.
The fourth point is that of Governmental extravagance. We have heard a great deal about this. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, I know, cannot personally be held responsible for the various Departmental details of expenditure. I do think, though, it is high time to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, and the Prime Minister jointly with him, to say that a distinct mandate shall go to every single Department to the effect that expenditure must be cut down. There is no other course open. It must be cut down, or this country will be completely destroyed beyond any chance of recovery. I would also like to put one or two more questions to the right hon. Gentleman, who, perhaps, will forward them to the War Office. There is the wildest extravagance still going on at the War Office in regard to the movements of troops in the country. About six or eight weeks ago the remnants of the regiment to which I have the honour to belong returned to England from Cologne, or somewhere else on the Western Front. What happened? They belong to Hertfordshire. I was astonished to hear that they had been sent straight off to Glasgow. They were returned back to the county, and no reason given for the journey both ways. That sort of thing is going on right and left. I have another little instance of the kind—and these are only two out of many hundreds which have come to my attention. A man belonged to the neighbourhood of Cardiff. He had been employed in an agricultural company which was sent to Blackheath in order to be demobilised. The company had served near to Cardiff. At Blackheath nothing was known of the men, so they were sent back to Cardiff. Once again they were ordered to Blackheath, and finally they were demobilised—at Cardiff. Surely something can be done to end this senseless extravagance in the 629 demobilisation of men from the Army which, we know, is going on throughout the country. There is a question on much the same lines which is having very serious effects. I cannot speak in this matter from first-hand knowledge, but I can tell my right hon. Friend that there is grave disquiet at the docks in regard to the handling of various perishable stuffs. At the docks there are great stores of food commodities and other commodities that require handling, and yet men are not able to find work! Here, again, it seems to me that we want more attention paid to these facts with a view of trying to see whether a very much stronger attitude cannot be taken up in all the Departments in dealing with this question of waste.
The last point I want to make is in regard to unemployment benefits. As the House knows, this benefit was decided upon by the Government without any reference to this House. It was distinctly understood by the whole of the House—although the House would gladly have given its concurrence, yet the House was not asked to give its assent—that this unemployment benefit was to be given to the men who had been discharged from the Services and could not find work, and to men and women discharged from munitions work who were out of employment, until they had found their own industry. To the amazement of this House, three months ago we discovered that the Government was allowing unemployed benefit to be paid to men or women out of work, whether they had been displaced for war reasons or not, or—for a long time—whether or not they had been in any kind of employment before the War. That was very serious. It involved millions of money. Yet the House was never consulted. The House would never have given its sanction to a policy such as this. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman this question: As we all know there have been recent strikes in Yorkshire which have been very disastrous. Is unemployed benefit being paid to the men and women who, not as a result of the War, or the ending of munitions, but who, on account of that strike, are out of employment? I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman can answer that question before the end of the Debate, but has Parliament ever been consulted as to whether unemployment benefit should be paid to the workers of this country who are out as the result of a strike? It may be a wise policy. I doubt it very much. I cannot 630 see how you are going to bring that moral pressure to bear upon illegitimate strikes—and I describe those in Yorkshire as that—so long as you are giving doles to those affected by them. Is it a fact that that policy has been instituted without the sanction of Parliament?
The cumulative effect of all these things is having such a result in this country—unless this House takes hold of this thing, grasps the nettle, and carries on the good work of the hon. Member for Brighton, that we must realise this fact—we are going downhill as rapidly as we can. I hope I am an optimist. I cannot, however, see any hope for this country unless we get an entirely different view-point of the tragedy facing us. There are agitators at the present time deliberately preaching at every street corner that capital must be destroyed. It is perfectly easy for the workers of this country to destroy capital. They have got to realise, though, that if capital is destroyed no more pensions will be paid, no more bread subsidies can be made, no more unemployed benefit can be given, and the whole system is going to collapse. These are facts. We are facing bankruptcy. Yet people do not regard bankruptcy seriously! It is our duty, surely, to point out to the country what it really means it what we fear may come about, namely, that we will be in a position similar to Russia, where all control has gone, and the country will come to have nothing but misery and destitution right throughout the width and breadth of the land. It is for the Government to lead in these questions. All men are looking to the Government to practise what they preach. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer in consultation with the Prime Minister will give a definite order to every Department forthwith to cut down all expenditure by at least 10 per cent. we shall be doing-something, and the House of Commons and the country will see we are doing our part to prevent disaster.
§ Major GLYN
I rise to support what has been said by the hon. Member for Brighton. I do so because, possibly, as a new Member from Scotland I was returned very much on the idea of retrenchment with reform. The whole policy of Parliamentary control is inevitably bound up with the question of national economy and expenditure. I should like to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if there is any hope in the near future that any of the 631 recommendations of Lord Haldane's Committee on the Machinery of Government may be made known? The Ministries Bill, which was introduced a couple of nights' ago, has been withdrawn for the present. There was no reference in that Bill to the recommendations of Lord Haldane's Committee, and I understand those recommendations have been considered by the Cabinet. There was one small point in regard to the possibility of Government book-keeping. The Ministry of Supplies and Munitions and the Disposal Board of that Department have it in their authority to get rid of the stores, both naval, military, and air, at the best prices they can, but I understand that in some cases no account is taken of the large sums of money expended both by the War Office and by the Admiralty in the care and maintenance of these stores prior to their sale.
Cases have occurred where articles have been sold for a good price, but in the case of the War Office, if they had looked after those stores, the result would have been far different in profit to the country, and in some cases it would have been more economical if the stores had been destroyed. One or two hon. Members have spoken about laxity in regard to expenditure by the War Office. Whilst it is important to watch the expenditure under the War Office, we must see that the pendulum does not swing too far in the other way, although we must see the expenditure on military matters is cut down as much as possible. After every war there must be a tendency for the pendulum to swing back to what it was in peace time; and as regards the War Office policy, the General Staff are only too anxious to work in concert with public opinion.
For the first time in our history, we have an enormous mass of the population understanding military affairs, and there is no reason to suppose that the men would not come forward most readily in case of an emergency. We feel that any system of military expenditure must be based on public opinion, and unless the House of Commons can exercise Parliamentary control over the Ministries, and express to Ministers what public opinion is in regard to the conduct of affairs, it seems to me that we shall have a cleavage as between the mandarins of the Cabinet 632 and their advisers and the public opinion of the country. It is high time now, when the Recess is approaching, and we are about to go back to our constituencies, that we should be able to show that these agents of direct action are using the organs of the Press to wilfully misrepresent what is being done by the Government towards economy.
I am sure the whole bulk of opinion in this House tends towards the support of any scheme for national economy, but it does seem to me rather extraordinary that on that question there is a sort of tacit understanding in the Government that certain Ministries are first-class and others are second-class. It seems to me that the Ministry of Labour is one which holds a most important position, and is a Ministry of primary importance now, and if it is classed as a second-class Ministry, I think it is fake economy that the permanent officials of that Ministry should be paid at a lower rate than other Ministries whose functions are, not of such importance. True economy lies in the direction of reestablishing Parliamentary control over the machinery of permanent officials, and independent Members should feel that they are in such close touch with Ministers that they can bring forward the whole weight of public opinion to the assistance of any Minister who wishes to carry out retrenchment, which the whole country needs if we are not to go into national bankruptcy.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Chamberlain)
The Debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill is always, and is almost of necessity, a rather discursive one, but as far as we have gone this afternoon there has been one main purpose in most of the speeches, namely, a desire to bring home to the House of Commons and the country the financial position, and make the Government realise the dangers of that position, and ask for some explanation as to their intentions in this matter. If I attempt to deal with this question on broad lines, hon. Members who have dealt with specific instances of apparent or evident waste will forgive me for not attempting to answer them. It is quite clear that I, in my office, cannot possibly know the details of the expenditure in other Departments. I have already sent to the War Office the letter read by the hon. Member for Nottingham (Mr. Atkey), and if he will 633 put a question to the Secretary of State for War, although I do not know whether the information will be ready to-day, certainly my right hon. Friend will give him the answer, and I do not think he will attempt to defend what is not defensible if that be the case.
Similarly with the questions which have been raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Brigadier-General Croft). I have no personal knowledge of them, but I hope hon. Members will not wait for a Budget discussion or a Consolidated Fund Bill discussion to raise these questions, but I trust that they will take them up when such cases come to their knowledge, and take them at once to the Minister immediately concerned. It is not necessary for that purpose, or to make it effective, that an hon. Member should ask a question in the House. I remember when hon. Members have said to me in times past, "If you want to advertise yourself you will ask questions publicly, and if you want to do business you will go to the Ministers privately." After some experience of that, both as an unofficial Member and as a Minister, I commend that old Parliamentary wisdom to my colleagues.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Of course, I can-not promise hon. Members, if they go to Ministers privately, they will always get what they want done, but very often you get better attention than it is possible for a Minister to give them when he only sees the question on the morning he has to reply. Those are details. My hon. and gallant Friend who opened the discussion said he would leave the question of economy rather to others, but he raised a particular issue of vast importance to the whole country and vital to the credit and usefulness of this House. He said, and said truly, that there are people in. this country, and I believe they are a very small minority, not merely of the people but of any class or section of the people, who have decided definitely to challenge Parliamentary government, and with it to challenge democratic government, and who are pursuing, in place of the old idea of democratic control through Parliament, narrow class control through direct action 634 outside Parliament and in defiance of Parliament. That is treason against this. House, in fact it is more, for it is treason against the country, and that way lies-disaster and anarchy, and the Government will take whatever steps are required, and can be well employed to defend the power and authority of Parliament against such attacks, from whatever quarter they may come.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I turn to what is more immediately my personal business. My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Sir J. Walton) adjured me to be frank. I hope he docs not imply that I have ever been otherwise. At any rate, even the statements I have made on financial questions I have tried to make as clear, full, and truthful as it was in my power to make them at any given moment when I spoke. Circumstances vary from time to time, and my expectations may fail to be realised. They may be affected by circumstances beyond our control or by measures within our control, it is true, but which we do not foresee, and yet they are necessary to take. The situation is one of gravity. I do not think that any good is done by exaggerating. It is as bad to be unduly pessimistic as it is to be unduly optimistic, but the situation is sufficiently difficult to need the good will and the active assistance of every class in the community.
If we were to continue to spend at the rate we are spending now, it would lead us straight to national bankruptcy, and there is no doubt whatever about it if we cannot increase production beyond what we are producing now we shall go to national bankruptcy. Neither of these things alone, that is reducing expenditure without increasing production, or increasing production without reducing expenditure, will be sufficient to save the situation, and we have to do both if we are to get through the few difficult years that he before us before Europe can be said to have even turned the corner, not to have recovered, after the ravages and desolation of four and a half years of war. Let me say, and I had intended if it were possible to take this opportunity to say it, that the Budget position, the balance between expenditure and revenue for the year is less favourable this year than it was when I made my Budget statement. It is distinctly and seriously less favourable, and both sides of the account are 635 failing to realise my expectations. If you like to say I shall prove a false prophet you may put it that way, but the important thing for the House and the country to understand is that the forecast I made to the country in my Budget statement is not being realised.
I will give the House one or two reasons. In the first place, the Peace negotiations took a longer time than we had anticipated. Demobilisation everywhere was delayed, and the military and naval expenditure are therefore greater than I anticipated. Not only so, but there is the disturbance of Europe to be taken into account. War was supposed to be concluded by the signature of the Armistice, but Members are continually talking of what is happening after so many months of peace. It is not peace. Active operations in Germany have terminated, but Europe is not at peace, let alone Asia, the actual war expenditure is continuing with all its consequences, both in calling for the retention of a greater number of men with the Colours and with the Fleet and with the concurrent expenditure which active service operations always bring. That is not all. The House knows that one after another large new blocks of expenditure have been sanctioned. For pensions, £20,000,000 this year; and between £20,000,000 and £24,000,000 next year. Then there is the increase in the pay of the Navy. I am sorry I have not all the figures with me at the moment. I cannot say what the Jerram Committee is to cost us in the future. We cannot say that until we know what the future of the Navy is to be. I have not the figures involved in the Estimates presented for the present year. Then there is a similar increase with regard to the Army. Further than that, the police will cost us another £4,500,000. These are a few of the big items. There are many others, smaller ones, over lappings which may be greater than anticipated, and some new expenditure which was not anticipated but which has had to be undertaken. The instances I have given are sufficient to show the House broadly why the expenditure is exceeding my estimate.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Will my hon. Friend allow me to pursue my own argument? To introduce the question of ex change at this moment is simply to destroy the continuity of my argument.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I may tell the House equally bluntly that my anticipations in regard to receipts are not being realised now. I am not referring to receipts from taxation. I have no reason to suppose at present that these will not be realised, but it is too early in the year to revise the Budget estimate in that respect. Something, however, depends on the course of our industrial life. Great labour troubles may wreck our hopes, and seriously impair the yield of taxation. But at present I see no reason for anxiety there. I calculated that, just as this year there was a great deal of abnormal temporary expenditure to be met of a non recurrent kind, so there would be great abnormal temporary receipts to be set against it. Some of my hon. Friends think I was wrong to use those receipts in that way, but that is part of the Budget Statement. I do not want to turn aside to justify the practice now. My short answer is that if expenditure and revenue balance, the right process would be to use these receipts for the reduction of debt. But under present circumstances I cannot reduce debt, and I use them, therefore, to lessen the amount I have to borrow. There again my expectations are not being in all respects realised. Here again I may mention one very big item. We had anticipated that we should bring to an end food control. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Food Minister sang his swan song and was given a farewell greeting of a generous and appreciative kind.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
That may be the way my hon. Friend puts it, but we rightly expressed appreciation of the work that Minister had done. Still, we have had to alter our decision. The course of food prices has not been what was anticipated. The result of de-control has not been satisfactory, and under the circumstances the Government has felt it could not face the responsibility of doing away with food control, and has decided to continue it for a further period. This is not the moment to defend the Government action. I only mention it from the financial point, and I only venture to say in regard to it that there are primâfacie strong grounds for the reversal of policy. Indeed, I think an unanswerable case can be made in argument. But it was not done because we 637 love control, or because there was an office which wished to remain in being, or officials who desired to keep their jobs. It was done because the Government, after a survey of the situation, did not think it safe to relax food control at the present time. The winding up of food control meant the realisation of the vast trading stocks of the Ministry of Food and the return to the Exchequer of the trading capital therein invested. The continuation of the Ministry of Food means not the loss of capital, but that it must remain in the business and cannot be returned to the Treasury. Therefore, the receipts from that source which we anticipated are not coming in this year, although I hope they will come in next year. I speak from memory, but I think they were estimated at £70,000,000, and the House will see, therefore, what a serious effect that must have on the Budget Estimate which I presented to the House.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
No, Sir. This is not a question of subsidies at all. This is a question of capital in the business. If the business had been wound up the capital would have been returned to the Exchequer, but as the business is to be continued, the money must remain in it. But it is not the policy of the Government to increase the food subsidies, and a statement in regard to the bread subsidy was, it will be remembered, made in the House only the other day. My hon. Friend who spoke last gave certain illustrations of what has occurred. He was speaking of the realisations of the immense Government stocks accumulated for war purposes, and largely used for such purposes, but remaining over from the end of the War. All the circumstances with regard to their disposal have been considered. The disposal of this vast mass of material is not an easy matter, but I still hope that we shall realise within the year for the Exchequer the sum I anticipated in my Budget speech. Speaking, however, for myself, I am less confident than I was at that time. There are a great many people—and I am not now speaking merely of people at home—there are a great many people in the world who want things at the present time, and who will be able to pay for them eventually, but cannot now pay cash down. As regards some of these people it may be we had 638 anticipated finding in them purchasers for cash, and not only for cash but for cash convertible into sterling, but we may have to take obligations which we cannot at once convert into sterling, and again, therefore, the finances of the year may be disturbed. My hon. Friend pointed to cases where the expense of guarding the stores was greater than the value of the stores themselves. That is a danger which the Disposal Board has had to face. But those immediately concerned have to balance the prospect of getting such a value from the realisation of the stocks if they are husbanded and sold by degrees as they are marketable, against the lower price which can be obtained if they are put on the market at once—or indeed the absence of price if you force the sale. They have to compare the two positions and judge which is likely to be the more profitable transaction. I can only say that the Government have discussed this matter more than once with the Minister of Supply, who is well aware that it would be a penny wise and pound foolish policy to spend on marketing stores more than those stores will eventually fetch.
Hon Members will, I hope, not grudge me the time I occupy in making this statement. I thought it was right to take the opportunity. I wanted an opportunity to inform the House to-night that my Budget Estimate will not be realised, and that the situation is worse than I foresaw in respect of the present year. The House will remember that I spoke of the Budget of this year as abnormal—quite abnormal expenditure and quite abnormal receipts, and I said that next year could not be normal. I do not think it can be. If next year you can balance your Budget, setting the abnormal receipts against the abnormal expenditure, I think you will have done well. That is what we ought to aim at. But it cannot be a normal year; some future year must be the normal year. I know that my Budget Estimate for this year will not be realised. I am beginning to wonder whether next year you can balance the expenditure, abnormal and normal, against the receipts abnormal and normal, without new taxation. It is too early to speak with confidence on that. But it will not unless we all of us exercise a wise economy, and not unless we find it within our power, as it must be within our will, to make drastic reductions.
I beg the House to ask themselves when new expenditure is proposed, as I ask 639 myself, and as I put it to my colleagues, not merely, "Is this thing in itself desirable?" but "Is this thing so necessary to our safety or to justice, or to that which we owe to people to whom we have great obligations—is this thing so necessary that in spite of the urgent need not to increase expenditure, but to reduce it, we must yet incur a new burden?" One hon. Member said, very truly, that that was the real question we had to ask ourselves. An hon. Member came to me in the Lobby yesterday and said, "I have just taken a memorial to the Prime Minister signed by more than half the Members of this House"—I think he said I could have got it signed by the whole House—to increase the pensions of Civil servants who had retired and whose bargain with the State was completed. I have already refused that. Will the House support me over that? Their case is a hard one; they are suffering from the same causes and in the same way as every person with a small fixed income in this country. I received a deputation about it, and I told them that I could not reconcile it with my duty as Chancellor of the Exchequer to charge in their case upon the taxpayer at large a misfortune which was common to all who were similarly situated. Half the Members of the House of Commons signed that memorial! The Prime Minister will support me. Will the House of Commons support me? If so, ought half the Members of this House of Commons to have put their names to it without thinking what they were doing? The Government is fair game for the House of Commons, but allow me to say that sometimes the House of Commons must permit the Government to turn. As regards this great expenditure, I do not know whether the House realises the extraordinary difficulty under which we do our work at the present time. An hon. and gallant Member said that we were going away for a rest. If you could shut up all Government and give everybody in it from top to bottom six weeks' holiday and then give them six weeks for thought, their business would be better done. We have no holiday; we have wholly insufficient time for thought. We work under great pressure. I ought to be at a Cabinet meeting now. Some of my colleagues would have been on this Bench if they were not detained there. There is one four days a week normally.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
So it is, but it is unavoidable at the present time under the pressure of these days. I ask the House to bear these things in mind when they judge how far we have failed to accomplish all that we should have done. Our minds are resolutely set on securing the economy and the reduction of expenditure that is obviously necessary. We have been at work upon this subject. We shall be continuously at work upon it. Some references were made to the Prime Minister. Let me say that no man feels it more strongly than the Prime Minister, and, whatever be his other qualities, he has it in him to make a strong force and to have him on your side is a great strength in matters of finance. Not only the Prime Minister, but the whole 'Government is seised with the seriousness of the position and is setting its mind equally seriously to work to find a remedy, which is essential.
I turn now to the particular questions put to me by the hon. Member for Barnsley (Sir J. Walton). He asked me—they are not small matters which can be dealt with in one or two sentences—what was the Government policy in relation to subsidies, what was its policy in relation to currency notes, and what was its policy in relation to exchange. My policy in regard to subsidies is to bring them to an end wherever that can be done and as soon as it can be done. [Hon. Members: "When?"] Do hon. Members think that is capable of a precise and definite answer? Do they think that that question can be answered by my saying 1st November or 31st December or any single date? Each one of these must be considered on its merits. There are the railways. I should like to bring that subsidy to an end. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!"] Yes, Sir; but hon. Members must not press that railway fares should be reduced before the railway accounts balance. On the contrary, railway passenger fares must remain—
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I am coming to railway freights. Passenger fares must be maintained until the railways are in a sound position; then we may consider reducing them. If at any time you can show that the rates charged are uneconomic, then I quite agree that we should have to raise them. Simply be- 641 cause somebody or everybody wants to pay less, my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Macquisten) asks whether freights ought not to be raised. Yes, they ought; and when the Ways and Communications Bill is passed there will be power to do it. It is a thing not to be done brutally or roughly or with the same case as raising the passenger fares. Those who know more than I do about the subject of railway rates have told me that a mere flat-rate increase on all rates is an impossible proposition and would have disastrous consequences. But do not let me be drawn more than need be into details. I want to bring the subsidy to the railways to an end as quickly as possible. You have got to do that by getting your railways into proper working order and adjusting their rates to the new values of services, commodities, and money. Then there is the bread subsidy. Would anybody say that it would be wise for the House to-morrow to stop the bread subsidy? [Hon. MEMBERS: "Yes!"] Not many, I think. I doubt whether the few who answered "Yes" would say so if they were charged with our responsibilities. Our policy is to bring these subsidies to an end as and when we can, and not to give new subsidies of a similar kind. As regards exchange, my hon. Friend asked me what I proposed to do to rectify the exchange.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
There are only two ways of assisting the exchange and they must be worked together. The first is to reduce your imports by not ordering articles of luxury and articles which are unnecessary from abroad, and by confining your purchases to where the exchanges are adverse, and even elsewhere, because they all react, confining your purchases made abroad to the things which are really necessary and foregoing the things you can do without. The second thing is to increase your exports. That comes back again, at bottom, to increasing your production and to reducing the cost, so that you may get a ready entry into good markets. Bear in mind that it is a profoundly difficult problem at the present moment. There are very few countries in Europe which are in a position to pay for what they would normally take. They are urgently in need of all sorts of things. There is hardly a week passes that I am not asked to lend money to somebody in 642 order that he may buy our goods. The borrower intends to repay. I have no doubt he will be in a position to repay some day; but in the meantime that does not help my problem. It does not help me to rectify the exchange. The only way you can do that is by selling in the markets which can pay. That is the problem. During the War it was thought necessary—and if I may be permitted to offer an opinion I would say it was necessary—to peg certain of the exchanges—the most important one to us was the American exchange—that is to say, by artificial means we maintained the exchanges at a certain level, when, owing to natural causes, they would have fallen below the level. That is not a process with which you can go on for ever. It is very costly. The time came when I thought I had to withdraw the peg. I think my action commended itself to those competent to judge and to this House. I am quite sure it would be fatal to try to put the peg back. That would be retrograde, and the adverse exchange, rightly understood, is not a thing which you could deal with by any artificial measures even temporarily, as we did during the War under great pressure. You cannot do that permanently. It is a danger signal which shows that the traffic in and out is not working properly, that the traffic in is too heavy and the traffic out is too small. Above all that, the traffic out is too small. You could only rectify those exchanges by increased production and increased exports, and, unless we succeed in doing that quickly, everyone from the richest to the poorest is going to have a very bad time.
Then my hon. Friend asked me about the currency issue. I have watched the currency issue with some care and attention. I regret to say that in the last week there has been a considerable increase, and I do not think a considerable increase of currency at this time ought to pass without any notice from me. My hon. Friend said we had only a reserve of £28,500,000 against currency notes. I have earmarked another £250,000 of Bank of England notes for currency reserve in consequence of the rise which has taken place this week. I think that is a step which will commend itself to my hon. Friend. There are certain features of the situation which I have steadily in view. One is the currency note issue, another is the Ways and Means advances—borrowing from the Bank of England. In anticipation of the Victory Loan we stopped the issue of Treasury 643 Bills in accordance with precedent. The immediate result was that we had large numbers of Treasury Bills falling due to pay off, and Ways and Means advances rose. They are down again. I am very anxious to keep them down. I am sure that is the wise and the sound course in national finance. I think the Treasury Bills will be a very large feature of our balances for a long time to come. I have not the least doubt that they can safely be so, and even that they can be so with the convenience of the traders and bankers of the country. But Ways and Means advances I think we must do our best to keep from rising again, and we must try another way to get the money which but for those advances we should have to take as an overdraft from the Bank of England. I have given the House the latest information I can on the financial situation. The Government are giving serious and anxious attention to the financial position which I have stated to the House. They are determined not merely that reckless waste shall be stopped wherever it occurs, but that rigorous economy shall be exercised. They have made up their minds that expenditure must come down, and they are devoting themselves to the measures which will bring that result about. One question I have left unanswered. The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Lambert Ward) said there was prevalent the fear lest the Government, in view of the gravity of the financial situation, should resort to the course of nationalising everything in the hope that they could get a better revenue. That is the last course which would ever enter my mind. The hon. and gallant Gentleman need be under no apprehension that we shall rush into experimental and hazardous courses as a financial speculation in the hope that so we may get out of the difficulty. The gravity and difficulty of the situation is an argument against taking new liabilities of a doubtful and speculative kind, and the liabilities we have already, the onerous obligations which are assumed by Bills which this House has passed—the Housing Bill, the Land Settlement Bill, the Ways and Communications Bill—are surely enough to digest, and we must be content with them until they have been thoroughly digested.
§ Brigadier-General CROFT
Will the right hon. Gentleman answer my question about unemployed benefit?
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Unemployed benefit from the first has been refused to strikers, but it has been paid to people innocently out of work in consequence of a strike by others. There is nothing new about that.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
It is within the knowledge of Parliament that it has been the practice. The Third Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill is not the most convenient occasion to bring it to an issue.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
No one can give any practical statement of the cost involved to the country in the housing scheme. The policy is that the houses shall be let at the true, normal, economic rent. But we cannot tell at this moment what will be the capital cost corresponding to what you may consider the normal rent. You cannot ascertain the loss which will have to be borne by the State till the time comes when you settle what is the normal value of the houses. The expenditure year by year for many years to come is going to be very considerable. All the larger local authorities must borrow money for their houses. The State cannot assume that obligation for them. For the smaller local authorities without credit we have to lend, but all of them risk no more than a penny rate, and the rest of the loss falls upon the National Exchequer. What that may be I cannot say, but the normal charge for many years to come must be very serious.
Mr. G. MURRAY
What will happen supposing the local authority is unable to borrow money, and the housing schemes will not go on? I know of such cases.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
This really is not the moment to raise that question. If the hon. Member wants information in regard to those questions, he should address himself to the Minister of Health. For the local authority which is too small to have credit of its own we have to borrow, and that is a sufficiently serious undertaking to make me say we cannot borrow for the great municipal or county authorities who have credit of their own, and they must use their credit or their 645 housing will not be done. I have tried to put the situation fairly to the House as I see it now. It is worse than it was when I spoke on the Budget. It is worse temporarily and to some extent permanently, because if the deficit for the year is greater than I had anticipated, then the debt at the end of the year is greater, and we are left with that continuing into future years. But the circumstances which have made it worse are partly permanent in that we have found it necessary to incur such matters as pensions, the pay of the Army and Navy, the pay of the police, and the bonus to Civil servants, much of which expenditure at any rate will continue for a long time. But there is nothing in the situation which is beyond our power to deal with as a nation if we will tackle it as a nation, with the same resolution, the same public spirit, and the same unity as that with which we faced the difficulties of war. The difficulties of reconstruction are not less than the difficulties of war. If we had not been parties to the War, and had had no burden of our own to bear and no loss to make good, the condition of Europe outside the British Isles must have profoundly affected the whole trade of our country—the whole position. With a Europe which is desolated, where the means of industry and production have in many cases been destroyed, where capital is absent, raw materials are unobtainable and food insufficient—with a Europe like that you have the United Kingdom spared all this suffering but still faced with the prodigious upheaval that the War brought, with the prodigious burden that it leaves, and with the new problems that it has created. If we face this difficulty not as a united nation, not as citizens of a common country, but as sections and classes, eagerly seeking a selfish or a particular interest, we shall deserve our fate. If we face it as patriotic citizens, with courage and resolution, if everyone gets to work in his own sphere as hard and as quickly as he can, we shall save the situation.
§ Sir DONALD MACLEAN
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has addressed the House at considerable length, and I am sure we all agree that not one single sentence of his speech was wasted, because, with his customary frankness, he laid before the House, and I hope the country, a very fair indication of the seriousness of our financial position. Before 646 I take up the subject with which I desire most particularly to deal, namely, the question of the administration of the Government in Ireland, I should like to say a word on two points with which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has dealt. The first is his appeal to us for economy, and the declaration which he made that as far as the Government were concerned they were determined that no effort should be lacking on their part to embark on a drastic operation of what I hope I am not wrong in calling ruthless economy. My right hon. Friend will excuse me for saying that I have heard that speech before in this House. I know that he and his colleague the Financial Secretary for the Treasury have put forth considerable effort and hon. Members of this House—certainly those on this side, and my hon. Friends below the Gangway on the opposite side of the House and one or two others, if they will accept a tribute from me—have joined in the effort to enforce, as far as words can, the needs for ruthless economy. But what are the facts? Only two or three days ago the Chancellor of the Exchequer told us that the daily expenditure of the country was still about four and a half millions. If there is really very much in what the Government say through their spokesmen, what are we to think of the introduction the other day of the Bill to increase the salaries of Ministers and Secretaries, which was only borne down after a very remarkable Debate, in which Members of all shades of political opinion joined in denouncing the proposal without reserve?
What is the evidence of the serious intent of these fine phrases about economy and ruthless cutting down of expenditure? Up to now it has been absent. What is the cause? I think there must be many causes. I quite agree that the work of re-construction is even more difficult than destruction, but I entirely agree with what a large number of Members have said hero to-day, that one of the main causes is the lack of central-driving Parliamentary control. No one can doubt that until the large number of Government Departments operating outside the directing sphere of influence of this House, working through Orders in Council without any adequate representation in this House—until that is stopped no amount of fine speeches or Governmental declarations will stop the outflow of public money in this grossly 647 extravagant way. We hare received from the Government an undertaking that, when the autumn comes, there will be laid before this House the Army Estimates, the Navy Estimates, and the Air Force Estimates. There is an opportunity for the House of Commons itself.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
The Prime Minister cheers that. Will the House then come and back up any Government, any official, who goes out for economy? It is the opportunity of the House of Commons itself to do it, and it can beat any Ministry. There is no Prime Minister, however powerful he may be, who dare stand up against the House of Commons on a question of expenditure, if it is in earnest. If it is put up to please a body of constituents, or to serve some passing interest, the expert politicians know what it means, and, of course, they will treat it with the attention it deserves. But if it is a serious intention no Government can stand against it, and I do hope profoundly that this House will realise its responsibility. The country is looking to it to take itself seriously.
There is a great deal of talk about direct action and all the rest of it. I am not a bit afraid of that if the House of Commons asserts itself. People talk about the House of Commons and the elections. I am not going into that now, but what I say outside the House when I address the electors is this: "It is no use your talking about the House of Commons. You elected it, and those of you who did not vote are just as blameworthy for the House of Commons which you reprobate as those who voted for it. Take the responsibility of your action." Let the House of Commons, if it wants to save itself, be worthy of itself, and I have no fear of what the future may bring. I would say one plain word to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. It must be a courteous word, because our relations have always been of the most friendly nature. I heard with the greatest anxiety an answer which was given to me across the floor of the House by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House. The Prime Minister, of course, is tired. We all know and sympathise with him in the great strain which he has undergone. But when the Autumn Session comes, will he come back to this House and resume the normal duties, in 648 so far as they can be exercised, of a Prime Minister and Member of the House of Commons?
What is the real distinction between this House and written Constitutions such as that of the United States? It is in regard to the closeness of the connection between the Executive and the Legislature. I should mind the Prime Minister separating himself from the House, as he has in. the past, even if the results were very excellent. I should be prepared to accept something very much less good than that, as long as we kept along the line of our own constitutional development. Disaster must await us if we go back from the slow growth and development and the experience of centuries. We must have one thing or the other—our own Constitution or a written Constitution; and I urge very strongly upon the Prime Minister, in his presence here and now, that if he seeks—with the best of motives, I am quite certain—to separate himself from a close and intimate connection with the House of Commons in the vast and varied duties which lie before it, he is striking a blow at the authority of Parliament. I am sure he does not wish to do that. That matter, I think, is one for very serious consideration. Serious movements are going across the face of the world to-day. We cannot escape them, and I say here and now that nothing stands between this country and a form of revolution but the moral authority of this House as representative of the people. No blame is to be attached to us if we fulfil to the extent that we can our Parliamentary duties, whether on the Front Opposition Bench, the Government Bench, or below or above the Gangway.
I pass from that to say a word or two about the question of Ireland. I shall make my comments as brief as I can. What was the position with regard to Ireland in 1914, when the War broke out? We realised what magnificent possibilities there were, and there are few of us here who will recall without feelings of emotion that day when two men—John Redmond and Willie Redmond—joined with us in an agreed acclaim of national unity on that great question. In 1916 there came the terrible rebellion in Dublin, and from that time on there has been an ever-growing development of martial law as distinguished from the administration of the civil law. I was one of the Committee which examined hundreds of those Sinn Feiners who became interned in this country, and the evidence which was put before 649 us disclosed a state of affairs which shocked every one of the Committee. Horror and anger filled us as we heard the uncensored record of the way in which British soldiers were being shot down in the streets of Dublin. I shall never forget the experience we had to go through in hearing that. But one was struck with another thing. I saw personally hundreds of these people, and the impression was extraordinary that one got of these peasants from the far-off districts of Ireland. There was a light in their eyes which is only seen in men or animals which do not know much about artificial light. There they were; and to say that these men of that type are the hooligan ruffians usually associated with the name "Sinn Fein" is simply silly. We had poets, and literary people, and these simple peasants, caught up by this extraordinary movement. There it is. We have to face the fact. There is the fact. It has been faced from time to time by men of all shades of opinion in Ireland, but all the while there has been this steady growth of the military power in Ireland and a steady declension of ordinary law in Ireland. On the 3rd April of this year I made some remarks on the Irish Vote in Supply, and I quoted a letter from a friend of mine, known to many Members of this House, who had served very gallantly at the front and had returned to Ireland. He wrote:Returning to the country after four and a half years, I am really appalled by the scandal it presents of people governed by naked force; essentially the same system as in Belgium and in Germany; armed police, soldiers, machines, tanks, gas, etc.—all the hideous paraphernalia of war. The whole of it apparently to repress a people who are determined in some way or another to attain their liberty.There was then in Ireland, I suppose, something like 30,000 troops. What is the number to-day? [An Hon. Member: "Sixty thousand!"] I will say 50,000. According to the statement made to us the other day, there were no less than £900,000 a month being spent for purely military purposes in Ireland. That means very nearly, within £200,000, of £11,000,000 a year, or within £2,000,000 of the total net revenue raised in Ireland before the War. That is the position. Reference was made in the Debate the other day to a threat of direct action by my right hon. Friend the Member for Duncairn (Sir E. Carson). In that discussion the Law Officers of the Crown gave their opinion quite honestly that that speech constituted no breach of the law. Very shortly afterwards the 650 Lord Justice of Ireland, Lord Justice O'Connor, in one of his charges laid down a law which seemed to me to be very inconsistent with the declaration that has been made here. Whatever the legal aspect may be, here is the fact that that speech could be made by the right hon. and learned Member for Duncairn in the North of Ireland, and that he could be immune, while, on the other hand we know that young people, boys and girls, for they are little more than that, have been arrested for singing, "The Wearing of the Green," or something of that sort in the South of Ireland. That is the trouble. The ordinary people, as we call them, have a fine fund of blunt common sense, and they see that these two things do not square, whatever the legal position may be, and this condition of things has aroused, and will arouse, feelings and more than feelings—it conduces to acts of violence which we all reprobate.
Again, there is censorship in Ireland. I have no knowledge except what I see in. the newspapers. Very few people here really know what is going on in Ireland, because there is a rigid censorship as to what is going on there. What is the policy of the Government? We have an Act on the Statute Book.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
On a point of Order. I should like to know the: limits within which this Debate can be conducted. My right hon. Friend has been criticising the administration in Ireland, and referring to the administrative difficulties in Ireland. That, I understand, from my knowledge of this House, is within the limits of order on the Consolidated Fund Bill, but I have always understood that it was quite impossible on the Consolidated Fund Bill to discuss a question of policy which would involve legislation. I only want to get your ruling, Mr. Speaker, because if my right hon. Friend takes up this line of discussion, I should have to follow him, and then we might find ourselves discussing questions of legislation quite outside the purview of the particular Bill which we are engaged in at the present moment.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
On that point of Order I should like to make a statement. I am quite aware, after some years' experience, of the point which my right hon. Friend has very fairly and very properly taken. My point is this—I have detailed some matters of administration, but I have not yet suggested a word about 651 legislation. I have referred to the Act which is on the Statute Book, and I was going to ask my right hon. Friend, not to give the details—I was going carefully to avoid that, because if you are going to improve that Act or affect it in any way it must be by legislation—but to answer a question, and it is this: What is the policy of the Government with regard to the administration in Ireland with that Act on the Statute Book? If he cannot declare the policy now, as administering Ireland, will he take the opportunity of the Recess which is now coming and give us a definite promise to make a statement with regard to the Government's policy in Ireland when the House meets again? That is as far as I was going to go. I realise fully the limits of the Debate.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I think that would be unexceptionable. Of course, the moment the right hon. Gentleman proposes to go into details and to say, "If I were in your position I would do this or that," that would probably lead to some legislative proposals, and it would be beyond the limits of the present discussion. The right hon. Gentleman is quite in order in asking what the Government are going to do administratively to meet the present situation which he has just described, and whether the Government propose to bring the Home Rule Act into operation. The right hon. Gentleman is quite entitled to ask that. He would also be entitled to ask, "Supposing the Government do not intend to do that, are they prepared in the autumn to deal with the matter by some other means?" without specifying the particular means. But the moment you get into details, then you get beyond the scope of the Consolidated Fund Bill Debate.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I have had the privilege of sitting at your feet for some years, Mr. Speaker, and I will do myself the credit of observing those limits of order which you have indicated. I have referred to the fact that there is an Act on the Statute Book, and I now come to my closing point. This position cannot go on. That is agreed. It is something to have common agreement. It cannot go on. If it were only for ourselves it would be fatal to go on; but the Irish question has become a world question. It is, in the first place, our question. I do not say that I altogether resent it, but I do feel very much that it is not for us to be dictated 652 to in our own concerns by anybody, however much I may sympathise with them. I hold that view very strongly. It is our responsibility, but after that cautionary word I say that we cannot allow this condition of things to go on for our own position at home. The reaction on England, Scotland, and Wales is evident every day. The whole appeal is for the preservation of law and order, while forty miles across the sea you have a population which has in many ways borne a great part in the world's affairs—in art, in literature, in arms, in every branch of social life Ireland has been great, and sometimes pre-eminent, and yet she is held down to-day by a force of 50,000 soldiers, which cost this country nearly £1,000,000 a month. If we cannot do something to alleviate this we are bankrupt in statesmanship. Hitherto, whatever the difficulties have been, this country has always shown the way out of political difficulties which have conquered many other countries. The inherent political instinct of the British race is unequalled in the world. We saw what we could do in South Africa. We faced and solved many things there. The Prime Minister was a member of the Cabinet at that time, and he knows what those difficulties were. There is a lesson for us there from which we might draw comfort and strength and guidance. We know the old tale of the Sphinx and its riddle. There it is to-day. Ireland is still spelling out its riddle to us. Everywhere we have succeeded where we have tried, but in Ireland we always fail. It must not go on, and I urge the Prime Minister, with all the powers of which I am capable, in the interests not only of this country but of our world-wide Empire, to make up his mind as to his policy. Have a policy, whether it is going to fulfil all you want or not, and carry it out with all its risks, and I am certain we shall come through.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I was very anxious to hear what my right hon. Friend said upon the two or three very important topics which he has raised in his most interesting speech. I think I will deal with the last topic first. I also have had some experience of this House. I have not had his peculiar experience in administering the Rules of Order, but I have had some experience in breaking them. By that means you acquire a very accurate knowledge of what they really mean. Many a time have I tried to circumnavi- 653 gate the Rules of the Chair on the Consolidated Fund Bill. I have tried to raise all sorts of topics which involved questions of legislation, but Mr. Speaker and his predecessors and those who were in the Chair have always managed rigidly to exclude me from trespassing upon a discussion of questions of policy involving legislation. And I do not mind saying that I do not regret that at the present moment. I will tell my reasons straight away. It is not that I want to avoid discussing Ireland; I am quite prepared to do that. I did not raise a mere technical objection—to use legal language-to avoid an unpleasant Debate, but I do not think that a discussion of Irish policy at this particular moment would conduce to a favourable settlement.
My right hon. Friend's question is one which I answer straight away. I am sure he realises that, taking into account that recently my attention has been concentrated for six months on other problems, I could not possibly have devoted my time to a consideration of the half a dozen questions of cardinal, fundamental importance which await decision. I have my views upon Irish policy, but I realise that there are difficulties and fresh difficulties which may induce the Government to modify or alter any particular views they might have. I will consider that. But I find that when there is a discussion with regard to Ireland, unless you are not merely prepared instantly to table a policy and unless that policy is acceptable in every detail, it leads to recrimination and heat which are not conducive to a favourable consideration of the problem when you come to it. That is why I want to avoid all that at the present moment.
I agree with my right hon. Friend—it is perfectly obvious—that the state of Ireland is not satisfactory. It is not a credit to this country that, after hundreds of years of British rule in Ireland, we should not have succeeded in reconciling Ireland to the partnership, and it is the business of statesmanship to bring that condition of things to an end. The rule of force cannot be the last word, and I at once say to my right hon. Friend that it is the business of the Government to propound their policy, after careful consideration of the circumstances as they appear at the present moment, and submit to the House of Commons at the earliest opportunity their scheme for dealing with the government of Ireland. That, I agree. The mere fact 654 that there in an Act on the Statute Book and that that Act will come into operation—I think automatically; that is my recollection—six months after the conclusion of Peace renders it incumbent upon the House of Commons to face that problem. Therefore, I have no hesitation in telling my right hon. Friend that the Government will certainly submit their proposals to Parliament at the earliest possible opportunity. No one can imagine that it could be done in the course of the week or fortnight which the House has at its disposal before it adjourns for the Autumn Vacation. Anxious not to travel outside the limits of order, I will only add one or two observations. Somebody has said that "when everybody agrees that something should be done something foolish is done," and that is one of the troubles about Ireland. Everybody says you have to deal, you must deal, you must take any risks in dealing with it—something must be done there. I have taken the trouble to ask if you would mind telling me what you would do. I do not get a ready response.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I cannot ask my right hon. Friend now. If I did, Mr. Speaker would rule me out of order. I should be very glad if he would communicate to mo if he has any plan or any proposal. I can assure him that I will consider it, not merely from the importance of the proposals, but from my respect for my right hon. Friend. It certainly would be, and it has been, very interesting to watch what has happened during the last few weeks. There is a great journal which is not particularly friendly to me—I am not sure that I have been particularly friendly to it—which has joined the ranks of those who say that "something must be done." But it did not confine itself merely to that statement. It began to say exactly what should be done; it proposed a great scheme, and I watched the result. It is a scheme which every party in Ireland has joined in condemning. That is the experience of everybody. It is very easy to say "You must do something; you must do it at once; there should not be any delay in putting forward your proposals. Why do you not do it?" But the moment you do it, you find that the experience which this great journal has had during the last few days is the experience of everybody who comes for- 655 ward to propose any scheme. Then comes the other suggestion—and I am not at all contesting it—that it is for the Government to say, "As you cannot propose anything that Ireland accepts, because if one party accepts the other will not accept, and there will be trouble, we will put forward a scheme, and carry it through," simply saying, "This is the best we can do. This is what we think is right, and we will do that, and accept the responsibility." I agree that that is the only thing to do. That is the only way to deal with it, and the House of Commons may depend upon it that the Government do not propose to shirk their responsibility in that respect. That is as far as I can go within the limits of order, and I do not mind saying that it is as far as it is desirable to go at the present moment.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I think that my hon. friend will find that Irishmen themselves would be the first to protest against that. I have never seen any attempt to withdraw forces from Ireland that Irishmen themselves did not regret as much as anybody else. You must accept the responsibility for law and order. Until you set up an authority that has responsibility itself, order must be maintained there. Otherwise there will be anarchy and confusion. The responsibility for order is now the responsibility of the British Government. As long as it is our responsibility, we must use every means at our disposal to see that order is established there.
I come now to the second question raised by my right hon. Friend. It was a personal question, and therefore I will deal with it at once. My right hon. Friend referred to the question of my resuming the normal attendances of a Prime Minister in the House of Commons. Let me at once tell the House what are the difficulties. The conditions are not normal. My predecessor found it increasingly difficult to attend the House of Commons. The task of administration is an overpowering one. I will come to the kind of question to which constantly I have to devote my mind, which I could not do if I were sitting constantly in the House of Commons. Even the ordinary work of administration is an enormous one for a Minister who is at the head of the Government. I think that my right hon. Friend will find that Mr. 656 Asquith had that experience even before the War. It has become increasingly difficult for the Prime Minister also to discharge the functions of Leader of the House. In the old days the Prime Minister was Leader of the House, and sat in the House practically the whole time. That was not the case when I came into the House, because Lord Salisbury was in the House of Lords, but that was true of Disraeli, and I think that it was true of Mr. Gladstone. And in those days, as my right hon. Friend reminded me, Mr. Gladstone was Chancellor of the Exchequer as well as Prime Minister. But the functions of administration have increased enormously. The work of government has increased enormously, and I do not care who is the Prime Minister, whatever his physical resources, he could not possibly lead the House in the sense in which the House was led by the Prime Ministers of a generation ago, and also attend to his work as the head of the Administration. It was always said that the 1868 Government was the only Government which Mr. Gladstone really controlled. I am not sure whether that is in Lord Morley's life or not, but that is accepted by those who had experience of both Administrations. In 1880 he really ceased to control the administration of the various Departments. I do not know whether that was altogether due to the difference in age. He was a very much older man then, but there is no doubt that the work of administration had increased enormously between 1868 and 1880.
But the extent to which the work of government has increased since 1880 is almost incalculable, and I do not believe even in normal conditions—and we are far from being in normal conditions now—that it would be possible for a Prime Minister to exercise the kind of supervision which a Prime Minister ought to exercise over the work of government, and at the same time sit in the House of Commons and lead it. I do not think that it would be desirable for the House to ask him. It would be a mistake from the point of view of good government to do so. I should be prepared to discuss this matter if it were necessary, but I am putting it now on the ground of the fact that conditions are very far from normal. Let my right hon. Friend think of the questions that await decision at the present moment. I am not referring to the hundred and one comparatively small questions of administration—not small in themselves, but simply small in 657 comparison with these gigantic questions that await decision. When I came back from France this was the kind of question that confronted me. Take finance. There is nothing more vital to the prosperity and the life of the community. That is the first thing. It is essential that expenditure in every Department should be cut down, and cut down ruthlessly. I use that word within the limits of security and efficiency.
There is the question of the Coal Mines. Here was a Report of a great Commission—[a laugh]—of a Commission with one of the ablest judges at the head of it. I am expressing no opinion upon the Report, but at any rate the Commission was appointed by the House of Commons under an Act of Parliament. At the head of it was one of the most distinguished lawyers in the Kingdom, and he is entitled, whatever anyone's view is about it, to have received with respect any opinion he may express. As far as I am concerned I shall certainly approach the consideration of that Report with the respect I feel for the head of the Commission. Enormous issues are raised—great issues of principle—which I agree no Commission can decide. The responsibility, in the first instance, must be the responsibility of the Government, and, of course, the ultimate responsibility must be the responsibility of the Legislature. It will be the responsibility of the Government to consider that Report, and upon their responsibility, which they cannot pass to any Commission, they must make such recommendations to the House of Commons as they feel right and proper in the circumstances. Just think of the enormous importance of the issues raised! They are gigantic. Whatever the decision, the effects may be momentous upon the industrial world and upon the commerce and trade of this country. That is one of the questions which requires most careful consideration. The House must know that the Government have been devoting a great deal of time and attention to the consideration of this subject. I certainly have devoted a great deal of time to its consideration, and I have, even within the last two or three days, had to discuss it at considerable length with very great care and minuteness, and I hope to be able to make a statement to the House before it rises on that very important matter.
Another matter to which the Government have given most careful consideration is 658 what is known as Profiteering. There we are confronted with a condition of things that created great irritation and exasperation throughout the country, and which was undoubtedly conducing to the industrial unrest—aggravating it, inflaming it. Therefore, the Government have considered what steps to take in order to deal with that very important problem. It is not a normal problem—it is a problem which has arisen in consequence of the circumstances of the War, and the circumstances which have followed the War.
The fourth great problem is the problem of Trade Policy. The traders of this country are awaiting a declaration by the Government as to their views with regard to the trade policy of the country. They say it is essential, from the point of view of business, to know what action the Government propose to take, or whether they will take any action at all—what their view is with regard to the future of trade in Great Britain and in the British Empire. That is a matter of most enormous importance, and full of the greatest complications. There are questions concerning agriculture. I saw a deputation the other day, a very influential deputation of Members of this House, asking for an agricultural policy. I found I was denounced very severely because I was not able, within about three weeks after I had returned from France, to declare a policy upon all these great questions. Of course that is folly. These things require careful consideration, but they are all urgent, they are all important. The prosperity of this country depends upon the right decision being taken in respect to them.
Then there is the question referred to by my right hon. Friend—the question of Ireland, not a very easy question, or one which you can decide in a hurry. It is one of the most difficult questions you can possibly raise. It has baffled all statesmen who have attempted it up to the present moment. There is no Minister, Prime Minister or Irish Minister, who has ever undertaken that task, and has up to the present found a solution which is satisfactory either to Ireland or to Great Britain. These are some of the problems that are awaiting decision, and I say it would be quite impossible for any Prime Minister, if he had fifty times my physical resources, at the same time to give close study to these questions with a view of assisting the Government in coming to 659 the right conclusion, so as to submit plans and schemes and proposals to Parliament, and at the same time to sit in the House of Commons, and take part in Debates from day to day. It would be absolutely impossible; it would be a mistake for Parliament to demand it. In the present case, very fortunately, it is not necessary, because I am perfectly certain that there has never been in my experience a more popular and more efficient Leader of the House, and one who commands such general confidence, as my right hon. Friend (Mr. Bonar Law) who leads the House with such very great distinction. It would be quite enough if there were only these great questions, but when you are sitting down to consider them and consulting experts, reading all the reports on the subject, sending for everybody who can give you any assistance or cast any light upon the problems, suddenly there is the eruption of some great labour dispute. Almost, I think, the first week I came back from France, the first few days of my time were taken up with the settlement of the great miners' dispute.
You are dealing with circumstances such as have not arisen in this country before. I shall have something to say about that, I hope, next week or the week after, because I would like to review the whole position to the House as it presents itself to my mind, after consulting all those who can assist me in coming to a conclusion. I want to present to the House of Commons and the country what I conceive to be the picture of the present position, and the line we ought to take in dealing with it. I hope to be able to do that, with the indulgence of the House, before we rise. I think it is very important that the country should be made aware of the view of the Government upon the whole of the position. I want only to indicate that the situation is abnormal. It is a serious position; in many respects it is a grave one. It is so grave a position that I do not think we can recover—that we can reestablish things—unless the nation act together, and not merely the Government and Members of the House of Commons, but everybody, realises the responsibility. There is a spirit of irresponsibility abroad. There is a lack of appreciation of the perils. It has a good deal to do with the reaction which follows the strain of a great war. The nation, to recover, must pull itself together as a whole. 660 Otherwise, I say without hesitation, the position is a grave one. It is certainly not beyond the compass of our resources. On the contrary, all we need is that everybody throughout the land should put forth his best exertion, as he did during the War, and we shall emerge triumphant. But I do want to review the position, and to put the country, in so far as I can, face to face with its responsibilities.
My right hon. Friend dealt with the question of Finance. The first responsibility there is the responsibility of the Government. If the Government fail to realise its responsibility, and to act upon it, I agree that it is the business of the House of Commons to take the matter in hand. The old function of Parliament is to control Supply—it is the basis of our liberty—and to set that we get redress for grievances before Supply is voted. The House of Commons has to look at the matter, not merely from the point of view of cutting down, but from the point of view of not piling on. I have been Chancellor of the Exchequer for seven or eight years. I have heard far more debates in the House of Commons and had far greater pressure from the House of Commons to increase expenditure than to cut it down. I have heard general discussions in the House in which Members said, "How extravagant you are! Look at your Budget; it is £180,000,000! Look at your Super-tax; it is 6d. !" I have heard general debates of that kind, and the language was vivid—vivid but vague. But whenever the House of Commons particularised they said, "Why do not you increase the money you spend for that? You are not-spending enough on agriculture, or on pensions. Look at the miserable pittance you have given for them!" The Debates in Committee of Supply were invariably debates not to cut down expenditure, but to increase it. There was not a debate I over heard in Committee of Supply when if you totalled the suggestions made, they would not almost have doubled the particular Estimate you were discussing.
It is no use talking about the responsibility of the Government. It is the responsibility of the House of Commons! My right hon. Friend told the House of Commons a story of an hon. Friend of mine who came to me late last night. This is the way the House of Commons encourages me to cut down expenditure. My right hon. Friend says I am not in the House very often. When I came in last night there was a petition signed by 380 661 Members of the House of Commons asking me to increase the annual expenditure by £4,800,000 for some proposal or other I had never hoard of before ! I have no doubt it is a good proposal. All these proposals are good. If you take each one on its merits, they are all admirable. But you have to consider what the nation can bear, and choose between them, and say, "This, I think, we must have; that we must have; but this we really cannot afford just yet." Every business is run in that way. Take a very great business. The men who are at the head of each branch always have suggestions how they can improve it—building a little more here, having a bigger staff there, opening out there—and the business of those who are sitting and controlling is to say, "This we cannot do," and "We will try this other thing this year." The House spoke frankly to us, and they will not mind the Government speaking quite frankly to them. The House has the responsibility not merely of vague criticism and talking about extravagance, but also of supporting the Government when they resist particular appeals for expenditure.
I am not criticising in the least what has been done about pensions, but still it is a very considerable burden on the shoulders of the country. There are certain forms of expenditure which it is very difficult for Members of Parliament to resist, because there are so many people who are interested in them. The House of Commons must also have the moral courage to face circumstances of that kind. When you have a section of a constituency, it may be 100 or 500 or a 1,000 or 10,000, all interested in a particular form of expenditure, it is very difficult to resist an appeal for an increase in those directions. It is only by co-operation between Parliament and the Government that you can resist, and I believe that the common sense of the community would support us both. I agree that it is the business of the Government to see that the gigantic expenditure which we have unfortunately had to incur in order to save the national life, should be cut down at the first possible moment. A good deal of it could not be cut down the moment the guns ceased to sound, because we had to keep great Armies there until we knew whether Germany would accept our terms or not. That had to be done; but now peace is being re-established not merely with Germany, but I hope soon with other countries as well, I 662 trust the House of Commons and the Government will act together to see that expenditure is cut down to the narrowest possible limits, in order that there should be not merely complete economy, but also complete efficiency throughout the country in its administration.
§ Major HILLS
The Prime Minister has made a speech of deep interest which touched on so many topics of the greatest weight that I feel tempted to follow him at length, but I only intend to deal with one subject. First of all, let me say I recognise that the time has now probably come when the office of Prime Minister has got to be divorced from that of Leader of the House of Commons. I think the work of both is too much for one man. I am also entirely in accord with him that the whole remedy for extravagance now rests with the House of Commons. The real fact is that now the Treasury stands out single-handed against the spending Departments and against the greatest spending Department of all, which is the House of Commons. I did not, however, rise to talk about that. I want to bring the Debate back to the question of Ireland. I can assure the Prime Minister I shall observe to the full the two conditions which he laid down at the beginning of his speech. I recognise to the full that for many months past he has not been able to give more than a small part of his great abilities to the Irish question. In anything that I mean to say I shall indulge in no recrimination at all. The Prime Minister told us that the present position of Ireland was unsatisfactory, and that the rule of force could not continue indefinitely; and he went on to say that there was a general demand that something should be done, and he said very truly that when there is a general demand for something to be done often something foolish is done. That is quite true; but I would point this out: Is not the present position, which remains if you do nothing, more foolish than any action you could take? I do not believe that anything could be worse than the present position in Ireland. The Prime Minister went on to mention the scheme that the "Times" newspaper has brought forward, and said that that scheme had been attacked and had got no friends, and, he added, if we are to do anything, please say what we are to do.
Anybody who brings forward any sort of scheme for the solution of the Irish ques- 663 tion is fired at from all directions. He is fired at by the people who do not want a settlement, and they exist on both sides, and he is also fired at by people who do not want that particular settlement. In a controversy like this, which has a long history, opinion has become hardened and stereotyped, and people are slow to change their minds and often think that their own solution is the only one possible, so that whatever scheme you bring forward finds many attackers and few defenders. The only deduction from that is this: A question of this sort can only be settled in one of two manners. Either you do, as the Prime Minister did a couple of years ago, and set up a Convention of Irishmen of all parties to settle this question, or the Government themselves choose the best solution and impose that settlement on Ireland. The Government, very wisely in my judgment, and with the very bust results I believe for Ireland in the end, chose the form of a National Convention which did not fulfil all the hopes of its sponsors. It did not arrive at a decision which resulted in legislation, but it was essential that it should be tried, and it did very great work, I believe, in clarifying the position. As that has not provided a solution, I put this to the Prime Minister: Has not the time come for the Government to impose their solution? It is not a case of intelligent gentlemen or wise committees establishing the beet solution possible. What you want is action. The scheme that the "Times" put forward may be a good scheme or a bad scheme, but it might have been the best scheme in the world and yet it would have been attacked in just the same way. Whatever scheme you put forward is bound to be attacked, and the only possible solution is for the Government as a Government to impose their solution of the question. Therefore, I do not propose, even if it were within the Rules of Order, to go into the alternative schemes for the settlement of this great question. I will merely say that, now that we have peace, and the certainty that within a few months, and it may be as near as next February, the Home Rule Act of 1914 coming into operation, and which nobody wants, and which would be entirely unsuitable to present conditions, and when we look at the fact that we are ruling Ireland by martial law, and are employing troops which we shall find it hard to provide when the Army is reduced to its peace establishment, and besides holding down a country by martial law at a time when 664 we talk of abolishing militarism in the whole world, and when, lastly, we look at the position and the obligations that we have undertaken through signing the Covenant of the League of Nations, and agreeing to the principles of self-determination, I do think the time for a settlement is ripe indeed. Taunts or threats as to foreign nations, I think, do infinite harm to the settlement of the Irish question, and the mere fact that the threats are made make it difficult to do what you might do without difficulty if the threat was not made. I am appealing to our own sense of right, and to the lead which we have got to give to the world if the League of Nations is going to be a real force. I believe that unless the League of Nations is a real living force in the world we shall go back to the state of war which we have seen during the last century. I do not believe there are two ways to it. But the League of Nations is now merely certain articles printed in a book. It is nothing without the spirit that works it, and the great part of working it must fall on this country. How can we hold ourselves outs to the world as the exponent of the League of Nations and of the principle of self-determination unless we apply that principle to Ireland? I have said that before.
I believe and I hope that the Prime Minister, after the great work that he has done, will bring his great abilities to the settlement of this question, which is surely the most urgent. We have seen what the Prime Minister has done in Europe. We all feel the greatest admiration for the way he has upheld the principle of freedom and self-determination in Europe. We also recognise the skill with which he met the practical difficulties. There was the settlement of Poland, and of Serbia, and of the other difficult national questions, and we express our gratitude and deep admiration at the work of the Prime Minister in those matters. In all those questions he has got what he wanted done. Can he not do the same thing for Ireland? I believe he can. I believe that now that the great burden of the peace of Europe is off his shoulders that he will turn his mind to this question. Let the House be under no misapprehension. Unless he does, we are left in this position, that we have carried freedom all through the world except in our own home, and we shall be the only white race holding down another white race by the sword. I am not in the least anxious to step into the shoes of the Austrian Empire. Does 665 the House not clearly recognise that we are in very real danger of being in that position? The Prime Minister told us that the Government will produce their scheme. I only say two things about that. I hope that they will produce their scheme quickly, and I hope that when it is produced that it will be put through and passed into law in the speediest way possible, for only by a wise solution imposed by the Government and passed with all possible speed lies, in my judgment, a settlement of this old and long-standing controversy.
Lieut.-Colonel A. MURRAY
Before passing on to deal with the question of Ireland, I wish to say one word regarding a statement made by the Prime Minister. Referring to his absence from this House, the Prime Minister gave reasons why at the present moment it is impossible for him to come to the House daily and take part in its proceedings. We shall all, I think, be prepared to admit that there are special reasons at present why it is not possible for the Prime Minister to come down here every day and take part in these proceedings, but I do suggest to the Prime Minister that the statement he made to-day is one of very grave moment, and points to a very far-reaching constitutional change. The Prime Minister said, to all intents and purposes, that never again in the future of this country would it be possible for the Prime Minister to take part in the daily proceedings of this House, and that that duty would be devolved upon a Leader of the House appointed for the time being. I suggest to the Prime Minister that it will be quite impossible for him adequately to administer the country if he is out of touch, as he would be under those conditions, with the House of Commons. I think it is the duty of the House of Commons to watch very carefully indeed any such departure from its usages as has been suggested in the Prime Minister's speech this evening. There is a tendency now on the part of the Cabinet for no Cabinet Minister to take decisions on his own. If he is in a difficulty he runs to the Prime Minister, and if the Prime Minister is in a difficulty he sets up a Royal Commission, and it is upon the Report of that Royal Commission that the Government settles its policy, and so far as I can see the tendency is to adopt in toto the policy of the Royal Commission. I hope the House will forgive me for saying those few words, but I think they are of importance 666 and that this House should watch very carefully the departure that has been proposed by the Prime Minister to-night.
The Prime Minister, in his speech, dealt with Ireland, and he referred to the difficulties of framing a scheme which would put an end to the present system of military government that obtains in that country. I am not going to traverse the ground that has already been covered by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean). I am fully aware of the difficulties of the Prime Minister in regard to this settlement, but my criticism of the Government in the matter is this. It is quite true to say that the Prime Minister has been engaged during the past six months in Paris, and we are all fully cognisant of the great work that he has done for his country and for the world during the Peace Conference, but the Cabinet in this country during the time that the Prime Minister was in Paris ought to have been giving its consideration to this problem, which is one of the most urgent with which the country has to deal. I agree entirely with the hon. and gallant Gentleman, who has just spoken that this is a problem which, so far as the method on which it is to be settled is concerned, is one for this country, and for this country alone, but we cannot overlook the fact that it is a world problem, an international problem, in that it is endangering our relations—I do not think that it is too strong a term to use if the settlement is longer delayed—with the overseas Dominions, and it is embittering our relations with the United States of America. The Irish sections of the American population in this connection tell us what we ought to do. I agree that we do not desire to be dictated to by the Irish sections of the American population, but I think we ought to take into consideration the fact that this is necessarily a question which concerns America in that a very large portion of her population are Irish-born and that, just as one member of a family takes an interest in and criticises another member of a family, so these Irish-Americans who come from Irish stock take an interest in and criticise the methods for the settlement of the Irish question in this country. When the Prime Minister referred to the scheme which has been adumbrated by the "Times," he suggested—and the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Major Hills) suggested the same thing—that it had no friends. I hold no brief—
§ Major HILLS
May I explain that I meant to say that any scheme, however good, was bound to be attacked? I think the scheme has one friend, at any rate.
If I misrepresented what the hon. and gallant Gentle man said, I unreservedly withdraw, but he very truly said that any scheme is, of course, attacked from very many quarters. I hold no brief whatsoever for the scheme produced by the "Times," but it does seem to me to be one of the most practicable schemes that has been produced. It has in many quarters in Ireland received very favourable comment, it has been favourably commented on in the Dominions and in the United States, and I suggest to the Government that, if they would take that scheme as a basis for their considerations on this matter, they might do very much worse. In any case, upon whatever basis they found their considerations, it is quite obviously their duty, their first obligation, to take the whole responsibility of framing a scheme, of producing it in this House, and of passing it through Parliament at the earliest possible moment. The Prime Minister to-day said that that was the intention of the Government. I welcome that assertion on the part of the right hon. Gentleman, but when I say that I cannot refrain from carrying my mind back to the month of May, I think it was, 1918, when the Prime Minister, standing at that box, said in very similar terms that it was the first duty of the Government to frame a Home Rule scheme for Ireland and to use all the resources at its disposal to pass it through Parliament and place it on the Statute Book of this country. In saying that, I do not think I am unfair to the Prime Minister. I am within the recollection of the House in the quotation.
I will conclude by saying that I feel perfectly sure, in his heart of hearts, no one more than the Prime Minister deplores the present situation in Ireland. You have only to look at the Order Paper to-day to see the questions that have been put in this House by an hon. Member (Mr. MacVeagh), in which attention is drawn to a police constable fired at, to a gentleman who was shot dead, to a commercial traveller who was shot dead, find to a gentleman whose motor-cycle was seized—why? Because, as the right hon. Gentleman the Attorney-General for Ireland told us at Question Time, it was 668 suspected that that gentleman was going to use his motor-cycle for illegal purposes. All I can say in that respect is, that if I were to place, side by side, the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Duncairn Division (Sir E. Carson) at Belfast on the l2th July and the case of this gentleman whose motor-cycle was seized, I would ask which purpose was the more illegal, the speech of the right hon. Member for Duncairn or the supposed illegal purpose to which this motor-cycle was going to be put? I do hope the Prime Minister was sincere in the statement he made this afternoon. The present system of administration in Ireland cannot be continued. The time when it should be brought to an end is too long overdue. The root point of the whole, problem is this: It is not discontent which has produced coercion in Ireland, but it is coercion which has produced discontent, and until Ministers on the Front Bench grasp that fact they will never be able to settle the Irish problem. I hope, therefore, after the Prime Minister's speech to-day, there will not be a repetition of the circumstances of the year 1918, but that the Government will make up their minds to produce a scheme which reasonable men in this country, the Dominions, and the United States of America will accept, and use all the forces at their disposal in this House to pass it through Parliament and place it on the Statute Book.
§ Mr. WATERSON
I listened very attentively to the Chancellor of the Exchequer when, in his admirable way, he endeavoured to lead us from the path of extravagance into the path of economy, which this House has not yet trodden, at any rate. I want to draw the attention of the House away from Ireland for the moment to one or two of the home problems which are now confronting us. The Chancellor of the Exchequer believes, as do many Members of the House, that if, in the future, this nation is to prosper, it can prosper only on account of its trade. I believe there are certain restrictions now placed upon trade in this country which are hampering the prosperity of many of our business concerns. At the beginning of the War, when men were being called to the Colours, it was the duty of the Government to safeguard, to a large degree, the businesses of those men whilst they were serving their country. Every man who looked at it from a national point of view agreed that that was a right policy, but I venture to say the time has now 669 come when those restrictions should be removed. If we are to prosper, we must not have trade hampered as it is to-day. I do not want to develop into a line of argument which will lead us on to the question as to whether Free Trade is the best policy or whether we should have a preferential tariff system, or anything of that kind, but I want to deal with the question of trade as it affects us in our own localities and within the shores of our own Island. Many men in this country are afraid to launch out on an enterprise, and to develop trade, not merely because of the shortage of labour, but because of the restrictions that are now held so tightly, under the guidance of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour. I could give a specific case. It is that of a society in which I have been particularly interested, who have been endeavouring for a long period to launch out and to employ men, and to try to resuscitate the nation from the point of view of trade. But the old National Service Department, now under the control of the Minister of Labour, is somewhat retarding its progress. I submit that while this retarding is going on, it is hampering the prosperity of our nation, and to a large extent, now that many of these men have been released from the Army, there is no need to continue the restrictions which up to the present time have been so rigidly adhered to.
The particular case to which I desire to draw the attention of the House is in connection with an ordinary fish licence. It was impossible for a man to develop that into a fish business unless he had the special permission of the Minister concerned. At last, after very many months pleading, we were able to get this fish licence, and I can safely say it has not been in the least derogatory to the ordinary fish dealers of the particular neighbourhood. Not one business has been affected, yet this fish licence is retarded because of certain conditions laid down by the Minister in charge of the Department. What is required is that the restrictions held so rigidly during the War should now be removed, and an opportunity be given to these people to develop their business, in order that trade should not be hampered any longer, and so remove to a large extent the unemployed now walking our streets. I know it was quite right in the early days to protect these men who had gone to protect their nation, but now that it is possible 670 for those in one-man businesses to be released from the Army on compassionate grounds, there is no obvious reason why that restriction should be held so tightly. There is another matter which, I think, is retardng the interests of trade in this country. In the early days of the War very many men were anxious to serve their country as members of the fighting forces. I call to mind many, many hundreds of men who, time after time, made repeated attempts, being physically fit, to join the forces. Because of the particular occupation in which they were engaged they were turned down by the military authorities, and ordered to return to their employment which was considered more important in the interests of the nation than joining the fighting forces.
Many of our railwaymen went forth, strictly patriotic, strictly anxious to do all they could to further the interests of their country. Yet these men were kept in the service of the railway companies for two or three years, though they desired to enlist. In the course of time these men were called to the Colours. As the situation became more apparent to the Government, the call for men became more acute, and these men, as the outcome, were sent into the forces. Not only in the railway industry, but in the engineering industry, and munitions work, many were debarred from joining the forces on similar grounds. In connection with the railwaymen, in particular, many of these men are in the force to-day. They have not been released. The consequence is that railway working is being hampered. These men are being kept in the Army of Occupation and in various parts of this Kingdom, and in Ireland. They are kept, not for any useful purpose that we can see, or as a national asset, but merely because they did not join before 1st January, 1916. Consequently many stations in a prospering condition before the War are closed to the British public. Miles and miles of road are being traversed by horses and carts, which is an expense to the trading community, is one which eventually falls upon the consumers, and naturally, to some extent, is aggravating the industrial unrest that is so prevalent. I put it to the House very, very plainly that if, to a large degree, these men could be released from the Army as a necessity for trade development and for the best interests of the country as a whole, we should, at any rate, find that the terrible expense to which employers of labour 671 have to be put in paying for overtime at varying rates would be eased. One thing which every good employer of labour desires to have the opportunity to do is to develop his business. That, to some extent, would relieve unemployment.
There is one other matter to which I desire to call the attention of the House, and which I think comes within the scope of the War Office. Repeated attempts have been made in this House to get released from the Army the only sons of widows. I regret the Secretary for War is not in his place to hear my complaint. Many hon. Members are daily receiving letters which ask them to see if something cannot be done to release these only sons. I should have thought the Secretary for War, without talking with his military advisers upon this question, would have considered, if there was any ground of compassion upon which such a soldier could be got out of the Army, that ground would be the case of a widowed mother, whose only son came forward at the crisis of the nation's history prepared to sacrifice all for the honour of his country. Many, many old women in this country to-day are living upon a miserable pittance, and without the son, who was not allowed the opportunity of joining the forces, but was drawn into them when he reached eighteen, and is now kept in the forces. His mother to-day is not even existing as a British citizen should exist.
I want to appeal to the Secretary of State for War. If there is no other word uttered on this question to-night, at least there is one voice which can speak, I hope, from the heart. I want to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, or to those who act for him now, that he will take the earliest opportunity of considering and seeing the advisability of giving back to these widows that comfort, hope, inspiration, and joy that would come to the heart of the mother when she knows that her only son is returning to her home. In conclusion, I should like to refer to Ireland. I hope at no distant date the question of trouble in Ireland will be settled. I am convinced in my own mind that until we are prepared to give self-determination to Ireland—and also self-determination to India—you will have unrest, because it is in accordance with the principles of freedom, and the natural outcome of every nation to govern itself, that it should wish for self-determination—to have that freedom of action 672 and freedom of thought which is the cause of the aspirations and deep inspiration of a freedom-loving people.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I should like still further to refer to the question which has been touched upon by recent speakers, including the Prime Minister himself—that of our sister nation, Ireland. One criticism I have to make on the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine (Lieut.-Colonel Murray), and that by the hon. Member for Durham (Major Hills), is that, high and lofty as they were in their note, nevertheless to me they seemed to dwell too much on the need for English action in setting up a form of government for Ireland. That is not the problem. The great problem is to allow the Irish to set up their own form of government. I think we are agreed as a nation—I believe the Empire is agreed—I believe the majority of the people of our Allies are agreed—that the principle of self-determination should be applied impartially, and therefore it must be applied to the Irish people. By self-determination we mean the right of a people to choose its own form of government. To do that the first thing is to remove foreign influences. We have this fact, that the old conception of Empire is out of date. Fine as it was, great as have been the gifts to civilisation of the Empires of the past— including our own—they have been altogether superseded by the new world-order ushered in by the Peace of Versailles, namely, the ideal of the League of Nations. This completely transforms our relation to Ireland and our relation to the whole of our Empire. We are now a Commonwealth of Nations which form a unit, and an important unit, of the new world brotherhood known as the League of Nations. Therefore with the one understanding that Ireland should form part of the same world brotherhood, they should be allowed to choose and form their own form of government entirely.
The first thing to be done undoubtedly is to remove martial law from Ireland and take away the British troops from that country. I believe then the Irish would settle their own form of government, and it would give them greater satisfaction than any other form of government which is forced upon them, which I understand is what is hinted at by the Prime Minister, and the hon. and gallant Members to whom I have referred. I have no belief in any possibility of civil war in Ireland as 673 the result of that action, because the world, generally speaking, is sick of war. The most virile part of Irish manhood has fought in the War, and they have seen as much of fighting as they wish. I believe the state of things in North-East Ulster is largely artificial, and they appear to have been touched by the same new world feelings which are now actuating the democracies of the world, and I believe they will settle down with their fellow countrymen in Ireland and work out an altogether admirable form of government.
I cannot leave this subject without touching on the objection which I am sure will be made to this very simple solution, namely, the strategical danger to England of a possible hostile Ireland in the future. If we follow out the blind reasoning that we must maintain our predominance over any part of the world that may possibly affect our strategical security in the future, we shall have to extend it over every part of the world. If in the receat world War our Ally, Portugal, instead of rendering us the valuable services she did, had thrown in her lot with the enemy, I believe it would have turned the scale, because her harbours are so strategically placed on the world's food routes that it would have so affected the submarine campaign against our commerce that we should have gone under through lack of shipping, and we should have lost the War. If we have to keep our rule over the Irish people against their will and against the opinion of the majority of our kith and kin at home and abroad on a question of strategy, we had better decide to impose our will on every independent country in the world. The old bogey of possible naval bases in the West of Ireland is dead. It is as dead as the old-world spirit which I hope we have killed for all time as the result of the sufferings of all the countries of Europe for the last five years.
Ireland can never be a danger to England. It is a little country with practically no coal and no steel, and without those two natural products they cannot take up arms against this country, and this mighty nation standing upright, with her prestige never higher, should not be afraid of a little nation near her shores. That is undignified, and will defeat its own ends. I hope other hon. Members will speak on this subject, and I trust they will not use the strategic bogey, which has been used for "a century," and has turned the people 674 from the only true solution of this question. May I reinforce the few words which were said by the hon. Member for Kincardineshire (Lieut.-Colonel Murray) as to the Prime Minister's attitude towards this House. We are told, because the Prime Minister has been in Paris on important work, that questions affecting Ireland, finance, coal and profiteering have been held up. I take it from that that it is meant that no decision has been possible except with the concurrence of one man, the Prime Minister, and because he has to give his consent; to every one of these subjects, of which the most important is Ireland, therefore, he cannot attend the House of Commons, and consequently he is out of touch with the people's representatives. That is practically a dictatorship, for it says one man, and one man alone, can decide and hear the experts. It means that one man alone can read the reports. Therefore, we have an autocracy, and, up to date, that autocracy so far has failed, for we have had no solution of any great problems whatsoever. We have had Royal Commissions, discussions, and excuses, but the box has remained locked, including even the Irish, box. If that is the case, then there is a bankruptcy of statesmanship, and the duty of the Government is to go to the country on some great issue at once, and give another Government a chance.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
When the Prime Minister was charged with not being sufficiently in attendance at the House of Commons, I think there is every justification for the attitude he took up. There is a considerable amount of truth in what was brought forward by the hon. Member who has just spoken. The real justification for the Prime Minister's absence is that in the Cabinet he should really be settling the great administrative questions that come up for decision, and that we should in good time have a policy presented to the House. It is more in the delay of presenting a policy on really important questions that I think that any just charge can be brought against the Prime Minister than his absence from the House of Commons. I rise just to say a few words with regard to Ireland, because I feel that it is a matter of really vital importance that we should have some indication of policy with as little delay as possible. I imagine that perhaps it may not be an opportune time to raise this question, but this is the way in which announcements of the 675 Government's policy have been made, and that makes me think it is well that this question should be brought forward.
In the first place, it is delay which has caused the trouble, and is causing further trouble on the question of coal. In the next place we have first an announcement with regard to profiteering by the establishment of a Committee, and the next week we have the entirely incompatible announcement that the Government, having set up a Committee to inquire into profiteering, are going to introduce legislation without awaiting the result of that inquiry. Of course, no one who is neither foolish nor ungenerous could help realising the extraordinary pressure which there is at the moment on the time, attention and energies of the Government. At the same time it is certain if we are really to pull ourselves together, as the Prime Minister has asked, we must have clear cut ideas put before the House of Commons without any taint of opportunism in order that we may present a united front in face of the difficulties of the time. In respect of Ireland in particular, for five long years the whole attention of the country has been centred on the great storm raging in continental Europe, with the result that the lesser disturbances, acute as they may have been, have passed quite unnoticed except when there may have been peculiar flashes or it may be a conflagration.
The House is really entitled to know what is going on in Ireland. At the present moment the veil is still down, but we have a right now that peace has been signed and the pre-occupations of Ministers elsewhere have been lessened to know truly what is going on there. We have occasional glimpses of this or that occurrence. We hear of an insurrection in Limerick. Is it a farce or is it a tragedy? At any rate it is the right of this country to have the veil lifted and to be able to see what is going on at our own doors, and, therefore, to be in a position to frame a policy. The Prime Minister suggested just now that it was all very well to say that something must be done, but, in general, that meant that something foolish must be done. The right hon. Gentleman also observed that when anybody came to him and said that something must be done, his reply was, "What do you suggest?" I venture to say in the first place, it does not lie with the Government 676 to make that reply. It is for the Government, as the physician, to prescribe. Under the present circumstances that is peculiarly true because it is the Government which has pulled the veil down over all that is happening in Ireland, and they alone are in possession of the data on which a decision can be based. Their duty, therefore, is quite plain. They themselves should produce their policy, or, better still, lift the veil so that the people of this country may know what is going on in Ireland at the present moment. That is true in any case, but it is all the more urgent that you should have some statement comparatively soon. I do not mean to say you should have it to-day or to-morrow, but the justification of the discussion that has taken place on the question of Ireland is this: that it allows for the difficulties that beset the Government. It is quite clear that two months at least must elapse before they can be called upon in this House to declare their policy. There is, therefore, time for them to devise a policy without being hurried into anything rash. The discussion which has taken place shows that we in this House and in the country want a policy, and therefore, after the Recess, the Government will not be in a position to complain if they are called upon to declare one.
It is all the more important if we look at the new condition of things in the new world which we have to face. I myself would be the very last to suggest that we should have some declaration on Irish policy merely to conciliate the goodwill of the United States. I am sure that if the United States were placed in an analogous position they would not be willing to take a step which they did not think right merely in order to conciliate our friendship which they as well as we are so anxious to preserve. Neither would they expect us to take similar action for the same reason. I ask the House to take a wider view of the situation. Probably during the next generation there are likely to be two great factors which may make for the disturbance or maintenance of peace in Europe and in the world. One which no doubt may be a disturbing factor is what will happen with regard to that vast mass known as Russia when once again organised and whether it will be benevolent and peaceful or malevolent and ill. The other great factor, which is the greatest guarantee of the peace of Europe, is the growing intimacy, friendship, and solidarity between the United States and this 677 country. Therefore, if any cause of friction such as the state of Ireland arises between the two countries then it is not merely to the interest of this country or of America but it is in the interest of the peace of the world that every effort should be made to eliminate the cause of friction if it can be done without committing an injustice. There are only two other points I wish to urge, and I will do so quite briefly. We need proper administration in this country to try and attempt some settlement. During the past six or eight years I have been an onlooker at the game. During some of those years I have had peculiar opportunities as an onlooker of seeing, and probably the one fact which has impressed me more than any other has been the extraordinary unreality and falseness of the methods by which the Irish question has been voiced. I am inclined to think that, with the exception, perhaps, of one Division of Belfast and its Member, there is hardly a constituency in Ireland whose representative in this House, when he has had to speak or vote on a British question, has done so according to the general intentions and views of the majority of his own constituents. Belfast is largely Labour, I venture to say, and from what I can judge, in tone and sympathy Ulster is largely Liberal in its natural inclinations. The South and West of Ireland are naturally Conservative, except so far as they are biassed on the particular question of Irish nationality, and so we get a real unreality and a falseness brought into public life.
We must get rid of that element from the Irish situation. My hon. Friend the Member for East Down has declared that there is need for a declaration of policy in order to set this country right, not with its own conscience so much as with the world at large. We went into the struggle which has just been finished, and we did so quite genuinely, in order to fight for the principle of freedom and self-determination for small nationalities. We did our best at the Peace Conference to give effect to the same principle, and in endeavouring to give effect to it we undertook a task even more difficult than the delimitation of provinces and lands. But what is going to be our own situation? Are we going, in any settlement that may be proposed, to allow the same principle of self-determination to be applied to Ireland which we have accepted as our guiding principle for the rest of Europe and 678 for the world? And when I speak of self-determination, I mean that that is a right which is equally the due, equally just, and equally indefeasible for the Protestant part of Ireland as for any other nationality. If we put that question to ourselves, the answer is absolutely plain. It cannot be other than that we must apply to Ireland those principles which we ourselves have so openly professed, and for which we entered into the War—the principles which we have endeavoured to carry out in the Peace Conference. Only by so doing can we justify our own conduct in the War, and only in so doing can we maintain our own clean character amongst other nations.
§ Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR
Everybody who has had the privilege of listening to this Debate will agree that it has been one of the most interesting and important Debates we have had in this House for many a long day. I am sorry the hon. and gallant Member for Brighton (Major Tryon) is not here, otherwise I should have had the pleasure of saying to him that his was one of the ablest speeches delivered by any hon. Member for many weeks in this House. This Debate has ranged over several subjects, yet somehow or other not a single topic has been touched upon or a single sentence used which did not touch the Irish question. Take the question of expenditure. It is common ground to all of us that the country is face to face with a financial problem which causes the gravest misgiving to thoughtful men. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said so. The Prime Minister said so, as well as other hon. Members who have taken part. I cannot discuss the question of extravagant and bloated expenditure without dwelling for a moment on the fact that one of the items in that expenditure, as the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, is £900,000 a month spent on an Army of Occupation to keep the Irish people down. What is the use of talking about a drastic reduction of expenditure when we are face to face with an expenditure like that—£10,800,000 a year all spent in a way which, if it had happened with Prussia, in Alsace or in Poland or in Russia in the days of the Czars, would have been condemned by all parties in this country as a combination of extravagance on the one side and of oppression on the other. I will come back presently to another point in this Debate that is the practically 679 universal agreement of men of all parties in this House—outside the small section represented by my hon. Friends from Ulster and, perhaps, a few rather old-fashioned Tories, of whom there are not many in this House—that the Irish question should be faced immediately and settled.
I go on to the next point, which, although general, has a direct reference to Ireland. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brighton spoke of the decline of Parliamentary authority, and in the course of surveying a portion of the situation, he made a strong plea for the respect of the authority of Parliament which ought to be enjoined on the country. He coupled that with the observation that in every country where we found anarchy—and they are many—the beginning of the end was the loss of the authority of the Parliaments of those countries. In Russia, if the infatuated Czar and his infatuated wife had not put down the Duma, the Czar might still be on his throne, and there might have been in Russia that process of gradual evolution from despotism to popular institutions, which I prefer to the violence and abruptness of revolutionary change. In Hungary the destruction of faith in the Parliament led to the domination of that system of disguised tyranny which masked itself as democracy, and which has been exposed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood). Believe me, the hon. and gallant Member for Brighton was right when he said that the day the people of this country cease to have faith in their House of Commons, on that day you open the doors to chaos and anarchy. I couple with that one of the topics which have been discussed, namely, the presence in or absence of the Prime Minister from this House. I am an old Parliamentarian, as everybody knows, and I look with some surprise—not altogether agreeable surprise—on the difference between to-day and the old days. When Mr. Gladstone was upwards of eighty years of age, he sat opposite the Treasury Box as Prime Minister and Leader of the House every night of the Session, except for a couple of hours which he took for his dinner outside He was always wise enough not to dine at the House. I do not believe he did so more than five times in the course of his sixty-three or sixty-five years here. I remember being brought to see a sight which I was told was historical—that was 680 Mr. Gladstone taking his first dinner in the House of Commons. Mr. Gladstone had then been sixty years a Member of the House of Commons. I take the case of his great rival, Mr. Disraeli. My late friend Sir John Pope Hennessy, a great admirer of Mr. Disraeli, told me that he was once asked how he had saved his Parliamentary soul, and the reply of Mr. Disraeli, as repeated to me, was:A young Member should always be in his seat in the House of Commons, except when he is in the Library reading 'Hansard' and the Parliamentary Debates.He was a man seventy years of age, which, naturally, I consider quite the bloom of youth, but when he was Prime Minister he was always seated opposite the Treasury Box. Those are Parliamentary traditions which should not lightly be disregarded. I fully admit that the Prime Minister has had enormous demands on his time, energy, and health during the last six months and even at the present hour, yet I cannot admit the principle, which practically lay behind his observations, that the Prime Minister should make it a rule to be absent from the House of Commons. What, after all, is the House of Commons? It is the people in microcosm; it is the mirror of the nation. I know that it has its hours of boredom. I once described its life as "boredom tempered by passion." This House has this great virtue and quality, that the humblest person in the land can find in it the highest tribunal against injustice. I saw a Ministry shake because a poor sempstress was illegally arrested in Regent Street and detained. My friend Judge Atherley Jones raised the question, and the House of Commons gave a majority against the action of the Home Office. The Government did not go out of power, but Governments have gone out of power on smaller grounds. Whatever may be wrong in our institutions, the House of Commons is the very tabernacle of the liberties of the people of this country. If the Prime Minister is not in touch with the House of Commons, he is not in touch with the people. If he continually absents himself, he is giving an example to other men of disrespect for the House of Commons, and he is striking a blow at the prestige and authority of this House. I am against direct action. If working men feel that their wrongs are not righted, my answer to them is, "You have the ballot to right your wrongs; if you did not use your ballot to right your wrongs, the responsibility is yours, and? 681 not that of the House of Commons, which you could have created in your own image but which you have created in an image antagonistic to your interests." Can you speak of direct action anywhere without thinking of direct action in Ireland? I interrupted the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he said that he and the Government would oppose with all the resources of the State any attempt at direct action, and my interposition took the form of the question, "In Ulster?" He said, "Anywhere." I am very glad to get the assurance from the Government, though it strained my credulity a little that they are determined to tolerate direct action neither in Ireland nor in England, and, therefore, when we come to discuss the settlement of the Irish question, that there shall be eliminated from the problem threats of direct action from Ulster. No one will listen more attentively—I might even say more sympathetically—to any demands for their protection against dangers, real or even imaginary, from my hon. Friends from Ulster; but I wish to give them this note of warning, that if they couple these demands for their protection with threats of military and revolutionary action against the Crown and Parliament of this country, they will no longer get a hearing from this country or any part of it.
I come to the statement of the Prime Minister. It was not quite as hopeless as the statement he made in the previous Debate, but it was hopeless enough. He made a great point of the difficulties of dealing with this question, and he invited proposals from other people. It was said, I think, by Sir Robert Peel, that the Government is the physician of the body corporate, and that it was for the physician to prescribe, and not the Opposition. Therefore, I think I am entitled to demand that the Prime Minister and the Government of which he is the head should come forward with their prescription, and not ask for prescriptions from unofficial amateurs like the rest of us in this House.
I do not think the latter alternative may be regarded as practical policy. I have heard of Governments being weary of office, but I never knew any of them to resign unless they were forced. Is this problem of Ireland new? Has it suddenly come upon us with a rush? Has it not been almost the supreme topic of 682 political and electoral controversies since 1885? From the time that the Prime Minister himself became a Member of this House, in 1892, if I remember rightly, he always came before the House as a man who was convinced of the necessity of settling the Irish question on the lines of self-government. Long before he was a Member of this House, according to the statements of his biographers, the first great inspiration he ever got in political life was from listening to a speech by Michael Davitt, and then, convinced all through his life, from probably his twenty-first year, of the righteousness of the Irish claim, he comes down easy and free and detached in 1919 and wrings his hands because he can find no solution of the problem. In April, 1917, at the darkest hour of our fortunes in this War, the Prime Minister, who now wrings his impotent bands over the solution of this question, pledged himself there and then to settle the Irish question with all the resources and all the power of his Government. He had a solution in April, 1917, at the time of the triumph of the great German push, and now, in August, 1919, he is still in a state of infantile ignorance and senile despair over the solution of the problem to which he has been pledged all his life. I do not think that is a dignified position.
People wonder what are the root causes of Sinn Fein. If I were going to make a psychological analysis of Sinn Fein I am afraid I should have to detain this House, not for hours, but for days. I once sat through forty-one hours of Parliamentary Debate, but I am not equal to that to-day, and even if I were I am sure Mr. Speaker would bring it to an end long before that. One of the main causes of Sinn Fein is that, while so many promises have been made by British statesmen, including the Prime Minister, those promises have so frequently and consistently been broken. As a Parliamentarian well acquainted with the English people, I tell them that if they would only send representatives to this House they could get liberty for Ireland. When they are assured by men like myself, who have lived fifty years among the English people in amity and affection, that the masses of the British people are honourable, fair-minded, generous, and liberty-loving; when I tell them that I have known thousands of Englishmen as ready to work and, if necessary, to die for the cause of Irish liberty as the Irish people have been, they say that those people are easily duped, or, if not dupes, 683 are ready to impose the same condition is upon Ireland as British statesmen. The reason that they give for that view, which I still think to be profoundly wrong and misguided, is the breach by successive administrations of the pledges and promises made to Ireland. The result is that they are of opinion, like some other wise and foolish people, that Parliamentary institutions have no longer any right to their faith and their loyalty, and that direct action is the only means of acquiring their rights.
I, however, am not converted to that view. I am a Parliamentarian still, and I shall be one to the day of my death. At the same time I say that there is a heavy responsibility on the head of the Prime Minister, who, in 1917 and many a day before, promised Ireland liberty, and has given Ireland militarism and still maintains militarism and postpones liberty indefinitely. During my trip to America I was assailed by abuses all the time, and I dare say millions of my own people still believe the statement that I received £l,000 a week from the Secret Service of the British Government, and that so precious was my person to the British Government that I was sent out in a special British cruiser. As a matter of fact I went out in a Cunarder, the Government showed no particular desire to save my precious skin, and I was not the tool of any British party. So far as the British Government are concerned, they have not shown any particular gratitude for the fact that for thirty years I fought for the cause of the Entente, and was able to give words of cheer to the American people—I might even say, in some part of the country, words of guidance—in some of the dark hours of our fortunes in the War. I was glad to be able to say that, however dark the prospects of the hour, we never entertained the idea of defeat by the Germans. Having had that experience, I felt entitled to tell the people of this country what the opinion of America was on the question of Ireland, and, within a few hours of my arrival after that long and somewhat trying trip to America, I addressed the House of Commons. I told them that I saw there materials for a strong anti-English movement if the question of Ireland were not settled, but I confess that, although I was convinced that there would be that anti-English movement if the Irish problem was not solved, I never anticipated that the movement 684 would reach the gigantic proportions it has reached to-day. I have an advantage over some of my hon. Friends in this House, in that I occasionally get extracts from the American Press, and they are rather disquieting reading. I saw that in San Francisco the other day the Mayor of that great city presented an address to Mr. de Valera, who appeared there as the President of the Irish Republic. I saw that that gentleman addressed an audience of 11,000 people in the greatest hall of the city. I saw that on the afternoon of the same day he was presented with a university degree by one of the universities of the city, and that large contributions were being poured into his hands from all parts of the United States.
I may be told that we should ignore all that. Some of my hon. Friends will say it is rather unfortunate that a political question, more or less domestic, should become a political question in another country. But in politics, as in life, we have to face realities, and it is a reality that the question of Ireland has now become a political problem in America. I express no opinion on the general proposition how far one country has a right to interfere in the domestic concerns of another, but to me it is stupid to talk of all this in America as merely politics, and to say that it does not mean anything after all. If it is important enough to become politics in America, then it is important enough for us to take account of the opinion there. Supposing that there wore renewed in Russia what occurred in the days of the father of the late Czar, namely, a wholesale deportation of the Jewish population of that great Empire. That crime brought its Nemesis in the present condition of Russia. Would anybody blame the Jews of this country, or the Jews of the United States or of any other country, for raising their voices in protest, would anybody blame a Member of this House who raised his voice in protest against such an act of inhumanity? The world is getting smaller. We are all dependent upon one another for our trade and our opinions, and any man who disregards the opinions and acts of other nations, even with regard to his own domestic affairs, is a man who ought to have lived in the days before the telegraph, before Marconi, before the newspapers, and before the big steamers.
How does it affect this country as a nation? If there a single speaker who 685 has spoken since America came into this War who has not over and over again put it as the supreme intention of this country and of the world that the United States and the British Empire should be on the best and most cordial terms? Nobody has put that more eloquently or more frequently than the Prime Minister. Equal in eloquence and equal in fervence have been the speeches of the War Secretary on the subject. It does not require elaboration. If these two great English-speaking-nations do not remain on good terms with each other and remove all misunderstandings and destroy any possibility of ill-feeling between the two countries, then I repeat what I said the other night in a debate here that we shall get nothing but dead-sea fruit for all the sacrifices of our gallant men, and for the oceans of treasure and of blood that have been poured out in securing the liberty of this country and the security of the world. England and America are the two great national guardians of the peace of the world. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Durham, in a very cogent speech was perfectly right when he said that the whole idea of the League of Nations was a mere fantasy and a delusion unless we have England and the United States standing at the portals of the Temple of Peace with fiery sword to defend the cause of peace against any attempt of autocracy in the future to destroy it. Is there any single man who does not express the same opinion?
There has not been any man who has been more outspoken in his plea for the cause of the Entente than Mr. James M. Heck, who was on our side long before his country came into the War. He spoke in language of almost violent condemnation of the neutrality of his country. He was one of the men who helped to bring the United States into the War. Anyone who knows the very mixed elements of American life as intimately as I do can understand all the difficulties that were in the way of President Wilson in bringing his country into the War. The other day I got a copy of a book by Mr. Beck. He wrote, "The Evidence of the Case," which everybody read at the time, as the most powerful and unanswerable plea for our cause against Germany that was ever written. Long before his country came into the War he came here and made pleas for the cause of the Allies and the liberty 686 which they represented. Therefore, he is an authority I have a right to quote. He is one of our best friends. He said:Let the citizens of both nations, before it is too late, use their collective influence to eliminate from the Peace Conference any issue that may bring discord between Great Britain and the United States. That way safety lies. If this path of safety be not taken, abyssmal disaster lies before us, for it will he a disaster of immeasurable proportions if Great Britain and the United States should part company at the coming Peace Conference. In that event the blessed feeling of concord would give way to distrust and ill-feeling in both countries. These feelings would grow, even as they grew between Germany and England, and sooner or later these two great nations might find themselves in a conflict which could only bring sorrow and misfortune to both.Mr. Beck having used that analogy with regard to Germany, reminds me that I began life in London just after the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, and I thank my destiny that I have lived long enough to see the undoing of the great wrong done to France in tearing from her bleeding side the province of Alsace-Lorraine. It is some consolation for advancing years to have outlived a world of triumphant wrong and to have entered into this new world of triumphant right. Even, after that war, even after the action of the Germans in taking Alsace-Lorraine, and especially at the beginning of the outbreak of war between France and Germany, the feeling of the vast mass, if not the majority, of the people of this country was on the side of Germany. That was partly owing to the astuteness of Prince Bismarck in publishing the secret treaty on the proposed annexation of Belgium by Louis Napoleon of France. In my obscurity and modesty at the time—I do not say that I have lost either one or the other—I found myself almost alone in England on the side of France, and for years afterwards there was nothing but good feeling on the part of the majority of Englishmen towards Germany.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)
I would remind the hon. Member that this is the Consolidated Fund Bill for 1919–20. Strictly speaking, we ought to keep only to matters within the present financial year.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
Perhaps I was making too large a claim on your indulgence, Mr. Whitley, and on that of the House, and I beg pardon if I have done so, but I was anxious to make this point, that you can have a feeling gradually growing up between two countries and one 687 fine day, just like a match in a powder magazine, some incident occurs which sets aflame the passions between the nations, and you have chaos and disaster such as we have had in this War. That is the reason why I dwelt—and I beg the House to dwell—upon the peril of allowing misunderstandings to grow up between the United States and this country. There are many dements of danger, not only for England and America, but for the world, in such misunderstanding. For these reasons I appeal to the House to use all their influence with the Government to face this question. There is a terrible responsibility, and almost an undivided responsibility, on the part of the Prime Minister in regard to this matter. He will find no difficulty from the House of Commons if he makes his policy one of generosity and promptitude in regard to Ireland. He has the power to do it, and he ought to have the will and the, vision to do it. If we do that I think we shall all see the dawn of a great future of brightness and of better feeling in the world.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I might say that I hate the narrow nationalism of the Sinn Feiners, and the whole development of the last five years on extreme narrow nationalist lines seems to me to be thoroughly reactionary, but the domination exercised by England over Ireland represents something even more disgraceful to every right-minded Englishman. We realise above everything else that our good relations with America are dependent almost entirely upon the solution of this Irish question. The attitude of the Government on this question is causing grave concern not among the opponents of the Government, but among their own followers, and also among all people who have the best wishes of the British Empire at heart. The solution seems to me to be perfectly simple. It is a solution which cannot please the Sinn Feiner nor can it please the Ulster-man. It is the solution in accordance with President Wilson's fourteen points. Let that part of the country which may wish to govern itself do so, and let it be perfectly free to get outside the British Empire altogether if it wishes to do so. On those lines, following the old British tradition of love of liberty, you could not only settle the Irish question, but you could do something far more important—that is, cement for all time the real union of the whole English-speaking race, Irish, 688 American, and English, in all parts of the world, and thereby establish for all time a unified, civilised, liberty-loving Government throughout the world. That is what we all want whether we are of the Opposition or the Government, and I beg the Prime Minister of this country to take his courage in both hands, to defy extremists on both sides, and to attempt a just and honest solution on lines which will in the long run give satisfaction to the whole civilised world.
In the course of this Debate we have had many denunciations from hon. Members, not only of the Sinn Fein form of direct action, but of all direct action in the government of the world. Naturally being a Member of this honourable House, and being a constitutionalist. I am opposed to direct action myself, but I do think we should beware of lauding our own virtues too much. Praise of constitutional action comes ill from a Parliament which is very largely owing to the snap nature of the last election, an unconstitutional Parliament, and we must realise that it is the very nature of this Parliament, from the manner in which it was elected, that it should give an additional impetus to this movement for direct action which now exists. At every meeting in the country I have the questions put whether I am in favour of direct action to get the troops out of Russia and to force a General Election. Those two questions are put together to me at every meeting which I address. The essence of the feeling in favour of direct action is principally that the people were duped at the last election. It is all very well for my Friend the Member for the Scotland Division to say that the people elected this Parliament and must abide by the result. We all know that the last election was not a normal election, and we must all expect in consequence a large number of people, who are exasperated by the temporary triumph of reaction, to revert to a form of Government which, in the mind of every reasoning person, is wholly unsuited for a democratic, liberty-loving people. In essence, direct action means government by the minority as opposed to constitutional action, which is government by the majority. We all know that the majority is very often a tyrant. Personally, on purely philosophic principles, I object to being governed by a majority. One naturally looks forward to a time when we shall be governed not by majority but by consent; but however much some of us 689 may object to majority rule, it is an infinitely better rule than minority rule, whether that minority be a solitary Czar on his throne or the dictatorship of a proletariat established on the points of bayonets and in reality looking after the interests of the proletariat mass less than the interests of the dictators.
I have recently had the advantage of visiting Hungary. I spent only seven days in that country, but travelling through the country districts, and in Buda Pesth I saw a great deal of the dictatorship, of the proletariat in that country, and I think it is my duty to this House that I should say something of my impressions of the dictatorship rule because very few Members of Parliament have had the opportunity of seeing this new form of government, a new form of government which is the child of direct action. In Hungary they have established a master ship of communism. The whole basis of that revolution was not the desire of the majority of people for communism, nor their impregnation with the Marxian doctrine. The basis of that revolution was the starvation, the hunger of the population of Buda Pesth, which had a population of 1,000,000 before the War, a population that was doubled during the War by the large numbers of people, principally Jews from Galicia, who came in to work in the armament factories in Buda Pesth. After the War the armament factories were closed, and these large masses of people were out of work. In the country districts around there was plenty of food. Six million people in the country had more than enough to eat, and 2,000,000 people in the town had nothing to eat. The people in the country wanted those things which the people in the town ought to be able to make, but the people in the town were unable to make anything to give in exchange for the food which they wanted because they could not get coal or iron, and because of the general bankruptcy which the War had produced. So that in Buda Pesth, even if there had not been a Bolshevik revolution, it was utterly impossible to start the factories, owing to the complete lack of credit and of any chance of getting raw material.
They are in exactly the same position in Vienna to-day, and in many of those other manufacturing towns in East Central Europe, such as Lodz, Warsaw, Brunn, and Cracow. In those towns, fortunately, I think we are feeding the inhabitants, or rather, Mr. Hoover is feeding them. If the inhabitants of Buda Pesth had been fed 690 they might not have had a Bolshevik revolution, but if the manufacturing population of these towns are not fed they must get food somehow. The only way is to get it by force from the country population around them, who have got the food they want, and if I or any member of this House had been an autocrat in Buda Pesth after this War and had got the problem of how to feed 2,000,000 people who produced nothing to exchange for the food for the country districts, I do not know what other way we could have found except a dictatorship of some form or other. They took the dictatorship of the proletariat, of men who were enthusiasts and fanatics and mostly Jews, for the brains of Eastern Europe are very largely Jewish. These people are imbued with the Marxian doctrine; they are not like the Russians. They have come to the conclusion that the only salvation for civilisation is to turn everybody in the State into a direct servant of the State. They look forward to the time when the fertile plains of Hungary, vast stretches of the most perfect agricultural land in the world, will all be under State control, ploughed up by State steam ploughs, the ploughs driven by men who were officials of the Government, where there should be no individual initiative in the creation of any thing, but where everybody would co-operate to create for the benefit of everybody. We all know that if human nature were perfect that might be a solution, but as human nature is to-day they found considerable opposition from the people of Hungary, from all the peasants who, under the Government of Count Karolyi, had been promised the land. Count Karolyi broke up the big estates, the landlords were bought out at pre-war values, which at the present depreciated value of the crown meant that they were bought out at about one-tenth of the present value, and the land was handed over to the peasants. The new Bolshevik revolution said to these peasants, who saw almost in their hands the land which they coveted, "There is no private property in land." Under the Marxian law all property belongs to the State, must be cultivated by the State, and by the officials of the State. Therefore, every man who cultivated land, every tenant farmer who hoped to become the owner of land, was dead against the revolutionary Government. Marxianism was alright in the abstract, but they held that it did not apply to their case.
691 Naturally, you had an overwhelmingly hostile feeling in the country districts to any form of dictatorship of the proletariat which meant taking away their land and paying for the food that they produced with bad money which was worth nothing outside Hungary. State factories were started. There, too, the pure Marxian doctrine says that the factories are to produce in the interests of the community as a whole. The result was, of course, that the factories produced practically nothing at all. Not only was there grave difficulty in getting raw material, but even greater difficulty in getting men to work, for few men will work if they find that they are paid for doing little or no work. It very often took six men to do the work that one man had done during the War. Under these circumstances communal production may be possible, but it is not an economic or commercial proposition. The people of Hungary will prefer and continue to buy the agricultural implements and the clothes they want from foreign countries, where such implements and clothes are produced more cheaply than they can be produced under the expensive communal system. There, too, you have the failure of the pure Marxian doctrine. Worst of all was the abolition of private property. If you do that by law, and do not enforce that law or enforce it spasmodically and irregularly, you create a state of affairs which is the nearest, approach to a terror that I have ever seen. There are no Law Courts at all. No one can defend land or property or anything that is his. At the same time there is extraordinarily good order kept in the country. I should think that ninety-nine people out of a hundred would prefer to lose their lives rather than their property. In Hungary, although private property has been abolished, there is still private property. Every man knows that if he is denounced by one of the spies or political directors, who are always hovering in the background, the punishment may be the loss of his property or of his Government job; in fact, he may be driven into the Red Army. Those are the weapons of a dictatorship, and they are a far more efficient weapon than executions.
There have been practically no executions and no red terror whatever in Hungary. The terror is that a man may 692 find that he has lost his property, that his house has been visited and his clothes and books taken, and he has no redress because there are no Law Courts to defend his interests. Naturally, this form of Marxian communism could not last. The Government tried to move towards the right, so as to get into touch with the Entente and at the same time to meet the opposition of the peasants. The new Government that was formed was a move in the right direction. They have moved to the right, and they have established there now, or had established up to to-day, a form of Labour Government which was exactly what I hoped for when I was in that country. The two great unions, the agricultural workers and the railway workers, were already opposed to the dictatorship. The metal workers have since gone over. These three great trade unions, which practically represent not only the town population but the agricultural population of Hungary, have united in the support of a Socialistic Government, and this Government, to my mind, is the one that we here should do our best to support. If, on the other hand, we throw away this gold on opportunity and allow reaction to triumph, allow the counter-revolutionary Government to get into the saddle and to re-establish the Archduke Joseph as King or the King of Roumania as King of Hungary also, then there is no end to the trouble that will ensue. All these people have had four or five months of liberty and equality and fraternisation, which always follows any form of revolution. Any nation which has had that experience never goes back to the old aristocratic Government that those Eastern countries had in the past. It would be fatal to suppose that you could re-establish the monarchy and aristocratic form of government in Austria and in Hungary. They have been seen through. There is no man in those countries who has a good word to say for the old regime. I do ask the Government to do all that they can to support a democratic regime in Hungary, although it be a Socialist régime, because I am confident, if they go right over to the wishes of the emigrés, you will get a system of government which will be thoroughly unstable and you will do what is far worse. You will start that system of terrorism and murderers and political executions which will be the forerunner of reaction and of 693 terror on the other side, and which will establish this perpetual to-and-fro of massacre that we see in Russia to-day. Hitherto the Reds in Hungary have committed no massacres. The Whites have started, according to rumours to-day, to try to get hold of Bela Kun and another, who have fled to Vienna, and already one man has been shot—it is said by his own hand. If you are going to have a White terror started by these reactionaries, who hate the Jews with an inconceivable hatred of which we have no idea, and let these people have their Jew pogroms and assassinations and executions, you are starting a fire which will burn on for years to come and which will end in the extermination of all that is best on both sides. The real solution is quite simple, and that is not to allow the Roumanians to have any voice in the domination of Hungary to-day. The Roumanians are now in charge of the capital of Hungary. The real reason why the Hungarians beat back the Czechoslovaks is that the Hungarian Army is still impregnated with pride of race and believes itself infinitely superior to those inferior peoples, as they regard them, whom they held down. The Hungarians regard the Slovaks much as, a hundred years ago, we regarded the Indian or the inhabitants of the South Sea Islands. They do not regard them as their equals. When you remember the inordinate pride of race possessed by the Hungarians and see the Roumanians in occupation of Buda, Pesth, with the position of Transylvania and Voldavia and the Danubian Principalities during the years 1917–18, and when you remember that the Hungarians hate those people like poison, for goodness' sake send English troops, if only a regiment, in order to look after the interests of the Hungarian population and to see that there is fair-play between these two Kilkenny cats. One thing I found there was the enormous faith that everyone has in England, whether it was by the Germans in Austria or in Vienna, or in the country districts of Hungary, or among the Soviets in Buda Pesth.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
They were all friendly to me because I was an Englishman and because they regarded England as the one fair country. The other foreign missions in Vienna contain a very large element of men out to get concessions, to acquire interests, to build up future trade. The Englishman is far too stupid 694 to try to get concessions for himself. The only thing that he can think of is to carry on in the old way. It is because we are so stupid and do not think of those sort of things but still try to do our duty that we have got such an extraordinarily good name in all those countries. If we had some of our men in Vienna or in Buda Pesth we should, at any rate, give some sort of guarantee, not only for the good government of that place, but for the settlement, the genuine settlement of all those Eastern countries on ethnological lines. You had the Poles sweeping over Roumania and Galicia, and you had the Czeoho-Slovaks going into other territory and their occupation acknowledged by the Allies in Paris. The people there in the East saw that the fait accompli was worth a great deal in the final demarcation. You had Roumania going to the Tagis, and they would not go back when they were ordered to do so, and now that they are gone to Buda Pesth the idea is that it is the fait accompli again, and that, being in possession, the Allies will give way to them, and that because, like the Poles and the Slovaks, they have defied the Entente, that those countries they have overrun will be left to them with a shrug of the shoulders, and that they will remain in possession of other people's property. Therefore, send English troops and American troops there—only a small number; a division, or a regiment is enough—for policing purposes, and then we should have some guarantee for the fair carrying out of the decisions of the Allies in Paris and a fair prospect of a real and peaceful and satisfactory settlement of the country.
In Vienna there are all the elements for reproducing the Bolshevik outbreak that took place in Buda Pesth. There the factories are still dead. There you have a population of 2,000,000 who are out of work and producing nothing for the food they want. Fortunately, up till now we have been able to feed Vienna. It is true that Vienna is the worst town I have been in for hunger. But it is being fed really by charity. We are pauperising, and it cannot go on indefinitely. The Austrian, crown is, as the House probably knows, about as low as anything on earth. The Austrian crown now represents a 1¼d., and before the War it was worth 11d. That depreciation indicates how difficult it is for manufacturers in Austria to purchase raw materials. If they want coal or machinery from this country, they must pay nine times as much as they did before 695 the War on account of that depreciation. Obviously, that makes it extremely difficult for them to start their factories again, and it makes them very anxious to go on living on the doles which are given. That cannot last. It is in our interest, as well as in the interests of Austria, to get Austria on to its legs again, and what I want to see, and what all our people on the spot want to see, is that British capital should take a hand in re constructing the Austrian industries. Most of the old manufacturing companies in Austria had their headquarters in Vienna and their factories all over the Empire—many of them in Czecho slovakia, many of them in Hungary, many of them in Jugo-Slavia. Nowadays Austria is chopped up into little bits, and their factories find themselves severed entirely from their headquarters, and what the Austrian manufacturers, financiers and bankers ask for is the co-operation of British capital. They say, "If only you will send out a deputation of people to this country who will acquire an interest in our factories, if they will buy up 20 per cent. of our shares at the very depreciated price of the present crown, that is to say, a pound going nine times as far in purchasing crowns us it did before the War, if you will do that, we will give you con trol—we will give you 51 per cent. of the control of the company—we will give you seats on the board, we will make it an international company, and in return we ask you to pay the price of these shares in raw materials to start our factories going." Of course, partly they want to be made international because in the welter of affairs out there to have an Englishman or a Frenchman on your board of directors is probably to save your company from robbery and confiscation in some next-door territory, especially with these revolutions on, but they also want to start again. They know they will have to pay a big price for raw materials, and they offer this opportunity of re-starting their factories.
I do not want people in England to imagine it is helping the enemy. It is helping ourselves. It is helping them too, but it is helping ourselves primarily. Where you invest your money, there your trade will go. Look at the Argentine Everybody knows that two-thirds of the capital of the Argentine has been found by people in this country, with the result that during the twenty years before this War 696 our trade with the Argentine has gone up by leaps and bounds and has been the mainstay of our foreign trade, and I want to see the same thing reproduced in these countries in the Near East. I want to see British capital invested in Vienna, in Prague, in Warsaw, in Cracow, in Buda Pesth. I want to see these places helped on to their feet again by British capital, with the result that trade between these countries and England will be perpetuated and strengthened from year to year by the interest which we earn on that capital. Now is the chance. Personally, I realise that any capital invested there undergoes a certain amount of risk, but, after all, British capital has not been built up without taking risks, and the British name stands so well, and the importance of being a British citizen employing British capital is so great, that most of these little countries in the East have a great respect, not only for the capital, but for the name of the Government that goes behind the capital, and I do not belive the risk is as great as some people think. I realise that with the appreciation in the value of the crown or of the mark, because what I have said applies to Germany also, which is bound to follow shortly—it cannot be that we shall have this extraordinary unbalance of exchange permanently existing—your investment appreciates too, and it is not so much the interest you may hope to get for your investment as the capital appreciation due to the appreciation in the value of the crown. We all know, or I hope we do, how we have benefited through the appreciation in the value of the rupee in India, and exactly the same thing, but on a far larger scale, may be expected from the appreciation of the value of the crown and the mark. I have spoken to the Government privately about this; it is the only way one can do it nowadays—to speak privately to them. I hope they will take steps to send out to Vienna a deputation of financiers and manufacturers who will meet the people who are asking for their help, and see if something cannot be done to get Vienna out of the workhouse and of the Poor Law list and into the state of a manufacturing nation once more. Anything that is done there to save that country from Bolshevism will also help to save this country from Bolshevism. It is part of the modern heresy that what benefits Germany hurts us; what benefits Austria hurts us. Everybody who has had anything to do 697 with business knows that the future prosperity of this country depends upon the future prosperity of Europe, and that you cannot stamp the rest of Europe in the mud and expect to keep out of the mud yourself.
§ Mr. SEDDON
I have no intention to follow the last speaker, except to continue his remarks with reference to trade, and I want to deal with British trade lather than with trade in Hungary, or any other part of the world. The Prime Minister, in his statement to the House, informed us that he had been exceedingly busy dealing with those great problems, and amongst them was the question of trade. I view with some little alarm the evidences coming into my hands of the activities of those with whom we have recently been fighting. The hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down says it is a heresy that what benefits one country is an injury to the other. I want to come down to details in connection with a trade he knows something about. I have in my possession two letters which have come from German firms, one in Amsterdam and the other in Sweden. They have made inquiries of their former purchasers in the Potteries district whether they could renew the commercial relationship. During the War, when this particular commodity was cut off, those who are now engaged in it in the Potteries, were asked to sink more capital in the production of chromatic requirements in that particular industry, and I have it on authority that many thousands of pounds have been sunk in the belief that at least they would get some consideration from the Government when Peace was declared, and that, having helped the Government and the trade in their hour of trial, they would not be left to the tender mercies of everybody else who would like to take the trade from them.
§ Mr. SEDDON
Honesty, I think, is a greater virtue than fiscal correctitude, and I prefer to be honest than to be a slavish worshipper of one form of ism or any other form of ism. These men were asked, and induced, to put their money in this. They did it in good faith, and what is the position to-day? One of the letters informs me—and it is touting for business—that as soon as the blockade is raised, they will be able to enter into commercial relationship. On what terms? The hon. and gallant Member talked about 698 sending capital out to Hungary. That is the very thing that Germany wants at the present time. Many of her undertakings have been continued, and she has got crowded warehouses with certain commodities. She wants either money or raw material, and it is a condition of these offers that are being made that the money must be paid in advance. What are the terms of the offers made? In one case a quarter of a million sheets of transfers have been offered for cash at the mere cost of the paper—3d. per sheet. All the labour and capital from the stone to the transfer, which is then transferred to the pottery-ware, goes for nothing. We are thus in this position—the men who have helped to maintain the trade of the country, following on the inducements of the Government and on its good faith to put new capital into their businesses, unless we are very careful, in our great love for every country but our own, these gentlemen are going to lose their money so that some may renew their trade friendship with those who have been our worst enemies.
Another point—and I am sorry that no representative of the Exchequer is here. During the Debate on the Budget my hon. Friends the Members for West Layton and Nottingham made a request to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the British manufacturers of films should not be penalised when they sent their stock companies to France, Italy, or any other part of Europe. I am afraid the curt way in which the Treasury have dealt with this question proves the ignorance on the part of their advisers of the enormous utility and growth of this industry. When I inform the House that every week twenty millions of the population of this country go to picture houses, when we remember that a large number of those who are in attendance at these places of amusement are children, when we further remember what was wisely said by one of the fathers of the Church: "Give me the child up to ten years of age and you can do what you like with him afterwards," we can see the great importance of this new industry. It brings amusement to millions of our population. It can be an aid, an advantage in education, and in many other ways. I say we can at least consider the desirability, so far as the economic position is concerned, of the films which are presented to the people of this country, that they shall be of British origin instead of originating in other countries.
699 I am not speaking from any antipathy to America or other country. We have figures showing that something like three-sixths of the film production of the world comes from the United States, two-sixths come from France, Italy, etc., and one-sixth from this country. What is the position to-day? Even the Press are beginning to get a little bit bemused and bewildered at the phraseology of the films that are being introduced into this country, and I can readily conceive if we are going to confine ourselves to imported films we shall require a new dictionary to interpret the slang of America to the children of this country. My point is this: This is a very big industry. It is claimed to be the fifth industry of the United States. There are millions of capital involved. To give one illustration. A deal was completed in this country last week to the tune of half a million of money. From the point of view of trade, therefore, I think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer at least was unfair to this new industry which is seeking to come into being. Most people who follow the tables of this industry will know that they have laid themselves out to capture the trade throughout the length and breadth of the world.
They must know that, so far as a channel for education is concerned, it would be invaluable for this country and for commerce. Here is an industry which started late. The Americans have got millions of capital, and have maintained a position and are fighting to keep it. As a new industry springs up they find it would suit them to send their companies to Italy or any other part of Europe. The Chancellor of the Exchequer treats British films manufactured by British stock companies in France or Italy as foreign produced films, and puts an extra duty on them, oblivious of the fact that when an English firm sends its stock companies to a foreign country it increases its expenses and prevents it competing favourably in the open market. Here is a great force, a new industry that at least should be treated with some consideration. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer will allow them to go to the Isle of Man without any duty upon the film produced in the Isle of Man, and that would be very little loss to the Exchequer, they would give the same facilities so that a British stock company taking scenes in France or Italy, under proper safeguards, at least that film produced 700 by a British stock company and brought here for British purposes for British films should be treated with equity and justice and fair play. I hope the hon. Gentleman who represents the Government will convey to the Chancellor of the Exchequer my very modest plea for him to reconsider his position, and when British capital and a British stock company produce a British film, and they have to go to France or Italy, it ought to be treated as a British and not a foreign production.
§ Captain ORMSBY-GORE
I know the House is anxious to get this Bill through, but, as the representative of the Foreign Office is here, I do feel it desirable to call attention to the answers to questions which he gave to-day in regard to the representation of this country in certain States of Central and Eastern Europe. It is perfectly clear that in the last few days there has taken place in Hungary another revolution, and there has been established not only one new Government, but possibly two, and that the only representatives of this country on the spot are military officers, and I think it is desirable, in the interests of the peace of the world, that there should be at the earliest possible moment adequate diplomatic and political representation of this country in those places.
I think it is most vital that in Bucharest, in Buda Pesth, Vienna, Belgrade, and Sofia we should at the earliest moment get adequate political representatives who will give us political, economic, and commercial intelligence as to what is going on in those countries, and that we should not rely solely on military measures, officered, no doubt, by men of exceptional ability, but looking at matters from a purely military point of view. It is the paramount interest of this country to secure at the earliest possible moment peaceful relations in these newly-extended Balkans. We have Balkanised the whole of Central and Eastern Europe, and at the present time the peace of Europe is being held up by continued explosions of either Bolshevism or aggressive Chauvinism, or the aggressive nationalism of these various countries.
The House has learned from the hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) that British prestige still stands high in Central and Eastern Europe, and that not a moment should be lost in sending adequate diplo- 701 matic and political representatives to those countries, with definite instructions from the Foreign Office that British policy is determined to secure a peaceful settlement between the rival nations in those parts of the world. Otherwise we are going to have a series of Balkan wars, one following the other, and we shall miss our present golden opportunity of reestablishing peace in those parts. But we cannot do that as long as we are merely represented by generals, as long as our representation has the outward appearance of war. Our representatives there are in uniform, and we are continuing the idea that the Allies are represented there for the purpose of continuing the War and getting military intelligence. What we want at the earliest possible moment is a Peace settlement in those countries. As long as war continues in those parts war conditions will remain all over the world. I profoundly regret the delay which is apparent in Paris at the present moment. I regret they are not hurrying up the Treaty of Peace with Austria-Hungary. Bulgaria, and Turkey. The sooner we get those treaties signed and ratified the better it will be for the world and the sooner we can concentrate on the work of Imperial reconstruction. But we shall never do it as long as we continue merely these military missions.
Exactly the same thing applies to Southern Russia. I am certain that one really good diplomatic commercial political representative in the rear of General Denikin's Army would be worth a large number of exalted military officers. What we want is to restore to these war-stricken areas of Europe the idea that England at any rate, even if some of the other Allies are not with us, wants to get back to conditions which are not military, but peaceful, constructive, civilian conditions, at the earliest possible moment. I think our Foreign Office is behindhand. The War Office is quick to rush into the breach and send officers. Why is it that the Foreign Office is not equally quick to have a Consul-General, Consuls, diplomatic and political representatives, in all these small States and new countries in Central and Eastern Europe? I think it is one of the most urgent questions which I could bring to the attention of the House at the present time. I do hope that I shall receive an assurance from the hon. Gentleman representing the Foreign Office that he will take urgent steps to impress upon the Acting-Foreign Secretary—who I am 702 afraid is not sufficiently sympathetic to the vital urgency of this question—the need for sending adequate Consular and Diplomatic representation particularly to Buda Pesth, Sofia, and Belgrade at the present time.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. Cecil Harmsworth)
I should not have intervened in tins Debate but for the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend. I rather resent his observation in reference to the Acting-Secretary of State. I can assure him, and, indeed, the House and the country, that there is no more devoted public servant than the Acting-Secretary of Slate. I can assure the House that he gives a very large amount of time, often under circumstances of great difficulty, to these very matters to which my hon. and gallant Friend has referred. I should like to have observed in his speech a closer realisation of the fact that in all these questions in Europe we have to work with our Allies. It is not what His Majesty's Government is doing, or what any other single Government is doing; it is what the Allies in Paris are doing. My hon. and gallant Friend suggests that we should establish Diplomatic and Consular offices at once in Buda Pesth. I should almost for a moment imagine that he has not been reading his newspapers just recently. There is a political mission in Buda Pesth which has just arrived there; but it is an Inter-Allied mission, as I am sure the House will agree it ought to be. I will take a note of what my hon. and gallant Friend has said and will bear it in mind, and I assure him that, so soon as military missions can be avoided, it is the desire of the Foreign Office, and must be the desire of the Government, to substitute political and diplomatic representatives.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.