Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [15th January],
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's must 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 House., of Parliament."—[Mr. Banks.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. Ronald McNeill)
Before I make some general observations on the subject you, Sir, have just put from the Chair, I think it will be convenient if I deal first with two specific points put yesterday by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) to the Prime Minister, to which he was promised a reply to-day. In the course of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, he referred to the publication of certain minutes of a conference in August, 1922, between the Government of which he was then the head and the French Government with reference to the reparation question, and the right hon. Gentleman said that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had given a definite promise that these papers should be published. I have not been able to find any such promise. The only reference that I can find is that on 2nd August last, when the right hen. Gentleman opposite was speaking, he referred again to this question, and the Prime Minister said:I intended to answer that question. I will look into it at once. My impression is that the time has come when it can be published."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd August, 1923; col. 1833, Vol. 167.]I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that that falls short of any definite undertaking, but I would like to tell him exactly how the matter stands. So far as I have been able to ascertain, when first the request was made—I think by the right hon. Member for West Birming- 132 ham (Mr. Austen Chamberlain)—that these papers should be published, the right bon. Gentleman himself was not here, and the Government demurred to publishing the papers, because they anticipated that an objection might be raised by the right hon. Gentleman, and they did not wish to do so without knowing that they had his sanction.
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
I think my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is mistaken. I am obliged to speak from memory. My memory led me astray yesterday into the belief that the Prime Minister's undertaking was a definite promise. I have already written to him on the subject but I made the earlier application with the assent of the ex-Prime Minister, and partly at his desire, and I think I said so in the House. I do not think there can have been any doubt in the mind of the Ministry that 1 was speaking for all my late colleagues.
§ Mr. McNEILL
That may be so, but there is a more important point behind that. Of course, at a subsequent date it was well known that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs had no objection—on the contrary, that he wished for the publication—and application was made to the Government by the French Government that the minutes of that Conference might be published. In reply to that, the British Government were informed—
§ Mr. McNEILL
They wanted to publish the minutes in a. Yellow Paper, and the reply they got from here was that, in principle, we saw no objection whatever t their publication, but that, of course, it would be necessary to have an agreed text, and we proposed to agree upon a text which could be published simultaneously.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I cannot tell exactly what date it was, but I think in August, 133 1923—last August. At all events, the real reason—and this is the gist of the whole thing—the only reason why publication has not taken place is because we could not get, and have not been able up to the present time to get, the consent of the Belgian Government. They have objected to it, and no one knows better than the right hon. Gentleman that papers of that sort cannot be published without the consent of all the Governments concerned. That, he knows, is a valid objection. So far as this Government is concerned, there never has been, since the first application was made by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, any objection whatever to the publication of the papers in question.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Might I put a further question? I can quite understand that we cannot publish the minutes without the consent of all the Governments concerned, but will His Majesty's Government consider whether the proposals of the British Government cannot now be published? I think they ought to be published.
§ Mr. McNEILL
It has been asked, but, of course, the right hon. Gentleman knows that it is desirable, when you are publishing papers of that sort, to have them published completely. We should prefer to have complete publication, but I will give an undertaking that that separate arid distinct matter will be considered, though I am not in a position to give any pledge about it myself.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I have not got the actual date, but I presume that it was at the time that we were arranging, or trying to arrange, with the French Government for an agreed text. The ordinary course would be that we would communicate with the Belgian Government, and the difficulty was raised then, and that is the reason why we did not proceed with it.
The other matter to which I referred, to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs alluded 134 in his speech yesterday, was the question of Tangier, and I may say at once that I entirely agree with what the right hon. Gentleman then said as to the vital importance of this question, especially to us. The right hon. Gentleman knows, probably better than anybody in the House, that the whole question of Tangier, of Morocco, in its modern form, dates from the French Protectorate established in 1912, under which the Sultan's dominions were divided into a Spanish zone and a French zone, and then the town and environs of Tangier formed a third zone, distinct from the other two.
Our interests in Tangier, as the right hon. Gentleman himself said yesterday, are important. They are both strategical and commercial. Standing as it does at the very entrance to the Mediterranean, it is quite obvious that if Tangier were occupied by any Power exercising complete control, it might be a very serious menace to our communications through the Mediterranean to the East. Consequently, a number of treaties have been entered into since 1904 to which we have been contracting parties, and in those treaties provision was made for the ultimate establishment of an international regime in the town and port of Tangier. The commercial importance which, I think, at any rate for the future, will be the most important aspect lies in the fact that when Tangier possesses a proper harbour—it does not possess one at present—it will not only be a very important port of call on the Mediterranean routes., but it will also be the main gateway into North Africa, especially if a railway, which, I believe, is projected, is constructed to Fez and Dakar. The volume of British trade with Morocco, for which this place will normally be the most convenient port of entry, is not so great as the French trade, but, still, it i6 of very considerable value and volume, and the aim of the British Government—not merely of the present Government, but of all Governments who have had to deal with the matter—has been to preserve at Tangier an open door for this British trade and to encourage its development.
In 1912, negotiations were entered upon in order to devise a scheme for giving effect to the agreement contained in the treaties to which I have referred, for establishing an international regime, and the British, French and Spanish Governments were parties to those negotiations: 135 but it was unfortunate that before those negotiations were finally ratified, and we came to any decision, although a Statute was drafted, the War broke out, and, in consequence, the whole matter was held up. Then, after the War, in 1919, the matter was again taken up, when the right hon. Gentleman was at the head of the Government. Meanwhile, owing to circumstances chiefly arising out of the War, or which had come in during the War, matters had altered, and the French interests had become very much greater than before the War. Owing to those circumstances, they had acquired a predominating influence in the place, which induced the French Government to believe that they were entitled to a much larger share in the disposal and government of the place than they had been willing to accept in 1912. It is from that point that negotiations have been going on. They have been very long and difficult, and have required on our part, and I think I am justified in saying they have received on our part, a great deal of forbearance on the one hand and firmness on the other. And I think I may fairly claim, the agreement which has now been reached is one on which, on the whole, we may congratulate ourselves. The Convention which has just been signed on this very delicate and outstanding question removes a very fertile source of international distrust. At the same time, it secures two vital conditions in the matter, namely, permanent neutralisation of Tangier, and the maintenance of the open door. It does this in a way we have always contended it should be done, by establishing an international regime which will effectually prevent the predominance there of any one party.
Lieut.-Colonel J. WARD
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to ask him a question? Have the Spanish Government sanctioned this arrangement, or are they not objecting to it on the ground that the Treaty practically hands over the entire control to the French?
§ Mr. McNEILL
I will answer that question, if the hon. and gallant Gentleman will allow me, in a minute. I was going to deal with it. The actual text of the Convention has been given to the Press some months, and I believe certain extracts from it have been published. It has not been published in full, probably 136 because it is rather a long document, and there are many demands on the space of newspapers.
§ Mr. McNEILL
No; it has not been circulated to Members. I am quite willing to supply the right hon. Gentleman with a copy if he likes.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
It is really a very vital document for this country. Could it not be laid on the Table of the House?
§ Mr. McNEILL
Of course it could. I think I am justified in saying there would be no objection to doing that if it were thought worth while. May I point out that as soon as ratification has taken place, it will, in the ordinary course, be printed in the Treaty series? It is just a question whether it will be worth the expense. I do not know how far the general interest in the actual terms of the Convention extends, but, as far as I am concerned, if there be really a demand for it to be printed before it appears in the Treaty series, I do not think there will be any objection. I have copies at my disposal if any Member of the House wishes to see it.
My hon. and gallant Friend below the Gangway (Colonel J. Ward) said that the Spanish Government were objecting to the arrangements that have been made, on the ground that the French have been given too much, and they have been given too little. What actually has taken place in the matter is this. The Spanish representatives were authorised by their Government to sign the Convention with certain reservations, and it is quite true, I suppose, in a matter of this sort, where there has been give and take as between the three parties concerned, both the French Government and the Spanish Government would like very much, in certain particulars, to have got more than they did get. That is quite true, but I am happy to say that since the document was signed provisionally by the Spanish representatives, the French have, to a large extent, shown an accommodating spirit. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear. hear!"] I do not know the reason of that cheer, but, at all events, the fact is that they have made considerable concessions in the direction asked for by Spain, and I have confidence that in a very short time, by the same process, 137 these minor difficulties will be swept away, and that the definitive signature to the document will take place, as it has already taken place in the case of the British and French Governments. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman opposite would like any further information as to the regime set up at Tangier. It appears fully in the text of the Convention.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
The specific question which I put yesterday was this: who was in control of the port and harbour a short time ago? The company that was erecting the breakwater was practically a French company so far as the control was concerned, and it was that that the Spanish objected to, and, indeed, our Foreign Office objected to it as well. What is now the position in respect of that? Is it practically that the French company erecting the breakwater is in control of the port?
§ Mr. McNEILL
The right hon. Gentleman is no doubt referring to the concession of 1921, in regard to the port. That concession was always objected to by the British Government. We never acknowledged its validity. Under the arrangement now made that concession has been revised. It has been revised in the direction of increased British representation upon the Board, and an alteration of and a more equitable distribution of the share capital. I cannot at this moment give the right hon. Gentleman the exact proportions of the capital, but it is quite a different concession to that to which my right hon. Friend refers. Whether under present circumstances he would feel justified in calling it a French company, of course, I cannot say.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Really this is very vital. The right hon. Gentleman knows what has been arranged. I do not! I ask him whether, in view of the possession of the capital of the company, he is satisfied that the company is not under the control of a single power?
§ Mr. McNEILL
I cannot say offhand where, in view of the possession of the capital, the controlling power rests, but I can say that the distribution of the capital is such that it would be a great exaggeration to say that it is a French company or a British company; it is an international company controlling this port. I find after all I can give the actual 138 figures of the capital. It would appear that the share capital in this international company was registered on the following basis:—French, 30 per cent.; Great Britain, 20 per cent.; Spain, 20; per cent.; the Sherefian Government, 10 per cent.; the International Administration of Tangier, 10 per cent.; other countries, 10 per cent. Consequently, out of it all there is only 30 per cent. in the hands of the French. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is not true"] Perhaps it is rather like the question of the majorities in this House; a combination between more than one in order to have a majority! I am trying to answer a specific question of the right hon. Gentleman. But may I say he will, no doubt, have plenty of opportunity when this Treaty comes before the House in other ways and other times to express his condemnation, if lie thinks he deserves it.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I do not think it will require ratification by this House in the sense that it will be a charge upon the Exchequer. It is only, I believe, in such cases that a Treaty requires ratification. But I think it is becoming more and more a custom not to ratify Treaties without giving the House of Commons the opportunity suggested. I am not, of course, in a position to give a pledge in the matter, but I feel quite confident if my right hon. Friend or any other hon. Member filling the responsible position he is in asks the Prime Minister to arrange for consideration, that it will take place.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
Was the Convention considered and approved by the Committee of Defence before it was signed? It has not been told to the House of Commons whether that specific proposal was approved by the Committee of Defence. I suppose there will be no objection to giving an answer to that?
§ Mr. McNEILL
I would have no objection to giving an answer if I knew what the answer was. Perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend understood that when he 139 put the question. I have not ascertained the answer myself. But now, apart from these two questions, there is a much more general matter which has been laid before the House in the Debate which commenced yesterday.
Lieut.-Colonel J. WARD
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me just one moment. I do not understand his last answer to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). That was a specific question as to whether this agreement is to be put in operation before this House is consulted on the subject?
§ Mr. McNEILL
I have told the right hon. Gentleman that I am not in a position to give a pledge upon the point. In the speech that was made yesterday by the Leader of the Opposition he announced that in his judgment and that of his friends that this Government did not deserve, and did not possess, the confidence of this House. He very largely based his indictment upon the conduct of foreign policy. The first observation I would make upon that is this: that foreign policy is essentially a continuous matter. It is more true in regard to foreign policy than in any other branch of our public life that the problems of to-day, whatever they may be, are the outcome of the transactions of yesterday. I am not going to lay any great tress upon the fact that the present Government have only been responsible for the conduct of affairs for a little more than twelve months. But all the difficulties and all the problems with which we have had to deal are inherited. I am making no charge against the right hon. Gentlemen opposite. They are not from one Government, but from many previous Governments. The process is a continuous one.
I noticed that in a speech made by the right hon. Gentleman for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) at the beginning of the election, that he said that all the evils from which we are suffering are due to the gross mismanagement of affairs for the past five years. That charge was made before the two Liberal turtle-doves began to coo on the same perch. The right hon. Gentleman does not, as a rule, speak without some ground. He is always able to give some grounds for his opinion. If he 140 thinks that all these evils are the result of the mismanagement of five years, all that I suggest to the House is that we, at all events, can only be debited with one-fifth of the blame. I notice now, at all events, that there is a regular chorus of hostile criticism of our foreign policy from all the various benches of the Opposition, but it is not altogether a harmonious chorus. I have already quoted the criticism made by the Leader of the Liberal party, a criticism which seems to me to have a side glance at his principal lieutenant, who is probably likely to be the navigating lieutenant. But that is not the only discordant voice in the chorus. There is another very significant one, because I notice that in all the speeches which he has made—and they have been numerous—Viscount Grey has never put any blame upon the Government for the conduct of foreign policy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Question!"]
§ Mr. McNEILL
I hope hon. Members will not think I am speaking disrespectfully of either of those right hon. Gentlemen when I say that when it comes to a matter of foreign policy T would rather be damned with Grey than saved with them,
§ Mr. McNEILL
In all this chorus of condemnation from so many eminent leaders of both the Liberal and the Labour party, the one man who is more entitled than any of them to speak with authority upon foreign policy is significantly silent in blame with regard to our foreign policy, and he is in agreement on the whole with the line taken by the Government. This suggests to me some understanding of the feelings of the musician spoken of by Browning, the poet, who wrote:He looks through all the roaring aid the wreathsWhere sits Rossini patient in his stall.In view of this opinion from a man who knows, I think we may more or less disregard the unmeasured criticism of those who know less. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs seems to demur to what I said 141 about the attitude of Lord Grey, but no longer ago than last night, in the House of Lords, Lord Grey said:No progress can be made in European affairs unless the Allies, particularly the British and French Governments, are co-operating.Lord Grey makes a further comment which I think is worth submitting to the House. He says:With regard to the criticism of our relations with France, I have been constantly criticised for saying this by those who disapprove of the present French policy in the Ruhr. I am speaking of those people who, whenever co-operation with France is emphasised, make attacks on those who make that statement. They really belong to that class of people who, when there are disagreeable facts, think they can alter them by attacking the persons who state them.Therefore I say that Lord Grey is in complete agreement with the Government when he says that there can be no progress in Europe, and no re-establishment of peace, which the Leader of the Opposition said a good deal about, unless we keep in co-operation with France. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon), and others have, time after time, condemned the Government in no unmeasured terms, not because they are breaking co-operation with France, but because we' have been, co-operating too much, or attempting, at all events, to preserve that co-operation which Lord Grey says is so essential.
§ Mr. McNEILL
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs shakes his head, but all I can say is that I have been a diligent student of his speeches, and I have given a great deal of attention to what he has said and a great deal more to what he has written. They have condemned the present Government for too great a co-operation with France, but not one of those right hon. Gentlemen who have criticised us on the point have ever said exactly what they would have had us do, or what they would have done themselves in our place. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas), I notice, is going to take part in this Debate, and I hope he will tell us, if he condemns us for too much 142 co-operation with France, exactly what he would have done.
I would like to ask this question of the Labour party and the Liberal party, who are their supporters, and who we have been told control the situation. I should particularly like to know from the Leader of the party that controls the situation whether or not they would have wished us at the beginning of our period of office to have definitely broken with France. I would like to know whether if in power they would have definitely broken with France, because unless they would have done that I can see very little force in 90 per cent. of the criticisms which they have put forward. So long as my hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition confines himself, as he so frequently does, to generalities, I am not very much out of agreement with him. I noticed, for instance, in the House yesterday ho said:We need very skilful handling of the diplomacy that arises out of them. We want the objective observation of other people's susceptibilities and at the same time a friendly, firm, emphatic assertion of our own interests."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 15th January, 1924; col. 93, Vol. 169.]Is there anyone who differs from that? All I can say is that that is precisely what we, at all events, have tried to do. I am quite aware that there are right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House who think that we have failed. The right hon. Gentleman opposite smiles! Is he sceptical about our trying; does he think that we have deliberately applied unskilful diplomacy? We have tried, at any rate, as I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree. The right hon.. Gentleman naturally thinks that all the time when he was in supreme control of our foreign policy, at the time of those illustrious, numerous conferences—in those days, no doubt, he thinks the requirements laid down by the Leader of the Opposition were amply fulfilled.
§ Mr. McNEILL
So far as general principles are concerned, there is no division between us at all. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition is fully persuaded that in a very short time, if events take the course that seems to be anticipated, he will be in a position to provide this skilful handling. It is 143 currently reported in the Press, with how much knowledge or accuracy I do not know, that the Leader of the Opposition himself is going to take particular charge of the foreign policy of this country. No one is more alive than I am to the sincerity of the hon. Gentleman. I am sure he is perfectly sincere in his conviction that when he gets to the Foreign Office he will provide that skilful handling of our diplomacy which he thinks is so necessary, with the other various desiderata which we so lamentably lack. He showed that same conviction even more exuberantly in the speech he made the other day at the Albert Hall. I think he is perfectly sincere in the belief that he and his colleagues and his followers—for the moment I am speaking of his followers, I was not intending to include the right hon. Gentleman opposite, I was meaning rather the Members of the hon. Gentleman's own party—I repeat that I am quite certain the Leader of the Opposition is absolutely sincere in his conviction that he and his colleagues and his party are equipped with the intelligence, tact, skill and moral force which he thinks this side of the House is hopelessley unable to provide, and I do not think he has even a much higher opinion of his allies and supporters below the Gangway. The cheers from the benches opposite show that I was quite justified in thinking that that is his sincere belief. He said that there, and all I can say is—and I say it with complete sincerity—that it must be delightful to be able to take such an indulgent view of oneself. But when I look at the methods by which the hon. Gentleman, so far as he has yet revealed them at all, seems to contemplate applying this skilful diplomacy which we want so much, I confess, looking at it from my inferior standpoint, it fills me with a good deal of apprehension. At the Albert Hall the other day there was a great deal of talk by the hon. Gentleman and by some others about the necessity which we all recognise for re-establishing real peace. We are all at one in that desire. We all recognise its necessity. The only difference at all between us is how that desirable thing is to be accomplished. The hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition told us at the. Albert Hall that he and his party were going to create the conditions of peace. How is he going to 144 proceed? He told us quite truly that all round Europe, wherever you gaze, we find embers of strife which are dangerous and which may possibly be blown into flames. What is to be his method of skilful diplomacy? He said:My colleagues and myself want to come to office with a broad foot and a big heel and to stamp, stamp, stamp upon every one of those embers.And then with a very rapid transition of metaphor he said:The pinpricks and irritations going on between France and ourselves are absolutely deplorable.4.0 p.m.
I agree, but the hon. Gentleman did not tell us exactly how he would have avoided those pinpricks or how he is going to avoid those very deplorable irritations between ourselves and France. I was rather struck and rather surprised at the time by that particular expression of opinion coming from that quarter. I did not know quite whom he was blaming for the pinpricks. Was he blaming the British Government or the French Government? What were the pinpricks which we could have avoided? Does the hon. Gentleman condemn us, for instance, because we protested against the occupation of the Ruhr? Does the Leader of the Opposition want the country to understand that he would have ma de no protest against the occupation of the Ruhr, because, after all, I presume that has been the chief source of what he refers to as pinpricks; or does he condemn us for protesting against the action of the separatists in the Rhineland? That also has led to a certain amount of misunderstanding and friction between us and the French Government. I really think that the hon. Gentleman, who. as he has said, is anxious to take office in order to apply skilful diplomacy, ought to have told us and to have told the country what he meant by these pinpricks and these irritations between France and ourselves, which would have been avoided if he had been in power, because, otherwise, his criticism has no meaning. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who has some knowledge of the head of the French Government, will agree that if the Leader of the Opposition is going to the Foreign Office with a broad foot and a big heel, and if he intends to stamp upon M. Poincaré 145 with a view to establishing peace throughout Europe and getting rid of the embers of strife, he is in for a very heavy measure of disillusionment before long. May I say that the very close collocation in the hon. Gentleman's speech at the Albert Hall of the pinpricks and irritations between the French and ourselves, to which he objects, and his method, apparently, of dealing with them with a broad foot and a big heel suggests that he will find that he will be kicking against the pricks when he comes to deal with the matter. I am quite certain from all he has said that if he imagines that by the methods which he has adumbrated he is going to get rid of all the troubles which have followed us in Europe, and which the right hon. Gentleman before us and which we, I agree, have not been able entirely to smooth over, he is laying up disillusionment for himself and disappointment for his party.
I now come to a specific complaint made against us yesterday by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. He condemned us, not for the first time—he has done it several times —on the ground that we have neglected opportunities of dealing with the Reparation question with the assistance of the United States. He has referred several times to suggestions made by Mr. Hughes, which, he said, were never taken up and never encouraged by His Majesty's Government. I should like to tell the right hon. Gentleman and the House exactly how that matter stands. The right hon. Gentleman yesterday said—I think I am right in my recollection—that the proposal was communicated to the Allied Governments by the American Government. As a matter of fact, the proposal of Mr. Hughes was never officially communicated to the British Government at all. Our first knowledge that the United States Government had made a proposal to France that an impartial inquiry should be held into Germany's ability to pay was on 18th December, 1922, and we got that knowledge from our Ambassador in Washington, to whom Mr. Hughes had made the communication in strict confidence. It was riot made officially at all. It was never made officially to His Majesty's Government. I think the right hon. Gentleman is right in saying that that proposal, when made to the French Government, was rejected. Far from discouraging the pro- 146 posal made by Mr. Hughes at that time, or from turning it down, or from anything of that sort, His Majesty's Government informed the American Government that they would gladly welcome the presence of an observer from the United States on the Reparation Inquiry. A conference was then about to take place in Paris, and we said that we would be very glad if an observer could take part in it. But the United States Government, to our great regret, were unable to accept the suggestion, and told us so. Then, on 29th December, came the public speech of the Secretary of State at Newhaven. I think the right hon. Gentleman, in referring to that speech, through inadvertence from not having the text before him, has sometimes rather exaggerated the character of the proposal as an official proposal from the American Government, namely, a proposal that the American Government would take part. The only reference in the Newhaven speech to America's participation was in these words:I have no doubt that distinguished Americans would be willing to serve on such a Commission.I suppose, therefore, as private citizens. I may say that at that time my Noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was in Lausanne, but the Government here had been informed that the French were unwilling to accept the scheme, and, obviously, it was useless at that date to put forward a scheme which we knew had been rejected in advance. The Conference in France to consider plans put forward by the respective Governments for, a solution of the Reparation problem was just about to take place. What was our plan? The right hon. Gentleman will remember that Mr. Bonar Law, who was then Prime Minister, put forward a plan, containing a proposal for the supervision of German finance by a foreign Finance Council, which was to include two American and two neutral European members. Further than that, the ultimate total of Germany's debt was to be determined by an arbitral tribunal. All this was practically on the lines of Mr. Hughes's proposal, with this difference, that Mr. Hughes's suggestion was for a much larger and more open conference than anything which was included in Mr. Bonar Law's plan. But, having known that the larger plan had been refused by the French, obviously it 147 would have been ridiculous for us to have made that very proposal when even the smaller proposal of Mr. Bonar Law had been turned down. At all events, at that time there was no backwardness on the part of this country to work on the basis of the proposal which came from America. I need not say that the American Government knew perfectly well what was in the mind of His Majesty's Government, and that we would have been only too glad if such a proposal could have been brought into practical politics. That was the end of it at that time. Much more recently, the proposal was renewed, and I think the right hon. Gentleman has condemned us in regard to that opportunity too.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I thought that the right hon. Gentleman had accused us in his speeches either here or in America of not showing enough regard to it at that later date also.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
In the whole course of the very many speeches which I am sorry to say that I had to make in America, I never said one word of criticism of the British Government. That was not the platform from which to do it. I have never condemned the British Government for renewing the proposal. On the contrary, I am very glad that they have done so. It was the right thing to do. I only regret that it was not done earlier.
§ Mr. McNEILL
Of course, I entirely withdraw that remark. I was mistaken. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman had condemned us. I will, however, tell him exactly what took place at the later period. On 11th October, 1923, President Coolidge published a declaration that the American Government were still willing to act upon the proposal which has been made by Mr. Hughes in December, 1922. The very next day, on 12th October, the Government telegraphed to our representative at Washington instructing him to inquire whether the United States Government would be willing to accept an invitation from the Allied Powers or, alternatively, from a majority of those Powers. We anticipated that it might possibly be difficult to get the French Government to join in an invitation, and 148 we therefore purposely put it to America in the form of alternative proposals, namely, whether they would accept a unanimous request from the Allies or an invitation from the majority. Three days later, on 15th October, the United States Government replied that they would accept such an invitation from the Allied Powers, but that they reserved their decision with regard to an invitation from a majority. The intimation was conveyed to us that it was extremely unlikely that the American Government would accept an invitation unless it came to them unanimously from the Allied Powers, and from speeches made in America since that date that seems to have been amply confirmed. There was a speech, made, I think, by the secretary of State quite a short time ago, in which he said that they would never take part in European affairs except upon the invitation of all the parties concerned.
Then, on 19th October—only a few days had elapsed—His Majesty's Government sent out a proposal for such a Conference to all the Powers concerned. A very considerable amount of correspondence passed, but eventually that proposal, which my Noble Friend did everything he possibly could to get through to a successful conclusion, broke down simply because we could not arrive at any agreement as to what the terms of reference would be. In fact, I boldly claim that we have lost no opportunity throughout the last 12 or 13 months, since Mr. Bonar Law first formed his Government, of enlisting, wherever and however we could, the assistance of the United States, or of taking any means which seemed practicable for arriving at a solution of the Reparation question. May I put this matter, and I invite an answer from the right hon. Gentlemen the Member for Carnarvon Burghs, or from any hon. Member who may speak on behalf of the Labour party? I put this question. When the policy of the Government with regard to the Ruhr, to France, and to all the questions that cling around that central point—
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Perhaps, before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, he will answer two or three other questions which I have put to the Prime Minister, and which were specifically referred by him to the hon. Gentleman to deal with in his speech to-day. The first was 149 with regard to the action of the Government under the Reparation Recovery Act. What do the Government propose to do with regard to that? The second question was about the agreements between the French Government and the German industrialists. What are those agreements? Have they been communicated to the Government, and are they participating in the negotiations with regard to them? The third question was about the action of the Government with regard to the Separatist movement on the Rhine.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I think the right hon. Gentleman has forgotten what the Prime Minister said last night. With regard to the question which the right hon. Gentleman put about the Reparation Recovery Act, my recollection is that the Prime Minister distinctly said that he himself would deal more fully with that matter to-day. My right hon. Friend now tells me that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will deal with that, and also with the other cognate question to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. I certainly—
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I am sorry to interrupt, but I think it is very important that the House should have information with regard to this matter. I understand that the Reparation Recovery question will be dealt with by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, if I may say so, is a very appropriate authority for dealing with the subject. But with regard to the question of the negotiations which are going on between France and the industrial magnates in Germany, I should have thought that that was a Foreign Office question, and I understood the Prime Minister to refer us, for the answer on that question, to the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
§ Mr. McNEILL
It was partly my fault in that case, because I did not understand that to be so. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that, although of course it is quite true that the matter to which he refers is a Foreign Office question, yet, during the last nine months at least, all these trade questions have in point of fact been dealt with in this House by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, who has trade questions much more at his fingers' ends. He has been continually answering questions on that subject, and, whenever a 150 Debate has taken place with regard to the course of trade and arrangements for trade in the occupied area, my right hon. Friend has always dealt with them.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Sonic Minister really ought to give information to the House. It is a matter of very great importance. Whether it comes from the Foreign Office, the Exchequer, or the Board of Trade, does not, I think, matter to the House, but someone must be dealing with these questions. I cannot conceive the Government not ascertaining what the terms are, and not taking part in the discussion. I should like to know from the Prime Minister, if I may, who is going to give information to the house on that point?
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Baldwin)
We have taken the line during these Debates that these subjects should be dealt with by the Ministers who are primarily responsible for them, and who have daily dealings with them. The Chancellor of the Exchequer will make a statement on Reparations, and the President of the Board of Trade on the arrangements between the industrial magnates—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Certainly: the statements will not be long, and will, I think, give the information desired.
§ Mr. A. M. SAMUEL
I desire to make a protest to the Prime Minister. I suggest, with all deference, that the matter of the 74 and 26 per cent., to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs referred yesterday, should not be left to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as it is a Foreign Office matter. The Germans have put into operation a try-on against us—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order, order!"]—Mr. Speaker will call me to order if I am out of order. If I am out of order, I will not proceed, but I would appeal to the Prime Minister to allow the Foreign Office to deal with this matter of the 74 and 26 per cent. It is a matter on which the Foreign Office should make representations to the German Government with regard to the Treaty, which should be carried out under the supervision of the Foreign Office, and should not be dealt with from the point of view of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I think that in this House the Chancellor of the Exchequer is perfectly capable of dealing with it.
I am sorry if any misunderstanding has arisen through my fault. I certainly did not understand that the right hon. Gentleman expected me to reply on these points.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be satisfied with the statement of the Prime Minister that these questions will be answered in the course of the Debate. I should be perfectly ready to answer if I had not misunderstood what it was promised that I should do. The right hon. Gentleman will understand that, not having prepared myself to deal with the particular point, it would be obviously improper if I could not give so satisfactory or so full an answer as the right hon. Gentleman has a right to expect.
§ Mr. McNEILL
No. I read the speech of the Prime Minister, and I did not see any reference to that, but I am perfectly willing to give some information to the right hon. Gentleman, and I may as well say at once that I do not think the right hon. Gentleman asked any specific question, so far as I can recollect—
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Surely, I asked most specific questions with regard to it. I asked a question with regard to the Separatist movement. I understood that negotiations were going on—I am only referring to what appears in the papers—with reference to the attitude of France towards the Separatist movement. It is a very important question and I asked what the position was with regard to it—has any agreement been arrived at between the French Government and our Government in reference to the action of the French Government towards the Separatist movement on the Rhine and in the Palatinate? I asked that question specifically, and, surely, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs must answer it.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I do not know, really, quite why the right hon. Gentleman should assume such an aggrieved tone. I 152 am perfectly willing to answer his question. I have never made any difficuluty about it; all that I said was that I had overlooked the fact that he had asked a question. I will, however, say this, that although, of course, I am willing to give such information as is in my possession, the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that it is a very delicate matter, and I do not want to say anything which might possibly make it more difficult than it is. The position is this: As the right hon. Gentleman and the House, no doubt, are aware, there has been for a very considerable time past a so-called Separatist movement, not merely in the Palatinate, but in other parts of the Rhine Valley, and from the very first the attitude taken up by His Majesty's Government has been this: They have said, "We could not sanction any separatism which amounted to a declaration of independence of States forming part of the German Reich, and which would take them outside the German Reich." We could not allow that, because, of course, it would obviously have altered the whole situation with regard to the Treaty. But we have also said that—if I may use terms that are well known to us—if what was demanded was not separation but Home Rule, in other words, if they wanted to establish autonomous States inside the German Reich, that was a matter in which we would not interfere, provided that there was sufficient demonstration that it was the will of the people themselves. We would be perfectly neutral provided that it was inside the Reich. But we have always pointed out that, within the ambit of the Constitution of Weimar itself, constitutional machinery is provided by which such a movement can operate, and, if any part of the German Reich wished to set up an autonomous area for itself, they must utilise their own constitutional machinery.
It was quite obvious that, in the greater part of the Rhineland, that Separatist movement was not a spontaneous one at all, that it was engineered, and did not represent the people of the district, either in numbers or in character; and owing, I think I may say, very largely at any rate, to the influence which we were able to bring to bear—supported, certainly to a very large extent, by our Belgian Allies —that movement, in the greater part of the Rhineland, has come to a natural end. But in the Palatinate it assumed rather 153 graver proportions. It was supported by three prominent Socialists in the Palatinate, one of whom was a member of the Reichstag. At first it did have the appearance of having more spontaneity than in the other parts of the Rhineland. Some information which reached us led us to suppose that it was quite possible that there it might, perhaps, be a genuine movement, and if that had been so we should have said, in accordance with our declared policy, "It is a matter for the people themselves to decide, and we will not interfere." The Rhineland Commission has only a limited jurisdiction under the Rhineland Agreement; it is only, really, concerned with the safety of the Army of Occupation and matters of that sort. It has always acted, and constitutionally it must act, through the German civil authorities; and that was the attitude we took up. Latterly, we have come to the conclusion, from such evidence as has been put before us, that in the Palatinate the Separatist movement, whatever it may have been at the beginning, is not now a genuine movement. We think that it has very much the same characteristics as it had further north in the Rhineland, and we believe that, if it were left to itself, it would very soon fall to the ground.
That is the attitude we are taking up, and we have made no secret of the fact that that is our view. But no one knows better than the right hon. Gentleman that in these matters it is not always easy to ensure that our view prevails. There are other views besides ours. We have no direct control. We have no troops in occupation of the Palatinate. Until the other day—until the present moment, I may say—we had not even a representative there from whom we could get information, and it was because we desired to have more precise information that we proposed to send a representative of His Majesty's Government to ascertain the facts and to report to us independently, so that we might be able to form a judgment as to the policy we should pursue. Our French Allies, for reasons which I can understand, though I think they were foolish, if I may say so, objected to our sending a representative. They thought, I suppose, that it would imply a reflection in some way on their administration there. At all events, they objected to our sending a representa- 154 tive from the headquarters of our Commission at Cologne. Thereupon His Majesty's Government, out of consideration for the feelings of the French Government, dropped that proposal, and, instead, sent instructions to our Consul-General at Munich within whose Consular jurisdiction the Palatinate technically falls, instructing him to go into the Palatinate and make some inquiries as to the state of affairs there, and to report to us, so that we might be in a better position to determine how the matter stands. That is the position as it stands at present. Mr. Clive, our Consul-General, has gone to the Palatinate in order to make those inquiries. Up to this morning we had not received any report from him. I expect we shall receive a report in a very short time. It has undoubtedly caused a certain amount of additional friction between ourselves and the French Government. That is probably one of the pin pricks to which the Leader of the Opposition takes so much exception. But however that may be, I have great hopes that that friction will soon be smoothed over, and that the information which we get from Mr. Clive will enable us to come to a more clear determination as to what we should do. That is the situation as it exists, and I cannot say more than that at present.
There is one matter to which I want to recall the attention of the House. T was rather diverted from this because the right hon. Gentleman thought I was going on without answering his question, and I want now to go back to what I left. What I want really to press upon those who are looking forward to assuming our responsibilities is this. With reference to the whole policy of the Ruhr and our relations with France arising out of it, there really were only two alternatives. The first was as soon as the French insisted upon taking steps of which we disapproved, and which Mr. Bonar Law left them in no sort of doubt that we disapproved, we could at that moment have put a final end to the Entente. We could have smashed it. We could have, said definitely, "We have come to cross roads where we cannot go both the same way. It is useless to pretend to keep up any cordiality or alliance or Entente at all. You must go your way, and we will go 155 another, and that is the end of the association which has subsisted since the beginning of the War." That is an alternative which certainly would not have been approved by Lord Grey. I doubt very much whether it would have been approved by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, although a great deal of his criticism would rather point in that direction. He is far too subtle a dialectician for me. I have no doubt he would make a very plausible case for doing neither of the two things which appear to me to have been the only possible ones. If we could have smashed the Entente, if we could have acted upon the criticisms so often put forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon), who, unless I misinterpret him, has said over and over again we ought to have taken our stand upon the opinion of our own Law Officers that the occupation of the Ruhr was an illegality, we should have said, not merely, "That is the opinion of our Law Officers and it is the right guidance for our own conduct," but we could dogmatically have said, "It is a violation of the Treaty, although you do not think so, and in consequence we will cut ourselves adrift from any further cooperation with you."
The other alternative is what we have endeavoured, I think successfully, to pursue, and that has been to act strictly throughout upon the letter and the spirit of the Treaty of Versailles, which is very largely the work of the right hon. Gentleman. We have done our best to maintain this Treaty, and at the same time to keep the Entente, out of which the Treaty of Versailles grew, to maintain our friendship and our alliance with France, agreeing with Lord Grey that upon its continuance depend the hopes of any restoration of Europe, and at the same time making it quite clear to our French Allies that we could not, especially after our Law Officers had said that the invasion of the Ruhr was not in accordance with the Treaty, conscientiously assist them in that method, and that we must continue the protest with which Mr. Bonar Law started the whole situation, and have no part or lot in the policy of the Ruhr and must dissociate ourselves from all its consequences. That is the policy which we 156 have hitherto endeavoured to pursue. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) goes far beyond any such mere individual question as that. He says in quite general language that the conduct of foreign affairs by the present Government has been a record of unbroken impotence and humiliation—[Interruption]—and all the hon. Members below the Gangway thoroughly endorse that. They think that as a consequenece of the last 12 months of government British prestige has fallen to a very low ebb. When any of us on this side make the sort of speech which we have heard sometimes from very advanced Liberal quarters about British prestige, the fall of our prestige, and how necessary it is to assert ourselves in the world, we have generally been denounced as "Jingoes." I have been so denounced myself for making speeches about British prestige occasionally, and I am very glad, indeed, to welcome the right hon. Gentleman as a stern upholder of British prestige. If he were not in the difficult position of, I will not say the Leader of Opposition, but a Leader of an Opposition, I do not believe myself he would have made any such statement as that.
It is a very curious circumstance that there is only one country in the world where the idea prevails that British prestige is at a very low ebb, and that country is Britain. Only a few weeks have passed since Sir Charles Harington came back from Constantinople. I am sure the House will agree that Sir Charles Harington's mission to Constantinople has rendered immense service to this country. In the fast speech which he made on his return here, speaking with great knowledge. he said that British prestige never stood higher than it does at present in the Near East. A speech was made, I think, even more recently, by Lord Allenby when he returned from Egypt. He said exactly the same thing. He said that in Egypt he moral prestige of Great Britain never was higher than at this moment. Just before the Dominion Conference broke up I had the privilege and opportunity of conversation with one of the Ministers of one of the Dominions, who had travelled a good deal before he arrived in London. He had been through many countries in South-East and Central Europe, and he told me that wherever he went throughout all these regions in 157 Europe, he found that the one country whose moral approval or disapproval counts is that of Great Britain. Therefore, I think we may discount a good deal of what the right bon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley said on this subject. He is now, as he has told us, in control of the situation. We shall therefore watch with very great interest the influence which he is going to exert—the controlling influence, as he has told us —upon the party who are now seeking to take office. Time sometimes brings strange revenges. The right hon. Gentleman is in the position, at present, of controlling the situation, on which I should like to offer him my most hearty congratulations, because at long last he is in a position to make someone else "too the line," and I hope he will be successful in doing it. But it is the Leader of the Labour Opposition who, according to all reports that reach us, is going to the Foreign Office, and I will confidently predict this. I have already said I recognise the great sincerity of the Leader of the Opposition. But he is not only a sincere man; I think he is a candid man, and if he is the man of candour that I take him to be, I confidently predict that before very many months have passed he will tell us how completely disillusioned he is, and that, as the result of his own researches and his own experiences, he is willing to admit that the conduct of foreign policy by the present Government has not been as bad as he supposes at present.
§ Mr. T. SHAW
I should not have intervened had it not been for the claim which has been made by the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down; the claim being that, particularly in foreign affairs, we need continuity of policy. What policy? Can anyone say what the policy of the Government has been during the last five years? It may be said the Government has only been in office for one year, but I have been here for five years, and I have seen the same faces on those benches. It is useless to talk to me about the Government only having a reponsibility for one year. The Members of the Government are responsible as much as anyone for the lack of policy of the last five years. What is meant by continuity of policy? In 1918 we were faced by an entirely different Europe. Does the continuity of policy mean what 158 we have done since 1918 or what we did before 1918? Because if what is meant is pre-1918, then a more foolish demand was never made on the credulity of the House. If it means since 1918 the worst thing that could happen to the House is to have continuity of the failures and the miserable blunders of the last five years. What has been the result of our policy? We were signatories to a Treaty that was intended to produce peace and disarmament in Europe. In Europe, at the present time, the most competent statisticians tell us there are at least one million more men under arms than there were in the militarist times of 1914. Shall we continue that policy? Shall we continue a policy that is so bankrupt as is that policy? If it means the continuity of methods, again I object, and I claim that to follow the old methods of foreign diplomacy would be just as fatal as to attempt to follow the lack of policy since 1918. Europe is completely changed, and the old type of aristocratic diplomat, looking very elegant in gold-laced uniform, speaking very precise English with a public school accent, is entirely out of date in the conditions that one finds in Europe to-day. Therefore, whether it means a continuity of pre-War policy or a continuity of the lack of policy since 1918, I am against the theory, and if it means a continuity of method, then I believe the methods may be vastly improved. I do not accept the claim, whether it means continuity of the 1918 policy or continuity of method.
In the Gracious Speech, in one of the first paragraphs, reference is made to the relations of this country with other countries, and the statement is made that they are improving. May I call attention to a very significant omission from the King's Speech? There is a country in the East of Europe with 120,000,000 of inhabitants, capable of producing exactly the things we need in this country, capable of taking from this country the machines and the goods that our unemployed workers might be making. What hope is there in the Gracious Speech from the Throne that anything is being done to lead to a proper recognition of that country, Russia, and to bring about better relations between ourselves and Russia? I heard from the benches opposite that the Government of Russia is not exactly to the liking of His 159 Majesty's Government, that it is a tyrannical government, and that it is a dishonest government. Let me examine the theory of the tyrannical government. I do not remember having heard members of the Conservative party proclaiming their indignation in the Czarist time, when the knout was in use and when people were sent to Siberia for desiring to express their political opinions. There was no talk then of the right of the people to self-expression. Some of the Members of the Conservative party who have been warmest in their denunciation of the present Russian Government were friends of the old Russian Government when tyranny was rampant, and it is the sheerest humbug to advance this excuse now as a genuine reason for not recognising the present Russian Government.
I hold no brief for the present method of government in Russia. Rightly or wrongly I hold the theory that every man and every woman has the right to a voice in the conduct of the affairs of the nation in which they live. It matters nothing to me what the Government calls itself; if it does not give that right, then it is not a Government in which I believe. I believe also in the principle, very eloquently spoken of by the right hon. Gentleman who has just resumed his seat, with regard to the Palatinate, that the people have the right to decide for themselves the farm of their own government. Who are we that we should pretend to decide for the people of Russia what government they shall have before we deal with them in any sort of way? We have thrown away £100,000,000, that we know of, in a quarrel that did not concern us at all. We tried to make the Russians have a government that they did not want, and in doing so we threw away our money, and the Government that had thrown away that money began to preach economy. That is the type of Government that wants continuity of policy! As soon as a Government arises that will alter that policy and make it a better policy, so much the better for this country.
There is another significant omission from the Gracious Speech. This country is under a solemn pledge to other countries to bring before the competent authority the Agreement arrived at by the Conference held under the auspices of the League of Nations at Washington. The first Conference that was held under 160 the Labour Charter of the League of Nations took place in Washington, and the British Government representatives at that Conference, under instructions from the Home Government, voted in favour of the 48-Hours Week Convention, along with representatives of other nations. We were the most highly-developed industrial nation represented at that Conference. In order to keep our word we ought to have been the very first to submit to Parliament the Convention that had been agreed upon. Holland, a small country, France and Sweden have kept their word. We are the only country of any size and importance in industrial affairs that has broken its word to the other nations. And you want a continuity of policy! You want continuity of a policy which has reduced the prestige of this country lower than it has been at any other period in our history.
We have been told this afternoon that wherever you go the prestige of this country stands higher than that of any other country. I doubt whether there has ever been a time in the history of this country when our honour stood lower than it does now. I suggest that our honour has been dragged in the gutter. A short time ago a Member of the Cabinet stated definitely that he wanted to get into the Cabinet because he was anxious to increase the prestige of this country in the eyes of other nations; it had fallen so low. Therefore, I am not speaking on my own authority, but on the authority of a Member of the Cabinet when I suggest that even in the Cabinet itself the admission is made that our prestige has fallen in the direction I have indicated. When we leave the question of Russia and the question of the breach of our word in regard to the Washington Conference, we come to the question of our policy in regard to Central Europe.
There is no man and no woman on these benches who is an enemy of France. Everybody on these benches desires the most cordial possible relationship with France. Some of us on these benches know France and love France as well as does any member of the Conservative party, and we want to secure the true interests of France and the true interests of our own country. What is meant by the right hon. Gentleman when he speaks of co-operation with France? Does cooperation with France always mean 161 letting France do what she wishes, or does co-operation with France mean that we state our intention to be considered as an equal partner in all the discussions that take place? The latter is the true co-operation. We have heard of the steps taken by the late Mr. Bonar Law. What was the answer of France to the definite proposals put forward by the Prime Minister of this country? Was the answer of France, "We will not even consider your proposal," or was it not? If that was the answer, and I suggest that it was, where was the prestige of which the right hon. Gentleman speaks? When did Britain ever before drop so low as to be told, after all her sacrifices, "We will not even consider your proposals"? I suggest that that is not co-operation, but, on the contrary, simply hanging yourselves deliberately to the tail of another country and being pulled by the wishes of that other country, No man and no Government can perform impossibilities, but surely it, is possible to tell France, with the greatest friendship, and to tell her candidly, that this country expects, desires, and intends to he treated as an equal in international discussions. That is not breaking the Entente that is cementing the Entente.
§ Mr. SHAW
Let me give the right hon. Gentleman a little history, and lie can correct me if he likes. Mr. Boner Law makes a proposition to France, and he is told that it cannot be discussed. The present Prime Minister makes a definite statement with regard to the illegality of certain operations by France. Then we get a statement from Paris that everything is for the best in this beet of all possible worlds, that all disputes have been settled, and we never heard another word as to France's consideration of our statement regarding the illegality of the Ruhr occupation. Is that what the Government has done or is it not? If that be what the Government has done, then what is the use of telling us that, this Government has in every way maintained the prestige of this country? I am surprised when we find on the Conservative benches hon. Members, true Britons, as I hope we all are, believing in prestige, believing in the flag, who 162 will simply lie down to this kind of treatment, without saying a word.
Now let me deal with the Ruhr. Whatever else may be true, I think it is demonstrably true that the policy of France in the Ruhr has not brought to France what France expected. I think the result has proved quite definitely that the British Government took a more correct view of the situation than did the French Government, and it is the truest friendship to France to say, "Do realise that your policy has been a mistake. As a friend and an ally take into cognisance our point of view, and let us see if together, and with Germany, Belgium, and Italy, we cannot come to an arrangement that will give us peace." lip to the present what has France got? She has not got the reparations she claimed; she has wasted a tremendous amount of money, and Europe is no nearer peace, but is further from peace than in 1918. How long must this thing go on? It is not lack of friendship to say to France that her policy is a mistaken one, and it is not lack of friendship to France to say that we must be treated as an equal. It would not be lack of friendship to suggest that if the problem cannot be solved in any other way, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy and Britain should agree to submit the whole case to the arbitrament of the League of Nations. That would not be lack of friendship to France. It would be the truest friendship, and in her own best interests.
The present position of affairs in Europe is almost a Chinese puzzle. We have the extraordinary position that France cannot pay us the debt she owes us because she cannot get reparations from Germany, while at the same time she can lend money to other nations to buy armaments. Surely we might, in the friendliest way, make representations to France that that is not the best way to secure the peace of the world, and that France needs the peace of the world as well as any other country. I believe that the best way to get active American help—and we need active American help—is to let it be known that we are prepared to meet together to discuss matters, and come to a decision. Anybody who has taken the trouble to see what the conditions are in Europe will, I think, be sorry and pessimistic. We have the largest country in 163 the East an outcast from the nations. Nearer to the West we have a number of countries that are apparently regarding each other with anxiety and suspicion falling into deterioration and in some cases decay.
We are told that all this has been done by the Germans with the cunning desire of evading their responsibility. I have taken occasion before in this House, and I take it again for a few minutes, to call attention to certain very obvious facts in reference to the German situation, facts that will not be controverted by any hon. or right hon. Member of this House. A comparison of the wages earned by the workers, and the cost of food, will prove that the average German worker cannot buy more than from one-third to one-half of the food which he bought in 1914. It is common knowledge that the learned professions and the middle classes generally are ruined. It is also common knowledge that the investors in War Loan have seen their investments dwindle away to nothing. Just think of the condition in this country if the Government took action which reduced all War Loan stock to nothing to-morrow. And yet we are told that the Germans have done all this because they are so cunning. They have reduced their workers to the lowest limit of subsistence. They have ruined their middle classes, and they have swept away all the loans which were made during the War, all because they are so cunning. Anyone who would believe that has got much greater credulity than any to which I can lay claim.
I appeal not only to the Government but to the House as a whole to accept what has been for five years the policy of our party in the House of Commons, the policy of realising that you cannot do impossibilities in international matters, and that there are only three ways of payment of indemnity—gold, services or goods. You cannot be paid in gold. You do not want services, and therefore will not have services. That means that you can be paid only in goods, and then the policy is "let us take every possible step we can to prevent the goods coming in." And still Germany is asked to pay. The thing is preposterous. The Labour party is quite as anxious as any party in this House or out of it to see France and Belgium restored, but it sees no chance of that restoration if present methods are 164 continued. For my own part, and 1 hope I am speaking for my party as well, I say that unless you adopt a more generous attitude and a clearer attitude, unless our discussions are open and unless we change our policy and methods, there is no likelihood of peace corning to Europe.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Neville Chamberlain)
I hope that the House will not imagine that the occupants of this Bench wish to monopolise time this afternoon, but if there is any such idea, I wish to reassure hon. Members by stating that my sole purpose in rising at this moment is to make a statement in answer to the specific question put yesterday by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) in connection with the German Reparation (Recovery) Act. The position was, I think, correctly stated, so far as the Act was concerned, by the right hon. Gentleman. The effect of the Act is that if a purchaser in this country buys an article in Germany for, say, £100, when he comes to pay for it he pays the vendor £74, and the other £26 he pays to the Custom House officers in this country, and the receipt which he obtains for that £26 he passes on to the vendor in Germany. The German Government undertake to reimburse the German exporter, and therefore the German exporter does not get less than the full price for his article, but the German Government have to provide eventually the amount of the reparation recovered.
On the 15th November the German Government passed a decree that they would no longer reimburse their exporters, and the position therefore was that while the English importer had to go on making payment to the Customs, the German exporter was no longer reimbursed by his Government. Therefore one of three things must occur: either the goods would cease to come into this country, or conceivably they might be, in some cases, smuggled in, possibly through some neutral country, or, in the third case, where the English importer continued to buy the goods he had to pay the amount himself or might come to some arrangement with the German exporter by which this 26 per cent. would be divided between them. The right hon. Gentleman said there were only two courses open to the Government: either to suspend the Act or to enforce it, which is where the 165 Treasury comes in, pace my hon. Friend for Farnham (Mr. A. M. Samuel), because under this Act already something like £18,000,000 has been paid, and it is very much the affair of the Exchequer as to what should be done in the case which has now occurred.
The view which I have taken of this matter was that while we certainly recognised that, in the event of a general moratorium to Germany, we should have to take our share with the rest, and we might have to suspend the operation of this particular provision, it would be quite unfair and unreasonable to expect that we should forego portion of our reparation when other nations are not accepting similar treatment. Therefore it was the view of the Treasury that we could not accept tamely, as the right hon. Gentleman incorrectly stated, the refusal of the German Government to carry out their undoubted obligation to us in this matter On the 5th of December last His Majesty's Ambassador in Berlin made a vigorous protest against the action of the, German Government, and on Christmas Day the German Government sent a reply in which they said that the financial condition of their country was such that they were unable to undertake this reimbursement, and that so far as it was the case that deliveries in kind from the Ruhr were being made through the M.I.C.U.M. to the Allies, they were being made under force majeure and the German Government were in no way bound to reimburse them.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Mission Interallié de Contróle des Usines et des Mines. We could not accept that reply from the German Government. Accordingly we replied again, on the 4th of the present month, stating our position, and saying that we could not accept any differentiation between ourselves and other countries, and we have asked for a prompt and unequivocal declaration by the German Government that German exporters to England will receive an undertaking of ultimate reimbursement, similar to that given to German industrialists under the new agreements with France and Belgium. In reply to that the German Government have accepted the proposal that they should give an 166 undertaking of eventual reimbursement. Then they have offered to send a delegate to this country to discuss the matter. That delegate is on his way at this moment. When he comes we shall have to see whether the methods proposed by the German Government for the fulfilment of their undertakings are satisfactory to this country.
§ Sitting suspended at Thirteen minutes after Five o'Clock, until Twenty-seven minutes after Five o'Clock.
§ On resuming
§ Mr. JOHN HARRIS
I must apologise for intervening at this early stage in the proceedings of the House. My excuse for venturing to do that is the strength of my conviction that His Majesty's Government have not in fact, in certain respects, continued to support by every means in their power the steady growth in influence of the League of Nations. I hold very strongly that the Government has failed to interpret the national will, particularly in the direction of the limitation of armaments and in certain particulars in connection with the International Court of Justice; but I trust that anything I presume to say may not be taken to imply any criticism upon the splendid work of Viscount Cecil, to whom the whole civilized world is indebted, nor to show any lack of appreciation of the work done in other directions, by several members of His Majesty's Government and by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. Before dealing with the International Court of Justice, I should like to draw the attention of the Members of the House to certain proceedings at the recent Council meeting of the League of Nations in Paris, and I regret that the instructions given to Viscount Cecil did not permit of his taking a somewhat different action on that occasion. During the proceedings of the Council meeting in Paris the representatives of other nations brought to the notice of the Council and discussed what was called a rebellion in territory under the control of Great Britain. The statement was repeatedly made that the people of that territory had been in rebellion. Now it is true that Viscount Cecil, as the representative of Great Britain, did, in fact, deal with administrative action, but he did not repel the indictment that those people had been in rebellion. I only wish 167 to make two statements with regard to that incident—one of the most deplorable and one of the most inexcusable punitive expeditions in the history of the African Colonies. I want, first of all, to say that never from beginning to end has any evidence been produced that these people committed, at any time, any overt act of rebellion against His Majesty's Government, and I want to lay down the proposition in connection with the mandatory principle, that it is as much the duty of Britain's representative on the Council to defend the peoples of these territories against allegations for which no evidence is produced, as it is his duty to defend and explain administrative action.
I pass now to the main question arising out of this passage in the Gracious Speech from the Throne—and I would draw the attention of the House to the phraseology —that it is the object of His Majesty's Government to support by every means in their power the steady growth in the influence of the League of Nations. We all of Its rejoiced in the creation of that magnificent instrument, the International Court of Justice, an instrument which attempted to enthrone right as a guiding principle in the settlement of international disputes. Article 36 of the Protocol of the International Court of Justice offers to the Powers an optional Clause for compulsory jurisdiction—I would like to add in times of peace. That option covers the interpretation of a Treaty, any question of international law, the existence of any facts which if established would constitute a breach of an international obligation, and the nature or extent of reparations to be made for the breach of an international obligation. Article 36 has been before His Majesty's Government for at least one-fifth of the time of which the right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs has recently been speaking. What I want to ask His Majesty's Government is have they yet made up their minds whether or not they are prepared to enter with other States into an agreement to accept that optional clause in the Protocol. It is one of the most vital parts of the Protocol under which the International Court of Justice was established. Twenty-two States have already accepted that clause. Great Britain has never accepted it. Only one member of the Council of the 168 League has accepted it, namely, Brazil. We still find the British Government lagging behind in accepting the obligations under that Protocol, and I ask the Prime Minister very respectfully whether he considers that is showing an anxiety to support the League by every means in his power? I seriously suggest we ought to be told if the Government have made up their minds whether or not they will adhere to that part of the International Protocol. If leading members of the Council of the League of Nations fail to set an example in supporting an instrument which they themselves created, bow on earth can they expect all the constituent States to do so?
My second criticism, or rather question, is with regard to the League resolution on what is known as the limitation of expenditure upon armaments, and here I should like to ask either the Prime Minister or the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether at some time they will disclose to the House what instructions they gave to Viscount Cecil on this matter before he went to Paris recently. We know the effect of those instructions, and may I just remind the House of what this resolution is? It is a resolution which was introduced into the Assembly of the League of Nations in 1920. That resolution is rather cumbrous, but its effect is this: that the expenditure on armaments for the next two years is limited to the expenditure of the current year. That resolution, as far as my recollection serves me, was supported by His Majesty's Government in Geneva in 1920, 1921, 1922 and 1923. What happened in Paris the other day—upon the 10th or 11th December? When that resolution came before the Council Viscount Cecil appears to have said that under his instructions he desired to reserve full liberty of action for His Majesty's Government. M. Hanotaux who followed immediately said that the expenditure of the French Government was quite easily within the limits of the resolution. I do not suggest for a moment that the action of Viscount Cecil in reserving full liberty for His Majesty's Government means that we are already committed to an expenditure on armaments which would be a violation of that resolution, but what I do say is that the House is entitled to know what that reservation of full liberty of action means with regard to that resolution. 169 I come to the final subject which I venture to bring under the notice of the House, and it is the question of the limitation of armaments and Guarantee Pact, and there again I hope we may be told what was the nature of the peculiar instructions issued to Viscount Cecil upon this particular matter. I would remind hon. Members that the main lines of the proposal as to limitation of armaments and Guarantee Pact are that in return for a certified limitation of armaments mutual assistance may be rendered to other Powers when an aggression against those Powers has been proved. I am not arguing, and I do not wish to argue in support of the details of the Treaty. It does not go as far as some of the more ardent spirits among us would have liked it to go, and there are certain details which some of us would like to see eliminated, and other passages which some of us would like to see strengthened. What none of us know to this moment is what is the attitude of His Majesty's Government with regard to it. That is the point. Shall we be told shortly that this instrument was not and is not supported by His Majesty's Government or shall we be told that Viscount Cecil has had the matter in hand as representing his Majesty's Government? I would like to remind the House that the Treaty has been the main part of Viscount Cecil's work for the last three years, and since his appointment as a Member of His Majesty's Government it has been almost his sole occupation. The right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs reminded us that the Noble Lord had visited Paris on more than one occasion in order to deal with the structure of that Treaty. In what capacity did he visit Paris? Did he visit Paris as the Lord Privy Seal, a responsible Member of His Majesty's Government, or did he not? In 1923 he went to Geneva and there was enabled to put the finishing touches to that Treaty, and the other nations might be excused surely for believing that in the work be was doing he did in fact represent the British Government. But I understand that in this particular matter Viscount Cecil occupied a peculiar responsibility, essentially different from his responsibility in every other direction. I understand that he was at no time in a position, according to his instructions, 170 to give any measure of support or approval to that instrument.
It is just that sort of thing which other nations and other Powers are quite unable to understand. Outsiders and representatives of other Governments assumed, when they saw the Lord Privy Seal handling this question, that he was dealing with it on behalf of His Majesty's Government, and I therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman that he will take some occasion to tell us exactly what is the position of His Majesty's Government on this question. There is an immense importance attaching to that instrument. It is the most far-reaching instrument for the limitation of armaments that has ever been put before the civilised world. The best brains of every country have been focussed on that instrument for nearly three years, and yet we have never, up to the present, been told what is the policy of His Majesty's Government with regard to it. Let me illustrate the far-reaching nature of that instrument by an incident which occurred in 1922. In that year, during the Debate in the Third Commission, a very great impression was created by something more than a hint from Monsieur de Juvenal, the second French representative. During that discussion, Monsieur de Juvenal more than hinted that if the Treaty for the Limitation of Armaments and the Guarantee Pact went through, coupled with the inevitable moral disarmament in the world, it might even be possible to find some other approach to the question of inter-Allied debts and reparations. That was an immensely impressive hint, and its value was enhanced by the statement made, and since made publicly, and never denied, that the hint which Monsieur de Juvenal gave to the League of Nations in September, 1922, reposed upon a memorandum signed by Monsieur Poincaré himself. That will show hon. Members the possibilities that there are behind this Treaty.
The right hon. and learned Member for the English Universities (Mr. Fisher), then the second member of the British Delegation, was quick to notice the value of the hint given by Monsieur de Juvenal. He rose immediately and pointed out this, that the Limitation of Armaments and Guarantee Pact, coupled with moral disarmament, opened a postern gate for the League of Nations to deal with the 171 whole question of reparations and inter-Allied debts. As I have said, in spite of these facts, which presumably are known to His Majesty's Government, we have never been told where they stand in the matter. They are no strangers to that Treaty. The discussions have been going on all this time. The broad lines of the Treaty were known in 1922. They were kept fully informed by a member of their own Cabinet, during the summer of last year, and during the days of September, I am quite sure, the Prime Minister, who was not far away, was also kept in close touch with what was going on. Just think of the opportunities missed—the opportunities for declaring the Government's action in regard to that Treaty. The first opportunity we have got is not taken. In the Gracious Speech from the Throne, we are told that the Government will support by every means "the steady growth in influence of the League of Nations"; and yet not a word about the Treaty, not a word of appreciation of the really great work which the Lord Privy Seal has been doing during that fifth of time for which the right hon. Gentleman was pleading just now.
That is one opportunity missed, but it does not stand alone. I hope the Prime Minister will allow me to remind him of another very suitable occasion. There was a certain lunch which took place—if I remember rightly, a very happy lunch—round about 17th September, and according to statements published at the time, after that exceedingly happy lunch, the Prime Minister and another gentleman retired for a two hours' smoke, presumably. What an opportunity! Barkis was willin'. Monsieur Poincaré was known to be willing, because at the Conference at the League of Nations in September, Monsieur Lebrun himself stated that the French Government were prepared to give general adhesion to the Treaty. Just think what might have happened if the right hon. Gentleman had had the vision, at that time, to have issued an appeal to the nations upon the broad lines of that Treaty for the Limitation of Armaments. Supposing he had said just this, and no more: Supposing, after calling attention to this, the principal piece of work of the League, he had stated that they were going to draw the attention of their Parliaments to this at an early date and invite other 172 Powers to do it, so that they could, in reality, have used every means in their power to increase the influence of the League. The greatness of the ideal of disarmament requires someone more eloquent, and more earnest, and better informed in this great matter than I can ever hope to be, but I feel that the Prime Minister has missed an opportunity of giving a lead to the world neon disarmament, which would have created such a wave of moral fervour throughout the world that not only might the whole situation in Europe have been changed, but he might have been occupying his position to-day in greater security than any British Prime Minister of former times, and have been handed down as one of the greatest of British Statesmen in our history. I must apologise to the House once more for detaining them upon this matter, but I feel strongly that it is incumbent upon every Member of this House to do everything which in him lies to secure some way through this dreadful nightmare of the constant burden of armaments and disturbance of the peace.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD OF TRADE (Sir Philip Lloyd-Greame)
I rise to reply to a question put by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), and the hon. Member for North Hackney (Mr. J. Harris), who has just resumed his seat, will, I know, forgive me if I do not follow him in the very interesting speech which he has addressed to the House. It certainly needed no apology, for the House is always glad, not only to listen to a maiden speech, but when it is a maiden speech delivered with so much information on a subject of obvious interest to the Member himself, and also of great interest to every other Member of this House, it is sufficient guarantee that the House will be prepared to hear it. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs raised the question of agreements which had been entered into, or were likely to be entered into, between German and French industrialists. That is a matter of great interest and importance to industry in this country, and also a question which has a very direct bearing upon reparation, and I shall be very glad to give to him and to the House all the information I have, as succinctly as I can.
I think I shall deal with the matter most conveniently if I divide the possible 173 arrangements into several categories. I can assure him that it is a matter which has engaged the steady and consistent attention of the Government. British interests might be affected in one of several ways. In the first place, they might, be affected by the sales—either directly by the French and Belgian Governments, or indirectly, with their approval—of stocks which have accumulated in the occupied territory. It was known that those stocks of steel were large, and the Government took steps to bring to the notice of the French Government the fact that any disposal of stocks of that kind on a large scale, in a manner or at prices likely to dislocate the markets of the world, would be a very serious matter to British industry, and one in which we must be consulted, whether such sales took place either directly, by one of the Governments concerned, or indirectly, with their approval, by any arrangement that might be entered into between German and French industrialists.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
There are various estimates which have been put forward from time to time. The estimates which I have obtained have been obtained either from the officials on the spot, or from those representatives of the Iron and Steel Federation who have been over there in the course of their business in order to make the fullest inquiries, and the estimates have been—
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
I think it would be more convenient if we did not now discuss other questions. I want to give to the, House precisely the steps which have been taken. The estimates have varied between 2,000,000 tons and 3,500,000 to 4,000,000 tons. In reply to these representations on behalf of the British Government, it was arranged that a mission consisting of British officials, together with a representative of the Iron and Steel Trades Federation, should proceed to the occupied territory. We made the suggestion that if stocks were to be disposed of, the most convenient way of disposing of such stocks would be by something in the nature of an Inter-Allied Disposal Board. The 174 result of that inquiry has been that we are to receive the fullest information of all licences which are granted by the French and the Belgians in their occupied territory for the export of iron and steel, and the present arrangement made by the French and Belgian Governments is that the licences which they propose to grant for the export of steel will be for an amount not exceeding the average rate of export which prevailed in 1922. We have a representative in the licensing office at Dusseldorf where these licences are granted, and he is to be in the closest touch with our officials at Coblenz. Therefore, I think we shall be in a position to know exactly what licences are granted, and how these stocks are disposed of.
The fear that there might he a very sudden disposal of seized stocks by either the French or the Belgian Government has not materialised. I understand a good deal of steel which has been seized has actually been sold in France for consumption in France, but there have not been—and we have received as full information as we can—any serious sales outside either France or Belgium of steel which has been seized. No doubt there have been sales in Germany, but the thing I was particularly anxious about, and the thing which, I believe, is in the right hon. Gentleman's mind, is the possibility of either the French or the Belgian Government making very large sales of sequestrated stocks either in the British market or in markets in which we are very much interested, and absolutely upsetting prices and preventing steady recovery in the steel trade. But we are keeping the closest possible touch with the French Government in this matter. We have made it clear that we must be parties to any such arrangement, if any such arrangement be contemplated. British steel manufacturers are in close touch with the French steel manufacturers. So that whether the action is Governmental action or action by French industrialists, I think we shall have the fullest possible knowledge of whatever action may he taken.
That only deals with one factor in the situation. Though I do not in the least underrate how serious would be the importance to this country of any sudden sale of a large quantity of stocks at less than normal price, what is much more 175 serious in the long run is the possibility of an arrangement being made between French industrialists and German industrialists for future exploitation. With regard to that, I might clear out of the way the question of reparations in kind, which is not a case of joint exploitation, but is a case of Allies receiving goods from German firms. That differs altogether from future arrangements for joint exploitation. With regard to arrangements for deliveries in kind, certain arrangements have been made, I think, directly by the occupying authorities with a certain number of German firms for the delivery of coal, part of the original amount of deliveries for reparation in kind. I do not know how much coal has actually been delivered. What. I think has happened is that arrangements have been made with individual firms. I think it would be almost impossible to give the amounts which each firm has contracted to deliver, but these deliveries in kind are to be made by the firms as a condition of the full power of resuming work.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
No; they have not. I am coming to the question of control, but I think it is very convenient to separate the two things. The arrangement made is that the firms are to deliver certain amount of reparation coal, and the German Government, I understand, is to give an undertaking that it will at some not very specified future date reimburse to the coalowners the cost of the reparation deliveries, and they are to have the right to tender receipts for deliveries of reparations in kind in place of cash for the payment of certain taxes. The cases of delivery of reparations in kind have been notified, I think, to the Chairman of the Reparation Commission, but, as far as I know, they have not yet been brought formally before the Reparation Commission.
§ Sir JOHN SIMON
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the position then is, that, so far as the Government know, there is no reason to show that the Reparations being paid in kind are greater than they were before the French invaded the Ruhr?
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
No; in fact I should think they were less. I make that statement with full reserve, but, judging from the actual output of coal, and having regard to the transport service in existence there, I should think most certainly the deliveries in kind were not so great. I think it would be safe to assume that. I come to the third point, which, I think, is really the most important, namely, the question of possible joint industrial arrangements for participation, which might be made between the French and German firms. Such arrangements, if they were made, I think, would fall into two classes. The first class would be arrangements for joint participation, made for the purpose of reparations, and on reparation account. The kind of arrangement which, I think, the right hon. Gentleman had in his mind, and which has figured a good deal lately in the Press —an arrangement put forward by a certain Herr Rechberg. That is, I think, one of the things the right hon. Gentleman had in mind, although it has been stated that Herr Rechberg was in no sense on an official mission, and that he was merely putting forward again a suggestion which he had made in the public Press on several occasions in the course of the last two years. But that type of arrangement would be an arrangement directed for the purpose of securing reparations by giving to Allied industrialists, through the medium of their Governments, a share in German industries. That was the proposal suggested by Herr Rechberg. He suggested, if I remember, that the capital in German industries might be increased, and that a certain proportion of the new capital might be handed over to one or more of the Allies, to be disposed of to their industrialists, and that it should be taken as a reparation payment. May I say here that in an arrangement of that kind the British Government would have the most direct interest, and the fullest right to decide whether such an arrangement was proper, in consultation with its Allies, because that would be a direct matter of reparation? M. Poincaré has asserted repeatedly, and has reaffirmed it again quite recently, that no such arrangement had in fact been made, and that he will not assent to any such arrangement without full consultation with all his Allies in the first instance. Therefore, I think it 177 is safe to say that no arrangement of that kind has been made, and the British Government will have the fullest chance of expressing its views and making its weight felt if any such arrangement should be proposed. Not only our Ambassador in Paris but the British representative on the Reparation Commission are fully alive to such a position, and the Government will then have the fullest opportunity of expressing its view on this, or of putting forward counter proposals. What is more difficult is the possible case of a private arrangement, equally important from the point of view of British industry, but from the point of view of the official right of the British Government to take action—
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Before the right hon. Gentleman deals with a private arrangement, are there no negotiations proceeding at the present moment—I can only refer to rumours in the Press—between the French Government and their representatives and certain industrial magnates in the Ruhr Valley?
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
My information is that there are not. It has been stated to us that no such negotiations are going forward at all. I want, of course, to give the right hon. Gentleman the fullest information in my power. There are, as he is aware, perpetual conversations going on between various German industrialists and a number of people in France. If by negotiations the right hon. Gentleman means conversations, then, I think, such conversations have from time to time taken place between French and German industrialists. But we are assured by the French Government that no arrangements of any kind have been made, and that before any such arrangements are made they would consult with all their Allies. Also may I add that the British steelmakers are, as I have said, in this matter in touch with the others concerned.
I come to the second type of case which is more difficult, and that is the possibility of private arrangements being made by French industrialists with German industrialists, not for the purpose of reparations at all, but merely as private business arrangements. This is a matter of just as much interest to British industry as a similar arrangement would be in respect to reparation. In regard to that 178 I may say that we are getting all the information we can, and our steelmakers are in contact with the French steelmakers. Although we should not have the right to raise directly, as a question of reparation, a transaction of that kind, we have made it perfectly plain both to the French and German Governments that any arrangement of the kind which was likely to do damage to an essential British industry is an arrangement which we should have to meet in this country by giving any industry which required it the fullest measure of support which any Government could give. I am sure that if any Government found a vital industry was seriously handicapped and seriously threatened by such an arrangement it would take whatever steps were required to assist that basic British industry.
§ Mr. MARLEY
I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman how far he thinks the foreign policy of the Government in standing aside when the French occupied the Ruhr has permitted a condition to arise by which the French industrialists can more or less dictate to the Germans, and on which this co-operation is going to take place for the exploitation of the worker?
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
I do not think that is relevant. What I am dealing with are solely the steps which we as a Government are taking to meet the present situation.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
I do not think I can give way, but upon the point which the hon. Gentleman has put I will say this: Whether there had or had not been an occupation of the Ruhr, when you have two great industrial areas so close together, the probability of combination between the German and French industrialists is a question which this country would have had to face in any event.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
There is a right way of conducting Debate in the House, and unless the speaker in possession gives way, the hon. Member is not entitled to put his question.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
I have really, I think, dealt with the point put by the hon. Member; but there is another point which, I think, it is important to state in this connection. The information which I have received is that no such private arrangement has been made up to the present time. But the possibility of arrangements of this kind has an indirect bearing upon the question of reparation, for this reason: If Germany is to pay effective reparation it is obvious that Germany must impose sufficient taxation in Germany in order to balance her Budget and provide a surplus for reparation payments. That can only be done if German industry is subjected to the heaviest taxation which German industry can bear. So far as reparations are concerned, it should be the common interest of the Allies to see that such taxation is imposed upon Germany. This has a very direct interest for this country, and for British industry. Unless, in order to obtain reparations, German industry is taxed, not merely as highly as British industry is taxed in this country, but in a still higher degree, in order that German industry may not be able to take advantage of the fact that through the depreciation of their Exchange it has been possible for German companies to wipe off a very large part of their capital charges—unless, I say, the taxation imposed upon Germany is both equal to the taxation of this country, and sufficient also to meet the countervailing advantage gained by the wiping out of German capital charges, it will mean that German industry will compete with British industry on terms which our industry cannot possibly hope to meet. I think that points to the fact for which successive Governments have contended, that in any settlement of reparation it is vital that there should be an inter-Allied or international control of German finance which will insure that such taxation as I have outlined is imposed upon German industry.
§ Mr. THURTLE
May I, in opening, bespeak that consideration which, I believe, the House always gives to a Member attempting the difficult task of addressing it for the first time. So far as this Debate has proceeded, it appears to me that a great deal of it has been dominated by the fact that in the near 180 future a Government is likely to be formed from that political party which is more closely identified than any other party with the working men and the working women. It is no accident that the party to which I belong has come back to the House in greatly increased strength. It is a fact that the 4½ million votes which have been recorded in support of the party to which I belong are very largely a direct injunction to this House, and this Parliamentary institution, to get on as quickly as possible with the business of remedying the very many social evils from which the country is suffering.
The Mover of the Address yesterday, in his wonderfully attractive speech, referred to the fact that the artificiality of this House, the dialectical swordplay, and the verbal sham fights have largely become a matter of the past. He said that realism had entered into politics. In my brief experience of this House I am not quite certain that that can be truthfully said of this House, but I am certain of this—and I think other Members who represent great industrial constituencies must be certain of it also—that in those constituencies there has been a change taking place. Politics have now become very real to the electors of this country. I attribute the change to some extent to the increase of political knowledge, and also to some extent to the fact that a very important part of our electorate is now composed of women. Anyhow, whatever the causes may be, hon. Members going down to their constituencies will find themselves with ever-increasing frequency and greater insistence being asked when Parliament is going to deal with this particular social problem and when Parliament is going to deal with that particular social problem—in other words, it appears to me that Parliament is now being asked to "deliver the goods." I and the other Members of my party are here, I hope, constantly to impress upon Parliament that that is our main duty.
I do not know whether any other Members of this House regret this change from artificiality to realism: speaking for myself, I do not. Sham, even when it is gilded, as it were, by tradition and ancient custom, may, in these days, very well make way for reality. We are getting down to what I think the House will 181 permit me to describe as "bread and butter" politics. The people of this country are very patient and long-suffering, but I would remind hon. Members that patience has its limits. I would point out to them—probably they acre already aware of the fact—that there are signs that people are not so very much longer going to be content to suffer evils which they feel can and ought to be remedied. I believe that unless Parliament, which is now upon its trial, realises that fact, unless it responds to the tremendous test which is going to be imposed upon it within the next few years, and does grant to these people this social redress, this social justice, for which they are asking, then very regrettably, but very certainly, there is going to be a breach in the constitutional practice of this country. If the people cannot get by means of constitutionalism that which they feel they are rightly entitled to get, depend upon it other means will be resorted to which constitutionalists will regret. There is a very simple deduction to be made from that fact, and it is that those Members of this House who are constantly preaching the great need far adopting only constitutional methods but who at the time are deliberately standing in the path of social progress and social change, must remember that they cannot have it both ways.
I would like to say in passing that there are other people who devote a great deal of their attention to my party. These coroneted dictators of a certain section of the Press should also bear in mind that they have to make this choice between ordered progress and change and something which is going to be much more unpleasant. I would just like to say that I come from a constituency where unemployment is very rife, and though I do not wish—and it would ill-become an obscure Member like me to try—to take away from the Prime Minister his reputation for sincerity, I do think that he has not much left in the way of sincerity with regard to the manner in Which he has dealt with this matter of unemployment.
I want the House to bear with me while I examine the Prime Minister's record in regard to the unemployment problem. It is not many months ago since we were told by the head of the Government that 182 he regarded unemployment as an urgent and tragic problem, and he said that the man who was without employment was without faith and without hope. If any hon. Member of this House has ever been unemployed for any length of time, as I have, he will be able to endorse the truth of that statement. The Prime Minister said that there was only one method by which the unemployment problem could be dealt with, and he appealed to the country on that method. The verdict of the country was to the effect that he should not be permitted to apply that method. Over a million people were still unemployed, and the problem was still tragic and urgent. The men were without faith and hope, and the women, too, were without faith and hope. What did the Prime Minister do in those circumstances? As this House well knows, he deliberately wasted a whole month of the precious time of the country, and did nothing. I submit that had he been the honourable man we hear so much about he would have accepted that practically conclusive vote of no confidence given to him by the country, and he would have said, "Here is this problem, tragic and urgent. I have not been permitted to deal with it, and therefore I must make way for some other Government which is prepared to deal with it."
I leave that aspect of the question, and I just want to deal with one other point. I come from a place where the people are huddled together, and I see that no reference is made in the King's Speech whatsoever to any amending legislation in connection with the Rent Restrictions Act. I want to call the attention of this House to the fact that that Act was passed in the interests of the landlords, because it was passed largely by a landlord's Government. That Act is resulting in almost intolerable hardship to many poor people. Eviction orders are being granted every day, and it is a fact that there are to-day hundreds, if not thousands, of poor people who as a result of that Act have been turned out into the streets with their families, and they are being driven like dumb cattle into the workhouses of this country because they have nowhere else to go.
So far as the Rent Restrictions Act is concerned, I ask the Government and the House why is it that there is no mention 183 of legislation of this sort in the King's Speech. Room has been found in that wonderful document for all sorts of things which are much more remote from the life of the people than the Rent Restrictions Act, and I can only think that it has been left out because the Government are very largely indifferent to the sufferings of those poor helpless people. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] Then I ask what is the explanation? The failure to attempt anything of a real remedy for unemployment, and the failure to deal out this elementary measure of justice so far as the homes of the people are concerned will be sufficient reasons for me, when the time comes, as I hope it will come very soon, to record my first vote in this House in order to bring about the destruction of the present Administration. When this Administration falls, as it certainly will fall, we shall be able to say of it with a great deal more truth than we have been able to say of any other Administration of recent times, that it has come to its end "Unwept, unhonoured, and unsung."
§ Mr. MARRIOTT
I am sure that I express the feelings of the whole House when I say to the hon. Member who has just resumed his seat that we greatly appreciate the earnestness and sincerity with which he has delivered his maiden speech in this House. In the few remarks which I intend to address the House, I do not propose to pursue the particular topic to which the hon. Member has called our attention. I would like to appeal to the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle) to help those of us interested in the question which I propose to bring to the notice of the House to deliver that particular parcel of the goods to which reference is made in the Amendment which 1 have put down on the Paper. I may say that in deference to your wishes, Mr. Speaker, and the House. I do not propose to move that Amendment, but I do want to call the attention of the House to one or two points with regard to the Gracious Speech from the Throne. In the first place, I desire to comment on one sentence included in that Speech, and upon one paragraph which I do not find there. The King's Speech states:Bills will be introduced to improve the position of pre-War pensioners, and to deal 184 with the discouragement of thrift involved m the present means limitation to the grant of old age pensions.I should have imagined, at any rate until yesterday, that that announcement would have been welcomed from every quarter of the House. But, as a matter of fact, when my hen. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Banks) approached that subject, his references were received with jeers and derision from the benches opposite. I was very sorry indeed to hear those derisive cheers. Perhaps they arise from some mistrust, not of the policy which the Government are pursuing, but as to their methods. I confess that it is my hope that before this Debate is concluded we may have some indication as to whether that very desirable end is going to be achieved. Like many other hon. Members of this House, I have most earnestly desired to see these most unfair and mischievous means limitations abolished from the administration of our old age pension scheme. That we all desire, and some of us recognise that there are immense difficulties in the way of doing it.
I was very sorry to hear the reference made by the Leader of the Opposition in his speech yesterday to this subject. I admit that he made a debating point, but I submit that it is exceedingly unfair to represent the proposals of the Government as being on a parallel scale with those which were rejected in this House a year ago. Personally, I have long been convinced that the only possible way of satisfactorily solving this problem is by bringing the administration of our old age pensions into one great comprehensive scheme of national insurance, and this brings me to the paragraph which I miss from His Majesty's most Gracious Speech. I had hoped, and I think a very large number of other hon. Members had hoped, that the Gracious Speech would have contained some reference to a comprehensive scheme of insurance which figured very prominently in the Prime Minister's election address and in the addresses of other distinguished persons.
I hope to offer a very few observations on this omission. Some Members of the House may be aware that for a long time past I have been devoting considerable attention to this question. Since I first adumbrated the scheme I have been invited both by associations of employers 185 and of unionists and by other bodies of wage-earners to confer with them in reference to the details of such a scheme. I felt more than justified therefore, both by the invitations of these organisations and by the representations I have re-received, in giving this subject a very prominent place in my own election campaign. I regret the omission of all mention of this question from the Speech, more particularly for this reason, that, quite obviously and plainly, this is not a party question. It is a matter which can only be satisfactorily dealt with and settled by the cordial co-operation of all parties in this House, and I would have supposed therefore it was pre-eminently a question which might with special appropriateness and with a special chance of a hopeful solution have been proposed to a House of Commons composed as the present House is.
This matter can be approached from several points. You can approach it from the point of view of contributing to the solution of that industrial unrest which deplored by everyone in this House. Everyone is agreed as to the paralysing effect of industrial strife, and everyone wants to find a remedy for it. I believe nothing would do more to eliminate causes of industrial unrest and to promote that harmony which we all desire between the several parties in industry than the scheme which I am now advocating. You might approach it from the point of view of production. It is obvious, if Protection is abandoned as a policy, then we must find some means of speeding up the production of those goods in regard to which we may claim to have an advantage. Then one might approach the scheme from the point of view of the restoration—and I believe this is most important of all—of the restoration of that sense of reasonable security which the industrial changes of the last century and a half have done so much to dissipate.
What is the situation by which we are at present confronted? We have to-day some 16 or 17 millions of insurable persons —adult manual workers—who are absolutely dependent on the wages they earn from week to week, and I suppose we have another 24 million people or more who are dependent on them. It is therefore no exaggeration to say that a large proportion of these wage-earners are from adolescence to the grave haunted by a dread of unemployment. I am very glad 186 to get an assenting cheer from hon. Members opposite, and I believe and hope that I shall have more such cheers before I sit down. I say that from adolescence to the grave the great mass of wage-earners are haunted by this (tread. Dependent as they are upon weekly wages, liable as they are to be thrown out of work either by seasonal fluctuations incidental to many occupations or by one of those current crises which are inseparable from trades organised for the supply of the world's markets, it is small wonder that the outlook of the modern wage-earners is tinged with great anxiety and it is no wonder that that anxiety should from time to time engender unrest. The wage-earner is haunted not only by the fear of unemployment, but he is haunted, in spite of provision made by recent legislation, by fear of sickness and disablement, by fear of premature death, and by the certainty, if he survives, of old age. Sickness, old age, and death—these are the common lot. These things have one meaning to a man who is living on an assured income. They have another meaning to the man who depends on a weekly wage—a very much more sinister significance for the working man.
The question which I and others have addressed ourselves to is this, and in passing I should like to acknowledge the enormous debt which those of us interested in this scheme have incurred to one who once represented the Claycross Division of Derbyshire (Mr. Broad), and who worked exceedingly hard on this question. Anything I have been able to do in the matter has been very largely due to his assistance. The question is really this. Is it possible —and to this I venture to invite the attention of all sections of the House—is it possible to devise a scheme which shall dissipate the haunting anxiety to which I have referred, and thereby eliminate some of the causes of industrial unrest? I am one of those who believe that it is possible. What are the conditions which such a scheme must fulfil? In the first place, the benefits secured under the scheme must be really adequate to the various contingencies which I have mentioned—unemployment, sickness, accident, old age, premature death, and dependent widows and children. The benefits secured must be really adequate. In the second place, the scheme must obviously be contributory; the State must do its part, the 187 employer must do his part, and the wage-earner must do his part in contributing to the scheme. In the third place, it must not lay an intolerable burden on any one of the three parties who contribute. In the fourth place, it must obviously be actuarially watertight and sound. In the fifth place, it must be so devised as to stimulate productivity and discourage malingering, and it must not offer any inducement to voluntary unemployment. Further, it must promote harmony between the several parties concerned in the industry.
How is that to be done? My own first idea, and the idea of those with whom I was associated in the working out of the scheme, was that we should proceed by industries and that each industry should be called upon to carry its own casualties. Therefore my first idea was to proceed by industries and more than one scheme was worked out with that end in view. For instance there was a scheme for the mining industry, and there was also a very interesting scheme worked out by the late Member for Northampton (Mr. McCurdy) for the boot and shoe industry. Various other schemes were worked out, and I shall be glad to communicate them to any hon. Member who may be interested in the matter. But I think the difficulties of applying a scheme of insurance by industries to the whole field of industrial life are almost insuperable. The difficulties will occur to everyone. It has been pointed out with very great force by Mr. Seebohm Rowntree, whose firm have an admirable scheme of their own. Amongst the obvious difficulties are in the first place the demarcation of industry, the fluidity of the men borne on the industry, and the difficulty of determining who belong to a particular industry. How are you going to allocate to any given industry the vast amount of floating labour, even in the most highly organised industry? Hon. Members are aware there is a regular migration of skilled labour between one or two or more industries and that is very much more the case in the less highly organised industries.
Those of us who are interested in this matter have reluctantly come to the conclusion that insurance on the basis of industries may have to be abandoned, though I should like, I confess, to await on that point the result of the Commission which I very much hope the 188 Government may be induced to set up to inquire into the whole of this question. If the scheme of insurance by industries is to be abandoned may I suggest that it must be abandoned in favour of some other scheme which shall secure the same ends which I have ventured to indicate by slightly different methods—by methods which shall embrace the whole body of 16 or 17 million insurable persons, and shall as far as is humanly possible guarantee them against the inevitable contingencies which are incidental at present to our industrial life. I promised I would not detain the House at any length and I intend to fulfil that promise, but may I just say one word in conclusion. May I make an appeal not only to the Government, but to the House at large—a very earnest appeal—to take this matter which I have raised into very serious consideration. I make the appeal not only to the Government now sitting on these benches, but to any Government which may succeed it. I very earnestly appeal to them to take this matter into their consideration. I am not aware that this matter has ever been raised on the Floor of the House before, though I and others have advocated it from many platforms and through many mediums. I submit that this is preeminently a question suitable for consideration and for settlement at the hands of a House constituted as this House is at present, for no party can carry any scheme of reform through this House of Commons without the concurrence and co-operation of other parties. Here is a scheme which makes no exclusive appeal to any single party, but which ought in my judgment, to make an irresistible appeal to the common instincts, to the common humanity and to the common sense of all parties in the House.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I make no apology to the House when I ask it to allow me to discuss for two or three minutes a very important domestic problem. Before I deal with this domestic problem, I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs upon two things first, upon the high honour His Majesty has conferred upon him, and, secondly, upon the great ability of his speech this 189 afternoon. Those of us who represent the Highlands of Scotland are interested just now in the widespread distress which exists there. The first point which is clear is that it is genuine distress. Those of us who read our newspapers must have seen the two eloquent appeals sent forth to the public by two of the best known Highlanders, the Lord Lieutenant of Rosshire, and the Lord Lieutenant of Invernesshire. Those are two Lords Lieutenant who live in their own counties and who know accurately and well the exact position of affairs. This appeal has met with wide sympathy at home and abroad. The reason for that is not far to seek. The Highlander is a law-abiding citizen, patriotic, brave and gallant. The minds of most people in this country must go back to about eight years ago, when the country was in dire need, and the most responsive answer came from that part of Scotland which is now suffering this great distress. It is true that this sympathy has been forthcoming in a practical form. I hope it will continue to come forward in a practical form. I would merely make the suggestion with regard to this particular point to my hon. and learned Friend, that I hope the Secretary for Scotland will do his best to urge the institution of a central machinery in order to prevent any overlapping of the funds which a generous public is good enough to give to this deserving cause.
But I, for one, must look a little further than a temporary solution of this difficulty. I believe that, the time has now come when we ought to look beyond any temporary solution to a, permanent solution of our Highland difficulties. As a Highlander, I very often felt, even when I was in the Government, when great amounts of money, millions of pounds, were spent in the development of the Empire, in all kinds of Dominions, and in all lands, that that was a good thing. But I was equally convinced that it would have been a much better thing if part of those millions were spent in preserving real life-blood of the Empire in our own native Highlands.
The situation in the North is a difficult one. You are dealing there with men and women who have no knowledge of organisation, who are not organised as the workers in cities are, who belong to trades which are neither insured nor insurable, who get their living from the harvest of the sea and the harvest of the 190 land. Anybody who was in the last Parliament will remember that my colleagues and myself did our level best to press the Secretary for Scotland to institute an immediate investigation into the facts which surrounded the harvest of the sea. Illegal trawling has been taking place round the coasts of Scotland, and the finest stock of the land, the fishermen in the villages of the East and West coasts of Scotland, who were the mine-sweepers in the Great War, have had the cruelty conflicted upon them of seeing even German trawlers coming within three miles of their own shores and depriving them of their fishing.
Then take the harvest of the land. Everybody knows that there is a sentimental attachment in the heart of the Highlander to the land in which he was born. He loves his hills and he loves his straths, and even though the land be poor and the soil ungrateful, he is content to live there. Very often he has lived never expecting to make a fortune. All he wanted was to have for himself and his family a home where he could rear his family in religious peace, comfort and respectability. At the best of seasons, the croft where he expected to carry on and gain his livelihood and that of his family was a meagre one, but it was sufficient for the season. This year he has had to endure one of the worst seasons on record. I am told that never since the days of the "hungry forties" have they had to endure such a season. Not only have their crops been bad, but they are entirely dependent, owing to the nonexistence of coal mines near at hand, and owing to the heavy cost of transport of coal from the South, upon that homely substitute for coal, peat. Anyone who has been, as I have recently been, among that glorious and beautiful scenery, and who has seen lying on the heather the peat which in ordinary seasons would have been piled up and dried, and ready to be carried home, to sustain with heat and comparative comfort the crofter and his family, will know that that peat is still lying out there, with no possibility at all of being dried, and will realise the hardships which this hardy and intrepid people are called upon to endure. I sincerely hope my hon. and learned Friend—I was grateful for the answer he gave me this afternoon—will see to it 191 that everything, that can be done will be done by his Office to send not only coal, but seed -potatoes and oats, to the various crofting townships which are scattered abroad all over the North of Scotland.
I think that the time has come when the temporary solution of this business is no good. We have got to look towards the future and to think of what may be done. You must have—and I trust that the Committee has so found—better policing of the coast for preserving the fish for the fisherman. You must have a finer trawling police system and you must have better transport. I have been looking up the Reports of the various Commissions which were appointed to consider the question of the Highlands of Scotland, and I find that Government after Government, in office and after it has left office, has maintained that it was to the best interests of this country to, keep a vigorous, strong, and a virile rural population in the beautiful glens and straths of the Highlands of Scotland. If anything is to be done at all, it must be done on the lines of improved transport. Light railways have been recommended, but nothing has been done. While millions have been spent in every corner of the world in developing railways, we are told, if we want even £35,000 to develop railways in our own country and among our own kindred, that the Treasury has no money available for this purpose. It is indeed false economy to proceed on financial lines of that kind, The greatest 'wealth we can have in this country is the happiness and contentment of the people.
I do not quite agree with the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle), who favoured us this afternoon with his maiden speech, when he said that he and his party can claim to be in closer touch with the working classes than other parties, but I am willing to agree that they are as keen to benefit the workers of this country as we are, and no more. I am quite willing to pledge myself, here and now, to support any Government that comes into power which will utilise the finances of this country, not in great schemes, though I welcome them all over the world, but on just such schemes at home of the kind I have been endeavouring to bring before the House. I trust my hon. and learned Friend will assure 192 the House that the Scottish Office is reconsidering the whole situation. While we are satisfied and gratified because of the assistance he has given to us in the present condition of distress, I will never be satisfied until the Highlands get their fair share of the finances of this country and become once again the happy breeding ground of fine manhood.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL for SCOTLAND (Mr. F. C. Thomson)
The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has, with great eloquence, called our attention to the state of affairs in the Highlands and Western Islands at the present time. There is no doubt that this season has been a very severe one. There has been great difficulty in gathering peat, and now the potato crop has suffered, and from what I hear it will not be more than 50 per cent. of the normal in some districts and less in others. The Board of Agriculture and the Board of Health have been alive to the situation from the start, and have conducted investigations and endeavoured to ascertain the amount of distress, and also what measures would be necessary. This, of course, is a difficult problem. As far as regards the Island of Lewis, where the conditions are the worst, the situation is being relieved by road works assisted by public funds. The work of re-surfacing the roads and reconstruction of the bridges is in operation, and upon it some £20,000 will be expended. There is also the extension of the South Loch-Erisort road in the Island of Lewis, and three road schemes in Harris have also been approved. In South Uist and Barra, road schemes have also been approved. As regards Skye, the Ministry of Transport have sanctioned a grant towards road schemes on a considerable scale, but the local authorities have not been able to proceed owing to difficulties in regard to staff and engineering. In the mainland districts, where the situation is certainly not so serious as in Lewis, there have not, it is true, been special relief measures, but several Government schemes are, as my right hon. Friend is aware, available. Assistance from the Unemployment Grants Committee is available to local authorities for works of public utility, and land drainage schemes have also been sanctioned in Argyll, Caithness, Sutherland and Ross. With regard to what my right 193 hon. Friend said about seed potatoes, this question is being considered, and a statement will be made as soon as possible.
As regards the parish councils, the mainland parishes have not hitherto thought it necessary to put into operation the provisions of the Poor Law Emergency Provisions Act, 1921, which authorises relief of able-bodied persons. A number of parishes in the Outer Isles have found it necessary to do so, and several of them are to receive assistance in the form of a loan from the Goschen Committee, with temporary suspension of interest and repayment. Those parish councils are applying part of those loans to the purchase of ware potatoes for distribution to necessitous persons as relief in kind. Needless to say, the Board of Health and the Board of Agriculture are assisting the parish councils in organising the purchase and transport of these ware potatoes. As my right hon. Friend has pointed out, private individuals have in many cases come to the aid of their localities. The Lords Lieutenant of both Ross and Inverness have issued appeals, and other appeals have been issued. In yesterday's "Scotsman" and "Glasgow Herald" there appeared letters from the Lord Provosts of Edinburgh and Glasgow, calling upon their fellow-countrymen to subscribe to help these people, whom the inclement conditions of last summer have brought into temporary difficulties. One hopes, and one is sure, that there will be from the Scottish public, hard though the times may be, a very general response to help that most deserving and honoured section of the community in the Highlands who are suffering so sadly from the weather conditions.
As my right hon. Friend pointed out, it is most desirable that these various schemes should be co-ordinated, and that there should be no unnecessary overlapping. The Board of Health and the Scottish Office have been in close touch with the Lord Provosts of Edinburgh and Glasgow, and with the various persons who have organised the other voluntary funds, and it is hoped that arrangements will be secured whereby some one central body shall co-ordinate and arrange for the distribution of relief—a body which, of course, will be chosen from people having special knowledge of the localities, and assisted in every way by the Board of Health. I think that, in giving this 194 information, I have dealt with the different points which my right hon. Friend raised. The Government Departments have from the start done what they could to help this difficult situation, which of course, one not easy to deal with. They have set on foot all these emergency schemes to which I have referred, and, as I said a moment or two ago, I have not the smallest doubt that the Scottish public will see that adequate response is forthcoming to the appeal which is now made for those who have suffered from the serious weather conditions.
§ Mr. D. G. SOMERVILLE
As the representative of a purely labour and industrial constituency, where 99 per cent. of the people are working men and women, I intervene in this Debate for two reasons. My first reason is that a considerable amount of the unemployment in Barrow is due to Socialist and Communist propaganda, and there are several facts to which I desire to draw the attention of hon. Members who, in view of the appetising smell of the fresh loaves and fishes, should appreciate them. Before I deal with a number of the vote-catching principles put forward, I want to impress on the House, if I can, the plight of Barrow. The unemployment in Barrow during the last three years has been absolutely appalling. Out of a population not exceeding 74,000 we have had over 15,000 men and women out of work. The Government assisted us last year, and I have to thank the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Health for what they did. After all, however, the assistance which they granted to us was really by way of loans, and what we want in Barrow is work. Last year we were told that the Government proposed to place orders for certain cruisers, and, if I was not given an absolute assurance, I certainly understood that Barrow would have the preference in one of those orders. I wish to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty, when he has an opportunity of replying, what is the position with regard to those cruisers, because work we must have.
I was very glad to notice that this matter was referred to in the King's Speech, and that an assurance was given that these orders were going to be placed. It sent a message of hope to my people 195 at Barrow. But this message of hope was dashed to the ground by a very cynical reference by the Leader of the Opposition to the Speech as consisting of nothing hut odds and ends. He followed this, utterly regardless of the suffering of other people, with a threat of a vote of no confidence in the programme detailed in the King's Speech. I think the electors of Barrow, and also the electors of other shipbuilding and naval construction towns, will note and remember those statements. I have often wondered when sitting here listening to the speeches of the intelligentsia. and the budding Kerenskys of the hon. Gentleman's party, what they really know of the sufferings and anxieties of the working masses of these people. If they had worked alongside them, as I have, they would not have dared to do some of the things they have done, or to make the glib promises they have made. They would not have dared to organise and direct the strikes which have dislocated the trade of this country —[An HON. MEMBER: "What about lockouts?"]—they would not have dared to bring forward schemes of alien immigration into this country, and would not have raised the objections they do raise to emigration from this country to our own Colonies and other places abroad. I notice that in the King's Speech a reference is made to the question of housing. We are assured that the undertaking given that the scheme under the Bill brought in last year is going to be extended. We are told that this scheme has not been a success. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Very well. I happen to know something about building and the building of houses. We have not enough houses at the present time—why?
§ Mr. SOMERVILLE
I will tell the House why. At the present time building in this country is being delayed and hampered everywhere because there are not; enough bricklayers and plasterers to put these houses up, and you cannot build a -single house without a bricklayer and a plasterer. Why are there no bricklayers and plasterers in this country? It is because, after the War; owing to the Socialistic doctrines impregnating the trade unions, the trade unions did not allow any dilution of building labour.
§ Mr. SOMERVILLE
It is true. It must be borne in mind that it takes years to train a bricklayer or a plasterer to become efficient. How is this wonderful Government, about which we are told, going to create a new earth and cover it with model dwellings in a night? But this is only one of the many promises which have been held out to the electors of this country as a bribe. Might I ask why should confidence be placed in a minority party? On our programme, and on the programme outlined in the King's Speech, we collected a million more votes than the second party and a million and a quarter more than the third party. Therefore we, if anyone, are entitled to the confidence of the country.
§ Mr. SOMERVILLE
This party, which is criticising the King's Speech and appealing for the confidence of the country, is led in many cases by internationalists. With regard to our foreign policy, which has been criticised, does the country realise that the British Labour delegates who went to Hamburg last year, and professed that they represented 3,000,000 working people of this country, were pledged by their leaders to agree and give in to the authority of the Pan-German International?
§ Mr. SOMERVILLE
Those Resolutions were passed by 462 delegates. Of those delegates, nine represented the Labour and Trade Union party, ten represented the Independent Labour party, one represented the Fabian Association, and the other represented the Social National Federation. We, therefore, had 21—
§ Mr. SOMERVILLE
You had therefore 21 British delegates against 441 foreign delegates who claimed, together with the British delegates, to represent 30 countries.
§ Mr. SOMERVILLE
You have this result. You have the birthright of 7,000,000 Britishers handed over to this pan-Germanic international. Does the country realise that? It is this party, led and instructed by these delegates, who in spite of their flamboyant promises only polled 4,500,000 votes, this party who advocate the policy of scuttle from all our Dominions and countries we have given pledges to, this party who state that they are going to handle our relief programme and our foreign affairs, though I think hardly one among them has ever been responsible for organising or carrying out any large undertaking or increased the wealth of this country or ever found a single man a job, it is this party who want to use the compulsory power of the State to regulate and direct the destiny of everyone in this country. I agree that the community can in some cases improve, but it always comes back to the individual who has to take the final responsibility and who has to pay for what he gets and for what Re wants. If you kill this individuality you kill the thing which has made this country one of the most powerful countries in the world. We were sneered at yesterday for the policy on which we went to the country. After all, is there much to sneer about, considering that we polled 1,000,000 more votes than the Socialists and 1,250,000 more than the wait and see Liberals? [An HON. MEMBER: "Repeat it again!"] I probably will. We were also accused yesterday of stealing the Socialist policy. God forbid! Surely the boot is on the other foot. I noticed in a newspaper a few weeks ago that the Glasgow Corporation were considering the placing of a contract for certain engineering materials, and had decided to accept a foreign tender. But on the motion of the Labour party this was rescinded and the order was placed in this country. Is this Tariff Reform or Free Trade? [An HON. MEMBER: "Common sense!"] Common sense. That is our policy. The other party who are bowing the main Opposition into office—
§ Mr. SOMERVILLE
Last Session a Bill was brought into this House for the protection of performing animals. It was intended to protect the jumping frog and the camel with a hump. The Labour 198 party will require far more protection if they have to perform according to the desires of the troop directed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith). However, this is a, matter that rests between these two parties. What the junior partner of the combine has to explain when they go to the country is why, in view of the fact that they were elected in many cases by an anti-Socialist vote, they are allowing the Socialists into power. They may find the explanation is rather difficult. It is very obvious what is going to happen. They imagine they are making a catspaw of the other partner and that when it suits them they are going to kick them out. But sleeping sickness in many cases is fatal and when they go back to the country the indignant electors who put them where they are at present will wrap them up in their soiled bed-clothes and bury them. In any case I do not think the Conservative party, on the King's Speech that appeared the day before yesterday, has very much to fear. Their policy is known. It is a sane, sound, well-ordered policy. On the other hand, you have the two-penny-halfpenny policy of one party, who want a sort of British Bolshevism, and the other party, who have no policy at all. I have always noticed that when you mix sand with clay the result is red, and I think the result of this combination, when what is left of the second party remains, will be very similar, and I think the Conservatives when they go to the country next can appeal to the country to support the Union Jack against the Red Flag.
Mr. MAR LEY
I wholly disagree with the hon. Member who has just sat down with regard to the amount of unemployment which has been created by agitation from the Labour party and the Socialist organisations of the country. I want to suggest that the foreign policy of the Government has had something to do with the gravity of the unemployment problem. I wish to suggest to the President of the Board of Trade that there might be some connection between the position on the Ruhr and the position in regard to reparations and the problem of unemployment. He has more or less done away with the case put up to-day by another right hon. Gentleman that there 199 has been co-operation in regard to foreign policy between this country and France, because in reply to a question raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Burghs (Mr. Lloyd George) he said there was a grave danger that there might be an industrial arrangement between the industrialists of France and Germany with regard to the exploitation of the Ruhr. He also admitted that certain of the steel which had been seized in the Ruhr the other day had not been exported, so far as he was aware, to foreign countries, but had in fact been used in Belgium and in France. To what extent that home consumption had been permitted he could not say, but there was a possibility that in the future there would be licensing arrangements, supervised by an official of this Government, before any further export of this seized steel took place. He mentioned, too, that there were two chances in regard to these arrangements between the industrialists. The first was that there might be an arrangement for the purpose of reparation accounts, and in that case he quite glibly told us they would probably find the Government would be advised about it, but only if it came under the heading of reparation accounts. But he said there was a more dangerous possibility and that was that there might be a back-handed arrangement between the industrialists of Germany and of France with regard to the exploitation of the Ruhr in which this country would not be interested and would not be consulted.
The possibility of this arrangement has directly arisen from the incapacity of the Government to foresee the result of standing aside when the Ruhr was occupied by the French, and permitting them to undertake that occupation with a mere formal protest. In that they failed to carry out what they are trying to tell us they always did in co-operating with France. I interrupted, and pointed out that they had made the position so bad for the German industrialists that it was an easy matter now for the French industrialists to make a bargain with them for the exploitation of the Ruhr. He did not seem to quite grip that point. It seems to me clear that if you are depriving, by means of reparations, or unjust treatment or in any other way, the capital of Germany from being used in a way which will strengthen and 200 expand their own industries, it is an easy matter for a. foreign country to come in and use that capital, first of all for the purpose of getting reparations, but ultimately for domination and control of those particular industries.
The right hon. Gentleman then put forward this peculiar argument, that there would be no possibility of better trade or better commercial relations in regard to trade—I want you to notice this as a new idea of commercial relationships—until such time as Germany was as heavily taxed as we are taxed in this country. That is very clever. I am not saying how far it is true, but it is a very peculiar doctrine, because you are going to say to another nation, "We cannot compete with you unless you tax yourselves as heavily as we are taxed." The taxation is not because of reparations, but because of the inability of the Governments during the War to meet expenses for the War out of taxation at that time, instead of putting it on the people in the shape of loans to be met now. There are always two ways of meeting expenditure at any moment. I should like to ask the President of the Board of Trade how, when the finance of a country is depreciating, not from week to week, but from day to day, he would like to be asked to prepare a scheme of taxation which would meet the expenditure of his Department when it became due at the end of the year. If he could not devise it, how would he collect it? In that case, I would like to place him in the position of the German Chancellor of the Exchequer and ask him how he would do it. I am not suggesting that there are not people in Germany who are trying to escape, but I suggest that there are people in this country who, under similar conditions, faced with the responsibility for war debt expenditure or reparations or anything else, would attempt to escape in a similar way. There are people who have told us openly that if the responsibility for the debt of the country were to be placed upon them they would get rid of that responsibility. How they would do it we do not know. I am advancing these arguments as an indictment not only of the foreign policy of the present Government but of the foreign policy inaugurated by its predecessors. Of all the parties in the State, the only party which ventured at the beginning to condemn it as a foolish 201 policy, right from the peace of Versailles to the present day, and continues to denounce it, is the Labour party, of which I have the honour to be a member.
§ Sitting suspended at Thirteen Minutes before Eight o'Clock until Nine o'Clock.
§ On resuming
§ Mr. LEIF JONES
In listening to the Debate during the last two days, I confess I have been impressed by a certain sense of unreality. We have been sitting opposite to a bench of Ministers—the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Home Secretary and other Gentlemen who fill great offices in the State—but their authority has gone from them. The seat of authority is vacant. I am not one of those who criticise the Ministry because they decided to meet the House of Commons before resigning. I think that was in accordance with constitutional practice. The verdict of the nation is pronounced through the men whom they send to this House, and I, therefore, think the Government were well advised to meet the Members of this House and to take the verdict from us here. The House of Commons is the body chosen by the nation to declare its verdict. It was to the nation that the Ministry appealed and we are here to deliver their answer. I must admit, however, that I was not prepared for such an assumption of bland ignorance of the nature of the nation's verdict as is shown by the drawing up of a mixed programme of administrative and legislative reform which might have been well enough in the case of a Ministry with a Session or a Parliament or two before them, but which is a little absurd on the part of a Ministry which meets the House Ito hear its death sentence. The King's Speech is much longer than usual. There is a review of foreign and Imperial affairs which Ministers will no longer direct; there are references to estimates which they will not introduce and to Bills which -will never see the light. The Prime Minister seemed to have some lingering doubt as to whether this House were really going to turn him out of office. He referred to the Ministry's successors—if they were going to have any. The Prime Minister may make his mind easy. The Ministry are going to have successors, and that very soon.
The one thing that is quite certain as a result of this Election, for all Members of the Opposition, is that we were sent 202 here to turn this Ministry out, and we intend to do so. The hon. Member for Barrow (Mr. D. G. Somerville), who addressed the House before we adjourned, declared we had no business to turn Ministerialists out because they were the largest section of the House, and that the effect of our votes might be to put a Labour Ministry into office. That is not our concern. The commission given to me with great definiteness by my constituents was that, whatever else I did in Parliament, I was to get rid of the present Ministry. The nation, as far as I could test its feeling in the Election, was comparatively indifferent as to who might follow the present Ministry as compared with the importance of getting the present Ministers out of the offices which they have held in recent years. I am told that the hon. Member for Barrow said we should consider the protests that are being made by the electors against the coming in of a Labour Ministry.
§ Mr. JONES
It is about time they were made if they are coming at all; there is not much opportunity left for protest or persuasion, and for my part, I have not seen a single word of a single letter from any one of my constituents suggesting that I should do anything but vote the present Ministry out. Speaking for myself and for other Members of the Opposition, we are entirely unaffected by the argument that the result of our action may be to bring in a Ministry the prospect of which terrifies hon. Members on the Ministerial side of the House. There is, no doubt, an entirely new situation in this House of Commons. When this Ministry goes, whatever administration may succeed them, we shall be in the position of having a, Cabinet which has not a certain majority in the House. The Cabinet of the day will not have the command, through its Whips, of a positive majority of the House, and I was very much interested to hear my hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition say he was not sure he was sorry that such was the situation in the present House of Commons. It would, no doubt, be pleasanter for Ministers to have a large majority behind the Ministry, but I am not sure that it has been altogether 203 for the good of this House or the country that Cabinets have been able in the past to depend on obedient majorities whipped into the Lobby by their officials. Some hon. Members will be aware that I sat here before, and that I have come back after five years' absence. During the time I was in this House I watched the growing power of Ministers over the time of this House and the Measures of this House, and I see that a theory has grown up, which is exemplified in the language we hear used every day, that the Cabinet is the Government. To-day I have heard the expression "His Majesty's Government" used in speaking of the Cabinet of the day. His Majesty in the Speech never speaks of "My Government"; he speaks of "My Ministers," and it has not been a good thing for the country or the House that the theory has grown and Increased, that the Cabinet are the Government of the country, and that the House of Commons has really very little to do beyond choosing a Cabinet and then going to sleep, except on those occasions when they have to vote Supply. I do not hold that view of the duties of the House of Commons. Speaking of the Cabinet as the Government is a practice of recent growth
§ Mr. JONES
I think I am right. Mr. Gladstone invariably spoke of the "Administration" or of the "Ministry," and he would have been horrified by the suggestion that the government of the country was vested in the Cabinet. The government of the country is in the King and Parliament, and the predominant body in the Parliament is this House of Commons, and the ultimate authority in this country for government is a newly-elected House of Commons. I ask the House to note the effect of this theory. We had it exemplified yesterday in the speeches made by the Mover of the Address and by the Prime Minister. The Mover of the Address said that for us to reject a resolution passed by the Imperial Conference would be little short of a national breach of faith. The Prime Minister, though he did not put it as high as that, used words which, I think, show the truth of what I have been saying in regard to the Cabinet. He saidWhen I made the statement that Parliament would ratify what was done, quite clearly I spoke then in the position of a 204 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. So 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." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th January, 1924; col. 115, Vol. 169.]I entirely deny the doctrine that because the Prime Minister goes as a representative of the people or of this House to a conference, and there is a party to certain resolutions passed in that conference, he can do so as being able to bind the action of the House of Commons. It is not for the good of the country that such powers should be wielded by individuals, and if that theory prevails it makes the act of submitting these resolutions to the House really a pretence, because the House is not free to give its decision. It cannot give its decision on the' merits of the case. It has to give its decision subject to the condition that if it goes against the Minister he may resign, which is an irrelevant consideration, and the freedom of this House demands that Ministers should not be able to speak in these terms, as if a majority in the House was bound to ratify their every act. Therefore, I think the Leader of the Opposition, with other Members of this House, may well rejoice that we see to-day, in the situation which has emerged from the General Election, a restoration of the old powers of the House of Commons as against the Gentlemen who sit upon that. Ministerial Bench.
I have been five years in the wilderness, and I come back to find this House almost unchanged. I have heard a great deal outside of the great changes that have taken place in the House of Commons since I went out in 1918, but I come back, and I do not see the changes. The House of Commons has a strong individuality of its own, and though many of the faces before me are new—some I recognise as having been here in the old days—the whole place has its own atmosphere, its own individuality, and it is the historic House of Commons which is meeting here to-day, and which I recognise as the House in which I sat for so many years. Its authority is increased by the recovery of those powers which have been filched from it by Ministers during recent 205 years, and every proposition now put forward must command the general assent of Members of this House. I was delighted with that incident over the election, or the non-election, of Chairman of Committees yesterday. The Chairman is the servant of the House, and it would not be right that Ministers, from whom all authority has gone as a result of the General Election, should choose the Chairman of this House for this Parliament. The Chairman must be a man who commends himself to the general sense of this House, and yesterday's Debate on the Chairmanship as just an instance of the restored power of the House of Commons as against the Ministry of the day. Therefore, those of us who love the House of Commons, who believe that in the House of Commons lies the safety of the liberties of this people and that in the decisions of the majority of this House of Commons may be seen the intention and verdict of the electors of this country, may rejoice, even though it may have some inconvenience in the present balance of parties.
I want to say a special word on one or two points in the Gracious Speech from the Throne. The tariff proposals of the Government are dismissed in a very modest paragraph far down in the Speech, as if they were of small importance. The Ministry say of these proposals that they "were not accepted by the country," and that is a truthful statement, but the Ministry have studied the value of under-statement, and it is putting it mildly to say that they were not accepted; they were contemptuously rejected by the country.
§ Mr. JONES
They were in a very small minority comparatively, and the reason of it was not alone that this country will not, I believe, tolerate tariffs at all—every time this country has had an opportunity of voting on the question it has rejected the tariffs—but the proposition which I think outraged the country was the suggestion that these tariffs could be used as a cure for unemployment. It was almost a cruel mockery of the people to offer for unemployment "salvation by taxes," which was the phrase used by the Prime 206 Minister in the course of the Election. It is a considerable puzzle to me, I confess, to understand the mentality of a thorough-going Protectionist. I find it very difficult to follow Ms reasoning. We spend our lives in trying to smooth the operations of trade; we make railways and roads, and we build ships, all in order to facilitate the operations of trade, and then along comes your Protectionist and says: "Having levelled the obstacles and opened the ways of trade, let us put up artificial barriers in the shape of tariffs."
I do not dispute, nor would any Free Trader, that you can undoubtedly interfere with trade by means of tariffs. You can direct trade, you can limit trade you can even favour particular trades at the expense of other trades, but it is impossible—and I challenge any Protectionist on this point—by means of tares and tariffs to increase the total volume of employment in any country. It. cannot be done, and it was the understanding of the people that, whatever might be the merits of your Protectionist proposals they could not possibly touch the difficulties pressing upon the people that made them reject, as I say, contemptuously, the appeal which the Government made to them. It was a cruel mockery of people who, like my own constituents, have been out of employment for years through no fault of thou own. The case of the tin miners of Cornwall is known to every Member of this House. The Government offer amounted to raising the cost of everything used in working the mines—the machinery and apparatus—and increasing the cost of the supplies, but it offered them nothing in return. That was the offer which was made by the Government, and it is not surprising that the County of Cornwall, and practically the whole of the West of England, rejected the proposal.
The same fate, and for similar reasons, befell the Government in regard to their proposals for dealing with the agricultural question. The bribe of £1 an acre on the arable land was no doubt A tempting one to the farmers, but they did not believe you meant to pay it. Certainly they had fair warning from the 'Prime Minister. I admit that any farmer would be glad to receive £1 an acre for his arable land, but he did not believe it The only man I know who has made any money out of this is a farmer of 207 my acquaintance who farms 600 acres of arable land He was at a Farmers' Union dinner just before the Election was proclaimed, and he was informed that the Government were about to propose a subsidy of £1 an acre on arable land. He said: "I do not believe they will ever pay it." He said more. He said: "I will sell my, chance of it for 5s."; and that gentleman, farming 600 acres of land, sold for 5s.—he got the 5s.—his prospect of the Government subsidy. The hon. and learned Member for Swindon (Mr. Banks), who moved the Address in reply to the Speech from the Throne, put it quite properly when he said:No measure to help the farmer and the farm labourer can be passed without the assent of the townimen."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th January, 1924; col. 87, Vol. 169.]That is literally true, and it is for that reason, and surely for no other reason, that the Government did not introduce Protection for corn and meat. They knew the townsmen would not stand it. Equally, any man in his senses knew that the townspeople of this country were not going to tax themselves to the extent of £14,000,000 a year in order to benefit a particular form of farming in this country. I am glad to see now that the Government in a wiser mood propose to call a non-party conference to see what can be done for farming. I think some good to farming may come out of that, but I do protest against the agitation about the position of the agricultural industry in this country at the present time. I deny entirely that agriculture is a dying industry, that there is any need for the sort of remedies that are being proposed, or that the whole people should, as it were, tax themselves and burden themselves in order to keep up agriculture in this country. Agriculture is not dying. I have had a good deal to do in my life with farms, and arable farms. I know that at the present time in Cumberland, Yorkshire, Cornwall, and all the places where there are grazing farms or mixed farms, they let most readily, and at the moment are letting at increased rents compared with those of a few years ago.
Therefore there is no need to behave as if agriculture were about to die, unless' the Government begin to meddle with it. I confess that most of my farming acquaintances would far sooner be left alone than be meddled with, and 208 the main complaint I met with in my election campaign is that there is not enough land for the people. I asked a farmer in my division what his grievances were, and he said he could not get enough land, that he could only get 150 acres, and wanted another 50, which could not be got. While that is the position, it is idle for Members of this House, or members of the Farmers' Union, or gentlemen living in arable parts of the country, to talk as if agriculture were in such terrible danger. Even in regard to arable land, there is more land under the plough now than in 1914, and there is a greater percentage of arable land under wheat than there was at that time. The real grievance, which I think we might do something to tackle, is that the price which the farmers receive for their produce is very different from the price paid for it by the consumers, and the other grievance from which agriculture suffers is want of houses and fair conditions and wages for the agricultural labourer. If the House can solve these problems, we shall really help agriculture, but the proposal of the Government was to put a burden upon the people in order to produce supposed benefits. The whole purpose of it was, I think, a mistaken attempt to grow corn in this country on land which was not suited for the purpose, and an almost hopeless attempt in this country to rival the prairie land of America. The thing cannot be done, and this House need not waste its time in attempting to do it. There is another point in the Address to which I must make some small reference. This, I think, is the longest Address in my experience; it is certainly one of the longest I have ever seen, but it contains this sentence:Members of the House of Commons.Estimates for the public services will be laid before you."If it is the longest Address, that is the shortest sentence ever written in regard to Estimates in an Address. Usually the Estimates portion of an Address, on which, after all, the whole authority of this House rests, has been regarded as of some importance, and I missed from the Address, which is so long that you might well have made it a little longer, the old sentence, which, I think, is a very 209 valuable one for Ministers to bear in mind, and always appeared in Addresses in old days—" The Estimates have been prepared with due regard to financial economy." What has become of the economy which a short time ago was the aim and the desire of Members on those benches? I can only suppose that the sentence in the Address was left unfinished, and that it really was intended to read—" Estimates for the public services will be laid before you, but not by us."
Whoever may produce these Estimates, I hope they will not lose sight of economy. I know many public services are calling for expenditure, but, unless we can find the money for the reforms which hon. Members advocate, it will be useless to awaken hopes in the electorate that we are going to carry them through. They nearly all cost money, and if you are to have money to spend on reforms, you must not spend it on useless things. I hope if any hon. Members here are sitting behind the Government shortly, they will not lose sight of the necessity of spending the public money wisely and carefully, and that is really the condition of having money to spend on reforms which are dear to many. I fear I am a voice crying in the wilderness, and yet I am convinced that, as in times past, thrift and industry are the roots of wealth, and that there is no other way to prosperity than the creation of wealth by the labour of men, and the wise spending of the wealth which is so created. Above all, there should be wise spending when a body of men, I will not say arrogate to themselves, but are entrusted with the duty of spending other people's money. Then, economy becomes an even greater virtue.
The last point in the Address to which I want to make reference is the portion dealing with the treaty with America in regard to the importation of liquor into that country. Though the expressions of the Ministers are undoubtedly ambiguous, I am sure their intentions are excellent, and I am heartily glad to know that they are reaching an understanding with the American Government in regard to the smuggling of liquor into that country. I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) spoke the sense of this House yesterday, when he said that whatever 210 we might think of the American experiment in prohibition, we must respect the will of the American people in this matter. Whatever you may think of that experiment, it is a great effort by a great nation to raise the standard of living for all the people, and whether you believe in it or not, it ill becomes us who are feeling our way to a better state of things in this country, to do anything to interfere with the efforts which the Americans are making. But I could wish that Ministers had been willing to go a little further. It is all very well to deal with the traffic on that side of the Atlantic, but there is the traffic in this country which also needs to be looked after by Ministers. The other day I received the circular that I hold in my hand from a gentleman called Lieut.-Col. Sir Brodrick Hartwell, Bart. I understand he is the fourth Baronet, and that he has behind him a record of ancestors who have rendered good service to this country. He writes offering me a good investment. He calls me, "My dear Sir," and he says:I can offer you an opportunity of making a certain 20 per cent. profit on your capital every 60 days. I am shipping a fourth cargo of whisky abroad within the next few weeks. I have arranged with an American syndicate to take from me at least 10,000 cases of high-class Scotch whisky a month. You can join the already large number of my contributors in these assured profits by contributing £3 or upwards—
§ Mr. JONES
I do not know if this sort of thing is legal in this country, but if it is I suggest that it ought not to be so. Accepting as I do the sincerity of Ministers in endeavouring to meet the wishes of our American friends in this matter, I think they must look to the cargoes on this side of the Atlantic as well on the other side if they are to deal thoroughly with this question. The thing could be done without much difficulty. All this is shipped from the country without paying duty. It goes out consigned to a certain port. Transhipment takes place before it reaches the port of consignment. In many cases it is transhipped on the high seas and then smuggled into America.
§ Mr. JONES
I think not. If it were insisted upon when the bond is entered into by the exporter to the effect that the whisky is going not into any British port—that is how they get it out of bond!—if, I say, it were insisted upon that the bond should be fulfilled, and that it should be shown that the whisky was delivered in the port to which it was consigned, then much of the difficulty that at present arises would disappear. I would ask the Government whether they could not, in addition to the Treaty with America on the other side of the Atlantic, deal with these illicit operations on this side. I do not see why "get-rich-quick" scoundrels in this country should be allowed to conspire with American law breakers to upset the laws of a friendly State. There are many other points in the Address with which some of us who have emerged from the Election would like to deal, but I must not fall into the error of treating it as if it contained serious proposals for legislation. I am sent here to vote against this Ministry. I shall do so without any misgiving, and in the conviction that I am serving my country in the vote that I am giving. Ministers have had their opportunities and they have failed to use them. They must now make way for better men.
§ Colonel VAUGHAN - MORGAN
Although I am not a new Member of this House in the sense of coming here for the first time to this Parliament, yet, owing to the force of circumstances, this is the first occasion on which I have had the honour of addressing this House. Under these circumstances I ask the House to extend that generous measure of consideration that it invariably does to a first effort. I have listened during the course of this Debate to speeches on a number of subjects, and for a few moments, with the indulgence of the House, I desire to recall the attention of hon. Members to one or two subjects of great interest to this great Metropolis in which we "live, and move, and have our being."
As a Londoner, representing a London constituency, there are two topics mentioned in the Gracious Speech which I venture to think are subjects of interest. In the first place, I refer to the last paragraph, to the preparations which have been made for measures dealing with the improvement of the road traffic of London, and the reference made in 212 an earlier paragraph to the question of housing. In respect to the London in which we "move," I think it cannot be open to question that an improvement in the circumstances and conditions under which the traffic of this great city is carried on is urgent. I would congratulate the Government on having mentioned the matter, and having recorded their promise to bring forward a measure which at long last shall, all being well, set up a traffic authority which shall be of a character and possess powers to deal adequately with the great difficulties which now confront us. I would appeal to hon. Members in all quarters of the House, and of all parties, to accord to this Bill which I believe to be of an agreed character and which is certainly not a party question, a generous reception and, if possible, to grant it a speedy passage into law. The streets of London are strewn with the relics of past schemes which have failed to reach fruition. The great plans of Wren, the unrealised ambitions of Inigo Jones—to mention only two of the great architects of the past—who had visions and ideas as to what their London might be made—where are they? Not only have we these things to remember, but we have around us, as we travel about our great city, evidences, not only of lost opportunities, but positively of blocked opportunities. A traffic authority such as it is proposed to set up might have entrusted to it great schemes of improvement for the locomotion of the city inside its borders, and for the maintenance of the new and necessary arteries for access and egress from the centre.
We see only, too often, the opportunities for the building of adequate arteries and new roads blocked by building schemes, and one can but hope that this traffic authority, when it is set up, will have adequate powers to construct, control, and, above all things, to plan, not only for the needs of to-day, but for the requirements of to-morrow and of the distant future. To mention only one example. If I remember rightly, about 12 months ago the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) referred to the need for adequate road accommodation to connect our docks with the rest of London, and he deplored the absence of such a road, and justly complained that no provision for that need 213 had been made. As things are, the building of such a road, considering the enormous cost which would be involved, is almost impossible under present arrangements.
If I understand them correctly, a large part of the cost would fall upon the municipality through which that road must pass, and to lay such a burden upon one section of London would surely be unprecedented for work of that kind, if it be what it should be, that is, a benefit to the whole of London and probably to the whole of the country. Adequate connections between our great docks in London to facilitate and cheapen road transport would be a work from which every inhabitant of London, and perhaps every inhabitant of Great Britain would benefit. It is thus an object which should be assisted by the State as a whole, the realisation of which might well be entrusted to such an authority as will, I trust, be set up. I hope under these circumstances that this Measure, when it is brought before the House, will, in the interests not alone of a greater and a finer London, but in the interests of every inhabitant of Great Britain, receive the favourable consideration of Members of this House of all parties.
The other point on which I would like to touch is the question of housing. I understand that some of the housing schemes at present in operation, and others which are proposed, and which have been voted, are delayed owing to a shortage of labour of a, certain class in a certain trade. I believe that to be a fact, and if that difficulty can be got over by any means I appeal to hon. Members opposite who must realise, and I know do realise as we all do, the grievous need of better housing accommodation for our people. I appeal to them to use their influence to break down, if possible, the barriers which at the present time are preventing the recruiting of more labour to that class of trade. Why cannot we have more men recruited for the bricklaying trade, the plasterers' trade, and so on, in order to give us the help we all want for the benefit of everybody in order to relieve the present shortage of houses, and the sufferings which that brings to many classes of the community. That is my second point.
What I have said may, perhaps, appear to neglect a full appreciation of the work 214 which has been done, and is being done every day, by the municipalities of London and the London County Council, amongst whose members there are many distinguished Members of this House. I desire to say at once that I have a full appreciation of the work which they have done and are doing. One part of the question to which I have alluded lies, perhaps, particularly within the function of this House, which can do a great deal to improve in the way I have suggested the conditions of our great city, and change muddle even into magnificence. In spite of all that has been done, our dear old London is, after all, something of a Cinderella amongst the Cities, and to this Parliament is given the opportunity of playing the part of a fairy godmother with the touch—
§ Colonel VAUGHAN-MORGAN
With the touch of whose wand, rags might be changed into acceptable raiment, that is, our slums might be converted into adequate housing. If I may complete my brief allusion to the nursery story the touch of that wand might turn the pumpkin into adequate means of locomotion. If hon. Members will boar with me until I complete my parallel, I would like to say that I would take a leaf from the pages of history, and that just as in the past Venice was alluded to as the bride of the Adriatic, so my Cinderella London at the touch of this wand might have her ports and her docks provided with adequate means of communication, and with the improvements which I have ventured to foreshadow, London might be wedded to the oceans and to the British Empire.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I feel that I owe the House some apology for speaking so soon. I should not have done so but for the fact that I want to draw attention to one specific point of the administration, and to-day and to-morrow appear to be the only opportunities. I regret that the King's Speech contains no mention of education, because if there be one matter on which one might have hoped for remission of wrongs and promise of reforms, it is the matter of education. I believe the Board of Education has not merely pursued a reactionary policy, but there are very good grounds for believing that they have violated the law which they should have administered. Some 215 time back we had an Education Act which contained very specific provisions and very unusual provisions with regard to education. The Education Act, 1921, stated that, subject to certain Regulations made in a subsequent sub-section with regard to the deficiency grant—The total sums paid to a local education authority out of moneys provided by Parliament … shall not be less than one half of the net expenditure of the authority recognised by the Board of Education as expenditure in aid of which Parliamentary grants should be made to the authority.That is, as I have said, an altogether unusual provision with regard to grants. There is no statutory security with regard to the percentage grant placed on the Ministry of Health or other Ministries. But with regard to education, Parliament itself in its wisdom inserted this provision. When the reaction came, that provision was dealt with, and a limit put on the grant in order that economy might be effected in education. The Government did introduce in the Economies (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill a Clause which expressly exempted them from the operations of Section 118. Clause 4 of that Bill ran:—Notwithstanding anything in the Education Act of 1921 the Board of Education may limit any grant made by them to local authorities under Section 118 of that Act to such an extent and in such manner as they may consider necessary in order that the total amount may fall within the amount provided by Parliament for that purpose.But Parliament rejected that Clause, and the Board of Education is still therefore bound by Section 118. Although Parliament would not give the Board of Education the power it asked for, the Board proceeded to act precisely as if Parliament, had done what it had not done, and as if it had passed a Bill which it had not passed. In the following year they sent to the Education Authorities a circular, telling them that, notwithstanding what was in the Act, they proposed to limit the total amount of the grant. Under the Act of 1921, the Board could limit the subjects in respect of which grants were to be made, and also had power to check any individual authority which might be acting wrongly in the matter. But the Act certainly did not give them the right to tell the education authorities that whatever their expenditure was, and although it might be proper expenditure 216 on recognised subjects, the grant would not go beyond a certain point. Local authorities bowed to the terror of the Board of Education, as I think very foolishly. They proposed in the year 1921 to spend just about £1,000,000 on feeding necessitous children under the Provision of Meals Act. The Board ordered them to cut down that expenditure to £300,000, and I venture to assert that the circular sent out in regard to that was one of the most remarkable ever issued. It said:The Government have decided that it is impossible to acquiesce in the continuance of the present arrangement under which part of the burden of the Poor Law may in an abnormal period be thrown on the Board of Education.This means that the Government decided that it was impossible to acquiesce in an Act of Parliament—in the Provision of Meals Act. Rightly or wrongly, Parliament itself said that the provision of meals to necessitous children might be undertaken by local authorities, but the Government decided not to acquiesce in the arrangement sanctioned by Parliament, and they wrote to the education authorities telling them to cut down the expenditure in that year to £300,000. They have continued insisting on that from that time until this. I contend that they have not merely strained the law, but that they have broken it. Nothing in the Act of 1921 allowed a wholesale cutting down in that way. All the Act did was to permit the Board of Education to take certain subjects out of the grant-earning list, and undoubtedly it allowed the Board of Education to check any individual authority that was behaving wrongly in the matter. But this wholesale cutting down of grants was in defiance of the Act, and this dealing with the Provision of Meals Act, because the Government could not acquiesce in the arrangement, was also contrary to the A et. It was very reactionary conduct. I ask the Board of Education to tell us whether they took the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown as to the legality of their action, and, if they did, will that opinion be laid before this House? I press this matter on the Government because if my views be right, and those views are shared by many persons, then the local authorities can claim a refund of the money which they expended. It is exceedingly desirable we should get to know where we stand in this matter. 217 Many local authorities have spent more than the amount allocated to them by the Government on the provision of meals, and if my view be right, those local authorities can claim from the Government repayment of their extra expenditure. I desired to raise this matter at the earliest possible moment, because I think it is one of prime importance.
§ Sir MARTIN CONWAY
I should like to congratulate the two hon. Members who have just made their maiden speeches on the matter of their remarks and the way in which they have dealt with it. I think in the person of the hon. Member for North East Ham (Miss Lawrence) we have evidently had added to our numbers a Member very much alive to the necessities of the population and class which she represents. It is the business of a Member of this House to bring before Parliament any grievances which may exist, and I am quite sure that the hon. Member for North East Ham has well acquitted herself of that duty. A skilful phrase-maker —I think it was the late Professor Seely—defined politics as present history and history as past polities. Sitting, as I do, as a somewhat detached Member of this House and watching its performances, it has always been to me one of my greatest pleasures to observe history in the making, and when in due process of time this Parliament joins the multitude of Parliaments which have preceded it, and when its work domes to be examined by the historian, it will be found to have a character of its own as nearly every Parliament has. I am inclined to think that this Parliament may possibly be defined as a "wangling Parliament." We have been told that any combination between the party sitting on this side of the House and those below the Gangway opposite to keep out of office a third party in this House would be wangling, but apparently it is not wangling for the two parties sitting opposite to combine to turn the Government out.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Sir M. CONWAY
There is likely to be a succession of wangles before the next General Election comes, and I am thinking it rather resembles a game said to involve considerable skill, although I myself am not proficient at it—a game played 218 with three thimbles and a pea. If the thimbles are lifted a pea is exposed under one of them. You look under one thimble, and the pea which you expected to be there is no longer there. This little game of three thimbles and a pea will be played, I hope, with skill, but I am sure with great entertainment to the country, by this Parliament here assembled. Each of these three parties has declared that nothing in the world will induce it to combine with either of the other two. It may get some independent support, but there is to be no understanding of any sort or kind between any two of these three parties. I remember not very long ago when the Liberal party was divided into two, shall I call them somewhat inharmonious, fractions that they were not going to come together or work together. Neither above nor below nor alongside of one another were they going to work. Yet within a very few days they came together in great harmony, and that harmony, I trust, will be maintained. If two sundered portions of a single party can come together for the sake of loyalty to a party, then, if the occasion arises, I make no doubt that a similar sacrifice can be made by two opposing parties in this House. We shall very likely see instances of that more than once during the course of the present Parliament. I think I have heard something said about victory. I rather think that one of the three parties that form this House celebrated a victory. I have also heard something said about spoils to the victors. I should be very glad to know which party in this House has had a victory.
§ Sir M. CONWAY
They have either all had a victory or none. The fact of the matter is that the analogy, in the public mind, at all events, seems to be that of a horse-race in which three parties ran and in which they were placed in the order one, two, and three. Then, we being sporting people, and no one more sporting than hon. Gentlemen opposite, it is considered right that if the one that ran first happens to be disqualified, it must necessarily follow that the prize goes to the second. That is the sporting point of view. I have yet to learn, however, that a General Election is a sporting event, or that the analogy of sport is 219 one which may be rightly brought into politics. [Interruption.] If I could hear the remarks of hon. Gentlemen opposite, I should enjoy their jokes more than, unfortunately, I am able to do. It is not my will but my hearing which is at fault. The Labour party is going to be put into power, or, rather, they are going to be put into office That reminds me of a remark made by Lord Rosebery, who was Prime Minister in a Parliament in which his supporters were in but a small majority in this House. When he went out of office, he said that of all the miseries that there were in this world for man there was no such misery as to be Prime Minister in office without power. That is the unfortunate opening into which hon. Members opposite are going to put their heads.
The party opposite calls itself the Labour party, I think unwisely. I think it might have a better name. Still more I want to know what its policy really is. It has come into power supported by two totally different classes of people. First of all, there is the very attractive, delightful, idealist section. They preach co-operation, public service, and the improvement of the conditions of our people. They hold up before us a most attractive ideal. When I hear a speaker holding up that ideal of the Labour party, I say to myself, "There is the party for me. That is the ideal I should like to follow." I am attracted by the high spirit, the noble sentiments the perfectly genuine and most admirable ideal that many of them hold up before us. That is one voice. But I hear another voice, the voice that says, "We are going to make the rich disgorge." Whether their wealth has been obtained by great public service, by honest toil, or however it may have been obtained, it must be taken away from them. I have heard it said—I do not know whether it is true—that a leading politician in Russia was asked: "Is it not a fact that since the Bolshevik revolution the poor people in Russia are very much worse off than they were before?" The answer was: "Oh, yes, very much worse off; but then, thank God, we have no rich!" These two ideals—the ideal of service, of co-operation, of kindness, of elevating the unfortunate, and of improving the conditions of the people generally on the one hand, and the ideal 220 of envy, hatred, malice and all uncharitableness on the other hand—seem to me to be somewhat incongruous, and I wish to know which of those ideals, in fact, the party opposite is going to pursue. I wish to know whether we are asked to follow the star which is to lead us to kindly sentiment, helpful legislation, and sympathy, or whether we are asked to follow the other—the purely destructive, the envious, the grasping and the class-hatred ideal.
Those are the two contradictory and inharmonious forces which have been at the back of the election of so many Members of this House, and we shall watch with intense interest how those two contradictory forces work together. In my own opinion, the kindly ideal is the strong force, and the hatred the weak one. I look forward to seeing a division arise which will sunder those two entirely incongruous forces; and, when that division comes, I think there may very well be born into this country a new party, which will have a great future. That party will not be called the Labour party it should be proud to call itself the Socialist party, because, until we have a division of opinion along the lines of Socialism and Individualism — I am borrowing a remark that was made last Session, I think, by the Leader of the Opposition—until we are divided along that line between Socialism on the one side and Individualism on the other, we shall not have a logical division of parties.
There is room for both those parties. What is any individual human being? In some relations of life we are gregarious animals; in some we are non-gregarious. Man differs from every other animal, as far as I know, in being both gregarious in some relations of life and non-gregarious in others. In some relations he behaves as part of a social organism; in others he remains a separate individual, desiring to live in a separate way, acting and behaving as he pleases, desiring to shut out the world from his private home, and, with his wife and family, to do as he pleases, without any man being able to order him about or say him nay. I need not dwell upon any particular instances; everyone knows them. Nothing could be more gregarious, for instance, than a great ship crossing the Atlantic with a thousand people on board—I do not mean passengers, but the people concerned with 221 working the ship. The ship itself is the outcome of co-operation; it has to be launched by co-operation, furnished by co-operation, victualled and guided and driven across the sea by co-operation; and every individual in it has to fit into his niche in the general whole, in order that the ship may cross the ocean.
There is a perfect example of Socialism. Every individual man belongs to both these classes; he is both socialistic and individualistic. In some people the socialistic instinct is stronger than the individualistic; in others the individualistic is the stronger. There is, therefore, obviously, in the nature of things, a cause for two parties, one tending in the direction of Socialism and the other tending in the direction of individualism. There seems to he a kind of idea, a sort of scare among people, which I do not share, that, if the Socialist party came into real power—not a sort of half-and-half power, but real power with a big majority—it would proceed to enact Socialism. No such thing is possible. All it could do would be to enact measures which would have a socialistic tendency. For 100 years this Parliament may be described as having been mainly individualistic in its tendency, and yet what has it done? Has it enacted individualism? For the last 50 years it has been engaged, though individualistic in its tendencies, in passing many Socialistic Measures. I am not afraid of a Socialistic majority or a Socialistic Government any more than I am afraid of an individualistic majority or an individualistic Government, Pursue Socialism too far and you come to catastrophe. Pursue individualism too far and you come to like catastrophe. The whole business of government is, and always has been, to hold the balance between those two tendencies. Sometimes we go too far in one direction and the balance has to be adjusted. Sometimes we go too far in the other direction and the balance, likewise, has to be adjusted. If you will read history from that point of view, you will find, generation after generation, a continual readjustment of this balance between Socialism and individualism. It is not for me to say whether we are now "in need of going further towards Socialism or further towards individualism. I have my own opinion. A nation at war is in a state of Socialism. 222 We had four years of pure Socialism and very unpleasant it was. Now we have had a swing of the pendulum in the other direction. Personally, I am intensely individualistic in my sympathies. I do not mean to say for a moment that I am right. No individual has any right to do more than trust that he is somewhere in the right direction. If he says he is sure he is right I am sure he is wrong. I find plenty of Socialistic tendencies in the Conservative party. I think it was a Spanish gentleman who said, "to the right of every Conservative stands a Socialist and to the left of every Radical stands a Communist." Those are the two opposite directions to which we tend, and I think the time will come when hon. Members opposite may receive some added numbers from down in this direction.
§ Sir M. CONWAY
Nothing is mare certain than that if you were to divide this House into two parties, one consisting of those whose tendencies are Socialistic and the other of those whose tendencies are individualistic, it would not be a class division. Some hon. Members opposite are inclined, perhaps, to pride themselves sometimes on the fact that they represent a class. I do not think that is the case even now. I am certain that if Socialism and individualism were the division in politics for any considerable length of time any tendency of one or the other to consist of a given class of the population would absolutely disappear. You will find Socialists and those of Socialistic tendencies amongst the most educated, the wealthiest, and the most enterprising people in this country, and you will find as strong an individualism in the working classes as you will find anywhere. You will never for a lengthy period divide this House along lines of class. There has never bees a time when a class Government has really succeeded in governing the country. The aristocratic class never succeeded without drawing in assistance from other classes who could not be described as aristocratic. It has always been necessary, and. now more than ever, to draw into the Ministry which presides over the government of the country, intelligence, capacity, power and intellect from whatever class it can be got. If hon. Members opposite, when they 223 come to exercise that influence upon legislation to which they look forward, will render the access of ability and education, in whatever class of the population it can be found, to power and authority as easy as possible, they will perform a mighty good service to the country.
I do not believe that we are in anything but a transition stage, or that we sha1l remain, as people suppose, a Parliament consisting of three groups of separate parties. I do not believe that that is likely to be a permanent arrangement or an arrangement of long duration. We are going to pass through a time of difficulty, when we shall have to sacrifice our own particular special party views to the general good of the whole. We shall have to do a great deal of compromising and a great deal of attempting to understand one another. We shall have to try to co-operate on many a question upon which we think ourselves much more divided than we really are. There does exist and always has existed in this House, and never more than at the present time, a strong patriotic sentiment which makes every one of us far more a servant of our country than a servant of our party.
§ Mr. KEENS
In makng my first speech I am sure that I shall have the indulgence which the House always gives to a Member in similar circumstances. The hon. Member for East Ham (Miss Lawrence), in a very brilliant speech delivered a few minutes ago, said that the Gracious Speech from the Throne contained no reference to education. I find, however, that in connection with unemployment there is a reference to education in the provision of increased facilities for general and technical education. Although I am new to this House, I have had nearly a quarter of a century's experience of local government, and I have discovered throughout nearly the whole of that time that the tendency has been for the Imperial Government to place added responsibility upon the local bodies, without making any adequate financial provision for their discharge.
Speaking as the chairman of the finance committee of a county council, I would ask the Government whether in making provision here for increased. facilities for education they are still seeking to pursue the policy of the 224 reduction of one-fifth of the deficiency grant per annum, because the effect of that reduction of the deficiency grant is to starve education as it is. Wherever you have an authority which is not in favour of education, then you find the disappearance of that portion of the deficiency grant means an increased stringency, a shortage of teachers, a substitution of teachers, larger classes and poorer education. And when you find a local authority which believes in education, then it has to provide those facilities for education by penalising the ratepayers of that particular district. So when I see in the programme that there are to be provided facilities for further education, the question, as it seems to me, which has to be decided first is, are there to be adequate facilities provided or are there to be economies in this House while the cost is to be taken out of the pockets of the ratepayers?
Another point to which I would wish to refer was referred to yesterday by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). It deals with the Reparation (Recovery) Act, 1921, and the situation which is now created. The right hon. Gentleman said yesterday that up to the 15th November last the reparation tax, or that portion of it which was represented by the 26 per cent. duty, was paid by Germany. I beg to differ from that. I doubt whether a penny of that money has ever been paid by Germany up to the time of the introduction of the gold mark. I am not alone in this view. Speaking in Leicester on the 18th October, 1922, before the Association of British Chambers of Commerce, the late Mr. G. A. Moore, of Liverpool, who was no mean authority on matters of commerce and industry in this country, said —I quote from the official report of those meetings:He had good reason for knowing, having sat on several committees recently dealing with German imports, which had had information placed before them as to the method in which these reparations were dealt with, in reference to German exports to this country, and he had no hesitation in saying that this country was paying those reparations and not Germany at all, and the collapse of the mark had made it more certain that we were paying every penny.And I say with some knowledge of trade controls in that country that that statement of Mr. G. A. Moore can be backed up by evidence from every direc- 225 tion. But with the establishment of the gold mark I admit that that ceased to be. Under the ordinance of 15th November, when Germany declined to pay the 26 per cent. to her nationals, there is no question whatever that every penny is now being paid by this country. And that is now being paid by the importer, and ultimately by the consumer of the goods. But the tax is not now 26 per cent., for the Customs claim the right to levy twenty-six seventy-fourths of the amount of each invoice, which is nearer to £35 2s. 8d. per cent. But that is not all. If key industry duties are added the total exceeds 80 per cent. made up as follows. Invoice, £100; German reparations duty, £35 2s. 8d.; 331 per cent. on £135 2s. 8d.; total £180 3s. 6d. That is what is going on in the name of business and administration by a Government of this country. I submit that we have high Protection in this country without the sanction of Parliament and in opposition entirely to the verdict of the electors of the country.
What are the effects on industry? I live in, but do not represent in Parliament, a town whose staple industry is the manufacture of hats, and the world is laid under tribute for the raw material of which those hats are made. These raw materials to that industry are in themselves manufactured or partly manufactured articles, and some come from Germany. These materials are made by British labour into hats and the hats have to compete in all the markets of the world. The result of the present state of affairs is that the manufacturer in that industry does not know how to cost his goods. He cannot issue his samples, cannot state what the price is to be, and so is very badly damaged in that respect. And the trade of the country is damaged, too. There are two particular machines used in that industry, one made in America, and one made almost entirely at Luton, but with a few parts which come from Germany. No doubt I shall he asked why the machine cannot be entirely British made. The answer is very simple. The total demand for this kind of machine is too small to warrant the putting down of the very large plant that is required to produce these particular parts.
The net result of the arrangement described is that owing to dislocation, owing to the fact that it is impossible to 226 determine what the price is to be, those parts are not coming through, and the manufacturers are having to hold up the machines in that industry. We were told yesterday by a chance interruption that the goods are not now coming in. That again, of course, is true to a certain extent. But with what result on the re-export trade of the City of London? Surely that re-export trade is of some particular value, especially when we remember that this particular reparations tax is not imposed by our Colonies or by India, and, therefore, there is every incentive for those markets to deal directly with the sources of supply, missing this country, taking away trade from this country. In addition to that, there are still a few things, made in other countries, which we require for our own use and consumption here. After all, the importing and consumption of foreign goods is not altogether a crime.
We get this extraordinary position—that of the duty of £35 2s. 8d. which is levied upon these goods at this particular time, only 22 per cent. belongs to this country, and of the remainder, that is, 78 per cent., we are merely the collectors for our Allies. At the present moment the actual duty which is being imposed, and is paid by the consumer in this country on goods which are coming in, and which is payable to the other Allies, is 27–8.0 per cent. We are, therefore, actually paying more than 27 per cent. of the tax to our Allies. I submit that it was never intended, when the Act was introduced, that it should be Protective. It was to be a method by which some sum should be recovered by way of reparation. I think I have given enough information to show that it is merely operating, not to produce reparation, but as a measure of high Protection, and as it is a measure of that kind I submit that the Government have no warrant or authority to continue the tax.
§ Mr. PENNY
I listened with very great interest to the speech by the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw) in regard to the Allied debts due to Great Britain, wherein he remarked that he and his party were pleased to see the friendliest relations maintained with France. I feel sure there is no Member in this House who does not wish to see the Entente maintained, but I do say that steps should be taken to get an assurance that 227 our Allies mean to honour their obligations to this country in regard to these debts. The position at the present time is that the amount of the loan to Great Britain by the United States of America was £856,000,000, and the repayment of this loan during the period over which it is spread will amount approximately to £36,000,000 per annum, a sum equal to 8½d. in the £ on the Income Tax which is being paid at the present day. The allied debts of France and Italy amount to £1,139,000,000, and taking that sum at 5 per cent. interest, it would represent over is in the £ on the Income Tax paid at the present time. Knowing the adverse effect of high taxation upon our trade at the present time and the unemployment consequent thereon, I consider that the Government should be asked to take steps to approach the Allied Governments to get an assurance from them that, if they cannot pay the full amount at the present time, they will pay up so much on account until the time when an adjustment has been made. I would urge this upon His Majesty's Government.
As regards our relations with Russia, it is essential in the interests of the trade of this country that steps should also be taken by His Majesty's Government to develop trade between the two countries, which in itself would tend to alleviate the great problem of unemployment. The fact, however, must be emphasised that we are only prepared to open up negotiations with the Soviet Government providing they give us adequate assurance of recognition of pre-War indebtedness and the claims of British nationals in Russia. These claims, I believe, amount to £200,000,000 approximately, but this would not have to be paid in cash. It would be mainly discharged by the restoration of confiscated property. Therefore I hope the Government in this direction will do all that is possible to initiate the necessary steps to bring about a satisfactory arrangement. When dealing with the question of taxation there is one matter to which I should like to refer, namely, the securing of a more equitable distribution of taxation among the community. I ask the Government to see that co-operative societies in future are placed upon the same basis as regards Income Tax as other large trading organisations in this country, so 228 that we should have a more equitable basis as regards the general community and as regards traders in particular.
There are one or two points on which I desire to touch in regard to war pensioners and their dependants. In doing so I can assure the House it is not my intention to decry the good work of the Ministry of Pensions and the great work of the Minister of Pensions. I have made a great number of claims to the Minister on behalf of my constituents, and I can honestly assure the House that everyone that I have sent to him has received the greatest consideration.
§ Mr. PENNY
At the present time there are ex-service men and their dependants in my constituency who are grateful for the consideration accorded them by the Minister. [An HON. MEMBER: "Some are in the workhouse!"] I know, and I want to touch on those points. It is quite obvious that rules and regulations must be formulated and must be adhered to in running a Department of this nature, so that final settlements can he arrived at, but in all these cases I wish to impress upon the Ministry that they should be so administered that the pensioner receives the greatest consideration for his case. I should be very grieved, as I am sure would all hon. Members of this House, if any economy, no matter how small, were effected at the expense of the pensioner—[An HON. MEMBER: "You have done it!"]—at the expense of those men who responded to the call of duty and came to the aid of the country in the hour of need. They are entitled to, and I am asking that they receive, the greatest consideration at the hands of the Ministry. [An HON. MEMBER: "They will get it from over here!"] I have just as much interest in these men as you have on that side, and hon. Members on this side will give way to none of you in regard to the ex-service men. [An HON. MEMBER: "You have had the chance!]
§ Mr. PENNY
I am speaking in all earnestness, because we give way to you in no matters such as those in regard to ex-service men. I cannot help feeling, however, from the numerous cases that have been brought to my notice that there may perhaps be a disposition on the part of tribunals, not due in any way to callousness, but due perhaps to the strict number of cases they have to consider, that where there is a question of doubt it has not always been given in favour of the pensioner. This, I humbly submit to His Majesty's Government, should not be the case, for it would be an awful thing if the pensioners felt that the Ministry were under the thumb of Treasury. That, I am sure, would be the very last wish of the Minister of Pensions, who would not be a party to allowing the question of pounds, shillings, and pence to stand in the way of fair and the most generous treatment being accorded any appellant. Cases have been brought to my notice also where the Ministry has made an error and the recipient has been called upon to reimburse the amounts he has received.
§ Mr. PENNY
I regret to say it is so, and I wish to ask the Minister to see if he cannot arrange that, in the event of such mistakes arising, the Ministry should be made to accept full responsibility. There also have been cases where independent doctors have certified that certain illnesses are attributable to or have been aggravated by war service, and the final appeal tribunals have taken an entirely opposite view, and in the event of this situation arising, I wish to ask the Minister if he cannot introduce legislation which will enable such cases as those to be reopened, provided they are supported by two independent medical men. If dissatisfaction is allowed to grow in this country, it is going to react upon the interests of this country. If pensioners feel that they have a grievance, their relations will feel that they also have a grievance, and, to put it on the lowest level possible, if at any time they are required for and called to the aid of their country, which Heaven forbid, they would be very 10th to come. Without wishing to place the slightest difficulty in the way of the Minister, I plead, with all the earnestness at my 230 command, that he will permit investigations to be made on the lines I have suggested. There is one other aspect of the case on which I would like to touch, and that is where the economies in the Department have to be effected. I sincerely hope the Government will not effect these economies at the expense of the disabled ex-service men, and that any whittling down that has to be done will be done more from the top, and not from the bottom.
There is one other matter, which is not allied to pensions so much, and that is in connection with the Air Force. In regard to the contemplated expansion of the Air Force, I wish to ask the Secretary of State for Air if he will give the fullest consideration to the claims of the senior ex-service officers who at the present time are doing the bulk of the flying at the various stations, and who at present are excluded by the regulations from the advantage of permanent commissions and the pension relative thereto. There is considerable feeling in the Air Force on this matter at the present time amongst the senior officers that they are placed in this position when new men are being engaged. I think, in view of their service, and of the rank to which they have risen, that the fullest consideration should be shown to them. It might be as well if the Secretary of State for Air—and it would entail no great difficulty—were to ascertain from the logs of the four main stations the percentage of the permanent commissioned officers who do the actual flying, and the hours they have flown during the past year. In the points I have raised my object has been to eliminate as far as possible dissatisfaction which can only react, if persisted in, to the detriment of this country.
§ Mr. PERRY
I rise with great relutance at this late hour to attempt to address this House for the first time, particularly as the Adjournment is to be moved in a few minutes, but I want to say a word or two with regard to the foreign policy of His Majesty's Government, which, I submit, has had a lot to do with this problem of unemployment. I wonder what the hon. Member for Barrow (Mr. D. G. Somerville) would have said had the Government proposed to build passenger vessels or cargo ships at Barrow? I have some memory of what happened 231 at Woolwich when they wished to adapt the Arsenal to the production of locomotives! The whole resources of our country were organised for the purpose of the War. It ought not to have been impossible to organise them for the purposes of peace. If these national factories had been turned to the production of useful goods instead of being disposed of, it would have been well.
I had the opportunity of going through Krupps when I was out in the Ruhr. After the Armistice they so re-organised their works that they were actually at that time employing 10,000 more men than they were before the War—not in the production of armaments, but in the production of agricultural machinery and other goods. [An HON. MEMBER: "What wages were they paying?"] Much better than in many other countries. I want to raise a further point or two about the Government's lack of policy, particularly in regard to the French occupation of the Ruhr. I desire to make a strong protest against the inactivity of the Government in placing our representative on the Rhineland Commission in such an invidious position. There are many Parliamentarians in France, in Belgium, in the Ruhr and also in this country who believe that had this Government taken a firm step when the occupation of the Ruhr was commenced the result to Germany and the world would have been far better. If the occupation was illegal, as declared by our Foreign Secretary just before the election, it was also illegal the day it was started.
What do we find? When the amount was fixed for reparation there were those on these benches who mentioned a reasonable amount. They were scoffed at. The differences between France and this country were wide when the late Mr. Bonar Law tried to bring the amount of German reparation dawn to £2,500,000,000. I want to appeal to the Government. even at this late hour, to reconsider their policy, in particular in regard to bringing some pressure to bear upon France to stop their illegal occupation of the Ruhr.
I desire to mention one or two other points. Coming from an agricul- 232 tural constituency, as I do, I was struck by the depth of feeling on the part of the agricultural worker in regard to the way, as he expressed it, he had been let down by His Majesty's Government. I say frankly, that if the Government intend to deal with the problem of agriculture without giving to the agricultural labourer some guarantee of a minimum wage, not much good can be done in that direction. Listening to the hon. Member for the English Universities, I began to wonder how little such men knew of the composition of these benches and the early struggles of many. To-night my thoughts go back to winning a scholarship at the age of 10. My father died. I had to go to work as a half-timer in the cotton mills of Lancashire, and worked in bare feet for 20 years. Then to listen to such a conception of the Labour movement, as the hon. Member has given us to-night! It is because of our own struggles that the men and women on these benches stand for a policy of education which is going to give us, not a ladder from the elementary schools to the universities, so many rungs of which have been knocked out, but a broad highroad that will give opportunity to the worker and a chance to develop to the full the talents which God has given to him. I beg to thank the House for its patient hearing.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put and agreed to.—[Mr. Spoor.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow