HL Deb 05 June 1905 vol 147 cc629-64

rose 'To call attention to the resolution adopted by the Colonial conference of 1902 relating to future conferences; and to ask His Majesty's Government whether the Colonial Secretary has communicated with the Prime Ministers of the respective Colonies with a view to arranging for a conference, to be held next year. Whether having regard to the declarations made by members of His Majesty's Government on the subject of fiscal union with the Colonies, the Government are of opinion that an emergency has arisen, rendering it advisable to hold a special conference, as referred to in the said resolution; and whether it is contemplated to summon such special conference before or after a general election has taken place.

The noble Duke said. My Lords, my object in giving this notice and placing these Questions on the Paper is to endeavour to obtain from His Majesty's Government some clear statement and explanations which may, I trust, dispel a considerable amount of confusion which, I think, at present exists in the public mind as to the intentions of the Government of summoning a conference or conferences for the discussion of the fiscal relations between this country and the Colonies and Dependencies of the Empire. I do not think it will be denied that at the present moment considerable confusion does exist. I have no doubt His Majesty's Government have a perfectly clear idea of their intentions, and they probably are under the impression that the statements which they have made on the subject have been equally clear and explicit. But I doubt very much whether in the minds of all their own supporters equally clear ideas prevail, and certainly it is obvious that in the minds of the Opposition, and I must add, in the minds of some free-trade Unionists, members of the Unionist Party, considerable confusion does still exist. That such confusion exists is, I am afraid, unfortunately proved by recent proceedings in the other House of Parliament. As an old Member of that House I regret as much as any one can do some incidents of these proceedings, but it is not our business in this House to criticise the proceedings of the other House of Parliament, and much as we—and I certainly—regret some of the things which occurred in the course of these proceedings, I still must feel, as I do, that the regrettable incidents might have been and would have been avoided if at an earlier stage clear and explicit declarations had been made, such as I have no doubt we shall receive from His Majesty's Ministers in this House.

My Lords, I conceive that a considerable part of this confusion is due to inaccurate ideas which prevail as to the holding of the ordinary, or, as it is sometimes called, the automatic conference which is due to meet next year. Therefore, I have thought that it may be advisable that I should preface the Questions I desire to put to the Government by calling attention to the resolution of the conference of 1902, which, so far as I know, is the only authority on the subject of the reassembling of that conference. An impression seems to prevail from the constant use of the word "automatic" that the conference will meet again, as it were of itself next year, and that next year the Prime Ministers of the respective self-governing Colonies will again find themselves in Downing Street, and that in fact the conference of 1902 is simply adjourned until 1906. Now the resolution of the conference shows that this is an entire misapprehension. The terms of the resolution are these— That it would be an advantage to the Empire if a conference were held, as far as practicable, at intervals not exceeding four years, at which questions of common interest affecting the relations of the mother country and His Majesty's dominions over the seas could be discussed and considered as between the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Prime Ministers of the self-governing Colonies. The Secretary of State for the Colonies is requested to arrange such a conference after communication with the Prime Ministers of the respective colonies. In the case of any emergency arising a special conference may be deemed necessary. The next ordinary conference to be held not sooner than three years. Now, my Lords, that resolution does no more than express the opinion of the last conference as to the desirability of holding, if practicable, periodical conferences at intervals not exceeding four years, but it leaves to the Government entire responsibility for the summoning of the conference in any particular year. Such a conference can only be summoned if arrangements are made, after communication with the Prime Ministers of the respective colonies, which communication necessarily will convey full information as to the conditions under which the conference is held, and probably some intimation of the subjects which will come under consideration. It is to be further observed that the resolution makes special reference to the possibility, in the case of any emergency arising, of holding a special conference which may postpone, supersede, or precede the ordinary conference. It seems to me that, there is no such thing as an automatic conference, and that no conference can meet next year without action on the part of the Government, for which action they will be just as responsible as for any action they may take in summoning a special conference.

Having, I hope, made that part of the question clear, I will as briefly as I can recall the principal declarations which have been made in connection with the summoning of a conference to consider the fiscal relations between this country and the Colonies. The first reference to a Colonial Conference was made by Mr. Chamberlain in the House of Commons on May 28th, 1903, very shortly after he had raised the fiscal question. He then said— Suppose we have the authority of the nation to enter upon the consideration of this subject, the first thing we have to do is to go to the Colonies. Now, nothing could be worse than to negotiate with the Colonies and probably come to an agreement, and then at the next general election find that the whole idea was repudiated by the country. I can conceive nothing more dangerous to union than that. Therefore, before we begin to negotiate with the Colonies we must have some knowledge of what is the opinion of the people of the country with regard to the principle at stake. What was the principle at stake? It was the principle of the imposition of taxes upon food, which were protective in character, the only thing we could offer the Colonies to induce them to enter into fiscal relations with us. That suggestion or proposal of Mr. Chamberlain appears to have been, from the point of view of those who believed in the possibility of the policy of colonial preference, a most sensible and most businesslike proposal, and I do not understand why that proposal has ever been departed from. But that proposal met with no response from the then Government, and it was not further referred to by Mr. Chamberlain for a long time in the campaign upon which he subsequently entered. It was on August 1st, 1904, that Mr. Chamberlain returned to the subject, and he then made a totally different proposal altogether. He then said— I go, therefore, one step further than I have ever gone before in connection with anything this Government may do. I urge upon my right hon. friend the Prime Minister specially to consider whether, in view of the importance of this question and the primary importance of knowing what it is the Colonies really wish, what it is they are prepared to do, he should not ask them both questions; whether he should not call a conference from the Colonies, a conference of representatives to meet to consider the subject in order that the House and the country may discover whether what I have said on the subject is based upon real knowledge and experience, or whether those are right who from the first, almost before they knew what my policy would be, determined to oppose it on mere Party grounds. That was a proposal entirely the reverse of the original proposal. It was a proposal to call a Colonial Conference and negotiate with them before the opinion of the country on the principle at stake was ascertained; and that is the proposal, so far as I understand, that the Government and Mr. Chamberlain are now alike pledged to support. But no answer was returned at the time to that further appeal, and, I think, that later in the session, in answer to a direct Question, the Prime Minister said that the Government had no present intention of summoning a Colonial Conference to discuss the question of fiscal relations.

However, very shortly afterwards the Prime Minister announced as a discovery of his own—having forgotten apparently that an ordinary conference was due to meet next year—that a special conference was the only solution of the difficulties in which we find ourselves placed. The conference which the Prime Minister then announced was clearly a special conference, which was only to be summoned after a general election, at which a mandate to hold it had been given by the country. We were informed that such a conference was needed because we were in an impasse which was dangerous to the Empire as a whole, and from which the discussion in such a conference offered the only means of escape. It was to include representatives from India "arid the Crown Colonies, as well as the Prime Ministers of the self-governing Colonies. Above all, it was to be a free and unfettered conference, and the delegates attending it were to be bound by no instructions.

I admit that I, myself, have never entertained any great expectations that good results would follow from such a conference. I have always thought that the principle first put forward by Mr. Chamberlain that we should ascertain the opinion of our own country first and negotiate with the Colonies afterwards was the right course upon which to proceed. I have always doubted whether the conditions laid down for the special conference were possible conditions. I have always thought that the delegates attending such a conference could not be without a knowledge of the wishes and desires of those whom they represented, which would amount practically to instructions, and that, therefore, the idea of a perfectly free and unfettered conference was altogether illusory; and I have also always doubted whether the Prime Ministers of the self-governing Colonies were likely to be willing to attend a conference under such vague and uncertain conditions. I admit also that the idea of this conference has never been accepted by the Opposition. But the question is not what I think or what the Opposition think about the proposed conference. The question is what are the conditions which were clearly understood to be the conditions, under which this conference was to meet, if it ever did meet? The first was that it was not to meet till after the general election; and the next was that, whatever might be its conclusions, they were to be submitted to the people of this country and the people of the Colonies by means of another general election before any action was taken with regard to them. From the very outset, and up to a very recent time, there has never been any doubt whatever as to those essential conditions. It is true that Mr. Chamberlain protested against the necessity of a second general election to confirm the conclusions which might be arrived at by the proposed conference; but neither Mr. Chamberlain nor anybody else, so far as I am aware, has disputed the necessity or desirability of a general election to precede the proposed conference. Indeed, this Colonial Conference to follow the general election had become the main, feature of the policy of the Government upon the fiscal question.

In the present session of Parliament, as well as in the last, the Government have refused to disclose their opinion upon the fiscal system advocated by Mr. Chamberlain on the ground that such a disclosure would impair the freedom of the open mind of the conference, and for the same reason neither House of Parliament has been permitted to pass any Resolution touching any of the subjects to be discussed at the conference. Very recently, however, doubts have arisen as to those generally accepted condition, and we are led to believe that it is possible that a conference, though not the conference, may be held next year previous to the general election. I think it was my noble friend the Foreign Secretary who first gave us official intimation of such a possibility, and that the ordinary conference might meet next year, and that it might, if it thought fit, discuss the question of fiscal relations. But my noble friend added to that a statement that there would be all the difference in the world between the discussions of a conference which met after it received a mandate from the people and a conference which met without it.

Now I desire to ask my noble friend to give us a little further explanation as to this somewhat cryptic utterance. We can all see that there is all the difference in the world between the discussions of these two conferences. What I want to know is what he considers to be the effect of that most obvious difference. Does he mean that the discussions of the ordinary conference on fiscal relations will be purely academic, mere talk, and will have no effect whatever? Is it within the power of my noble friend to bind the Government entirely to disregard and ignore discussions, and perhaps the resolutions which may be come to in such a conference? It is still more impossible for him to pledge himself that such discussions and resolutions may not be used as convincing arguments in support of a certain policy at the subsequent general election, which is to decide whether another conference is to be held for the purpose of discussing the same questions which have been already discussed. I cannot conceive any procedure which would be more prejudicial to the cause of Imperial unity than that the resolutions of a Colonial Conference should be, as they undoubtedly would be, dragged in the course of a general election into our own Party politics. To summon any conference next year that shall be empowered to discuss the question of fiscal relations would be a breach of the spirit, if not of the letter, of the assurances which have been given us.

A suggestion has been made, not by the Government themselves, but certainly by some of the supporters of the Government, that the ordinary conference which may meet next year may possibly not only meet but may supersede the conference which has been promised after a general election. I do not assume for a moment, until I hear it from the lips of a responsible Minister, that any such suggestion has ever been entertained by the Government themselves. I regret that some countenance should have been given to such a suggestion by the Prime Minister in the other House, to the effect that the Edinburgh speech was not a pledge, but only a declaration of policy. We are not accustomed to scrutinise with verbal minuteness the declarations of Ministers of the Crown; we are not accustomed to apply to them the sort of minute examination which we should apply to a legal document or an agreement between litigants; but when a Minister of the Crown informs us that a conference will be held after a general election, plain men do not expect that it is intended that a conference will be held before a general election. I pass that suggestion by as one that is dishonouring to the Government, and I say it is my opinion that the intention of holding a conference before a general election, preliminary to that which has been promised to us after a general election, will be a breach of the spirit, if not of the letter, of the assurance that has been given to us, and that the holding of any such conference must tend to impair the perfect freedom and independence of the subsequent Imperial Conference on which the Government have always laid so much stress.

I do not think that when the Government assumed, as they have somewhat lightly assumed, that the ordinary conference may meet next year, and that it would be open to them to discuss the fiscal relations between ourselves and the Colonies, they could have fully considered what that assumption involves. It would not be, I think, a reasonable, respectful, or even a decent thing to ask the Prime Ministers of self-governing Colonies to come here, to tell them it was open to them to discuss fiscal relations and perhaps pass resolutions, and then when they have done their work to tell them it would all go for nothing, and that they were expected to meet here again next year to discuss the same questions with minds perfectly free and uninfluenced by anything which they may have resolved upon in that conference. I presume that the Prime Ministers have something to do besides travelling backwards and forwards across the seas to attend conferences here, especially if that entailed entering on perfectly fruitless and inconclusive discussions. The Questions I have put on the Paper are perfectly plain and simple, and I think they are also legitimate, for I can conceive no point of public policy which can be in the least injuriously affected by a plain, direct Answer to them. The first Question has already been answered in the House of Commons since I put it on the Paper; we have been informed that no communications have yet been addressed to the Prime Ministers of the Colonies with a view to the conference of next year. The Government are, therefore, still perfectly free to summon that conference or not, as they may think fit. But I will add to that Question a further Question—whether, now that they have been able to consider the subject, they intend to summon that conference next year, and, if they do so intend, whether it will be with or without any restrictions on the subjects to be discussed.

As to the second Question, which is equally plain, the Government have informed us that an emergency has arisen such as that which was contemplated under the resolution of the conference of 1902, which, in their opinion, necessitates the summoning of a special conference. I ask them whether they still adhere to that intention, and, if so, whether it will be summoned before or after a general election takes place. I had no intention when I put these Questions down of making them the occasion of a speech on the fiscal question, and I have no such intention now; nor do I think the speech which has been since delivered by the Prime Minister at the Albert Hall would, of itself, render necessary any observations on my part. I did not find in that speech anything in the nature of a fresh exposition of policy; I read that speech as a plea for unity, for restored unity in the Unionist Party. I understood him to complain, to regret, that both sections of the Unionist Party—that which was in favour of tariff reform, and that which was opposed to any policy in the nature of colonial preference—were inclined to exaggerate the differences which had always existed in the Conservative and Unionist Party, and which, he thought, were not altogether absent from the Party opposite. I understood that speech as nothing more than an appeal to his followers to give a fair consideration to the proposals which he might make as to retaliation as a means of negotiation with foreign countries, and as to colonial preference. I certainly understood him to do no more than ask them to suspend; their judgment until they saw what might result from the conference which it was intended to summon.

But, my Lords, another speech, which has since been made, has placed a totally different signification on the meaning of the speech of the Prime Minister. Mr. Chamberlain has informed us that the Prime Minister's speech contained a clear exposition of the policy of the Government—not only of the Prime Minister but of the Government, at the next general election. He has informed us that it is a policy so clear that it could not be misunderstood, even by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. That policy was that tariff reform was the most important part of Unionist policy, that colonial preference was the most important part of tariff reform, and that colonial preference, therefore, would be the first item in the Unionist programme. And your Lordships must remember that it has always been admitted on both sides of the question that protective taxation of food is an essential element of colonial preference. Mr. Chamberlain was good enough to say that he could heartily subscribe to the policy thus defined by himself, and he added that if there were any extremists in the Unionist Party who were unable to subscribe to it, the Unionist Party was better without them. After the most attentive consideration which I have been able to give to it, I have found no such clear exposition of policy in the Prime Minister's speech.

If I had desired, which I do not desire, to offer any criticism of that speech, it would have been simply the old one of its vagueness and indefiniteness as to the policy which had been advocated by Mr. Chamberlain as tariff reform, but I have not been able to discover a word which would justify the commentary which has been given upon it by Mr. Chamberlain. Although I fully admit that this question does not come within the scope of the notice which I have given, I do not feel any doubt that my noble friend the Leader of the House will be glad of the earliest opportunity of stating whether the policy which is clearly defined by Mr. Chamberlain is the policy of the Prime Minister and of the Government; whether in future we are to take the policy of the Government from the Prime Minister or Mr. Chamberlain, and, in short, whether it is Mr. Chamber lain or the Prime Minister who is Leader of the Unionist Party. My Lords, I beg I to put the Question, of which I have given notice.


My Lords, the noble Duke told your Lordships a moment ago that he had placed on the Notice Paper two plain Questions to which he expected a reply, and I think it will best suit your Lordships' convenience that before I notice any other portions of the speech which he delivered I should give to those two plain Questions the plain Answers which the noble Duke calls for. The noble Duke asks, in the first place— Whether the Colonial Secretary has communicated with the Prime Ministers of the respective colonies with a view to arranging for a conference to be held next year. I think the noble Duke observed incidentally that that Question had already been answered, and that he was aware of the purport of the Answer, but I will perhaps add, for his information, that the Secretary of State for the Colonies in his communications with the Colonial Governments has certainly assumed that the resolution of 1902 would lead to the reassembling of a Colonial Conference. No arrangements have, however, been made as to the subjects which might be dealt with by that conference in 1906, supposing, for the sake of argument, that a conference were to meet in that year, The second Question asked is— Whether, having regard to the declarations; made by members of His Majesty's Government on the subject of fiscal union with the Colonies, the Government are of opinion that an emergency has arisen rendering it advisable to hold a special conference as referred to in the said resolution; and whether it is contemplated to summon such special conference before or after a general election hag taken place. As to that, I have to say that, if we are returned to power at the next general election, we shall invite the Colonies and other parts of the British Empire to take part in a special conference before which the subject of colonial preference will certainly come up for discussion. That is a simple Answer to the two Questions which the noble Duke has put to me. But in his observations the noble Duke called attention to the confusion which, he said, prevailed in the public mind on this subject—confusion which, he said, was largely due to the inconsistencies and discrepancies which he detected in the statements which have been made from time to time by His Majesty's Ministers.

I am tempted to digress for a moment on the subject of Ministerial speeches. It is, I think, a not altogether fortunate feature of our modern political life that Ministers, and particularly Prime Ministers, are constantly expected to deliver public speeches on the platform upon the most important subjects. The result is that an immense number of obiter dicta are accumulated which afford opportunities for the kind of comment and criticism to which we have listened to-night, and these speeches are, of course, supplemented by the ingenious interrogatories to which Ministers have from time to time to submit, with the result that boundless opportunities are offered for that verbal minuteness of examination which the noble Duke told us this evening he desired to avoid. Although in such circumstances it would, I cannot help thinking, be not very unnatural that there should be some slight discrepancies of diction, I submit to your Lordships that upon the point with which the noble Duke has dealt to-night the main statements of the Prime Minister have been absolutely clear and distinct. We have been referred to the Edinburgh speech. May I read to your Lordships a short extract from that speech? It runs thus— My view, therefore, is that the policy of this Party should be, if we come into power after the next election, to ask the Colonies to join a conference on these lines—a conference in which the discussions shall be free, but whose conclusions shall not commit any of the communities concerned to any large plan of Imperial union on fiscal or other lines unless their various electorates have given their adhesion to the scheme. I desired to read that passage to your Lordships in order to emphasise the words— If we come into power after the next election. At Manchester the Prime Minister made another not less important declaration, and one not less distinct. He described the conference, and he went on to use these words— When these delegates have come to a conclusion, as I hope they will, when they have approved a scheme, as I trust they may, that will have to be referred not merely to the electorates of the various self-governing Colonies, but to the electorate of this country. The Prime Minister has again and again announced in public that to these pledges he adhered, and that he had no intention of departing from them. The result of that seems to me to be this—that you have, in the plainest and most distinct language, the announcement of the Prime Minister that if we come into power after the next general election, and only then, there will be a special conference held after that election, and that the conclusions of that conference would be submitted to the judgment of the country on the occasion of a second general election. That seems to me to be a plain statement which needs no further explanation.

It is quite true that when those statements were made both those who made them and, I think, those who listened to them were under the impression that in the natural order of things a general election would take place before a conference was likely to be held.

But during our more recent discussions a new hypothesis has been advanced— the hypothesis which the noble Duke elaborated so fully during his speech. The hypothesis is that the time might come when, for one reason or another, it would be desirable to hold another conference, and that at that time the present Government might still be in power. And upon that we are asked what, in such an eventuality, would happen? Would the conference meet? If it meets, what will it do? If it comes to any conclusions, what will be the weight and importance of those conclusions? The noble Duke, I think, suggested that we might possibly take an unfair advantage of any conclusions which a conference, so summoned, might arrive at in order to prejudice public opinion in this country with regard to the question of tariff reform. I cannot help thinking that we might well protest against being asked to give to the public premature revelations either as to the date of the dissolution or the date at which it might suit those concerned that a conference should be held. I am not aware— I can be corrected if I am wrong—that it has been usual for the Government of the day to take the Opposition of the day into its confidence as to the precise moment when an appeal was likely to be made to the constituencies.

As to the date of the meeting of the conference, I will ask your Lordships to bear in mind that that is a matter which certairily does not rest with the Government alone. It rests not only with the Government, but with the Colonies, and I am bound to say that while I differ from much that was said by the noble Duke, I agreed with him when he took exception to the use of the word "automatic" in connection with the conference which might be held in the year 1906. I think it is a misnomer. I do not know who invented the term; it was a convenient way of describing the recurrent it ordinary conference as distinguished from the special conference, and it has acquired a certain currency in the language of the moment. The noble Duke is quite correct in saying that such a conference—call it automatic or not—could not be called together except upon the responsibility of the Government of the day. It is, however, equally true that it could not be called together unless the Colonies desired to take part in the deliberations of such a conference. I do not know that there is very much advantage in pursuing these conjectural arguments, but if the noble Duke asks me for my opinion—for the opinion of His Majesty's Government—I will tell him that in our view it is quite conceivable that a conference might meet in the year 1906 in spite of the fact that His Majesty's Government were still in power at the time, and that no appeal to the constituencies had therefore taken place. I will say that if, for any particular reason, the Colonies specially desired to send their representatives to this country in such circumstances, we should certainly think twice before we discouraged them from doing so; and I would add that I feel no doubt that, if the Colonies did think it worth while to send their representatives here, those representatives would find useful and important work to do.

I am struck in these discussions by the fact that we constantly speak as if the only work which the Colonial Conference could possibly undertake was the task of considering the question of tariff reform. You will find that at previous conferences the colonial representatives have in fact discussed a number of other questions, such, for example, as shipping subsidies, weights and measures, patent law, and questions concerning the administration of posts and telegraphs; and I have even heard it suggested not long ago by a friend and ally of noble Lords opposite that if the Colonial Conference were to come together, it would very likely desire to deal with the question of Chinese labour. I say, therefore, that there is to my mind nothing abhorrent in the idea, supposing His Majesty's Government to be still in power next year, of a Colonial Conference being held in such circumstances. I go further, and I say that its conclusions, whatever they might be, would in our view be entitled to the utmost respect; and that we do not for an instant believe that, even if we desired to do so, we could withhold those conclusions from the knowledge and consideration of the people of this country. But, having said that much, I certainly wish to add that in our opinion, if I may repeat the words which I used at this Table not long ago and which the noble Duke did me the honour of quoting, there would be all the difference in the world between a conference held under those conditions and a special conference summoned after a general election and armed with a mandate derived from the people of this country.

Such a conference—a conference held before the general election, a conference which the noble Duke describes as "an ordinary conference" —would certainly not, in our view, as far as the question of colonial preference is concerned, be a perfect or complete conference. India would not be able to take part in its deliberations, and neither on the side of the Imperial Government nor on the side of the Colonies would it be possible for those who participated in its proceedings to do so with the authority and with the confidence which they would derive if they had been fortified by a mandate from the people of this country received at the general election. I say, therefore, unequivocally, that in our view such a conference, if it were held, could not supersede or take the place of that special conference to which the Prime Minister referred, and which we should desire to summon after a general election had taken place. Nor should we, on the strength of the conclusions of such an imperfect conference, consider ourselves justified in recommending to the people of this country a policy involving fundamental alterations in the relations of the different parts of the British Empire to one another.

I have treated the noble Duke's hypothesis seriously, and with the respect to which anything coming from him is entitled; but I am bound to say that I feel strongly that the discussion of this point has a considerable amount of unreality about it. I ask your Lordships, as practical men of business, to consider what the situation is likely to be when the four years have expired, and when the so-called automatic conference might be assembled in this country. It would be due to assemble in the month of June, 1906. Now, by that time His Majesty's Government will be half-way through the sixth year of their term of office. I find that of fourteen Governments since the year 1837 only two have reached the full limit of six years; and, therefore, it seems to me not unreasonable to say that by the month of June, 1906, according to all human probability, we shall be within a measurable distance [much laughter]—well, I will say upon the eve—of a general election. I ask your Lordships whether it is very likely that at such a moment and in such circumstances any Government will be very likely to press the Colonies to send their representatives here to take part in such deliberations; and I also ask your Lordships whether, looking at it from the other point of view, it is very likely that the Colonies themselves would care to send their representatives for such a purpose.

The noble Duke drew a picture of the colonial delegates assembling here, encouraged by His Majesty's Government, to break their teeth upon all these difficult problems; and then of our telling them that they had better go away, because there would be a general election followed by a second conference, and that all their labour was in vain. But surely that is a consideration which would occur to anyone, not after the delegates had arrived, but when we were considering whether to summon the delegates or not. Looking at it therefore as a practical question, it seems to me humanly certain that these difficulties which the noble Duke anticipates will not arise, and that we may safely concern ourselves, not with that which will precede a general election, but with that which will follow it. At that general election the subject of tariff reform will beyond all question loom largest in the mind of the public. It is not a question which, even if we wished it to take a back seat, would be content to do so. Nor shall we attempt to smother or get rid of it. In this connection the noble Duke referred to the speech delivered by Mr. Chamberlain on Saturday last, and he took exception to that speech as differing widely from the speech delivered by Mr. Balfour at the Albert Hall. I do not know that I have collated the two speeches with the same care that the noble Duke has bestowed on them. But I confess it seemed to me that Mr. Chamberlain had taken his description almost textually from Mr. Balfour's speech. [Cries of "No, no!"] Will the noble Duke tell me where the difference is?


Will the noble Marquess read out the words quoted by the noble Duke?


The words attributed by Mr. Chamberlain to Mr. Balfour were that— Colonial preference is the most important part of tariff reform. That appears to me to be a truism. He said that colonial preference would therefore be the first item in the future Unionist programme. I do not know whether those are the exact words used by Mr. Balfour or not, but of this I am sure, that Mr. Balfour dwelt, as I did a moment ago, on the fact that perforce this subject, I mean the subject of a Colonial Conference to which the question of colonial preference was to be referred, would assert itself and occupy the most prominent place in the minds of the constituencies.

If I had known that the noble Duke was going to compare these two speeches so minutely I would have taken more trouble to examine the two texts. But at any rate I will take upon myself to say that in our proposals, whenever the time comes for going to the country, we shall certainly put in the forefront of our programme, in the first place, the policy of retaliation as described by Mr. Balfour at Sheffield, and in the next place the policy of calling a free and unfettered Colonial Conference at which the question of colonial preference will certainly be examined. We implore those of our friends who believe that the relations between the different parts of the Empire are capable of improvement not to prejudge the question, and not to assume, as the noble Duke assumes, that this conference is predestined to failure. As for us, we shall abide loyally by the result of the appeal which will be made to the people of this country. If we are successful we shall not depart from the pledges we have given; if we are not successful, then we disappear and our pledges with us. It will then be for noble Lords opposite and their friends to show us—and I hope that at the proper time they will condescend to do so—how they intend to deal with a question which I honestly believe has moved the people of this country as no other question in recent years has moved them.


My Lords, I am sure the majority of your Lordships will have heard some portions of my noble friend's speech with great satisfaction. Although his language has been somewhat diplomatic, we understand there is to be no conference summoned under the resolution of 1902 before the next general election. If this be so, I would appeal to my noble friend whether the opinion, which he has expressed as that held by His Majesty's Government, ought not to be specifically announced. He has told us that the Colonial Secretary, Mr. Alfred Lyttelton, has made suggestions to the Colonies, and informed the Prime Ministers that this conference is likely to be held, and that though no specific arrangement has been made as to the terms, yet the Colonial Ministers have been informed by the Colonial Secretary that there is a prospect of the conference meeting. Surely, in courtesy to the Prime Ministers, the opinion of the Government ought to be announced.

As the noble Duke has pointed out, it must be by the summons of His Majesty's Government that the colonial representatives will come here. At present the Colonies are left in an uncertain position by the statement of the Government, and the doubt which is bound to arise among the colonial representatives as to whether or not the fiscal question could be raised by them at the conference. A statement ought to be made by His Majesty's Government clearly defining the colonial position as well as their own, for it is quite possible that, as the question stands at present, a colonial representative might come forward at the conference and insist upon discussing great questions of Imperial policy, or to urge that the corn or meat of his colony should be given a preference over the similar imports of other nations. Can any member of His Majesty's Government say that such a discussion as that may not take place if such a conference were held in 1906? But the serious portion of the statement made by the noble Marquess affects every man in the country who makes free trade a conspicuous portion of his political programme. More important than anything in the noble Marquess' speech is, perhaps, what he has left unsaid.

A statesman of the highest authority, who aspires to control the action of Parties in relation to fiscal policy, announced on Saturday the policy of His Majesty's Government, apparently with a full appreciation of the responsibility of the statement. It was not the right hon. Gentleman's own policy, or even the policy of the Prime Minister, but the policy of the whole of the Unionist Party; and what everybody wishes to hear is a I simple "Yes" or "No," as to whether that statement is correct. I do not think the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs quite appreciated the language of Mr. Chamberlain. This is what he said— Mr. Balfour says that colonial preference is the most important part of tariff reform. Mr. Balfour says that colonial preference will therefore be the first item in the future Unionist programme. The noble Marquess asked, Is not this true? Will not the question of a Colonial Conference be the question before the country at the next election? I have no doubt it will; but that is not I what Mr. Chamberlain said. Speaking for the Unionist Party and for the Government, he pledged himself that the principal feature of the programme of the Unionist Party as a whole at the next election shall be colonial preference; and he has said, and Mr. Balfour has said, that I colonial preference cannot be carried into effect without imposing taxation on the necessaries of life. Those who differ from this policy, however, are apparently to be told that the sooner they quit the ranks of the Unionist Party the better it will be.

Now, in all courtesy, I ask my noble friend whether he agrees that if a Unionist cannot see his way to put taxation of food as the first item in the Unionist programme, then he ought to leave the Party. Personally I do not want to leave the Unionist Party. But I say that if taxation of food is to be the first item in the Unionist programme, if this test of Mr. Chamberlain is to be the test applied to Unionists by the Government, many a member within the ranks of that Party now, and many more outside, who in loyalty and allegiance to their leader have remained silent up to now will not accept this test. They will make it their first effort during the existence of their political life to strive against this policy which has been announced as being necessary to their political existence. The future may be a sad one for many Unionist free-traders. That future, according to this decree against them, will have to be solved by events and action; I cannot foresee it, I cannot foretell with what Party we shall be in alliance; but, my Lords, we shall be in alliance with men in this country who are unselfish, not caring for their own gain. We shall have as allies men of common sense desiring to see the prosperity of our country and the people, who already suffer from a scantiness of the necessaries of life and whose condition we will not injure if we can possibly prevent it. Some members of the Unionist Party who hold these views, those who have laboured hard to support the Unionist Party, looking with apprehension to the future that will come, venture to speak now and to express a hope that even yet something will be done by men within the Party to check this wild career of ambition and recklessness.


My Lords, I can well understand my noble and learned friend opposite, who until lately was a member of the present Government, making a strong protest; and we who adhere strongly to the great principles of free trade are, I think, justified in rising to express our opinions on the Motion of the noble Duke. Why has this Motion been brought forward? It has been brought forward because recently there has been a departure from the earlier utterances and pledges of the Prime Minister at Edinburgh and else where. We do not complain of the original statements of the Prime Minister. They were clear and definite, particularly those to which the noble Marquess has referred. But later we have found a great vagueness and uncertainty about the position of the Prime Minister, and we consider it to be indispensable to have a clear declaration of policy from His Majesty's Government.

We all know that an attempt was made to obtain that declaration in another place, and subsequently a vote of censure was submitted; but it could not be brought forward owing to the unfortunate illness of Mr. Balfour. Since then the Prime Minister has happily recovered and made a speech to his supporters at the Albert Hall; but even in that speech we do not find any assertion of the original pledges distinctly made. Again there is an element of vagueness and doubt which, I am afraid, has so often characterised the speeches of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister repudiated the word "pledge." He said this was a declaration of policy at Edinburgh to his own followers, and was not a pledge made to the country at large. In the debate, nearly two months ago, the noble Marquess spoke of pledges, and again on this occasion he spoke of pledges, and I think it inconceivable how utterances like those of a Prime Minister could be other than pledges to the country at large and to those who study this subject. These pledges, moreover, regulated votes and the action of many in the House of Commons who belong to his Party. But it affects the whole country besides, and therefore it seems to be essential that we should get a clear utterance again of the policy of His Majesty's Government.

The noble Marquess, as far as I can make out, has repeated very much what he said in his speech of April 11th in this House. He stated that if the present Government were in power they would call a conference after the general election, but that no general conference would be held unless a previous election had taken place, and that when that conference had debated and, with the Colonial Premiers, had formulated proposals those proposals would be again submitted to the country. I understood the noble Marquess to repeat those statements to-night as being the deliberate opinion of His Majesty's Government. He rather hinted, as has been often hinted before, that before long there will be a general appeal to the country and that that would solve a great many difficulties. The noble Marquess was not so clear in regard to the conference to be held on the basis of the conference of 1902. He said it is conceivable it might be held, but I think on the whole we might infer that the probability in his mind was that the Government and the Colonial Secretary would not summon that conference.

The difficulty about this conference has been very great, and there were two alternative suggestions for solving that difficulty. One was not to hold the conference, and the other was a dissolution early next year. So far as I am concerned I lean towards a dissolution rather than the other solution. I can only say that the solution hinted at is one that will be welcome to all those with whom I act in Parliament. The noble Duke referred to the speech of the other great leader—I am not sure whether he is the opponent, rival, or ally of the present Prime Minister. If we cannot get all the information we want from the speech of the Prime Minister, I think we are bound to see what Mr. Chamberlain has said in his speech at St. Helens. I do not think the noble Marquess properly interpreted what he said on that occasion. Mr. Chamberlain said— We have a policy on which we are united— a policy prepared by our leader and accepted by the majority of the people. And he went on to say that he had confidence in the Prime Minister, and that every loyal Unionist would be grateful to him for the lead which he had been able to give them. And then Mr. Chamberlain used these words— Mr. Balfour says that colonial preference is the most important part of tariff reform, and that colonial preference will, therefore, be the first item in the future Unionist programme —and he referred to what has been said over and over again, that in order to have colonial preference it is essential that there should be a certain duty upon food.


In saying that the right hon. Gentleman was careful to explain that he was expressing his own opinion.


I quite admit that he interpolated some sentences between his description which I have just given of the Government Policy and all he said about duties on food, but everybody knows that colonial preference cannot be given unless we put a duty upon food, whether corn and wheat in regard to Canada, wool in regard to Australia, or meat in regard to New Zealand. We are bound, then, to ask distinctly whether His Majesty's Government do fall in with this declaration of their policy, which was given with such authority and clearness by the right hon. Gentleman. Then we have, besides that, the right hon. Gentleman's view with regard to the conferences. At Luton he most clearly laid down his difference from Mr. Balfour on that subject, and he said he could not possibly agree to delaying the matter for the period that would be necessary if, after the conference had been held, the question was referred for a second time, for a mandate from the people. If Mr. Chamberlain now declares that he entirely agrees with the Prime Minister, whom he calls his leader, are we to understand that Mr. Chamberlain has given way on that point or has the Government given way? The question is so important, having moved the country more than any question has done for many years, that we are bound to press for a clear Answer—Does the Government agree to the policy which Mr. Chamberlain says they have now put forward, and as to which he says he entirely agrees?


My Lords, I am rather surprised that no member of His Majesty's Government has risen to answer the appeal made to them by my noble friend near me (Lord James of Hereford) and by the noble Earl opposite. I agree that they are entitled to say that no definite notice has been given of this particular Question, but it seems to me that the Question they are now asked is so simple that it is inconceivable that they are not able to answer it without notice. I will endeavour to state it in, I hope, calm and accurate language, and I at once admit that if they prefer not to give an Answer to-day they are within their rights. But the particular Question to which I and others want an Answer is one of such vital importance to us, believing ourselves to be loyal members of the Unionist Party, that we desire to know exactly where we stand.

Most of us, I think, have read the speech delivered by the Prime Minister as our leader at the Albert Hall on Friday. I am bound to say the suspicion rises in my mind that all the members of His. Majesty's Government have not read the speech which Mr. Chamberlain made at St. Helens. For my part, I read the Prime Minister's speech as a temperate and careful attempt to heal differences in the Unionist Party. I am perfectly certain that was his intention, though. I am obliged to say I think that in some respects his language was not altogether distinct. There can be no doubt, however, that in that part of his speech which was devoted to the fiscal question he desired to heal Party differences rather than to accentuate them. He distinctly asked—he put it as a question, and not as a criticism—whether we had not been too ready to magnify our differences, to separate ourselves into different sets of organisations; and he added that there had always been differences in the Unionist Party on economic questions. These are the words which, after that preamble, he used— My complaint about our friends is not that they differ upon free trade and protection, but that they cannot sink a difference which is, an my judgment, immaterial to the programme which I have ventured to lay before the country and before the Party to which I belong for their acceptance. And in regard to the Colonial Conference the Prime Minister took the same line. He asked that the whole subject should be dealt with on Imperial grounds, that there should be a free conference with our fellow-subjects in the Colonies and India, and that the country should suspend their judgment until they saw the plan; and then he asked, Is that an unreasonable demand? I think that as it stands it is not an unreasonable demand. I say so frankly.

I separated myself, as everybody knows, from my colleagues on the question of retaliation, and I did so because I could not understand how, consistently with free trade, that policy was to be carried out. But now the Prime Minister asks us to suspend our judgment, and asks if that is an unreasonable demand. I say that it is not an unreasonable demand. But that is not the position taken up by the influential member and supporter of the Party who spoke at St. Helens. After saying that he expected the whole country would unanimously call for a conference, the right hon. Gentleman proceeded to give what he described as the official policy at the next election. Mr. Chamberlain said— The Prime Minister said that colonial preference is the most important part of tariff reform, that colonial preference will therefore be the first item in the future Unionist programme, and that there should he a free conference, and that we should be free afterwards to consider and deal with the results, whatever they may be. But the right hon. Gentleman did not suspend his judgment. He assumed that the proposed conference would not be a free and unfettered conference, that, on the contrary, the Government would go into it with a policy of preference, which, as we all know, includes the taxation of food, and he added that those who, like myself, were not able to see eye to eye with him on that point, had better pack up our luggage and depart from the Unionist Party. I ask, Is that the correct version of the Prime Minister's view of the Unionist programme at the next election, that if we cannot agree to accept colonial preference we are to be drummed out of the Party? I do not know whether I have a right to ask for an Answer now. If my noble friend says he is not prepared to answer that Question, all I can say is that I am sorry I spoke at all; but if the Government do take that line I am bound to say that on the earliest possible date after the Whitsuntide recess I shall ask the Question after full notice, in order that I may know whether or not this is a correct interpretation of the policy announced by the Prime Minister at the Albert Hall.


My Lards, I do not rise for the purpose of making a speech on the fiscal question. But I rise as a member of His Majesty's Government to make a protest and to say that I absolutely decline myself to be responsible for what is said by others who are not members of the Government. It is a very remarkable condition of things. Mr. Chamberlain—of whom I will never speak without admiration and regard— left the Government because he would be more able to assist the cause he had at heart in being perfectly independent of the Government, neither committing the Government by what he said nor being committed himself by anything the Government might say. That was the ground on which Mr. Chamberlain left the Government.

From time to time an effort has been made, not to ask Ministers what their views are on such and such a subject— although I cannot help thinking that the cross-examination which my noble and learned friend indulged in is becoming a rather serious element in political life— not only are we to be answerable for what we say or do, but the examination must go to what we think. It appears to me that that is carrying the power of cross-examination a little too far. So far as this particular question is concerned, I beg to protest as one member of the Government against being called upon to give any explanation of what has been said on behalf of the Government—if it were so said by Mr. Chamberlain, though I do not think it was—other than the utterances of my own colleagues in the Government.

What right has anybody to ask me or any member of the Government whether or not something which has been said about the Government is accurate? We are answerable for ourselves, for what we say and do, and even if Mr. Chamberlain had made a statement as to what is the future policy of the Government— which I think the right hon. Gentleman has not made—I for one should absolutely refuse to answer any Question as to whether or not the Government assented to that statement. I think a total misinterpretation has been placed on the actual language used. What Mr. Chamberlain said was that the Colonial Conference should be absolutely free. And he asked that those represented at the conference should be free afterwards to consider and deal with the results, whatever they may be. I notice that the word "afterwards" is passed over, and it appears to me that that word puts an entirely different interpretation on the language used. I do not admit that Mr. Chamberlain has committed the Government by any such statement as he is supposed to have made, and, if he had made it, I entirely deny the right of anyone to ask whether or not the Government assent to that statement.


My Lords, I have listened with some surprise to the various statements made on behalf of the Government in the course of this discussion. The noble Marquess opposite and the noble and learned Earl who has just spoken equally complained of the cross-examination to which the Government is exposed in this and the other House. They seem to think it a very surprising and noxious growth in our present political system. May I humbly insinuate to them that if that system of cross-examination has grown up, it is not even yet sufficiently perfect to elicit any very direct Answers. If that system of cross-examination has grown up, it is not due to any anxiety on the part of members of the Opposition, or those even who are not members of the Opposition, to display a forensic rivalry with the great masters of that art. It arises entirely from the nature and character of the declarations of the Government themselves.

I am sorry to say that even the noble Marquess opposite, who usually lays down with admirable precision what it is he wants to say—a precision which I remember Mr. Gladstone once told me was one of the most difficult of Parliamentary arts—even the noble Marquess, I say, displayed something less than his customary ingenuousness in dealing with what I must say is the insoluble problem which was submitted to his notice by the noble Duke towards the conclusion of his speech. The noble Marquess was asked to explain a passage in Mr. Chamberlain's speech. I will not say he misread the passage, but he put so grave a gloss upon it, omitting the essential words of the passage, that he made out that Mr. Chamberlain had referred in a philosophical spirit to what was likely to be the dominant issue at the next general election, and not to what Mr. Chamberlain did actually say, which was that certain policies had become the policies, of His Majesty's Government. As to that declaration of Mr. Chamberlain, which I frankly admit forms no part of the Question of the noble Duke of which notice was given, and which, therefore, the Government is entitled not to answer on the present occasion, I confess that, however long the notice given by Lord Balfour of Burleigh may be, the Answer will be somewhat difficult to give. But whatever the Answer of the Government may be to that Question, it had better be of a sufficiently clear and definite character when it does come.

Why is it that we attach importance to the words of Mr. Chamberlain? The noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack spoke of his regard and affection for Mr. Chamberlain, but washes his hands entirely of what Mr. Chamberlain may say. He also, in dealing with this particular passage, read quite a different passage, which appears to be a favourite practice of His Majesty's Government. If you quote a passage in the middle of Mr. Chamberlain's speech the noble and learned Earl is apt to quote the peroration. If you quote another passage the noble Marquess opposite will quote the exordium, and so forth. That is not legitimate argument. The noble and learned Earl entertains a great regard for Mr. Chamberlain, but he declines to be bound in any way by anything Mr. Chamberlain has said. But, unfortunately, all through this piece, whetner you like it or not, you have been indissolubly bound up with Mr. Chamberlain.

I will not allude once more to the familiar and hackneyed quotation from your own organ which said, when Mr. Chamberlain left the Government, that he and the Prime Minister were playing their game with the skill of two practised partners at whist. That has left an impression upon our minds which nothing is likely to remove. But you may say that you are not responsible for your organ, that The Times was uncontrollable, that that was an outburst of sincerity which you disavow. But, at any rate, you cannot deny this, that when Mr. Chamberlain left the Government, he left behind him the most sacred pledge and guarantee of his connection with the Government, and your adherence to his policy, in his son, who became the director of the fiscal policy of this country in the Cabinet. Therefore, I say it is all very well for the noble and learned Earl to declare that Mr. Chamberlain is simply a friend in private life whom he meets occasionally in the pleasures of unfettered society, and that he has nothing whatever to do with him and his opinions in public life. That is an explanation so thin that I fear, in the impartial judgment of your lordships, it will not wash for a moment.

Why is it that you are constantly subjected to cross-examination? It is because of the varying, the elusive, and the ambiguous nature of your utterances. If I pause before my adjectives, it is because I wish to be restrained by the courtesies of debate. But I confess that the impression left on my mind by the statement of the Prime Minister which preceded the regrettable, but not wholly unexplainable and unnatural, outburst in the House of Commons was that that statement was by far the most extraordinary ever made by the holder of so exalted an office to the listening Commons of England. His explanation with regard to the Colonial Conference was a three-fold one. He had, it is true, pledged himself, and the noble Marquess has read his pledge and reiterated it, as I understand it, to-night; his pledge at Edinburgh with regard to the Colonial Conference was that it should be preceded and succeeded by a general election. That seemed to Mr. Chamberlain a somewhat cumbrous proceeding for a matter of such immediate and vital interest as the reuniting of an Empire which was on the point of dispersing and scattering to the winds if it did not adopt Mr. Chamberlain's policy; but in spite of that the Prime Minister held his ground. Then there arose an idea that the Prime Minister was contemplating the summoning of a Colonial Conference, next year, and to that he replied, as I understand him, that he did not see why he should not summon a Colonial Conference next year, and when he was confronted with his own statement at Edinburgh he gave a triple explanation to which I will refer.

But before I refer to it I wish to recall to your Lordships the exact circumstances under which that speech was made at Edinburgh. I was living near Edinburgh at the time, and I heard something of its private history, because even the secrets of the Conservative Party occasionally transpire. It was originally a private house dinner of a Conservative Club at which the Prime Minister, who also lives near Edinburgh, was to meet a few friends and political supporters. But immediately before that meeting took place, in view, as was thought—but we must never do more than surmise respectfully as to the intentions of the Government, or we are accused of base innuendo—in view, as it was supposed, of a speech Mr. Chamberlain was about to make, and which was to inaugurate Mr. Chamberlain's autumn campaign, the Prime Minister sent word to say that reporters were to be present, as he had to make a highly important announcement—again, as was thought, with a view of getting the first word in his autumn campaign before Mr. Chamberlain opened his. I only recite that history in order to show that this was not an accidental or sudden outburst of the Prime Minister's, cheered by the genial banquet of the Conservative Club of Edinburgh; it was a deliberate declaration of policy, of which the Press and the public were warned, and which was to be the guide and the beacon to the Unionist Party throughout the constituencies, and in that spirit it was made.

Now the Prime Minister, in May, 1905, is confronted with his declaration of August, 1904, and he says that that declaration is of no importance whatever. He little knew that the noble Marquess was going to read it out as if it was an extract from the Old or New Testament; he himself dismissed it for a declaration to which no importance whatever was to be given. He gave this triple explanation. In the first place the Prime Minister had forgotten the regular Colonial Conference which was to meet in 1906. Mark that! His speech was to relate entirely to the question of a Colonial Conference; he must, not inconceivably, with a view to the preparation of that speech, have referred to the Report of the Colonial Conference of 1902; but whether he had or not, chronology is chronology, and he must have been aware, even in his most heedless moments, that a conference which was to meet every four years, and which had last met in 1902, was to meet in 1906. No; according to the declaration of the Prime Minister now, he was thinking so Imperially that he had entirely forgotten the existence of that Imperial Conference.

What is the next point of his explanation? That, I think, was the most disastrous of all; it was that it was no pledge at all, but only a pledge made to his Party. I have always admired the uncomplaining and undeviating loyalty of the Conservative Party under the most untoward circumstances, and I confess I have sometimes wished that other Parties displayed the same united front under trying circumstances as the Conservative Party has under conditions which would spell disaster elsewhere. I do not suppose that when they prepared this monster gathering at the Albert Hall they could have foreseen the cruel buffet that the Prime Minister was about to administer to them in the House of Commons. When the stereotyped address was sent down to the constituencies, to be reproduced in illuminated forms at the Albert Hall, I do not suppose that the Conservative Party anticipated for a moment that it would be told that promises made to that Party were of no particular value or consequence, that they were but husks to feed the temporary cravings of the Conservative Party without any ultimate object or purport whatever. If under the circumstances of the present explanation that union is still maintained, all I can say is that a more long-suffering faction than the Conservative Party has never yet been known to ancient or modern history.

There were two explanations; one was that he had forgotten the conference, the other that it was only the Conservative Party, and "Who cares what anybody says to the Conservative Party?" But, as it that was not enough, he supplied a third explanation. "If I did remember the Colonial Conference, if I did mean to make a public pledge to the country, what does it matter? I have a right to change my mind, every man has a right to change his mind; this is May, or June, it was then August or September; who can expect the head of the most powerful Party in this country, the Prime Minister of this great Empire, to keep his mind uncontaminated and unchanged for eight or ten months together?" These are explanations which I believe even the noble Marquess must admit, in the calmer recesses of the Foreign Office when he is not exposed to the polemical agitations which he justly complains are incident to the life of a Minister, to be somewhat inadequate, and to be explanations which invite that cross-examination which is so painful both to him and to the noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack. These explanations were demanded before the speech of Mr. Chamberlain. It would not have been in human nature if the noble Duke had not referred to the speech of Mr. Chamberlain; it would not have been in human nature if those other noble Lords opposite who have spoken, who were dealt with so drastically in the new bag-and-baggage policy of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, had not referred to that speech. It has, I think, been read more or less perfectly several times this evening. It was not unnatural that they should put two and two together and regard the whole circumstances of the case of the Government at this moment as more sinister and suspicious than they have been at any moment even of its variegated career.

Was it wonderful, with apologias such as I have detailed, with the well-known mastery of the right hon. Member for Birmingham over the caucus, that there should have been some fear lest a Colonial Conference should be transformed into a caucus for the purpose of influencing a general election which would immediately follow? It is all very well for the noble Marquess and others to express a virtuous indignation at any such ideas being imputed to them; but we live in strange times, we have seen strange things, we do not walk in the Garden of Eden, we have eaten of the tree of knowledge. Therefore I confess it is not wonderful that those noble Lords who are anxious to remain in the Unionist Party, and also noble Lords on this side of the House who are solicitous to know exactly where they stand with regard to the colonial policy of the Government, should wish to subject the matter to severe cross-examination.

May I speak for a moment of another interest which seems somewhat neglected in these political bickerings? Is there not an interest which is being constantly appealed to, but which is in very serious danger both from the debates which take place and from the inconsiderate and reckless action of the Government and of Mr. Chamberlain—I mean the interest of the British Empire? I confess my gorge rises when I read the speeches which are made on the Party platform accusing those who do not agree with Mr. Chamberlain's views as to mechanically binding the Empire together by a fiscal tariff of being hostile to the British Empire, which has always hitherto existed and prospered on free and independent lines of development. When I see that this is done when no general election is pending, I confess I am apprehensive of what will take place when a general election is actually raging and upon us. I can conceive no greater disaster to the Empire—yet there are people at this moment who, with rash and heedless hands, would bring about that disaster—and I can conceive no greater disaster, not merely to people within these islands, but to the immeasurable regions outside, than that it should be felt that those regions and peoples outside are being used as pawns in the game of Party politics, a use so contemptible and so loathsome that three or four years ago we should not have conceived it possible.

And let me point out a graver danger still. All indications point to the fact that the country is weary unto death of the present Government, and only desires the opportunity to give it its dismissal. That, perhaps, is a delicate point to touch; but we cannot read the newspapers without seeing the results of elections which, even when they represent a momentary triumph for the Government, would have seemed five years ago like the prognostics of disaster. Can there be a greater danger to the Empire than this, that the name of Empire should be dragged about at the next general election, and attempted to be monopolised by the Party which seems likely to be defeated? For if a new Government should come in, supported, as it would seem, by an almost overwhelming mass of public opinion, it would be represented as returned in opposition to this cry of unity of Empire, falsely and elusively though that cry was raised. I care very little what may be the result. But there is one point on which I am earnestly solicitous, and if my voice could reach beyond this hall and beyond this island, I would endeavour to make it heard. It is that the various parts of the Empire who are being appealed to with almost vulgar pertinacity by the orators of the platform should refuse to lend themselves to this degrading performance and hold aloof so long as it is possible, and I hope it will always be possible, from the play of Party politics in this country.


My Lords, we have heard a good deal this evening about the colonial preference part of the fiscal question, and I will not therefore allude to it; but I should like to say a word with reference to the policy of retaliation. I regret to hear the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs commit himself so decidedly to a general policy of retaliation. There may be, no doubt, some special cases in which it may be advisable, especially where the favoured-nation treatment is not accorded to us, but a general system of retaliation would be most unfortunate. The recent Blue-book shows that the results of the fiscal wars between France and Switzerland, France and Italy, and Germany and Russia have been disastrous to all concerned. The Franco-Swiss tariff has greatly crippled trade, and Sir E, Monson reported that the Franco-Italian tariff war had been— As disastrous as that between France and Switzerland. while, as regards the Russo-German conflict, Mr. Buchanan, our Secretary at the Embassy, says— The lesson there learnt may help to remind both countries of the loss which such a war entails. We cannot expect to promote free trade abroad by adopting protection at home. High duties would not enable us to break down foreign tariffs. France has tried it and failed; Germany has tried it and failed; the United States has tried it and failed. Indeed, we have tried it ourselves, and, as Mr. Gladstone said— We did not advance free trade one inch. Moreover, if protectionist countries do secure any advantage we share it with them under the most-favoured-nation clause. Protectionist countries injure themselves more than us by their policy. It tends to shut them out of neutral markets. But for protection the German and American manufacturers would be much more formidable rivals. A return to protection on our part would have no effect in breaking down the duties of foreign countries; and if our duties were high they would be disastrous to our commerce and manufactures. If retaliation were really to be adopted as the policy of the Government, men of business would have to chose between sacrificing the Party and sacrificing the trade and commerce of the country. I sincerely trust we shall not be placed in so painful a position.