Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £29,440, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1928, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of His Majesty's Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs."—[Note: £20,000 has been voted on account.]
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
Important as are the questions which have just been discussed, I make no apology when I ask the Committee to consider for a moment or two a matter of world-wide importance. I refer to the Report of the Imperial Conference, and particularly to one aspect of that Report. My hon. Friend the Member for York (Sir J. Marriott) has been very persistent in this House in endeavouring to get a day, or time, for the discussion of that Report. Like many of us, he felt that if a document of such colossal importance was discussed in various other Parliaments of the Empire, it was, surely, not inappropriate that we should ask for a day, or even half a day, to discuss it in the Mother of Parliaments. Perhaps, though this discussion is late, it is not inappropriate that it should take place now, when we have just witnessed the return from their wonderful journey overseas of their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of York. Nothing fosters the spirit of Empire so much as personal contact, and no link is more powerful in the chain of the Imperial unity than the link of the Throne, and Their Royal Highnesses represented that combination with consummate success.
As hon. Members of the Committee are aware, the Report of the Imperial Conference wanders over a very wide field. There were, I think, three main and important points which were discussed. They are, inter-Imperial relations, foreign policy, defence, economic questions, 498 and consultation and communications. No doubt each and all of these questions will be discussed this evening, but, so far as I am concerned, I am going to devote my remarks to one question alone, a question which I regard as of primary importance, namely, the question of inter-Imperial relations. For the first time this Report asserts not only the doctrine, but the fact of equality of status among the constituent members and Parliaments of the Empire. If anyone reads the Report itself and the discussions in the various Parliaments of the Empire on the Report, they will find that they make wonderful reading. The general impression which I got, and which I think anybody would get, is that the magnificent conception of the British Empire, or, if you like, the British Commonwealth of Nations, is too big a thing to be left to the dangers and chances and caprices of ordinary party politics and that some step must be taken, as soon as it can be taken, to secure continuity and, above all, unity of purpose in a partnership so beneficent and so powerful for the good of the world. I notice in the Report that this question was discussed by the Conference. Very wisely, they said that nothing would be gained by laying down a hard-and-fast constitution for the British Empire, and in their Report they give various reasons for that view. May I just read a sentence or two from the Report, which puts in far better words than I can, on the spur of the moment, their reasons for this point of view. They say:Its widely scattered parts have very different characteristics, very different histories, and are at very different stages of evolution; while, considered as a whole, it defies classification and bears no real resemblance to any other political organisation which now exists or has ever yet been tried. There is, however, one most important element in it which, from a strictly constitutional point of view, has now, as regards all vital matters, reached its full development—we refer to the group of self-governing communities composed of Great Britain and the Dominions. Their position and mutual relation may be readily defined. They are autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.499 To lay down a hard-and-fast constitution, would, in my judgment, be alien to the genius and traditions of the British people. I quote one other sentence from the Report:A foreigner endeavouring to understand the true character of the British Empire by the aid of this formula alone would be tempted to think that it was devised rather to make mutual interference impossible than to make mutual co-operation easy.In the art of government we have a code and method peculiarly our own. In my view, and in the view of the party I represent, there can be no forcing of any such growth, no undue precipitance. The only safe way is to trust to what the right hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb) called in another connection, the inevitability of gradualness, and the inherent genius of our own people to find a way. The Imperial Conference itself, never so far-reaching in its importance and possibilities as it proved to be on this last occasion, is an example of this. It represents the evolution of past attempts at consultation, the steady silent growth from a Colonial Conference, as far back as 1887, exactly 50 years ago this year, and I am convinced of this, that if it attempted to be a super council or a supreme council sitting in judgment on the various constituent Parliaments of the Empire it would signally fail. It was my good fortune, in common with many of my colleagues, to be a member of the Empire Parliamentary Association which went to the great Dominion of Australia last year, and I am right in saying that all of us, whatever political party we belong to, found pride surging in our bosoms as we travelled round the world and realised that we could travel round the world always landing on British soil, except for an hour or two at Honolulu.
At Canberra, which has now become historic, we had a discussion on this very important topic, a discussion which was initiated with characteristic efficiency and ability by the right hon. Member for the Aston Division of Birmingham (Sir E. Cecil). We had, and it was a great joy to us, the advantage of many brilliant speeches, but there were two speeches which impressed themselves on my mind very vividly. One was the speech from the acting Prime Minister of Australia, Dr. Earle Page, and the other was a 500 speech from our old friend Mr. William Hughes. The gist of their speeches was that the problem before the British Empire was the application of the principles of democratic government to the circumstances of world Empire, and to continue to reconcile the irreconcilable—namely, the autonomy of the parts with the unity of the whole. It was clearly pointed out, not by one speaker but by every speaker, and every single Dominion under the British Crown was represented, that unity of policy is vital to the existence of the British Empire, and that unity of policy is and must continue to be the ideal of the Empire. The question which at once suggests itself is: how is that unity, that continuous policy, to be attained? Before any action is taken the mind of each Dominion should be known and well known to the deciding authority. My own view is that, although an annual imperial Conference is the ideal, it is quite clear to anybody who knows the far-flung lines of the British Empire that until space and time are obliterated this is quite impossible.
There is another consideration which militates against the holding of an annual conference. Hon. Members know very well how important it is to have the Prime Minister near at hand, and it has always been felt by the Prime Ministers of all the Dominions that it is perfectly impossible for them to be absent from their various Dominions except for a brief space of time. If for the moment an annual conference is impossible, what is to be done? Not only do I think that an annual conference is the ideal, but I go a step further, and I am supported by the united party for whom I am speaking. I have pointed out the almost insuperable obstacles against holding the conference annually, but it is important that when they are held there should be upon them representatives not only of Governments but of the Oppositions in the various Dominions of the Empire. In 1924, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State knows, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas), when he was at the Colonial Office, approached the various Parliaments of the Dominions to consider whether it was not practicable, particularly for a conference upon the constitution of the British Empire, to have representatives not only of Governments but of Oppositions as well. I could not do better than 501 read what was then regarded as the reply to any such suggestion. It will be remembered that the Labour Government demitted office during the course of the negotiations. But in any case, if they had been in office, I doubt very much whether, in view of the answers then given by the Prime Ministers of the more important Dominions, they could possibly have negotiated any further. I will read one or two sentences from Command Paper 2301, "Consultation on matters of foreign policy and general and Imperial interest," which was then issued. The reasons given by the Dominion Premiers at that time for opposing the proposal to have the Opposition as well as the Government as members of the Imperial Conference, were these:It would tend to hamper that frank exchange of views and the unrestricted inter-communication of confidential information on such matters as foreign policy and defence. Furthermore, it might easily lead to serious consequences on the return of the delegations to their respective countries. The Leader of the Government and of the Opposition would, respectively, feel compelled to relate his version of the Conference and his reasons for agreement or disagreement with the conclusions arrived at. Further, an atmosphere of political controversy would inevitably obtrude into the Conference itself, and present free and unfettered discussions between men who at the time are actually shouldering responsibilities of Government in their respective countries would disappear.That was the view then. May I say, with the greatest respect, that I do not think those objections, carefully thought out as they are, should for ever remain valid and insuperable. Let me take one outstanding case. I do not think anybody then commanded greater respect in this country or the Empire than did the Committee of Imperial Defence. It was in the heyday of its usefulness and fame, and, as the Secretary of State knows very well, it did enormously useful work, and indeed, had it not been for it we should have been far more unprepared than we were at the outbreak of the War. The problems which the Committee of Imperial Defence had to solve were almost the same as the problems that the Imperial Conference has to solve, relating to matters of defence and of foreign policy. But though a Liberal Government was in power at that time and had a very large majority behind it, I think Lord Asquith was very wise in inviting the then Leader of the Opposition, 502 Mr. Balfour, to participate in the deliberations and the discussions of the Imperial Defence Committee. I am convinced that none of the arguments which were advanced by the Prime Ministers of the Dominions in opposition to the proposal which I have made plain to the Committee, was ever used in this House or outside it, when all parties, Government and Opposition, were united in the Committee of Imperial Defence to consider the best way of maintaining the defence of the nation and the Empire. The fact remains, and one cannot gainsay it, that at the present moment some of the Dominions are averse from having the Opposition as well as themselves as delegates to the Imperial Conference. So long as those objections obtain, some machinery has to be devised for improved methods of consultation. I agree with the Report that when you are considering methods of that kind for improved consultation in the interval between the Conferences, you cannot rely upon the usual dogmas, but you have rather to look for some flexible machinery. I notice that in the White Paper I have read, one step was suggested by the Prime Minister of Australia during the course of the negotiations with the Labour Government. He thought that one step which should be taken—it has been taken, for all I know, because happened to be away last year during the Conference—and I think it is a reasonable step, was the creation of a permanent Secretariat. Mr. Bruce said:At the present time the Secretariat for the Imperial Conference is provided by the British Government together with representatives of the Dominions concerned, but immediately the Conference is over the Secretariat is broken up and no effective machinery exists for keeping the Dominions continuously informed as to the developments or alterations necessitated by changed circumstances. In the opinion of my Government a great improvement would be effected by the establishment of a permanent Imperial Secretariat.Not only is that one step which might well be considered, but in the course of the debate at Canberra there were various other proposals brought forward. One was that there should be an improvement in the status of the High Commissioners, that they in reality should be as it were, Ambassadors to this country, and that if the High Commissioners were not changed there might very well be appointed from all the Dominions a Minister 503 of Cabinet rank who would be resident for some time in London, irrespective of the Government in power, and that he should be in touch at all times with the Home Government. I do not know whether, in the discussion to which we listened in Canberra, that found very great favour or not, but the fact remains that the Australian Government has attempted to meet that suggestion in a practical way. It has, I believe, appointed a liaison officer, Captain Casey—I am not sure whether I am right in this—to act between the Australian Government and the Home Government on matters of foreign policy. I understand that this very valuable officer is doing most effective work, and that the Australian Government is now, as never before, acquainted with the various Foreign Office problems with which this country is confronted.
If none of these proposals is right, may I make a suggestion which I think is worth consideration. I see that the hon. Member for Stroud (Sir F. Nelson) is present. I went to Australia on this delegation, and the thought that suggested itself to many of us then, though not in exactly the same way, was that, as there is a Preparatory Commission in Geneva before, let us say, a Disarmament Conference, so there should be some sort of Parliamentary Conference or Convention composed of members of all parties from all the Dominions meeting once a year. Everyone knows that the essence of the work of a Preparatory Conference is to prepare the programme which will be discussed in the Plenary Session. What has been the experience of the Members of this House within the last three or four years? We have had an Empire Parliamentary Delegation not only to South Africa, but to Australia. My hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton), who may have an opportunity of speaking in this Debate, was one of the Members who went to the Union of South Africa. Members of all parties went to Australia and, I believe, next year there may be an opportunity of going to Canada.
The desire of all the delegates whom I met from all the other Dominions was, that an attempt should be made to have a conference in London of men of all parties from all Parliaments in the 504 Empire. What did we do in Australia? I can only speak from my own personal experience. I found that these conferences were of great educational value. They embodied well-informed opinion and made each Parliament acquainted with the view not only of every other Parliament, but of every other party in every other Parliament throughout the Dominions. What were our experiences there? There was not a single State which we did not visit and there was not a single Parliament with whose members we did not discuss local and Imperial problems. It was not a question merely of the representatives of this Government visiting the Australian States; it was a question of delegates from every Parliament in the Empire going there. I do not know what were the experiences of my colleagues, but my own experience is clear in my mind. I found the journey a most profitable one. We went there, not as carping critics but as students and inquirers. We learned a great deal from the Australian States individually and collectively. We learned a great deal from the Ministers of the Federal Parliament and, as the delegation was composed I think I may say, of representative men from all parties in the State, the Australian people were good enough to say that they learned a great deal from us.
What stood out above all else was the fact that by personal influence and contact we came to realise the magnitude of their problems and their way of looking at things. We hope that, in return, by contact with us they realised the difficulties of the mother country in the executive control of this great Empire. I would impress upon the Secretary of State to consider whether in view of the fact that it is almost physically impossible to have a yearly plenary conference of the Empire we should not have, on the lines I am suggesting, a Parliamentary conference or convention, composed of men of all parties from all the Parliaments of all the Dominions meeting in some parts of the Empire once every year. I know a great many hon. Members are anxious to speak and I conclude by saying that these are the views of the party to which I belong. I believe, with some confidence, that they are the views of the House of Commons as a whole. We appreciate the unfailing interest which the Secretary of 505 State has shown throughout his political life and which he continues to show in Imperial problems and any assistance which we can give to maintain our Empire in its proud position as the greatest instrument for peace and liberty in this world we shall gladly give.
§ Sir JOHN MARRIOTT
I think it would be singularly ungracious if I were not to express at the outset my great appreciation of the courtesy of the Liberal party in providing us with this opportunity of debating a matter of first rate importance. I do not wish to waste any of the short and precious time at my disposal in complaints or regrets as to the defects of our system of procedure, which permits such an anomaly as this, but I would, in one sentence, renew the protest which I made in the Debate on the Motion for Adjournment before Whitsuntide, against the vagaries of a system under which the vast majority of the Members of this House find it impossible, except by the grace and courtesy of their political opponents to raise questions of such importance as that which is raised to-night. I have a notice on the Order Paper to this effect:That it is desirable that this House should have an opportunity of considering the declarations and recommendations contained in the Report of the Imperial Conference of 1926.I notice that in the Parliament of the Dominion of Canada three or four months ago the Leader of the Conservative Opposition moved a Resolution to the effect that it was not desirable that that House should be deemed tacitly to have acquiesced in the declarations and recommendations contained in the Report of the Imperial Conference of 1926. Had an opportunity offered I should have been very glad to have moved in the House of Commons here in identical terms, for it seems to me that if it is regarded as intolerable that a Dominion Parliament should be deemed tacitly to have acquiesced in these recommendations and declarations, much more is it intolerable that the acquiescence of this Imperial Parliament—if we may be provisionally permitted to retain the use of that proud but, perhaps, archaic title—should be tacitly assumed. As far as I know, down to the present moment the only reference to this Report which has been made by a Minister of the Crown in the House 506 of Commons was an almost casual reference by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary when he said, speaking in the Debate on the Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act:The Dominions of the Crown, the great self-governing Dominions, are, certainly since this last Imperial Conference, co-equal with the United Kingdom. They do not belong to this Parliament; they are not in any sense subject to the jurisdiction of this Parliament."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th March, 1927; col. 1894, Vol. 203.]Now the point I want the Committee to observe is that my right hon. Friend spoke of something having taken place since the last Imperial Conference, and I want to know whether we are to understand that, in the opinion of His Majesty's Ministers, there has been a change in constitutional relations since November, 1926? I want my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to tell us, quite frankly, has there been a change. If so, should not the Imperial Parliament at least have been informed of the change, if not asked formally to sanction it? If there has been a change, what precisely is the nature of the change? Has it affected or will it affect the prerogatives of the Crown? Has it affected or will it affect the rights or duties of this Parliament? We were told in many quarters, more or less responsible, last November when this Report first appeared that there had been no change in inter-Imperial relations. It was said that the old facts had been restated in a new way, that there had been a definition of status which was formerly vague, and so on, but that there had been no change. I want to know whether that is the view of His Majesty's Government. It is certainly not the view of His Majesty's advisers in another part of His Empire:They had received from the last Imperial Conference "—I am quoting—the acknowledgment by Great Britain of their sovereign national status, with full abandonment by the British Government of any claim to control or superior authority, with the acknowledgment of all rights or privileges, both local and foreign, as equal, free peoples.Those are the words of His Majesty's Prime Minister in the Union Parliament of South Africa. I want to know from His Majesty's Government to-night: Is it the case that the Dominions have received 507 from the last Imperial Conference the acknowledgment of their sovereign national status; was there by the British Government a full abandonment; if so, what did the British Government abandon; and by whom were they authorised to abandon it? The Leader of the Conservative party in the Dominion Parliament of Canada would seem, to some extent, up to a point, to have agreed with the Prime Minister of South Africa. Speaking in the Canadian House, he said:Recommendations were made by the Conference involving what one must pronounce to be grave constitutional changes in Canada.If such changes only affected Canada in a domestic sense, then I should not, perhaps, be entitled to ask what those changes were, but I think I am entitled to ask whether those changes had any reflex action upon the relations between Canada and the Imperial Government, and, if they had, I submit that this House is at least entitled to have official information as to what those changes were.
I want to put to my right hon. Friend one or two rather more specific and particular questions which arise directly out of this Report on Inter-Imperial Relations, but before putting those questions, which I will put as briefly as I can, I want to refer to one or two rather curious sentences in the Preamble of the Report, which begins—and to this I take no exception:The Committee are of opinion that nothing would be gained by attempting to lay down a Constitution for the British Empire.I agree; but it goes on:There is, however, one most important element in it which, from a strictly constitutional point of view, has now, as regards all vital matters, reached its full development—we refer to the group of self-governing communities composed of Great Britain and the Dominions. Their position and mutual relation may be readily defined "—and the Report proceeds to define them, but it goes on:The principles of equality and similarity, appropriate to status, do not universally extend to function. Here we require something more than immutable dogmas.9.0 p.m.
When I read of immutable dogmas and readiness of definition, there sometimes crosses my mind a doubt whether we 508 were altogether wise in letting loose a metaphysician upon the constitution of the British Empire. I am afraid that a metaphysician in polities may be as dangerous as was an Athanasius in theology, and I can only hope that there will be no attempt to reduce to the articles of a creed the incomprehensible and conflicting dogmas which are, as I submit, accommodated by the subtlety of the metaphysician within the apparently innocent and prosaic pages of this Report. In any case, I hope I shall not be eternally damned if I find it difficult to subscribe to them in their entirety.
Now for the specific questions. The first relates to a matter which we have already debated in this House to some extent, though not since the proclamation of His Majesty; I mean the change in His Majesty's title. I confess that it strikes me rather oddly to read:George V., by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland, and the British Dominions beyond the Seas King,and so on, if, as I understand Ireland has claimed very specifically the status of a Dominion, because by this enumeration it is obviously excluded from the category of a Dominion. However, that is a point which I will allow to pass. The next question dealt with in the Report is the position of the Governors-General, on which the Report says:In our opinion, it is an essential consequence of the equality of status existing among the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations that the Governor-General of a Dominion is the representative of the Crown, holding in all essential respects the same position in relation to the administration of public affairs in the Dominion as is held by His Majesty the King in Great Britain, and that he is not the representative or agent of His Majesty's Government in Great Britain or of any department of that Government.What I want to know is this: Have His Majesty's Government indicated to the Dominions their acceptance of any change in the constitutional position or status of the Governors-General, and more particularly in their relation to the British Government? If they have indicated any such change, I should very much like to know precisely what it is. If the Governor-General is to be no longer the representative or agent of His Majesty's Government in Great Britain or of any Department of that Government, 509 then two questions seem to me inevitably to arise, which it is very important to set at rest. The first is, On whose advice is the Governor-General to be appointed by the Crown? and the second is, Through what channel is the Governor-General to communicate with the Crown? Are these communications with the Crown brought to the knowledge of His Majesty's constitutional advisers in this country, or are they not? I express a respectful hope that we may have clear answers to these specific questions.
The next question dealt with is the operation of Dominion legislation. The attention of the Conference was called to a number of points which are, no doubt, familiar to hon. Members, and which I will not read in full, but I would draw the attention of the Committee to the conclusion at which the Conference arrived. They came to the conclusion:that the issues involved"—that is to say, in the operation of Dominion legislation—were so complex that there would be grave danger in attempting any immediate pronouncement other than a statement of certain principles which, in our opinion, underlie the whole question of the operation of Dominion legislation.If I may respectfully say so, I think they arrived at a very wise conclusion. What I want to know is: Has this Committee to which this conclusion points actually been set up? If it has, might the House of Commons know what is the personnel of that committee? Then there was the question of merchant shipping legislation, in regard to which the Conference finally came to the conclusion, following a precedent which had been found useful on previous occasions, that the general question of merchant shipping legislation had best be committed to a special sub-conference. Has that sub-conference met? Obviously this question of merchant shipping legislation raises a matter of great practical as well as of great theoretical significance, because, as all the Members of this Committee are very well aware, there exists a long series of Acts relating to merchant shipping, Acts which have been passed by this Parliament as the Sovereign Parliament of the Empire and the only body which is competent to pass legislation 510 binding upon all parts of the Empire. So far as I am aware, no one has up to the present, at any rate up to the publication of this Report, ever questioned the sovereign authority of the King in Parliament as a legislature competent to legislate for the Empire as a whole and to enact laws which possess equal validity in all parts of it. It is perfectly true that the actual sphere of its legislative activity has been very strictly and severely limited. In practice it has been confined to securing objects which are common to the Empire as a whole but are outside the competence of any given Colonial Legislature. I want to know whether that function—and here we are, I suppose, in the region of dogmas which are immutable—has ceased? Would it or would it not still be competent to this Parliament to amend the Merchant Shipping Acts?
There are many other points in this Report to which, if time permitted, I should have been only too glad to call attention. The Report of the Conference as a whole and the discussions which have taken place on it in the Dominion Parliaments have filled me with a certain measure of anxiety and disquietude. It seems to me there is in some quarters a disposition very loyally to accept, indeed, to accentuate, the position of the Crown as the head of the Executive Government of the Empire, but to repudiate the authority of the King in Parliament. That seems to me to be a differentiation of rather sinister augury, with rather unhappy associations. I will not recall those associations more particularly, because they are sinister, and I do not want to tread to-night on ground so delicate; but I will venture to say that no constitutional jurist can be satisfied with the attempt to differentiate between the two aspects and the two functions of sovereignty, which, if not inseparable, cannot without manifest danger, be divorced one from the other. I have already hinted that this Report fills me with some disquietude, not only because of, and perhaps less by reason of, what it actually contains, but also by reason of the scant attention which has been given to it in this country, and particularly in this House of Commons, scant attention given to a document which, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross and 511 Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) said, is a document admittedly of profound and far-reaching constitutional significance.
I had great hopes, 10 years ago, that under the stress of the Great War we were, as an Empire, taking large and rapid strides in the direction of a more organic unity of the Empire. I recall very well the prediction of a distinguished military historian in Germany to the effect that the first shot fired in the great European war would mean the dissolution of Great Britain's loosely-compacted Empire. The words were the words of General Bernhardt. We all recall how completely that prediction was falsified by events. We all recall how, as month succeeded month, the union was drawn closer and closer; and I shall never forget the day when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), then at the head of His Majesty's Government—I am very sorry he is not in his place to-night—announced to the great satisfaction of the House that it had that day been determined that the Imperial War Cabinet should form an integral and permanent part of our Imperial Constitution. I think it was on the 17th May, 1917. There were many of us who that day were prepared to sing Nunc Dimittis. Then came the Peace Conference in Paris. That was followed, as we all know, and as some of us regret, by a definite lowering of the Imperial temperature, which in the Report we are discussing to-night seems to me to have fallen very near to zero; and the worst of it is that hardly anybody seems to care.
A South African statesman is reported as having said that the British Empire now exists as a name only. I hope he was misreported, but if he was correctly reported then I hope and believe that events will prove his assertion to be inaccurate. In this matter, as the Committee is very well aware, there has been, for years past, a continual ebb and flow of opinion, there has been action and reaction. For the moment I think we are in the trough of the waves. I hope and believe that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—and there is no man in whom the Empire has greater confidence—will succeed in righting the craft, and I hope he will forgive me for having broken to-night a silence which I, at any rate, do not regard as golden.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
The hon. Member who has just sat down gave us a considerable wealth of historical facts and he quoted some learned conundrums on constitutional law to the Secretary of State for the Dominions, but I do not propose to follow on his lines. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) raised the issue of whether or not it was possible to have an annual Parliamentary Congress of the Empire, and, as I understood him, he spoke on behalf of the Liberal party and declared that he accepted the point of view so repeatedly urged by my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas) that in these Parliamentary Conferences the Opposition should be represented. I know the arguments which are used against this annual conference. There are arguments of space and time and lack of money, and I do not propose, and indeed I am not at all competent, to discuss them. But surely there might be agreement on this, that every triennial Imperial Conference should be preceded by a Parliamentary Conference representative of all parts of the Empire, and this I take it could quite easily be organised by the Empire Parliamentary Association. These triennial Parliamentary Conferences might quite easily and quite speedily develop into something in the nature of a Standing Committee of an Imperial Parliament, and we might in our British way develop almost unconsciously into that dream, which many of us hold, of an Imperial Parliament representing all parts of the Empire dealing with Imperial questions only, and leaving every other constituent part of the British Empire with a free measure of Home Rule to look after its own affairs.
Certainly, there are questions which somehow have got to be discussed in common and which cannot be dictated from Whitehall. There are, for instance, questions such as migration, trade, tariffs, defence, foreign relations, and so forth; and no one who studies events in Australia and follows Australian party politics can fail to observe the necessity for closer touch being established between this country and Australia—that is only one illustration—before the tariff barriers and tariff walls are broken to such an extent as to make that economic and organised unity we so desire, a 513 reality. When one sees, for instance, the tariff being raised, say, by the motor group in this country, and when one understands the feelings aroused, say, in Leicester by a tariff on hosiery in Australia, it seems all the more urgent that steps should be taken, not to interfere with the economic independence of this country or Australia, but to have a joint discussion on all these matters.
In this Parliamentary Convention, which I trust the Secretary of State will see his way to encourage by bringing the suggestion before the Empire Parliamentary Association prior to the next Imperial Conference, I hope there will be representatives of all parts of the Empire, and not of the self-governing Dominions only. I should like to see tribal representatives, representatives of every section and every part of the British Empire, in that Parliamentary Convention. Certainly, there is no reason that I can understand why Ceylon and the West Indies and India should not be represented, and if representatives of those parts, as well as from Nigeria, the Gold Coast, Kenya, and so on, were selected on a tribal basis, it would bring them into touch with the other representatives of the Empire. That would do much more, in my belief, to strengthen the economic and organic unity of the Empire than anything else we have done. I want to say a word about some things in the Report of the last Imperial Conference. It is rather surprising to me that an important issue and an important document such as this should only be possible of discussion, as the hon. Member for York (Sir J. Marriott) put it, by the courtesy of one section of the Opposition.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
The Liberal party is a section of the Opposition, but, if the right hon. Gentleman prefers me to say, "by the courtesy of the Liberal party," I will say it. There are matters referred to in this Report which I do not think have been discussed here at all. There is, for instance, the work of the Empire Marketing Board, which has not been discussed in this House, and yet no more important development has taken place than the establishment of this Board. They are doing very valuable work on research, 514 but I am not so sure that they are doing such valuable work with regard to markets and the organisation of markets which they might very well do. Mr. Bruce, the Australian Prime Minister, said at the last Imperial Conference—I am quoting from page 73 of the Report of that Conference:Practically every great country in the world to-day has taken some step towards organisation on a basis of co-operative marketing, and it is very possible that on this whole question we might have to take an Imperial point of view.Later on, after referring to rubber and cotton, he said:Co-operative marketing is a factor which we shall have increasingly to consider in the future … I am certain that in the end, it will be enormously to the benefit of the consumer if we can get all marketing done on a basis where the producers are not subject to the machinations of the speculator.That is the considered opinion, not of a Socialist, but of the anti-Labour Premier of Australia. There has got to be co-operative marketing to get rid of, as he calls it, the machinations of the speculator before the profits of trade can accrue to the producer there and the consumer here, and to the producer here and the consumer there. Some attempt has been made, I know, at the organisation of our markets. In New Zealand, according to the statement of the Prime Minister of New Zealand, co-operative organisations under the ægis of the State, have succeeded in securing very considerable reductions in freights and in storage rates. In that connection, I might quote a statement made by Mr. Bruce in dealing with the case of Australia. He said:Take the case of meat. A man will breed cattle, carry them for five years, perhaps, transport them conceivably hundreds of miles to a meat works, bear all the cost of treatment at the meat works, bear the freight, bring the meat to Britain with the insurance and other incidental charges, and probably will get for his whole share about one-half to one-third of what is received by those who handle the meat after it has actually reached the hands of the distributor in this country.Something has got to be done about that. It is not only in regard to meat, but every other commodity which comes from the Dominions. I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman now feels himself in a position to tell the Committee and the country what befell the Australian apple crop two years ago.The entire Tasmanian 515 apple crop was marketed in this country. There were the transport, the refrigerator, and freight costs, and all the rest of it. It was brought to London, the harbour dues were paid, and it was sold in this country. What did the Tasmanian grower get? Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell the Committee that the Australian grower got nothing for his crop, but had, instead, to send a cheque for something like £30,000 to pay the cost of marketing his goods. With instances like that which occur in regard to fruit and other marketing, and with the evidence we have through the Department of Overseas Trade, there is the fact that the present Government, in letting out their meat contracts, have never considered another aspect of the matter. I asked the Secretary of State for War whether in the meat contract—which was not given to Australia last year but to South America—there was any stipulation about fair wages and fair conditions or hours of labour. He said, "No, it does not apply outside this country." Australia applies it; South America does not apply it, and the right hon. Gentleman purchases in South America the meat supply for this country. The competition is not on a fair basis. If Australia is working a 44-hours week and paying decent wages, and no attempt whatever is made to insist that Australia's competitors shall pay equally fair wages and observe decent conditions, then I submit that the spirit of the Resolution passed in this House regarding fair wages and fair conditions of labour is being ignored by His Majesty's Government and that Australia is not having a fair chance to compete.
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has the latest figures or not, but it seems to me that, apart from the self-governing Dominions altogether, the extraordinary development in British trade and exports to what are called, or used to be called, our Colonies, is worthy of careful study. The figures which I have extracted from the Report of the last Imperial Conference work out something like this. Our exports to these Colonies in 1905 were £18,000,000. In 1913 they had grown to £47,000,000, and in 1925 to £60,000,000. Over those years they have grown by 300 per cent. Allowance must, of course, be made for the 516 change in prices, but nevertheless the volume of the increased exports to these Colonies deserves the very careful consideration of this Committee.
There is another side to the matter. As I understand it, every family in Australia purchases to-day somewhere about £60 worth of British goods per annum—probably more than £60. What is every family in Greece or in South America purchasing? I cannot get the figures. I have asked questions in this House until I am tired. I have written letters to the Department of Overseas Trade, but, while I acknowledge the courtesy of the present Secretary to the Department, I cannot get the figures, because he does not have them. After months have elapsed, perhaps you get a letter from some British Consul in South America saying that the value of the peso and of money has changed and that it does not buy so much meat as it used to do, and so on, but all that is meaningless. Surely, some Department of State ought to be able to inform us exactly what is the purchasing power per family of every other country in the world. Let us have the facts before us. We have fiscal discussions up and down the country, but we have not the facts, and, as far as I know, no Government Department has them.
Lastly, I should like to say that it is not only in regard to food commodities that effective organisation under the auspices of the Empire Marketing Board could take place. There are raw materials in regard to which effective organisation could be established. Raw materials probably might be the first thing that the Empire Marketing Board, if it knew its business, could tackle. I take the question of the raw material, which forms the staple industry of the city I represent in this House—jute. It is all grown in the British Empire and in one Province—Bengal. Yet last year, owing to speculators and market riggers—and forestallers and regraters, as they used to say in the old Acts of the Scottish Parliament—who have never handled the stuff at all and who are useless parasites on the business, the price for the same quality of first-class raw jute, grown in the same Province and from the same harvest, fluctuated between £29 and £61 per ton. I submit that there is no industry which can be conducted 517 satisfactorily on a fluctuating basis of that kind. It cannot be done. Decent wages cannot be paid to workers. It would be, surely, very easy for the manufacturers concerned to organise co-operative buying departments and wipe out the speculator. If they will not do it thoroughly, then the British Government must step in and undertake to be the sole importer or organise the imports of such commodities.
Someone may well ask why they do not seize the opportunity of stabilising the price of the raw material. The answer is quite simple: many of them are far more interested in making money as speculators, as middlemen, than they are as owners and managers of factories. If they will not do it, I submit that it is the business of the Empire Marketing Board, in the interest of the British people and of the Indian ryot, in the interest of inter-Imperial commerce, to step in and see that these and similar grievances are remedied. In the Report of one of the Sub-Committees of the Imperial Economic Conference, the Sub-Committee on Industrial Standardisation, some information is given which I have never seen referred to in Debates in this House. That Sub-Committee reported that in Great Britain as a result of even voluntary organisation and standardisation, the number of iron and steel sections was reduced from some hundreds to 113, and that a saving of 5s. per ton. in cost of manufacture has been effected as a consequence. The Report goes on to say:It has recently been estimated that the value of the stocks of ironmongery in wholesalers' and retailers' hands in Great Britain amounts to some 25 million pounds sterling, and that comparatively moderate measures of simplification, by reducing the number of types, would probably result in the release of one-fifth of the working capital thus locked up.We are also told that in South Africa the number of types of engines required for the railways has been reduced by standardisation from 68 to 11, all going in the direction of making British industry more efficient. That organisation we have been urging, with no success whatever, upon the coal-mining industry in this country. Surely, the right hon. Gentleman to-day will give us some indication that he sees beyond the mere party squabbles of the moment, and that he is prepared to use all his opportunities, 518 all his powers of persuasion through the Empire Marketing Board, to put our Imperial relationships on a new and better footing, to better British trade, not by the acceptance of tariffs and so on, which arouse controversy, but, using the powers he has now, to increase the purchasing power of the inhabitants of this Empire, because only by so doing can we increase British exports, reduce unemployment, and make for British happiness and prosperity.
§ Mr. O'NEILL
The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) associated himself with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for York (Sir J. Marriott) to the effect that it was curious that it was so difficult to obtain time to discuss these important Imperial questions on a Supply day in the House of Commons. I quite agree, so far as regards the complaint on this side of the House, but, surely, the remedy of the hon. Member opposite is to get his own leaders to ask for a Supply day upon which these important Imperial matters could be properly and profitably discussed. The hon. Member began his speech in an eminently high, and, if I may say so, most statesmanlike way; and, although what he said in the latter portion of his speech was extraordinarily interesting about the Empire Marketing Board, I nevertheless felt that it would have been better to have kept the discussion upon the larger and higher plane upon which it was opened by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson). It is possible to discuss these comparatively minor matters on other days, but I feel that it would be well to say a word or two with regard to the larger issue which has been raised.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty envisaged some very interesting possibilities when he referred to conferences which might take place—conferences composed of members from all the Parliaments of the Empire, assembled together here in London, from all parties in those Parliaments, to discuss matters of common Imperial concern. It is something very like an All-Imperial Parliament. The excellent work of the Empire Parliamentary Association has, in fact, enabled conferences of that character to take place in certain 519 Dominions, and, as the hon. Member for Dundee suggested, very rightly, in my view, those conferences arranged by the Empire Parliamentary Association will, it is to be hoped, be continued and expanded. I cannot, however, see that that has really much to do with the Imperial Conference as we have understood it hitherto, that is to say, a Conference of representatives of Governments who are sent to the Conference with definite powers to take decisions and carry things out.
Any extension which may be found possible of the idea of Dominion Governments having representatives in this country at the Foreign Office, such as I understand the Australian Government have, is all to the good. I remember, not long ago, being at a meeting where I heard the Australian representative to whom the right hon. Gentleman referred give a very interesting account of what he, in association with his Government, was carrying out. I hope that that kind of thing will be extended and developed, but, of course, it must take time. In the meantime we are progressing. For example, there has been the Conference of representatives from the Crown Colonies which was held in London quite recently under the auspices of the Secretary of State—I think the first conference of its kind which has ever taken place in the history of the Empire. I have no doubt that that Conference, the Report of which was recently issued, will be found to have accomplished some very useful results.
With regard to what my hon. Friend the Member for York said about the Report on Inter-Imperial relations from the Imperial Conference, my hon. Friend asked the Secretary of State a number of very appropriate and very categorical questions. They were questions which emanated from one whose experience and knowledge of constitutional and Imperial matters are very high indeed, but, at the same time, I have a sort of feeling that it would be better if those questions were not asked. In fact, I doubt whether it would be possible for the Secretary of State to answer them categorically, and, even if he could, I doubt whether it would be wise.
This report on Imperial relations is, as it was described at the time it was issued, a great State document of very vast importance; 520 but it is nothing in the nature of a written Imperial constitution. If it was, I think the Empire would not be so closely held together as it is under the present system. What it really did was to put upon paper a great many things which were, in fact, the case before. It elaborated them, and although there may be in it points which we may individually think had perhaps better be left alone, I feel that, on the whole, thanks no doubt to the great ability of the great statesman who presided over that Conference, the report of the committee will go down in the history of the Empire as being constructive rather than destructive, and that it will result not in the worsening but in the improving, if it were possible, and the bettering of the relations between the different Dominions of the Crown.
I had not intended to say anything when I came into the House, and the few observations which I have made constitute what I feel to be the genesis of this matter with regard to the Committee on Imperial Relations. I am sorry that a matter of such great importance should be debated in a House so small. That is a sentiment which is very often used in this House. Of course, we all know that there cannot be a large House for every matter; bat I am sorry, particularly in view of the very statesmanlike speech of the hon. Member for Dundee, that he and two other hon. Members beside him are the sole representatives of his party in this Debate. However, I feel sure that a useful purpose has been served by the raising of these great Imperial matters, and it is right and proper that they should be raised in this Imperial Parliament.
§ Sir ROBERT HAMILTON
I must confess that I regret very much that the hon. Member for York (Sir J. Marriott) declared that he was filled with disquietude and anxiety because of the report of the Conference on Imperial Relations. On the contrary, I am filled with hope and confidence for the future by reason of the findings of the Conference. The Conference dealt with facts in a most practical manner. The hon. Member for York says that he is filled with disquietude. I think it is because he has been trying laboriously to pull up the tree by its roots. I prefer to watch the Imperial tree growing. We must all 521 realise that the whole framework of the Empire has gone through marvellous stages in the last 40 years. It is little more than a generation ago since the first Imperial Conference met. That Conference was groping for a way and asking anxiously how the Empire could be held together, and now we have had this remarkable Conference of 1926, which will stand out as a landmark in the history of all Imperial Conferences by reason of that remarkable declaration which was made: a declaration which I like to call a declaration of the independence and inter-dependence of the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations. We all remember in the history of years ago a very different declaration of independence. If in those days we had proceeded on the lines on which we are now proceeding, history would have taken a very different aspect.
Other Members wish to speak, and as there are so many aspects of a variety of questions raised by the proceedings of the Conference which may be dealt with, I will endeavour to confine myself to one particular aspect, and it is that which was raised by the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson). We have in this report a view of the whole of the Empire and of the independence and interdependence of the different parts of the Empire quite different from anything we have envisaged before; not because it did not exist but because we had not seen it. It is rather like a picture thrown upon the screen which has set up in relief the bones or the framework of the Empire, and shows the manner in which it is held together. It has done a great deal to clarify vision, and that is a great asset when we are trying to take long views for the future. When the Conference first met, the Prime Minister said in his opening address:The problem before us is how to reconcile the principle of self-government in external as well as domestic affairs with the necessity for a policy in foreign affairs and general Imperial concerns which will commend itself to a number of different Governments and Parliaments.A solution of that problem is, I think, to be found in the declaration to which I have referred; a declaration on which the whole work of the Conference hinges The hon. Member for York referred to the alteration in the position of Governors-General of the Dominions. That 522 alteration will, I think, be of very great importance in the future for avoiding possibilities of friction. The principle which has been laid down, that the Governor-General should not in any way represent the Imperial Parliament but should stand in the position of the King, while the Government at home and the Government in the Dominion should communicate with one another direct, is a principle which if it is kept in future is a perfectly sound and safe one. We all realise that there are difficulties in machinery in keeping the official contact. The Conference fully realised that, but these are difficulties which can be got over so long as we keep the main principle in view.
In the great variety of questions which came before the Conference, to mention only a few, such as foreign policy, Treaty making, Dominion representation abroad, air routes, statistics on wool, Imperial shipping, research, especially agricultural research, and the marketing of Imperial produce, one outstanding idea covers the manner in which all these matters were dealt with, and that is the great importance of the exchange of information, and personal contact. To keep close contact between the different parts of the Empire, not only by the machinery for correspondence but by personal contact, is very much stressed. That being so from the official point of view, it is equally if not more important that contact should be kept up by what I may call the non-official contact.
Reference has been made to the very valuable work that has been done by the Parliamentary Delegations which have gone from one part of the Empire to another, composed of men of every party, meeting unofficially with men of every party in the Dominions and exchanging views. Someone has suggested that that class of work should be done by preparatory commissions for the Imperial Commissions which sit from time to time. That, I think, is rather a useful suggestion. I was very much struck a little time ago by hearing a Member of the Parliament of the Union of South Africa at a lunch given in the House of Commons here saying that the enormous success of the visit of the Prince of Wales to South Africa was due in a very large degree to the work that had been done by the Parliamentary Delegation a 523 short time before. The interchange of views between men of every party in that part of the Empire had tended to create an atmosphere which was entirely favourable to the Prince's visit, and after that we had General Hertzog coming to the Imperial Conference and being entirely satisfied with its work. That that declaration has been received with approbation from Dominions having such different angles of view as Canada, South Africa and Australia, shows on what firm ground it is based. We do not find that it met with approval in one portion of the Empire and disapproval in another, but we find it has met with universal approval. Keeping that well in the forefront of the picture, we have to build machinery which shall be useful in carrying out the ideas that we have of an Empire. I dislike the word "Empire." The phrase "Commonwealth of Nations" is long, but when we say "Empire" we mean the British Commonwealth of Nations, all autonomous, not one of them subject to the other, but all marching in one direction and inspired by like ideals, and in order that they may march best and get the greatest advantage from their progress, it is obvious that they must have full and up-to-date information each of what the other is doing. That is a question of keeping up personal contact.
I have touched lightly on unofficial contact. Now I should like to come to the official contact in the Imperial Conference itself. We all know the great difficulty of calling these vast Imperial Conferences at short periods. It is generally admitted that it is outside practical politics. The three year period is as short as is compatible with practical politics, but we have to remember also that Governments come and go, and though I quite admit that the people who represent any portion of the Empire at a Conference must in the main be the Government of that portion of the Empire, Governments change, and you may have at an Imperial Conference, we will say, Australia represented by one colour of Government, and Great Britain by another, and six months later both those Governments go out and the colour is changed both in Australia and here. Surely, if that is a very likely possibility, would it not be desirable that the Opposition should be represented at the Conference as well as the Government? 524 His Majesty's Opposition has a well defined place in our institutions. Why should it not have an equally well defined place in the Imperial Conference? I do not see that any harm could result from it and I see that a great deal of good might result, and as the right hon. Gentleman said, it is a matter that should be taken into consideration with a view to future Conferences. All of us in the House—it does not matter on which benches we sit—are equally proud and take an equal interest in the Empire of which we are members, and I am sure it would strengthen future Conferences if members of other parties were represented. I believe at Geneva people who are not actual delegates are called observers. Let them in some shape or form take a part in Imperial Conferences, and it would strengthen rather than weaken them in future.
§ Captain PETER MACDONALD
I want to deal with that aspect of the Imperial Economic problem that was dealt with briefly by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston). I refer to the work of the Empire Marketing Board, which was set up for the purpose of promoting British Imperial trade—the sale of Imperial products in the Oversea Dominions and the sale of Oversea Dominion products in this country. I do not want to appear critical of the Board. In fact I feel every sympathy with them in the difficult task they have undertaken. £1,000,000 has, I understand, been voted for the purpose of an advertising campaign. That campaign has been going on for some months, and I should like to congratulate the Board on the conception of some of the posters I see throughout the country. You see large posters representing the vast potential wealth of the Empire, others pointing out the trade routes of the Empire, and others pointing to the fact that the Oversea Dominions have purchased so many million pounds worth of British goods last year. All these posters, no doubt, have their value, but I am actuated in this matter by some experimental inquiries I have made in my constituency. I have asked several men and women of the type generally referred to as the man in the street if they would not prefer to buy British manufactured goods or goods from the Overseas Dominions which were just as 525 good, if not better than the foreign article and which were sold as cheap, if not cheaper than the foreign article. They said they would, but with the uncanny commonsense the man in the street usually possesses, they put their finger on the crux of the whole matter when they asked, "What are these goods, and how are we to find out where they are for sale?"
There is where I think the present method of advertising adopted by the Empire Marketing Board is at fault. It is too general in its application, and I think these posters are too much what we might call the rhetoric of advertising. If we could come down from the general to the particular and point out to these people the particular goods that are available that are produced by our own people overseas or at home and where they are obtainable, I feel quite confident that would be one means of increasing our Imperial and British trade and bringing home to the man in the street its potentialities. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade made a speech recently in which he said that the best means of fostering British trade was to bring buyer and seller together. There, I think, he hit the nail on the head. If we could find means of bringing buyers and sellers of British goods together and stimulating by propaganda the sale of these goods, I feel confident that the British housewife would always respond to that appeal. About 30 London boroughs are carrying out an Empire shopping week some time next month, and I think it is an excellent idea. I am also pleased to know that Brighton carried out a similar shopping week a short time ago.
My point is, why do the Board not concentrate to a greater extent upon such shopping weeks and introduce them in every part of the country? By doing so I am confident they would increase the volume of British trade and help to carry out the functions for which the Board was created. I was very much struck by figures which appeared in the "Times" in a statement on Canada. No one who has the interests of the Empire at heart can help being impressed by those figures. It was stated that nearly 79 per cent. of all the commodities imported into Canada are of foreign origin and that foreign countries take more than 56 per cent. of Canadian exports. The goods imported 526 by the United States into Canada were nearly 67 per cent. of all the goods imported into that country. Naturally, you may ask why Canada, which receives a preference from this country, should be so inundated with American goods. It is not entirely due to the geographical position of that country, but to the fact that they are the pioneers, I consider, of advertising their articles. Anyone who knows Canada knows that American goods are always being boosted in that country and are being brought home to housewives throughout the Dominion. That, I consider, is a field for this Board, and it is a field which should be developed to a greater extent. If that were done, I feel quite confident that this country has nothing to fear for its industrial future nor has it any reason to be envious of the United States of America. We have within the borders of our Empire far greater resources than the United States of America. It only requires concentration and development, and bringing home to the British consumer of the necessity of purchasing articles of British manufacture and to advertise that trade, to develop the Empire to a greater extent
§ Mr. RAMSDEN
I should like to say that I cannot quite follow the last speaker when he said that all the money was being spent by the Empire Marketing Board on advertising. I am glad to think that a good proportion of this money is to be spent in other directions which will be just as useful. Particularly in that work of research which is to be carried out on a much larger scale throughout the Empire. With regard to the advertising campaign, I think we must have a little patience before we can hope to see real results. This campaign has only really been started, and I think it has already done a considerable amount of good. I am afraid it would be impossible to carry out the suggestion that individual articles should be advertised to the public. I do not think it is the function of any authority such as the Empire Marketing Board to deal with particular proprietary articles and to make them known. I agree with the majority of hon. Members that the Imperial Conference was undoubtedly the greatest conference of its kind that has ever taken place. I feel confident that as a result of what has taken place there, the Empire will be bound together with even stronger links.
527 The Conference directed public attention very strongly to inter-Empire trade. I am very glad that there is a growing realisation of the advantage to us of this inter-Empire trade. I am glad that this realisation is becoming stronger every day, because I feel that if it is thoroughly understood we shall be going a very long way towards solving some of our important problems, particularly unemployment. I am glad that the Empire Marketing Board is helping very materially in that direction. There are, however, certain obstacles in the way which I believe are hindering that Board in furthering their proposals. I do not intend to give the Committee figures as to the trade that takes place between Great Britain and Australia and the other Dominions because I feel that everyone here knows as well as I do what they really represent. Although this inter-Empire trade is growing year by year it is not yet all that we would desire. Although the Board is really doing excellent work to help to increase it, they are meeting with certain obstacles, and this happens to be the case incidentally in the West Riding of Yorkshire. As one who has preached Empire trade in season and out of season, has tried to advocate the use of British goods on every possible occasion, very often I have been met by criticisms as to the high tariffs which are levied against British goods by some of the Dominion Governments.
I do not think that anyone wishes to deny for a single moment the right of the Dominions to govern themselves and to propose any tariff, however high it may be, if they wish to do so. As one who preaches that the Dominions themselves can only absorb more British-manufactured goods in proportion to the prosperity which they attain, I find that it is sometimes rather difficult to be told, as I firmly believe is the case, that exactly the same thing applies to us, namely that unless the Dominions are willing to take our manufactured goods and to take them in large quantities so that we may give more employment to our people, we, in turn, cannot purchase as much as we should like from the different parts of the British Empire. I sincerely hope that our statesmen across the seas will recognise that this inter- 528 Empire trade is really mutual in the most real sense of the word, and that if they wish us to increase, and to increase materially, the purchases of all Empire products, they will have to help us to attain that prosperity which they themselves wish to enjoy.
I am perfectly convinced that if by a stroke of fortune we could find employment for practically all the workers in this country at a good rate of wages, there would be nothing better that we could do to help the different parts of the Empire, because our prosperity would immediately be reflected in very much greater purchases of everything they produce. I do hope they will seriously consider whether the somewhat excessive increases of tariffs, such as we have seen imposed during the last few years, and which have had the effect in certain industries of practically prohibiting the import of the classes of British manufactured goods concerned, have not been harmful. It is not very pleasing for a manufacturer who has built up a business in the Dominions after, probably, a great deal of effort and a great deal of labour, to find that, by a stroke of the pen, the Customs duties have been increased, and that he and the people employed in his factory are going to suffer very materially from these increases. These are not the people who are going to back up enthusiastically the "Buy British Goods" campaign. I do hope they will very seriously consider whether such little pinpricks that we have received from time to time are really worth while, and whether they get any advantage out of them. After all, there is scope in the Empire for development on very different lines from those in this country, and if they fully develop on those different lines and they help us to do so on ours as well, I think we shall obtain greater prosperity for all parts of the Empire.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for DOMINION AFFAIRS (Mr. Amery)
I think those who have been present in the Committee during the last two hours will realise that my difficulty to-night is to know how to reply in the time at my disposal to the very wide range of subjects which has been raised in the Debate. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston), in the latter part of his speech, made some very interesting 529 suggestions—suggestions with a very large part, though not with all, of which I find myself in agreement—in connection with what the Empire Marketing Board might be able to do in order to secure greater stability of prices and the better organisation of our trade with the Dominions. The two hon. Members who have just spoken have also raised various economic questions, some connected with the work of the Empire Marketing Board and some of quite a general character affecting inter-Imperial trade. I know those hon. Members will forgive me when I say that if I attempt to answer the points they have raised it will be impossible for me to do justice to the very important constitutional issues, which we may not have another opportunity of debating, which have been brought before the House by the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) and the hon. Member for York (Sir J. Marriott).
The constitutional issues raised by these two hon. Members, and by other hon. Members, fall into two main parts. They have dealt either with the machinery of our inter-Imperial consultation, the ways and means by which that machinery might be improved, or they have dealt, as did the hon. Member for York, with the actual issues raised in the Report of the last Imperial Conference. May I deal with the former for a moment. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty that, if it were possible to hold the Imperial Conference annually, the unity of the Empire, which depends so vitally on personal contact, responsible personal contact, would be immensely strengthened. The hon. Member for York reminded the Committee that there was a time, during the later stages of the War, when it seemed to all of us—I mean the representatives of the Dominions as well as the representatives of the Government of this country—that it might be possible to hold these Imperial meetings annually. Experience has shown us that it is impossible to get a conference of Governments, which to be effective must be a conference of the heads of Governments, in ordinary times much oftener than once in three years, although in times of emergency, under our flexible machinery, they could be called together oftener and could be sitting almost continuously, 530 as they were during 1918 and 1919. But in ordinary times we shall have to be content, at any rate until the airship has greatly reduced the length of transit from the different portions of the Empire, with a meeting every two or three years; and the question is, how in the intervals between these meetings personal contact can be strengthened and improved.
There is, of course, one method of contact which has long been provided for, and that is the meeting of subsidiary conferences on special subjects. These began as far back as 1907, and they have increased in frequency and also in real usefulness in recent years. At this moment a very important conference is taking place in regard to education, and we have had a number of conferences of a similar character. It is also the case, more perhaps now than at any time in the past, that in connection with inter-Imperial business Ministers of the Crown from different parts of the Empire do visit each other. I had the privilege of presiding at a gathering this afternoon at which two Ministers of the Canadian Government were present, and in a few weeks' time another Minister of the Canadian Government will be here, while an important Minister of the Government of Australia is in this country at this moment. It is no secret, of course, that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister hopes to renew the personal contact established at the time of the Imperial Conference with the Government of Canada—to renew it on the spot in Canada during the next two months.
Of, course, if it is right and proper, as I think it is, that all travelling in this business should not be done only by Dominion Ministers but also by Ministers of the British Government, then naturally there is no member of the Government who ought to make more effort to visit the Dominions themselves than the Minister who holds the portfolio of Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs. I hope to take advantage of the next few months in order to renew the contact with the various Dominions established at the late Imperial Conference, and to deal with one or other of the many current problems that are always being discussed between our Government and the Governments of the Dominions— 531 discussed often at such length and so inconclusively on paper, and so easily and speedily settled across the table. Beyond that, the machinery of consultation is being quietly and steadily improved. One of the outcomes of the late Conference was the conclusion that it was not enough to rely, in the intervals of conference, as between the Governments of the Empire, upon purely written or telegraphic communication, that if it was found necessary in international relations to deal with each other, from Government to Government, through personal intermediaries, then certainly as between the Governments of the Empire it was desirable that the method of direct written or telegraphic communication should be supplemented by personal intermediaries.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty referred to the lead given by Australia in the establishment of a liaison officer in this country, and the desirability of the High Commissioners being empowered to deal with the British Government not only on economic matters and the kind of subjects with which they have dealt in the past but also with matters of high inter-Imperial importance. That was accepted as a desirable thing at the Imperial Conference and steady progress is taking place in that direction. The machinery on this side is gradually improving. Naturally each Government must be the judge of the extent to which, and the occasions on which, it would ask its High Commissioner to raise questions of inter-Imperial importance with the British Government, but as far as the British Government is concerned, whether in foreign policy or in defence or in any other matter affecting the general policy of the Empire or the relations between ourselves and any Dominion, we are only too ready to consult with the representative of the Dominion here in the fullest and freest manner and to withhold no kind of information from him.
The Imperial Conference suggested that it might also be desirable to have some similiar liaison or representation of the views of the British Government at the other end. In foreign relations you always have an alternative channel of communication. For one reason or 532 another, sometimes personal, sometimes the character of the communication, it is sometimes easier to convey a matter by way of mouth at this end, sometimes easier to telegraph or write to your agent at the other end in order that the conversation may take place there. That is a matter which we are exploring, a matter in which we have to deal with different conditions in every Dominion, but in which, no doubt, we shall gradually establish as effective a system of contact as the conditions in each Dominion and of the work we have to do will warrant. The right hon. Gentleman suggested, in addition, that it might also be a useful thing to establish something in the nature of a permanent secretariat of the Imperial Conference. To some extent, of course, such a secretariat already exists in the Dominions Office, and if any general wish were expressed to create such a secretariat there would be no difficulty in giving effect to it.
As a matter of fact, however, our discussions recently have not run exactly on those lines. Instead of creating something in the nature of a general secretariat for Imperial purposes, the Governments of the Empire have been more concerned with setting up a variety of special advisory bodies, each dealing with one or other of the various subjects that come up at Imperial Conferences. Apart from the purely technical bureaux such as those dealing with mineral resources, mycology, entomology, and such like scientific subjects, we have seen in recent years the establishment of bodies like the Imperial Shipping Committee, set up under the authority of all the Governments of the Empire, and equally advisory to all of them, and the Imperial Economic Committee, set up in a similar constitutional position and, of course, closely connected with the Imperial Economic Committee, and provided with funds to enable it to give direct effect to many suggestions of the Committee, is the Empire Marketing Board. We are, therefore, steadily improving the machinery of regular consultation, and of course, the method of direct communication and consultation is improving all the time. There is no comparison between the kind of information which was sent to the Dominions on foreign affairs and Imperial defence questions, even three or four years ago, and the 533 immense volume of information now sent by mail and almost daily by telegrams, in order to keep them in day by day touch with the progress of all the affairs that can possibly concern them or affect the welfare of the Empire as a whole.
So much for the machinery of consultation. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty also raised another matter in which his views were supported by the hon. Member for Dundee and the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton), namely, the question of whether continuity and unity of policy, regardless of changes in this House, might not be assisted if the Imperial Conference included members of the Opposition as well as of the Government of the day. I admit that, at first sight, is an attractive as well as an interesting suggestion. After the experience of 1924, when the party which now sits on the benches opposite, found itself obliged, as a Government, for one reason or another to go back on some of the decisions arrived at by the Imperial Conferences of previous years, it did so with genuine concern, and it put forward to the Dominions the suggestion of associating the Opposition with the Government in Imperial Conferences as a possible way of meeting that difficulty. The right hon. Gentleman knows that suggestion did not commend itself to the Dominion Governments. No Government expressed approval of it, and several Governments expressed strong disapproval. Mr. Bruce took the view that such a change would tend to hamper the frank exchange of views and might easily lead to serious consequences on the return of the delegation, when each of the representatives of a Dominion might feel compelled to relate his own version of what happened at the Conference with the result that the Conference might possibly stimulate party differences rather than compose them. The Prime Minister of Canada also suggested, from his point of view, that such a change would alter the essential character of the Imperial Conference. As he said:The Conference is a Conference of Governments, and in no sense an Imperial Council, determining the policy of the Empire as a whole … Each Government must accept responsibility for its actions, and the Opposition must be free to criticise, with Parliaments and, if occasion arises, peoples, to decide the issues.I believe that that is a valid objection. The essence of the Imperial Conference 534 system is undoubtedly that its discussions are those of responsible Governments and of Governments which, while they meet with all the frankness, with all the intimacy, and with all the sense of collegiate feeling that you get in a Cabinet, yet remember all the time that each Government has its own individual and undistributed responsibility, a responsibility for which it has to answer in its own Parliament, where alone final decisions can be reached, and where alone action can be initiated or confirmed. On the other hand, the position of an Opposition is necessarily and rightly one of freedom to criticise, and I believe that the position of a Leader of Opposition invited to an Imperial Conference, where he would be obviously obliged to conform during the discussions to the views of the Leader of the Government or else run the risk of really taking part in a conflict with other Governments against his own Government, would be one of genuine embarrassment.
I quite agree with my right hon. Friend opposite that there may be great and important issues when these objections do not weigh in the scales against the advantage of getting general consent. On the eve of the gravely critical situation preceding the War, as he has reminded the Committee, the Government of the day on several occasions invited Lord Balfour to join with them in the discussions of the Committee of Imperial Defence. From that point of view, one might say that something very similar took place during the discussions of the Imperial Conference and the Cabinet in 1917 and 1918, when the British representatives included not only a Liberal Prime Minister, but Mr. Bonar Law and the right hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. A. Henderson), and that Mr. Borden and Mr. Lowell, Mr. Hughes and Sir Joseph Cook, Mr. Massey and Sir Joseph Ward came together, each to represent the united or practically united view of their countrymen. I think that in cases of great emergency it is always possible to do so, and it is also possible to do that when you are dealing with what I might call some of the subsidiary and special organisations dependent on and connected with the Conference. The Committee of Imperial Defence has been quoted as one, and I might point out that on the Overseas Settlement Committee and on the Empire Marketing 535 Board we have endeavoured to enlist the valuable help of members of other parties.
I think the solution of the difficulty must lie, in Imperial affairs as in foreign affairs, in the cultivation in all parties of a sense of Imperial responsibility and a desire not to overthrow any decision arrived at, unless it really forces a vital issue of political importance at home, and conversely, also, the Government ought not unnecessarily to raise in the Conference an issue which will provoke and is bound to provoke party controversy. On questions of foreign policy there are often helpful informal discussions between the Government and the leaders of the Opposition. Those can take place on Imperial issues too; and over and above this, as more than one hon. Member has reminded us, there is yet another method, informal, no doubt, but most valuable, by which Members of Parliament, members of the Government and of the Opposition, can get into touch in a form of Imperial conference which is none the less fruitful because it depends not upon Governments but directly upon Parliaments, or upon those Members of Parliament who have organised themselves into branches of the Empire Parliamentary Association. Those meetings cannot be too frequent or too fully attended. The more frequently they meet, the greater their value, both in preparing the opinion of Governments and of Parliaments for the issues which will be discussed at the next Imperial Conference, and in helping Governments and Parliaments to give weight and effect to the conclusions arrived at in a preceding Conference. I entirely agree with what the right hon. Gentleman and others have said in that connection.
If I may, I will turn now from these questions of machinery to the issues arising from the conclusions of the Conference which, while they have given, in the main, general satisfaction to almost every section throughout the country, have also undoubtedly raised a certain disquietude in the minds of some observers, including as close constitutional students as my hon. Friend the Member for York. My hon. Friend put in several ways what was substantially the same general question. He asked, Has there been, as the outcome of this 536 Conference, a change in constitutional relations, and what authority has Parliament given for such a change? The answer I would give is that undoubtedly there has been a great change, one of the profoundest and most remarkable changes in the relationship of communities and human beings that ever have taken place; but it is a change which has taken place, step by step, over the 80 years or more which have passed since Lord Durham's memorable Report on self-government was presented to this House. It was a step which has sometimes been assisted by legislation in this House, but far more often the advance has taken place without legislation and without direct constitutional discussion. The advance has taken place with the gradual growth of the Dominions.
Every Imperial Conference in the last 40 years has marked an advance, and the most remarkable advance of all was registered in the years following the War. The Imperial Conferences and Cabinets of 1917 and 1918 embodied the new position, which was recognised internationally as well as inter-Imperially, at the Peace Conference and in the League of Nations since then. In respect to that great change, the last Conference has not introduced any substantial new departure. What it has done is to clarify, and, as the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland suggested, to make visible what was inherent and there already, what to some of us had seemed obvious many years before and what to others, looking at the question from some different angle, perhaps, and not realising nearly so well as some of us the process that was going on, might have seemed a greater transformation than it actually was. What the Conference did was to lay down two main principles, not new to us, but accepted by all of us—the principle of absolute equality between the self-governing Dominions of the Empire and the principle of unity under a common Crown. My right hon. Friend has already read out the brief definition in which those two principles were embodied. There is really nothing new in it. Equality of status has been emphasised in speeches in Parliament and by the actions of the British Government for a generation, but certainly that equality and the unity that comes from it had never before been so authoritatively and 537 so clearly laid laid down as it was in the Imperial Conference of 1926 by the authority of all the Governments represented at that Conference.
In that sense undoubtedly, the Imperial Conference of last year marked a great turning point in the development of the British Empire. It acknowledged the coming of age of the Dominions, the completion of a process of history which I believe will be regarded by future generations as the most remarkable event of the last 50 years. That process was hardly noticed, because it was taking place unobtrusively, and the development of the great Commonwealth of co-equal nations did not attract very much attention. The coming into existence of other nations had attracted the attention of the world, because it had taken place by violence and strife, whereas the full growth of the nations forming the British Commonwealth has taken place by peaceful development and in full agreement with all the nations of the Commonwealth. That equality of status, as my hon. Friend has reminded us, is laid down in the conclusions of the Imperial Conference, but it does not necessarily involve equality of stature. Some of the Dominions are greater in territory and potential resources than Great Britain itself. Some may have far greater accumulated wealth and experience and organisation for dealing with international politics than others. The Government of this country has immense experience, immense apparatus for dealing with the external questions affecting the Commonwealth as a whole. The Dominions regard this machinery, not as an emblem of their subordination to a central authority, but as machinery which is more convenient for them to use, which serves them more efficiently, and which takes care that their interests are fully regarded in every way. The principle of equality is not in the least infringed, because one Government rather than another deals with questions affecting all. What is meant by equality of status is that as far as the question of rights is concerned, every Government of the Empire is, if it so wish, entitled to exercise every function of national and international life. From the declaration of these rights, it does not follow that every individual interest of any particular Government or the common interests of the 538 Empire would be served by always pressing the point of rights to its logical conclusion.
My hon. Friend raised certain particular questions which I should like to answer briefly. He raised, first of all, the question of the change in the title of His Majesty, and, in doing so, I think he was under a misapprehension as to the use of the term in the Royal title. "Dominions across the Sea" has, of course, no reference to Dominions in a constitutional sense. It refers to all the territories that are part of the British Empire, and as the words "across the seas" have always been understood to means the broad oceans, and certainly not to include either the Irish Channel or the border that separates the Irish Free State from Northern Ireland, it is obvious that it would be inappropriate to describe Ireland as a part of the Dominions beyond the Seas, nor would it have been compatible or consonant with our desire, which was to modify the Royal title the least possible, consistent with such rectification as recent changes in Ireland justify.
As regards the position of the Governor-General, my hon. Friend opposite asked whether His Majesty s Government had notified to the Dominions their acceptance of any change in the status of the Governor-General. No, the change in the status of the Governor-General from an agent and instrument of the British Government to the representative of the Crown in a Dominion, and nothing else, was a change which, like the whole of the changes in our constitutional evolution, has taken place gradually over a long period of years, and was in substance consummated many years before the late Conference took place. All that the late Conference did was to suggest that the purely historic survival by which communications from the British Government to its partner Governments went via the Governor-General's office—as it had done in the old days when the Governor-General was, as the Governor of a Crown Colony still is, the agent and instrument of the British Government—should be eliminated and the position brought up-to-date with present-day facts. Personally, as a Member of the party on these benches, I like historical survivals, and would have had no objection to maintaining 539 all these reminders of the older days out of which the Empire has evolved, but, undoubtedly, some of those survivals have given rise to misunderstandings in the past An hon. Member opposite suggests that in our physical bodies there are survivals which sometimes cause unexpected and acute pain, and danger, and it may be that on the part of one or another such a survival being maintained might lead to political difficulty. In so far as that was felt by some of the Governments concerned, we were perfectly willing to adjust the situation to the facts of the present day.
Exactly the same applies with regard to such survivals as the general powers of disallowance in Dominion legislation. Where, in regard to particular Measures, from the point of view of the Empire, it is highly desirable that unity should be maintained in practice, we wish to find out, by a special committee and by special sub-conferences, how that unity can best be maintained, consistently, as far as possible, with the present general constitutional position in the Empire. My hon. Friend asked whether that Committee and that Conference had yet met. No, Sir. The matters, as he himself pointed out, are very complicated, and involve many issues of detail, and we are at this moment still collecting all the necessary material for transmission to the Dominion Governments before we can really begin to deal with these matters. My hon. Friend asked whether or not it was competent for this Parliament to amend the Merchant Shipping Act. Undoubtedly, as a matter of law, this Parliament could amend the Merchant Shipping Act for the whole Empire in any way that it wished, but, as a matter of constitutional practice, it has not done so, and would not have done so for many long years. What we must endeavour to do is to find how by agreement, an essential unity, in matters of shipping can be preserved in consonance with the wishes of each Government in the Empire.
On these points I need not dwell further. All I would say in conclusion is that, while possibly irritating survivals have disappeared, the essential unity of the Empire has never been more strongly emphasised than it was at the late Conference, or felt to have been more strengthened 540 as it was by men of very different views who assembled at that Conference. That measure of unity is embodied in the symbol of a common Crown, a Crown common to the whole Empire, one and indivisible, constituting us all one common body of British subjects, embracing Governments unfettered and free in their action, all morally bound by the fact that they are Governments of the same Crown, responsible to Legislatures in which the same Crown is a constituent element, responsible to electorates composed of subjects of the Crown, and, as such, loyal to the Crown and to each other. We have, I believe, laid the foundation, by clearing away misunderstanding, for the work of practical and constructive development. An immense amount undoubtedly remains to be done. Unless we do carry out the great work of Empire construction and development in the coming years, this last Conference may well have been the beginning of the end. If there be no wish for unity, there is nothing to-day to preserve it. But I believe that the wish for unity exists, and that we have laid true foundations on which that unity can be built; and it is for this House and for those other partner Parliaments in the Empire to see that we build up a fair super-structure on the sound foundation we have laid at the Conference.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be Reported To-morrow.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.