§ Mr. BANKS
(in Court dress): I beg to move:That an humble Address he presented to His Majesty, as followeth:Most Gracious Sovereign,We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of 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.5.0 P.M.
It is seldom, indeed, that any Member rises to address this House with the knowledge that his rising will gratify, not only those who promoted, but also those who opposed, his return to Westminster. I feel assured, however, this afternoon, that not only my friends in the Swindon Division, but even my adversaries, will appreciate a distinction which is conferred, not upon the individual nor upon the party, but upon the constituency as a whole. In the course of the impending engagement, it is to be expected that hon. Members will employ the whole armament of Parliamentary warfare; but the long traditions of the office which I am discharging this afternoon hind me to a certain punctilio, which is aptly symbolised by the costume that I wear. Dressed, as I must be, in the mode of the age of Fontenoy, and girt, as I am, with the weapon of that age, it is not my duty to commence the onslaught, but rather, having made a few observations on the 82 Gracious Speech, to make what I believe has been called the gesture of Fontenoy, and to say to hon. Members opposite:Gentlemen of the Guard, fire first!The Gracious Speech from the Throne covers a large number of important topics, and my comments must be confined to a very few; but I observe with pleasure that it forecasts the submission to this House of proposals connected with Imperial Preference. In my humble view, those proposals come under quite a different category, and should be approached in quite a different spirit, from the other fiscal proposals which are alluded to in a subsequent paragraph. I am aware that the Resolutions of the recent Conference cannot become effective until they have been approved and ratified by Parliament, but it seems to me that they do in some sort constitute au obligation towards the Dominions. We have summoned the leading men of those Dominions from the four quarters of the earth to the heart of the Empire in London, in order to discuss in detail a policy which has been accepted in principle by previous Imperial Conferences. They have expressed, in that impressive gathering, certain opinions and certain wishes, with which His Majesty's Ministers concurred; and deliberately to flout those opinions would, it seems to me, and, I believe, will seem to them, to be little short of a national breach of faith. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no" and "Hear, hear!"] Of those Dominions we may well say:The lot is fallen unto us in a fair place; we have a goodly heritage.What, one wonders, would any other nation in Europe, in these times of darkness and distress, give for those vast territories and varied resources which are at our command? I say "at our command," because the good will of our kindred towards the Mother Country has been demonstrated beyond all dispute. May I remind the House that the Prime Minister of Australia told the Conference thatDuring the last few years in Australia we have had many requests that we should enter into reciprocal arrangements with different countries. Those countries offered to give us very great advantages in their markets for our primary production, in exchange for advantage they sought in our markets for their manufactured goods. We have rejected all those requests, and have refused to listen to them. We say that the 83 whole basis of our trading policy is to ensure, as far as we can, the Australian market for the British manufacturer.Other Dominions give the same account; but it is not to be supposed that those other countries will continue to woo in vain if we who should be warm remain cold. A man would be very deficient in imagination who supposed that the fidelity of the Dominions, so wonderfully testified in Flanders and Gallipoli, could be adequately recompensed by any such commercial arrangement; but it seems to me to argue, if I may say so, an equal lack of imagination to measure these proposals merely by their cash value to either party. I think that Disraeli never showed greater insight than when he said, speaking on the question of Imperial relations in a classic speech:No Minister of this country will do his duty who neglects any opportunity of responding to those distant sympathies, which may some day become a source of incalculable strength and happiness to this land.Do not let it be supposed, however, that, if I stress the sentimental aspect, I desire to underrate the practical effects of these proposals. May I remind the House that the value of the preference which the Dominions gave to Great Britain last year was about £11,000,000, and that, of the exports of our produce and our manufactures, the Dominions purchased from us goods to the value of £270,000,000, while Europe only took £247,000,000? Indeed, I hardly see how any statesman can approach the question of employment in this country without giving all those figures very serious consideration. So much for the importance to us and to our workmen of encouraging business with our kinsfolk. As to the importance of the new proposals to them, surely the beneficiary himself is the best judge of the value of the concessions offered, and their views in this regard have been made abundantly clear in passage after passage of the Report. The warmest expressions of appreciation have been employed by all the Dominion Ministers; I will only select two. Speaking of the proposed preference on dried fruits, Mr. Bruce observed:These proposals are extraordinarily welcome from our point of view, and we are gratified that the British Government have seen their way to take the action which they have taken. I think I can assure you 84 that this will materially revolutionise the whole of the problems of the settlement scheme that I went into this morning.That, of course, referred to the Murray River scheme, where we are informed there are bright prospects for hundreds of thousands of men, provided only that they can feel sure that there is a market for their products. Our men want work, and Australia wants men, and surely something can be made out of these two facts in conjunction. But Australia does not desire to fall into an error which is very easily made, and before she settles these men on the land she wants to feel sure that they can sell what they produce; and that, surely, is the department in which we can render her assistance. One more example on this question I quote with some diffidence. It is that of tinned salmon, which shares with its humbler congener, the kipper, the fact of making an irresistible appeal to a sense of humour which must be subtler than my own—a commodity, none the less, which the Canadian Minister took quite seriously. He said that it was threatened by competition and would be helped by a preference, and he expressed his thanks for the action of the British Government, which he believed would be very helpful to Canadian producers. The spirit in which those transactions were conducted seems to me to have been aptly expressed by the wise Greek who said:Much grace may go with a little gift, and all the offerings of friends are precious.There is not one of the proposed preferences to which the Ministers of the Dominions affected did not refer in terms of the warmest appreciation, and I hope and believe that Parliament will decide that these proposals may be brought to fruition without laying violating hands upon that venerable system of economics without which, it appears, there is no political salvation, and upon which, I am sure, the leaders of our Dominions desire to make no assault. I welcome again the possibility that the agricultural problem may be raised above the plane of party strife and engage the best brains in every quarter of the House in friendly consultation. Such a suggestion savours, it is true, of idealism, but hon. Members opposite will not reject it on that score if, as I believe, their own professions or idealism are sincere. We who sit for industrial constituencies know well how direly the depopulation of 85 the countryside affects our own peculiarly urban problems. It increases the congestion which is our deadliest enemy, it touches our health, it swells the crowds that throng our employment exchanges. Strangely enough it is upon us, the least instructed in agricultural technique, that the advocacy of remedial measures must always fall, for no measure to help the farmer and the farm labourer can be passed without the assent of the townsmen and that assent it is the duty of the industrial Members to secure. In these circumstances it would indeed be a joy to me, when appearing in an agricultural case before the tribunal of an urban electorate, to be in a position to say "I appear for all the parties concerned."
But no passage in the whole of the Gracious Speech will be welcomed with more unfeigned delight in every quarter of the House than the passage which predicts an alteration in the means limit of old age pensions. I can only say on that score:Let the galled jade wince, my withers are unwrung.It is recognised that a soldier in the industrial army is entitled to the care of the community when he becomes a veteran, and I have never been able to see why a man should forfeit that right because he has exercised the qualities of prudence and thrift in the days of his vigour. [Interruption.] If I decline to embark upon repartee, it is not due to any personal incapacity to do so. I long ago gave an unconditional pledge to vote for such a proposal from whatever quarter of the House it might emanate. I have already redeemed that pledge upon one occasion, and I trust that the next time I cast my vote on that topic it will be for a Conservative measure.
My prologue is becoming too long, but I cannot conclude without expressing the hope that the drama which is to follow will be worthy of its historic setting and the gravity of the times. The fall of ministries, the defeat of parties, the making and the overthrow of reputations are mere episodes which these walls have witnessed 100 times, but what is of importance is that the institution of Parliament itself should suffer no discredit. I know well that this House has a well-founded distaste for the moralist. I cannot help saying I think the country has lost its 86 appetite for a great many of the things which in happier days—I pay them the passing tribute of a sigh—used to delight it nearly as much as cup ties. The epigrammatic phrase, the adroit party manœuvre, these combats of Ajax and Hector, where the exchange of gifts rapidly followed on the exchange of javelins and no one was a penny the worse for it—these ancient sports have somewhat lost their popularity since the age of artificial politics was succeeded by the age of real politics. Those who sent us to the great council of the Realm expect, I think, that the spirit of our deliberations should be such that they may truly deserve the blessing which His Majesty invokes upon them, and I join in wishing inspiration:To all our statesmen, so they beTrue leaders of the land's desire—To both our houses may they see,Beyond the borough and the shire.
§ Lord APSLEY
(in Court Dress): In rising to second the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech from the Throne, moved in such eloquent well-chosen phrases by my hon. and learned Friend, may I say that, like him, I feel keenly the compliment paid to my constituency of Southampton upon the honour conferred on one of its Members. Perhaps, indeed, my colleague for Southampton and myself might be excused if we felt some slight personal satisfaction also, since during the last three weeks, in common I believe with other Members of this House, we have been congratulating our constituents on the wisdom of their choice of representatives in this House. I may add, however, that the wisdom of Southampton has been commended by others besides ourselves. That well-known American, Mr. Henry Ford, for whose judgment and whose cars I have always entertained the very highest respect, was once, I am told, overheard to remark that what Southampton says to-day Manchester will say to-morrow, thus giving our constituents a clear two days' start over the rest of England. The main theme which runs through the Gracious Speech from the Throne is the plea for stability. Without that neither our Imperial development nor our foreign relations, nor our home reforms can possibly proceed on their steady course of growth and improvement.
The League of Nations, to which the Gracious Speech refers, has its roots firmly embedded in good soil, but it must 87 be carefully and adequately protected if it is to grow from a tender plant into a mighty tree under whose shade we and our descendants hope to rest. That is has, however, already borne fruit this year in the Treaties of commerce concluded between our country and Esthonia, Czechoslovakia and other small nations under the auspices of the League of Nations is already a hopeful sign for the health of the plant, and greater impetus yet is to be given to its growth from the fact that the United States have decided to send representatives to the committees which are to be set up to settle this urgent problem of reparations. We are told in the Gracious Speech that a Bill is to be introduced for the ratification of the Treaty of Lausanne with Turkey. The House is to be asked to treat this as an urgent Measure, because the matter has been delayed, and the Oriental mind is not always able to fathom the intricacies of British constitutional procedure, and we could not blame our friends the Turks if they grew impatient at this delay. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is to be congratulated upon the speedy conclusion of the agreement over the question of Tangier which had previously been in abeyance for a great number of years. The Gracious Speech refers to the regrettable murders on the Northern frontier of India, and through the good offices of the Amir of Afghanistan, it is hoped that these murderers will be punished and that the motives of these dastardly crimes will be inquired into. The Gracious Speech foreshadows a further extension of the Royal Air Force for home defence. Hon. Members will agree with me that every impetus given to the art, now fast becoming a profession, of aviation is to be encouraged and that the next few years may see an important development in commercial aviation. The Minister of Health is to be congratulated on his able execution of the Housing Acts. Over 85,000 houses have already been approved since this Act came into force, and they are proceeding at the rate of over 3,000 a week. Apart from subsidised houses, there has been a great recrudescence in the building of houses which are not subsidised.
The House has reassembled united in the opinion that the problem of unemployment must be solved but divided as to the method used in its solution. I 88 understand that each party is convinced that its particular method is the right one and has in reality the greater support in the country, for one party has returned the strongest in the House, another has gained a greater number of seats, and a third claims to be the only party which did not go to the country with a policy which was to meet with the country's emphatic rejection. It reminds me of a battle fought between the armies of three States of mediæval Italy, which happened to be at war. They all met on the same day, but the generals commanding—and they were three of the most-highly-skilled and highly-paid condottieri of the day—came to an agreement not to spoil the battle, and it was arranged that while two of them should immediately join battle, the third should fight on the one side in the morning and on the other in the afternoon. When nightfall came the battle was still undecided. Each army returned to its camp, but on the following morning, as no one ventured to re-occupy the battlefield, each General sent despatches home saying that his army had won a glorious victory over both his enemies. I will not for a minute suggest that this system of partisan warfare should be applied by any party in this House to politics to-day. The Gracious Speech deals with a matter, the furtherance of which is close to the heart of every hon. Member, and that is, the government of the country. Though a young, inexperienced and humble Member of this House, I am convinced that there is no chance of the prosperity we all desire returning to this country unless we can ensure a stable government under the party system, with a strong Government in power and an active Opposition.
Mr. J. RAMSAY MacDONALD
Since I entered this House in 1906 I have listened to many hon. Members moving and seconding the Address. They have all apologised for the way they were to do their work, and they have all said that it was a great honour not to themselves but to their constituencies. While the House always likes to listen to these modest expressions, very often those who do what I am now going to do, namely, congratulate the Mover and Seconder on the way they have performed their duties, say that it has not only been an honour to their constituencies, but to themselves as well. To-day we have listened to two 89 speakers. One is an old friend whose sense of combativeness must have been restrained with a very master hand before he consented to don the Fontenoy garb, and show himself to us as he has done this afternoon. It has been a difficult part, which he has played admirably. I am not sure whether the speech of the Noble Lord who seconded the Address was a maiden speech. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I wish it had been, because our anticipation of the prospect of listening in times to come to the Noble Lord taking part in the more serious and dreadful encounters which may take place in this House later on would have been very much greater. Still, my function, my duty in congratulating the Mover and Seconder of the Address to his Gracious Majesty is most sincere, after listening to the two hon. Members to-day.
The Speech itself is rather a curious one. It is a miscellaneous collection of odds and ends. I can imagine how ponderously the Government scraped and searched for every item to put in its shop window in order to avert a probable calamity. It reminds me very much of the stock-in-trade of a penny bazaar. I do not like to say that any items have been stolen; certainly a great many items have been borrowed. The goods borrowed and stolen from us on this side[Interruption]—decorate the shop window of the party opposite. For instance, I am very much interested in finding that at last, after much pressure, financial giants are to be made to public utility and similar societies. I am very much interested to find thatSteps will be taken to develop the existing system of Juvenile Unemployment Centres.Who reduced them? Who starved them? I am very much interested to find that there is to be a conference upon agriculture, a suggestion which has been brought forward again and again by my colleagues and myself without, I admit, the somewhat idealistic proposal that the Government is to invite the representatives of the other political parties to take part in the conference. Idealism like that goes much too near to the sky for me, and does not keep near enough to the solid facts of political experience on this earth. I am also very glad to find that:Bills will be introduced to improve the position of pre-War pensioners, and to deal 90 with the discouragement of thrift involved in the present means limitation to the grant of Old Age Pensions.I wish hon. Members opposite had been in that frame of mind last February. We moved on this side of the House a Resolution to this effect. What happened? When the Division took place, 208 went into the "Aye" Lobby and 230 into the "No" Lobby. Of the 208, 131 belonged to the Labour party, 65 belonged to the two sections of the Liberal party, and 13 were hon. Members from the other side of the House. Of the 230 who went into the "No" Lobby, 229 were sitting on the opposite side of the House. We congratulate ourselves upon the massive capture that we have made.When the devil was sick, the devil a monk would be.Hon. Members opposite are now experiencing the saving grace of sad sickness. I congratulate them and I welcome their declaration, because it means that whatever Government is in power, in carrying out a programme like this, right hon. and hon. Members opposite will raise no opposition, but will assist them in every possible way.
There is a question which occupies a good deal of space in the Address, and I do not object to it at all; I welcome it. I refer to the question of foreign affairs. The position becomes more and more serious. Again and again I have spoken from this box on this subject. The days have gone, weeks have gone, months have gone, and at this moment Great Britain stands on the Continent of Europe for no definite, no decisive, no effective policy. It is time we had a change in that respect. It is a very curious and melancholy thing that the results of the last Election and the prospects of a change of Government have done more to bring the influence of Great Britain into the minds of dominating Continental statesmen than 12 months of the last Government, and a good many years of government before it.
From the human point of view what is going on in Central Europe is absolutely deplorable. Anyone with a heart, anyone with any common human sentiment, reading the tales of destitution, reading of the experiences, of the harrow that is being driven over men and women, and children, above all, who feels no impelling sentiment as the result, is certainly not the type of 91 man or woman we have been proud to associate with the name of Englishman and Englishwoman. That aught to be stopped; this country ought to speak quite plainly about the stopping of it and this country ought to be prepared to take its share in starting policies and creating machinery that will effectually stop what I have been describing. That is from the human point of view.
From the political point of view, every day accumulates the danger. It is one of those things about which one does not care to particularise too much. To-day the state of Europe is far nearer what it was in 1912 than anyone cares to think about—rival armies, rival nationalist policies, expenditure of enormous sums of money—not on reconstruction, but in preparing again for destruction; nations that were allies glaring across at each other in only semi-concealed hostility. That is the sort of thing that needs whole-hearted binding together of men and women of good-will of all parties to try to prevent it, and to try to bring back to it the sane, serious, solemn influence of this country in order that a new leaf may be turned over, with better prospects for all the peoples of Europe. We want new minds to deal with these problems. We need very skilful handling of the diplomacy that arises out of handling [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Yes. We want the objective observation of other people's susceptibilities and at the same time a friendly, firm, emphatic assertion of our own interests. We want a European outlook at the back of it all and, given that, 1 do not despair of Europe yet.
Twelve months ago we had a Government in power disagreeing with great policies which were being drawn out by France, and when it was advised by its own advisers that what was being done was illegal it said, "We cannot support you, we think you arc wrong, but we hope you will be successful." What folly! How can you expect anything when a nation is so treated, so dealt with, so hampered, and then, when the time comes when that, has got to be changed, when we have to speak, can any Member of this House imagine the colossal difficulty of the Government that does speak and does attempt to drag back this country into a state of importance which it ought 92 never to have lost as it has lost it? We must have a new beginning. We cannot be disregarded. Our interests will not allow us to be disregarded, and I am certain that there is no nation in Europe that wishes to disregard us if we show enough self-respect to impress upon them our determination.
When, having said first, "We do not agree with you, so we stand out," as spectators they said, "We hope you will succeed"; another Governmentsucceeded, which took another view, which drafted a strong despatch, and then suffered paralysis, which went to Paris—everybody was listening, everybody was looking on, everybody was hoping—and issued a paragraph or statement, a beautiful reassuring paragraph; when that was done, everybody again looked and listened, and to this hour we have not heard any whisper of the result. What confidence can this House have in a Government like that? It is the same Government that is responsible for the two phases of foreign policy which I have described. There is not a single man or woman who would have the least hesitation in saying that on that indictment, and on that indictment alone, the Government is not worthy of the confidence of this country. Then there is another paragraph of great importance that deals with the Imperial Conference. I regret very much that the Mover of the Address associated himself with the claim that, if the Dominion Premiers come here and meet our Government, and they and our Government in conference come to a decision to recommend something to this Parliament, that means that this Parliament is under an obligation to accept that decision. I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman holds no such constitutional heresy as that. I protest further against any hon. Member of this House holding that doctrine—a doctrine so subversive of our own rights of self government which we shall never surrender.
I accept that explanation, but I want to point out that if the explanation of that handsome 93 behaviour leads to the conclusion, which was enunciated also by the hon. Member, the effect would be that if such conferences were held in future and if that doctrine be accepted, Ministers may go to those conferences and aid in the passing of resolutions contrary to the will of this House, and then say, if this House does not carry the same resolutions, that this House is breaking the pledges given by its Ministers. Nobody said that in that form, but it was implied in that form, and I want to say this emphatically so that there may be no mistake about it. The Mover spoke about the obligations of this House to fulfil pledges. He talked about flouting the Dominions. I think that these are very unfortunate words, and let us remember that it is going to be a great misfortune—I will put it no higher than that—if those of us who stand by the rights of this House, and those of us who hold the doctrine that in fiscal matters the vote of the people of this country must determine the conduct of this House, and having established that, come here fulfilling our mandate are to be told by the other side, "You are doing violence to the pledges given to the Dominions, you are not good friends of the Dominions.' If that is to he done then I say that that is unfair political controversy. It is unfair to us, it is unfair to the Dominions and it is not a very good service to the British Commonwealth taken as a whole.
The position is perfectly plain. I do not care if the right hon. Gentleman opposite remains in office or if somebody else takes his place, but this will be done and there need be no mistake made about it. Every pledge given by Ministers at the Imperial Conference, economic and otherwise, that matters shall be brought before this House, shall be fulfilled to the last letter, and the fullest extent. What was that pledge? My right hon. Friend at the Guildhall banquet—he spoke several times and gave the same pledge several times but here is the most convenient form—said perfectly emphatically and, if I may say so, perfectly properly—I am reading from the report which appeared on 10th November:The purpose of that Conference had not been to frame final and binding resolutions. The conclusions at which they had arrived must be subject to any action which might be taken by the Government of the different Dominions later on.That is quite right. That freedom is not to be one sided. That freedom I claim 94 for this House. Having made it perfectly clear that every Dominion Parliament is absolutely unfettered by these resolutions, then he went on:He was convinced, however, that what had been accomplished would readily commend itself to the Parliament-at home.Implying, of course, that, whatever was decided at this conference would be brought before the House, and in his opinion the House of Commons would accept the promise and programme which they had laid down. I think it far better that the position should be understood and not played with, and that this House should not be misrepresented abroad, especially in the Dominions, as having broken pledges when it was doing exactly what was promised. Moreover in the official report the position is perfectly clear. On page 4, you see a series of resolutions upon Imperial Preference. The second paragraph says:Further, as regards Imperial Preference under the United Kingdom Customs Tariff, to Empire goods, His Majesty's Government intimated that they intended to submit to Parliament the following proposals,and the following proposals will be submitted to Parliament, whoever is in office, and Parliament is absolutely free to carry those proposals or reject those proposals, and that is the only position with which We can deal. But in His Majesty's Speech there is a very interesting attempt made, by—I should imagine a right hon. Member, skilful in meaningless drafting to imply that the pledges which the Government gave at the Dominion Conference were givenwithout departure from the existing fiscal system of this country.What is the meaning of "without adeparture from the existing fiscal system of this country"?I am not going in for any logic chopping, but I think that if Ministers are going to extend a small beginning which was never accepted as a system, but as the exception to the system, that extension of the exception does become a new system. That was the position of my hon. and learned Friend. I will put it in another way. We are all opposed here to the taxation of food on principle. Food is taxed however, but food has always been taxed for revenue purposes, and that has been the only justification alleged, and a justification of that 95 character must always be an apologetic justification, one, which sometimes creeps in, and we only lay this down that, where food has already been taxed for revenue purposes, the parts of that food which comes from the Dominions may be subject to a remission of taxation for the purpose of Dominion Preference. That is the present system accurately and coldly described. The Government now say, "We are going actually to tax for the purposes of Dominion Preference." That is where the departure comes in. Every Member of this House sees that that is not a small departure, but is a very fundamental departure which the House will resist most emphatically. That is another reason why we should refuse confidence to the present Government.
At this point the speech becomes a little modest, and refers to the fortunes of Ministers at the last Election. I would like to put a very simple question. I hope it is a searching one, although it may be simple. Does the Government still believe in Protection, or does it not? I suggested to my right hon. Friend, when he made one of his first speeches in the old Parliament, that he had hauled the flag of Protection only half-mast high. Is it still there? Has it gone? Supposing the House keeps the right hon. Gentleman there, can we really trust right hon. Members that they are not going to harbour again in their hearts that desire which compelled the right hon. Gentleman to run from Plymouth to a General Election? We all admit—I quite agree with the Seconder of the Motion—that all parties in this House would like to do something really substantial to relieve the burden of unemployment. I am sure that my right hon. Friend does. He has again and again told us that he does not care about all these political manoeuvrings, and so on, and that he wants to get straight, right, honestly down to the substance of the problem. I am sure that he does.
When we went away in the summer on the long vacation it was without a word about Protection, without a suggestion that the Parliament was drawing to an end. In the autumn, he told us that he had made up his mind—I am sure honestly—that he could not deal with unemployment unless he had power to establish tariff walls. He knew that he 96 could not do that by the use of his majority last year; he knew that the pledge given by his late Leader stood between him and that. He declared for an election. He is back here, as full of sympathy with the unemployed as he was when he went away. He has no power to begin the building of tariff walls. Has he the intention? Has he given it up? Is he still going to try for Protection, or is he going to tell us now definitely, categorically and without any equivocation, "I am not any longer a Protectionist, and I believe that unemployment can be solved without it"?
So far as the unemployment programme is concerned, it is the old thing. We have had all these stories before. It is all very well to say, "We are in favour of grants." How much and under what conditions? Who is to pay them? Rates or Imperial revenue? Under what conditions are relief works to be carried out? It is a very old story. These phrases, these words, may allure the new Member who has never read them or heard them before, but they are rather hoary to us. We have been doing our level best not only to get words from the Government, but, to get a meaning imparted to the words in the Government's programme. That being so, we have no confidence that they are going to carry out these things. We are quite certain it will end in an energetic policy pursued by someone else, but, quite honestly, I would prefer trying someone else to spending months and months and months again trying to get some improvement in this scheme, produced by a Government that really has not enough driving force to face this tremendous problem of national unemployment.
The election has left this House in a very peculiar position. There is no party here that has a majority of its own. I am not sure that I am sorry, but we will not discuss that now. No, I am not at all sure that I am sorry, because I think that if this House is to go on for a century or so, and always with a Government in it that has in its own pocket the majority of votes that it requires to remain here, before the end of that century there will be no private Members' rights left. In making the remark that have made, I had no thought of what may happen in a few days. I was thinking only of Parliament as a great national institution which I wish to leave 97 behind more powerful, more respected, and with more authority than it has even in our own days. Therefore, I am not at all sure but that in the practical working out of what is called a minority Government—a word that can be very easily abused, and certainly by none more than by hon. Members opposite—it may be a good exercise for the independent intelligence of hon. Members of all parties, and the experience may not be a bad one for the House of Commons as a whole. But in the ordinary course of affairs hon. Members opposite may say that they are the largest party, and that we ought to refrain from moving any Vote of no confidence in them.
I am in this difficulty, and I would like the Prime Minister to get me out of it. The right hon. Gentleman said last August, or September, or October, "I have a majority over all parties a 80, but unless I get authority to impose tariffs, I cannot rule, and I cannot make myself responsible for the Government of the country." That is a clear statement. He goes to the country and puts his case, and he comes back here with a minority of 100 as against the rest of the House. With a majority of 80, as against the rest of the House, he cannot rule without power to impose Protection, but to-day he is coming back and saying, "I have changed my mind most fundamentally, and with a minority against me in the House I am prepared to rule now." I am in a dilemma. In any event, I think there can be no confidence reposed in the right hon. Gentleman and his Government. It is absurd; it does not stand to good-humoured common sense that the right hon. Gentleman, having put the nation to the expense of an election, having broken his own word, having risked the steady development of European policy, having left his offices unattended, and having roused all sorts of passions and class hatred in the country[Interruption.] Hon. Members know perfectly well, and there is no use blinking the fact, that in the minds of other people there is a vast, narrow class hatred against us. We have had experience of it. That hatred is based neither on reason, nor on character, nor on their own superiority, nor on anything else except on false tradition and a good deal of vulgar vanity. But, that having been done, let me forget any passion which was aroused by the interjection. 98 Really, after that had been done, can the right hon. Gentleman come back here and say, "Now that we have done all this, we will just begin again where we left off; we will just pick up the threads of our policy, of legislation and administration, where we left off in November. Do not say anything about our little escapade; let bygones be bygones. Do not let it make any difference. We have been to the country and have been defeated, and now we will start again from just where we were defeated last November." It is impossible from the point of view of the traditions of this House. It is impossible from the point of view of just ordinary common sense. Therefore, from these benches I propose to be moved at the very earliest opportunity an Amendment to the Address in these words:
It is, however, our duty respectfully to submit to Your Majesty that Your Majesty's present advisers have not the confidence of this House.As I have said, this House is in the unfortunate position—I am not quite sure which I should say, whether "fortunate" or "unfortunate"—I would like to see the experiment—this House, at any rate, is in the position—I will not use any adjective—of not having a Government that can command a majority composed of its own supporters. This House would, therefore, have to face a problem in constitutional government that no House has had to face before. It is a question of three great parties. The situation of previous Parliaments has not been at all the same as the situation of this Parliament. What I do wish to say is this, that if we are to have fresh minds dealing with foreign politics, if we are to have vigorous minds dealing with unemployment, if we are to have determined minds dealing with housing, this House, if it is going to maintain the reputation of Parliament, cannot afford merely to pursue old-fashioned partisan tactics. If we are to take up old age pensions, as no Government can refuse to do. if we are to deal with pre-War pensioners and other items in the King's Speech, we must try to find grounds of common agreement whilst we maintain our party independence and our party principles. I have already referred to an evil result of the election. Before I conclude, I wish in a sentence to refer to an evil result of after the election. The Press—certain sections of them—with their maniac 99 ravings of evil and disordered minds, have been imagining that they are keeping back something—us. They have struck at us. They have done us no harm, but they have done their nation, their nation's credit and their nation's trade a great deal of harm.
Even during the Election, and it was misrepresentation that did it. So far as we are concerned, we want to make it perfectly clear that while such things are done, it is not us, it is not a party, it is not a section that is injured—it is an evil effect upon the whole national life that is wrought by criticism which is mere insanity and fears that are worse than insanity. I felt, rightly or wrongly, I ought to say that before resuming my seat. We have not got confidence in His Majesty's Government and we will try to show effectively that we have not got confidence in His Majesty's Government. What may happen is in the lap of the gods. Whatever is there, there is no party that can take over the responsibilities of this nation to-day without feeling that it would rather avoid doing so if it possibly could. The state of Europe, the state of affairs at home are so bad that nothing but sheer folly would rush in to take responsibility for them, but the nation's Government has to be carried on.
The King's Government—I do not make distinctions of that kind. That is a new contribution to patriotism and loyalty. The nation's Government—the King's Government—must be carried on and whoever carries it on, under these circumstances, is entitled to appeal for fair play, entitled to appeal to the sportsmanlike instincts of Englishmen and Englishwomen so long as they are doing their duty. So long as they are helping on the people of this country they are entitled to appeal for the support of this House.
Mr. LLOYD 'GEORGE
I regret that my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) has not sufficiently recovered control over his vocal chords to be able to take part in the Debate to-day, to administer the customary interroga- 100 tories to the Government and make the prescriptive comments upon the King's speech which are usual. Before I come to that I should like to join with my hon. Friend who has just sat down in felicitating the Mover and Seconder of the Reply to His Majesty's Gracious Speech upon the very admirable way in which they discharged a most difficult function. I have heard a good many of these speeches in the course of my membership of this House, and there is no function that demands greater dexterity, tact and lightness of touch, but I am sure it will be the general feeling that on this occasion the duty has been performed with more than usual success, and that great tact, judgment and a good deal of humour and eloquence adorned the speeches which were delivered. I congratulate both the hon. Members upon the way in which they acquitted themselves.
The King's Speech is a very, remarkable document, and had there been no General Election it would not have been a bad document. As a matter of fact, it looks rather like an Election Address issued after the Election is over. Protection has been dropped—the one issue of the Election, the only issue, the dominant one—by the King's Speech. With one or two emendations the rest would not be a bad programme, and when Protection is dropped, the throwing over of a few more trifles would not embarrass His Majesty's Government. As a matter of fact, with these exceptions, it is a kind of re-hash of the Liberal manifesto—I should even say of the Labour programme without the seasoning. It is the result of very urgent advice given to the Government by their supporters, that before they departed this life they should say they would never do it again, that Protection was gone, that they would never repeat that indulgence again, and, in fact, if they were forgiven, they would lead a reformed or, at any rate, a reforming life. We should congratulate ourselves upon that were it not for the fact that there is no expression of regret or of repentance. It is put entirely on the grounds that the country caught them out.
I should ltke to make some comments upon two or three special paragraphs of the Speech and to ask one or two questions of the Prime Minister, if he will be good enough to answer me with regard to them. I am not going to say 101 a word at the present moment about the Motion of which my hon. Friend has given notice to the House. A Motion, I believe, will also be put down in almost similar terms, by some hon. Friends of mine below the Gangway. I would rather confine myself on this occasion to a few comments upon particular paragraphs in the King's Speech and asking a few questions of the Prime Minister which will enlighten us as to our duty in reference to these Motions which have been put down and give guidance to us as to the way in which we are to vote. I should like to say one word with regard to what has been said about the Colonies and Dominions. The Dominions have never claimed that any Government had the right to commit the Parliament of Great Britain to any policy any more than has a Colonial Conference the right to commit the Parliaments of the Dominions. Mr. Bruce made that very clear in that admirable speech to which reference has been made by the hon. and learned Member for Swindon (Mr. Banks) and if the hon. and learned Member had proceeded—and I am not complaining that he did not, because that was not the point he was making—to quote a further passage, he would have observed that Mr. Bruce made it very clear that he had no grievance against this country because the Imperial Parliament would not honour the decisions of the late Conference.
He also said another thing which is very significant, and I think it is very important that this House and the country should realise it. Preference does not depend entirely upon duties. I have always thought that more practical advantages could be given to trade with the Dominions by means of improved transport than by means of duties. That was the view which I took in 1907, and which some of the Dominion Premiers shared then, and I am very glad to see that in Mr. Bruce's speech he did not exclude all possibility of dealing with the question of Preference by means of improved transport relations between the Dominions and the Mother Country, and, whatever Government comes into power, I hope they will be able to do a good deal in order to promote better trading relations between the Dominions and the Colonies and ourselves by that means.
With regard to agriculture, I do not know what the Government have in 102 their minds. Whether they have any idea of a round-table conference, of a Commission, or a Committee, there is no explanation given in the particular paragraph bearing upon the subject, but there is no doubt that this is one of the most vital social and economic questions of the hour. It is not a question merely of whether the farmers are making profits this year or whether they will make profits next year. Like every other business, it has its bad times and I daresay the farmers, as a class, may survive even these bad times.
That is not the real mischief with regard to agriculture. It is that gradually rural life in Britain is withering away, and there is no more vital question for any Government or party to take into account than the question of how agriculture is to be restored and the life of rural England, Scotland and Wales regenerated. If anything can be done by co-operation between the parties to achieve anything on those lines, then this Parliament will have done something which will be memorable in the history of Parliaments, but I should like the Prime Minister to state what is his idea upon that particular subject, because I conceive he had some special proposal in his mind when he put clown that paragraph.
I come now to the questions relating to foreign policy, and there are three paragraphs here which I think arc gratifying. The first is the paragraph which refers to the liquor question in the United States of America. It is rather cryptic and a little ambiguous. It is not quite clear what is meant by removing "the difficulty with regard to the illicit importation of liquor," and it makes it all the more doubtful because we are told that the measures are taken with a view to strengthening the happy relations between the two countries I think we are entitled, therefore, to some explanation, but, seriously, I should like to say one word with regard to this. There is no doubt at all that this is doing us a lot of harm in the United States of America. It is not a question of whether we believe in prohibition or riot. The United States of America has definitely decided to make the experiment. I was told on all hands there by men who are opposed to prohibition that if you put it to the vote tomorrow you would get a vote of at least 103 60 per cent. in favour of renewing the experiment, and, what is rather important for us is this, that even those who are in favour of varying the experiment only wish to vary it by introducing light, wines and beers. If it were proposed to sell spirits, you would get 95 per cent., so I am assured, of the population of the United States of America voting for prohibition on the question of spirits. Smuggling from Great Britain and smuggling from the Dominions takes the form of smuggling spirits, so that therefore we are becoming the base from which operations are conducted for the purpose of breaking a law of which 95 per cent. of the people of the United States are in favour.
Another thing I am told is this. We are alienating our best friends. The men who are in favour of this law are the best friends of Great Britain in the United States of America, and, by giving facilities for the breaking of the prohibition law, we are offending some of the men who stood by Britain throughout the war, and stood against every section of the community there. Through good and evil report, they have always stood by Great Britain. Those are the very men we are offending by giving opportunities for the breaking of the liquor laws of the United States of America, and I sincerely trust that the Government are taking very effective measures for the purpose of stopping this smuggling. If it had been any other law, no one would have dreamt of permitting the British Empire to be made a base for breaking it —if it were the laws of property, if it were the laws of revenue or smuggling, for instance—and why should this law, then, be. made an exception? Whether they are prohibitionists or not is their business, and we have nothing whatever to do with it, and therefore I am very glad to read this paragraph.
The other question I should like to put to the Prime Minister has reference to Tangier. I am delighted to read this paragraph. There was a very ugly situation developing there, a situation that might at any moment produce a conflagration between some of the great Powers of Europe. What I should like to ask the Prime Minister is this: If he cannot tell us now what the terms are, will papers be laid immediately stating what are 104 the terms which have been arrived at and especially what is the position with regard to the control of the port of Tangier, because our interests in the port of Tangier are vital, and if they pass away under the control of any other Power it will be very mischievous, not merely from the point of view of trade, but from the point of view of the security of the Mediterranean, which is vital to us. I, therefore, would like, if the Prime Minister cannot tell us now what the full terms are, to know what the terms are with regard to the control of the port.
The next question I should like to put is with regard to the appointment of a Committee of Experts under the Reparation Commission. I frankly rejoice that this has been done at last, but I should like to ask the Prime Minister this question: Why was not it done before? This was a proposal that was made, as I know, in October, 1922, by the Secretary of State for the United States of America, first of all to France. France turned it down. It was then communicated to our Ambassadors by the Secretary of State. Then he made a speech, in December. 1922, and the first thing I want to ask is this: When were those communications made by the Secretary of State of the United States? They were made, I know, before he delivered that speech. In what form were -they made, and could papers be laid on the Table?
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
No, before the Newhaven speech. That was about the end of December, 1922. The Secretary of State made that speech because nobody took any notice of his communications. He made that in despair. I was under the impression that that was his way of making the offer to Europe, and I thought, frankly, it was not a very good way of doing it. Then I discovered that Mr. Secretary Hughes had communicated it formally to the Governments, and no notice had been taken of it at all. I should like to know whether Papers can be laid on the Table showing when these communications were made, and in what form, because it is a very serious matter. You are now investigating the question of the capacity of Germany to pay under the Versailles Treaty.
105 Under a provision in that Treaty Germany had the right to that investigation. The United States of America, who was in the original Treaty, were prepared to Dome in, and offered to come in. Not only was that offer not accepted, it, was not even discussed for months and months. There were several conferences held between the Allies in Europe, and a proposal that comes from the United States of America, from its Secretary, was never even put on the agenda. That is a thing which is incredible. Since then the assets of Germany have naturally got less and less and less, and it is no use saying we are in the same position now as we were 12 months ago. We are not. I should like to ask the Prime Minister that question: What about the communication of Mr. Secretary Hughes made to the Ambassadors? The next question I should like to put is this: What has happened under the Customs Recovery Act?
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Yes, the Reparation (Recovery) Act. Here is a question in which my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon will have a very practical interest, as there is a revenue of £7,000,000 in it. What is the position?Under that Act, when a German exporter Gold to a British purchaser, 74 per cent. was remitted to the German and 26 per cent. was paid to the Customs here. With the remission to the German exporter, a receipt was sent from the Customs here, and that was full payment. The German Government then reimbursed the German exporter the 26 per cent. in German currency. By that means we were collecting £7,000,000 a year, which was paid to our account. On 15th November last the German Government withdrew the payment of that 26 per cent. What was the result? It was that that 26 per cent. which was paid by them is now being paid by the British trader. It operates as a tariff, and sometimes a very high tariff, bemuse it is in addition to the 33 per cent. put on by the McKenna duties, But that is not the point. It means that we are collecting reparations out of our own traders. As long as we were paying here only 74 per cent. of the cost, and the 26 per cent, was paid by Germany, then it was the Germans who were paying reparations, but now, when we are paying not merely the 74 per cent. but the 106 26 per cent. as well, then of course we are paying it.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Iam surprised at my hon. Friend, who knows very well that the City is up in arms about this subject, and that there has been a deputation to the Government on the subject, because there are certain raw materials that you can only get from Germany, and now we are paying the full 100 per cent., whereas formerly we were paying the 74 per cent. There are two things the Government can do, and they can do them under that Act. They can either suspend the Act altogether, or they can enforce it. Why is it that this happens now? It is contemporaneous with the time when Germany surrendered to France. Franca imposes her terms, and the moment she does it, we tamely accept a refusal on the part of Germany to carry out their terms with us. I think we ought to know what the Government have done with regard to that Customs Recovery Act, and what they propose to do.
The next question I want to ask is with regard to the Ruhr. What is the position in the Ruhr to-day? We have heard that the Germans have at last surrendered. What does surrender mean? Before the French marched into the Ruhr the Germans were delivering over 18,000,000 tons of coal out of a quota of 20,000,000 tons. The shortage was only 10 per cent. Does surrender mean that the position before the occupation is restored, and that henceforth the Germans will be delivering the quota they were delivering before the French ever entered the Ruhr, or is the quota to be increased What does it mean? The next thing I want to ask is this, because of certain very remarkable articles which have appeared in the "Times." Does surrender mean that henceforth the management, the control, the engineering of the mines is to be French, and the labour purely to be German If it is, it will end in inevitable mischief and disaster there. I constantly heard, when I was discussing the problem with the French and others, that the Ruhr miner is not like the British miner, and that he will stand anything. That is not true. He is a thoroughly independent man, who is not very easily handled, and I am certain that there is 107 no miner in the world who will stand for years being ordered about by foreign managers, foreign directors, under foreign engineers, with his mines being run in the interests of the foreigner. If surrender means that, it means inevitable trouble in the Ruhr, and we have an interest in that.
I ask another question. We hear a good deal about certain arrangements between the French Government and German magnates. What are these arrangements? Have they been communicated to the Government? Have the British Government even been consulted about them? Do they involve control of the iron, the steel, the workshops, the factories of the Ruhr, with the coal of Lorraine and the Saar, by the French Government? It is vital to our industries to 'mow what they mean. Are we even in the negotiations? It is really incredible, after the sacrifices we made, after the fact that our intervention alone saved France from disaster, that when you come to settle a question of that kind, with interests from the reparation point of view, and the European point of view, and while we have vital interests from the business point of view, that we are not brought into the negotiations. I cannot believe it. I do not understand it, and I should like to ask the Government what is going on there, whether they know, whether they have assented to it, or whether they have protested against it, and whether they have made their protest effective. M. Loucheur, who is a very able man, and very friendly to this country, said, in the course of an article he has just published, that he is in favour of the four Allied countries coming into whatever control there is. But he is not the Prime Minister of France. Is that the basis? You may have the greatest coal and iron combination in Europe organised against us, and, in the interests of reparations, which we alone enabled France to achieve, we have a right to know where we are about that. It comes very near home to the industries of this country. M. Loucheur, I observe, says that British Governments have invariably refused to consent to any scheme for controlling German finances. That is not true—it is not accurate. M. Loucheur is quite incapable of saying 108 what he knows to be untrue, but it is not accurate. In August, 1922, when my right hon. Friend the Member for the Hillhead Division of Glasgow (Sir R. Horne) was Chancellor of the Exchequer, and my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. A. Chamberlain) was also with me,- we proposed an elaborate scheme for the complete control of German finance, which, I believe, the Germans would have accepted. I asked the Prime Minister to publish those documents and the report of the Conference.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
They were promised, I quite agree. My two right hon. Friends pressed it at that time. They urged that those schemes should be published. It is right that the French should know. France is under the impression that we never proposed to do anything. It is right that France should know exactly what we did propose, because I am certain of this, that before any real settlement is effected, whether it is by my right hon. Friend or anybody else, they will have to come back practically to the scheme that was proposed at that date. It is the only way of securing reparations upon a real basis. I ask the Prime Minister. would he not consent to redeem the promise he made?
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
It was at the end of the Session, and a good many things have happened since. The Prime Minister has been very busy, like the rest of us, and he has kept the rest of us busy, too. I ask him to redeem that promise. There is a special reason why he should do it. Why should the proceedings of the November meeting and the January meeting be published in full, while the proceedings of the August meeting, which was simply adjourned till November, are not published? I ask the Prime Minister to publish those as soon as he possibly can. Then what about the Separatist movement on the Rhine? What is the position about that? It is a very grave position of things, and it is going to create infinite trouble, and may precipitate bloodshed. If the Allies had been 109 genuinely neutral when that movement started, there is no one to blame. If any of the Allies encouraged it, it was a disgraceful breach of the Treaty they themselves had imposed upon Germany. They treated their own document, which, by force of arms, they compelled Germany to sign, as a scrap of paper. What has happened? I remember quite well in 1919 the French military generals on the Rhineland attempted to engineer a Separatist movement. They were dealing then with M. Clemenceau—as straight a man as any with whom one could have the honour of dealing. [Interruption.] The fact that my hon. Friend does not approve his policy does not show he is not a straightforward man. That he is a fearless, straightforward man, I think all will agree.. I have never seen him mislead a Conference or fail to carry out a bond once he had given his word, and that would be the testimony of everybody who dealt with him on that occasion. He reported instantly to the Conference that the French generals were doing this, and he gave the most peremptory orders that they were not to meddle with it. What was the result? You heard nothing of it. M. Millerand took the same line. M. Briand took the same line. Recently there is clear evidence that French money has been fostering the Separatist movement. More than that, when the outbreak came it did not come within the British lines. Why? Because we gave fair-play to the German authorities to deal with it. We did not encourage it. We dealt straightly with them. Within the French lines, what happened? There is overwhelming evidence that the population were opposed to it. The police were not allowed to deal with it in the only way you can deal with a treasonable conspiracy. More than that, a man in the position of the Lieut.-Governor of one of the cities was prosecuted, because he gave orders to the police to suppress a treasonable conspiracy against the Fatherland. There were brutal sentences by French courts-martial. The Lieut.-Governor was given 20 years' penal servitude because he gave an order that it was his business to give for the police to suppress the rebellion.
What has been done? I am not suggesting that the Government have merely no sympathy with it; I am perfectly certain they take a very strong 110 view with regard to it. I am only asking questions now, and not suggesting the slightest sympathy with it; but I should like to know what action they are taking to put an end to something which is an outrage upon a document to which we ourselves are parties, and about which we have a right to say something. The fact of the matter is this, and I think the sooner we realise it the better. Take what is happening in the Saar. These articles in the "Times" are revelations to the outside public; they are not to those dealing with the matter from the inside. There is a powerful section of French opinion which feels that the Rhineland ought to have been annexed as the result of victory. The Treaty of Versailles refused to assent to that proposition. They have never accepted it. Marshal Foch, at a meeting of the Peace Conference, got up and protested openly against the action of M. Clemenceau and the French Government in assenting to any proposition that would not annex the Rhineland. All the other French Prime Ministers have honourably adhered to the pact. It looks to me as if that school of French opinion were dominant. If it succeeds, there is no peace in Europe. There will be an inevitable conflict. Whether in our time or not—next time it will be a more terrible conflict than we had before, and I think it is our duty to do our best to avert it.
My hon. Friend has given notice of a Motion which may. terminate the life of the existing Government. There will be another Government that will come into power. It will be the third Government since I had the privilege of being at the head of affairs. Each has come in with very high hopes. Each has felt that this trouble in Europe would be set right if you bad only the right methods and the right men to deal with it. Each had his own formula—more. sympathy with France, the revival of the Entente, keep the Allies together and all will be well. I cannot say that the sequel has been very encouraging. My hon. Friend is undertaking the task, also with high hopes. I wish him well. He will find that formulas, however unexceptionable, ideals however exalted, are not so easy to translate into action when you have got to deal with other nations. But I wish him well. Above all, I do hope that whatever Government comes into power, it will assert the authority and the 111 influence that this Empire is entitled to by its power and by its sacrifices.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
My first duty is to associate myself with the remarks which have been made by the leaders of the two branches of the Opposition in praise of the Mover and Seconder of the Address. It is always a feature of the Debate to-day that we open our proceed- ings in harmony, and by passing across the Floor of the House that meed of appre- ciation which is always so well earned by those who move and second the Address. And I must say I was delighted to hear that praise bestowed to-day, because I felt it more than justified the selection from among my own friends which I had made on this occasion. I congratulate them most warmly on having executed what we say every year—and it is absolutely true—is a most difficult task. But when we get away from that, we have departed a little from common form in the Debate, because usually there is a leader of the Opposition who tries to extort from the Leader of the House explanations of policy and explanations of portions of the King's Speech. To-day I have to face two leaders, representing I do not know how many schools of thought. The first leader who spoke was—most naturally— very impressed with the gravity of the occasion which is so soon to come, and his speech often appeared to me one perhaps better fitted to be made on the Amend- ment to be put forward to-morrow, or the next day, than on the main subject of the King's Speech. I think that was natural, and I find no fault with it. The only fault I do find—it was unpremedi- tated, I am sure, and came out in the excitement of the moment—is when he said that I had broken my word. I am going to speak about that by-and-bye.
The King's Speech, he said, was a miscellaneous collection of odds and ends. Then he said how pleased he was for the first time we had taken into consideration the extension of juvenile centres, additional aid to public utility works, and 50 forth. Of course, he must remember this: That we went to the country with our own proposals to relieve unemployment. Those proposals were not accepted. [Laughter.] I must just interpolate here, in answer to that laughter, what I did 112 not mean to say. I remember saying from a platform in 1903 that when Protection came in this country, it would come from the Labour party. It was perfectly obvious that the constitutional duty of the Government, even though its proposals had been rejected in the country, was to meet the House of Commons, and take the verdict of that Chamber, which is what we are doing. That being so, it fell to us to introduce a King's Speech, and being debarred by the verdict of the country from putting into that Speech any such proposals as we should have done had the country confirmed us, we then had to take every other step outside that which we thought might be of use.
In regard to agriculture, there are slightly different points of view between the two leaders of the Opposition. The one leader, the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald), thought that in trying to unite the parties of this House on the subject, I was hitching my wagon to a star. I think he was hitching his wagon to a star when he came to speak of foreign affairs—but I will perhaps come to that later. My right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) seemed to think it was not so quixotic an enterprise. Let me explain, and I commend it to anyone who may succeed me. We believe that certain proposals that were put forward would have been of lasting benefit to agriculture. The country did not think so. None the less, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that does not remove the agricultural problem at all. It is one of the gravest we have got. I may have my own view that it is almost insoluble without adopting remedies which the country at present would not give us. But that is no reason why we should not try to do something. It seems to me that in a House like this, where you have now three parties, not of equal strength certainly, but where none of them can govern without the support, to some extent, of either or both the other parties, the only way is to attempt a round-table conference, to see if there is at least some common measure on which they can agree, and see what must be eliminated. I am not sanguine. But that is no reason why it should not be tried. There may be something done by the agreement of the House. If there be the least possibility of it, I think any Government would be failing in its duty 113 if it did not take any step, however distant and remote the prospect of success might seem to be.
The Leader of the Opposition dealt with the question of the pre-War pensioners. That is a subject left over from the last Parliament, and, had it not been for the events which took place, a. Bill would have been brought forward in the Autumn Session. There seems to have been some misunderstanding about the proceedings of the Imperial Conference. I think the Leader of the Liberal Party stated the gospel of the matter quite correctly. Any resolutions that are carried in the Conference are, naturally, subject to the ratification of the Parliaments, whether it be the Dominion Parliaments or this Parliament. When I made the statement that Parliament would ratify what was done, quite clearly I spoke then in the position of a Prime Minister who was able to ensure the ratification of what he put forward. Supposing any Prime Minister in such a case had put a matter forward, and Parliament refused to ratify it, then, of course, he would have had to resign. There is no question about that. As long as a Parliament lasts, whatever is agreed to by a Government can, naturally, count upon being ratified by Parliament, but there is no binding upon any subsequent Parliament. I think that is perfectly clear. It is a question of policy which our successors—if we are going to have any—will have to decide for themselves. Whether it is a wise thing to do is another question altogether; but it cannot be fairly said that there is a breach of faith if Parliament later on refuse to ratify action taken in the last Parliament. That is my view.
Any speech on an occasion like this has to be delivered in fragments, because the Minister never knows what he is going to be asked. He is asked a number of questions, often on intricate subjects. I am going to answer as far as I can today. To two or three of them, which are very technical, I am going to ask if I may reply to to-morrow. For this reason: they are very difficult questions, and I am extremely reluctant to give any answer that. may not be as full as possible, and may in any way make a difficult situation more difficult for those who must follow very soon. I am rather afraid at the present lest by anything I may say on the spur of the moment, and without con- 114 sideration, I should make an already appallingly difficult situation more difficult, because depend upon it, just at this time when there is uncertainty as to the political future of the Government, whether the Government is to remain, or a new Government is to come, that does militate against us in the councils of all the nations—so that the sooner the period of uncertainty is put an end to the better. The more care, therefore, should be exercised by a Prime Minister as to what he says lest he should prejudice the work which may have to be taken up by others.
In regard to the American liquor question, I am glad to say that is in a fair way of being settled. The United States will have the right of search up to a certain distance outside the three-miles limit, and British vessels will be allowed to bring, as every reasonable man would agree they ought to bring, the liquor into American harbours under seal, so that liquors for the consumption of the crews and passengers of British ships should not be interfered with before their voyage back again. The proposed Treaty is being submitted to the Dominions concerned for examination. I do not anticipate any difficulty there, and I give an assurance—if it has not been given, as I think it has—that full opportunity will be given, as far as I am able to give it, for the discussion of this Treaty in Parliament before it is ratified. 1 am quite sure, whoever may succeed me, would give that same undertaking.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Oh, yes, it is agreed. There is no hitch of any kind, and there is no doubt that its ratification will do away with what may seem to be a small matter, but will do more good between our two peoples than almost anything of which you can think. Iam glad to think that is one more troublesome question that has been got out of the way. In the same way in regard to Tangier, I should prefer that a statement on that subject should be made by the Under-Secretary of Foreign Affairs to-morrow.
With regard to the Expert Committee, I can quite understand the feeling with 115 which the Leader of the Liberal Party spoke about the position on the Continent at this moment. Looking back over the last year it has not been a successful period in advancing the cause of European peace and prosperity. The Committee of Experts—and I agree that it has been a form of inquiry which we have pressed more than once from this country—was only agreed to in its present form by the Reparation Commission at the end of November. I am not awake myself of any communication of the nature to which my right hon. Friend alluded as having been sent by Mr. Hughes, but I will have that matter looked into, and the full reply shall be given. If it was sent, it must have been sent when the right hon. Gentleman's Government was in power.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
The first proposal that was made to France was in October, that is after I left. That was not immediately communicated to us. My information is that France took no notice of it, and it was afterwards communicated to us.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I will look into it. It has been set up by the Committee of Experts to advise the Reparation Commission, and it is really the first step of progress that has been made in this whole year. It is a real step of progress because, in the first place, you get America in, which is worth a good deal, and, in the second place, you are going to get for the first time a real and thorough examination into what is necessary to stabilise German currency and balance German budgets. It is impossible to go fully into these matters without getting the very information which is the pre-requisite of any further conference of the Allies in Europe. As all who have had to do with these matters know, the great difficulty of dealing with them has been a consideration of the figures of the reparations problem, the consideration of the way in which German finance can be so rectified after reparations, and the unwillingness of the Allies to confer. Some of them have been most pessimistic during the past month about the prospects of bringing the Allies into conference, or of being able to accom- 116 plish anything towards a settlement of the problem_ The most pessimistic of them now feel that there is a ray of daylight in the work of this Commission, and we must all trust that that belief is justified. It may be that the French Government will see in the present loss on exchange in that country that there are reasons coming why there should be no further delay in reaching close quarters with the whole problem, which they have kept at such a distance, with such success throughout this year.
With regard to the Separatist movements, I can assure the House that they have caused us just as much anxiety as they have caused the Leader of the Liberal Party. The Separatist movement which is occurring in the Palatinate at present has caused us the very gravest anxieties, and we have sent one of our own officials to visit that country, and to report to us. At the present moment we are awaiting his visit and its result, and if it be possible to communicate anything more to the House during the progress of this Debate, I shall be very pleased to do so.
With regard to the question of the negotiations between the French and German industrialists, and repayments under the Reparations Recovery Act, those are matters with which I should like to deal as fully as possible at a later stage in the Debate. I want to content myself with just touching on the other points which have been mentioned, points perhaps not so serious, and which can be answered very briefly and more easily. Having said that, I think there is nothing to which attention has been drawn which now calls for any further comment. I will only say one word in conclusion, and it is that when a challenge is thrown down on the Floor of the House, we shall be ready to take it up. No doubt there will be a very interesting Debate. We shall watch with interest the forces which will be allied, if allied they are, and which defeat us, if defeat us they do, and we shall watch with much interest to see what Government may be evolved out of the benches which I see opposite. I agree with one thing which fell from the Leader of the Opposition. It is that 117 the Government of the country must be carried on, and if we find ourselves in Opposition, we shall be ready to criticise, we shall be ready to oppose, and to fight when we think things are wrong. But there will be no factious or fractious opposition from us, and we shall endeavour, as I expressed the hope when I spoke of the agricultural conference, in any matters where we can get unity in this House, to help such a cause as agriculture or unemployment, and we shall certainly not be behindhand in doing our 118 utmost to put something into the common stock for the benefit of the country.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Commander Eyres-Monsell.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.