§ Sir Alfred Beit (St. Pancras, South East)
I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add:But humbly regret that it has not yet been possible definitely to arrange for an Imperial Conference to consider the closer cohesion of the Commonwealth and Empire after the war.In opening this Debate on Dominion affairs, I feel, though I may not look like, the sleeping beauty waking and stretching herself after her long slumbers, for more than four years have passed, incredible though that may seem, since the House last discussed this vital matter. Certain aspects of it which I propose to raise have never been discussed by the House at all, It is right and proper that, before proceeding to consider constitutional and other probems, tri- 566 bute should be paid to the magnificent contribution made by the Dominions to the Allied war effort. Even the one neutral Dominion does not seem to have prevented its man-power from behaving in a commendably unneutral manner, with the result that thousands of citizens of Southern Ireland are to be found in all the Armed Forces of the Crown, while Southern Irish labourers are helping to speed the war effort in Britain and are very properly earning high wages for their trouble. All of this is a great deal better than the rebellion of 1916, which was Ireland's most notorious contribution on the last occasion.
Many famous feats of arms have been performed by Dominion troops in critical theatres of war, and many great sacrifices have been made and grievous losses sustained by them. Let me give a few examples. Let us call to mind the South African triumph in Abyssinia, as well as the tragedy of Tobruk; the gallant performance of the Australians in New Guinea under conditions of appalling hardship; the remarkable exploits of the New Zealand Division in Greece and Crete and in breaking through the Mareth Line in Tunisia. There is, too, Canada's invaluable contribution to the maintenance of the North Atlantic sea routes and to the Allied Air Forces in man-power, training and aircraft, as well as her gallant action at Dieppe, where she suffered such heavy losses. The House will also remember that Rhodesians suffered the first casualties in the first action in the Western Desert at Fort Capuzzo on 12th June, 1940. Last, but by no means least, we desire to pay tribute to the 32,000 natives of the South African Protectorates, volunteers who have played such an important part in the Middle East campaigns from Syria to Tunis in the African Auxiliary Pioneer Corps.
Examples such as these, and there are many others, demonstrate the phenomenal unity of the Empire in two wars in one generation and prove the strength of the bonds which hold it together, but if it has twice fully contributed to the winning of victory, once war has broken out, can it be said that its existing organisation throws its whole weight into the prevention of war? I do not think so. It is, perhaps, a lot to hope that the influence of the United Kingdom and of the Dominions would be sufficient to stop a 567 determined aggressor as long as the position of the United States is doubtful, but a closer concert of defence within the Empire might reassure and encourage the United States and would certainly be of advantage to the Empire itself. Moreover, the recent Moscow Conference and the debate in the United States Senate point to a significant change of heart on the part of America, and lead us to hope that she will be prepared to take up a more positive position in the future organisation of the world.
Much attention has recently been paid to the problem of how to achieve greater imperial unity for defence, and, indeed for other things as well, and the two principal schools of thought in this connection are based upon Empire federation and regional organisation. I have devoted some study to both of these ideas, on which there exists a considerable literature. The essence of the two schools is perhaps most concisely stated in "Faith and Works," by Mr. Lionel Curtis, for the federal unionists, and in the recent brilliant book on the British Commonwealth by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg), whose absence owing to illness we very much deplore, for those who support the regional system. I confess that for reasons which I shall show later I was at one time attracted to Empire federation, but I have been largely turned against it by the realisation that the Dominions, having only achieved self-government in recent times, both in an historical and in an absolute sense, would be unlikely to be willing to sacrifice an important part of their national sovereignty and to revert, to however small an extent, to their previous less independent position. Furthermore, we in this country have already had one sharp experience of what happens when the right to control the raising of revenue is retained in the hands of a body not situated in, nor entirely representative of, the country which has to find that revenue, and it therefore would not really make very much difference if the quarrels which such arrangements always seem to provoke were to be between a Colony and the British Parliament, as in the 18th century, or between a Dominion and a supranational Parliament as proposed by the federationalists. The result would probably be the same.
But I consider that important changes most take place within the Empire if it is 568 to organise a permanent and effective system for defence and one which will contribute towards the prevention of future wars. The first step in this direction might very reasonably be the establishment of Empire regional councils, responsible to and with authority derived from the Imperial Conference; for all that I have said and will propose during the course of my remarks depends upon the meeting of an Imperial Conference, and that is one thing which the Government have not been able to achieve. My Amendment draws attention to this omission, but in a most friendly spirit, because we know perfectly well, and the Prime Minister has made it clear on more than one occasion, that it is both his and the Government's earnest desire that there should be such a meeting. Consequently, as I say, the Amendment is in no sense hostile. But even though it can be held, as has been stated by the Prime Minister, that the war is the principal reason why it has not yet been possible to call together this Imperial Conference, does not the very fact that its meeting seems to be so infernally difficult to arrange indicate that the machinery of consultation needs renewal and improvement?
It is obvious that if the idea of a federal Parliament with sovereign powers is not to the taste of the Empire, as I am pretty well convinced that it is not, then whatever other arrangements are proposed they must be consultative and based upon co-operation since they cannot be binding. I recognise that co-operation presents one great difficulty. The larger the sphere over which co-operation is sought the less fruitful does it become. That, if I may venture to say so, is the drawback to Mr. Curtin's recent proposal for an all-embracing Empire consultative council, a proposal which has been made before on several occasions and has always, so I am informed, been rejected by either South Africa or Canada. That, of course, was one of the principal troubles of the League of Nations. The area over which it was supposed to operate was altogether too unwieldy. The dissipation or dilution of responsibility and interest which then follows makes fruitful action almost impossible. With these arguments in mind I think the Imperial Conference would do well to convince itself of the desirability of establishing the regional system, with Empire regional councils, thus reducing 569 areas to those in which a body of peoples with a common interest can be gathered together. None would then feel that any part of the area was not its concern.
The essence of regional organisation is quite well understood, and I certainly do not propose to deliver a lecture to the House on the subject. I am only sorry that illness prevents the hon. Member for Altrincham being here and expanding upon his ideas. I limit myself to saying that the United Kingdom will be involved in all areas, for her interests are worldwide, but each Dominion, I hope, will play a bigger part than formerly in its particular area. I venture to express the hope that each Dominion will also become increasingly associated with the framing of policies for the Crown Colonies in its own particular area, and that the Dominions as a whole will in future provide more and more personnel for the Colonial Service generally.
I see two really important advantages deriving from this scheme. First, that the Empire regional councils complete with permanent secretariats—a most important accompaniment—will give much needed relief to the Imperial Conference itself, which by its very nature suffers from insufficient meetings, an overloaded agenda and no time for details. Second, the association of interested parties within an area will lead to the proper sharing of the costs of defence, and to an agreed rather than an imposed foreign policy, for when all is said and done that is what British hegemony boiled down to in the past. This would correct the constitutional anachronism pointed out in his book by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham that the Dominions enjoy equality of status but not of function. I will make one further point regarding defence. Our lack of a coherent plan with the Dominions in the Far East was just as tragic as the failure to effect an agreed plan with Belgium, whom we had guaranteed, or, for that matter, with Poland or even with Rumania, and is explained by the fact that in theory this country is supposed to be responsible for the defence of the entire Empire, with the exception of local defence, whatever that may mean in these days of total warfare.
I assert that this country can no longer shoulder the burden of global Empire defence, nor would it accord with the dignity and the military achievements of 570 the Dominions if we did so. In any case, as a result of the war, we do not do so any longer, and the only object of my plea that we should retain this more realistic policy and not revert to the old ways. Canada, for instance, will finish the war with the fourth largest Air Force in the world, if not as the fourth armed Power, and it is clear that she must be prepared to take her share, of responsibility for maintaining peace in the Atlantic and Pacific areas.
It is not only of changes in machinery, essential though they may be, that I wish to speak. The Empire is one of the greatest institutions in the world for the spread of tolerance and of representative government and for the suppression of authoritarianism, of whatever form. Personally, I believe it is the greatest of such institutions, but it has not yet reached the apotheosis of its greatness. That, I believe, to be coming, for great psychological changes are on the way. The Empire has inspired the imagination of thousands of Service men, British and Allied, who have been trained during the war in different parts of it, and of the children who have been evacuated to it, few of whom, owing to the disgraceful lack of education on the subject, knew anything about our overseas responsibilities and opportunities. Many of those men, and I hope of those children—my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Sir G. Shakespeare) will have something to say on that subject when he speaks—will stay on or go back, and many others will follow. The knowledge of these wonderful countries and of these opportunities will be spread, if not by the Board of Education then at least by those going out and coming home.
I believe, with a firm conviction which I know to be shared by many of my hon. Friends, that the Empire to-day is standing at the threshold of a period of expansion and development which can only be compared with the growth of the United States in the last century, if it is ready to take the chance which is staring it in the face. If the co-operation and greater unity which I have attempted to outline come to fruition this period of expansion could begin almost at once.
I know it was the fashion in some quarters between the wars to run down the Empire. That is a thing of the past, for its shining achievements in war-time 571 have shamed those narrow-minded propagandists into silence. The Dominions, for their part, need population and capital, not only to make a reality of the promise of a golden future, but also to ensure their defence, and now is the time, if ever there was one, for them to agree ambitious schemes of immigration compared with which the miserable piecemeal achievements of the last 25 years will seem a phantom. Though the British can supply large numbers of artisans and of skilled workers, Great Britain cannot supply the vast numbers of population which are now needed. Australia, for example, has stated that she looks forward to and requires a population of 20,000,000 or more in the next 50 years; a very different state of mind from that which prevailed before the war. New Zealand and Canada also require large accretions of population; while in South Africa, where heavy industry has now become definitely established, there will be a post-war demand for European skilled workers and technical personnel.
The other nations of Europe will therefore have to provide a large proportion of this new movement of population, just as was the case formerly in the United States, to their very great advantage. This will be especially necessary if we hope to see the great country spaces populated, because the British in the Dominions as at home tend rather to crowd into the towns.
The question therefore arises, Need the Empire fear such an admixture? I reply, categorically, "No." Look at the way in which those peoples have become absorbed in the United States. Observe the vigour and the initiative of this new race of mixed blood and observe also their devotion to their new country and their rapid assimilation with its ideals and outlook. I am informed that Canada to-day is only 50 per cent. British in origin, and though that may pose certain special problems, would anybody deny Canada's loyalty to the British connection?
§ Sir A. Beit
I was not far wrong. Naturally I was taking into account the 572 existing French population as well as later immigration from other parts of Europe. This rapid assimilation will take place, and has already taken place in the British Commonwealth, in the case of Europeans who have migrated since the advent of British power, thus offsetting, together with British emigrants, the separatist influence of other European elements who were settled before that time, such as the French in Canada and the Dutch in South Africa.
I think I am qualified to speak on this aspect, because I am a case in point. My own father and his elder brother before him went to South Africa, some 70 years ago, from the, free city of Hamburg, as it was in those days, and they afterwards came to this country. I do not imagine that either South Africa or Great Britain has any reason to regret having accepted them, while I, speaking in all humility, can only express my deep sense of gratitude. I would now like to tell the House why it is that I ever looked at the idea of Empire federation, an idea which I have now abandoned, as I have already ponted out, owing to the reasonings of those who have made a greater study of the matter than I. It is because it has always been my dream to see the maximum freedom of movement of men and goods within the Empire and of new citizens to the Empire, in short, to see it one great country economically, if not politically, to the extent which the vast distances separating its various units allow. Even those distances, with the coming of aviation and radio, will be as nothing to-morrow, nothing at all. I am convinced that this freedom and this unity can be achieved without any drastic constitutional changes, if for no other reason than it is in the interest of the Empire that such a development should be brought about. I would rather see anything, even federal union, than an outward drift from the Imperial orbit and from what the Prime Minister has called the golden circle of the Crown.
There was a time, I will not say how long ago, when there was some reason to believe that hon. Members opposite, with the exception of a few Colonial experts, were not, as a body, particularly interested in the matters which we are discussing to-day; but a great change has come over the scene, as must have been evident to those who had the pleasure of seeing 573 —for he is always worth watching—and hearing the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) deliver his speech in the House last Tuesday. A surprising revelation emerged on that occasion: the Labour Party has discovered the Empire—
§ Mr. Price (Forest of Dean)
Is not the hon. Member aware that this party has had a committee on Imperial affairs for many years, considering many of the matters to which he is now referring?
§ Sir A. Beit
I recognise the fact, and I did make an exception in the case of a few Colonial experts.
§ Sir A. Beit
This party also had its committee on Imperial affairs, but there have been times when Imperial discussions in this House have tended to become moribund. I very much hope that as a result of the war and the greater interest brought about by the lessons of the war, the people who have had an opportunity that they otherwise would not have had of seeing the Empire will take a greater interest, and that there will be greater interest shown on all sides of this House. I was by no means attempting to make a serious attack upon hon. Members opposite when I said what I did. I was merely, pointing out that I was very much impressed, and very touch welcomed the speech of the hon. Member for Seaham last Tuesday.
§ Mr. Silverman
If the hon. Member says that, does he not consider that he would be fair to withdraw the remark that led to the intervention of my hon. Friend?
§ Sir A. Beit
No, Sir, and I do not think I would be unfair if I stuck to what I said, because I made ample allowance for the few Members who are Colonial experts.
§ Mr. Silverman
Evidently the hon. Member does not quite follow my meaning. It seems clear that the number of 574 Colonial experts in the House on all sides is limited and it always has been so. One of the things that everybody complains of is that Members on both sides of the House have not displayed as much interest in these matters as they might have done. That being so, was it not a little bit unfair of the hon. Member to say that when my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) discovered the Empire it was almost as great an exploit as that of Vasco da Gama?
§ Sir A. Beit
Once again, I do not think I am being unfair. I was merely recording my general impression. We have only to look around at these benches to see that there is not a very great attendance at the present moment.
§ Earl Winterton
I would like to make an observation as one who has had 40 years' service in this House, and it is that the lack of interest on Dominion affairs on the part of the House of Commons is a disgrace to this institution, and has been so for 40 years.
§ Sir A. Beit
The impression I used to have at one time—but I am glad to be able to add that it has been corrected by what was said by the hon. Member for Seaham—was that hon. Members opposite would like to leave undeveloped in the possession of small native populations territories which, if properly developed, could be capable of supporting great, modern communities of vast size. That is the impression I used to have, and I am very happy to welcome the statement made by the hon. Member for Sea-ham, from which it is quite clear that hon. Members opposite have begun to realise the potentialities of the Empire generally and of the Dominions. The hon. Member went on to say that he had come to this conclusion as a result of objective study, and I accept his word. I see no reason to doubt it.
I think it is also quite likely that his action may have been made under the influence of Labour parties in the Dominion parliaments, who correspond to hon. Members opposite in name if in little else, and who are increasingly anxious to avoid the reproach from the more densely populated regions of Europe that they are not prepared to develop their own territories or to allow others to do so. I am 575 sure, in view of that change of heart on the part of the hon. Member for Seaham and other hon. Members opposite, that the lessons of the war will unite all parties in this House to act in such a way that, as far as lies within our power, we shall prevent there being in the future any justification for such reproaches being levelled at us again; though I am not losing sight of the urgent need for safeguarding the happiness and livelihood of native populations. I fully realise that that has not always been done in the past as it should have been.
In bringing my speech to a conclusion, I should like to be allowed to make one more brief biographical reminiscence, My uncle, to whom I have already referred, was the friend and partner of Cecil Rhodes and was associated with him in many of his projects of Empire. I was brought up on the ideals and achievements of that great era. Those ideals live in the work which Rhodes and others left behind them. His policy has borne fruit, and I have only attempted to-day to modernise it and to adapt it to a world very different from that which he knew. Whatever the obstacles may be, my faith, like his, in the future of the British Commonwealth and in the work which it can do for the peace and stability of the world, knows no bounds.
§ Sir Geoffrey Shakespeare (Norwich)
I beg to second the Amendment, so ably moved by the hon. Member for South East St. Pancras (Sir A. Beit).
I should like to start by saying how pleasant it is, after considering what many of us think is the extinct volcano of yesterday, to turn to the living organism of the British Commonwealth. The issues raised by my hon. Friend are of profound importance to the British Commonwealth, but one could go much further than that. They are of profound importance to the whole world. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that but for the stand made by the British Commonwealth against the challenge of Germany, to-day Russia would be and the United States would be on the way to being a vassal State of Germany. Therefore, it is of vital importance not only to the unit members of the Commonwealth but to our Allies, that the British Commonwealth and Empire should be strong. That means that, if possible, they should 576 try to shape a common policy in matters of mutual concern.
Perhaps the House will allow me briefly to discuss what is the present machinery for consultation, so that we may consider what changes are necessary. I will run through it very briefly. The first and perhaps the most important of the methods of consultation is by the meetings of the Imperial Conference. These normally take place every, four years, and of course they are Conferences among members of the British Commonwealth on a footing of complete equality. They have been so for a generation or more. The decisions of the Imperial Conferences are not binding. They are more in the nature of conclusions which are then considered by the individual Governments. Normally, once an Imperial Conference comes to any definite conclusion, it is exceptional for that conclusion not to be ratified by the several Dominions. So the Imperial Conference is the first well recognised method. The second method of consultation is the daily service of information in the form of telegrams and cables that go out from the Dominion Office in a perfect stream day and night. It will interest the House to know that naturally at the time of Munich there was a large number of telegrams sent out to all the Dominions, but the volume of business last year at the Dominion Office was seven times that volume which went out at the time of Munich. That shows how extensive the supply of information is.
Thirdly, there is the right, I should say the practice, of the Prime Minister in this country to communicate direct with the Prime Ministers of the various Dominion Governments and vice versa, and these communications are frequently made. They are of a private and intimate nature, and they are considerable in number. Fourthly, it was the hope of many of us that it would have been possible in this war to reconstitute the Imperial War Cabinet such as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) constituted in 1917–18. But it has proved impossible. Our present Prime Minister was in favour of it. Several times in this House and elsewhere he has made statements expressing the hope that it could be done, but it proved impossible for all the Prime Ministers of the Dominions to be present at the same time in London. Nevertheless a good substitute, the next 577 best thing, has happened, that is, that every Prime Minister of every Dominion has at some time or other been present in London, has joined in the deliberations of our United Kingdom War Cabinet and has greatly enriched the deliberations. Who can say, for example, what is the value of the wisdom, advice and counsel given by General Smuts to our united war effort—or of any of the other Dominion Prime Ministers?
§ Mr. R. Morgan (Stourbridge)
The Hon. Gentleman has described somewhat cumbersome methods by which we keep in communication with the different parts of the Empire. Does he not think that direct representation in the Imperial Parliament is a surer and better way?
§ Sir G. Shakespeare
I will come to that later if I may. The hon. Member is raising the question of federation. I was saying that it was not possible to recreate the Imperial War Cabinet but that we had greatly benefited by the presence in London of successive Dominion Prime Ministers. The reason I mentioned General Smuts was because he is here at present. Nevertheless, towards the end of 1941 it was clear that Australia was not satisfied with the existing arrangements. She demanded a fuller Voice in the control and direction of affairs. This was readily granted. Sir Earle Page at that time came over and sat with the United Kingdom War Cabinet. Ever since then Mr. Bruce, that very experienced statesman and High Commissioner of Australia in London, has sat with our United Kingdom War Cabinet. Early in 1942 our Prime Minister stated that representatives of the four Dominion Governments would be welcome in our United Kingdom War Cabinet. The reply from Canada and South Africa was that they were quite satisfied with existing machinery for consultation, and although New Zealand also took the same line as Australia in demanding a greater voice in the control of affairs, in point of fact she has not sent a representative to our War Cabinet. Fifthly, there is the method of consultation through the High Commissioners' Conference, which meets daily and is presided over by the Secretary of State, and there is a Foreign Office representative there. In my experience this simple machinery is very effective in keeping the Dominions in touch with the day-to-day course of events here and in foreign affairs and the conduct of the war.
578 This Conference has been called the Junior War Cabinet of the Empire. I had the privilege of attending it for two years. I was immensely impressed by this effective method. It is a Standing Committee. You have the High Commissioners of Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, with the Secretary of State, and issues are raised and discussed day by day. That is the fifth method. I wonder whether the public of this country and in the Dominions realise that there is this standing Conference of the higher representation of the Empire through the daily High Commissioners' Conference. On occasions these Conferences have been held even twice a day.
In peace-time at any rate, because the Committee of Imperial Defence lapses in war-time and other machinery is substituted, the Dominion representatives have the right to attend the discussions of the Committee of Imperial Defence, and they do so. Ever since 1911 this right has been secured and as Members know the Minutes of the Committee of Imperial Defence are sent to all the Dominion Prime Ministers. That, very broadly, is the present machinery of consultation. In my view it is very thorough, it is not stereotyped and it is flexible and elastic. Of course it may be improved; it is always possible to improve it, and it is constantly being improved and amended.
§ Sir G. Shakespeare
No, the Newfoundland interest would be covered by the presence of the Secretary of State, who is responsible for it. What further changes are needed in the machinery of collaboration and consultation in order to ensure that the British Commonwealth can speak with one voice on matters of vital concern or at least that they shall not speak with conflicting voices? One is thinking of questions like defence, security, economic questions, overseas settlement, communications and so forth. Some have urged the method of federation, that is, one Imperial Parliament and one Imperial Government, which my hon. Friend who intervened a little while ago urges. But that has been dealt with by the hon. Baronet the Member for South East St. Pancras. I absolutely agree with him. I do not believe you could make a 579 vital organic change of that nature unless there was unanimity within the British Commonwealth and there is no unanimity on this issue. Mr. Curtin on the other hand has suggested an Imperial Standing Advisory Council. Any suggestion coming from a statesman of his calibre must of course be carefully weighed. My own doubt about it is that I wonder whether it adds anything to the existing machinery. If you had a Standing Consultative Council of that nature and if the Prime Ministers of the Dominions could be on it, it might be effective, but of course they cannot be on it because they cannot get away from their own duties in the Dominions. That means that men of lesser standing would compose that Council, and everything would have to be referred back to the respective Prime Ministers and Governments. Are you really doing anything more than appoint a number of pillar boxes, and are you supplying a Council that would do anything better than the existing High Commissioners' Conference?
I have no doubt that all these questions can be resolved. For myself, I would like to make a suggestion which I think will meet the desire of Mr. Curtin and others. My view, broadly speaking, is that I think it is a mistake to try and duplicate machinery or over-elaborate machinery. I am against fixed stereotyped machinery that is not flexible and cannot deal with the changing world, and goodness knows it is going to be a changing world. People imagine drat you have only to have some elaborate machinery, and immediately you can settle all problems. That is sheer nonsense. What we all desire is that there may be within the British Commonwealth the will to pursue a common policy. If you have the will, you do not require elaborate machinery. If you have not the will, no elaborate machinery can possibly shape a common policy.
§ Sir G. Shakespeare
I think it is certainly present in this country and, I believe, throughout the whole Commonwealth. I hope so. May I in conclusion give a number of suggestions to which I have given a great deal of thought and which I can endorse from my own 580 experience as Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Dominions Office? I have taken the trouble to discuss these issues with representative opinion from all the Dominions so as to find the largest measure of agreement. In the first place, I suggest that the Imperial Conference, which is the accepted and well recognised method of consultation, should be held much more frequently. It is not sufficient that it should meet every four years. I should like to see this Conference meet annually, and I should like to see the Conference held successively in the capitals of the British Commonwealth, London, Ottawa, Canberra, Wellington and Pretoria. I should like to see attached to the Imperial Conference a permanent body, an Imperial Secretariat.
§ Sir G. Shakespeare
Perhaps one day even there. I should like to see an Imperial Secretariat formed, a permanent body who could advise the Imperial Conference, could follow up the decisions of the Imperial Conference and could study and consider questions submitted to them by any Dominion Government. One of the weaknesses of the Imperial Conference, I think, has always been that when decisions are taken there is no permanent body to follow up decisions. I should like to see sections dealing with economics, technical questions, trade, industry, finance. I should like to see a strong statistical branch, and I should like to see a section dealing with overseas settlement or, alternatively, if that is not a matter for the Secretariat, I should like to seen an Imperial Board dealing with the question of the redistribution of populations within the British Commonwealth. It is not really enough that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, who is Chairman of the Overseas Settlement Board, should by himself, without any advice from the Dominion representatives, settle this question of overseas settlement. When you consider our great resources and the great possibilities of the British Commonwealth, it is not a task for an Under-Secretary to decide by himself. I sincerely hope it will either be the job of an Imperial Secretariat, or else an Imperial Board dealing with these matters should be set up.
581 I have some experience in these matters, because when I was Chairman of the Children's Overseas Reception Board we arranged for the despatch to the Dominions in war-time of nearly 3,000 children. That scheme was brilliantly successful. When I travelled in Canada I was delighted to find that Ministers, both in the Federal Government and in the Provincial Governments, were anxious for it to be continued, suitably adapted, in peace-time. All the children in Canada will come back to see their homes—naturally, they will, for they will get a free passage back—but thereafter many will want to settle in that Dominion which gave them friendly sanctuary in war-time. I am told that that is true of the children who went to all the Dominions. Here is a chance of getting adult overseas settlement going. I hope it will be possible for the parents of children who are now in the Dominions to get a first priority when assisted emigration starts. When I was administering that scheme all the Dominions approached us to know whether they could give sanctuary to children orphaned by the war. Here, again, is a great opportunity to start, or continue, some of these overseas settlement schemes after the war. We shall be told that it is not to the advantage of ourselves to let any of our dwindling population go, but Britain must consider the good of the British Commonwealth. People of all the Dominions have said to me, "We want more settlers of British stock." There are great openings in South Africa, not under any State scheme, but through infiltration and family settlement.
To sum up, I want an Imperial Conference meeting every year, with a permanent secretariat. I want to see the High Commissioners' daily meetings continuing in peace-time. I agree with my hon. Friend about the advisability of trying the experiment of the Regional Advisory Council, on the lines which General Smuts advocated for Africa.
§ Mr. Palmer (Winchester)
Does my hon. Friend wish to limit these Regional Advisory Councils to members of the British Commonwealth, or would he include foreign Powers as well?
§ Sir G. Shakespeare
I should start, certainly, with the British Empire. If the dreams of American statesmen and our own Prime Minister come true, and the 582 United Nations constitute regional councils in some of the important areas like the Pacific, the Atlantic, and Africa, the regional council formed of members of the British Empire will fit naturally into the larger council of the United Nations, just as the British Commonwealth team at Geneva sat there with all the other nations.
§ Dr. Russell Thomas (Southampton)
I would like to ask my hon. Friend a question, because I know he has wide experience of this matter. Would he suggest that an Imperial Conference should be held before the Peace Conference? The eyes of the world would be upon it, and it is possible that it may be suspected of embarking upon economic agreements. Does he think it wise, in view of the suspicions that might be aroused in our Ally the United States, to hold such a Conference before the end of the war?
§ Sir G. Shakespeare
In my view, there could not be any suspicion because the members of the family were meeting together. It is surely to the interests of the United States and of Russia that we should be strong and speak with one voice. How can we contribute anything to the wider collaboration after the war, which we should contribute by virtue of our collaboration in this war, as the British Commonwealth, unless we can urge a common policy? I am glad that my hon. Friend raised that point. I cannot see any ground for suspicion if we are able to summon an Imperial Conference before this war ends. It may be difficult to do it in war-time. Suppose we had an Imperial secretariat now in being that would do all the research, prepare the ground, get all the information for an Imperial Conference, what a help that would be. But there is no such Imperial secretariat. This need reinforces my argument for its creation.
I mentioned the improvement in machinery that I should like to see: An Imperial Conference every year, the High Commissioners meeting daily in peacetime, the experiment of the Regional Advisory Council. There is one other thing that should be done. The British Commonwealth has not only given the world an experiment in freedom, through the system of Parliamentary government that we of our race have so perfected, but British justice is peculiar to the Empire 583 as a whole. Nothing is quite so characteristically British as our judicial procedure. The method of appeals from the Dominions to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is suspect in many Dominions. It is an enormously costly process. I should suggest that, just as our judges go on circuit through the provinces in the United Kingdom, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council might go on circuit through each Dominion, to hear appeals on the spot. Of course, it would join to itself distinguished judges of the Supreme Court of the Dominion in which it happened to be travelling. This procedure would cheapen appeals to a remarkable extent, and would remove some of the suspicion that attaches to the Supreme Empire Judicial Court sitting in Whitehall. I would like to say to my hon. Friend that since I had the privilege of serving in the Dominions Office, that great office, my love of the Empire has been enhanced by my experience of its working, and I yield to none in my tremendous admiration and love of this great experiment in freedom. The British Commonwealth is something that cannot be reproduced or duplicated. It has no precedent in history, and anything we can do to make its contribution in the future more effective, we should do now.
§ Mr. de Rothschild (Isle of Ely)
I want to express my personal thanks to the Mover and Seconder of this Amendment. I am very grateful to them for having brought up the subject of the Dominions in this House, after so many years. The very interesting speech we have heard from the Mover was one which should inspire us to support those in this House who are interested in the Dominions. I should like also to pay tribute to the Seconder, who has filled an important office in connection with the Dominions for many years, and who has given us a most arresting exposition of his views. So long as there are Members in this House who can speak on the Dominions with the same knowledge and feeling as were displayed by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Sir G. Shakespeare), there will be no complaint that the Dominions are neglected in this Chamber. Like both hon. Gentlemen, I would like to pay a very humble tribute to the wonderful contribution which has been made in this war by the Dominions. 584 It is an amazing, a staggering contribution in blood and treasure. I am not going to enumerate everything that these Dominions have done to help us towards victory. It will be written in imperishable letters in the history of the future. It has filled all of us in this country with gratitude, and it has filled our enemies with wonder, with amazement and with fear. Both hon. Gentleman have devoted their attention mainly to post-war questions relating to the Dominions and this country, in relation to each other. The proposals of both hon. Gentlemen deal mainly with the machinery of Empire after the war.
Although I have listened with great respect to what has been said about the meetings which take place under the auspices of the Dominions Secretary, and which have been so ably described to us to-day, I wonder whether closer co-operation is not necessary, not only for the distant future but also for the immediate necessities of the war. I think that short-term methods are essential at present. It is to this kind of machinery that I want to direct my remarks. When the question of the Dominions was discussed in another place and by the Dominions Secretary at the Mansion House, uppermost in the minds of all were the proposals of Mr. Curtin. Mr. Curtin's proposals were mainly directed to the post-war period. He demanded a body composed of representatives of all the Dominions, with a permanent secretariat of experts, to co-ordinate all branches of post-war Empire policy. When the Secretary of State replied to that, he referred to the words of the Prime Minister in this House last September. The Prime Minister then said, in his usual magnificent phraseology, that such spacious issues would be appropriate for an Imperial Conference or for a meeting of Dominion Prime Ministers. I hope, indeed, that such a Conference will take place as soon as possible. We know what a useful purpose is served on all occasions by these bodies when they meet together and how they help to bring out all that is required. The machinery of which I am thinking at the present time is on a much less grandiose scale, and therefore it need not wait for these grandiose preliminaries.
In the course of his speech in another place the Secretary of State sketched out the existing consultative machinery, and 585 it has been again explained to us to-day by one who is expert in the working of it. He argued at that time, as did the hon. Gentleman, that it was sufficient for the present needs. Firstly, we have been told there is communication between the Dominions Office here and the Departments of External Affairs in the Dominions; secondly, communication between Dominion Governments and Dominion Prime Ministers, personally and through the High Commissioners, and lastly there is the very important daily meeting between the Dominions Secretary and the High Commissioners themselves.
With regard to the picture that has been painted, I cannot say that I am altogether convinced that we possess a sufficiently co-ordinated machine for integrating the work of the Commonwealth and the opinions of the Dominions and also for ensuring that every Dominion has the opportunity of expressing its opinion with due weight on the many important decisions which to-day have to be taken frequently in the name of the Empire as a whole. The Dominions Secretary himself in his speech admitted that there were some inadequacies in the system. He said that in war-time immediate decisions must sometimes be taken by the Government which leave no time for adequate consultation with the Dominions. In war-time, and also in strained conditions during peace, international relations cause decisions to be taken very quickly and very suddenly, and there is not always time to consult the Dominions in regard to matters in which they are concerned.
Such was the view of the Dominions Secretary himself, and such a situation might very well lead to serious misunderstandings, and nothing would be more regrettable than that. That such things can happen has been exemplified in the past. We need not cast back our memory very far. Most hon. Members will remember what happened at the end of the last war. When the Turkish Government recognised the Treaty by which this country contemplated the protection of Constantinople and of the neutral area which was set up by the Treaty, what happened? The then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), sent queries to the various Dominions asking them whether they would be ready to send Forces should this become necessary. 586 But without waiting for their replies he simultaneously announced his action in the Press and the steps he had taken. What was the result? Mr. MacKenzie King, who was then, as he is to-day, Prime Minister of Canada, was not in Ottawa when the communication arrived, and the first information he obtained was from the Press. General Smuts was away in the interior and did not hear anything until the matter had become a dead issue. Although Australia and New Zealand indicated that they were prepared to co-operate and agreed, yet Mr. Hughes, Prime Minister of Australia, then censured the Government here very freely for having given the release to the Press. Feeling ran very high at that time in the Dominions about the absence of consultation and the manner in which the Government of this country had gone over the heads of the Dominion Governments in the Press announcements. If there had been better facilities at that time for communication and consultation, surely this would not have happened.
A great many years have elapsed since then and a good deal has taken place and matters have been smoothed over, but I feel they are still acute. I would remind the House that an occasion occurred only a short time ago. In the course of some remarks on the Moscow Conference made in Australia Mr. Evatt, the Minister for External Affairs, showed he was entirely and fully in agreement with the spirit of the Moscow Conference and applauded what took place there but he added a caution. He said that the members of the British Commonwealth had the right to expect that the final execution of the Moscow agreements would not be undertaken without prior reference to the Dominions. These words are not without their significance. Are we to conclude from them that there was no consultation with the Dominions before the Moscow Conference and that the Foreign Secretary was speaking for this country alone, with the voice of this Island behind him only, while the representatives of United States and Soviet Russia were speaking for the vast extent of their own territories and their great populations, or can we conclude that the Foreign Secretary was speaking with the voice of the Empire behind him and of the countries which, comprise it? The Dominions, on questions affecting the Empire, should speak 587 with one voice, and indeed they can do so. In these great international Conferences to which the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary goes representing this country, surely he should be able to speak for all the Dominions as well as for the Dominions we represent in this House. The different countries in the Empire were founded on the same ideals, and have the same aim in common. Surely machinery can be devised so that they may be able to make their own decisions, united by the golden thread of the Crown and by their love of liberty and by the fact that they were nurtured in Parliamentary ideas and look forward to the same peace-time ideal for their people. Some machinery should be built up which would enable them to speak on these occasions with one voice. If they are not only to think but are also to be enabled to act in the fullest possible accord, there must be no delay in setting up this machinery, which should make such co-ordination really possible in all important world matters.
The methods of consultation which were described by the Dominions Secretary go no further than those which exist between this country and other foreign nations. When the Dominions Secretary described the meeting of himself with the High Commissioners he said that these meetings bad been started by the right hon. Gentleman who had been at the Foreign Office and who was there again to-day and who, during that period, occupied the post of Dominions Secretary. But to my mind these meetings are still comparable with the meetings which take place between the Foreign Secretary and the Ambassadors of Foreign Powers. It is true that the High Commissioners meet every day, but let us remember that the arrangements for consultation with foreign countries have been found to be inadequate in the case of our Allies. They do not serve the war-time needs of the United Nations, and in the closer integration of policy a new machinery has been found necessary between the Allied Powers, and two bodies have therefore been set up—the European Advisory Council and the Advisory Council for Italy. The object of these Councils is to secure complete unity of action and joint responsibility in all matters which involve the interests of the Powers concerned. I wonder in all 588 humility whether another body such as this is not necessary in order to co-ordinate and serve the interests of the Empire at the present time dealing with the short-term period of integrating the war effort of the Empire and making adequate preparation for the peace; a body, at a lower level than anything comparable to the Imperial Conference, a body composed of experts, and possibly a body on the lines of the secretariat of which my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich was speaking. No doubt if the Dominions were approached by the Dominions Secretary and they agreed to a proposal of this sort they would be able to send men of importance and of knowledge to this commission or whatever it might be called. Such a body would be in constant session in London, like the European Advisory Council, and it would be competent to give authoritative advice and information both to this Government and to the various Governments in the Dominions. Each of its members would be able to put the point of view of his own Dominion on every matter in which it was concerned, whether it was a matter of inter-Commonwealth relations or of the relations of the Commonwealth with other nations. Sitting in the neighbourhood of Whitehall, it would have at hand all the information it would require. It would not be in the limelight like the great Imperial Conference and could in no way take the place of an Imperial Conference or a Conference of Prime Ministers. It would only be concerned with the daily difficulties which arise and on which daily consultation and advice are necessary in order to keep the relations of the Empire with Foreign Powers in good running order.
But it would have this advantage, and that is the reason I am trying to put it forward. It would represent the point of view of the Empire as a whole and not the views of the different High Commissioners, and it might give co-ordinated and decisive advice to the Government of this country. Whether a body of this kind should be continued after the war is a question entirely outside my range at the present time. I am considering it purely as a war measure, on the same plane as the European Commission on which the Allies are now sitting.
The war may come to a sudden end; we all hope it will. No doubt a protracted 589 period of peace negotiations will follow. A body like this could lay the foundations for the great decisions which will have to be made by the joint body of the Dominions when that time arrives. There will be such questions as defence, migration and economic expansion, and a body such as this could well prepare the ground. I suggest that if this body is set up it would be of great use in further cementing the different parts of the Empire. After the war there will be three main blocks of population wielding preponderant powers—the United States, Russia and the British Commonwealth. All these have been built up on the basis of federation, and I am using the word "federation" in the widest, and not in a legal, sense. Federation may be of different people who are welded together by economic necessity, geographical conditions or by means of a strong centralised Government, but I suggest that federation may be just as firm although the links are far less visible. The British Dominions are held together by the gossamer thread of loyalty and allegiance, and it is our pride that these bonds are as strong as the more apparently constitutional bonds which unite a federation.
These three blocks are now fighting side by side. They have decided to remain united for the common purpose which is uniting them to-day. Extensive and patient work will be necessary to ensure smooth co-operation after the war. The widely divergent economic outlooks of the United States and Russia will, no doubt, present grave difficulties, and it may well be that the Commonwealth should be able to act as a link. In order to do that, it must speak with a united voice. I feel that preparations should now be made by such a body as I have been advocating. It would clear the ground for an agreed plan of action that the Commonwealth could make towards the future welfare of the world. It would be able to back its plan with the strength and good will of every one of its members, and it would play an incalculable part in showing the way towards a future of justice, freedom, liberty and prosperity.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs (Mr. Emrys-Evans)
This is the first time since the outbreak of hostilities that the future of the British Commonwealth has been discussed in this House. I do not think there is anything very surprising about this fact, 590 for during the last four years the whole energies of the Commonwealth have been devoted to the prosecution of the war. In the darkest days the British people showed their determination to stand or fall together and this unity of purpose brought them through one of the most critical periods in their history. In great crises established relationships are tested. It is not the time to examine the various ties which bind us together. Looking back, however, over the rough road we have travelled, it can be truly said that these relationships have been subjected to the harshest tests and are stronger today than they have ever been in the past. Now that the tide has turned this Debate will be warmly welcomed both here and overseas. We shall be able to discuss our problems in the light of the experience we have gained. But before discussing these problems I should like to take the opportunity, as my hon. Friends have done, of saying something about the remarkable contribution which the Dominions have made to the war. It has been greater this time than in the last war, because in the intervening years the resources of the Dominions have grown. It is, of course, impossible to deal with such a wide question in any detail. To do so it would be necessary to give a review of the whole course of the war. The efforts of the Dominions have been on a vast scale and have been so interwoven that they cannot be dealt with in a short space of time. But they have been given in full measure; they have played their full part in every theatre of war and in every element, it does not matter to what part of the world we turn, we shall find that the Dominion Forces have been in the forefront of the battle, whether on the sea, in the air or in the battles which swayed to and fro between the Nile Valley and El Agheila to the climax at El Alamein. During the whole of the North African and Mediterranean campaigns and in the Pacific, everywhere there was fighting to be done, the Dominions have added new laurels to the long and honourable records of the past.
But it is not only on the field of battle that they have given of their best. Both in the industrial and financial fields the Dominions contribution has been remarkable. They have supplied the sinews of war and a large proportion of the 591 foodstuffs on which we have had to depend in this island. I would especially like to refer to one contribution which is a milestone in the history of the Commonwealth. The financial contribution which has been made by Canada is on such a vast scale that it relieves the British taxpayer of very nearly £1,00,000 a day. All these contributions, of course, cannot be judged by the same standard. Every Dominion has its own internal problems and difficulties, but such difficulties only make the part which each has played all the more remarkable.
Those not intimately acquainted with British institutions may be excused if they do not realise the nature of an experiment which has no political precedent and is based on no political model. The truth is that the British Commonwealth is a growing organism and, like all growing bodies, it is subject to constant change. The fact that five independent units, having taken considerable pains to define their independent status under the Crown, should have entered the greatest war in history together, without hesitation and of their own free will, shows an overriding unity.
During the 25 years between the two wars the Dominions laid particular stress on their independent status. They felt that a new relationship should be established between themselves and the rest of the world. This was not on account of any desire to break away; all history shows that this was not so. There were two particular political influences before the war—the idea of the freedom of small nationalities and the conception of a comprehensive international organization which affected thought among all the British people. The status of the Dominions, both as members of the Commonwealth and also as members of the League of Nations, played a part in moulding opinion. It is improbable that these trends of thought will continue in exactly the same form in future. Smaller nations will, in all probability, not wish to return to their identical pre-war status. The shape of the future, so far as we can see it, appears to be moving towards larger groups or blocks of nations, both great and small. In this respect the British Empire and Commonwealth has been ahead of the world and has represented a great stabilising influence. The 592 test which has been applied to the present system has been a severe one, but it has stood the strain. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Sir G. Shakespeare) described in some detail the elaborate machinery which has been built up over a period of years. I would also like to say something about this machinery, for it is bound to be the basis of any further advance. I should not give the House a complete picture unless I referred to it. My hon. Friend pointed out that the usual method of communication is between Government and Government and, on the higher level, between Prime Minister and Prime Minister. There seems to be some misconception, especially on the part of my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. de Rothschild) with regard to the meetings of the High Commissioners in London. These meetings are informal and take place daily. The Secretary of State, my Noble Friend, presides, and a representative of the Foreign Office is present, with the Permanent Secretary and myself.
§ Mr. Emrys-Evans
They are meetings of the High Commissioners. The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely complained that the Dominions had not been informed about the preliminary conversations or the policy of His Majesty's Government with regard to the Moscow Conference.
§ Mr. de Rothschild
I did not complain. I asked a question in view of what has been said in Australia.
§ Mr. Emrys-Evans
I will now give the answer. There was the closest consultation, and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs attended one of the usual meetings of the High Commissioners one day and the Assistant Under Secretary to the Foreign Office on another day and laid before the High Commissioners the whole mind of the Government with regard to the policy that they proposed to adopt at Moscow, and of course the various Dominion Governments were kept in contact through the usual channels.
§ Mr. Baxter
Since the Trade Commissioner for Newfoundland does not attend the Conferences of the High Commissioners, does he attend the Colonial Office? 593 Does he go anywhere? Does anyone speak to him at all?
§ Mr. Emrys-Evans
The Trade Commissonner for Newfoundland is in close touch with the Dominions Office, and the Dominions Office look after the interests of Newfoundland.
§ Mr. Maxton rose—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Charles Williams)
If the Minister does not give way, the hon. Member can hardly put his question.
§ Dr. Russell Thomas
On a point of Order. I am not quite clear whether the Minister is replying to the Debate, or is it going to continue after he sits down? Are we have to have anyone else speaking for the Government?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I do not think there is a point of Order there, but the Debate continues after the Minister sits down.
§ Mr. Emrys-Evans
I shall deal with the question of Newfoundland in due course and shall be prepared to answer any questions put to me. At present, I am dealing with another point, the machinery of communication between this country and the various Dominions. Besides the High Commissioners in London there are the United Kingdom High Commissioners in the Dominions, and there is constant contact between them and the various Ministries of External Affairs. I feel that we owe a particular debt of gratitude for the smooth working of our relations not only to our High Commissioners in the Dominions but also to their staffs. They are drawn in the main from the Dominions Office, and they are beginning to form what may be described as the beginnings of a Dominions service. My hon. Friend has described the appointment of Mr. Bruce to the War Cabinet as the accredited representative of the Commonwealth Governments, but there are one or two other channels of communication, which are important ones. There are the visits of Ministers. Prime Ministers have been mentioned, but there are other Ministers who have visited this 594 country, and, in the reverse direction, the Prime Minister has visited Canada two or three times since the war and the Deputy Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and other Ministers have also paid visits to Ottawa. The war-time appointments of three of the United Kingdom High Commissioners in the Dominions have also been given to ex-Cabinet Ministers in this country. As to the liaison at lower levels, technical conferences constantly take place, missions move about the Empire, and there are exchanges of visits among officials.
The most important of all is the Imperial Conference. The Government have endeavoured, not to call an Imperial Conference—that would not be possible in war-time conditions—but to arrange a meeting of Prime Ministers. It has not yet been possible to arrange such a meeting, but it is very much hoped that it will be possible to do so in the not too far distant future. The fact that the present system has stood the strain is no argument for maintaining it in its present form unaltered. The Commonwealth is not static. Change and development are essential to its health and vigour. The wider the discussion the better. The time is ripe for an examination of the methods of consultation. Mr. Curtin has made a most important proposal, and we warmly welcome his initiative, but the decision to make a change must be a decision not only of this country but of all the Dominions. A Dominion point of view is often spoken of, as if there was a consensus of opinion in all the Dominions different from ours. There is no such Dominion point of view. Every Dominion, of course, has a point of view of its own, but it may, and often does, differ from that of other Dominions. Any change, therefore, would have to be decided upon by an Imperial Conference or by a meeting of Prime Ministers.
The question of Commonwealth relationships has recently been discussed in a correspondence started by Mr. Lionel Curtis in "The Times" newspaper. Mr. Curtis is a great authority on Empire affairs, and his selfless devotion to the cause of Imperial unity commands great respect both here and overseas. He advocates the setting-up of a Federal Parliament and Government for the whole Empire in order to control foreign policy and defence. He believes that, if a 595 Federal Parliament and Government for the whole of the self-governing parts of the Empire had been in existence before the war, we should have adopted a different foreign policy and should have rearmed more quickly and on a much greater scale. I do not think there is any substantial foundation for such a belief. Between the wars there was a co-ordinated foreign policy. It received the general assent of this country and the Dominions. All were anxious to make the machinery of the League work, and, although on matters of detail there were differences, on major issues there was agreement. When it was decided to impose sanctions, all the Dominions were in favour of the policy and took steps to give effect to the decision. The foreign policy of pre-war Governments may therefore justly be said to have been concurred in by the rest of the Commonwealth. No one has ever suggested before that it was determined upon because this country could not obtain effective help and support from the Commonwealth. Throughout the whole difficult period the strategic policy of the Government was co-ordinated, and the Dominions willingly played their part. Whatever the causes may have been which meant failure on our part to avert the war, they were not due to any failure to co-ordinate the policy of the Empire.
It is clear, I think, that a Federal Parliament would not, by itself, provide a solution nor would it, for reasons which I need not enter into now, receive the concurrence of the Dominions. The way towards closer co-operation lies along other lines. The best method would be regular meetings of Prime Ministers. They would be able to establish identity of purpose. But it is not easy for Prime Ministers to leave their own countries. On the other hand, it should not be so difficult to arrange meetings of Ministers of External Affairs. They might meet possibly once a year before meetings of the new international organisation which it is contemplated will be set up after the war. Such regular meetings would be an important step towards strengthening the machinery of consultation. At such meetings not only would the general lines of foreign policy be laid down but also strategic plans and the military measures necessary to put them into effect, but no 596 machinery will ever be effective unless there is the will to make it so. As a distinguished American writer recently said:Blueprints, covenants, contracts, charters and declarations do not create living associations. They merely formulate, regulate, ratify, develop and guide the actions of men or groups of men who already have the will to associate themselves.I will return to this point later; it is the essence of the matter.
I will now turn from the broad question of Empire relationships to the particular problem of Newfoundland. The present position, for reasons which are well known, is altogether anomalous. The suspension of Parliamentary government and the fact that 250,000 British subjects sprung from these Islands are living without representative institutions will be deplored by every Member of the House, to whatever party he belongs. It is for this reason that the future of the island has been very much in our minds. Soon after the Lord President of the Council became Secretary of State for the Dominions he paid a visit to Newfoundland. The opportunity of seeing local conditions and meeting people representing every phase of the life of the island was of great value. Last summer he decided to ask the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon), the hon. and gallant Member for Thornbury (Sir. D. Gunston), and the senior Member for the University of Oxford (Petty Officer Herbert) to go out to Newfoundland on a good-will mission. I will not anticipate the speeches of my hon. Friends, but I would like to pay a tribute to the care with which they studied conditions and the way in which they carried out their long and strenuous tour. The visit was greatly appreciated. The House will have the benefit of their experience and knowledge, and my Noble Friend will be greatly helped by the stimulating suggestions which they made. Many of the suggestions deal with administrative matters and the development of the country's industries and public services. These matters are all under consideration and examination. I will not go into them to-day, but I will confine myself to the constitutional issue which the Government have recently had under review.
There has been a considerable volume of criticism, both in this House and outside, which takes the form of representing that His Majesty's Government in 597 the United Kingdom deprived Newfoundland of long-established Parliamentary institutions by arbitrary action, and it gives a picture of the island being kept in subjection under a system imposed by a tyrannical home Government against the will of the people. There can be no greater travesty of the facts. At the close of the last war the island was enjoying greater prosperity than it had ever experienced in the past, and, in considering the future, we should remember that these conditions proved to be transitory. In the 12 years from 1920 onwards, conditions deteriorated. During this period the Budget was never balanced, and each year the Newfoundland Government raised a fresh loan, partly to meet the current deficit and partly to finance fresh schemes of capital expenditure. By 1931, when the world economic depression was at its height, the public debt had been doubled, its credit was exhausted, it had no reserves on which to fall back, and conditions had become desperate.
In these circumstances, and faced with such a critical position, the Newfoundland Government appealed to the United Kingdom Government for assistance, and a Royal Commission was set up under Lord Amulree. I would remind the House of the main recommendations of that Report. The Commission reported that the troubles of the island were not merely passing ones, but were of long standing and deep-seated and that its requirements were twofold, financial and political. The island was in imminent danger of financial collapse and that poverty and distress were widespread, and unemployment was rife. The condition of the people was pitiful. They said that financial aid would not of itself cure the island's troubles. They felt that the small Newfoundland community could not by itself deal successfully with the unprecedented difficulties which had overtaken the country. They recommended, unanimously, the temporary suspension of the Constitution till such time as the island might become self-supporting again, and the establishment of a Government consisting of six members, three drawn from the United Kingdom and three from Newfoundland. They also proposed that the Governor-in-Commission should be responsible to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs and that the United Kingdom should be responsible for the finances of the island.
598 It is important to remember that both Houses of the Newfoundland Parliament, after a full Debate, unanimously passed a joint Address to His Majesty the King asking him to give effect to the recommendations of the Report.
In these circumstances the Newfoundland Bill, of 1933, was introduced into Parliament. The United Kingdom Government felt that in view of the recommendations of the Commission they had no alternative but to respond to the appeal of the Newfoundland Government.
I should like to make one further point. Among the recommendations of the Royal Commission reproduced in the Address of the Newfoundland Legislature and in the Schedule to the Newfoundland Act is the following:It would be understood that as soon as the island's difficulties are overcome and the country is again self-supporting responsible government, on the request from the people of Newfoundland, would be restored.Two conditions, therefore, had to be satisfied. In the first place, His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom and Parliament had to be satisfied that the island was self-supporting; and, in the second place, there must be a request from the people of Newfoundland. In deciding whether the island is self-supporting, the Government must consider the abnormal conditions prevailing at the present time. Leaving this aside, however, and taking the budgetary figures alone, it can be claimed that the island has paid its way for the last three years. On this basis it might be claimed that the first condition of the Act is satisfied. With regard to the second condition—the request from the people of Newfoundland—it cannot be said that there is yet any evidence of a general wish for the restoration of self-government. The people are not satisfied that the abnormal conditions and the present prosperity will continue. It is clear that if responsible government is to be restored, there must be some assurance of a measure of economic stability. There is certainly no desire for any far-reaching change until after the war, and until the Newfoundland public have had an opportunity of assessing their prospects in the post-war world.
§ Earl Winterton
May I ask a question? Not so very long ago I was in Newfoundland and travelled round to public meetings with the Commission. The point was raised at those meetings whether steps 599 could not be taken, as this House is responsible for the condition of Newfound, for its Members, apart from myself, to visit the island. Will my hon. Friend consider whether encouragement could be given to Members of this House to visit Newfoundland after the war to ascertain public opinion?
We will certainly bear that suggestion in mind, but events may, of course, move fairly quickly as the House will see from what I have to say.
§ Mr. Baxter
I would like to support what my Noble Friend says, which is an admirable idea, but since the Newfoundland people have no power and no focus point to express their desire, and since they are a scattered people, how are they ever to convey to His Majesty's Government their desire for self-government?
§ Mr. Emrys-Evans
My hon. Friend is very impatient. If he will wait a little, he will hear a little more. There is, however, a widespread feeling that the return by even one single step to full responsible government would be a great mistake. Opinion is, however, much divided as to what form of self-government, or what form of government, would best suit the island in future. I think my hon. Friends the members of the Mission would agree with this view of the state of public opinion. After reviewing the position, the Government have decided that their policy should be based on the following main points:
The arrangements made in 1933 included a pledge by His Majesty's Government that as soon as the Island's difficulties had been overcome and the country was again self-supporting, responsible government, on request from the people of Newfoundland, would be restored. Our whole policy is governed by this undertaking.
Owing, however, to the existing abnormal conditions caused by the war which make it impossible for the Newfoundland people as a whole to come to a considered conclusion as to the Island's future prospects, there should be no change in the present form of Government while the war lasts.
As soon as practicable after the end of the war, that is, the war in Europe, machinery must be provided for enabling 600 the Newfoundland people to examine the future of the Island and to express their considered views as to the form of Government they desire, having regard to the financial and economic conditions prevailing at the time. In the meantime the Secretary of State will take soundings in order to ascertain what kind of machinery would be acceptable to the Newfoundland people.
If the general wish of the people should be for a return to full responsible government we for our part shall be very ready, if the Island is then self-supporting, to facilitate such a change.
If, however, the general wish should be either for the continuance of the present form of Government or for some change of system which would fall short of full responsible government, we shall be prepared to examine such proposals sympathetically and consider within what limits the continued acceptance of responsibility by the United Kingdom could be recommended to Parliament.
In the meantime a vigorous attempt should be made to push on with the development of local government, on which the members of the Mission have made some interesting recommendations, as well as with general reconstruction plans. Every effort should be made to encourage the development of local government institutions, which would afford a base for an effective central Government.
In accordance with this statement of policy, my Noble Friend will take steps to ascertain what machinery would be most acceptable to Newfoundland public opinion and to devise means to enable it to be put into effect at an appropriate moment. Possible methods might include, for example, the setting-up of some form of National Convention, but this is for further consideration in the light of views expressed in Newfoundland. I would like to add that there is no desire on the part of the Government to impose any particular solution. The Government will be guided by the freely expressed views of the people. It is for Newfoundland to make the choice, and the Government, with the assent of Parliament, will be very ready to give effect to their wishes. Although it is not my intention to say very much about the financial, economic and social conditions of the island, they of course have an important bearing upon the constitutional issue.
§ Mr. Riley (Dewsbury)
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the question of local government, may I ask whether the Commissioners are doing anything or making any suggestions with regard to the organisation of local government in any shape or form? Is any scheme being drawn up or are any proposals being made?
§ Mr. Emrys Evans
All these questions, as I said earlier, are the subject of active examination at the present moment. They are being very carefully considered.
§ Mr. Creech Jones (Shipley)
With regard to the proposals which the Government have just announced, is it intended that until the end of the war there shall be no modification of the existing form of Commissioner Government? Will the structure remain just as it is to-day?
§ Mr. Emrys-Evans
Yes, Sir, that is so. That is implied in the statement of the policy of the Government. There are one or two aspects of the economic and social conditions in the island which have a bearing on the constitutional issue. The social services, for example, have been greatly increased since the establishment of the Commission of Government, and they are a charge which will have to be taken into consideration when the future financial structure of Newfoundland is under consideration.
§ Earl Winterton
Will my hon. Friend say a little more about the social services because they are of great interest and importance?
§ Mr. Emrys-Evans
I am afraid I cannot go into details on that question at the present moment. I have various other things to discuss and I understand that there will be a later opportunity of dealing with this matter. There has also been under consideration—in fact, the plans are very far advanced—a scheme for the reorganisation of the fisheries of the island. I cannot go into the details of the scheme now and I will only say about it that, if it is as successful as we hope it will be, it might very well make a great difference to the future prosperity of Newfoundland. The Commissioner of Natural Resources is pushing forward as rapidly as he can various schemes of reconstruction, but he is handicapped, as we are in this country, by a lack of expert staff. I cannot close what I have to say without paying a tribute to the work of 602 the Commission of Government. Their task has been a very difficult one. As I have said, a government without a legislative assembly is an anomaly in a British community, but the Commission of Government, unsustained by the advice and support of Parliament, has successfully brought the island through the difficult years since the suspension of the Constitution.
I will now leave the question of Newfoundland and say something of a problem which affects the whole Commonwealth and which is a matter of widespread interest—the question of migration. My hon. Friend who moved the Amendment mentioned this important subject. The white population of the British Commonwealth is approximately 71,000,000, of which 24,000,000 live in the Dominions. These figures show that the population of the Dominions is increasing relatively to that of this country. The extent of their territories and resources show also that there is room for very wide expansion. The Dominions are giving consideration to this important matter.
§ Mr. Emrys-Evans
I said white population. This is really a question which concerns the white population of the Empire. In particular, Australia has recently taken active steps to examine the problem. I do not anticipate that any Dominion will be able to initiate a migration policy on a large scale until it has been possible for it to form some idea of the conditions in the post-war world.
It is clear, however, that in future the Dominions will require a different kind of settler to those who have gone out in the past. They are anxious to develop their secondary industries and they will want the skilled industrial worker. There will not at the present time be room for the agricultural emigrant whom we have usually associated with emigration in the past. My noble Friend said last week at the Guildhall that it was clearly unhealthy that one part of the Empire should be over-populated and over-industrialised and that other parts should be under-populated and under-industrialised. Clearly anything which tends to make other parts of the Commonwealth richer and stronger will increase the power of 603 the whole, but this is a very complex question. The downward trend of population in the United Kingdom is naturally causing considerable anxiety. It might, indeed, be argued that the United Kingdom will have no surplus population for emigration overseas. On balance, however, His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom consider that emigration should be encouraged. It is even possible that the very fact that opportunities are opening out in the Dominions might have its effect in averting a decrease of the population in this country. This matter, however, is one for the Dominions as much as it is for the United Kingdom. Emigration can only take place if it is their settled policy that it should do so. The Government are already in close touch with the Dominions on this question.
There are one or two aspects of the structure of the Commonwealth on which I should like to say something before I end. The British peoples scattered all over the world are more sensitive to changes in the international political temperature than other countries, however great, which are confined to one geographical area. They are governed by the same Parliamentary institutions. The Legislature controls the Executive and is able to keep the Government in close touch with the people. Everywhere the redress of grievances forms an important part in the work of Parliament. There is a certain rhythm which runs through the whole Commonwealth and enables it to understand quickly the nature of events which are likely to affect it. These two factors have enabled the Commonwealth to act swiftly in times of crisis. The German attack on Poland brought the Dominions into the war, immediately, although Poland is thousands of miles from the nearest Dominion. They understood the true significance of the struggle and how in all probability it would spread. How right they were, for it spread to the Pacific and Indian Oceans and affected all the Dominions in a greater or less degree. Thus it came about that alone among the Powers now fighting the British peoples declared war against the aggressor without waiting to be attacked and sustained the struggle alone during a most critical year.
These great events are now part of the history of the British Commonwealth and 604 Empire. The lesson to be drawn from the experience of these years is, that the Commonwealth, as long as it stands together, will remain a powerful force in the world. If it breaks up its component parts will be unimportant States scattered over the face of the earth. If we are to remain together we must have a common foreign policy and a common strategic plan. That is not all, however. If in future we were to be concerned merely with our own affairs, we might well sink into insignificance even if the structure of the Commonwealth remained. Our influence and authority have been great in the past and are great to-day because the Commonwealth stands for certain ideals and values which we have shown that we are determined to maintain. These ideals and values cannot be maintained unless we are prepared to act in close co-operation with others. An isolationist policy would lead us once more to the lonely and perilous position in which we found ourselves in 1940. We cannot afford to look inwards. We must always look outwards to distant horizons. It may well be that the British group of nations will be the pattern and the guide of new and even wider combinations in the years to come.
§ Mr. Ammon (Camberwell, North)
I rise to put a question arising out of the statement which has just been made about Newfoundland. I am sure that the House will permit me first to compliment the hon. Gentleman on the first statement that he has made since he succeeded to his new office. I congratulate him on both the substance and the delivery of it. It is not anticipated, I presume, that the Debate on Newfoundland will be taken to-day, because the Debate that has been initiated in no way gave the impression that such was likely to occur. There are a number of Members who wish to speak on the Amendment, and I would like to ask whether we can be given an assurance that before the Christmas Recess a day will be given to discuss Newfoundland. The statement which the hon. Gentleman has given will be read with interest in Newfoundland, and it raises a number of questions that need to be answered, questions that were naturally inquired into by the members of the recent mission. It would not be polite to the members of the mission to have this subject spatchcocked into the middle of another Debate, and it would be rather resented by Newfoundland 605 if a Debate on their problems, which are of a serious nature and which have been the subject of a special mission, were to be relegated to the fag end of a Debate on an entirely different subject. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman whether he can give an undertaking that on, say, the Motion for the Adjournment for the Christmas Recess, or some other appropriate occasion, a day will be given to discuss Newfoundland.
§ Major Sir Derrick Gunston (Thornbury)
I should like to reinforce the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon), and I would assure the Under-Secretary that I do not do it with any personal feeling, but the recent visit to Newfoundland created an enormous amount of interest, and I think the psychological effect of not giving a day to the discussion of her affairs would be disastrous. I welcome the statement which has been made by the Under-Secretary and think it goes a long way to meet some of our wishes, but at any rate we should like time to consider it, and I would reinforce the argument that it is unfair to the hon. Baronet and other Members who have spoken in the general Debate to bring in Newfoundland now. We should spoil two Debates—spoil the Debate on the Empire and spoil the Debate on Newfoundland, hurt Newfoundland and do no good to the cause we all want to help.
§ Squadron-Leader Donner (Basingstoke)
I should like to associate myself with the plea which has been made. It is a fact that between the two wars the Empire has possessed no detailed and accepted foreign policy.
§ Mr. Emrys-Evans
That is a matter which will have to be approached through the usual channels. I could not give an assurance at the moment, but naturally I shall bring it to the attention of my Noble Friend.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
If the hon. Member chooses to raise it as a point of Order, he can get away with it.
§ Mr. Baxter
On a point of Order. The Minister has put us in a very embarrassing position. It is true that we can now, if we happen to catch your eye, speak on Newfoundland, but we are told that the usual channels will go into the question some time later to-day, and if they say "No," and there is nothing to stop them, then Newfoundland, having been smothered yesterday by Mosley, and brought in to-day as affording the last possible opportunity, will disappear from this House. What can we do about it?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I think the question has now been put pretty definitely by two or three Members and that in due course a senior Member of the Government will arrive and will be able to answer the point of Order. Meanwhile, I think the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Donner) had better continue his speech.
§ Squadron-Leader Donner
I was saying that between the two wars the Empire possessed no accepted or detailed common foreign policy, no similar common defence policy and no complete common policy at all as regards trade and economics with the notable exception of the Ottawa Agreements. It is constantly said that the welfare of the world will primarily depend upon the co-operation of the major Powers of the United Nations. I believe it is fundamental to the success of any such co-operation that the British Empire should be in a position to co-operate as a single cohesive unit. Many who share the longing for international co-operation are apt to assume that as things now are the British Empire is in a position to play its part with other Powers and to discharge its present and future imperial responsibilities and its present and future international commitments. In point of fact, the two sets of obligations are intermixed and interdependent. The Empire can only discharge both obligations if it can arrive at a common mind on both. That is why there is an increasing number of thoughtful people throughout the Empire who are reaching the conclusion that not only in the interests of the Empire itself but in the interests of the whole world more effective and more continuous inter-Imperial consultation and co-operation must be established, and that reliance must be placed upon this new machinery rather than upon disappointingly infrequent Imperial Conferences.
607 This is a movement of thought which will grow and continue to grow and a movement of thought which will not be propitiated by smooth assurances that the present machinery for daily information is adequate, even if it is complicated. On the contrary, had that machinery been equal to its task the Prime Minister of Australia would not last August have advocated the establishment of a permanent consultative Empire council. The House will recall that that speech, gravely critical of the present machinery of inter-Imperial consultation and co-operation, received the support of Mr. Fraser, the Prime Minister of New Zealand. If hon. Members desire any further evidence which sheds a glaring light upon the inadequacy of present arrangements it is furnished by the fact that in 1941, when Mr. Menzies was Prime Minister of Australia, and after the collapse of Singapore, which placed Australia in a not dissimilar position vis-à-vis Japan to that of this country after Dunkirk vis-à-vis Germany, had to come to the United Kingdom in order to present Australia's case to the United Kingdom War Cabinet. Events after his return to Australia and public opinion reflected in the Australian Press were of such a nature that a Minister, Sir Earle Page, was appointed to reside in London in order to ensure that Australian interests were presented to the War Cabinet in the most forceful way. The Australian Government, to do it justice, made no pretence about its anxieties. It believed that the present machinery for expressing its views and for consultation was inadequate and it emphasised its view by a ministerial appointment, while Field-Marshal Smuts found it necessary to visit this country no fewer than three times during the course of this war.
I do hope I shall not be misunderstood in this matter. I welcome, and I believe the whole House welcomes, the visits of these distinguished Dominion statesmen to this country and we look forward to welcoming them again in the future, but let us have no illusions. What was the reason for these visits? Imperfect machinery of inter-Imperial consultation was largely responsible for these visits. If there is one cause for uneasiness about these invaluable war-time visits of Prime Ministers to this country it lies in the hard fact that imperfect machinery of 608 inter-Imperial consultation and co-operation was largely responsible for them.
§ Mr. Emrys-Evans
I think I ought to correct the hon. and gallant Member. The Ministers were invited to this country. It was not because they had any feeling that the machinery was unsatisfactory.
§ Squadron-Leader Donner
The Australian Government made their position in 1941 very plain indeed. I can assure my hon. Friend that it is perfectly accurate to say what I did say, that it was the imperfect machinery which was largely responsible for his visit to this country in 1941.
§ Squadron-Leader Donner
The Australian Government made no secret of their anxieties. We have been assured by the Government that they are anxious to secure a conference of Prime Ministers at the earliest possible date, but for a variety of reasons it has so far proved impracticable to bring it about. That constitutes no argument for taking no action meanwhile. My Noble Friend the Secretary of State for the Dominions, in a remarkable speech at the Guildhall on 23rd November, went so far as to say that it was not desirable to wait until the end of the war. While it is certainly possible to postpone deliberation of Mr. Curtin's suggestion until the meeting of Prime Ministers, it is also possible to establish a permanent secretariat for an Imperial Conference now.
Few, I think, will argue that the problems which will face the Empire after the war will be less important than the problems of the war itself. Indeed, the Secretary of State for the Dominions has made this candid admission. His Majesty's Government, he said:do not regard the present machinery as perfect or necessarily the best that could be devised to meet peace-time conditions.That is a definite observation, but it immediately raises the question whether the best use is being made of the existing machinery of consultation and co-operation. How can it be maintained by anybody that the present machinery is adequate or is even adequately used? The Imperial Conference is the only permanent joint organ of consultation and joint action, yet it is a startling fact that, in the course of a generation, the Imperial 609 Conference has met five times only—to be precise, in the past quarter of a century it has met only five times. On 2nd November, the Secretary of State for the Dominions made a significant declaration. He said we recognise fully:That it is only if the British Commonwealth is of one mind about the many problems which will face the world after the war and only if we can work closely and confidently together, that we shall be able to play that great part which our long traditions and wide interests entitle us.No doubt all the Dominion Prime Ministers will concur in that. The question is, How? There is only one way, and that is to get round the family table. There is great scope for the profitable elaboration of the existing machinery. Why should we seek, as some advocate, some startling innovation, some sensational constitutional novelty? The obvious machinery for agreement, to be "of one mind," lies in the Imperial Conference. Let it assemble not once in five years as it has done in the last quarter of a century but, say, once in 10 months. I do not suggest an annual conference, because I believe that would be a mistake for psychological reasons. Once in 10 months would involve 12 meetings in 10 years, instead of 10 meetings in 10 years and that number of times is more likely to meet the requirements of the Empire after the war. I have some reason too for believing that public opinion, and even the Governments of the Dominions, would agree to that suggestion.
Let His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom approach His Majesty's Governments in the Dominions with a view to establishing now a permanent Secretariat for an Imperial Conference, competent to deal on the secretarial, fact-finding, statistical and executive levels with all vital questions of concern to the component parts of the Empire. A permanent Secretariat would provide a new and better means of continuous consultation. It would be the medium through which the Dominions. could make their contribution in the important, early and formative stages, in the negotiation of any diplomatic treaty or commercial proposal.
How wide is the possible scope of inter-imperial consultation is not often realised. Questions of war and peace, of world economics and currency, questions of the relations of the advanced nations to the backward peoples of the world, questions 610 of air navigation, are all included in their potential scope, as well as such immediate and pressing problems as post-war settlement overseas and the future constitution of Newfoundland. How necessary this consultation may be is illustrated by the problems now facing the Empire, and indeed the whole world, in post-war planning, as the nature and limits of the great formative principle of regionalisation are studied, both as they affect the political and the economic fields.
A permanent Secretariat of the Imperial Conference would involve no diminution of or infringement upon any part of the sovereign authority of the Dominions. It would discharge two main functions. First, it would decide applications to new circumstances of principles laid down by the Imperial Conference. Secondly, where, owing to new events or changing circumstances such applications involved a new principle, concerning which it was doubtful whether any or all of the Dominions would agree, the Secretariat would be in a position to formulate the new principle and consult with the Dominions by cable or post.
It is true that, the suggestion of the Secretariat has been made before and rejected, and hon. Members may question whether the Dominions would not reject it now. I do not believe they would do so. On the contrary, I believe they would welcome the establishment of a Secretariat now. Former apprehensions, or should I say misapprehensions, of popular opinion in the Dominions which feared that such a Secretariat would develop into an overriding body, some imperial areopagus sitting in far away Whitehall, unduly sensitive to sinister, or allegedly sinister, financial influences, are misapprehensions which have largely passed away. They have passed away because popular as well as informed opinion in the Dominions has come increasingly to realise the reality of the equality of status formally guaranteed to them by the Statute of Westminster. They no longer have any doubts about that. Secondly, if there is one lesson which the war has taught popular opinion in all the major Dominions, including the United Kingdom, it is the value of the Empire when, and in so far as, its acts as a single cohesive unit.
I come now the questions of personnel and of finance. I suggest that the majority of the civil servants of an Imperial 611 Conference Secretariat should not and must not be appointed by the United Kingdom Government but that Government should be prepared to second civil servants at the request and desire of the Dominion Governments whenever such a request, was made. I think it is a matter of the first importance that the civil servants of such a Secretariat should not be subordinate to their individual Governments nor yet to that which they would represent; they should be paid not by the individual Governments but out of Imperial Conference Funds. If that were done, it would ensure that the civil servants concerned would feel themselves to be not the servants of the individual Governments concerned but of the Conference itself. I believe that if those two suggestions were adopted, any last lingering hesitations which may still exist in the minds of people overseas would vanish. No Dominion would then feel itself dependent upon the United Kingdom Civil Service. It would never feel itself in the hands of that Service, as indeed it could not be. It would never feel that Service to be guilty, however unconsciously, of suppression veri, through lack of knowledge or failure to understand and realise Dominion conditions.
I believe with every fibre of my being that Imperial cohesiveness and Imperial consolidation are absolutely vital, absolutely necessary for the future welfare and harmony of the world. Only a cohesive fellowship of Empire can give the world a clear example of permanent, fruitful co-operation of nations and of peoples, and I would plead most earnestly with the Government not to be baulked by the obvious difficulties. I know those difficulties only too well, but they can be overcome if only the Government will set before themselves and hold steadfastly to the great ideal of Imperial trust, Imperial partnership, co-operation and unity.
§ Mr. Alexander Walkden (Bristol, South)
I regret that I was unable to be present in the earlier hours of this Sitting, but I was pleased when I arrived in the Chamber to find that a Debate was proceeding on the Dominions and the Colonies, because I shared the feeling, which I am sure was felt by others, that it was rather deplorable that there should be no mention of them in the Gracious 612 Speech from the Throne this year. Last year very positive mention was made and a certain amount of action resulted during the ensuing 12 months. I feel that there are few things more important than the development, not merely of our friendly relations with the Dominions, but economic development between them and ourselves and more even with the Colonies. I agree that there are few of my Friends on this side during this Debate, for I cannot think there is anything more important for the future of the working people of this country than the development of the Dominions and the Empire, and I make no apology for the word "Empire."
I hope some good results will ensue from this Debate. We are committed to a great many good things. Everyone in the country wants the Beveridge scheme. Everybody wants a lot of things. They all cost money, and unless we do a lot more business as well as a lot more work, a great deal more overseas trading, for my own part as a realist I do not know where the money is coming from. We, in this Island, have coal and some iron. All the other materials which we need and use in our industries we have to import—cotton, wool, timber even to make our furniture and our homes, leather for our boots and shoes, iron and all the metals for our engineering. We are fortunate that our forbears sailed overseas and established trading stations where these goods could be obtained to keep us going with an abundant supply of materials. That is absolutely necessary for the future. Also it is equally necessary that we should have an expanding market for the products of this country which, whether we could or not, we do not consume, and our great hope lies mainly in our own Empire.
We all rejoice in the better relationship with America, but again as a realist I cannot forget that the United States are a very protectionist country, and I remember how they treated us after the last war in that respect. I rejoice even more in the successful development of Russia and of our friendship with Russia, because I think our future security very largely rests on our solidarity with Russia so far as foreign policy is concerned. But again Russia is the most protectionist country in all the world. She has an absolute embargo 613 against everything except what the State thinks it will import. The State controls all the imports and exports, and you cannot trade with Russia in the same way as with other nations. The emergence of China is a glorious thing. One can have almost unlimited hopes with regard to China. She has an open mind and has always had an open door for all the trade of the world.
§ Dr. Russell Thomas
Do I take it that my hon. Friend is advocating a sort of imperial economy rather than a world economy which appears the object of the Allied nations at the present time so as to adjust these tariffs he is talking about in order that we see no mare of them?
§ Mr. Walkden
I am all in favour of a world economy, but we have to do our own bit towards that. We have to do our job as a country and the British Commonwealth and Empire to do our share in the world economy. I quite accept the view that there should be agreement with all countries if you can get them to agree, but our experience was rather sad after the last war. That is why I am rather concerned about the development of our own estates. Referring again to China, it is one of the saddest things that whenever countries come to a new phase of their development, or when countries are given freedom that they have never had before, they ring themselves round with tariff walls. I hope that will not be the case with China and I hope that whoever tries to settle the affairs of the world after this awful war will disallow that sort of tariff-wall development if it is possible to provide against it. But the word "self-determination" is running round again. I do not care much for it. I would rather have international agreement, but too many countries when they get self-determination make it Their first business to build up tariffs. We have the worst instance on our doorstep. The Irish Free State immediately put up tariff barriers and punished its own people by these tariff barriers, causing high prices and ever-increasing cost of living. There is a great danger that that sort of thing may develop after this war.
I make one practical suggestion to the Deputy Prime Minister, who fortunately is with us now. That is to encourage the greater reciprocal movement of our people. Under Empire arrangements 614 provision should be made whereby as much as possible of the social insurance which is provided for working people in this country by the State should be available if they go abroad to other Commonwealth or Empire countries. I believe that many of our young folk who are coming back from the Forces, men and women, would be quite willing to go and take jobs anywhere. If I were a young man, I would sooner go to Singapore than to Birmingham or Manchester. Let us educate our people to grow up like that, to have an adventurous disposition, to go and do things. When we had emigration questions under discussion when I was a member of the General Council of the Trades Union Congress this question emerged continuously, that if a young unemployed engineer, or an older engineer, or a pattern maker or a builder, for instance, thought of going abroad to the Dominions, he would say to his trade union, "I would not mind going, I would like to go, but I shall sacrifice all my State insurance if I go." I ask the Government seriously to consider whether they could not make reciprocal arrangements with the Dominion Governments whereby the benefits of British social insurance could be taken to the Dominions as a live policy to be maintained so long as the person concerned is resident in the Dominions, that if he lives there to the end of his days and dies there he shall have his benefits while he live and his dependants shall have the appropriate benefits when he dies.
I would ask, above all, that the old age and widows' and orphans' pensions benefits and the death benefit should be maintained if contributions are paid. It is rather dismal to talk about death benefits—the insurance companies call it life insurance, which sounds better—but working people are very keen on it. They like a nice funeral. The insurance companies arrange for the maintenance of their policies for middle-class people, and the Government, I am sure could provide for the maintenance of working people's State policies by arrangement. If there should be any difficulty with the Dominions about it, there could be none with the Colonies, because they are under the Crown; and I hope there will be more openings for young people in the Colonies. The Consular service is available to look after these policies, and working arrange- 615 ments could be made, by agreement with the other Governments.
I have made a suggestion about the people who I hope will go out and develop the Empire, as their forbears have done in the past. Coming from Bristol, I cannot help thinking like this, because so many of our Western men have been the makers of our Empire and I glory in it. We ought to see what we can do to help the Colonies, as well as the people who go there. It would be a great and generous action for the Government, if they set up a Conference of the kind mentioned in the Amendment, to enable the Colonies to be represented there, too, or else to have another all-in gathering for them. When that Colonial Conference takes place, the Government should tell the Colonies that when this war is over we shall give them something which will help them very much. There will be hundreds of thousands of first-rate vehicles, from great army lorries down to little jeeps. We shall not want them in this country, but one of the greatest needs of the Colonies is transport. Do not let us send this spare transport to dumps near Slough or Didcot, as we did after the last war, where it was left standing in mud for months and months, until it was sold for knock-out prices. Incidentally, the country was swamped with a surplus of road transport, which nearly bankrupted the railways. I suggest that the Government should promise the Colonies all our spare army vehicles directly the war is over. This would aid their development enormously.
§ Major Sir Jocelyn Lucas (Portsmouth, South)
While generally supporting this Amendment, I should like to point out the vital importance of improved machinery for consultation on policy, more particularly in the form of regional conferences, not only for the Dominions, but for the Colonies as well. Now that the Dominions have their own diplomatic arrangements, it seems more important than ever to see that diplomatic policy should coincide. It might make all the difference between peace and war. I want to make two protests. In the first place, we are always hearing that England stood alone in 1940. England did not stand alone; Great Britain did not stand alone; it was the British Empire which stood alone. Canadian troops were over here 616 as early as 1939. I would like to put it on record that even in our darkest hour I never met a single Empire volunteer who doubted that we should win. Secondly, we are continually hearing men from the Dominions referred to over here as Colonials. Many of them resent that.
One of the great faults of our educational system is that we have neglected to teach the children about the Empire. Only the other day the wife of a distinguished Dominion officer, when travelling by bus, met a young student, and when she mentioned where she came from, this boy said, "Oh, you belong to us, don't you." For somebody from a free and self-governing Dominion, that was a pretty bad insult. The time has come to teach the children that not only has the Empire saved us in this war, that we should have been sunk without it, but that our very livelihood depends on co-operation with our Empire and on its prosperity. In 1940 I was assured that a scheme was being drawn up by the educational authorities to spread this knowledge of the Empire, but I am afraid the results have not been very noticeable. There seem to be very few people at present who remember that in 1940, in the Battle of Britain, 25 per cent. of our pilots were Empire volunteers. I believe that the proportion is even greater now. If the school children of this country realised what the Empire means to us, it would result in great benefit in the future. In the past we have had an Empire Marketing Board. Surely something more is needed. We do not want just to tell people to buy Empire produce. If we could tell people how the Empire stood by us and what it means to us both in peace and war, that would make all the difference in the world.
§ Mr. Palmer (Winchester)
I do not want to range over all the topics which have been raised during this very interesting Debate, but I would like to refer more particularly to the question of Imperial relations in general. May I add my compliments to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary upon his first statement in this House on these questions? My only regret is that there has been such a long interval since this House last discussed these questions that he has not had a previous opportunity. I almost felt, as the Debate proceeded, that we were dealing with a subject with which we are not 617 sufficiently familiar. Now, in discussing this question we have to consider it from two aspects—from the points of view of the cohesiveness of the Empire and of the question of machinery. There is a little danger that because of the magnificent war effort, to which tributes have been paid, and of the complete unity of purpose and action during the war we might come to assume that this unity of action and purpose will automatically continue after the war. We have not to think whether tradition and. sentiment and the memories of our war effort will be enough, but what will be the common interests in the future which alone can hold us together. Questions of machinery are entirely subsidiary to that major point. We have to consider that point against the world background. We are living in a completely unknown kind of world. To start with, in Europe we are going to have a situation that no one can foresee, except in one particular, and that is, that it will be a situation without any historical precedent at all. It will involve much greater demands and responsibility on the part of this country than we have ever before ever had to undertake. If we consider the Far East, it is obvious that some members of the British Commonwealth will have a more direct interest in the Far East than in Europe. They all have, with the exception of South Africa and Eire.
The question is, Where do we start our thought about the future? At the present time we can only start from the very indefinite statements in the Atlantic Charter and more recently in the Moscow Agreement, but it seems from these statements that we are moving into a world where great Powers will play a larger part than hitherto and smaller Powers must be content to group themselves as satellites round the greater ones if they are to have a say. It looks as if it will be that type of world. If that is so, the Dominions and we ourselves will have to consider whether we are going to pursue our individual interests as units, in which case the United Kingdom will become nothing but a European island, or whether we are going to try and act together. What is the logic of the situation? Have we really to make a choice between a Federation or a closer union of some kind or another on the one hand, or become just a number of small independent Powers on the other?
618 I do not think that we have to make the choice in these harsh terms. The British Commonwealth has always been a great puzzle to foreigners. It presents a strange picture of a kind of informal unit which lacks either plan or precision or, indeed, method or precedent. It reminds me always of that clause which occurs, I think, in the Athanasian Creed of Three Incomprehensibles vet One Incomprehensible. But what is it, in fact, but a system in which British common sense has been able tolerantly to recognise the facts of an organic unit of natural growth? In the future I do not think we can afford to be any more logical than in the past, or less sensible. We must approach these problems by considering, first of all, for what specific purposes we want to co-operate. After we have decided that, we can consider the methods by which we can best pursue those purposes. If we start the other way round, by trying to set up an elaborate constitutional machinery of a new kind without considering whether it will suit the specific purposes for which it is devised we shall certainly run into trouble.
In considering our specific purposes, I have already mentioned the position in Europe and the Far East, and in trying to consider what policy each individual member will wish to pursue, either separately or in common, it will be necessary to take into account at least the following five factors: First of all, there is the extent of the real interest that each individual has in the particular part of the world for which a policy is being devised, whether in Europe, the Middle East or the Far East. Secondly, the question is how far it will be possible to rely for a long period on the durability of its own public opinion, and, thirdly, it must relate its policy to its own capacity and resources as well as to those of the common pool. It must take into account the policies of great Powers outside the Commonwealth; and, finally, it must take into account any general security system or regional organisation that may be set up. All these factors are at the present time largely imponderable, but it is true to say that now, in this country and throughout all the Dominions, there is, and there will be for some little time to come, a very general desire, indeed the firm intention and belief, that it is essential to achieve unity on the major aspects of policy both political and strategic.
619 There is another vast question to be considered too—the economic question. It is difficult in these days to separate economics from foreign policy, and we shall have to consider all things like trade and currency, control of raw material, civil aviation, shipping and all these relief problems. I do not think any more than the hon. Gentleman the Member for Norwich (Sir G. Shakespeare), whose speech we so much enjoyed, that we can devise any stereotyped machinery to deal with all these problems. It would be a great mistake to try. On the contrary, we are entering a world in which experiments must be tried all the time if we are to make international and world government anything of a reality in a practical sense. We must always be trying new devices. In the past British people all over the world have been very competent in devising new and practical types of machinery to cope with problems occurring in the particular circumstances in which they arise, but owing to the fact that all these economic, political and strategic problems are coming along, I very much welcome the Amendment on the Order Paper in the names of my hon. Friends. It is clear that there is need or there will soon be need for a discussion between the Prime Ministers of the British Commonwealth of Nations and constituent members on these various problems. There will be also during these discussions a need for reviewing the machinery whereby the highest degree of consultation can be achieved in the future.
A good deal has been said during the Debate about this machinery, but I would like to make a few comments. It so happened that I made a study of this subject a few years ago. I do not agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Squadron-Leader Donner)—I am sure he will not object—when he says that the machinery has not been adequate in the past. I think it can be criticised in certain particulars, but I think it is doubtful whether there could have been any better result as regards co-operation with any different machinery, in the circumstances of the past. During the war this system of the High Commissioners' daily conference has obviously worked very smoothly and well. But what I think you may have to do, in view of the questions which will come up for decision over different fields, 620 is to intensify your consultation and co-operation but always within the existing fundamental constitutional structure. If you once get into the field where the autonomy of different members of the Commonwealth comes into question, you will run into considerable trouble at once. That has always been the rock on which proposals have failed in the past and will fail even more rapidly in the future if an attempt is made to interfere there. As I have said, I think it is possible to intensify methods in the present circumstances.
The question of a Commonwealth Secretariat was first discussed in 1905. It has been turned down on different occasions, generally, I think, by the Canadians. I have a quotation here from Sir Wilfred Laurier who, in 1911, said:If the body be anything at all it will be inclined to exercise its own influence and impress its own views on the GovernmentI am sure the fact has been overlooked that the Dominions Office itself has performed the function of an Imperial Secretariat all the time. What is being proposed to-day is only a small modification of that, namely, that you propose seating it in a separate building and deriving its personnel from different parts of the Commonwealth. However, I think it is one of the useful suggestions that should be examined. Then there is the question of representation here. I was not absolutely certain why it was that my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich did not seem to think that a Standing Committee of Ministers would achieve a different purpose from a Standing Committee of High Commissioners. That was the inference I drew from his remarks. I should have thought it might have made a difference if the High Commissioners over here were, in fact, members of their own Commonwealth Governments. I should have thought it was worth considering whether the system could not be modified in that direction.
As regards other things, I think you will have to devise a number of ad hoc methods of dealing with them. I suggest that the best thing to do is to have an Imperial Conference and have that body set up a committee for a review of their machinery, as has been done in the past, in 1923, 1926, after the last war. The Imperial Conference has always reviewed this machinery each time it has met. I doubt whether it would alter anything fundamentally, but it may tighten things 621 up. Behind all these discussions in the political and economic spheres, there is one thing we have to keep in mind, namely, that we have a common interest which is greater than all those which I have mentioned so far. It is that we must try and keep established in this way an order of things in which ordinary men and women can manage to live their lives as real human beings. If we can manage to keep that principle in our minds in all we are striving to do in building up the Commonwealth in the future, then we cannot go wrong.
§ Professor Savory (Queen's University of Belfast)
I would like to congratulate the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Palmer) on his very eloquent speech with a great deal of which I am in agreement and also my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Squadron-Leader Donner) on at last succeeding in bringing before the House this question of the Dominions. In the minds of the public outside the idea prevails that when the Estimates for the Dominions Office come up every year there is an opportunity for discussing them. But I have been in this House for a number of years and have had no opportunity of speaking on this question. We have heard various interesting quotations to-day from the eloquent speech delivered at the Guildhall recently by the Secretary of State for the Dominions. There is one further brief quotation I would like to make from that speech and it is as follows:The success of the policy initiated by the Statute of Westminster has been proved finally in the last 20 years when the Dominions, free to make their own choice, stood unflinchingly by the Mother country and in so doing waived their liberties and their very existence as independent units.The whole of that passage turns upon the Statute of Westminster when it says that its success has been proved finally in the last 20 years. That very optimistic speech struck me with astonishment, knowing what has been the effect of the Statute of Westminster with regard to one of our Dominions, a Dominion which has been referred to to-day and the nearest of the Dominions with which we are most intimately concerned. Whenever an Ulster Member gets up to speak on this question he is looked upon as being somewhat prejudiced. What I intend to say to-day will, I hope, dispel this illusion, 622 because I wish to treat the question judicially, impartially, objectively and historically as if I were a lecturer treating it in the year 1960. So I hope that nothing I shall say will in any way increase the tenseness of the situation, because I desire to confine myself solely to facts.
If I may indulge for one moment in a personal touch, I would like to say that I am one of the last surviving links of the connection between Northern and Southern Ireland. Of all the Boards which existed for the control of Ireland, the most important to my mind was the Intermediate or Secondary Education Board, to which I had the honour to belong. We were nominated for life by the Lord Lieutenant. We had our own funds under our own control, and we were responsible to nobody except to our-selves, I can only say that at the meetings we attended in Dublin month after month we met together and discussed these very important matters with the greatest possible friendliness and good will. If there was any question which aroused excitement, it was purely an educational one. For instance, I most strongly insisted that for all French examinations in Ireland we should have an oral test. The gentleman who supported me most heartily was the Lord Chief Justice, a very noble representative of the South. Of that Board which was a connecting link for the whole of Ireland there are to-day only two survivors besides myself—one the Archbishop of Armagh and the other the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, the Right Hon. Sir Thomas Molony. Therefore I do say that I have been accustomed to treat with all classes, with all differences of creed and politics and, further, that I do know my Ireland, because I have had the pleasure over and over again of visiting all the 32 counties. I make these remarks to show that I shall try to treat this question without any prejudice whatsoever.
So far as the Statute of Westminster is concerned, I feel very strongly that a good deal of misapprehension prevails with regard to it. Do hon. Members recollect that it is still ultra vires for Australia, Canada and New Zealand to pass any law which is contrary to their Constitutions. If the Clause which was so eloquently recommended by the present Prime Minister had been inserted 623 in the Statute, none of the difficulties which have since arisen would have taken place. That Clause, moved by Colonel Gretton, was as follows:Nothing in this Act shall be deemed to authorise the legislature of the Irish Free State to repeal, amend or alter the Irish Free State (Agreement) Act of 1922 or the Irish Free State Constitution Act, 1922.That was the safeguard on which the present Prime Minister insisted with such eloquence. I only wish that in the time at my disposal I could quote from that very wonderful speech. That Amendment was not adopted, because the Prime Minister of the Irish Free State, Mr. Cosgrave, sent a letter to Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, of which the essential passage is as follows:I need scarcely impress upon you that the maintenance of the happy relations which now exist between out two countries is absolutely dependent upon the continued acceptance by each of us of the good faith of the other. This situation has been constantly present to our minds, and we have reiterated time and again that the Treaty is an agreement which could only be altered by consent.Note a very important passage:I mention this particularly because there seems to be a mistaken view in some quarters that the solemnity of this instrument in our eyes could derive any additional strength from a Parliamentary law. So far from this being the case any attempt to erect a statute of the British Parliament into a safeguard of the Treaty would have quite the opposite effect here, and would rather give rise in the minds of our people to a doubt as to the sanctity of this instrument.That statement by the Prime Minister of the Free State had an immense effect not only upon this House but also upon the other House, where it was frankly accepted by Lord Salisbury. But there is all the difference in the world between repealing a Statute and repudiating a Treaty. The question came before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as to whether the Irish Free State had the right to repeal the Clause in the Treaty which guaranteed to citizens of the Free State the right of appeal to His Majesty in Council. It was the famous case of the Lough Erne Fisheries; a gentleman named Moore was being deprived of a right which went back to the time of King John, and he got leave from the Privy Council to appeal. But the Irish Free State retrospectively passed a law depriving its citizens of that right of appeal. The cones- 624 quence was that the Privy Council gave a most important decision. They said that in accordance with Section 2 of the Statute of Westminster legally the Irish Free State had the right to repeal that Clause in the Treaty, but they added this very essential Clause:It would be out of place to criticise the legislation enacted by the Irish Free State Legislature.But the Board desired to add that "they were expressing no opinion on any contractual obligation under which, regard being had to the terms of the Treaty, the Irish Free State lay." In other words, they held the view which I have expressed that there was still, as the Treaty so clearly set forth, and as Mr. Cosgrave had assured the House, this "contractual obligation." But legally and technically it was possible under Section 2 of the Statute of Westminster to repeal every Clause in the Treaty and in spite of the protests of the Secretary of State for the Dominions at the time that was done with the result that finally the new Constitution of 1937 was set up in which there is no reference whatever to the King or to the British Commonwealth of Nations. The name Eire has been recognised by the Act of the Imperial Parliament of May, 1938, as consisting of the 26 counties which formerly formed the Irish Free State. That is the way the Imperial Parliament has interpreted the word "Eire" which etymologically means Ireland. It is certain that none of us in Ulster has ever attempted to throw any doubt whatever upon the right of Eire to maintain her neutrality. Not a single one of our statesmen has ever said anything whatever against it or reflected upon it in any way. But neutrality has certain obligations, and we maintain that when Mr. de Valera went out of his way on 28th January,1942, to protest against the landing of American troops in Northern Ireland he was committing what was certainly a breach of neutrality. I extracted from the Secretary of State for the Dominions a copy of that protest with permission to publish it. The Secretary of State was under the impression—and he told the House so—that it had been published already, but he was misinformd. Only brief summaries of it had appeared. The longest was in the "Irish Times," but it was never published in full till I, availing myself of the permission given me by the Secretary of 625 State, published it in the Irish papers, It may be said that that was a long time ago. It would be quite improper, and I shall not attempt to make any reply to Mr. de Valera's speech in the Dail of a fortnight ago, but it is possible for me to say that he reaffirmed the whole of his protest and read it out word for word to the Dail, because he said he wanted to put it on record. That protest says thatto partition the territory of an ancient nation is one of the cruellest wrongs that can be committed against a peopleHe compares it with the "former partition of Poland" and with the "projected partition of the United States" which Abraham Lincoln was determined to prevent "even at the cost of fighting one of the bitterest civil wars in history." He goes on to say:The maintenance of the partition of Ireland is as indefensible as aggressions against small nations elsewhere, which it is the avowed purpose of Great Britain and the United States in this war to bring to an end.I need scarcely develop these three propositions. Everyone remembers what the partition of Poland meant at the end of the 18th century, when Poland by a threefold partition was completely split up between Prussia, Russia and Austria. We remember the eloquent letter of the Empress Maria Theresa to her daughter Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, in which she said that the partition was contrary to her conscience but that she had made her son co-equal in the Empire and it was he who had forced through this policy. As for the comparison between the invasion by Germany of Belgium and Holland and the maintenance of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom, I shall not discuss it but shall leave it to my hearers to make their own comments.
What I would point out, however, is that the so-called partition of Ireland has three times been ratified by the Southern Irish themselves. It was first ratified in 1916 after the Easter Rebellion, when Mr. Asquith instructed the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caernarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) to enter into negotiations with both parties. It was agreed to by an overwhelming majority of the Nationalist representatives of Northern Ireland assembled in solemn conclave that they would, in order that Home Rule could be brought into operation immediately, assent to the exclusion of the six 626 counties of Northern Ireland. In the treaty of 1921 exactly the same guarantee was made. The Parliament of Northern Ireland had already been opened by the King in person on 22nd June, and when the treaty of December, 1921, was agreed to, it was made with the exclusion from the Irish Free State of the six northern counties. The frontier was the subject of a Boundary Commission, and when the commission would have come to a unanimous conclusion a copy of the proposed map was published by an indiscretion of the "Morning Post" on 7th November, 1925. The result was that the Government of the Free State took fright, came to the Prime Minister of this country, and concluded the famous Tri-partite agreement of December, 1925, under which the Irish Free State for the third time guaranteed the integrity of the six counties. That agreement was passed through both Houses of the Dublin Parliament by overwhelming majorities. Surely if any law could be binding, nothing could be more binding than that solemn agreement signed by the three Governments of Great Britain, the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland. It should not be forgotten that when the Agreement was signed, the Irish Free State was given the most valuable quid pro quo. The amount of the claim of Great Britain under Clause 5 of the Treaty of 1921 to receive from the Irish Free State a proportionate share of the public debt of the United Kingdom and the cost of the war was estimated by the then Prime Minister (Mr. Baldwin) in this House as no less than £150,000,000 and by Lord Birkenhead in the House of Lords at a similar sum. This Clause 5 was abrogated. A free gift of this liability was made to the Irish Free State—an act of amazing generosity—that sealed this most solemn agreement under which the Six Counties were guaranteed to Northern Ireland. To call it in question by a protest made to President Roosevelt against the landing of American troops in Northern Ireland and by the High Commissioner for Eire handing this protest in person to the Secretary of State for the Dominions was a breach of neutrality. We, in Northern Ireland, are never the attacking party. We are always on the defensive. Our one desire is to maintain our existing constitution ratified by so many general elections during the last 22 years. There is, however, a per- 627 petual sword of Damocles hanging over our heads owing to this continual obsession with regard to the so-called "crime of partition." Therefore we are obliged to act on the defensive. If we were left alone and allowed to work out our own salvation in peace there would never be any quarrel or dispute between the North and the South of Ireland. All we ask is for the maintenance of our existing constitution, three times guaranteed by the Irish Free State which surely is a point of honour to be observed inviolate by this country. I should like to develop these points at greater length, but the end of the time allocated to me has been reached. I would conclude by making an appeal to the House to believe that we come before it without any prejudice, without any bitterness and without any hatred towards the South but that we simply demand that we should be allowed to keep what we hold, preserve our existing Constitution and maintain the link to which we attach such immense importance, this link with Great Britain which means that we are part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Creech Jones (Shipley)
The hon. Member for Belfast University (Professor Savory) will not expect me at this time to enter into the somewhat tragic story of Ireland and deal with the points which he has raised. I would like to say on behalf of the Labour Party that we welcome this Debate on imperial relations. Debates in this House on imperial policy are, in our judgment, far too infrequent. It is not always realised that this House has a considerable responsibility in regard to imperial co-operation and particularly with respect to the 60,000,000 subject peoples inside the Colonial Empire. Our opportunities for discussion are far too few. Therefore we are glad that the hon. Member for South-East St. Pancras (Sir A. Beit) initiated this Debate, although on behalf of my party I must express a little amazement at his ignorance of the party's history. The Labour Party has a natural interest in overseas development because so many of its own kith and kin have gone out and played their part in the building up of the Commonwealth of Nations; because, too, in many of the Dominions young Labour Parties have taken root, have grown and have assumed the re- 628 sponsibility of office; and also because in the Labour Party we have tended to take a critical attitude over a long period of years in regard to imperialism and expansionist policy and other questions of Imperial policy. Our history as a party in regard to Empire affairs, in regard to the development of the Commonwealth, cannot be assailed, it is both deep and long.
In the nature of things this Debate must unfortunately appear and will read somewhat lopsided. Important territories have had to be excluded from our considerations to-day. The hon. Member for Belfast University reminded us of the significance of some of the problems in regard to Eire. We have also been reminded that this House should spend a little more time in discussing the future constitution and social progress of Newfoundland. Let me say in passing that we very much hope that reasonable facilities will be found for a full Debate on Newfoundland. We feel that it would be unjust to the people of Newfoundland if this House did not make it possible that at least one day should be given to a consideration of their affairs. At the same time let me say with what sympathy we listened to the proposals of the Government in regard to the future constitutional development of Newfoundland. It is too complex and important a statement for us to consider at this stage in to-day's Debate We should not allow the problems of this important territory to be, as it were, mixed up with the problems raised in the Debate to-day. We have also had to exclude from consideration so important a sub-continent as India, the future of Burma, the future of Southern Rhodesia, the future of Ceylon. Our discussion to-day has, in the nature of things, been within the narrow limits of unity inside the Dominions themselves.
There has been a great deal of common ground in the discussion. We are all tremendously conscious that to the people of the Dominions we are tied by sentiment, by good will, by gratitude and by comradeship—comradeship in arms and comradeship in defence of our common way of life. There is a very deep sympathy and understanding between us. Nevertheless, there is no going back on the independent sovereignty which the respective Dominions enjoy. They have developed a character of their own; they 629 are developing their own individuality; they have their own special problems; it is unlikely that our discussion would be fruitful if based on the assumption that the idea of federalism is at all practical.
I share the view that was put by the hon. Member for South-East St. Pancras as well as by the Under-Secretary, that federalism is not the way of advance, that the idea of federalism is not practical politics in any discussion of our relations with the Dominions. Nevertheless, we are moving into a more organised and a more closely knit world, and because of new problems of defence and the emergence of new Powers with wide-world interests it is wise that we should take stock to see whether the present set-up of consultation in the Commonwealth is adequate, whether there ought to be or can be other methods for improving co-operative action, and, in the shaping of policy whether new machinery or means can be found for promoting greater unity. I think the fact that Mr. Curtin has raised this matter compels us to give some serious consideration to it. It may be that our responsibilities, as the British nation, are global and that in the new conditions of the world they are increasingly difficult to discharge. We have to inquire whether and in what ways Britain should adjust itself to fit in with the economic and social development that is going on in the new world.
So far as consultation and co-operation between the Dominions are concerned we have heard a number of practical suggestions for improving the methods of co-operation but only those with practical executive experience can judge their value. It has been argued that there should be more frequent Imperial Conferences, that there should be a permanent Secretariat, that there should be a permanent office which should conduct research into the problems which are common to the Dominions and that there should be better machinery for maintaining in peace-time the daily consultations which have gone on during the war with the High Commissioners. I would respectfully suggest that all these proposals for the improvement of machinery are not for the British Government to impose but must be determined in consultation with the Dominions themselves. Each Dominion must be aware whether the existing machinery is suitable and adequate and whether it meets its needs. Consequently, 630 I think it would be unreasonable that this country should take the lead until it is clear that existing arrangements are inadequate for the Commonwealth's future needs. It seems to me to be a question which will have to be dealt with at the Imperial Conference or at a meeting of Dominion Prime Ministers. Let them express themselves as to what is required. I am perfectly certain that the British Government has the will and the desire that all should be done to promote greater unity and co-operation.
It is obvious that there are many problems which we share in common and on which consultations and closer unity would be of value. Some of those problems have been referred to to-day. There are the problems of immigration, communications, shipping, aviation and settlement. There are questions relating to world security and of Defence and how Britain should adjust herself to the new conditions. Of course there ought to be regular means of consultation on these problems, which are of vital interest and importance to all the members of the Commonwealth.
Further, there is a great deal we can learn inside the Commonwealth from one another. We are now all interested in problems of social security. Most of us, for instance, recognise that New Zealand can tell us and instruct us quite a good deal in that respect. Likewise, Australia has made a large number of interesting economic and social experiments which it would be to the advantage of this country to study. One welcomes the work which has been done by the Empire Parliamentary Association to promote greater understanding and contact among the Common-wealth peoples as well as in the publications which they issue from time to time informing us of the work which is being done in the Empire in the social, economic and political fields. But however desirable it may be to promote co-operation and unity I think it would be a mistake to imagine that the Dominion nations will always think as we do on many of the problems in which we have a common interest. That was well demonstrated on a number of vital issues before the war. Therefore we must be both tolerant and flexible in our ideas if we are to hope that effective unity either in foreign policy or even in problems of defence is to be achieved when the war is over merely by the creation of machinery. The opportunities for consultation should be there, with a 631 view to trying to reach unity of action and policy. I would also add that it seems to me that in developing co-operation and unity in the Commonwealth it would be unfortunate, and this is particularly true in the economic field, if we were to create the impression that we are trying to build up a bloc concerned only with our own material interests and not concerned with the larger interests of the world.
During the Debate the suggestion was made by quite a number of Members—it was mentioned particularly by the hon. Member for South East St. Pancras—that we should see to what extent the idea of Empire Regional Councils could be developed. I think that in general principle most of us would find ourselves in agreement because many of us are conscious that many of the problems of the great backward areas, the unregulated areas, the undeveloped areas, are likely to be solved only as a result of some kind of international consultation and international co-operation. Many of the great problems of the Continent of Africa, problems relating to health, of soil conservation, of irrigation—many such problems—are likely to be solved only as a result of the fullest co-operation of the persons, the countries, the peoples, the Powers, concerned in great regions. Therefore there is a great deal to be said for a beginning in such co-operation through the creation of Empire Regional Councils. But I would like to suggest or to offer a warning in regard to this particular proposition. The hon. Member for South East St. Pancras in speaking of these Councils said they would be associations of interested parties within the zone or area. What precisely does he mean? Does this mean that only the Imperial powers or the nations which have interests in this zone are to form the Councils?
§ Sir A. Beit
I would make it clear that when speaking about Empire Regional Councils I was not referring to the International Regional Councils which came up in another context in a speech by the Secretary of State for the Colonies and which I entirely support. I want to get Empire Regional Counicls going first. These would be an association of the various British Governments within a given area, Crown, Colonial, Dominion and United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Creech Jones
I accept that, of course. But it is important not only that the Governments as such should be represented on those Councils, but that the peoples who are affected by the decisions of those Councils should themselves be associated with the work which those zonal bodies do. It will not be sufficient to create the Regional Councils if the representation of the peoples concerned is ignored. The warning which I want to give in regard to Empire Regional Councils is that we must be extremely careful that the responsibility that rests on this House is not divided. We have taken on very profound commitments to the Colonial peoples, and we cannot share with others such definite obligations. When the Colonial Secretary made his announcement the other day in regard to Regional Councils for Colonial areas, there was an immediate reaction from the more enlightened and intelligent peoples of West Africa. They objected to any intermediate authority coming in between the Colony and the Colonial Power. In the development of such Councils, one has to be extremely careful that the Colonial peoples do not suspect the incorporation in the work of such bodies of peoples or powers or interests which they are apt to regard as reactionary. That is particularly true in regard to South Africa. Whatever may be the excellent intentions of Field-Marshal Smuts, there is a suspicion among all Africans that such co-operation with the Union Government may lead to the incorporation in the policy of such regional bodies of the somewhat reactionary native policy which operates in the Union of South Africa. I put that point by way of warning, because I and many members of my party are anxious that there should be some development of co-operation in the Imperial, as well as in the international, field.
We are under a great obligation to the Dominion nations. In turn, those nations are under a great obligation to us. If we can get unity of policy, we, the nations standing together inside the Commonwealth, can make an enormous contribution to peace and play a very great part in building up the world, restoring the backward areas, and creating those conditions on which the co-operation of all peoples can be based.
§ The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary 633 of State for the Dominions dealt, in what I thought an admirable speech, with a very large part of the subject matter of this Amendment. I intend to say only a few words. The Amendment regrets that there has not been an Imperial Conference. That cannot be an attack on His Majesty's Government, because the calling of an Imperial Conference is not an act of the Government of Great Britain. It is a matter for the consent of all the free and equal partners in the Commonwealth. What we have desired to get throughout the war is the greatest amount of co-operation and the greatest amount of meeting. We have for a long time tried to get a meeting of the Prime Ministers. The hon. and gallant Member for Basingstoke (Squadron-Leader Donner) was, I thought under an entire misapprehension. He seemed to have a picture of aggrieved Prime Ministers running from their Dominions over here to make their complaints. That is not the picture at all. On the contrary, we have constantly invited Prime Ministers to come over here. We have rejoiced when they have come, and we have invited them to come again. He suggested that Field-Marshal Smuts was running over here for some purpose of which he did not know. The fact is that Field-Marshal Smuts is a very great man, and everybody here appreciates his value fully.
§ Mr. Attlee
He asked what was the reason we had him running up here. He made the same remark with regard to other Dominions' representatives. He may not have meant it, but that is the impression he gave.
§ Squadron-Leader Donner
I did not say that the Prime Ministers of the Dominions travelled here to complain. What I did say was that imperfect machinery of inter-Imperial consultation was not solely but largely responsible for their invaluable visits and had made them necessary.
§ Mr. Attlee
I agree that we might have better machinery, but that was certainly the impression the hon. and gallant Member 634 gave. It was merely a matter of complaint that Prime Ministers only come here through the absence of other machinery. When you are dealing with matters in war-time, the only people who can really discuss them are responsible people, and you cannot get Prime Ministers very easily from their Dominions, and they cannot all come at the same time. That is the difficulty. The Dominions are in different climates, have their Parliaments meeting at different times, and they have their elections at different times, and it is extraordinarily difficult to assemble people here at the present time. It has been of immense value throughout the war that we have had a constant succession of visits from Prime Ministers of Dominions and other representatives, but we have not been able to gather them together at the same time. The Members who have spoken were wise to avoid the over-elaboration of theoretical Constitutions. Some people love to write great paper Constitutions for the world and the British Empire. That is certainly not the way in which we have built up our own democracy in this country, and it is not the way in which the relationship between the various parts of the Dominion has proceeded.
§ Mr. Attlee
That experiment has been going on for some time. I do not deny that that is a method which has worked in that country but it has not been so in our relations with Dominions. The strait waistcoat in which the Colonies were put by all kinds of law has gradually been loosened until they have arrived at a position of complete equality. What the world has been surprised at, is the way it works with that absence of machinery. I suggest that it is due to the fact that you have people with a common mind, a common outlook and a common method of working. We shall be very ill-advised if we try to over-elaborate now. The hon. and gallant Member for Basingstoke (Squadron-Leader Donner) went rather far in suggesting that we should have an Imperial Conference every ten months. I do not know whether he has had the advantage of attending an Imperial conference but I once assisted a Prime Minister at an Imperial conference, and it was a big "set out" and meant an awful lot of 635 work. I do not think that a constant succession of Imperial conferences every ten months would really indicate that we were closer to the Dominions any more than a number of very formal dinner parties means that you are specially friends with the people over the way. You are much more friendly if you can drop in for breakfast, so to speak. That is what really happens in the relationship of the British Commonwealth. There is a constant relationship, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said, in various ways, through High Commissioners, visits of Prime Ministers and correspondence, and it has far more effect than any number of grand parades. You want a certain number, but you will find that the value of an Imperial Conference has been rather to set a formal seal on what has already been accomplished than to start something quite new. On that general point, I rather agree with the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Palmer) than with the hon. and gallant Member for Basingstoke in his line as to how far we should endeavour to increase this machinery. Let me say how much I agree with him, and also with my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Creech Jones) when he emphasised the point. It is not a matter in which one part of the Commonwealth lays down machinery and says, "Take it or leave it," but it has to be worked out by all of them, It is no good suggesting that this would be a good idea if so-and-so proposed it. You have to know what the reception of others is to be, and you might find that they did not agree. Therefore, the method of trial and error by which we have worked has really worked pretty well. This close co-operation between every part of the Commonwealth and Empire will be extremely important in the post-war world.
I hope we have got away from that idea of the value of the extreme fragmentation of the world under absolute sovereignty. That has certainly not brought peace. Free association, of which I believe we are a notable example, is to my mind the way to get greater stability, and it is important that this immense area and their populations, all brought together with peaceful co-operation, should be there in the world as one of the big units. There are four big units, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the 636 United States, the British Commonwealth and Empire and China. On the whole we are more likely to get agreement between four big units than if all the world is cut up into small aggressively sovereign States. I should suggest that in the process of time and in the development of the British Commonwealth we have moved away from the time in which it was quite necessary to assert complete sovereignty, but, having arrived at the stage of equality, you can then get back and begin again building up full co-operation. There again I do not think that will be done by the over-elaboration of machinery.
I have only two other points to make. One is that I hope we shall have enough time to discuss fully the question of Newfoundland. That is obviously a separate question which could not be well mixed up with this Debate. The other is that I did not quite understand what the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Belfast University (Professor Savory) was after—I was not here all the time—but I will read his speech with great care and, I hope, draw great value from it. Meanwhile I suggest that the Debate has served a very useful purpose in emphasising that in this war one of the remarkable things has been the way in which every part of the Commonwealth has stood together under a tremendous strain, and that indicates the strength that there is in free institutions.
§ Mr. Maxton (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
Will the right hon. Gentleman indicate what form such a discussion would take? A good will mission was sent to get contact with the Newfoundland people and to return and report to Parliament. It would seem to me to be quite unfair to have a discussion on this matter on an Adjournment Motion, since the House is due to take important decisions as the result of their investigations.
§ Mr. Maxton
I refreshed my memory by carefully looking up in Hansard the 637 statement the right hon. Gentleman made when he announced the drawing-up of that mission. He very definitely promised this House that we would have a report from the members of the mission.
§ Mr. Attlee
I can assure the hon. Member that I said quite clearly that there was to be no written report. I recall very clearly what I said. I said I hoped that when the hon. Members came back to this country they would have an opportunity of talking to and informing other right hon. and hon. Members. The hon. Member is wrong in suggesting that the mission was sent out by this House. It was not; it was sent out by the Secretary of State for the Dominions.
§ Mr. Maxton
Yes, naturally, but it was representing this House and not His Majesty's Government. The right hon. Gentleman himself, in announcing it, laid stress on the fact that there were to be three Members of this House sent out, first of all to inform themselves and then to inform the House of Commons. I see that I have 10 more minutes left to me [HON. MEMBERS: "No."]. Well, the Government may wish to bring forward some other Business, but they have not asked my permission, and now that I have this time I do not need to limit myself to ordinary question and answer.
§ Dr. Russell Thomas
On a point of Order. I believe the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) rose to ask a question of the Deputy-Prime Minister. It is possible that two or three other Members, including myself, also want to ask questions. I believe that the hon. Member has not the Floor of the House and has not been called by you, Mr. Speaker.
§ Mr. Maxton
Mr. Speaker called me, but he certainly did not know what was up when he did so. The right hon. Gentleman was under an obligation to restore self-government to Newfoundland. He felt that this House needed to be better informed before coming to a final decision, and when pressed about the matter in the House he told us that he was sending out this good will mission and that it would be representative of the House. It was not a Royal Commission; it was quite informal—
§ Mr. Maxton
Informal, as representing this House. It was not tied up to the Dominions Office. The members of the mission were to come back here and 638 inform the House. They worked very hard. I remember referring jestingly to their mission as a "holiday," but after having had the opportunity of seeing their reports, by their personal good will, I have to admit that they worked hard on the job. They were there three months and now they have come back but have not been allowed to make any statement to the House.
§ Sir Frank Sanderson (Ealing)
Is the hon. Member aware that the three delegates have, in fact, made a very full report to-day upstairs, and does he not think it singularly unfortunate that that should have concurred with the Debate on the Floor of the House?
§ Mr. Maxton
I knew of the meeting upstairs, which was under the auspices of the Empire Parliamentary Association and was, presumably, in private.
§ Mr. Maxton
Yes, without the Press being present and without Newfoundland being able to hear what was going on. To treat three Members of this House, who devoted that amount of time to their job, by shoving them upstairs in a little room is a shocking insult. These men spent time like that at a period of the year when most of us want to be on holiday, and they travelled the length and breadth of the country examining every possible aspect of it, and when they come back here all we get is an outside organisation having a meeting upstairs. All I am urguing is that when this matters comes before the House it will not be on an Adjournment Motion, but will be on a specific Government Motion laying down how the Newfoundland situation is to be dealt with.
§ Sir A. Beit
In asking leave to withdraw the Amendment, I want to express my great disappointment that neither Government spokesmen have seen their way to give a strong lead to the Empire on the question of constitutional machinery, nor addressed themselves to regional councils and various other problems which I raised.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ Ordered, "That the Debate be now adjourned.—[Captain McEwen.]
§ Debate to be resumed upon the next Sitting Day.