§ We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."
§ I cannot make my appeal to the indulgence of the House on the ground that this is my maiden speech, but perhaps I may be allowed to urge as a reason for the meriting of some forbearance the fact that there, are other hon. Members who have claimed the attention, and consequently perhaps received the inattention, of the House more frequently than myself. The traditions of the House say that such an croft, as I am attempting to make must be strictly non-controversial, and at once I find myself in difficulties, for it must be always a somewhat difficult matter to make a non-controversial speech when one is dealing with contentious subjects, and in asking the House to appreciate my difficulties, I have much more confidence in making my appeal for their sympathy than I have in making the speech itself. However, I quite realise that the honour of being allowed to move the Address is a distinction bestowed, not so much upon myself as upon my constituency, which has had in the past such able representatives in this Chamber. The constituency of Chorley will be proud of the honour paid it to-day. I ask the House to agree to present an Address to His Majesty, and as a loyal subject I seize the opportunity of making a short reference to the Throne. In these troublesome days a great deal is heard about the security of the Throne. In my judgment, the Throne, one of the most ancient of our institutions, was never more secure than it is at the present moment. The reason is not far to seek. This symbol of greatness, this symbol of majesty and power, has as its present occupant one who has endless endeavour 9 for, and takes a personal interest in, every member of the community, from the greatest and most noble in the land down to the most humble, and as it is only on an occasion such as this that the rules of the House will allow hon. Members to make personal reference to His Gracious Majesty and to his family, the House will perhaps pardon me if in a sentence I make reference to two members of the Royal household who are in everyone's thoughts to-day. When His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales set out on his journey to India many imagined, some even wished, that far from cementing that country closer to Great Britain, his presence in the Indian Empire would have the directly opposite effect. The Prince of Wales has a wonderful vitality. The harder, the more complex, the more difficult the task set him, and the more he seems to delight in its accomplishment. Our Prince has won the hearts of the people in India. His tour can be described as nothing less than a triumph. To see him, to meet him, to know him, is to submit to his magnetic personality. He is more than a Prince. He is the servant of peace. He is the greatest antidote in the world against unrest and disorder. To Princess Mary on her approaching marriage to one of her own countrymen our heartfelt good wishes pour forth. The country feels that she has been wise in her choice, and this House is only one of thousands of assemblies anxious to wish the Princess and her fiancé the very best of good fortune.
In His Majesty's Gracious Speech from the Throne priority is given to the Washington Conference which, as the House knows, dealt with disarmament and the situation in the Far East. The results of this Conference have been even more successful than the most sanguine amongst us could have anticipated, and it is truly said that the world owes a debt of gratitude to the initiative of the President of the United States. We all see, every one of us, the advisability and even the necessity of a reduction in armaments. The Pacific, however, sounds a long way from Great Britain, but peace there means a great deal to the British Empire, and that a treaty of the character indicated in His Majesty's Speech could have been entered into with a continuation of the great cordiality which at present exists between Japan and ourselves is in itself 10 an epoch in the annals of our Empire. Before leaving this subject I, as a humble and very junior Member of this Assembly, should like to lay my small tribute at the feet of the Lord President of the Council who, having almost worn himself out in the public service, has shown such dexterity and such virility in dealing with some of the most delicate, intricate, and, I am thankful to say, most successful negotiations ever conducted within the memory of the oldest Member of this House.
I now turn to Ireland. Although hon. Members have differed, do differ and probably will differ in regard to the method of attainment, there is not a single Member in this House who will not be delighted beyond measure to see permanent and lasting peace in the land across the Channel. People expressed wonder when, a fortnight ago, a meeting took place between the Prime Minister of Ulster (Sir James Craig) and the head of the Provisional Government of Ireland (Mr. M. Collins). Some were astonished that apparently satisfactory advances were made by each side. Both sides were congratulated by the whole world. Would I could offer my congratulations upon the result of the last meeting between these men. Suspicion seems to have taken the place of goodwill and a real desire to understand each other's difficulties. What can we do to dispel these suspicions. I do not know the hon. Member for South Cork (Mr. M. Collins), but I had the honour of serving for some considerable time under Sir James Craig. If my feeble voice could reach any of the Members of the Provisional Government of Ireland, I would say to them, "Trust the Prime Minister of Ulster, and he will trust you." The Prime Minister of Ulster may have disqualifications—I do not know—but I am certain of this, that insincerity is not one of them. The news to-day is not good. It must be our fervent hope and our urgent prayer that North and South may soon come closer together to form an important partner in this great Commonwealth. Proposals, we are told, are to be submitted for the reform of the House of Lords and for the adjustment of differences between the two Houses. Opinions obviously differ in many respects not only as to the method to be selected, but as to the 11 object to be achieved. The difficulties are great, but it is to be profoundly hoped that this subject will be soon settled—a subject which for so many years has brooked no delay.
It was obvious that reference should be made to the finances of this country and to unemployment. We all agree that this terrible scourge of unemployment is partly caused by the burden of taxation, which in its turn is accounted for mainly by the great world upheaval. But taxation is not to be considered alone. The successful business man is he who, seeing his income diminishing, at once reduces his expenses. So should it be with the State. Expenditure should always bear close relationship to the amount of income it is possible to obtain without doing the country any harm. Retrenchment is wrapped up in this subject. We are glad to note that it is to be pressed forward, but, as it is forcibly pointed out in His Majesty's Speech, it must always be remembered that economy cannot be effected without causing individual hardship and a temporary postponement of some of the legitimate aspirations of the general community. It has been the popular cry lately to talk about the economy axe, and it was suggested to me only yesterday that if my own name could have been associated more closely with this axe there would have been a more rapid cutting through of some of the nails. However, with my usual modesty I leave that matter entirely to the discretion of the House.
The pending International Conference at Genoa is referred to. I dare not attempt to deal with the value of conferences either separately or collectively, but I will just say this, anything which would help towards a peaceful world is surely worth trying. Without world peace we cannot gain Empire prosperity. Without peace abroad we cannot have good trade and good employment at home. Peace, it has been truly said, is the greatest blessing that can be conferred upon mankind.
Anxiety is expressed in His Majesty's Gracious Speech regarding the situation in the Near East. He would be a poor artist who, painting a picture of the East, would ignore the clouds—dark clouds—gathering on the horizon. It would tax the strength of any Government to deal with this situation alone. I am no pessi- 12 mist. Clouds have made their appearance before, and the rays of the sun have seemed to disperse them. This is a radiant Empire, and he would be a weak-hearted son of it who has so little confidence in his fellow countrymen as to imagine that these difficulties, great as they are, cannot be overcome. They can, and they will.
I have finished. I do not intend to deal with the other questions mentioned in His Majesty's Speech, important though they be. From those already touched upon, it is obvious that for a full and proper consideration of them the assistance of healthy criticism is required from all parties. The House, when it has had time to meditate upon the many difficult and urgent problems to be faced, will agree with me, I am sure, when I say that there never was more necessity than there is to-day to ponder over and take to heart the concluding words of His Gracious Majesty's Speech, and that we should, one and all, pray with him "that the blessings of Almighty God may rest upon our deliberations."
§ Captain ERNEST EVANS (in Court dress)
I am sure the House would wish me, in seconding the Motion which has been so ably submitted by my hon. and gallant Friend, to take to heart a warning not dissimilar to that expressed in Elia's Essay on the practice of saying grace before meat, when he tells us that, whereas a short form is felt to want in reverence, a long one cannot escape the charge of impertinence. I shall endeavour to avoid both rocks of offence, and hope that the House will generously extend its indulgence to me as I endeavour to discharge the great honour which has been entrusted to me.
I am sure the whole House will join with my hon. and gallant Friend in tendering, as the British public always welcome an opportunity of doing, a message of loyal greeting and congratulation to their Majesties the King and Queen, upon the forthcoming marriage of Her Royal Highness the Princess Mary, and upon the very remarkable visit of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to India—a mission undertaken with characteristic willingness, but not without considerable personal sacrifice. Both events are notable and natural sources of 13 pride to their Majesties, not only as rulers of the Empire, but also in their not less honourable capacity of parents. The one event possesses that touch of nature which makes the whole world kin, and has served in a remarkable degree to emphasise that spirit of kinship which obtains between their Majesties and their loyal subjects. The other is an event of Imperial and, indeed, of even wider significance, which will help, we trust, to remove some of those circumstances which, at the moment, are the cause of grave anxiety, and will serve to promote a better understanding of and with the people of that vast continent, of which we often think and talk much, but know, I am afraid, only too little.
In regard to Ireland, the task to which we are invited to devote ourselves is that of investing with legislative sanction the Resolution which was adopted by this House a few weeks ago. Perhaps I may be forgiven one word of a slightly personal character in expressing the satisfaction of my Welsh colleagues and myself that the conclusion of those negotiations was reached last year by a Government which has at its head one of our own countrymen, for whom we, in common with all his fellow-countrymen, irrespective of political considerations, entertain in a peculiar degree feelings of great pride and warm regard. We think it not inappropriate that the new highway of peace to Ireland should pass through Wales. I am afraid I should be trespassing beyond my legitimate bounds were I to elaborate the view that Wales is no less deserving and no less capable of exercising a measure of self-government.
I think it was Matthew Arnold who said that the Celts have long memories. That may be so. But the spirit of courage and statesmanship already displayed by the Prime Minister of Ulster and the leaders of the Provisional Government lead one to hope that the Irish people will soon show that whilst, like other Celtic races, they may be slow to forget, they can be quick to forgive. There may be differences of opinion in regard to some matters, and we realise the manifest and manifold difficulties which remain to be surmounted, but the House, I feel sure, will be unanimous in hoping that what we are doing will ultimately, not merely enable, but also encourage Ireland to bring her great gifts in fuller and freer 14 measure than ever to the service of the Empire, of which she will still form a part, and to the life of which she has in the past made many a brilliant and many a gallant contribution.
Of the other matters of domestic concern to which reference is made in His Majesty's Gracious Speech, the greatest interest attaches to the two subjects of economy and the reform of the House of Lords. They have one thing in common. Both have at divers times, and by diverse schools of political thought, been described as matters of immediate and imperative urgency. The detailed proposals of the policy of retrenchment will be awaited in all quarters of the country with interest, in many with anxiety, and in some with impatience. It often happens in life that the greater the agreement upon a general proposition, the greater the divergence upon its detailed application. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I am sure, does not need to be told that the path which he proposes to tread is narrow and difficult. His, like every other pilgrim's progress, will be a lonely one at times. In the multitude of counsellors there may be safety, but there is not much companionship. My right hon. Friend will, doubtless, have many counsellors—[Mr. Obstinate and Mr. Pliable, Mr. Wiseman and Mr. Simple, Mr. Timorous and, perhaps, even Mr. Talkative. He must, however, hope that those—and they are many —who have assumed the role of evangelists of economy, will be found at his right hand on critical occasions. In any case, I trust that my right hon. Friend will not be discouraged by these reflections, for I think that I can assure him that hon. Members in all parts of the House realise full well the urgent, indeed, the desperate, need for a drastic reduction in the nation's expenditure, and will not fail to respond to the appeal in His Majesty's Gracious Speech to the Members of this House, when he saysI look for your support in securing the economies which are essential.Intimately associated with the subject of economy, and with the not unconnected problem of unemployment which is, unhappily, still the cause of grave concern, is the only other matter on which I would crave leave to say one word. To the President and the Government of the United States of America, and in no less degree to that great figure in British statesman- 15 ship—and never greater than to-day—the Lord President of the Council, and his colleagues, and to the Government which gave them authority to make such striking—one might also say startling—contributions to the cause of peace and stability, we tender our profound thanks, and trust that nothing will arise to frustrate or fritter away the momentous decisions which have been taken at Washington. It is the same cause, the cause of peace—the most urgent of all the tasks which to-day challenge the statesmanship of the world—which will, we trust, be served by the forthcoming conferences in Paris and Genoa. It was a native of the latter city, Mazzini, who was the author of that pregnant phraseNationalities are the workshops of humanity.Our prayer is that the result of the Conferences will be to make all the nations who will be represented there more efficient, friendly, loyal, and co-operant units in that workshop wherein the future of a tried and anxious humanity is now being fashioned.
§ Mr. CLYNES
In the course of my observations, I shall, no doubt, say a number of things which some Members of the House will not fully endorse, but I am safe in offering the warmest congratulations of Members in all quarters to the two hon. and gallant Gentlemen who have moved and seconded the Address of thanks to the Throne, in speeches which I cannot remember having been excelled by those who have had far greater experience of the House than the two hon. Gentlemen. I congratulate them sincerely upon the warmth and graciousness of the terms they used in reference to the Throne and members of the Royal Family. I congratulate them upon the ability and the skill with which they covered their themes, and upon the wealth of argument, so far as they thought it proper to offer arguments to this House, upon an occasion of this kind. I think that my two hon. Friends may feel satisfied that the House will look forward with pleasure to their contributions to its Debates on future occasions.
Debates on the afternoons of first meetings of this House scarcely partake of the substance of debate in the ordinary sense in which controversy is undertaken in this House. There is some element of, I will 16 not say unreality, but a feeling that what we have to say is rather premature and without point, and, indeed, I go so far as to suggest that it might be better to reverse the procedure and let us have some declaration of policy and some fuller statement from the representatives of the Government in order that we might offer our criticism upon a declared policy officially stated on behalf of the Government of the day. As it is, we have but the terms of the Gracious Speech from the Throne, and by custom we are limited to the condition of addressing questions or general observations rather than entering deeply into debates in the ordinary sense. Before I pass to the themes which I have in mind, I think that the House will desire that some regret should be expressed at the absence from this day's sitting of my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith), particularly because of the cause of that absence, and we all hope that his recovery from the slight accident with which he has met will be speedy and that he will be restored very soon to the services of this House.
The first subject dealt with by the Speech from the Throne is the Washington Conference. Upon that I would say that I think that the Conference has kept rather too closely to what I would term the arithmetic of war instruments, though it is a very great advantage to have reached an understanding and agreement upon the definite limitation of naval armaments. That is a positive gain, especially if that limitation can be viewed from the standpoint of being a first step towards a reduction in armaments, and towards better relations among the naval powers of the world. The Washington Conference has not dealt with armies. It has not dealt with land forces in the general sense of the term; it has discussed questions from the standpoint of reducing the barbarism of war, and of coming to an understanding as to what war weapons shall and shall not be used. My view upon that subject is that war cannot be humanised. Arrangements which may be made as to the use of submarines, poison gas, or the employment of other murderous or treacherous devices, used in war, depend for their observance, once war is entered into on a large scale, upon how late or how soon any combatant in the struggle may reach a stage of desperation, inducing it to set aside any of such 17 arrangements or understandings that were made in time of peace. Those devices for arranging terms for humanising war are useless so soon as any combatant reaches this desperate stage in any serious encounter. I hope, therefore, that the Washington Conference is neither midway nor at the end, but is only the beginning of conferences leading to definite arrangements, founded not on the limitation of armaments, but on the disarmament of the world for the purposes of war.
It is not that we who hold those views believe that differences ever can be prevented; they will arise. What we hope to see is such a world organisation and such international machinery of peace as to adjust differences as they arise upon the basis of peace in place, as in the past, of the basis of war. No matter what systems we have, so long as human nature remains approximately what we now know it to be, differences must be anticipated. It is our duty to anticipate such differences by providing the machinery necessary to settle pacifically the quarrels of the nations on the same principles on which we long have settled quarrels between man and man. To that I may add that I am entirely without hope of ever maintaining the peace of the world by any system, as at present, of merely measuring instruments for war, merely determining what degree or state of preparation for war this, that, or the other nation may hold or hope to hold.
The War has produced many conferences. Many of them have been acting through the body known to the world as the Supreme Council. That Council has been supreme very largely in the making of failures. It has issued decrees. It has found very soon that its decisions could not be fulfilled. It has called for another conference. It meets and fails again. Then there is another meeting, followed by another failure. It appears now that the Prime Minister has reached the end of his great patience in relation to these meetings of the Supreme Council, and has resorted to some larger and far more representative gathering, in relation to the affairs of the world, than the body hitherto called the Supreme Council has up to the present afforded. The last of these gatherings was at Cannes. I think that the House is entitled, either in the course of this week, if not to-day, to get some more full statement than it has been able 18 to get so far from the Press as to what really was done there, and what really now is the attitude of the Cabinet of this country in relation to French policy. What is our relation to the desires of France? Have we any definite lines of policy as representing the opinion of our own Cabinet, or is the line of policy so linked with French desire or aspiration as to involve a condition of compromise or concession which is not in harmony with the enduring interests of our own country?
I press those questions upon the Prime Minister. I think we are entitled to know more than we have as yet been able to gather from the Press. The agreement which has been referred to in reference to both France and Belgium is an agreement which, in our judgment, does not, and cannot, guarantee French safety for the future, or the peace of the world in the generation to come, and for our part we wish again to know whether it goes beyond the prospect of maintaining, not merely the security of any one country, but the security of all. Continued quarrelling in any part of the world means a continuance of our own international difficulties. It brings us nearer and nearer to a state bordering almost on industrial ruin, which the industries of this country are facing at this moment.
We hear at times something said about t he leaders of Labour opinon being driven by their extremists, and that our good intentions are neither here nor there because we are driven by extremists. The leader of every other party, if he is to be frank, will admit that he is pressed sometimes by the extremists in his own party. The Prime Minister is not driven by the extremists except when, as frequently happens, they are so numerous as to compel him to go where they want. The power of the extremists, of course, in his case depends upon the numbers. The Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Sir James Craig, is, it is said by one side, driven by his extremists. Mr. Michael Collins is sometimes said by another side to be driven by his extremists. Which one of the parties in any part of the House has not had to resist this taunt, which now is being specially directed to the leaders of the Labour party?
19 I think it may be said that on this subject, at any rate, Labour opinion is united. It is not a newly formed view. Indeed, had these conferences, such as the proposed Genoa Conference, or the Conference which has been held at Washington, been held twenty-five years ago, the views which we hold now would have expressed Labour doctrine and Labour opinion, as in those days they might have been laid down feebly by those of us who represent Labour views. It is not true that we do not entertain the very highest feelings of admiration for the French character, and a desire for French prosperity. British working men are proud of their association with France, and they have the most ardent feelings for it. I say this as one who frequently has addressed working-class meetings and who knows that, when reference is made to such matters as the devastated area and the sufferings of the French people, in the struggle which they have made, the heart of the working classes of this country is in the right place so far as the French nation is concerned, but while saying that we must be free to express and pursue our own view as to what is best, not merely for France, but for the world.
We believe that our sacrifices for French liberty have been real. They have been very severe indeed. Next to France, in proportion to population, this country suffered as much as any country in the world, and it has suffered more than any country since the War ended. Therefore, we must look at the pacts and alliances from the largest possible angle. We are convinced that French security and French prosperity can be found more certainly by gaining the good opinion of the world, by gaining through a worldwide League of Nations or association of peoples that strength and that guarantee against further aggression which cannot be found to the same degree by any arrangement merely between France and one or two other countries. I think that history and the lessons of all wars have taught us that grouping between small rings of nations tends only to a recurrence of war and to counter-grouping. It is certain that if a few countries in any part of the world are linked together on the ground that such linking is essential because of risks of aggression from outside, then those who are suspected of such 20 acts of aggresion will begin to group, and in a generation or two, when there may be enormous changes in the general internal development of a country, in its prowess or population, there will be a recurrence of war. You can have no guarantee against such wars until you make your organisation world-wide, based not upon present fears or suspicions but upon a new policy which can look to the future and secure mankind, regardless of nationality or location, wherever it may be.
The two hon. Gentlemen who moved and seconded this Address said something on the question of national economy. This has been the subject of Ministerial speeches in recent weeks, and outside this House men of great influence and standing have expressed what I understand to be the Ministerial mind, indeed, what is very largely expressed in the terms of the King's Speech. I observe that a former distinguished Member of this House, at one time Chancellor of the Exchequer—I refer to Mr. McKenna—has put the view of economy in these terms:The strictest economy has become the most imperative necessity of our time.That is addressed, not to any of us, but to all of us, to every section of the community. I want to say a word in regard to that very large section of the community to whom this appeal will be almost a mockery. I do not complain of the appeal for economy, but I want to guard against the assumption that it is possible for any large section of the community to practise economy. The fact is that about three-quarters of the people of this country have no means whatever to economise; they have no opportunity. What are the facts? Towards 2,000,000 people, and if you count them in terms of families they are about 6,000,000 people, at this moment are dependent for their existence week by week upon what they can receive in the way of grants, gifts, doles, benefits or relief payments of some kind. The maximum of their weekly income is much lower than the humblest needs of any ordinary British home. They cannot save; they can do nothing by the practice of economy to add to the store of wealth of the country.
Outside that number, take those who are in employment. They number, again, many millions, and their total would be enlarged to several more millions if it were expressed in family terms. What is 21 their position? In the past 12 months, about 6,000,000 workers have suffered reduction in wages amounting approximately to £9,000,000 a week. That very large section cannot save. So it may be said that you come to only a small and favoured portion of the population to whom these appeals for economy can reasonably be addressed. The question is, will those save who can save? I doubt it I have not seen by any sort of evidence, in the spending in high quarters in this country or in the expenditure of those who are able to take their winter holidays elsewhere, of the practice of the form of economy which Ministers and other men of influence outside the House are addressing to the people generally. The Government really must not look for hope in the direction of expecting any sort of practice of economy from the greater portion of the population of the country. It is useless to make these appeals for self-sacrifice to the masses of the people without corresponding sacrifice being shown by those who are in possession of great properties or of capital. They are able, if they will, to add something by saving to the resources of the national wealth. They can do that without real sacrifice, that is to say, without incurring any physical privation.
To the mass of the workers what does sacrifice mean? It means doing without things they ought to have, essential things of which they are in real need; it means deprivation of physical necessities, or, if not that, doing without at least the humbler pleasures and recreations of life. To the other class at the very worst sacrifice can mean no more than the forfeiture of some article of wealth or the avoidance of some customary extravagance. I think I am entitled to ask the Government whether it can do anything in respect of this class, in addition to appeals for economy. Is there any remedy? Is there any method or instrument which the Government can apply to make people contribute to the financial necessities of the nation, when they are able to do so? If it be that no class can do it, or that the class which can do it will not do it, I suggest that it is about time we dropped appeals for economy altogether and no longer indulged in what, after all, is an empty mockery. Either sections of the community can economise or they can not. Obviously one section can, and if voluntarily they will not do so, is there any step that the 22 Government can take to impose compulsory economy upon that class alone which is able to make it?
This allusion to wage reductions entitles me to draw the attention of the Prime Minister to his own statement quite recently upon the question. When last dealing with unemployment at any length —during his journey from the North of Scotland in October last—the right hon. Gentleman addressed a meeting at Inverness. He dealt with the question of wage reductions and dealt generally with certain other first principles which should be kept in mind, and this is what he said on that occasion:When you come to make provision for those who cannot provide for themselves, however anxious they may be to do so, and for their children, you must bear in mind that we have passed through a period when myriads of these men willingly placed their lives at the disposal of their country, facing death and mutilation. They are more entitled than ever to come to that country and say, 'We are willing to work but we cannot find work, and we ask you to see that our children shall not starve.'The Prime Minister went on to give the assurance that, so long as there was a crust in the cupboard—that was his phrase —they would not be allowed to starve. I do not know what meaning the Prime Minister attaches at times to the terms which he uses. The children were not to be allowed to starve, and when the Government's plan for dealing with unemployment was put before this House, what did it mean in the case of the children? It meant keeping them alive by providing in certain cases that for their maintenance they should have 1s. a week. That was the amount which the Government provided to see that the children of the men who fought in the War were not allowed to starve. Evidently the crust in the cupboard was not a very large one. I go further back than that, and I ask the Prime Minister's attention to the language by which the Government attracted a great deal of support in the year 1918. On 16th November, 1918, this is what the Prime Minister said in reference to the drop in wages to which I have referred:Wages must not be permitted to drop to the point where the strength of the workers cannot be maintained in efficiency.I draw attention to the fact that for a very large number of wage earners now their pay is far below the purchasing power of the pre-War level, and that to 23 some extent that has been due to the deliberate policy of the Government in the last year or so, entirely in conflict with the statements of the Prime Minister. I will finish these references by citing the Prime Minister's language in relation to the great industry of agriculture. Speaking on 22nd November, 1918, the right hon. Gentleman said:The Government regard the maintenance of a satisfactory agricultural wage, the improvement of village life and the development of rural industries, as an essential part of agricultural policy.What is the Government doing to arrest the descent in the level of wages? No action has been taken. No word of sympathy have I heard from any Minister for the troubled state of the wage-earner who, because of the pressure of unemployment, has been compelled to yield in some cases to the most monstrous reduction in wages. The Government is responsible in the case of the agricultural workers for the removal of the only safeguard which secures for them anything like a level of earnings approximating a living wage. Into the underlying causes of these general troubles I am not going to enter. We hope later in the week to have a more definite opportunity of dealing with those causes. I would draw attention, however, to two other declarations made on behalf of the Government on a part of the question which enters closely into the industrial difficulty. The Prime Minister, in the course of his speech at Inverness on 4th October, declared thatTrade conditions are reflected in the fluctuating exchanges of the various countries and you cannot do business so long as you have those conditions.That statement was anticipated by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies, who in Dundee on 25th September made this more explicit statement:It would, in my opinion, be for the benefit of the world if all international obligations arising out of the War were reconsidered, were reduced to practical dimensions and placed in a category by themselves.I do not see that that suggestion as to an adjustment for the purposes of trade restoration finds expression in the Speech from the Throne. I draw attention to it, in order to say that declarations under this head have apparently received a good 24 deal of support in commercial and in trading quarters, and that the Chambers of Commerce of many centres and business men of influence have reinforced from their own experience the view that some step on that road is desirable if we are to hasten trade restoration.
In the Speech from the Throne there is, however, a reference to a subject which many of us thought was entirely forgotten —one which belongs absolutely to the most remote party controversies. I refer to what is called the Reform of the House of Lords. It seems to be perennial. It has been said outside this House by an hon. Member who enjoys very great authority within his own party that this is the only unfulfilled pledge of the Government. The unrestrained laughter of those who heard that I would not try to describe. So far as this was a pledge of the Government formed in 1918, might I ask how far was it a pledge due to the pressure of the extremists? Was it a voluntary pledge on the part of the Prime Minister? Did his Liberal colleagues in the Coalition Government voluntarily yield to the suggestion that it was time the House of Lords was reformed? Can we be told to what extent the extremists of the Coalition had anything to do with exacting this part of the price of contact with them? I cannot imagine a more flagrant political bargain than the bargain which is to return to the controversies in this House and in the country, the question of whether we are going to reform the House of Lords. Yet I suppose some action will have to be taken unless, as is perhaps the case with many of the items named in this Speech, it is only for the political window and that the country is being told what it may have to discuss, as it is tending towards an election. Indeed some of us wonder why ever we were brought here at all, and why the pretence is kept up that this is going to be a Session of real work even in relation to the House of Lords. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House has informed the country that within the Cabinet there have been real differences on the question of whether there should be a General Election, and when. The Prime Minister, of course, was innocent of all this, being absent in France. He came back and expressed himself in terms of wonderment as to what all this talk was about.
§ Mr. CLYNES
The guileless Prime Minister could not be a party to any such suggestion as that of raising the cry of a General Election. If we cannot be told exactly what is the internal situation in the Cabinet in relation to an election, can we get the opinion of the Prime Minister or an answer explicitly upon what is meant by this Reform of the House of Lords? Does it mean what it was said by the present Lord Chancellor to mean, when on 6th March, 1914 —enjoying perhaps greater freedom—he said what he thought was to happen? This was the declaration of the present Lord Chancellor at that time:We shall repeal the Parliament Act if and when we return to power, and we shall erase it from the Statute Book.A more responsible Member of the present Government, the Attorney-General, has recently addressed himself to this question. He said:No Government would be so foolish as to try to restore the unlimited veto of the Lords.Might I ask the Prime Minister what precisely is meant by that declaration? What is the degree of veto which the House of Lords is to enjoy? Notwithstanding the confidence of the present Ministry that they have a sort of right in perpetuity to control the affairs of this country, it may be that in the years ahead of us there will be a change and another Government will take the place of the present Government. Indeed, it might happen that a Labour Government would come into power. I want to ask whether the proposals to strengthen and remodel the House of Lords, and the proposals to increase its powers in relation to the decisions of this House, are in anticipation of the Labour legislation that will be submitted to this House by a Labour Government. To some of these questions, I have no doubt, the Prime Minister, not without adroitness and carefulness of expression, will reply. Those of us who are not in the counsels of the Ministry would be grateful for a little light upon a number of the questions referred to in the Speech from the Throne.
Before I conclude, might I say that if there is any assistance which by speech or act we can give to the Government, in relation to settling Irish controversies, 26 the Prime. Minister may depend upon carrying with him our fullest goodwill and a real desire to be as serviceable as we possibly can. It is a matter of congratulation that such difficulties as exist now appear to be limited to the question of boundaries. These are very important in themselves, and are giving rise to the most acute differences between the leaders of the two bodies of Irish opinion, but if Irish difficulties have been reduced merely to the problem of boundaries, I refuse to believe that they cannot be overcome and that a settlement will not be reached. I think if leaders of opinion in Ireland cannot between them settle this matter in accordance with the views of their immediate followers, they will be thrown back upon what is perhaps the most democratic of all plans, the plan tried with success in other parts of the world, the plan of letting the people decide for themselves—the plan of the plebiscite which has been enjoined by this and other Governments upon peoples in other lands. I see no reason why, eventually, it should not be used as a medium for settling differences which leaders of Irish opinion cannot themselves compose. I believe if outstanding differences in Ireland are pursued in the spirit which was exhibited by the two Irish leaders, the Prime Minister of the Northern Parliament and Mr. Michael Collins, in the arrangement they made some time ago, and in the Treaty which they reached on the question of the boycott of trade in the North of Ireland and the question of the return to work of those Catholics who had been kept out of employment—if these questions can be pursued in the spirit of that Treaty, I refuse to believe that these troubles cannot be allayed. We are faced in the course of this Session, if the work of the House is to be real, with a task perhaps greater than has ever faced any Members in any previous Session. Things are not better, they are worse, and I suppose no man has greater reason keenly to feel that than my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour. This is the picture—the devastating picture—of existing conditions given to the country within the last two days by the Lord Chancellor:Europe is still prostrate. Our finance is in an almost desperate situation, our streets are thronged with unemployed and 27 our Eastern dependencies are supplying us with every ground for apprehension.That language means that within these shores and outside them, not only in those parts of the world for which the Empire is responsible, but in other lands, there is disturbance as deep and real as ever we had before. Without straining a party point, I think we may well ask whether Governments have anything at all to do with these results? Has policy anything to do with the shaping of affairs in this way? Nothing could be worse than the picture unveiled by the Lord Chancellor. If this and other Governments are not fit to rule and determine the affairs of the world, what would be the condition of the world without them? I do not believe it possibly could be worse. If action and if policy can produce any results at all, they might produce a better result than the picture described by the Lord Chancellor. On that account we on this side of the House hold the view that if the Prime Minister feels that the Government of the country would be strengthened by an appeal to the electors, we shall not shrink from it.
§ Mr. CLYNES
The time can be chosen by the Prime Minister and his colleagues. His opponents suffer certain tactical disadvantages. We are not particularly anxious to take the task out of his hands at the moment, for the sake of taking office. No election, whatever the change may be, can immediately transform in any real degree the terrible internal economic condition of this country. I therefore say that it is not a change that we desire so much as definite lines of policy with which we could co-operate immediately in order to produce the results which are so eminently desirable. Men and women are very nearly starving in millions, and this picture of the Lord Chancellor is, I say, only a reason for any party man to say to himself that if policy really can be applied to the frightful conditions which now prevail in Europe and to our own internal conditions, that policy should be applied, regardless of past commitments, regardless of parties, regardless of personal or class interests. These difficulties are too deep and grievous to 28 permit of any sectional, or party, or personal consideration preventing joint effort for economic revival, and if in the few months that are ahead of us this House can have its mind turned, not to the manœuvres of an election, not to the prospects of who is to succeed here or there, but to how best the House can apply itself to the outside situation, we on this side will not be lacking in any help that we can give to the Government in that direction.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
My right hon. Friend the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) in a very kindly word made reference to the absence of my right hon. Friend and leader (Mr. Asquith), and the House has already shown its sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman in the somewhat severe accident from which he is suffering, and I hope he will very speedily be able to resume his attendance at the House of Commons. I join in no perfunctory spirit in the remarks which have been made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Platting with regard to the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of the Address. I do not know that I have ever heard quite as good a couple of speeches as they made, and I feel myself that their obvious gifts and talents in that direction are somewhat wasted on the Government Benches. They would do very much better in opposition, and I hope the time is not very far distant when they will have the chance of developing their obvious gifts in attacking another Government on those benches. It is customary on these occasions, as my right hon. Friend has said, to address queries to, rather than enter into ordinary party diatribes against, the Government. I should have very great difficulty, I freely admit, in keeping off party lines entirely, and I do not quite associate myself with my right hon. Friend in his suggestion that an election might very well be deferred for some time. I hold the opinion that the sooner the election comes the better. It would not at all diminish the power and zeal of this House for dealing with these terrible problems to which my right hon. Friend has well alluded and which the Lord Chancellor himself has so vividly described, and an election would give a fresh sense of endeavour and a new verdict and mandate of the country as to how it wants these problems dealt with.
29 I associate myself at once with the congratulations which have been expressed as to the success of the great Conference which has recently closed at Washington, and particularly, as a House of Commons man, with what has been said with regard to the Lord President of the Council who has represented this country at Washington—one of the most distinguished men in public life or in statesmanship which this House has ever produced. At this stage of what, I hope, will be a long-continued public life he has rendered as great a service to this country and to the world as he has ever succeeded hitherto in doing. I notice the Gracious Speech saysour relations with the United States of America enter upon a new and even closer phase of friendship.That is most desirable. We can together do great things for the peace and progress and development of the world. I hope it also means this, that that great country will be brought into closer relations with Europe. Nothing can be more disastrous for the general peace of the world than that the United States of America should maintain what has been, I am afraid, a traditional attitude of hers, the attitude that she has no real responsibility and can discharge no really useful work by entering into arrangements with the Old World. I hope this marks, with all due caution, which one must expect from her owing to her past history, an endeavour on behalf of the United States of America to share with us the burdens of the world as a whole. No nation can live for itself, any more than any individual can, and I hope that it means the closer relation of the United States of America to Europe as well as to this country. I also would add my expression of doubt and hesitation as to the proposals which are indicated in the Gracious Speech with regard to a pact or definite alliance with regard to France. As my right hon. Friend well said, if that is too definitely set down and the pledges are of a character which would inevitably plunge us into war in the last extremity, the result must be, with that pledge standing there, that each year, the Ministers responsible for the fighting services will come to this House and ask the House to implement, by grants to their various services, the necessary powers to carry out the pledges of this country. I believe that the feeling 30 of the country is swinging very decisively away from entangling alliances which might lead us into wars that might, other-vise, be avoided. I would ask this question of my right hon. Friend, as we have this very definite statement of policy before us: Will he give, on behalf of this Government, a pledge here that before any decision is arrived at, Parliament will have a full, adequate opportunity of debating and discussing the proposals of His Majesty's Government with regard to this most important suggestion of a fresh European alliance? We ought to know, and if we do know and the facts are fairly discussed, then, whatever views we may take, we must be bound, of course, by the decision of the majority of the House, however it may be composed.
I would also say a word or two on a matter which I do not quite remember whether my right hon. Friend has touched upon, and that is the very grave difficulties which face the country in its obligations to India and to Egypt. I find no reference in the Gracious Speech to these two most important matters. I think I am perfectly right when I say that during the whole of last Session there was no real debate on India at all. There was no statement from the Secretary of State for India, notwithstanding that considerable pressure was exercised from time to time by various parties in the House that a statement should be made. My right hon. Friend, the Leader of the House, well knows that that is a remarkable departure from precedent, which is that there has always been a day devoted to the discussion of India.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I suggest to him that if that is pushed over into the general work of the Session, objection will be taken, and it will be almost impossible to get the Debate which we should wish and which India ought to have. I suggest that the House, on one of the days during which this Debate on the Address is conducted, would do great and sound service to the finding of a right policy for India if it devoted a day on an Amendment, moved for that purpose, to a discussion of the present position in India. It is no use going blindfold any longer in these matters. Questions of 31 policy ought to be discussed on the Floor of this House. Over and over again we are invited—and, indeed, all Oppositions are from time to time invited—to be very careful and very cautious so as not to disturb, or make more dangerous, some hazardous position, and, time and time again, the Opposition, however composed, meets these requests from the Government. I believe the time has come for—
Does my right hon. Friend suggest that I demurred to having a discussion? If he had asked for a discussion on the salary of the Secretary of State for India on one of the Supply days last year, he could have had it at once. Neither of the right hon. Gentlemen who represent the Opposition having asked for a discussion on the Secretary of State's salary during the Supply days, my right hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Sir W. Joynson-Hicks) asked for a special day in the autumn, and I think again in what I may term the Christmas Session of the House. I was then unable to find the time, and I deprecated that.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
However that may be, I hope that an Amendment will be taken giving a very early opportunity for the discussion of that most important matter. With regard to Egypt, that is another question which requires debate, and immediate debate. Take the concrete case. We had the Milner Report presented as far back as December, 1920, and a most favourable opportunity then arose for immediate action, but nothing was done in regard to policy, if it can be dignified by that name, but, rather, device after device has been tried, and the position in Egypt has gone rapidly from bad to worse. Egypt is a sovereign State. It never has been, it is not now, and it never will be an integral part of the British Empire. That is a matter which as a fundamental position it is well clearly to understand. We have in Egypt a very special position, owing to the great services which this country has rendered there, and also to the fact that Egypt occupies a strategic position with regard to—I will not call them lines of communication, which suggest a military term—hut our route to India, and our Dominions beyond the seas. That has also to be clearly borne in mind. But., subject to that, Egypt is 32 a sovereign State, and should be treated on that basis. It is only by grasping that fundamental fact, and working on it, that we shall achieve a settlement with Egypt which hitherto we have lamentably failed to secure.
I pass on to a subject with which, I am afraid, I have often wearied the House, and that is a subject which finds, I am glad to notice, a leading place in the Gracious Speech — the question of economy, and public expenditure. My right hon. Friend said some wise words on the subject, pointing out that many in the community could not practise economy, as they were cut down to the bone already, and he asked whether it was not possible for some means to be adopted whereby persons who were extravagant could be made economical. I do not know what sort of steps may be taken to produce that, but let us remember this fact, that the main portion of the revenues of the country is raised from business, and this is the unfortunate position of the great businesses of the country—I have said it before—it is a matter of common knowledge, but will bear repetition—that large numbers of these great undertakings are being financed, so far as their taxes are concerned, by their bankers, and it is a most serious position to be in. I do not wonder that, at last, the Government feel themselves spurred to some action in the matter. I have been reading a memorandum on present and pre-War expenditure by the Government at certain dates, and I will just give the House the broad figures, showing what the expenditure of the Government has been during the three years of the existence of this Parliament, starting from 1st April, 1919, down to the April now coming. It is a staggering fact to have to recognise that in the Supply Services —and when I say Supply Services, I include the fighting services—and in the Revenue Departments, this country has raised no less a sum than £4,531,000,000. If we add to that the Consolidated Fund subsidies, although they form no part of the Budget in which the normal expenditure arises, then the figure which this country has raised during these three years is £5,627,000,000. That is, more than half the total cost of the War for four years has been spent during these three years. Is there any wonder that unemployment is rampant in this country? These huge sums have not, in the main, 33 been spent in fructifying and beneficial channels, but, as the new policy of the Government now admits, in gross extravagance. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, as far back as 1919, was moved to send a note to the various Departments. He said that they must cut down expenditure or go. That was two years ago and more. Then we had the declaration of the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, the present Leader of the House, which I think he addressed to me, when he said, "Will the right hon. Gentleman show me where we can save £500,000?"
A Treasury Committee was set up, which, I understand, has indicated savings of £75,000,000, and I do not know what savings will eventuate from recommendations of the new Geddes Committee. But suppose it results in another £75,000,000. That means that a full three years after, following warning after warning, not only from these benches, but from representative business communities throughout the country, the Government now hope to make their peace with the country on the report of a Committee composed of business men outside this House. I welcome any means of effecting economy, but it shows how far short this House has fallen in its primary duty of looking after the finance of this country, when it has to get men who have never been in this House, except the Chairman, to address themselves to the subject. It was our business. It was the business of the Government. It was the business of every section of the House of Commons. It was the business of the Treasury. The Treasury was not supported by the Treasury Bench, and not backed up until quite recently by the great majority of this House. I do not claim any particular party advantage on this point, because I frankly acknowledge that it has been backed up by other parties in the House. But here stands the great condemnation of the Government. It is the primary cause, the great fundamental cause of the extra and the worst part of unemployment. I assert with complete confidence that if these hundreds of millions, which have been thrown away, had been left in the pockets of the community to be devoted, to useful business, there would have been hundreds of thousands less unemployed walking the streets to-day. All I would add is that any effort made to rectify the 34 position, bad as it is, will receive very warm support from myself and from those for whom I can speak. That is not the only record of failure on the part of the Government. We ought to restore trade, and I regret that one of the most serious omissions from the most gracious Speech was any indication to repeal the Safeguarding of Industries Act. The views of Members on this side of the House are pretty well known, but this morning I noticed what I assume was an impartial verdict from a gentleman—I do not know whether he is a politician at all—who happens to be President of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce. He said that the Act was the worst thing any Government had done for trade. It was doing an immense amount of harm and he also said "I would scrap the whole Act, and bury it beyond hope of resurrection."
May I raise a question on the subject of Ireland, with which I hope my right hon. Friend will deal when he comes to reply? I trust that in this very grave question there is still some ground for hope. I am an optimist on the question of Ireland. I hope and believe that the steps already taken, given a modicum of commonsense, must lead sooner or later to a common settlement that will work. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us when the Bill is likely to be introduced, and can he explain to us—for I am sure the country will be very anxious to know—what is the prime cause of the very serious misunderstanding between Sir James Craig and Mr. Michael Collins in the matter they are now debating, and can we be fairly assured that upon another very critical question which must soon arise, namely, with regard to the adjustment of finances, similar difficulties may be avoided? I notice in the Articles of Agreement:The Irish Free State shall assume liability for the service of the Public Debt of the United Kingdom as existing at the date hereof and towards the payment of war pensions as existing at that date in such proportion as may be fair and equitable, having regard to any just claims on the part of Ireland by way of set off or counterclaim.I express the hope, in which I am sure everyone joins, that there is no factor of real and vital importance lying behind that perfectly straight statement which is likely to lead to similar difficulties which we are now experiencing. If there is, clear it up in time. Do not leave it till the last moment for another very difficult and 35 very critical situation to arise. Let me add my congratulations to those already made, that we may hope at last for a reform of the House of Lords. A similar expression was conveyed by my right hon. Friend and Leader last year, when he asked what the somewhat cryptic reference in the Gracious Speech of that year might mean, and I noticed the Prime Minister replied:After the experience of the past we think it is essential that the House of Commons should not be misled by promises that we cannot fulfil.Then be goes on to say:5.0 P.M.They are not promises given by the present Government. They are promises given by a Government of which, it is perfectly true, I was a member; but we are pledged to deal with the matter. It is no use giving undertakings like that given by my right hon. Friend opposite, which he honourably intended to discharge; undertakings which, on the question of time, brooked no delay, until first of all we have in our minds a definite and clear plan with which we are prepared to proceed immediately. That is the explanation of that particular phrase…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February, 1921; col. 40, Vol. 138.]Have you got any plan at all? Have you decided upon a definite and clear plan with which you are prepared to proceed immediately? If so, the sooner the Bill is brought before the House and we settle down to business the better for all concerned. I notice that there is a remarkable variety of opinion expressed as to the urgency of this problem. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Dorset (Captain Guest), when he leapt into the arena at the Central Hall opposite the other day, said: "Who cares twopence for the reform of the House of Lords?" The Attorney-General devoted a very large portion of his speech to the House of Lords. He said that the unlimited veto would not he restored. Again, the Lord Chancellor the other day said some very interesting things on the question of finance. He indicated that, so far as he was concerned, he thought he was quite as good a judge of what a Money Bill was as was the Speaker of this House. If he was in your Chair, Mr. Speaker, I should say "yes." But from what point of view is a Money Bill judged? It is judged from the point of view of the House of Commons. No Member of the House of Lords is as good a judge of a Money Bill as is a Member of the House of Commons. 36 This is a question, as the hackneyed phrase has it, which brooks no delay. On the question of finance, I consider that this House of Commons, true to its traditions, will brook no interference.
Now a sentence or two of admiration for the way in which the Gracious Speech winds up. It is the swan-song of the Coalition Government, and the phrases may be understood to be a suitable finish to the "Land of Hope and Glory" that the Prime Minister promised us. I have here in my hand a prediction from a paper called "Future," of September, 1919, which says:The old world has come to an end. No effort can shore it up much longer.The penultimate sentence of His Majesty's Gracious Speech, which is supposed to finish a long and glorious record, says:There will also be laid before you a Bill substituting yearly audit for half-yearly audit in the case of Rural District Councils and Boards of Guardians.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
What a brilliant finish to it all! I myself should have thought that, in view of the extravagances which have been suggested in these local public bodies, what was wanted was more auditing, and not less. The Coalition Government has been found out. The sooner it goes to the country for a verdict the better!
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Lloyd George)
I should like to associate myself with the very graceful references which have been made by the two right hon. Gentlemen who have spoken as to the Mover and Seconder of the Address. I agree with everything that has fallen from them with reference to those speeches. I think the House will agree that they were speeches of exceptional merit. My right hon. Friend who has just sat down said that he has never heard two speeches delivered on the same occasion which were of such remarkable quality. I quite agree with all he has said. The hon. Gentlemen spoke with very great eloquence and sincerity, and what is always appreciated in every assembly, with humour as well. I think we may all felicitate them on the very happy discharge of a very difficult task.
This is an occasion when, by the usage and custom of this House, the Leader of 37 the Opposition, or—shall I say—the Leaders of the Opposition have to lay down broadly the basis of their challenge to Government policy. Then the opportunity is afforded the Prime Minister of the day, or the Leader of the House—as the case may be—to answer that challenge. For that reason, amongst others, I very much regret the absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) because he has taken a very special part outside in challenging that policy. I had hoped for an opportunity of listening to a repetition of that challenge here, and also an opportunity—if I may say so—of addressing a few observations in reply. But I think I am entitled to say this, that when happily he recovers, if he comes to repeat that challenge, I hope it will be on an occasion when, at any rate, I shall have the opportunity of replying to the criticisms which he offers.
My right hon. Friends, in the course of their speeches, have invited me to reply to a very great variety of criticisms upon an infinite variety of topics. I think I should be taxing the patience of the House beyond endurance if I were to attempt to give an answer to every question which they have put to me. My right hon. Friend who spoke first wanted an explanation about the Washington Conference. He challenged the whole policy of Supreme Councils. He wanted to know all about our policy in reference to France, and he made a great criticism in reference to unemployment. He also wanted to know something about agricultural wages and why we had not done something in that matter. He wanted an answer about the readjustment of International War Debts—a matter of intricate difficulty, and, if I may say so, very delicate international policy! He also wanted to know exactly what our plan was in reference to the House of Lords. He invited me to expound here at this Table, and now, the whole of the proposals which we wish to submit to Parliament in reference to that problem, and then he went into a general attack upon the whole policy of the Government. In some respects it was unusually violent. He came to the conclusion that nothing could be worse than the present condition of things. If he only looks at Russia, where some of the principles which are advocated by friends of his are practised, I think he will find things which are con- 38 siderably worse. I was really very much encouraged after hearing his tremendous indictment against the Government—the starving unemployed, that the policy as to France was a most disastrous one, that all our Supreme Councils had failed, and that unemployment was attributable to us—in spite of his saying nothing could be worse, he ended up by saying: "I do hope you will not go." We will do our best to keep in. "For Heaven's sake," he said, "do not give us a chance," because my right hon. Friend and those associated with him know that whatever muddle there may be there are men with whom he is acquainted who could improve upon it! From the fulness of his knowledge and from the bitterness of his experience he says: "On the whole, in spite of things being very bad, I wish you would remain there to carry on as long as you possibly can." That destroyed the whole value of his criticism.
I have only one word to say about the Reform of the House of Lords, because, obviously, that is something with which we have got to deal when the proposals come forward. But my right hon. Friend the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) wanted to know what extremists had committed me to House of Lords reform. Well, the extremists who pledged me to House of Lords reform included my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith). But there is another extremist who is not regarded as a man of very violent opinions, and certainly not violently expressed (Lord Crewe). He has been taunted by Lord Lansdowne in exactly the same sort of language as has been used here—but adapted, of course, to the different atmosphere of the House of Lords—with the fact that he had not redeemed his pledge, and he said:I can assure the Noble Marquis that we are not at all unmindful of the pledge which we gave that this matter would have to be dealt with during the lifetime of the present Parliament, and we have been and are, some of us who have had most experience of these particular topics, giving the closest attention… I can assure the Noble Marquis in all seriousness that we are giving the closest attention to it, and we are using such brains as we have to the best of our ability in endeavouring to set before the country what we consider to be a reasonable and possible reform.That is all we are doing. The speech I referred to was made in 1913—pre-War. It was to be done, I think, in 1910, and again in 1911. I was committed by these 39 violent men. My right hon. Friend taunted me with failure to submit this reform. Another extremist who committed me was Lord Grey, who assured us—his language was rather violent, and I am not sure I am permitted to repeat it—that it was "death and damnation" not to reform the House of Lords. That is the language which he used. Far be it from me to use language of that kind, but these are the men who committed me. That is my answer to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting: I have been committed by my leaders of the past and my associates of the present —[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] —these leaders all agree, including Lord Grey and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley, and therefore I am deeply committed to reform the House of Lords and, to use the language which I have already quoted, I propose to take such steps in these perplexing and baffling times to use "such brains as we have to the best of our ability" to deal with it.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
If my right hon. Friend is not satisfied with the language of all those chiefs, then I cannot improve upon it. I have already given him a variety, and they are all definite. I could have quoted my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, who was very emphatic on this subject, and he said, speaking with emphasis and, I think, most explicitly:We are often charged with having in this Preamble offered what I may call a pinch of incense to the principle of a Second Chamber without any sincerity of heart or purpose, and if not with intention, at least leaving open to ourselves the possibility of forever doing nothing in the matter. I have said, and I think in the most explicit terms more than once, that His Majesty's present Government do regard it as an obligation, if time permits, to propose, within the lifetime of the present Parliament, a scheme with that object. I have said that, and f say it again.I accept that and I say again, how could we improve upon that? [HON. MEMBERS: "What is the scheme?" and "What is your plan?"] We are redeeming the pledges of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley. The scheme will be proposed, but has anyone ever heard of a plan in a King's Speech being expounded in reply to a speech on the 40 Address? It would be preposterous. [An HON. MEMBER: "Will it be a Bill?"] To use the right hon. Gentleman's words[...]in due time it will be expounded.So much for that topic. Now I come to other topics. My right hon. Friend the Member for Platting referred to the Washington Conference, and I think he might have referred to it in terms of greater warmth and cordiality. This is one of the greatest achievements for peace that has ever been registered in the history of this world. I have already expressed elsewhere what I think is due to my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council (Mr. Balfour) for the dexterity and the high distinction with which he has represented the interests of this country in America, and I have no doubt that there will be further opportunities when we shall welcome him here. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting said that this Conference only dealt with what he called the arithmetic of peace, but really I do not know what he means. All peaces resolve themselves into arithmetic as to how many ships, what tonnage, how many guns and what men. Everything of that kind, if it is to be practical and if it is to reach any definite conclusion, must be arithmetical. The arithmetic of peace therefore means reducing the dynamics of war, and that is done.
We have had experience of the other class of conferences before the War. We had the Hague Conferences and great resolutions were passed, but they were never reduced to arithmetic. When the War came, when the great quarrel came, those resolutions were swept away like cobwebs, and they did not retard for a single hour or a single second the march of arms, or the steaming of men-of-war. Not one single moment, and it is only when you come to reduce these propositions to arithmetic that you begin to do the business of peace. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Balfour) has probably so interpreted his business, and instead of assenting to vague resolutions which would have ended in nothing, he has reduced them to practical proposals which will have the effect of saving millions on the estimates of this year. That is the arithmetic of peace which my right hon. Friend is condemning.
I am not going to say more than a word about what has been said in reference 41 to the Supreme Council. It is said that it has been a failure. They disarmed Germany and stopped conscription in Germany and they have arranged, at any rate, that a very considerable sum should be paid as reparation to France which was not paid before. I do not say that any single conference can achieve the whole end. It will not. My right hon. Friend was very confident that somebody else would be having the responsibility for conducting the affairs of this country—and the sooner you find such a man the better many of us will be pleased—but he will discover when he begins his conferences that he will not come home with finality, and if he attempts it he will fail. You can only carry things forward step by step, but their great achievement is preventing conflict from developing into war, and that in itself is an achievement of value in present conditions.
Now I come to the question of the pact with France. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting asked "what is your policy in reference to France?" Our policy in reference to France is one of friendship, and one of co-operation in the interests of peace. Friendship does not mean subordination. It does not mean subservience. Friendship is incompatible with that. Friendship means candour, but it also means co-operation for common ends. Our purposes are alike. Our methods may not always agree. That is where discussion comes in, and I have never known an occasion when we have had a frank discussion where we have not achieved the ends of our methods and work.
Both my right hon. Friends have challenged the guarantee which we propose to give to France. They are mistaken from their own point of view. I should be surprised if even Germany regarded that pact with anything but a friendly eye. Why? You have to give to France the feeling that she is not isolated and that she is not left alone. There is nothing more dangerous than that fear to a gallant and brave nation. Give confidence and you give calmness, and calmness of judgment in the present disturbed state of the world is vital to wise decisions. When you have got that fear, which has its ground, its reason and its justification in three devastations of France by foreign foes within about a century, when you have that in the heart 42 of France it is bound to deflect the judgment of French statesmen. Therefore anything that gives confidence to France, if she is invaded in the future, if there is a repetition of 1914 or of 1870 or of 1814, without provocation, then Britain with the whole of her strength will be there to support France against the invader. That gives confidence to France.
One of the real dangers in Europe, not in five, ten, or twenty years, but maybe the next generation—as we know from the results of 1870 when the present generation has to pay the penalty in compound interest—is that the young people of Germany may be brought up with thoughts of vengeance—[HON. MEMBERS "And France, too"]—a vengeance of recovering old possessions and old prestige, old ascendency, and punishing old defeats and generally ministering to the national pride. That is one of the great dangers to France and Europe in the future, and when you are making peace you must not think only of the moment but think of years to come. [Interruptions.] I hope hon. Gentlemen opposite will not interrupt. I am trying to deal seriously with a very serious problem. I say you must make Germany feel that that is a policy which will not pay, that a war of revenge is a war that will bring not merely France but will bring other lands in as well. By that means you will discourage that sentiment at the very outset and you will convince every German that that is a policy which is fatal to his own country. Those are two reasons, and I could add others in favour of this proposal.
I may just glance at the third reason. This undertaking was given by us in the course of negotiations at Versailles in order to counter what is known as the advanced Rhine policy, a policy which proposed that there shall be something in the nature of annexation of territory on the left bank of the Rhine in order to establish the frontier of France. This was given as a guarantee in order to avert what we regarded as a permanent disaster to the whole of Europe. I myself and President Wilson gave the guarantee, and upon it that policy was abandoned. I think the consideration having been paid by France, we are in honour hound.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
The question I put to my right hon. Friend was as to what opportunity this House will have to discuss it before it is concluded.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
My recollection is that the original guarantee was embodied in a Bill to be ratified by the House of Commons, and I take it the same opportunity will be given this House of Commons of either ratifying or rejecting the proposal. There will be full opportunity given for discussion. I come to the question of unemployment. I am not quite sure I understand the criticisms of the right hon. Member for Platting. He quoted some words of mine about the men who so gallantly fought for us in the War, when I said we were in honour bound not to see them starve as long as there was a crust in the national cupboard. Let me point out what we have done. We are spending at the present moment at the rate of over £100,000,000 a year in provision for the unemployed. There is a great deal of crumb in addition to the crust there in that £100,000,000. Can the right hon. Gentleman point to any time in the history of the past—I entered into that the last time I spoke—can he point to any time in the history of the past where so much has been done either in this country or in any other country for the unemployed, and done by a country which is burdened so heavily with taxation in consequence of the War, and which, if you reduce the taxation to the lowest figure any economist can point out, will still be a very heavy burden, were it only in order to pay the interest on the obligations incurred for pensions. So much for unemployment.
I think I have covered the question put by my right hon. Friend with regard to the readjustment of War debts. I have already expressed my opinion that that is a very difficult problem. My right hon. Friend said he did not think it would be possible to reconstruct the world until there was a readjustment of international War debts. But that does not depend on us alone. We have been quite willing to enter into a discussion of that problem, so long as all the creditor nations, as well as the debtor nations, come in; but for us to forego payments when there are 44 heavy claims against this country would not be fair; it would not be just to the people of this country. I say at once, I do not think it is wise. When all the nations of the world that have claims or debts come together to consider all these War debts, then I do not think that Great Britain, whoever represents her, whatever party may be there—I do not believe Britain will lag behind any other country in either generosity to others or in justice. Beyond that, it would be a mistake to go. The time will come, I hope it will come soon, the sooner the better, when all the nations will realise that; until they do, Britain cannot act alone, because if she does she is crippled when the time comes to act. That is my view on that subject. We have considered it very carefully. I think that covers the questions put by my right hon. Friend.
I come now to my right hon. Friend the Member for Peebles. I have said what I have to say about the Reform of the House of Lords. I hope it will be conveyed to the proper quarters. I have two more quotations if my right hon. Friend likes to take them home. He is rather fond of quotations. There is the plan of some years ago which Lord Crewe has been furbishing up. We will see how it compares with any plan which we propose to submit. With regard to the question of Economy, that is obviously the most important subject that we can discuss in this Session of Parliament. It is the main function of the House of Commons to vote Supplies, and this is a question which we specially ought to take into consideration, having regard to the enormous burdens now upon us. The Report of the Geddes Committee is being prepared for issue, and will be laid before the House at the end of this week. [An HON. MEMBER: "The whole Report?"] If there are any questions after I have finished, I shall be glad to answer them. The Report is not yet complete. It consists at the present time of two Interim Reports, which are under the consideration of the Government. When it is perused, I am perfectly certain hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in this House will feel it is a very remarkable piece of work, prepared by some of the ablest men in the industry and finance of this country. The Committee has worked hard, and although they have been sitting for months, not a single member of the Com- 45 mittee has ever been absent from a meeting. Whatever anyone's views may be about any particular part of the Report, I think the gratitude of this House is due to the Committee for their labours. This is not the occasion to enter into the proposals of that Committee. Obviously, they will take days, if not weeks, to examine in detail; there is so much detailed matter for submission to the House. There are some parts of that Report which we do not feel justified in following. We will place all our reasons before the House, but the recommendations we are prepared to make involve very drastic and heavy cuts in the expenditure of this country, and serious cuts. I know exactly what will happen the moment these reductions are published, and we are entitled, I think, to appeal to the common patriotism of the whole House to deal with our proposals as a whole. There will be one section which will complain that we have cut down a particular service too much and another too little. Another section will complain that we have cut down this service too little and the other too much, and if they unite—those who disapprove of the cutting of this expenditure and those who disapprove of the cutting of that expenditure—we shall cut down no expenditure at all. It has to be regarded as a whole—not from the point of view of what we would like to expend—not even from the point of view of what ought to be spent when the nation can afford it, but from the point of view of what the nation at this moment, having regard to the very great depression in trade, can now afford. I am not going at this stage to reply to the arguments of my right hon. Friend about two years ago. If anybody imagines when he looks at the Report that some of the proposals we are making to-day could have been made two years ago, he knows nothing about the condition of the world at that time. I will just say another word on that subject. Documents will be published in order to give an opportunity to the House of Commons and the public to examine the suggestions which are made, so that the House of Commons may approach the problem with a full knowledge of what the recommendations are. At the earliest possible moment we shall submit Estimates to Parliament which will show the conclusions we have come 46 to, and then there will be, I have no doubt, the fullest discussion here on the whole subject.
I come to a very important question put to me about Egypt by the right hon. Member for Peebles. I must speak here with a good deal of reserve, because the very distinguished soldier who is High Commissioner for Egypt is on his way home, and I hope I will have an opportunity, with some of my colleagues, of discussing matters with him in the course of the next three or four days. But there are certain general observations I should like to make on the subject in view of comments which have been made outside and of certain comments I have heard to-day in this House. My right hon. Friend referred to Egypt as a sovereign state. It is not a sovereign state. Egypt never was a sovereign state. Egypt was a Turkish province before the War in British occupation, and during the War, in 1914, we put an end to the Turkish suzerainty by declaring a Protectorate. But Egypt did not become a sovereign state, and is not a sovereign state at the present moment. We are willing to meet all the legitimate national aspirations of the Egyptian people. We are prepared to abandon the Protectorate, but it must be on clear fundamental conditions. I am not going into details for the reasons I have given, but I am going to give two or three which are regarded as quite fundamental, and which will not be affected by the discussions we hope to have. Anyone who imagines that Egypt is in the position of other nations to whom complete self-determination can be afforded, without reference to any external conditions, cannot have given a thought to the problem of Egypt. It is a country which is abnormally placed. There is nothing comparable in the whole world. It is abnormally placed in reference to the world, and especially in reference to the British Empire. It is, to begin with, a corridor country. What does that mean? It is the highway between East and West. It is the highway between the Eastern part of this Empire and the Western part of this Empire. Of a population of 400,000,000 in the British Empire, over 300,000,000 are East of Suez. Take the late War. Over 1,000,000 troops from Australia, from India, and from New Zealand had to pass through Egypt. Supposing Egypt had 47 been an independent country which was hostile, supposing it had been a neutral country over which we had had no control, it would have divided the British Empire in a way which would have impaired enormously the strength of that Empire. What would have happened in Egypt if Egypt had been an independent country during the War? It would have been overrun by Turkish armies led by Ge rmans, and that would have been very calamitous to the British Empire and to the cause of the Allies and fatal to the interests of Egypt itself. It was British and Australian troops that protected Egypt. Without their protection Egypt would have been not merely nominally, but in reality, either a Turkish or a German province. Why did we intervene in Egypt?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
That is a reflection upon Mr. Gladstone which I am sorry to hear from those Benches. Mr. Gladstone, who was certainly the least annexationist of statesmen, was forced to intervene in Egypt for the protection of the essential interests of the people who were living in that country and whose lives were in danger. Whatever happened then, the arguments have been enormously strengthened by what has happened in the intervening period. In the intervening period men of all lands have gone there and invested their capital, risked their lives, and given the whole of their time and strength for the development of Egypt. Upon what security? Upon the security of British protection. They would not have been there without British protection or the protection of some equally strong Power. The prosperity of Egypt, which is incomparably greater than it was before, is due to the ability, the minds, the brains, the direction which has guided, controlled, and advised them during that period; but also to the fact—I am not using the word "protection" in the sense of "protection," but in this sense, that the British army and navy was behind them and gave everybody who went there a sense of complete security. Whatever the arguments were for Mr. Gladstone going there 40 years ago, they are strengthened ten-fold and forty-fold by the 40 years which have intervened. There is a very remarkable 48 passage in the report on the late Alexandria riots. Practically the same kind of riots happened in Alexandria as occurred in the days of Arabi: and the Italian, French, and Greek Consuls gave evidence before the Court of Enquiry. They solemnly protested against the treatment of their nationals, and stated that they could never consent to their being protected by a force composed exclusively of Egyptians. Then the French Consul, in a very remarkable passage, points out how in the time of Arabi the French and other nationals were left unprotected. He said practically the same thing happened in the late Alexandria riots, and they are not prepared in those circumstances to trust their lives without the feeling that Britain or some other Power is there to protect them.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
It is idle to ignore these fundamental facts. They are of the most vital importance. You may ignore them and secure temporary peace and tranquillity in Egypt, but, if you do so, it will be done at the expense of the future. These facts will re-assert themselves sooner or later with disastrous consequences to the peace of the world. That is the position we take in reference to Egypt. That is our general position. When Lord Allenby comes over here, and when we have had discussions with him, we shall be in a better position to inform the House upon the details of the various proposals and counter-proposals which have been been put forward.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I understand that my right hon. Friend's suggestion is that there should be an Amendment moved to the Address. That seems an admirable way of raising the whole question of Indian policy, and we should welcome a discussion upon the whole subject. If an Amendment be put down, the Government will be prepared to make a statement on the subject.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The only observation I would make upon that subject is that India is, I think, in a different position. With regard to Egypt, I respectfully suggest to the House that it would be very undesirable to have a full discussion while Lord Allenby is here discussing the matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I am going to say why not. We shall not be in a position to lay Papers before the House until the whole of the discussion is completed. When the Papers have been laid upon the Table, the House of Commons will be fully informed of the negotiations which have taken place, and will then be in a position to discuss the matter with a complete knowledge of the whole of the circumstances.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I have only referred to Egypt because questions were addressed to me, and I desired to give an answer to my right hon. Friend. I now come to the last question, which was with regard to Ireland. The question was put: "What is the procedure which we propose to adopt"? I propose to tell the House what is the position. Legislation will have to be introduced to give effect to the Agreement for the Treaty. There are two stages. There is the framing of the Constitution of the Free State which will take time. That will be framed in Ireland exactly as it was framed in Australia, Canada, and South Africa. It will be framed by representatives of the people themselves and will be incorporated and endorsed and registered by the British House of Commons in order to give effect to it throughout the Empire. The immediate matter is what is to happen until that constitution is framed. There must be a body in Ireland equipped with the necessary authority to exercise the functions of Government without challenge from any section of the community. That is why in the Treaty, if my right hon. Friends will consult it, they will find references made in one of the clauses to the setting up of a provisional Government, but in order to equip it with 50 that authority it is necessary that there shall be legislation of this House. The economic condition of Ireland renders this all the more urgent. There is a good deal of unemployment there, and the provisional Government cannot deal with it adequately until the measure which I have indicated is carried through the House of Commons, because the authority at the present moment is vested in the Imperial Government, and it will be necessary that the Provisional Government shall be clothed with that authority. A Bill therefore will be introduced at the earliest possible moment, probably in a day or two, and the House of Commons will then have an opportunity of seeing it. That deals with the present emergency and the provisional arrangement. It is probable, though it is not for us to decide, that it will be found desirable to seek the opinion of the electors of Ireland upon the Treaty and the body that is elected will have the character of a Constituent Assembly which will frame the Constitution. The first Bill is urgent. It does not raise ultimate issues; it raises these purely provisional issues to which I have referred. When the constitution is framed, Parliament will have an opportunity of discussing the whole situation. My right hon. Friend has asked me to explain the meetings between Sir James Craig and Mr. Collins. That is more than I would care to enter into except in a general way, but in that way I will make a few observations.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
No, not in this Bill. I will say a word on that matter before I have finished. If I do not, perhaps my hon. Friend will remind me. The first meeting between these two Irish leaders was most satisfactory and most promising. An arrangement was entered into which covered not merely the question of[...] boundaries, but also the question of boycotts, and that is very important. There was a boycott of the trade of North-East Ireland by the South. There was a boycott of Catholic workmen in the Belfast yards. May I quote what Sir James Craig said upon that subject, as it is rather important? Not merely was an undertaking given to[...] withdraw that boycott, but, as the result of that first meeting, the boycott of the trade of 51 North-East Ireland was completely withdrawn. These are the words used by Sir James Craig on the 28th January:The boycott has been swept away, and I think since I spoke in the Y.M.C.A. Hall this morning that has become universal throughout the whole Six Counties—a proof of the sincerity of Mr. Collins to carry out his part of the agreement.I would only point out that an agreement was entered into between these two Irish leaders, and a part of it has been carried out, and that is satisfactory as far as it went. But when they came to boundaries they do not seem to have got on quite so well. That is unfortunate, but we must not be in too much of a hurry. Even when Englishmen or Welshmen or Scotsmen meet, they do not come to agreement at second meetings. I have seen disagreements—violent disagreements—even among them; I have heard pretty violent language used by one of them towards the other; and yet in the end they have come to an agreement. Here there have only been two meetings. The first was a success; the second was not. That is all that has happened up to the present. Do not let us rush in at the first failure and take sides. The first meeting was a success. I saw Sir James Craig that day, and he was very pleased. There was a second meeting which was not a success. I am not going into the question why. It is not for me to decide, but at any rate there was a misunderstanding, and it has not succeeded. All I would say is, do not let us rush in precipitately the first time these two men fail to come to an agreement. In the present state of the world you need infinite patience to settle anything. The nerves of the whole world are on edge. Everybody is prepared to quarrel with everybody else—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"]—that is my experience. Everybody is prepared to quarrel; everybody is prepared to misinterpret, to misrepresent; everyone is suspicious.
Do let us have a little patience! Do not let us rush to the conclusion, because there has been one failure, that, therefore, the whole thing is over, and start drawing our swords and attacking each other for the sake of peace in Ireland. They are two Irishmen. I have seen Irishmen bargain, and that is their way. One puts forward demands which the 52 other considers preposterous. I have seen that done before, and it does not really mean that that is the end of it by any means. All I would say is, let us have more patience and proceed more deliberately. The question of boundaries is not to be settled yet. The first question to be settled is the setting up of the Provisional Government. That does not involve the question of boundaries. The boundary question would only come after the Constitution has been framed, and has been incorporated in an Act of Parliament. Then it comes a month afterwards. We cannot possibly, and no Government could, undertake it until after the 31st March even if the Constitution were ready—and it will take some time to frame, as in the case of Australia, Canada, and South Africa. After that is framed, and after they have agreed upon it and it is incorporated in an Act of Parliament—when it has gone through the Lords and Commons—then a month afterwards the question of boundaries will arise. When there is so much to quarrel about—and one has only to listen to the two speeches we have just heard to perceive how much excellent material there is for quarrelling—why should you pick a quarrel about something which does not arise?
The position of the Government is this, and I state it with emphasis. My right hon. Friends and I have signed a document—a Treaty between the people of this country and the people of Ireland. That Treaty has been submitted to the House of Commons and the House of Lords. We stand by our signatures, whatever happens. We should be dishonoured for ever if we repudiated a document which we entered into in good faith. Parliament has appended its signature by overwhelming majorities, and by that document we are prepared to stand or fall. [An HON. MEMBER: "Fall.") Then the responsibility for the government of Ireland—and it will be a grave one, for another charge of broken faith will be made against the people of this country—will rest on other shoulders. Nothing has done more harm in the history of Leland than the fact that the path of our relations is strewn with broken undertakings. If another is added to the number, the condition between the two lands will be irreparable. More than that, the honour, the good name, of this country, will be damaged and besmirched 53 beyond repair in the opinion of the world. Therefore, the Treaty which we submitted to the House, and for which we obtained full sanction, we stand by. We shall in due course submit legislation and invite the House to carry into effect that to which it pledged itself, by overwhelming majorities, to the people of Ireland, to the people of the British Empire, to the people of the world, a month or two ago.
§ Major-General SEELY
I should like to say one word about France before we leave these subjects, and I hope that the House will bear with me while I point out that a possible disagreement with France might have most disastrous results. I rise to support the proposal referred to in the Gracious Speech for making an agreement with France and Belgium—
§ Major-General SEELY
I do not think it is necessary for me to go into that, because, as I was endeavouring to say, it does not matter to what party we belong. All parties in this House, with the possible exception of the hon. and gallant Member himself, who is the only one who has a right to ask the question, are pledged in honour to do what they can to fulfil the promise we gave to France two and a half years ago. It would be a disastrous thing if our friendship with France were to become the subject of party conflict, and it is just because there seems to be a sign that that may happen that I ask the House, and especially my hon. Friends behind me, to look the facts in the face, and to consider the matter from the point of view of the French peasant. Some two and a half years ago this House was asked to pass a Bill promising support to France in the event of unprovoked attack. It was commended to the House by the Prime Minister in a speech of great influence. I am pleading for an understanding with France, and I would venture to point out that it would have been impossible to get French assent to many of the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles —namely, that part of the Treaty which includes the League of Nations—had it not been for the understanding that we, as a country, if this House would agree to it, would try to prevent France from ever again being subjected to an outrage like that of 1914. In due course those 54 proposals came before this House in the form of a Bill, and the only Member of the House who can possibly now say in honour that any proposal to give aid to France, in the event of unprovoked attack, is wrong, is a Member who was elected less than two and a half years ago—
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
If the right hon. Gentleman will look at the OFFICIAL REPORT, he will see that one hon. Member, namely, myself, did put down an Amendment to reject it, and voted against it
§ Major-General SEELY
I have all the facts here, and I published them recently. If the hon. and gallant Member would, just for once, wait until the conclusion of the sentence, he would save himself trouble. I have already said in the course of my remarks that he is the only hon. Member, except those elected recently, who can say that. The only others are those who were elected less than two and a half years ago. I leave him secure in his knowledge of his own virtue, but I would venture to point out that he did not vote against the Bill.
§ Major-General SEELY
When the question was put that this Bill be read, my hon. and gallant Friend will find that it was carried unanimously.
§ Major-General SEELY
It was carried nemine contradicente. I do not doubt that my hon. and gallant Friend challenged a Division on his own Amendment, but there was no vote against the main Question.
§ Major-General SEELY
We have elucidated the point that this Bill, when it came before the House, was opposed by only one Member, the hon. and gallant Gentleman to whom we have just been 55 listening. Every other Member of the House accepted it. Many hon. Members do not realise how fully committed they are. The Bill implemented the promise given on behalf of the country by the Prime Minister to come to the aid of France in the event of unprovoked attack. In Article 4 of the Bill there was a Clause which said that it should come into operation when it was ratified, and also when it was ratified by the Government and the President of the United States. The French people when they heard these things were greatly rejoiced. The French peasants above all, and every man in France who is a soldier, said, "Now we have the two most powerful nations in the world, who will prevent a similar outrage being perpetrated upon us a second time." Of course, it never occurred to them, and frankly, it never occurred to me, that it was possible for this House, or any single Member of it, seeing that I remember the old saying that the House of Commons, as a whole, is more generous than the most generous man in it, and more just than the most just man in it—it never occurred to me as possible that because the President of the United States, having himself signed it, found it impossible to get a ratification in the Senate, we should draw back and say to France, "It is quite true we promised to protect you against a gross outrage, it is quite true that we said our reason was that you were gallant people, who had suffered so severely, that we could not bear to think that so great a wrong should be inflicted upon you again. After all, those are fine words, and when we see a loophole of escape, we are going to leave you in the lurch." I never thought it possible, and I will not believe it now, and I beg of my hon. Friends behind to look at this from the point of view of the French people, and to realise that it would be a disastrous thing if the ten million French peasants who were our comrades in arms were to think and to have justification for saying that we said fine, fair words to them about our friendship and love for them in 1919, and in 1922, on a technical point—
§ Major-General SEELY
On Clause 4 of the Treaty we backed out. That would be a disastrous thing to us. If, of course, 56 my hon. Friends are going to say, "In those days France was friendly to us, but since then all her actions have been such that we definitely decide to withdraw," that is another point. That is not the point that is being made, and it would be an unfortunate point to make, for the first fault, I contend, came with us. Again and again I prophesied that these evil results would follow, and whilst I most heartily thank the Government for taking this action now, I feel entitled to say that we should not be in our present difficulties with France if we had taken this action sooner. It is difficult to attack the Government when they are doing what you have been begging them to do for two years, as I have been begging them to do this ever since I left the Government, and saying that if we did not do it France would drift further and further apart, not because of the ambitions of her statesmen, but because of the bitter disappointment of the French people as a whole. In this matter I really speak with some slight knowledge. No man really knows much about another country, but I have a great many French friends in quite humble walks of life, and I can assure the House it is true they think then, and they will think now, that we have betrayed them unless we adhere to the promise we gave in 1919, for be it observed the promise was, as the Prime Minister has stated, in the nature of a quid pro quo for securing a more peaceful settlement of Europe.
This shall be my last word, and it requires to be said. A great many wild and strange things are said about the developments of modern warfare, and one of them is that modern warfare has eliminated distance and you can strike your enemy from far away. Nothing, taking the large view of it, could be further from the truth. It is quite true that you can build an aeroplane and damage your enemy 400 miles away, but it is a very difficult thing to do, and very expensive. Anyone who has studied war at close quarters for a long time will agree with this thesis, that modern developments have made the danger of proximity far greater than ever before. The development, notably of the tank, notably of poison gas, has given an added advantage to proximity as compared with the past. I submit that to the House with confidence as being a view which will not be disputed by any thoughtful soldier. 57 Therefore it has made natural barriers all the more important. This view I know is held by Marshal Foch and many great English soldiers, and I do not think it can be seriously disputed. For that reason the menace to France, which of course is a country that is menaced from purely geographical reasons in a way that no other is, has become far greater than it was before the developments which took place during the recent War. Therefore France had a right to claim that she should have some special protection against possible attack. We said: "Very good. Do not press your claim for the left bank of the Rhine or for any such territorial advancement as that will imply. We and the United States of America, if she will come in, will do our utmost to protect you," and on that the people of France were satisfied, and the Treaty of Versailles was made which, whatever its faults may have been, I shall always consider was probably the best we could do under the circumstances, and did have the great merit of including in it, the League of Nations.
The only other argument I see advanced is that France ought to be satisfied with the Articles of the League of Nations which apply to these cases. Under the League of Nations we are bound each to come to the assistance of the other. It does not say how or in what form, but we are bound to do so, and the League must at once take into consideration anything likely to lead to war. The answer to that was given at the time and may be stated here again. It is true that the League of Nations is an insurance to France in the same way as it is to any other country that is a member of the League, but France is in a position of peculiar danger, far greater than any other member of the League, and her land marches with a possible enemy who is not yet a member of the League. Therefore I claim that it is a reasonable proposition that until Germany, and possibly, Russia, too, but certainly Germany, becomes a member of the League of Nations, the member of the League that runs the greatest risk is entitled to double insurance. It was that view which I believe weighed with Members of the House in refusing, with one exception, to raise one single voice against this honourable obligation to France, and I again plead with my hon. Friends not to make this in any way a 58 party question, and, before they cry out against us, to remember the circumstances under which we gave our pledged word.
§ Mr. G. TERRELL
The point I wish to urge on the consideration of the Government is the question of immediately taking steps to introduce their Bill for the reform of the House of Lords. I think the House welcomed the announcement of the Prime Minister that they really meant to proceed with this matter and I urge that it is a matter now of great urgency. Of course, I am not going back over the old ground of the promises made by the past Government, which have been repeated from time to time by this Government, but I think the decision which Mr. Speaker gave last August on the Safeguarding of Industries Act shows that something should now be done to create an efficient Second Chamber. When the Parliament Bill was introduced the intention was merely to define the position and prerogative of this House in regard to what were called Money Bills. By a Money Bill everyone thought that what was simply intended was the Budget and other Measures for raising revenue. I think a reference to the OFFICIAL REPORT will show hon. Members that that was entirely the intention of the Government and I have references from the speeches of the then Prime Minister in which he made the case very clear. He said:You must make some definite provision against the possibility of what is called tacking—tacking to Finance Bills proposals which are not germane or relevant to their subject matter.That, I think, is what in a sense happened with the Industries Bill. That was a Bill for the protection of trade—whether well advised or not is not relevant to the point I desire to make. It was not primarily a Finance Bill. It was not primarily a Measure to raise revenue. It was to safeguard industry, and under the interpretation Clause in the Parliament Act Mr. Speaker had no difficulty in certifying that it was a Money Bill, and I must say, having examined the Act myself, that I think he rightly so certified it. But what arises out of it is this, that on the precedent which was then created it is now possible to base any Measure of any kind, either for what is called a capital levy, or to nationalise mines or railways, or, in fact, to abolish all rights of private property by a Bill which would come under the interpretation of the Parlia- 59 ment Act as a Money Bill, and that is certainly a very great enlargement of the powers which this House possessed and which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) expressly stated when the Parliament Bill was under consideration were powers which it was not the intention of the Government to take. He was challenged on the point. A number of Amendments were put down, and he made perfectly clear, in speech after speech, the intentions of the Government. He stated that, "They were only dealing with Bills in the strict literal and full sense of that term, and the test whether a Bill is a Financial Bill or not is whether that is its main governing purpose." Nobody can say that the main governing purpose of the Safeguarding of Industries Bill was to raise revenue. It was something totally different. Therefore I urge upon the Government that it is their duty, in view of that ruling, to introduce legislation with the least possible delay.
There is already a rumour in the air that the Government are going to prepare a Bill as a sort of compliance with their pledges, and then drop it, or to find it inconvenient to give time for it. If that is the attitude which they take, it will cause an immense amount of dissatisfaction. A considerable body of Members feel that the Constitution is not safe at the present time, that a position has arisen which was entirely unexpected, which even the authors of the Measure never foresaw, and we therefore feel that the subject ought to be dealt with at once. It may not be a good election cry to say that we are going to turn out the Government on the question of whether the House of Lords should be reformed or not, but that has nothing to do with it. Whether it is a popular cry or not may appeal to various sections of the Liberal party or the Socialist party, but, as regards the party to which I belong, it will have no weight or consideration. We have a clear duty to do, and that is to insist that the Constitution shall be put in order. I hope what I have said will not be taken in any sense as a spirit of hostility to the Government. I have endeavoured, to the best of my ability, to support the Government in a great many of their Measures. I 60 have very seldom found it necessary to oppose them, but I do feel that they will test the loyalty of a great many members of the Conservative party unless they give very prompt and very serious consideration to the settlement of this question.
§ Mr. J. WALLACE
I wish to bring the House back from foreign affairs and from the urgent question of the House of Lords, to something which is nearer home and, in my judgment, of very considerable importance. I wish to refer to certain economies which are being effected at the present time in the naval service, and I should be glad if my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who is representing the Government at the present time, would see that a representative from the Admiralty is on the Treasury Bench. I have given notice to the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty that I intended to raise this matter, and I hope he will be in his place.
There is a reference in the Gracious Speech from the Throne to economy. I am no late convert to the urgent necessity of retrenchment. I am convinced that if we do not cut down in the most rigid manner nothing can save the country from financial disaster. My purpose in rising to-night is to inquire whether the cuts which are being made at the various dockyards are fair in their incidence. I refer specially to the naval base as Rosyth, in the Burgh of Dunfermline. The Admiralty propose to reduce the total staff at the various dockyards to the extent of 7,500 men. This will cause inevitable hardship, but my only anxiety is to see that the reductions are spread fairly over the various dockyard communities. Of the 7,500 men who are to be discharged, 3,000 are to be dismissed from Rosyth and 500 at Crombie Ordnance Depot, out of a total employed there of about 800. Therefore, apart from Crombie, there is to be a 50 per cent. cut in the staff at Rosyth, and only a 12½ per cent. cut in the southern yards.
Why is Rosyth being penalised in this way? I am aware that at Rosyth there are certain expenses incidental purely to that area. There is what is called "inconvenience money" paid to workers residing outside the dockyard area. That is not the fault of the workers. The Admiralty have promised time and again to provide adequate housing accommoda- 61 tion, but time and again that policy has been changed, and at the present moment something like £100,000 are spent at Rosyth annually in payments of inconvenience money to those workers who reside outside the area. I put a proposal before the Admiralty and asked whether if these workers were willing to forgo the payment of this "inconvenience money" the Department would be willing to revise its scale of reductions at Rosyth and bring them into line with those in the South. I have received a very definite answer in regard to that proposal from my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty, who informs me that the voluntary surrender of that "inconvenience money" would have no effect on the policy of the Admiralty towards Rosyth.
I was in the Rosyth area about ten days ago. There at present under refit is His Majesty's ship "Furious," and I was amazed beyond words to find that in order to carry out a scale of reductions in staff so unfair to Rosyth it was seriously proposed, and orders had been given, to remove the "Furious" to a southern dockyard to be completed. I do not profess to understand naval policy, but as a mere layman it seemed to me a monstrous proposal. There are 2,000 men at present employed on the "Furious." and there is at least one year's work still to be done. Why should the ship be taken to a Southern yard when arrangements have already been made to refit it at Rosyth? What is the advantage, and what is the object? Are you going to cure unemployment in England by creating it in Scotland? Are we in Scotland to be penalised in our only dockyard in order to provide employment for some yards in the South, where the scale of reductions in staff are very much smaller—indeed, only one-fourth of what is proposed at Rosyth?
I could understand the policy of the Admiralty if Rosyth was an out of date dockyard. How does it compare with the dockyards in the South. At Chatham, the Dreadnought and pre-Dreadnought class of ship cannot get up owing to insufficient depth of water. At Portsmouth, the same class of ship can only enter the harbour about three hours each side of high water. At Devonport, there is at present only one anchorage berth for big ships in Plymouth Sound, owing to the lack of depth of water. At Rosyth, any class of ship, capital ships or other- 62 wise, can come to anchorage off Rosyth dockyard at any time of the day or night, and at any tide. At Rosyth you have spent millions of money. You have created an up-to-date naval base, installed the most modern machinery and plant, and yet when you come to economise you attack with the most vigorous blow of the economy axe your most up-to-date naval instrument so far as dockyards are concerned. I do not profess to be able to speak from the strategic point of view, but either these dockyards are in existence for national security in the event of war or they are not. If they are, then surely a modern yard like Rosyth ought to be kept up in line with the other yards, and in view of the reduced total amount of work now to be done from the naval point of view it should he fairly allocated to each dockyard. I want to make it quite clear that I have no quarrel with the decisions of the Washington Conference as they affect our dockyards. We must accept them gladly in the interests of the whole world; but whatever reductions are necessary as a result of those decisions ought to be fairly apportioned.
In addition to the factors I have already mentioned as regards Rosyth, it is important to note that, in the ease of war, Rosyth is much more safely placed from the point of view of gun-fire or bomb attack than any of the yards in the South. I remember a year or two ago being at a meeting in Dunfermline, where Lord Beatty referred in the most eulogistic terms to Rosyth dockyard, and pointed it out as one which would always have a very prominent place in our naval defence. I remember getting a promise across the Floor of this House that Rosyth would be maintained as a first-class naval station. I do not know whether that promise is to be kept, but I should like the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty to give me some definite information on the subject. There is one other matter to which I must refer. Rosyth dockyard is within the Burgh of Dunfermline, and the municipal authorities there, under alluring promises from the Admiralty, have spent enormous sums of money in the development of Rosyth. They have spent something like £200,000, for which they are getting practically no return. I hope that when the question of compensation arises the Admiralty will be willing to negotiate on a generous basis.
63 To Rosyth during the War you brought a considerable English population at enormous expense, and I suggest that if the policy in regard to His Majesty's Ship "Furious" is carried out, and you take her to a southern yard to complete her refit, that you should at the same time, in all fairness to Dunfermline, take to the south the English transferees and provide them with employment in southern yards. There are two thousand men at present employed on that ship. At my last meeting in Rosyth I had a deputation from the Civil Service Association there. They told me that the English residents in Rosyth connected with the dockyards would be only too glad to return to the south, provided they retain their Rosyth status and the service advantages which they had gained there. You cannot afford to carry out this cut at Rosyth and throw the men on the streets of Dunfermline town. There are no houses even to shelter the men you are to displace. Taking the long view of economy, we might consider the effect which this is going to have on the rates of the town. Altogether, considering how much we have done in Dunfermline for the Navy, we do feel that we are entitled to some consideration in this matter, in which financially we are so deeply involved.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
I thought for a few minutes after I entered the House that we were in the middle of the Navy Estimates. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline (Mr. J. Wallace) on the support which he has given to his constituents. I think that we can congratulate ourselves and the House on the fact that the hon. Member for Devonport (Sir C. KinlochCooke) is not present to take up the case for Devonport as it might occupy the House for the rest of the evening. The speech of the hon. Member for Dunfermline shows what difficulties we are going to be faced with directly any real attempt at economy is made. May I remind the hon. Member that strategically Rosyth is no longer required for the British Navy, and the money spent on it might be just as well spent on the Straits of Malacca from the point of view of strategy? If the hon. Member for Dunfermline and others had taken a proper view and opposed the appalling peace which was made, there would have been such an 64 enormous increase in the amount of shipping in the world that the dockyard could have been employed on the work of constructing merchant ships instead of the work of constructing engines of destruction. There is one point with which I agree with him, and that is, that the men who served us so well in these dockyards should be treated with generosity and justice.
May I say a word in reference to the unprovoked attack made upon me by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ilkeston (Major-General Seely) in connection with the Anglo-French-Belgian pact, which I regret to see is underlined in the King's Speech. Some of us object to the old diplomacy of alliances and balances of power because it caused the late War and, if continued, will cause future wars. That does not mean to say that we have not a great admiration for the courage and culture of France and the fullest desire to be on terms of friendship with that great nation. But before committing ourselves with France to an unlimited pact of defence we must have certain assurances from the other side. Are we to protect the occupied areas for another 15 years? I raised the point when the matter was debated for the first time in this House in connection with the Treaty of Versailles and the Prime Minister said that that was the first he had heard of 15 years' occupation.
We have already had three-and-a-half years' occupation of the Rhine areas, and I should be interested to know the Prime Minister's view as to whether we have to support the French in the unlimited coercion and crushing down of Germany and the use of coloured troops in occupied Germany. Tell the people of the country plainly and ask them for their opinion. Though it may be possible by appeals to false sentiment and talking about our honour, as I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman most unfortunately did, to force such a pact through this House it will be repudiated by the people of this country unless it is made clear that the French themselves will pursue a peaceful, moderate policy of reconstruction and development, and not one of aggression against their neighbours. I have been the first speaker on these benches since the Prime Minister spoke, except the hon. and gallant Member, and therefore I lose not a moment in saying, what I believe 65 is the feeling of the great bulk of my party and of the Labour party in this House and in the country, that we are not going to have this pact unconditionally.
I regret very much that the King's Speech contained no clear indication that the Government have realised that their reparations policy has failed, and is bound to fail, and perhaps it is a fortunate thing for this country that it has failed. The condition of Germany to-day, the forcing of the whole working classes into an almost revolutionary struggle, the increasing despair of the middle classes, and worst of all—I only came back from there a week ago—the increasing truculence of the Junker class, who are now recovering their position, should be a warning to the House not to drive a nation of that size too far. The Prime Minister was talking of wars of vengeance. I wonder if he thought of Upper Silesia, and of the position of the occupied areas, and the feelings of their inhabitants, or if he thought of the unfortunate middle, student, and professional classes in Germany, who have been reduced to absolute beggary and of our own unemployed, who are unemployed largely because Germany cannot buy our goods and is flooding our natural markets with the cheap products of sweated labour.
The Prime Minister was glib as usual. He skated quickly over the thin patches of the ice. He avoided telling us anything about the utter failure of the Government policy in Asia. May I remind him that the continued hostilities between Greece and Turkey are doing injury to British trade by making markets in the countries where the war is taking place impossible for this country. He did not say a word about Russia or about entering into negotiations to restore trade between Russia and the rest of the world or about the starving people in the South of Russia. It does not need a general conference to revise the policies that have led to these results. He praised the Washington Conference. I praise it and welcome its results, but we must not blind ourselves to the matters which were left unfinished at Washington. A few years will see the results of Washington. We can all hope for a reduction in expenditure on armaments as a result and for a new era of friendship between this country, Japan, and America. But what attitude did the Foreign Office take? I 66 would particularly ask the hon. Gentleman (Mr. C. Harmsworth), who so amiably and ably represents the Foreign Office in this House, what attitude the Government took by instructing the representatives of the Foreign Office at Washington on the very difficult question of the continued Japanese occupation of Russian territory in Siberia?
As he knows, Japan, without so much as by your leave, has seized the northern part of the Island of Sakhalien, which is Russian territory, inhabited by a white European race, and Japan still occupies the greater part of the Maritime Province and the fortresses of Vladivostock and Port Arthur. The Foreign Office know as well as I do that, if this occupation is continued, it will lead to war as soon as Russia recovers the force to attack the Japanese. I would like to know whether the Prime Minister's policy of peace and reconstruction and friendship with Russia has followed what I may call the old Churchillian policy of pin pricks, sabotage, blockade and war, or did he at the Washington Conference get some guarantee from Japan that she was taking away her forces from these occupied territories? It is all very well to say that these forces will be withdrawn when they can be safely withdrawn. All that was promised many years ago. If the hon. Gentleman replies to me, I shall be greatly interested to hear him on that point. When I was listening to the Prime Minister talking to-night, and I heard him referring to Egypt, I was reminded of the speeches of himself and his predecessors about Ireland. I only hope that the negotiations with Lord Allenby will have a result as happy as the negotiations which took place in the case of Ireland.
§ Colonel Sir J. GREIG
I desire to refer for a moment to the speech of the hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. J. Wallace). I have no hostility to those whom he represents, but in this matter I agree with what fell from the lips of the hon. Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) though it is the first time in my life that I have agreed with anything which he has said. We have all had the communication with which the hon. Member for Dunfermline has honoured us. But I would appeal to him to take a rather different point of view. We all represent constituencies, which will be affected if we insist on our desire to 67 cut down expense. We have all paid effusive tribute to the general principle that extravagance and unnecessary expenditure should be got rid of, but if we take the line which my hon. Friend has taken to-night, the part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and those who are responsible for carrying these Measures into effect would be a very hard one indeed.
§ Mr. J. WALLACE
I was not contending against a reduction in the amount Which is to be taken for naval purposes. All I was contending for was a fair deal M1 round. That is why I do not wish my hon. Friend to read into my speech words which are not there.
§ Sir J. GREIG
That may be so, and I quite accept the hon. Member's correction, but I may tell the House that I have had letters from my own constituents Suggesting that the question of Rosyth should have been tackled long ago, and when we find a speech of that sort made in the House at this early stage of our Debate. I have risen to suggest that we should set an example one to another in this respect. Otherwise we can do nothing to help the Government to effect the economy which we want. We all have in our constituencies sections which will be affected by the economies which are to be made, and I would suggest that we should do nothing to make it hard for the Government to cut down the public expenditure, which we are all so anxious to do.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the ADMIRALTY (Mr. Amery)
I do not propose answering in detail at this moment the questions raised by the hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. J. Wallace) because, of course, the Estimates offer the proper occasion for doing that, but, as he has suggested that there has been unfairness in the attitude of the Admiralty with regard to Rosyth, I would like to say a few words which will convince him that that is not our intention. It is obvious that, after the Washington Conference with its decision as to a reduction in the total strength of the British Navy heavy reductions in the dockyards were involved. Those reductions, up to a certain point, can be spread over the different dockyards, but there comes a point where we have to consider a reduction, not only in the numbers of men in the dockyards, but in the total number 68 of the dockyards themselves. Faced with that, we had to consider what dockyard we could either reduce altogether or reduce to a very large extent, and we were faced with the necessity of reducing one or other of the great dockyards on the East Coast. This is not the moment when the House would expect a full statement of our policy. We fully admit the fact that Rosyth includes the most up-to-date, in fact the only dock to take the largest battleships, yet on the other hand it is in many respects still an incomplete dockyard; that is to say, a great many works require still to be done and would involve heavy expenditure. There are not houses for more than half the present workers, and a very large expenditure would have to be undertaken in the matter of housing if we displaced Chatham.
Altogether, Rosyth's roots are not yet so firmly in the ground that reduction would involve anything like the difficulty that would be involved in abolishing Chatham, which has a large number of small docks essential for naval refitting. In circumstances of very grave difficulty the Admiralty were bound to come to the conclusion that the most economical policy at the moment—I am not speaking of what might be economical 10 years or more hence, when we have lots of capital and can reconstruct the whole of our dockyard programme—the only economical policy at the present time is to reduce Rosyth to just that one piece of work which no other dock can undertake, namely, the docking of big ships. Being bound to get the fullest economy possible in the next year, it was inevitable that we should give notice at once of the economies involved in the reduction of Rosyth. We shall certainly make every endeavour to treat the workers of Rosyth fairly. There is the question of the English workers and the possibility of their being transferred. Of course, many considerations come in. There is the adjustment of different trades, and we are under special obligations to established men that do not apply to hired men. In any case this business, I am afraid, is only the precursor of many other serious reductions which inevitably must involve unemployment, distress and hardship. It is not a pleasant business to those directly responsible, but we shall do our best to inflict as little hardship 69 as possible in the circumstances. If my hon. Friend will consult with myself, or with the Civil Lord of the Admiralty, any suggestion he can offer to make the blow easier in one way or another to his district or to a particular class of workers, we shall be only too glad to consider, and, if we can do so, to go as far as may be to meet it.
§ Mr. J. WALLACE
Is there any chance of the policy regarding the "Furious" being reconsidered by the Admiralty?
§ Mr. AMERY
If the "Furious" be kept, as is suggested, and there be 12 months' work on her, it would be impossible to get ahead with the policy of reducing Rosyth as quickly as possible to the limited functions which we consider are the only functions that at the moment Rosyth can carry out economically.
I understand that communications have passed through the usual channels, and that a measure of agreement has been reached. In the first place, we shall not close the general discussion to-day. All arrangements, of course, are subject to the approval of Mr. Speaker, and I do not wish to trespass on the rights and duties of the Chair. We shall not close the general Debate tonight. The House likes an easy day on the first day of its meeting, and prefers to adjourn early. We shall continue the general discussion to-morrow. I only ask that if the attendance of particular Ministers is desired by Members, they will as far as possible give notice to those Ministers of the question they wish to raise.
On Thursday we shall take an Amendment on unemployment which I understand is desired by the right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) and his friends. Friday is left for business not yet settled.
On Monday we shall take an Amendment proposed by the friends of the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) dealing with economy.
On Tuesday we shall take an Amendment dealing with India, and close the Debate on the Address on Tuesday 70 night. I understand that that is what has been arranged through the usual channels, and I hope it will be satisfactory to the House.
§ Captain CRAIG
Has the attention of the Leader of the House been drawn to an Amendment, handed in during the last hour, dealing with the very important question of the boundaries between Northern and Southern Ireland? It is an Amendment to which the names of a considerable number of Members have been attached, and I think the House will agree that it is a matter of supreme importance. I therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman to be good enough to consider the granting of a day for the discussion of it.
§ Major WHELER
If there be a desire on the part of a large number of agriculturists to bring forward an Amendment dealing with agriculture, will the right hon. Gentleman give an opportunity for Debate?
§ Mr. HAILWOOD
Would it be possible to deal with Amendments in the order in which they are handed in?
It is not very easy to deal with the order in which Amendments are taken unless there be some kind of agreement, and that agreement is approved by Mr. Speaker. It is Mr. Speaker who settles the order of Amendments, and what Amendments should be called. I saw only a moment ago the Amendment regarding Irish boundaries. I shall certainly desire to find an opportunity for Debate. I have seen no Amendment on the subject of agriculture.
I cannot go further, and, indeed, what I have said so far must to a certain extent be subject to developments which are sprung upon me—very naturally sprung upon me, and I make no complaint. We have a great deal of financial business to do, and there is a limit to the time within which it must be done. I could not be a willing and consenting party to much prolongation of the Debate upon the Address. I ask the House to facilitate our task, both in regard to this financial legislation and in regard to the special Bill in relation to the Provisional Government of Ireland, which is very urgently required, and perhaps I could find later 71 opportunities in Supply for raising some subjects which cannot be raised on the Address.
§ Lieut.-Colonel CROFT
There is a very great feeling of anxiety throughout the country, not only on questions which are mentioned in the King's Speech, but also on one or two very vital questions outside, to which all reference was omitted, although the Prime Minister referred to them in one or two sentences. The internal condition of the country has been causing alarm for some considerable time, and the Prime Minister to-day encouraged us by telling us that we were not as badly off as Russia. It is not with regard to home affairs that I am anxious to say a few words, but on the wider subject of Ireland as apart from Great Britain, and the subject of India and Egypt. With regard to Ireland, I hope the Government realise the extreme peril in that country at the moment, owing to the state of chaos which exists—chaos due principally to the fact that the Irish negotiations were so hurried. There is, first of all, the question of the boundaries, which may possibly be discussed in an Amendment to the Address. How comes it about that there is this extraordinary misunderstanding? Have different stories been told to the different parts of Ireland? Was Southern Ireland given to understand that a larger slice of territory would be given to her than Northern Ireland understood would be given?
It seems almost inconceivable that there should be this tremendous divergence of opinion, when we were told in this House that it was only a question of a small number of people here and one or two villages there. The Prime Minister should make an explicit statement telling us what, in fact, was suggested at the time of the Conference, although it may be that in the early hours of the morning this arrangement was made and there is no recollection of what was said. With regard to the state of Ireland, even at this late hour, we must find some safeguard. The Prime Minister told us that authority is still vested in the Imperial Government, and yet no machinery has been put into operation in Ireland to provide that the law is upheld. The troops and police have been removed and there is no Government functioning in 72 Ireland now. Is it not possible even now that there should be some protection left for the weak and innocent in Ireland, pending the final establishment of some sort of Government? We are told that we have not yet given powers to the Provisional Government and there is this hiatus. I am not exaggerating in saying that the chaos in Ireland is now complete. The Government should take the matter into careful consideration. They have left Ireland, but I submit that in the interim, until the Provisional Government is set up with powers, we should realise that our responsibilities have not ceased and should prevent the anarchy which exists at the moment.
The other point I desire to mention in regard to Ireland is this. It is an astounding thing that in the agreement—at any rate, so far as I can see—there is no provision of any description with regard to the prevention of the policy of boycotting. I am sure nobody is more anxious to see peace in Ireland than those who were associated with me in opposing the Government, so long as they thought there was a chance of stopping this thing. Let us face the fact, however, that we are likely to have turbulent times. Those of us who have studied the Debates in the Dail on the question of the agreement have realised that the outstanding note struck by practically every member of that assembly, including Mr. Michael Collins—almost the sole exception was Mr. Griffith—was that this was only a step in the direction of a Republic. Right hon. Gentlemen trust Mr. Collins, especially my right hon. Friend the leader of what used to be the Unionist party. He has stated most emphatically that he has a great belief in Mr. Collins's sincerity. I ask him to read the article which Mr. Collins contributed to a Sunday newspaper two days ago. I raise these points because we ought not to imagine that this difficulty is out of the way. I impress upon right hon. Gentlemen that at this hour there is no government whatever functioning in Ireland. You cannot throw off your responsibilities like this. We must take some step to prevent anarchy spreading until the Provisional Government is set up. I wish also to make a very brief reference to Egypt and India. It may be right to adopt the policy of scuttling from Egypt, and in spite of the brave words of the Prime Minister to-day we all realise that 73 the Foreign Office sent a communiqué to the Press a few days ago in which absolute independence was promised to Egypt, subject to certain safeguards.
That policy has been adopted, and my complaint is that the House of Commons has never been kept in the confidence of the Government in regard to Egypt. The Government policy has been vacillating for years past and we do not know where we are. The time has come, if this House is going to count for anything at all, when we should be informed beforehand if great constitutional changes are to be made in any part, of the Empire, and should not merely read unsigned communiqués in the Press announcing these tremendous decisions. With regard to Egypt and to the far worse state of affairs in India, we are seeing the same thing happening in those countries as we saw happening in Ireland, because we failed to govern at the start. We see the encouragement of those who desire ill to the Empire and great movements going forward. Lately in India Lord Reading has adopted a policy somewhat different to that adopted in the past, and apparently he has been arresting some of those guilty of sedition and of encouraging rebellion; but every single man in the street is asking himself, "How is it you are arresting the small men in India while the chief conspirator has been allowed to go free all this time"? I see the Secretary of State for India is in his place, otherwise I would not speak on this subject in this particular manner, but I must confess that those who have watched the course of events in India since the right hon. Gentleman first took over the reins at the India Office realise that his policy has failed.
The House should know what steps are being taken to deal with what is rapidly becoming a gigantic peril. I know people in the country at large do not take very much interest in Indian affairs. We sometimes forget what India means to the British Empire. Is it not true that before the War, India was far and away our greatest customer in the world? It is not a question merely of whether we should give self-determination to India or not. The loss of India would mean ruin to this country and to the industrial concerns in the North. We should make it clear whether we are going to govern in these countries or whether we are going to get out of them. You cannot carry on with 74 a policy of make-believe. A lot of people, including many Members of the Coalition —because after all it is a mixture of oil and water which will never quite blend—are anxious to carry out the policy of allowing parts of the Empire to slip away, only retaining some semblance of still remaining in the British Empire. I would say that we have to consider not only whether Egypt or India pay, we have to consider what we owe to civilisation. The moment we clear out of Egypt—it may be right or wrong, but let the House of Commons take the responsibility of it and know all about it before the final policy is adopted —but from that moment civilisation is going to go back, and precisely the same thing is true of India.
If you are going to allow rebellion to gain a hold in India as it did in Ireland, the longer you temporise with the question the greater is going to be your difficulty, and the greater is going to be the cost. The time has come to consider the whole question of our Indian administration, and if India cannot be saved under the present Secretary of State it is more important, even though we should lose a good friend, that we should lose the Secretary of State and appoint one whose policy is likely to be more successful. These questions are not receiving the attention which they should receive. That is one of the effects of the War. We have all been so deeply moved by other great questions that we are not looking to the future. If something is not done very quickly all the news coming from Egypt and India convinces me that you will have to face a greater peril there than ever you had to face in Ireland or in regard to any other question. The one and only hope is that the Government will make it clear that they intend to rule. There can be no quibbling, and the sooner this conference between the Viceroy and Mr. Gandhi, the leader of rebellion in India, ceases, and you make it clear you intend to govern, the more likely you are to restore peace and contentment in that country. I hope the Government will not lightly dismiss these questions but will take the House into its full confidence, telling them the facts with regard to India and Egypt, and if they keep the country informed, the people of England, Scotland and Wales, and even of Ireland, will stand behind them and help them to see peace restored.
Lieut.-Colonel J. WARD
One cannot fail to be surprised at reading the Press and listening to the speeches, including some of those delivered in the House this afternoon, considering the turmoil and the difficulty in which the world is placed at present, and especially that part of the human family who are represented in the Government of the British Empire. We are meeting here in such circumstances, and for a couple of hours we have the opportunity of debating and considering these subjects, but apparently the officials of the Labour party and the officials of the Wee Frees and the officials of the Government—I do not know whether they also consulted the hon. Member for Bournemouth (Lieut.-Colonel Croft)—are making arrangements for the loss of Parliamentary time instead of really trying to get to the bottom of some of these great problems. While the Prime Minister is present I would like to say something not upon the policy of the Government, so much as upon a domestic subject. The Prime Minister knows my views relating to public questions. When I came home from the War I spent a year without taking any part in any discussion in this House. I saw quite clearly, especially after coming back from Russia, that this country, and many other countries were likely to fall into a similar condition to that Which prevailed in Russia. I saw quite clearly that unless you could get the best elements belonging to every section of the community, quite apart from party politics or religious differences, or even class distinctions—if one might even mention that term in connection with the Members of this House—sudh a thing was likely to occur. I believe then, as I believe today, that unless you got the moderate and more stable elements of our human society here in Britain to work together, we might share the fate of that very country which I have mentioned. I say most emphatically, without being an official representative of the Coalition in any way, having been elected when I was absent without any pledge of any description, that it would be a great disaster—and I say this while the Prime Minister is present—if, by taking advice of real opponents, those who wish disaster to this combination of the most stable elements, an appeal to the cou[...] were deferred. You may be quite sure that when the right hon. Member for Platting 76 (Mr. Clynes) suggests that the Government should go on a little longer, and that he will lend them his friendly assistance, he is not doing that in the interests of the party opposite. At the moment, politically, the Labour party knows very well that it would be caught, so to speak, bending. If you want to keep together the best elements belonging to the different parties in the State, and even the best elements of the different sections of the community, you ought not to delay an appeal to the country beyond what is absolutely necessary for the service of the State. I hold that most emphatically, and I think it a great disaster, if there was any intention of an appeal to the country, that it did not take place at once.
Is it not surprising, when I read occasionally in Wee Free journals, and even in the Labour Press, how the whole country is thirsting for the first moment to get at this Government, when I read an article in the "Daily News" which finishes by referring to the Government in the words "Why cumbereth it the earth any longer?" that this same paper holds up its hands in holy horror that, for the purposes of the Coalition, the Prime Minister should for one moment consider a sudden appeal to that very electorate before which it wants him to appear? It is all a party game, but those who have got the best interests of the country at heart are not looking to any particular section of it, and do not care who they are or what they are so long as it is a combination that is stable and capable of carrying this old country over the next 10 years. I believe that is necessary; I believe it is as necessary that the best elements of our society should hold together during the next 10 years to give stability to this country as it was for us to sink our differences and carry the country through the Great War. In fact, you have lost the War if You do not combine together for the purpose of securing the peace. Hence I raised my voice once before in favour of an appeal to the country. Mine is a purely Labour constituency, and I have a Labour opponent put forward by my hon. Friends of the Labour party. I shall give him the best drubbing he ever had in his life—there is no doubt about that—and the very prospect of a fight is reviving my spirit in every possible way; but apart altogether from what is the attitude or 77 position of this member or that section of the community, what is the condition here to-day, and what will be the condition right through?
Every Member present is thinking about a general election, and into every subject that will be debated will intrude the question, When is the general election? It is as though you were trying to teach a class of boys the hardest lesson of the term on the last day, a few hours before they were to disperse for their homes. It is an impossible thing to do, and the Prime Minister would be much better advised, in my estimation, if he will take it—I do not suppose he will—with all these attacks made upon the Government, the allegations of unemployment, and so forth, to have an election at once. Unemployment is universal, as bad in America as it is here, and as bad probably in every other country which is an industrial community like this. I do not mean a purely agrarian population, which is not affected in the same way, but when it is alleged that the Coalition Government has induced unemployment, and we know it is all over the world the same, I say the Coalition Government in England must be a mighty institution if it can not only induce unemployment here, but also in America, and everywhere else in the world. We know very well, and the hon. Members above the Gangway know, that even if they were in power for 10 years themselves, they would still have these recurring depressions of trade—not so bad, it may be, nor will you ever get exactly the same bad circumstances as the country is in to-day, let us hope. You have spent thousands of millions upon war.
Do not be so stupid. You may go through generations of our history before you will [...]t a similar combination of circumstances producing this industrial disturbance and uncertainty of the present time, which is nothing whatever to do with the Government, and would exist a thousand times worse under a Wee Free Government. If the hon. Member who interrupts were Prime Minister, God help us! I would prefer that the Government took on a new lease. They could get it if they liked. The hon. and gallant Member for 78 Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Ken-worthy) delivered a speech to-day, about the only speech I ever remember in the House with which I entirely agree. I am afraid that the hon. and gallant Member will begin to question his fitness for exposition of these topics when he finds that I support him whole-heartedly. Take the question of the French Pact. I would not say a word to embarrass those who are engaged in conducting the negotiations between two great peoples like the French and ourselves, but if you were to go down to the man in the street regarding this subject, if you were to take the ordinary intelligent workman, or even the middle class, I feel that you would discover that there is a complete hostility to our forming any kind of pacts with European States which may land us into a war, or cause any State to imagine that under any circumstances we would go to their aid. I think that is a great disadvantage. I do not say that we have done it, but I wish to back up my hon. and gallant Friend in his observations by saying that I think that, unless there are conditions attached to such a pact, we should not make it. One could imagine a sort of spread-eagleism going right over the rest of the community, grabbing here and there, interfering with the development of another State, until war was absolutely produced between those two, without any particular European difficulty existing between them.
Therefore, unless you have got some means by which you can control the action of those with whom you join in such combination in a distant part of the World, as well as in Europe, on purely European subjects, you may be led into difficulties, and the fact that you are behind them may lead them to proceed along lines on which they would never dream of proceeding unless they thought they had you standing behind them. While I do not wish to say a word to cause the slightest irritation to our great neighbour France, at the same time, looking at it purely from an Englishman's point of view, I say we should be wary before we enter into pacts of this description, unless there are conditions by which we can control circumstances that might land us into difficulties we never contemplated at the time of our signature. I do not mind saying definitely that I would form no pact with any European State. The only people in the world with whom, if I had 79 the opportunity of deciding the policy of this country, I would ever form a combination, are the people whose institutions, character, history, and traditions are the same as our own, the great United States, because I could be quite certain that, whatever her policy was, it would be a policy consistent with the traditional character of our own people, and that we would not be led along channels that are against our history and tradition. Therefore, while I say I would not like to utter a word of disparagement or to give the slightest offence to a gallant people like our neighbours, the French, at the same time we must look at this subject from our own point of view—not exclusively theirs.
The subject immediately dealt with by my hon. and gallant Friend below was the subject of India and Egypt. All our difficulties, I venture to suggest to the Prime Minister, both in Egypt and in India, are due to this. We are dealing with Oriental people with an entirely different mentality from our own, an entirely different history, different traditions, different ideas upon every conceivable subject under the sun, as you will discover if you live in China or the East for a year or two, and not merely go there on a Cook's tour for four or five days or a month. Live with them for a year as I have had to do, and you will find that almost all subjects, ordinary domestic subjects as well as national and international, are looked at from a completely opposite point of view. We are capable of democratic institutions here, but the idea which, I am afraid, has produced the failure of the policy of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for India is that you think when a few agitators go from this country to theirs, and talk to those Indians, that is, the Babus, the better educated Indians, "Don't you think you ought to have a Government of your own?", "Don't you think you ought to have democratic institutions like ours?", and "Don't you think this, that and the other?", you can graft on to those people your ideas of Government, when they have no relation to their history or mentality, is the most absurd thing in the world. What is good for you is not necessarily good for an Oriental people. The idea that you can have a Parliament like this so that everybody in India can elect his man, 80 that the poor Ryot, the poor coolie in Colombo or any other port, can be treated exactly the same as the educated working-man in this country is utterly absurd, and really is the cause of the right hon. Gentleman's trouble. We have tried to apply these shibboleths of self-determination, democratic institutions, and all the paraphernalia which are the mental and constitutional outfit of a Britisher without which he can do nothing. We can do nothing unless we meet and discuss a subject. If they met under these conditions, they would do absolutely nothing. Whereas talk and discussion is our great principle of movement, when they talk and discuss they can accomplish no purpose whatever. That is my personal experience.
You are trying to fit on to these Oriental people both in Egypt and in India your own ideas. You have allowed your agitators to go to their country and inflame them. You have even had your own Ministers going there and suggesting the wonderful things that will happen when you gradually shape the policy of your country, so that you can hand over all the power to them. You cannot maintain an Oriental Empire on that basis, let me assure you. Our friends above the Gangway say, "Take the bull by the horns. Never mind about the Empire. Give the Egyptian absolute power to rule his country as he likes. Give the Indian power to rule absolutely as he likes." There is no such thing as a unified India. Heaven knows what you would be handing over. When you come to the Sudanese and all the other fighting natives around Egypt, you will see that is equally a difficult problem. As for the idea that you can graft on to these people our institutions, they are good for us, but they may mean poison and disaster to those people. That is my experience, having lived amongst them for two or three years, and having a real chance of seeing the coolie, the man at the bottom, and the educated man at the top. I am sure our right hon. Friends opposite mean to hold this great Empire together as an instrument for progress and civilisation. Therefore, I am sure that, instead of going forward as is suggested, you will have to hark back. If you are going to maintain the Oriental part of your Empire you have to hark back. These miserable shibboleths of self-determination and democratic control, and all that sort of thing, may be 81 good for people such as ourselves with an entirely different mentality, outlook and position in life, but I am certain they are not applicable to the conditions that prevail in the countries to which we refer. Scuttle out of Egypt! Then you ought to be ashamed of yourselves for thinking of such a thing, apart altogether from that country being a link between the Eastern and Western part of the British Empire.
I went to Egypt in the eighties as a soldier. I saw Port Said and the other towns up to Cairo. This was just after the Arabi Pasha rebellion had been suppressed and British administration had just begun to get into the saddle. What a horrible hole Port Said was at that time. There was the condition of the roads, the railways, and irrigation which you saw. Coming home from the far East I called at Egypt again. You would not know the Egypt of to-day compared with the Egypt prior to British rule and British administration. You will be real cowards, and you will not deserve to attempt to shoulder the great responsibility that your forefathers have put upon you if you think of scuttling out of that country, and allow the wild tribes around it, and the great fighting races, to control it; those whom I assisted to fight in 1885, although then under 20 years of age. If you allow these great fighting races to come in and dominate these rather more cultivated people, but still incapable—because it is not always the more cultivated people who are capable and practical people, and sometimes the qualities go in inverse ratio—for culture does not always mean vigour, and the application of good rules of government—and that is how some of our older civilisations have disappeared—it will be a pity. I say, therefore, that if you desert that country after all the energy and ability that has been displayed in administration under which it has progressed, so that instead of being a poor and ragged and a hopelessly conducted country it has become what it has under the British Empire, and this in my lifetime so much the worse. I say that if the British Empire had accomplished nothing else but what it has done in Egypt in these last 30 or 40 years, it would have justified its existence. Therefore you have to hark back. I saw in the newspaper a few days ago a communique from the Foreign Office which led me to suppose that the work of Lord 82 Cromer, of Lord Kitchener, and of others, the wonderful irrigation, the reclamation of thousands of acres of derelict, land, which has even changed the climate in Egypt, would be allowed to go into decay, and that Oriental indolence would rule again, putting off everything till tomorrow, until the country was got hold of by some better race, and some more competent than ourselves who would pick up the work again. I was glad, I say, to hear what the Prime Minister to-day had to say on the matter, and I trust that what I have suggested will not occur, and that generations hence this good work will not be picked up by someone; work that you may have proved yourselves incapable of continuing.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
Before my hon. Friend opposite speaks, perhaps he will allow me to put a question to the Prime Minister, to whom we should be very grateful if he will add to the information he gave to the House as to what is the policy of the Government with regard to Austria?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am glad that the Noble Lord has called my attention to that omission in my speech. There is no doubt things are very bad in Austria, and there is a danger of a great collapse. If there is a collapse there, the consequences, as we know, will be of the most serious character, not merely in Austria itself, but throughout the whole of Central Europe. We have been considering with our Allies what can be dope in order to maintain the position there and support it until, at any rate, the American Senate has removed the difficulties in the way of an advance upon the national security. I believe they are taking steps with that object in view. The House will recollect that £10,000,000 was voted, I forget whether the last year or the year before—[An HON. MEMBER: "The year before"]—for the purposes of Central Europe. There are still, I think, £2,000,000 or over of that sum unexpended. It is proposed that this should be advanced upon, I believe, quite good security to Austria, for the purpose of enabling her to get through the present crisis. I believe France is also making an advance, and this, we are advised, will enable Austria 83 to overcome the great difficulties she has to encounter, and enable her to get through them up to a point when she can be put on a better footing and foundation altogether. That is the proposal which we are making, and I am grateful to the Noble Lord for drawing my attention to the matter.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
In connection with that, may I ask whether this scheme is part and parcel of the League of Nations' scheme associated with Sir William Goode, or is it outside that scheme altogether, and therefore additional to it?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I cannot tell the hon. and gallant Gentleman without notice. There are certain liens upon Austrian securities at the present time which deprive Austria of access to the markets of the world and to foreign money. Our financial advisers are of opinion that if these liens—in reference to reparations and other charges—were withdrawn an advance could be made. The European Powers are prepared to withdraw such liens as they have, but unfortunately the American Government were advised that, without the authority of the House of Representatives and the Senate, they were not in a position to do so. I believe they are taking the necessary steps to equip their Government with the authority to suspend their lien. That will take time. Meanwhile, there might be a very great collapse in Austria, which would mean collapse in Central Europe, with repercussions right through the whole world. I cannot say whether the scheme is that of the League of Nations, or whether it is the scheme of the Allied Powers.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
May we take it that our security for the £2,000,000 will be as good as the League of Nations security?
§ Mr. RONALD McNEILL
I desire the opportunity of a few words in regard to what was said earlier this evening on Ireland by the Prime Minister, because I think that the words which fell from him at this particular juncture were as deplorable as they possibly could be. As to the speech we have just heard from the hon. and gallant Member for Stoke (Lieut.-Colonel J. Ward), while I absolutely and 84 entirely agree with what I heard—for I did not hear the whole of his remarks—it seems to me to be inevitable that the sort of developments which he deplores so much, and which I deplore, so much, whether in India or Egypt, should follow from the example that has been set in dealing with people nearer home. A very serious position has been reached. A question was put by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) with regard to the deadlock which has arisen between Sir James. Craig and Mr. Collins.
At first I thought the Prime Minister was going to wrap up the whole thing by applying humour to it, and I asked him to take the matter seriously. My interjection was successful, and he began to take it seriously, but he applied to it another equally characteristic method, and instead of treating it humorously he treated it ambiguously, and gave the House no information on the question which had been put to him. He said that they had had one successful meeting and one which was not successful, and that nothing very much had happened. The fact is that the first meeting was successful because no crucial matter was raised. As far as the question of the boycott is concerned, it was doing as much harm in the south as in the north, and everybody was anxious to settle it, and as for the quid pro quo in the north it has never been the policy of Sir James Craig to countenance the boycotting of Catholics or Sinn Fein workmen in Belfast, and we were always anxious to get over that difficulty. The crucial matter was the question of the boundaries, and in the first instance they never came to any discussion of that principle. I do not know whether the Prime Minister has told one story to one set of negotiators, and another story to the other set. I remember that in 1916 the right hon. Gentleman was commissioned by the then Government to conduct negotiations, and both parties went over to Ireland, but the whole thing broke down, because when they came back here they found that the right hon. Gentleman had told one story to Mr. Redmond and another to Sir Edward Carson.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
That is quite untrue. I saw Lord Carson (then Sir Edward Carson) and Mr. Redmond, and what I said was stated in the presence of both of them.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I have seen Sir Edward Carson since, and I am sure if he thought I had deceived him it is a strange thing that I should have preserved his friendship for some years afterwards. He never brought forward any such charge of having been deceived. Sir Edward Carson sat in the Cabinet over which I presided, and I do not think he is the sort of man to remain under my leadership if he thought I was deceiving him, and never to this hour has he ever brought that charge against me.
§ Mr. McNEILL
That is my recollection of what occurred, and I did not know that it was ever questioned.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I never heard the charge made before. This is a matter of honour. The hon. Gentleman has charged me with something which is thoroughly dishonourable because he has said that I told one story to Sir Edward Carson and another to the Irish Members. Sir Edward Carson would have brought. that charge against me himself if I had been guilty, and he would not have left, it to be done by proxy by the hon. Member six years after. Sir Edward Carson never brought that charge against me during the whole of the years he sat in the Cabinet over which I presided. He is not a man to have done that if I had been guilty of the dishonourable conduct of which the hon. Member accuses me now.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I wonder if the Prime Minister has been equally straightforward with these negotiations. He said just now with a great air of authority: "We are going to stand by our signatures." There is a change there. Why is he so anxious to stand by his signature with regard to the South When he has already violated his signature with regard to the North. I myself saw a document in the handwriting of the right hon. Gentleman, with his signature to it, giving a definite promise that he would not do a certain thing, and within a week he did it. What is the position which has arisen? The right hon. Gentleman says: "We take our stand by the written Treaty." The point is not what is in the Treaty, but what the Treaty means. He knows perfectly well that there is a crucial differ- 86 ence of opinion as to what the Treaty means. Sir James Craig has always. understood that it means one thing and Mr. Collins apparently understands that it means another. When the question was being debated the hon. Member for Mid-Antrim (Mr. O'Neill) put a question to the Prime Minister in this House as to whether or not the Treaty bore a certain meaning, and the right hon. Gentleman said that it did not bear that meaning. Now he says, "The question will not come to a head for months, and why bother They have had one successful meeting, and let the thing go on." I consider that that is a most improper way of dealing with the matter, and it will add very greatly to the difficulty which has arisen already.
The right hon. Gentleman is in the habit of doing things like that. He evades a difficulty for the moment because he thinks something else may turn up before a crisis arises. There will be the same doubt hanging over the question in the North and the South for months, and the same animosity will be growing all the time. So far from there being more likelihood of an agreement if these two gentlemen ever meet again, the attitude of the Prime Minister makes it perfectly hopeless that there ever can be an agreement at all. Apparently the Prime Minister is waiting to see what attitude he will take up when the crisis does come. The people in the North of Ireland are very much exercised in their minds as to whether or not the right hon. Gentleman will abide by what he said in answer to one of my hon. Friends during the Debate in December last or whether he will say, "This is a matter for the Commission to decide."
The words of the Treaty are very ambiguous and they may mean one thing or another. These people in the North of Ireland are wondering whether, under the interpretation which has been given, they are going to be shoved off into the. Free State or the Republic. I do not care whether it is a Free State or a Republic, because there is nothing to choose between them, but it is important before the thing becomes worse that we should have some authoritative statement from the Government, and we should know whether the interpretation which is put upon the Treaty by Mr. Collins, which has been absolutely repudiated by Members of 87 the Government, is correct, and whether they are going to stand by it or not. May I remind the House of a speech on that very point made by the right hon. Member for Central Glasgow (Mr. Bonar Law) in that Debate, because my recollection is that the right hon. Gentleman, while saying that, under the circumstances, he could not oppose the Treaty then before the House, yet if the treatment which that Treaty held out to Ulster is according to Mr. Collins's interpretation of it, then my right hon. Friend said he could not support it. It is, therefore, not only from the point of view of this House, but from the point of view of both parties in Ireland, a matter which should be put at rest without a moment's delay. The right hon. Gentleman says, "we are going to abide by our signature," or by what is written in the Treaty. As a matter of fact, he tells us nothing, and I want to protest, as strongly as I can, against this treatment of a very serious question. I hope even now, before the Debate ends, some member of the Government will afford some information upon the point.
§ Mr. SWAN
I think the statement of the Prime Minister this evening has come rather as a surprise, in view of all the pledges by our leading statesmen on the subject of Egypt during the last 40 years —I mean the statement that there is practically no more intention of evacuating Egypt now than there was 40 years ago. I was more surprised to hear that statement because the right hon. Gentleman had just previously remarked that it was unwise that anything should be said until the High Commissioner had been able to advise the Government on the existing situation. Evidently Lord Allenby has been forestalled, and whatever recommendations he may make, whether or not it be in the direction of carrying out past pledges, will not carry much weight. Neither is the statement an encouraging one for those of us who have some regard for the pledges given by this country to our Eastern peoples. The right hon. Gentleman may be correct when he tells us that Egypt is not a sovereign State. But there is another statement which the right hon. Gentleman has neglected to make, and that is, that Egypt has never yet been a part of the British Empire. When we went to Egypt 40 years ago, it was not with any benevolent idea of ex- 88 tending a generous boon to the people of that country; it is well known that we then had two objectives, and that we went there in the first place to protect the interests of French and British bond holders, a matter with which many people held we had no right to interfere. That was the fundamental object of our interference in Egypt 40 years ago, and the other object we had in view was to take sides against a popular movement on the part of the Egyptian people for securing a share in the government of their own country. Some of our statesmen and many of the public seem to have got an impression that the Nationalist movement in Egypt is a new movement. It is not so at all. It existed 40 years ago, and the very objects at which the leaders of the movement are aiming today were the ones for which the Nationalists of that period were striving.
We have reason to be surprised at the attitude which the British Government is assuming towards the chosen leaders of the Egyptian people, and we, the members of the Labour party, consider that the British policy in Egypt at the present time is one calculated to bring reproach on the name of Great Britain. It is indeed most regrettable. Men who have the whole of Egypt behind them are banished from the country. We say that this policy ought to be changed. If the members of the Government want peace, as I hope they do, they will change that policy, and they will honour British pledges. The Prime Minister has told us that this is a very formidable problem, that it is one of many complexities, and that it deals with a delicate situation in the East. He has reminded us that Egypt is the gateway to the Old World. We realise that it may be the gateway to our Eastern Possessions, but it held that position 40 years ago, and it should be within the wisdom and direct initiative of the Cabinet to see that that gateway to our Eastern Possessions is guarded by sentinels who are friendly to the British people. Difficult as this problem is, we say that it could be surmounted if the Government would only approach it in a proper manner. But instead of negotiating with those who have the Egyptian people behind them, they prefer to negotiate with those who have not the nation at their back. We are told that Egypt is not fit for self-government. 89 That may or may not be true. Peoples are never ripe for self-government until they have the opportunity of exercising it. It may be said that the Labour party consists of poltroons; it may also be said that these Egyptians are poltroons, but time and experience alone can determine that. I submit that we are bound to give effect to the pledges which men like Gladstone and Salisbury and other great leaders have given in the past.
Let us just survey the results of British administration in Egypt. We are told that the Egyptian people are not fit to govern, because of the state of their education, and we find, according to the report of Sir Valentine Chirol, in the "Times," of 30th December, 1919, that 92 per cent. of the males and 99 per cent. of the females are illiterate. How many years of British administration will it take to make the whole of the population absolutely illiterate? A very few more years and the whole of the population of Egypt will be illiterate. Who are those whom we have banished from Egypt? They are men of high standing and learning. Some of them are men who came to our universities and won the admiration of those who were associated with them there. They are men of high learning and of world-wide experience. It has been said by men in responsible positions in this country that Zaghloul Pasha is an agitator. What is the fact? Zaghloul Pasha is a man who has held office under Lord Cromer and Lord Kitchener as Minister of Justice and in other Departments. His ability was such that it won the admiration and appreciation of Lord Cromer, who said that he was a man of great and outstanding abilities and would go far in his own country. He is a man with great executive and administrative ability, and so are his colleagues who have been banished. Give these men a chance, and they will accomplish a good deal more for their own people than we have ever been able to accomplish for them. Then, as regards the health of Egypt, we find, according to the report of Dr. Balfour's Commission, in the "Times," that one-third of the children born die in infancy. We submit that the time has come when Britain ought to honour her pledges and let the Egyptian people choose their own leaders. If we want a settlement, we must, as in the case of Ireland, go to the real leaders, to men like Zaghloul Pasha and his representa- 90 tives. We on this side of the House have recommended that more than once in this House.
Statements have been made by the Foreign Office that Zaghloul Pasha has not the will of the Egyptians behind him. Then let the British Government declare its policy and have a National Assembly elected, and let that National Assembly choose their own leaders to negotiate with the British Government. We have been told this afternoon by the Prime Minister what the position might have been in Egypt during the War, but there is one thing which he entirely forgot to mention. Out of a population of 13,000,000, 1,200,000 served in the War. They responded to the nation's appeal. Why did they do so? We were fighting for justice against militarism and for the right of small nations to determine their own destiny. Hitherto, when we have raised this qestion, we have never received satisfactory answers. According to the "Times," this statement was put into the mouth of His Majesty in 1914, by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith), who was then Prime Minister:I feel convinced that you will be able, in co-operation with your Ministers and the Protectorate of Great Britain, to overcome all influences which are seeking to destroy the independence of Egypt.Of course, the people of Egypt believed that statement, put into the mouth of the King by the Prime Minister and his Government, but instead of that we are now told that we intend to hold Egypt by armies Of occupation. Obviously, to-day it is not the intention of the Government to get into negotiations, to withdraw the Protectorate, and to give the. Egyptian people that indisputable right to govern themselves in accordance with all the statements of our statesmen made throughout the last 40 years. These people rendered valuable services to the British Empire in order that they might be a free and sovereign State, but now that the War is over they see nations of less culture, less advanced, nations who have even been enemies of the British Empire, having independence conferred upon them, whereas, when the chosen leaders of Egypt wanted to present their case to the British House of Commons or to the Peace Conference, the reply, in 1919, was to banish Zaghloul Pasha and his colleagues to 91 Malta. That was the manner in which Britain honoured its pledge to Egypt. Now again we find Zaghloul Pasha deported from his native land. This is a policy that is bringing the name of Britain into reproach throughout the world. I hope that, instead of approaching these questions in the way we have, we shall approach them in a more humane and just manner, and with more regard to the pledges that our statesmen have given. The Prime Minister said that it was due to the policy of Mr. Gladstone, and I think it may be opportune to quote the statement made by Mr. Gladstone in 1882, just after we occupied Alexandria:We are against the doctrine of annexation; we are against everything that resembles or approaches it. We are against it on the ground of our duty to Egypt; we are against it on the ground of the interests of England; we are against it on the ground of the specific and solemn pledges given to the world in the most solemn manner and under the most critical circumstances—pledges which have earned for us the confidence of Europe at large during the course of difficult and delicate operations; and, if one pledge can be more solemn and sacred than another, special sacredness in this case hinds us.That was forty years ago—a pledge to evacuate Egypt as soon as we had put down local disorder. Instead of that, armies of occupation are there to-day. The time has come when we ought to honour our pledge to Egypt as we have done in the case of Ireland, but the whole tendency is to make another Ireland. We cannot afford to spend the money on Ireland that we are spending. I listened to the eloquent speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Stoke (Lieut.-Colonel J. Ward), who spoke of the conditions in Egypt when he was there in 1885; but the housing conditions of the fellaheen and the labourers could not be worse than they are to-day after forty years of British administration, for one-third of the children die in infancy. The hon. and gallant member spoke of Arabi Pasha, who was the leader of the popular movement then, just as Zaghloul Pasha is to-day. But, owing to the influence of the bondholders, forty years ago we took sides with the Khedive, who was a waster and a spendthrift. We took sides with him and the bondholders against Arabi Pasha. If these people had had an opportunity of controlling their own destiny then, they would have commenced 92 irrigation works in Egypt, would have reclaimed waste land, and would have dealt with the health and education of the people.
That is what is wanted in Egypt to-day. We have been there and have seen the people and know their conditions and aspirations. They aspire to be free to grapple with educational, social, and economic questions, and we hope that they will be allowed to take their place in the list of free nations, and to take their legitimate part in the progress of civilisation within the ambit of the League of Nations. I and my colleagues who went with me to Egypt have seen the movement there. We did not see the birth of a new nation, but we saw a new epoch in one of the oldest and most historic nations of the world. We saw them united in a manner that was not possible under the Oriental tyranny of centuries past. It is a movement that cannot be dammed back, for it is directed by the dynamic impulse of the national soul in Egypt. I trust that the Foreign Office will take cognisance of that movement, which has the young manhood and the young womanhood behind it. I hope that the Foreign Office and the Cabinet will recognise the formidable nature of the problem that is before them. Armies of occupation, whether on the Suez Canal, in Cairo, or in Alexandria, cannot settle the question. It can be settled in the interests of Britain and of the Empire if we negotiate with the representatives of the people, but what is the situation to-day? In spite of armies of occupation, not one Egyptian can be found to form a Cabinet, and those to whom overtures have been made have repudiated them. The only people whom you can get to form a Cabinet and be the mouthpiece of the Egyptian people have been banished. I hope that a wiser, saner and more humane, and also more effective, policy will be pursued, and that Zaghloul Pasha will be brought back from his exile. The Seconder of the Address quoted words of Mazzini which might well be written in large letters by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Office. Everything that he said about Mazzini to-day is applicable to Zaghloul Pasha and his colleagues. Mazzini was banished from his own land. Where is he to-day? On the scroll of fame as a martyr. So was Garibaldi; so was Prince Kropotkin; and what was done 93 with them Britain has done with Zaghloul Pasha and his colleagues. Egypt cannot be governed by the Foreign Office dictating to the High Commissioner. It cannot and will not be dictated to. The Egyptians have long since recognised that their Legislative Assembly was a mere mockery and a sham, and they are not content to be the shuttlecocks of the Foreign Office, with their Cabinet Ministers and representatives mere tools in the hands of that Department. What they want is not a sham Legislative Assembly, but some authority and executive power to grapple with their own problems, control their own destiny, and take their place in the League of Nations, receiving sovereign right as a nation, so that they may work out their own salvation and take their legitimate place in the civilisation of the world.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. Cecil Harmsworth)
I had not intended to take any part in this discussion, but the lion. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Swan) might well think it discourteous on my part if I did not say a few words about the very remarkable and eloquent speech which he has just delivered. I can only say, repeating in this what the Prime Minister has already said, that the question of Egypt is now under immediate consideration, and at this moment Lord Allenby is on his way to London to discuss the matter with His Majesty's Government. In the circumstances I do not think that I at least can say anything that would assist matters and that might not on the other hand be disadvantageous; but I may be permitted to say that I do not think that anyone listening to the speech of the hon. Member, and knowing little of Egypt, would realise that he was speaking of a country to which this country has rendered inestimable service. It is not for me to traverse the history of Egypt within the last 30 or 40 years, but I think it is proverbial that the administration of Egypt by the British people during the last 30 years or so is a model of what such Government should be, and I should have been glad to hear the hon. Member acknowledge that fact. After all, Egypt is now—thanks in general to good administration and to those qualities of development that we possess as a nation—one of the most prosperous countries in the world, 94 a country which has made greater progress, I should imagine, in material well-being perhaps than any country in the Near East or outside Europe or America. I think those facts ought to be remembered, because no view on the subject is really fair or sound unless those aspects of it are borne very carefully in mind. I think we are entitled to say, whatever may be said in regard to self-government and later political developments, that our administration of Egypt so far as we have administered Egypt—or let me put it more correctly and say that the advice which has been given by this Government to the Egyptian people has been of the greatest possible advantage to them, and I am sure if a plebiscite could be taken on that subject among the fellaheen and the humbler people of Egypt, we should get a very large response, I might almost say an almost unanimous response in favour of what we have done in Egypt[...]
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
Surely it is not contended that education has not made immense strides in recent years, and that immense efforts have not been made in connection with the health of the people in Egypt. Surely those things are quoted everywhere in the world as models of administration. I cannot go into the subject, because it is now about to be under immediate discussion again. I have only risen so that some sort of balance should be restored in this discussion. In my judgment, I think we might say in the general judgment, our administration of Egypt is one of the brightest chapters in the history of the British people.
§ Mr. RHYS J. DAVIES
I hesitate to intervene in the discussion, but the speeches which have been delivered to-day require some attention from several points of view at any rate. I very much regretted that the Prime Minister avoided saying very much on unemployment, and I propose to make a passing reference to that very important subject. On 17th October last year the Prime Minister brought forward four proposals to deal with unemployment, and we were assured at that time that they would do something to alleviate distress contingent upon unemployment in our own land, and I well remember the glorious achievements which were predicted, for instance, for 95 the proposal to set aside £25,000,000 in order to stimulate trade. I remember, too, what was said with regard to the £10,000,000 which were set aside on loans to local authorities, and the £300,000 for emigration for ex-service men and others. If the Prime Minister were here, I should like to ask him what has become of those four proposals. What has happened in this country since he made them? I dare-say figures could be got from Government Departments to prove my statement, that we are suffering more to-day from unemployment than when the Government made their proposals, simply because they did not touch in the least the causes of unemployment. In the speech from the Throne to-day there is reference, and I am pleased to see it, to the real cause of unemployment. Unemployment will never be removed from this country, or from Germany or from America, until peace and goodwill reign between the peoples of the earth. That is where unemployment has got to be solved first of all. The Prime Minister, however, taunted us on these benches about the condition of affairs in Russia. I need not argue here whether I agree with the constitution of the Bolshevik Government or not, but I am sorry that the Prime Minister should exploit the famine in Russia at the moment, and use it as a political argument, as he did to-day. I think that the most unfortunate point he made in his speech. Then he came to France, and this is the main reason why I have got up to speak. In attending gatherings up and down the country, and coming in contact with working folk in the main, I dare venture to articulate their view that they are unwilling for any pact with France, even on the lines mentioned in the language in the King's Speech. Let us read the language very carefully:Discussions were recently initiated and are now proceeding between my Government and the Governments of France and Belgium with a view to the conclusion of agreements for common action in the event of unprovoked attack by Germany.Who is going to interpret what is an unprovoked attack? The French people and French statesmen? I am inclined to speak rather strongly of the militarist tendencies of the French statesmen of the day. I am almost inclined, too, to use that sentence that was uttered, I believe, in this very House when we were 96 at variance with the French Government some years ago. I think it was the late Joseph Chamberlain who said that France must mend its manners, and I think we can add, on behalf of the working people of this country, that if the French statesmen are articulating to-day the point of view of their people with regard to their malice and hatred, and their desire to keep Germany in subjection permanently, we are entitled to tell the French statesmen that they too must mend their manners. We must not make any pact with them, and then when we have made a pact the call will some day come to our boys, 18 and 20 years of age, who know nothing at all about this pact. It is a gross injustice upon our people that these pacts are being made. It has been said that this pact was made two and a half years ago, and that every Member of the House, apart from those who were elected after that date are bound by the pact. I am glad, therefore, to be one of those who have been elected since that pact was made, and who have had no hand whatever in them. All the influence I may possess, either by speech or by writing, will be used to prevent any pact being made with France in order to keep the German people in permanent subjection. Let us be quite clear, therefore, what it means. I come to another point with regard to France. It is too readily assumed in this House and in the country in general that France is a very much injured nation. In fact, during the last War we were told that France had suffered an injury in 1870 for which she had been crying "Revenge" ever since. I have read the history of 1870; and any person who is unbiassed, reading that period, will come to the conclusion that France asked for all she got in 1870, and I think in a speech delivered in this House by Mr. Gladstone himself at that time he made a statement almost to the effect I have made now.
I want to touch in passing upon the question of Egypt, and here I join issue both with the Prime Minister and with the hon. and gallant Member for Stoke (Lieut.-Colonel J. Ward). If I wanted to be vulgar I should say the hon. and gallant Gentleman's attitude represents exactly what is termed that brutal British bullying attitude. I am a new Member of this House; I am appalled 97 at the Imperialistic attitude of Members of this House towards subject peoples as if, mark you, we were the potters to mould the clay of the Oriental at our will. I deny that. I have heard people from India speaking, and I have heard Orientals delivering better and more cultured speeches than those of the hon. and gallant Member for Stoke. It is all very well for him to talk in that strain. He may have been in India and China managing navvy gangs and so on. I dislike this idea of men believing that we have had specific gifts from God to shape the destinies of the Orientals. If the arguments used by the Prime Minister and the hon. Member are correct, what is the conclusion? If it is correct for us to adopt that attitude towards Egypt and India it is our bounden duty to go further and say that we are the people who have received a mission from the Almighty to conquer the whole world and enforce our views upon the world. Then I hesitate to believe that this Western civilisation of ours is such a noble thing that it should be enforced on the Egyptians and Indians. Strangely enough, every word which the Prime Minister uttered to-day about Egypt he uttered about Ireland at Carnarvon in Welsh some time ago. I have the advantage over most hon. Members that I can read what he speaks in Welsh, and he does not speak in Welsh exactly what he speaks in English. He speaks to a different audience, and if he were here I should like to tell him that some of us who have read the history of our own little people are utterly ashamed of his attitude. Not only has he betrayed the best in the working class attitude of Wales, but he has betrayed the whole of the Welsh nation in its attitude on this subject. I am wondering what Henry Richard, who founded the Peace Society, would have said to the Prime Minister's speech to-day and to his attitude towards Egypt.
Reference has been made to economy. I notice the right hon. Gentleman carried those benches with him almost unanimously when he talked of economy. It says in this Speech from the Throne something about deferred hopes, because economy is essential. Although I am not a prophet or the son of a prophet, I predict that when economies are proposed by this Government, they will fall in the main upon those services that benefit the working classes most—education, for instance 98 —and we shall find out soon whether the hon. and gallant Member for Stoke is correct or not when he says that he would be safe in his seat and that this Government would be returned. If they effect economies, in education in particular, they will not be the Government that will be returned in the next election. I conclude by repeating that I am simply appalled at the imperialistic attitude of the Government, and express the hope that when they come to make up their mind as to Egypt, India, France or elsewhere they will get rid once for all of that colossal conceit that we are the only people in the world who matter.
§ Mr. HALLS
Like the previous speaker, I did not intend to intervene, but the Debate has taken on a new interest, and as several subjects have been ably discussed by my hon. Friend I will confine my remarks to one or two matters that might be considered to be of a domestic character. First, I regret that there is no mention in the King's Speech of the housing question or of what the Govern-merit propose to do to enable people to get possession of the houses which frequently become empty. In the constituency which I represent I see quite a number of houses empty and in every window you will find a bill "This House for Sale." I have been badgered both by the local authorities in the area and also by the citizens to take some steps either to bring pressure to bear on the Government to compel these people to pay rates for the whole period in which the house is empty or else compel them to let them to tenants who wish to take them within a definite period. In view of the great scarcity of houses in every part of the country this problem should not have remained without the attention of the Government. When it was decided a few months ago to cut down the housing programme we were told that the fact. that the Government were crying halt for the time being did not mean that a less number of houses would be built, and we were told that the only reason for the halt was that the high cost of the material made it prohibitive to go on building houses, and in view of that statement I did expect that there would be some mention of housing in the Speech.
We all remember that three years ago it was admitted that there was a shortage of 500,000 houses in the country, and when the halt was cried I believe that 176,000 99 houses had either been built or were in course of construction; but it is common knowledge among those of us who have considered the sanitary conditions of our times that there were 180,000 houses at that time which were condemned as unfit for human habitation and they were still occupied. I was in Ancoats last Sunday week. If it is noted for one thing more than another it is for its awful slums. You have three and four families living in an ordinary cottage and you hear of 10 or 11 people in one small cottage room. It is something appalling to hear the descriptions from the people of the conditions in which they live, let alone to go into the houses, as I did in several cases, merely to have a look for myself. The appalling conditions in which people are living to-day are common knowledge to everybody who is on any local authority or serves in any public capacity, and when decent young folk are getting married you always hear that no matter what efforts they make and that they cannot find houses to accommodate them. Do the Government intend to go on with their housing schemes and do they intend to continue their subsidies to the local authorities?
There is at the same time the further condition prevailing, of houses empty in nearly every town. To a very great extent they are middle-class houses, and the owners ought to be compelled to let them within a certain period or be compelled to pay on them. There is no attempt on the part of the Government, apparently, to deal with that question. The owners are holding up the houses, and in a good many cases, in sheer desperation, people who have a little money saved will borrow money at a high rate of interest and will hang round their necks a debt which will perhaps remain there for the remainder of their lives in order to buy a house. They will pay three or four times what the house is worth under normal conditions. There fore, I regret that there has not been any mention made of this question, in view of the Prime Minister's statement that the revision of the housing policy did not mean that there would be any less houses built. To-day we have 2,000,000 unemployed, and we have many thousands of building trade operatives who are unemployed. Their numbers are growing by the thousand, because housing schemes, 100 already sanctioned, are coming to an end. We shall have all these men who ought to be employed building houses, registering at the unemployment exchanges and drawing their dole, as it is generally called. Those men will begin to deteriorate in the same way that the other workers have been deteriorating.
I regret that there is no mention in the King's Speech of the land question. It is very easy to quote from the Prime Minister's speeches, and we are perfectly justified in making quotations from statements which he has made, and which have led the country to believe that he intended to do something in regard to these problems. In a speech which he made prior to the last General Election, he said:The men who have endured the discomfort, the terror, the torture, in this mightly struggle have not gone through it all to re-establish more firmly in this land, for which they have fought, the dominion of slums, of wages that will not maintain, let alone cheer, life, of confusion and disorganisation which create waste, inefficiency, misery and squalor. To enable the nation to bear the gigantic burden of debt, which the War has imposed upon it, and the still greater burden of recuperation and reconstruction, we must see that the national resources are developed to the full, and that the State renders all the assistance in its power for the attainment of that object.Later in the speech he said:Take that most important of all national industries—agriculture. Agriculture in the past in this country has been almost entirely neglected, as far as national effort is concerned. The result is, we have been dependent for our food very largely upon lands across the seas, and we have realised during this War the peril of that position. We were dependent, not because Britain could not produce, but because we never realised the importance of home production. Last year we accomplished a good deal, and this year we have increased the production by hundreds of thousands of tons of grain. It is in the highest interests of the community that the land of this country should be cultivated to its fullest capacity. I doubt whether there is a civilised country in the world where agriculture has received less attention at the hands of the State than here.9.0 P.M.
He was entirely correct in the statements he made on that occasion. The thing that appeals to me, as one who was brought up on the land, and who has never lost touch with country life, is the fact that to-day, after the war, when we have had to admit the appalling condition of things, the land of this country, in the main, is more firmly in the grip of the private owners, in the shape of big land 101 owners, than ever before in any history that I remember. If it is not so already, I can quite see that in the next year or two that will be so. The farmers who bought their land when it was put up for auction about two years ago, when 7,000,000 acres of land were sold, had in many cases, where they had not saved enough, to borrow money at a very high rate of interest. They got possession of that land on the assumption that the price of the produce from the land for a few years was going to be maintained at the price at which it stood. They anticipated that they would be able to pay their way, but no sooner had the land owners parted with their land at four or five times its pre-war value, than Part 2 of the Agriculture Act was scrapped, and prices have gone down. I believe that there will be thousands of farmers who will be as big victims as the agricultural labourers, and will be compelled to sell their land. Those of us who have followed the history of land ownership in this country know who will be the people who will buy the land. It will be the land owners who will buy it back, and with their usual pretence of befriending the farmer they will offer him one-quarter of the value which he gave for it two years ago. The weight will then fall on the labourer; he will be made the victim.
In view of these conditions, the Government ought, in the King's Speech, to have made some reference to the question of the land, and some intention of dealing with the question in such a manner as would enable those men who are now finding themselves out of work, an opportunity to get small holdings. The Government ought to assist them to the utmost to cultivate the soil, or in one way or another to allow those people who have never followed any other avocation an opportunity to till the soil and to make it more productive than it is under the present ownership and management. The Government, in spite of the statements made by the Prime Minister, apparently does not intend to do anything. The land is drifting back to the old owners. It is drifting out of cultivation to the tune of over one million acres last year. The result will be that land which ought to be producing good food and occupying men in healthy pursuits, will be used for fox-hunting, and, all kinds of 102 sport for people who have too much wealth, while the peasant, who ought to be engaged on the soil, will inevitably, as he did 25 years ago, drift to the towns and become a town labourer. He will be compelled, through his economic circumstances, to offer himself at lower wages than the man in the town. This policy is entirely wrong, and is not in the interests of the nation.
We all agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Stoke (Lieut.-Colonel J. Ward) that this country does need the best Government; but I do not share his view that the best is to be found in the present Government. I believe it is to be found elsewhere. I am shrewdly suspicious as to who are determining the policy of the Government. The thing that troubles me is as to who is determining the Government policy. They are pursuing a policy which is not in the best interests of the country. We want the good old country to thrive and develop on right lines, but I am afraid, looking not only at home but abroad, that we are drifting along on lines that mean the disruption of the Empire. On the one hand we have the type of man who believes that you must rule the Empire by brute force. On the other hand, we believe that if the Empire is to be kept together it must be kept together under a policy by which each part is helped to develop its own Government according to its own ideas, and that the best ties for binding together the Empire are the ties based on the freedom of every part of the Empire. I fear that members of the Government and those who back them are very much mixed as to the following of the one policy or the other. I do not share the views of the right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) as to a General Election. The sooner an election comes the better. Give the people an opportunity of reconstituting this House. Nor do I share the view that we are not prepared to take the responsibility of Government. We are all agreed that the task will not be a light one, but whether it be put on the Labour party or on any other party that has the best interests of the State at heart, it will shoulder the responsibility, and I am satisfied that we will make a better job of it than the present Government has made of it during the past three years.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
I understand that the King's Speech is intended to do two things—first, to give some sort of account of the condition of the world, in so far as the Government is concerned, and, secondly, to give some account of the legislation to be proposed by the Government. The King's Speech read to-day was conspicuous not so much for what it included as for what it excluded from its purview. There is in St. Paul's Cathedral a monument, or tablet, dedicated to the memory of Sir Christopher Wren, and it reads something like this:Reader, if you seek his monument look around.If anyone wishes to see the monument erected to mark the work achieved by the present Government and the Governments of Europe generally, he has nothing more nor less to do than to look around Europe at this moment. In the course of the last fortnight we have been told that my colleagues and myself are not intellectually endowed with the remarkable qualities which are the particular appanage of the Secretary of State for the Colonies. I hope that Members who sit on the Labour benches will never make themselves fit to govern the world as the Colonial Secretary and his colleagues would govern it. Before he left us the Prime Minister made the rather startling admission that Austria at the moment is crumbling into decay and is in danger not merely of herself becoming engulfed in ruin, but of dragging down the neighbouring nations of Central Europe also. On the authority of a distinguished Norwegian explorer, Dr. Nansen, Manchester was told last evening that the people of a vast portion of Russia, a portion much larger than France, are being reduced to the practice of cannibalism. Mothers are brought even to the condition of eating their own children. We are told now that that condition of affairs is consequent upon the kind of Government that prevails in Russia. I wonder whether, when the next famine occurs in India, it will be admitted by hon. Gentlemen opposite that the condition of India is due to the form of Government in India. It is a hopelessly impossible proposition to put forward in regard to India, as it is in regard to Russia, far as I am from subscribing to the particular form of Government now prevailing in Russia.
104 Look a little further to our Colonies. At the moment scarcely any of us knows what is the exact condition of affairs in India, but we do know that whatever the position of affairs it is a direct result of what we, for lack of a better term, might call the spirit of Dyerism which has prevailed in that country all too long. I am an ex-teacher of an elementary school and I have told the children before now the story of Suraja Dowlah, the Nabob who drove 146 British people into what is called the Black Hole of Calcutta. We teach that story to our children in order that they may learn that the type and form of Government practised by Suraja, Dowlah was very much more retrogressive than the form of Government which we practise. I assert that the present condition of affairs in India is largely due to the fact that Indian mothers have learnt by bitter experience and have taught their children that however bad might have been Suraja Dowlah in the eighteenth century, he cannot compare in ferocity with the spirit exhibited by General Dyer and his kin in more modern days.
The same things we have prevailing in Egypt. We have heard a speech by the hon. and gallant Member for Stoke (Lieut.-Colonel J. Ward). I liked that speech. I have always liked that speech. Whenever I have heard that speech I have liked it. It exhibits the spirit of our modern English junker. Judging from that speech, there is only one people on the face of the earth that is fitted for self-government, and that happens, of course, to be our own. We might have heard that speech or a similar speech delivered in the German Reichstag in July, 1914. One of the curious results of the War seems to have been that, while we have exorcised the spirit of militarism from the breast of the German, we have given it a far too comfortable home within our own breasts. I would like to lay down this proposition—which requires laying down in these days and in our own country—that the fair flower of liberty cannot thrive in the vitiated atmosphere of militarism. What the Egyptian wants is what we ourselves enjoy, liberty and freedom. What the Indian wants is what we ourselves enjoy, liberty and freedom. If these qualities of government are good for us to enjoy, they are equally good for Indians and Egyptians to enjoy. The hon. and gallant Member for Stoke in- 105 forms us that the people of Egypt and India are not fit for self-government. Will he tell us at what point in longitude fitness for self-government ceases and unfitness for self-government begins? Does it stop, shall we say, at the end of Italy? Is it confined to the northern shores of the Mediterranean? Does it stop in Egypt? Does it stop in Athens? Where does it stop and where does it begin?
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
It certainly has not yet arrived at Stoke-on-Trent. The hon. and gallant Member for Stoke accounts for the present unrest in Egypt and India in the old familiar way. Whenever there is a disturbance, whenever the peoples are talking of liberty, whenever they dream of freedom, those on the opposite side of this House always find that ubiquitous agitator. We are told it is the agitator here and the agitator there disturbing men's minds. I venture to say that the idea and the impulse towards freedom does not depend upon the presence of the agitator at all. God, I believe, gave the desire of freedom to every living soul. However strong an Empire may be, however vicious it may be in its intent, however powerful in its armies and navies, no Empire has ever yet been strong enough to crush the seed of freedom once it has been planted. However much we may rely upon our armies and our navies the idea of freedom will grow. It. will expand throughout the borders of Egypt and India and the day will come when the people of those countries will be as free as the air they breath. To talk of the unfitness of these people for self-government smacks somewhat of impertinence and is, indeed, extremely antiquated. I have had opportunities of meeting in fellowship and friendship students brought from Egypt and India to this country to be educated and in intellectual combat as between these gentlemen and the people of our own country the former have frequently more than held their own. They have carried off honours frequently at our universities and colleges. They have taken their places in public and private debates and have in various ways disclosed that a man, however dark his skin may be, is endowed with the same intellectual capacity—given equal opportunities for development—as the man who has a white 106 skin. I am only too ready to admit the point made by the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs. I admit that much has been achieved in Egypt. Much has been done by English engineers who have placed at the disposal of the Egyptian State, freely and without much hope of reward, their fullest powers and capabilities. Is that to be advanced as a reason for denying self—government to Egypt? If Egypt had been captured by the Germans the Germans would have done that. They would have introduced the latest developments in science, they would have provided the best and most up-to-date methods of transit, and so on, but that would be no reason for the Germans becoming the dominating power in Egypt and neither is it a reason why we should become the dominating power there. The bird will not sing more sweetly because you gild its cage. It is freedom the bird wants, and it is freedom the Egyptian wants, and until the Egyptian and the Indian have that full measure of freedom to which they are entitled unrest, I fear, you will have. We were taught to believe that alter the War was over we were to enter upon the business of constructing a new world. It is now a commonplace of history that this was promised in repeated speeches by leaders of this House. The same kind of thing was promised to the people of Egypt, and the same was promised to the people of India. If it be right for us to expect some measure of reconstruction in our own country by way of fulfilment of that pledge, surely the people of Egypt and India too, who sent their sons to fight in France and Flanders on behalf of this country, are entitled to a similar measure of fulfilment of the pledges made to them. I invite this House to get away from the ideas of the old world and begin to practice the ideas of the new. The talk of dominion and of Imperial responsibility to the exclusion of native rights is antiquated. It is half a century out of date. It is time we invited these native races to rise to the full measure of their own responsibility, and give them the chance to do what they can in laying broad and deep the foundations of a new world.
§ Mr. W. GREENWOOD
I listened with very great interest to the speeches that have just been made, and in particular I was interested in the condemnation of the statement of the Secretary of State 107 for the Colonies that Labour was not fit to govern. I cannot say that I agree with that denunciation of the Labour party coming either from the Secretary of State for the Colonies or more recently from the Lord Chancellor. Anyone who knows the members of the Labour party must realise that there are some very capable men in that party. At the same time, although one may admit that that party would be fit to govern, it is well to remember that when they do govern, the test of their fitness will come after the expiration of time when their deeds will be known, and when people will be able to form a judgment as to what they really have, been capable of accomplishing. The hon. Member for the Radcliffe Division (Mr. Halls) mentioned that there was a difficulty in his constituency with regard to the shortage of houses, and he said that in nearly all cases where houses were empty the notice was not, "This house is to let," but "This house is for sale." I can tell the hon. Member that one of these houses has been occupied by one of his constituents. Money was borrowed to purchase the house, and it was certainly not at an exorbitant rate of interest, because the people who lent it are paying from one per cent. to two per cent, more than the amount that was charged to his constituent.
I was very interested in his remarks about unemployment, and at any rate I can congratulate the Labour party on this, that they have stayed longer in this Debate to show their interest in unemployment than sometimes they do when similar subjects are under discussion. I am very glad to see that there is such a large proportion of them present in comparison with my hon. Friends on this side. Some of us certainly feel the position just as acutely as do hon. Members on the Labour Benches, whether we know as much about it or not. When I hear hon. Members say that we shall never cure unemployment in Germany until certain things happen and the whole world is at peace, I wonder first of all whether there is any unemployment in Germany. I have been over there a little time ago to see for myself whether there was or not, and I could see no unemployment at all. I rather regret the speech of the hon. Member above the Gangway. The hon. Member for Westhoughton seemed to take an anti-British view of everything. 108 I would be very glad if hon. Members would realise that whatever view we may take, we are all Britishers, and as such it is our duty to do the best we can for our own country. In Germany I saw no unemployment at all, and it worried me to think that in my own country, the country that won the War, there should be 2,000,000 of our people out of work, and yet that in the country that lost the War they should be going about their everyday business, and that nobody would ever dream, to look at them, that there was such a thing as a disorganised, downtrodden, and poor Germany. There is nothing of the sort. It is a Germany that is prosperous, a Germany that is doing well. Sometimes we are told that to take the debt from Germany is wrong. I think it is about time that we did, and we might take an example from Germany as to her proceedings after the War.
In this connection I would like to say a few words about the Government's attitude—and it has been the attitude of the Opposition as well—with regard to finance, a question which gravely affects the problem of unemployment. Some of us two years ago said we thought we were making a mistake in our methods of finance. We thought it a great mistake that, after such a war as we had gone through, wherein we alone had spent as much as £8,000,000 per day, we should budget or attempt to budget for paying off all the debt of £8,000,000,000 in 25 years. Some of us said that was a great absurdity, and that it would of necessity bring in its train a great deal of unemployment. I think we have been justified by results. Yet I do not find, either from the Opposition or from the Government, any reasoned statement as to what point of view we are going to take about finance. Surely we can learn something from other countries, and if we find that in this country there are 2,000,000 people out of work, out of the 13,000,000 workers that there are, surely we can see what is going on in other countries. We go across to Germany that lost the War, and we say, "Are you paying off your National Debt like that"? The German says, "Certainly not." You speak to workmen or to employers in Germany, and they tell you the same thing. They are all working with one end in view, but it is not to make Germany able to pay off her debts. What they are, working for—and they are 109 working splendidly together—is to build up Germany, so that when the right time comes, she can again enter into trade as she has done before and be, as she will be again, in my opinion, one of the greatest trading nations in the world. Is she crippling her people by attempting to pay off her debts as we are doing? Nothing of the sort.
We have got into our minds the fact that we must always pay our way, that unless we can balance our Budgets, the old country is going into insolvency and bankruptcy, and that everybody will be ruined. Should we have been ruined had the War gone on for another two years, and our National Debt had been £12,500,000,000 instead of £8,000,000,000? Nothing of the sort. A country whose capital value is £40,000,000,000 is not bankrupt because it has to find at some time or other £8,000,000,000. But if it attempt to pay that debt off too quickly, or to follow too much in the lines of the wealthiest country in the world, there will be a danger that, by its very attempt to pay off its debts too quickly, it will impoverish itself. It will be like the old woman who owed £10. She could pay 2s. a week easily and well, but she was so anxious for her good name that she made up her mind she would rather pay 10s. a week, and she paid off her debt at the rate of 10s. a week but by the time she made the last payment she died of starvation. That is what is going to happen to this country. It is a very serious position. You all say the same thing — Government and Opposition alike—that we must economise in everything, and spend nothing.
When we consider that we are attempting to follow in the way of what is, after all, the richest country in the world, namely, the United States of America, we sometimes forget that the conditions are very different. We seem to be basing all our views upon the question of getting our pound back to its normal value before the War. In that I submit we are making a very grave error of judgment, and have been so doing for the past two years. I would like to give my reasons for saying that. The United States of America, whether fortunately or unfortunately for themselves, came into the War later than we did, and although before the War America was a debtor nation, she 110 is now a creditor nation. She has to receive in interest £125,000,000 annually, in our money value. On the other hand, we ourselves have to find as a charge on our National Debt a sum of £345,000,000 annually. You will see what I mean when I say it is impossible for us to keep pace with America. The difference between the two nations means when you distribute it between the 13,000,000 workers of this country, that every one of us has to pay 14s. a week before we get at a level with the United States. That is my argument—that it is impossible for us to work out our future in finance on the lines of the United States at the present time. We have to decide with which of the communities of nations we are going to trade. If we are putting ourselves on the same basis as the United States, we are simply taking ourselves out of the trading position with regard to France, Germany, Italy, Greece, and others. It will be far better for us to go along with them, who are the poorest nations in the world, than to put them out of our reach. Take what has happened in the United States during the past four or five months, and you will see what I mean. Every time the exchange gets nearer to the figure of 4.32 dollars, instead of trade being better with this country, we find that in the cotton trade, which is the largest export trade, we have, since August, 1921, taken only 990,000 bales as against the previous year 1,800,000 bales. The United States has taken 4,300,000 bales as against 4,200,000; the Continent 1,700,00 bales as against 2,800,000, and Japan, where it is often said that there is no fear of competition, has taken 673,000 bales against 305,000 bales.
That shows at once it is not true that it is essential for our exchange with America to improve for our commercial position to improve. The reverse is the case, and it is because we have pursued this policy of deflation to bring prices down that we have all been to blame. A couple of years ago, when profits were made in industry, our friends were shouting "Profiteers," and asking why mill owners had made so much money. I ventured to remark then that it was far better for profits to be made in industry than to have no industry at all. Now there is no profit in industry, but is there employment? Never was there such 111 unemployment in industry as to-day. It is only a further proof of what I have often argued, that these two things must go together. You cannot have industry without profit, and unless you can have industry running there is no employment. It is in the interest of everyone that we should so arrange finance that this country can be kept going. We ask for extended credit to be given outside the country. People talk about extending credit to the Continent as if it were something new. I know 20 years ago credit of nine months and 12 months was given, and I said 12 months ago that the same thing would have to be done in this country if we are to restore our trade. You must borrow if you are to lend, and if you are to borrow, it is necessary to inflate prices. There is nothing to be afraid of in saying that prices ought to be inflated. It is unpopular, but true. We were better off with inflated prices two years ago, when industry was making profits, and every man who wanted a job had one. We were better off then than we are now, when there are no profits, when mills have to be stopped, and not only mills, but even seasonal trades. I would be very glad if we could have a proper exposition from the head of the Government as to what is their view of the future position with regard to finance.
We are often told that we must economise. I agree, but there are different forms of economy. There is one certain form of economy which, if adopted, will simply mean starvation. It is a very good theory to say, "Do not buy," but what about the seller? You say, "Economise on education." You talk about "downtrodden Germany—poor, starved Germany"—but they are not economising in food, in pleasure or in education, and the reason is that they believe it would be false economy. You are going to have what you call the "axe" brought down to create economies. You may do away with the services of good men who did work in the War, whether in the ranks or as officers, and who, I have no doubt, did their best whatever they had to do. You will perhaps economise by clearing out 30,000 of them, employ an extra number in the Labour Exchanges, and pay the others for doing nothing. The real economy will be trying to find work for those who have none to do. You are 112 bound to do that if you economise at all. It is no economy to shift somebody out of an unproductive job, unless you have a productive job to put him in. We want true economy. Germany realises that, and Germany is not busy now with her export trade; she is busy with her own trade. I have lived in Oldham for a long time, and during the last 12 months it has been my regret not to see the factory chimneys there smoking; but when I go to Germany all the chimneys are smoking. Yet they lost the War and we won it, and they are not paying their debts. We are told that we shall go bankrupt if we do not do so and so. Germany is no nearer bankruptcy through her methods of finance, and there are Germans who understand finance, for it is no use assuming that the only brainy people with regard to finance are in this country. Germans are not worrying about their national debt, and they do not owe much more than we do. Their reparations are only £11,000,000,000 and their population is 70,000,000 as against ours of 40,000,000. The people who are going bankrupt, if they do not mind, are the people of this country, and it will not be simply because they will be short of money, but we shall go wrong by the very fact that we are keeping our industries quiet when they ought to be working. We shall rust our industries, and by keeping the productive capacity of our people at a standstill we shall spoil them too, because when you have men, and unfortunately cannot employ them for a long time, they are bound to become, in a while, that they do not want to work. It would be the same with any of us. It is like a limb which you do not use for a long time. It gets at length that you cannot use it at all.
In regard to finance, if the illustration of Germany be not a suitable one, let us take a country that has not been in the War. I refer to Holland. Holland has a national debt like ourselves. They were not in the War. My point is this. How is another nation taking up the question of paying off its indebtedness? I think the illustration is a sound one. That country, which has not been in the War, has a national debt of, roughly, about £23 per head, while ours is £180 per head. If we are trying to pay off our national debt in 25 years, one would imagine that a debt like that of Holland could be paid off in 2 or 3 years. But they are budgeting for 24 years! This is 113 a very important matter. This country cannot afford to have its industry taxed beyond its powers of endurance, and the sooner labour realises that the better, because if you hang a millstone round the neck of industry, everybody suffers. It is no use for a moment imagining that only the employer will suffer, because if the employer suffers, the employed will suffer too. Our interests go together.
I repeat that we were much better off when profits were good and when industry was working successfully, when every man was employed, though we then grumbled, as is always the privilege of Britishers, at high prices and that wages were too low. In any case, however, we had wages from three to one better than before the War, with prices about the same. You may call it "inflation" or what you like, but, in my opinion, you were far better off than to-day, when you have managed to get prices down 75 per cent., because we are losing the efficiency and other good qualities of our nation. We ought to take a lesson from Germany, which is sacrificing the future for the present. We are sacrificing the present for the future. I should like to ask some responsible Member of the Government to say what is the real policy of the Government in regard to finance, because that is the crux of the difficulty with regard to unemployment.
Mr. J. JONES
In the first place I want to congratulate the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken upon the remarkable lucidity with which he has put his case, from his point of view, before the House. I want to suggest that he has travelled far more to the East than I am prepared to go. India and Egypt are standing examples of the lack of policy on the part of those who claim to be financiers. The average income of the native of India and Egypt is less than a week's wages of the average workman in Great Britain. If you want to do good trade you must give your customers something to buy with; more purchasing power. What is the purchasing power of the native of India and Egypt? Hon. Members talk glibly about the Empire. They should inquire into the conditions of the people who live in it. They should try to understand why it is that the English official operating in Egypt and in India gets 50 times more income than the man and the woman who has to pay his salary. I quite 114 realise that the representatives of the British Government will not agree with me in this, but is the official in India or Egypt worth 50 times more than the people who have to find the salary that he enjoys? I am putting it at 50 times, but it is 500 times in reality. Here is a gentleman who collects the taxes enjoying 50 times as much salary as the people who pay him.
We at home grumble about taxation, but how would hon. Members like it if the income tax collector was to draw 50 times more income than themselves? Yet they talk about finance. Egypt was a civilised country before we were civilised, and so was India. When our own people wandered about in woods and were doing their best to emulate their ancestors, the monkeys, the people of India and Egypt were civilised. Now we say that we are the only people that matter. His Majesty's Speech gives us the information that we are prepared to do something for the people of these nations so that they may govern themselves. The speech of the Prime Minister to-day indicates that we are not prepared to do what we originally said we were prepared to do. I believe in self-determination for all parts of the Empire. I believe the Empire will eventually be saved by self-determination. You cannot any longer keep the people in chains. Do not imagine that this country can dominate the world merely because you say you are going to do so. The world is big enough, and you cannot go preaching self-determination to other peoples if you are not prepared to give it to the peoples within our own Empire. We are going to have a British Commonwealth.
We are going to have, reform of the House of Lords. Gentlemen who are sitting round are going to be lords. Lord help us. The hereditary principle is going to be made permanent. Those of us who are not fit to govern will eventually be offered jobs. Probably we may be "axed" to be Lord Chancellors, and then we will get the Geddes' axe! The House of Lords is going to be reformed. We are in favour of reforming it. Some of us here are going to de-form it. We are going to mend it by ending it! There is only one place for it, and that is oblivion, particularly when we get a Lord Chancellor of the kind that we have got now, who is a hooligan with a halo. We are being insulted by those who pretend 115 to know more than we do. Labour is said to be unfit to govern, but we have seen an example of Government here. We have heard the explanations of the Prime Minister, and the policy pursued by his party. The right hon. Gentleman stated that after three years of conferences we are practically where we were at the beginning, and they are asking the country to get them out of the mess. We are going to have a Royal wedding as an escape for those in authority. Labour is not fit to govern. There is not a word in this Royal Speech which is not a contradiction of the policy laid down by the Government three years ago. Every word of this speech is an absolute contradiction of the promises made to the people of this country.
Take the men who fought in the War. In my own constituency the allowances of these men are being put down from 20 to 40 per cent. Where is the land fit for the heroes to live in now? [Interruption.] It is quite easy for fat men to talk, and for men who have made fortunes out of the War to make grimaces at me, but what does all this mean. This Royal Speech is an insult to the intelligence of the workers of this country. What do the statements made by Members of the Government mean? What do the people of this country expect with 2,000,000 unemployed and 10,000,000 dependants? What is going to happen to us? The Government have no policy of a definite character to meet the existing situation but economy. On what lines is economy going to be exercised? I saw economy at work to-day. I saw the Royal coaches going along the Strand and down Whitehall. Was that economy? There were gilded coaches, thousands of troops and bands playing. Is that economy? All gilded popinjays, and they were operating for all they were worth. Where is the real economy? [Interruption.] Hon. Members opposite do not like this, but they have got to have it.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member should understand that he ought to address me in the Chair, and not hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I should like the hon. Member to cultivate a little of the courtesy which other hon. Members show to him.
§ Mr. JONES
I think when people talk about economy they should remember the kind of economy which is generally practised by the Government. I saw to-day an exhibition of extravagance which I very much regret. I saw the Royal Procession. That was an exhibition of extravagance, in view of the fact that hon. Members of this House have been called upon to vote for economy. If we cannot afford to give our children a decent education, we cannot afford great processions of people who, after all, are useless to the community.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Mr. R. RICHARDSON
I desire to refer to what the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. W. Greenwood) said with reference to the party to which I belong. So far as our work in this House is concerned I think it will bear favourable comparison with the work of any other section of this House. I rise for the purpose of making a plea for the children of this country. In 1918 we passed an Education Act with a flourish of trumpets under which local authorities were given power to make some real progress in education. We were to hate increased facilities for carrying forward elementary education. We were to be given power to educate children after leaving school at the age of 14 and to do for them something more than we had ever done before. Between the age of 14 and 18 years we were to have power to still further educate those boys and girls, and time was to be given by employers for this purpose.
I deeply regret to say that that has not been done. As an administrator of education, I am sure the cut in education has been anticipated because already the Geddes axe or some other axe is at work, and we cannot provide a decent school now for the children. At the present time in my county there are children sitting in schools with the rain pouring on them, and the cutting winds coming in through broken windows, and we are having complaints from the parents saying that unless something is done they will refuse to send their children to school. Complaints are reaching us from teachers who say that their health is 117 being impaired because of the bad condition of the buildings. Durham in educational matters has been a progressive county. We were told that more teachers would be employed in the schools, and that we should not have one man or one woman toiling day in and day out attempting to teach 60 children in one class. Instead of having more teachers there is going to be less, and I wish to ask hon. Members who are in the position to be able to pay for the education of their own children if they would desire their children to be educated in a class containing 60 or 70 other children. Is that the sort of education to fit children for further advancement? I venture to predict that no man who could afford it would ever think or dream of having his children educated under such conditions. I am speaking for those who cannot afford it. Please remember it is not the children who are at fault. It is not they who are to blame. It appears to me that the line of least resistance has been taken by the Government of the day in dealing with this question. It is said that we march to progress on the feet of the children. I fear we are going to try to march to progress on the feet of children who will be crippled by the reaction of the present Government. I trust that as far as elementary education is concerned, those education authorities who have the courage of their convictions and are determined to make a better England and better people for that better England, will be allowed to go forward.
Let hon. Members remember that when we entered into the War in 1914 we did not enter into it in a spirit of vengeance against any nation. What we desired was to get rid of the rule of militarism, so that the nations of this world in the future might be governed by reason instead of by brute force. Yet now we are crippling reason and setting up militarism in order to govern the nations of the world. Have we not had enough of war? I know I have had enough to last my lifetime, and I believe that every boy and girl to-day who can remember anything of it will be against militarism in the future. If we are to be, as I hope we may be, one of the foremost nations in this world, we must educate our children. Again, may I point out to the Government and to hon. Members that a distinct hardship is being imposed on the children of those men who fell fighting for this 118 country in the War—not only upon the children of soldiers, but on the children of industrial soldiers, for they are being told that nothing whatever must be done by the Education Authorities for them. I have a strong desire to do something for the children of this country and to give them a better chance to live, but local education authorities are now being told that no maintenance grant whatever must be made to children attending elementary schools. The children may go hungry and ill-clothed, and they will have to bear it. Under such conditions I claim no real education can be given.
I very much doubt the legality of the action of the Board of Education in this matter. A law is a law, and a law, in my opinion, cannot be upset and nullified by a simple Order of the Board of Education. Let the Board come into the open and fight us. Let the country know what its intentions are. If the country then are with the Board, well and good, but I know at least one education authority which will be prepared to fight the Board of Education on this matter to the bitter end. We have determined in Durham County, as far as secondary education is concerned, that a lad shall have it free for two years, in accordance with the Act of 1918. We have been told that under no considerations will the Board of Education grant us more than 60 per cent. of free places. We are now working on 60 per cent., but we intend to ask that it shall be raised to 80 per cent. Even if the authority has to bear the whole of the cost, it will be less than the proceeds of a farthing rate spread over the whole county. We are determined that the best brains we have in the county shall have the few seats that are available in the secondary schools until we can provide education for every child Who can benefit by it.
I listened with deep regret to the Speech from the Throne. I had hoped that in it there would be some indication of the policy of the Government with regard to this important matter. But not one word appears. All it refers to is the necessity for cutting down expenditure to meet your income. Why not go to the sources of destruction in order to save the money which will enable you to make both ends meet? Let the power of destruction be at once and for all time taken from our purview and let us turn our thoughts in the direction of building up 119 instead of blowing down. When we have done this I feel sure we will be in a position to create that mighty nation which I honestly believe every Member of this House desires we should become. The difference between us is how to reach that goal. I claim it can be best reached through education. It can by that means be most quickly reached. An uneducated nation is both suspicious and dangerous. An educated nation means a safe and sound people which will listen to reason. If the Government continue, as they have done during the past few years, to refuse to assist us in this direction, then on the Government must rest the responsibility. I well remember in my boyhood days having to give up school to try to increase the family exchequer, and I made a vow at that time that whenever I could do anything or say anything that would help prevent any other child having the same treatment meted out to him or her as was meted out to me and my fellows in our colliery villages I would not fail to say or do it. I plead with the Government and with Members of this House please to consider those who cannot help themselves in any way. Give them their chance in life. God gave brains to every child, and every child ought to have an equal opportunity. If you grant them this, you will get the very best out of all in the country. A grave injustice is done those who cannot afford to pay fees. In my county, if a parent can pay £5 a year in fees, he will have about £25 added to it, because the cost of the education of a child is about £30. Why take away from any father or mother the right to have his or her child educated because he or she cannot find one-sixth of the value of that education which is to be granted? The thing is inhuman, unfair, and unreasonable, and I plead with this House and with the Government to give at least justice to the children of the nation.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
It is always to me a sad thing to hear hon. Members on the Labour benches telling of their own early hardships, and mouthing the word "education," as if it were, like "Mesopotamia" used to be before we knew so much about it, a blessed word, as if education were some oriental lucky charm, or as if any man could ever hope to acquire much that would assist him either 120 in the conduct of his life or in the success of his life from what he gets in a school, and, least of all, a State school. In the public schools they do not get that which the hon. Member thinks is education. It is a totally different thing that the public schoolboy gets. It is not book-learning to any serious extent; it is living among his comrades and getting the corners and angles of his character knocked off him—
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
That is real education, not book-learning. The education which is given in the State schools, in my humble opinion, is very largely a gigantic imposture, and it is necessarily so, because our State schools are just like the Government bacon; there is a great tendency to rancidity about them. I was surprised to learn the other day that all the teachers in the State schools, under the recent Education Acts, in Scotland and in England have become civil servants, and, like all other civil servants, they are very discontented and disgruntled and largely inefficient. I de not think it is possible, under the system of so-called education which we have in this country, that we can achieve the real purpose of education, which is the development of character. The Education Act of 1918 was really a teachers' stunt imposed upon a dying Parliament when the whole of the country was occupied with the War. The teachers were mainly interested in the educational system from their own point of view, and I say that the educational system of this country is run immensely more for the benefit of the teaching class than of the children. A universal national system of education[...] is utterly unsound. Education should be locally governed, and not in very large areas, because in all large areas you have great differences in the nature and circumstances of the people. The schoolmaster, under the Government system that was established in Scotland in 1872, has done more to depopulate the land in rural areas than the landlords have ever done. The education which is given to the children of this country is purely the priestly education of the clerk, which was the only education upon the ground when national education was first considered. 121 The whole training is one that despises the main occupations of mankind, which are the use of their hands; it is all designed as if the whole purpose were to turn out teachers; clerks, and typewriters.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
Yes, there are a great many lawyers, no doubt. The system of education is wholly unsound, and the teachers themselves, as I have said, being civil servants, are largely disgruntled, and a great many of them have the most peculiar notions as to what the moral training of children should be. I saw that a Mr. Cole, at a gathering of teachers the other day, protested against children being taught punctuality, discipline, and various other things which he defined as things which employers want, and which one would have thought would be useful in one's own daily life. Some of these teachers seem to think that they have no other duty than to teach discontent. One in Fife the other day told a gardener's son that he hoped none of his pupils would soil their hands in the dirty earth—that was rather hard on the father of the boy—but would feel that they were as much entitled to wear a black coat and collar as the laird himself. That is a curious sentiment to run through the teaching profession, and I think it is largely due to the fact that, they have too much time on their hands and too long holidays, while their constant association with juvenile minds makes them men amongst boys and boys amongst men. In my opinion, and I think I have the wiser members of the working classes with me, the teaching in many schools is radically unsound. After all, we have known men of great capacity with very little of so-called scholarship. If you take the men who are occupying the leading places, even in this Parliament, and in industry throughout the Empire, you will find that they started their careers at very tender ages and with very little schooling. I am satisfied that the proposal for keeping boys on to comparatively advanced years before they are turned out to the work of their life is wholly unsound and demoralising. It is also demoralising to teach children that they can get something for nothing. It is called free education, but it is not free education. It has been said many times by labouring men, and by Labour Members of this House, that after all, at the end of the day, the 122 working man pays for everything; and he does. If you increase your rates and taxes to a high figure, it ultimately comes down upon the shoulders of labour. That is the reason for all the complaints which are made in popular newspapers about the enormous difference between the retail and the wholesale cost of articles. The reason is that the shopkeeper is so very heavily rated for all these local purposes, including education, that he has to add it to the cost of his article, and the result is that the working man pays far more in rates and taxes at the end of the day for the things that are ostensibly given him free than if he paid direct out of his own pocket. He is like the Hibernian gentleman who lengthens his blanket by taking a bit off the top and adding it to the bottom. He loses the seam, and the seam is the enormous body of officials who interpose to administer these educational and other Acts.
I should like to see education taken off the hands of the local education authorities altogether. It is wholly unsound that they should be ad hoc bodies with a right to call upon the rate-paying authority to pay out the money. What would you think of a gentleman who, in estimating his household budget of expenditure found that he had to pay exactly what the schoolmaster told him he had to pay. If education were handed over to the general rating authority, the town and county council, they would consider it in relation to their other expenditure and limit it accordingly. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is!"] I know that in Scotland there are local ad hoc educational authorities who simply render a rate to the county council and they have to find the money, and the result is that you have nothing in the nature of even sensible and reasonable economy. In one town in Haddingtonshire I can give a striking instance. It is a prosperous little fishing town. For many years the schoolmaster, who was a very enlightened man, got up a little charitable subscription for the children of the very poor who could not pay for their books. £10 a year was all it was necessary to provide for the fishermen's widows who required to get their books paid for. The books were passed on and taken care of, because the children naturally regarded them as a trust. When the new Act came in, and a large and enlarged local authority, the first thing they did was to say, "We are 123 going to have no more of this. They are all to have free books," and they sent down to this prosperous little town, where everyone rightly paid for their books, as they would have paid for their education if they had been permitted, £700 worth of books to take the place of the £10 a year. One cannot understand it. It is sheer, unmitigated nonsense that that sort of procedure should be permitted. That is the result of putting people in a position to spend other people's money. A great deal of the enthusiasm on the benches opposite, I think, is due to the fact that it puts them in the gleeful position of spending.
I remember once, in a certain public body in Scotland, a proposal was made to spend some public money on a children's function which had failed in previous years, one man said to one of them who objected to the expense—it came from a Labour member—"You are very mean about the money, you would almost think it was your own money." Of course, that represented to me what has struck me often as the point of view of the other side. While you can be very careful of money of your own, when it comes to public funds and the spending of other people's money, you will be very liberal. The attitude taken by the teachers in regard to the grave financial crisis the country is in is very uncalled for. I had a great meeting of unemployed men in my own place the other day. It grieved me to see them unemployed, because I knew that a great deal of the unemployment from which they were suffering was due to the demands made by the tax collector and the rate collector. I demur too to this fictitious system of education. Only the other day a lot of children from one of the schools of the State were taken to the British Museum and were treated to a lecture on pre-Minoan sculpture in the Mediterranean about 4000 years B.C. Anything more ridiculous I never heard. It is no use to any child going out into the world and could be of use only to a few antiquarians. I remember a little girl telling me that she was taken to the Botanic Gardens to botanical lectures. and she said that the thing that interested her and her fellows was that they were near the roadside, and as there were people passing they had an opportunity of putting their tongues out at them.
124 Another thing to which I object is that the fundamentals of education which enable a man or a woman to get on in the world, namely, the three R's, reading, writing and arithmetic, are not being thoroughly taught in schools to-day. Why not? Because there is nothing swanky in teaching reading, writing and arithmetic. Therefore the children are turned from that. They are not taught these things as they ought to be. They are being turned on to the "ologies" and made to waste their time on Latin and Greek. Any of us who have spent years on these classical studies would gladly give every year we spent in them to be acquainted with a thoroughly good handicraft. The fundamentals are not being taught because the teachers want to get on to something that may be deemed a higher grade, which gives them, they think, a higher status and a greater demand for salaries. The people of this country are not being given the education which makes moral, good citizens. They are not being taught how to use their brains. The whole system of education is unsound. It has got into the grip of the Teachers' Union and the teaching fraternity. I look forward with the gravest apprehension to the effect of this system of education. It is not solidifying the character of the people, and I think that is largely due to the fact that local enterprise is not allowed to grow the education which suits it, just as a district grows the vegetables that suits it. I believe in the ystem of allowing local enterprise to shape its own education, as in Scotland up to the Act of 1872, when Scotland was always celebrated for its education. Then the local schoolmaster had real weight and authority in his district. Under the system established by James VI and John Knox we had an education which made Scotland celebrated throughout the world. Scotland has been living on the reputation of those old parish schoolmasters for the past 40 or 50 years.
It is one of the most curious features of educational enthusiasts in this country that they are largely without practical experience of family life. The former Lord Chancellor, Lord Haldane, takes a great interest in education; but I respectfully point out that he has never had a wife and family of his own, and he has no right whatever to deal with the education of the children of this country. I believe that a man who has never had 125 the discipline of raising a family of his own is always a half-educated man. The raising of a family is one of the greatest educations that a man can have. All these people, male and female, who are constantly preaching about that blessed Mesopotamian word,[...]education, are without family responsibility, which alone can make a man understand how to shape the character of a boy and girl. That discipline is far more valuable and has far more influence in the home than the teaching of any schoolmaster, and will do far more 126 to build up that great and mighty people which we desire to be.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Lieut.-Colonel Sir J. Gilmour.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.